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The Guest

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Darcy certainly could be more excited about the move to Avengers Tower, but she couldn’t help but whine and moan about her and Jane having to move all of their equipment by themselves. Wasn’t Stark rich enough to hire some people for this? She continued to pant and shove a ridiculously heavy cardboard box across the Tower’s polished marble floor after a huffing Jane, slowly but surely making their way to the elevator where the rest of their stuff was set in a pile on the other side of the lobby. After hitting the call button, both Darcy and Jane slumped to the marble ground and waited for the car.

 

“This is ridiculous,” Darcy whined, “Your boyfriend is a god for fuck’s sake, why isn’t he helping us?”

 

Jane simply groaned from where she was sprawled on top of the duffle bag that was stuffed with all sorts of odds and ends of machinery. Darcy didn’t even have the energy to wince in sympathy for her friend, knowing that the older woman would be covered in bruises from all the pointy shit that was in the bag.

 

Darcy rolled her head back at the sound of the elevator doors opening and sighed in relief. She closed her eyes tightly, not wanting to get up but knowing that they had to: there were people in the lobby who were starting to give her and Jane funny looks. Not that she could blame them, honestly. Darcy was about to speak up and let Jane know that it was time to move when someone cleared their throat. Cracking one eye open, she groaned at the sight of the beautiful redhead towering over her and her best friend.

 

“Janie,” she nudged the older woman with her ratty converse without breaking eye contact with the new arrival, “Janie. Pepper Potts is standing here and it’s amazing but I need you to confirm that I’m not hallucinating.”

 

Pepper just quirked her brow in amusement and turned her gaze to Jane, waiting for her response. Jane turned her head so that she was no longer face-down on the canvas bag and looked up to the amazonian woman.

 

“Shit. You’re not hallucinating. I wish we were though, we’re in no condition to meet the Queen.”

 

Darcy wanted to protest and tell Jane to speak for herself, but then she remembered that she was sitting on the floor of Avengers Tower in ripped jeans and a ratty tank top, with equally ratty shoes. Thankfully, Pepper Potts didn’t seem to notice, simply tilting her head in curiosity at the women sprawled on the floor.

 

“The Queen?”

 

“Yeah,” Darcy agreed, still not bothering to stand, “You’re the Queen.”

 

If Darcy wasn’t already on the ground, Pepper’s beaming smile would have put her flat on her ass in no time.

 

“Queen of what?”

 

Jane huffed, looking at Pepper Potts as if she was the one being absurd. “Everything!” She insisted, “You’re the CEO of Stark Industries, you’re a role model to girls and women everywhere, and you’re Pepper Potts!”

 

“Last but certainly not least, you managed to tame Tony Stark and have him practically by the balls,” Darcy added wryly, cupping her empty hand in the air in front of her and clenching her fingers in a fist.

 

Pepper let out the most inelegant snort of laughter Darcy had ever heard, which simply made the older woman that much more amazing to her. It took another minute for Pepper to control her laughter, having to wipe a few stray tears that had leaked from the corner of her eyes.

 

“I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a while, so thank you, Miss Lewis.” Darcy’s jaw hit the floor when she realized Pepper knew her name oh my god, but didn’t have time to react when she turned to address Jane. “I’m sorry that Tony forgot to mention that you two were coming today, Dr. Foster, otherwise I would have had someone help you deliver all of your things.”

 

The tiny astrophysicist stuttered for a couple moments before gathering her wits around her, apparently she was fan-girling just as hard as Darcy was.

 

“Call me Jane. And you can call Darcy, uh, Darcy. Giving her an honorific will only encourage her shenanigans.”

 

“Then you two must call me Pepper, I’m not a big fan of formalities, either.” Darcy just about melted at the woman’s smile, hardly ever seeing anyone look so genuine. Pepper offered a hand to Darcy and helped her stand before turning and doing the same for Jane. Straightening her blouse, Pepper raised one of her perfect brows mischievously.

 

“So, ladies, want to see your new lab?”

 

* * *

 

The lab was everything that Jane could have every wanted, honestly. It took up a third of one entire floor, the two other spaces used by Dr. Banner and Tony Stark. The labs technically took up four floors of the Tower, but this was to be their main stations, the rest meant for more elaborate experiments. The entire floor was a wide-open space of clear glass, sleek lines, and top of the line equipment. Each of the three lab spaces faced inwards toward the center of the tower where a small kitchenette and living space occupied the center. Jane was pretty sure it was called the atrium or something, but Darcy had taken to calling it the ‘Donut Hole’ which was picked up by everyone else, unfortunately. Tony, of course, would only ever call it the ‘Hole’ and snicker childishly with her intern-cum-assistant-cum-best friend. Jane gave up all hope when Bruce of all people called it the Hole by accident, leading Tony to crow in victory and even get the name changed on the Tower’s blueprints in celebration.

 

Darcy had come to be an assistant and lab manager to all three scientists, which they were all grateful for. Jane didn’t feel so self-conscious when she realized that Bruce and Tony were just as bad, if not worse (looking at you, Tony), at taking care of themselves as she was. Darcy had set up a small desk in the Hole (“Tony, please, stop snickering.”) where she could keep an eye on everyone easily.

 

Tony and Darcy bonded quickly, and Jane’s friend only seemed to endear herself more to Iron Man when she was able to get Bruce to come out of his shell a little bit. The man was clearly shy around new people, but Darcy didn’t have time for shy as she often said. She was free with her affectionate and friendly touches, pats on the back or full-out hugs, so that Bruce got used to in no time and eventually began to lean into them.

 

Jane was also grateful that she and Thor were finally in the same place at the same time, letting them pick up their relationship from where it had (kind-of-but-not-really) started two years ago. She was even more grateful that the time apart didn’t seem to estrange them from one another, the soul-deep feelings and care for one another still as strong as ever.

 

“Boss-lady, I didn’t survive an invasion of shitty space elves and Ian the Intern so I could sit here and watch you moon over Thor’s golden locks and not do Science!”

 

Jane huffed at Darcy, “I am not mooning, minion.” She was immediately met with three pairs of disbelieving eyes from three separate points of the lab. Well, she assumed Tony’s were disbelieving, Jane couldn’t tell since he was still wearing his welding mask. Bruce just sighed around a grin and looked back to his microscope as he spoke.

 

“There was certainly mooning involved, Jane. Big Bambi eyes and all.”

 

Darcy snorted out a laugh as she fiddled with some hunk of machinery in her hands. Jane loved that Darcy knew her way around electronics and a set of tools (fixing homemade machines were a bitch to do by herself), but sometimes she wished that her friend didn’t team up with Tony when it came to new ideas. Calculators were not meant to be sentient.

 

Jane rolled her eyes at her friends, mumbling to herself about where she could potentially find new ones.

 

“Why, Foster! I am hurt! What other friends could set you up with such sweet digs?” Tony’s smile was finally visible now that he took off the mask and Jane could see just how shit-eating it was. She kept forgetting that the labs were set up with little microphones and speakers so that no one had to shout at each other cross the immense space. Jane groaned, flipping off the engineer for lack of a good comeback. Snark and wit was more Darcy’s area of expertise, anyways.

 

“You’re like our Science! sugar-daddy, Tony,” Darcy laughed. She downright cackled when Tony cringed at the moniker.

 

“Please, for the love of all that is holy, never call me that again.” Tony closed his eyes like he was too upset at the name to look at them all.

 

Bruce huffed at his friend’s melodramatics and tossed a wink at Darcy, silently encouraging her to keep pushing Tony’s buttons. Jane rolled her eyes, something she was finding she did a lot at Avengers Tower, trying to focus on her notes for a lecture she was giving in Denmark in front of her.

 

For a solid six months after the Aether and Dark Elves in England Jane and Darcy went back to her mom’s flat in London to analyze as much data as they could about the Convergence. Since SHIELD didn’t bother to show during the invasion, Jane had no one to stop her from publishing her work, letting her be recognized by her peers for the first time in her career. Suddenly everyone was sending her letters and asking her if they could work or study with her, saying that they all believed in her theories from the very start. Jane and Darcy had a drunken night of rage about that, ranting to one another about shitty opportunists and people trying to steal her work. Jane actually doesn’t remember a whole lot about that evening, but despite the hangover Jane felt pretty good the next morning. It was cathartic.

 

The two women began filtering out what Darcy called ‘clinger letters,’ only responding to people who they knew to be sincere. Around that time, Jane started getting contacted for guest lectures all over the world to explain her theories and her work. Darcy cried with her that night, ecstatic that after a lifetime Jane was finally getting the acknowledgement she deserved.

 

The next six months resulted in Jane and Darcy traveling around the world, hopping from university to university and visiting almost every research center and lab as they went. It was all this travel that got them on Stark’s radar, and not in a good way. Jane had severely edited out many of the things that happened at the Convergence and Thor’s initial landing but there were people who wanted her work for nefarious purposes. Stark had picked up the chatter and decided it was time for him to intervene. It was during one of Thor’s breaks that he took from the Avengers that Tony tagged along to a lecture in Chile, having said that he had been ‘wanting to meet Shakespeare’s lady love and lightning sister,’ and to offer Jane a job.

 

It’s not like she could’ve said no to his offer, seeing as the main selling point was no SHIELD. Darcy had cracked open a bottle of champagne when they signed their contracts, saving the video of them signing the contracts ‘for posterity.’

 

So here Jane was, just over a year after the Dark Elves Incident, working in Avengers Tower with some of the greatest minds and heroes, her boyfriend, and her best friend. She got unlimited funding and state of the art equipment, not to mention a free suite of rooms in the tower for her, Thor, and Darcy.

 

The universe, of course, thought that it was high time for Jane to get knocked down a peg or five a couple of weeks later.

Jane was on her way to meet Darcy in the university’s mess hall after her lecture when she got the call. It took the phone a couple cycles through her ringtone before she could actually find her phone in the bottom of her bag, but Jane got the call regardless. She frowned at the caller ID, wondering why JARVIS was calling her. Shrugging and deciding that she shouldn’t really be surprised by the AI’s abilities, Jane answered the phone.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Doctor Foster, it is of utmost importance that you listen to me. I need you to remain calm and act natural. You and Miss Lewis are in danger, do you understand?”

 

Jane’s stomach dropped and ice clawed her way through her chest, “Okay, yes, I understand. But Darcy’s not with me! I need to find her! What if—”

 

“I am currently speaking to Miss Lewis at the moment as well, do not worry. I will keep you both safe. Continue to walk, casually, as if you are still going to meet Miss Lewis in the dining hall. Keep your head up, no one must suspect that you are troubled.”

 

Jane did as the AI told her to, but couldn’t help her curiosity. “Can you tell me what’s going on?”

 

“Turn left at this next crosswalk. Very good. Hydra has been revealed to have been residing within SHIELD, Dr. Foster. It was discovered by Captain Rogers and Agent Romanov that the organization has been corrupt since the very start. Roughly a third of SHIELD is suspected to have ties to Hydra.”

 

Jane scraped her palm on the brick wall at her side as she stumbled at JARVIS’ words, catching herself at the last moment. A woman walking toward her looked at Jane in concern and started toward her, but Jane just smiled and waved the woman off and continued on her way. She couldn’t risk anyone getting near her right now, how was she supposed to know if they were the good guys or not?

 

“I’m not going to be dumb enough to ask why I might be in danger then if…they are involved.”

 

“I did not doubt that, Dr. Foster.”

 

As she looked around, Jane realized she was in an unfamiliar part of town, just on the far edge of campus. JARVIS must have been monitoring her from security feeds because he answered her unasked question.

 

“Going to the dining hall is no longer an option, Dr. Foster. I am leading you and Miss Lewis to a location that I have deemed safe until you can be retrieved by Prince Thor and Mr. Stark.”

 

Jane’s chuckle was a little dry and very humorless as she made her way down another alley per JARVIS’ instructions. “Well aren’t I flattered that we’re getting two of the Avengers as our personal back-up.”

 

“Your hired security in the hotel was revealed to be Hydra, we’re keeping your new security in-house, so to speak.”

 

“You really know how to cheer a girl up, JARVIS.” Jane grumbled.

 

“I do try.”

 

The result of forty-five more minutes of walking was Jane forcing her way through a rusted door in the basement of an abandoned restaurant where JARVIS assured her she’d find Darcy. Jane was thankful that her friend had gotten there before her because there was no way that Jane could have busted that door open without Darcy easing it open first.

 

“Janie!”

 

Suddenly Jane had two armfuls of worried best friend who she hugged back wholeheartedly.

 

“You okay, Darce?”

 

“Yeah, I felt like a cast member of Eagle Eye when JARVIS called me, but I’m okay.”

 

JARVIS, who was on speakerphone in Jane’s back pocket huffed.

 

“Please don’t compare me to that abomination of a film, Miss Lewis. I would even consider it an insult to DUM-E.”

 

As Jane laughed, she looked around the room she and Darcy were in, the only light coming from a flashlight propped up in the corner. Jane figured the light must have come from Darcy’s oversized purse. The younger girl had a habit of packing everything into the bag, citing that after a couple run-in with aliens she needed to make sure she was prepared at all times. Jane called it Darcy’s zombie-apocalypse-preparedness purse, but certainly wasn’t knocking the idea now, that’s for sure.

 

“Are we in a wine cellar? How the hell did no one clear this out?”

 

Darcy giggled, and that’s when Jane noticed her friends flushed face and unsteady feet.

 

“Darcy, please tell me you didn’t get drunk when Hydra is after us?”

 

Jane’s best friend simply cocked an eyebrow at her, “Do you have any better suggestions?”

 

Jane didn’t, in fact, so that was how Thor and Iron man found the women several hours later: plastered and making JARVIS play Disney songs for them.

 

 

* * *

 

Thor could not look away from the slumbering women on Stark’s jet, still too anxious about the Hydra revelation to rest his mind. I was not close enough to protect Jane, to protect Darcy. Guilt clawed through his gut though he knew rationally that there was no way he could have known about the hidden danger. Tony sat himself down at Thor’s side, his own look of guilt on his face.

 

“Is Lady Pepper safe?”

 

Tony grunted, tossing his drink back before he answered. “Yeah, she’s okay. A little shook up, but she’s fine. None of her security was Hydra, thank god, but she’s feeling a little untrustworthy of everyone right now.”

 

“Tis reasonable.”

 

“Yeah,” his friend scoffed, “can’t blame Pep at all.” Tony continued to fiddle with his empty tumbler and stared into the middle distance, an expression that Thor had come to realize only appeared on his friend’s face when he was deeply troubled.

 

Tony spoke before Thor could pose his question to the other man. “It gets worse Thor, there’s more than just the Hydra infestation that’s out there.” He ran his hand through his hair, chuckling humorlessly, “It’s so fucked up. Sometimes I don’t understand the world we live in.”

 

Thor turned some in his seat to face Tony, though making sure that Jane and Darcy were still in his line of sight. His mortal friend took a deep breath, as if bracing himself, then began his tale.

 

Tony spoke of how Natasha exposed all of SHIELD and Hydra’s secrets to the world, how every piece of information on them all was on the internet for anyone to read. He was quick to assure Thor that JARVIS was sifting through the data currently, making sure that all traces of their friends and family were gone from the web. Tony spoke of Director Fury’s attempted assassination and faked death, of Natasha and Steve, as well as a new shield-brother called Sam, and how the three of them tore apart SHIELD from the inside out.

 

“Was the assassin apprehended?” Thor asked, immediately wary of a mortal that could match Steve blow for blow.

 

“That’s where things get complicated,” Tony sighed. He peered into his still-empty tumbler and must have decided that he needed another drink as he stood only half a moment later. Tony quietly made his way to the back to the jet (readjusting the women’s blankets over their bodies as he did) and quickly came back to Thor’s side.

 

“The assassin is known as The Winter Soldier; he’s been rumored to have dozens of kills spanning the past seventy years or so. He’s got a metal arm, and seems to have the same or similar super-soldier serum that Steve does. But it gets worse.” Thor wasn’t sure how that could be true, but he gestured for Tony to continue.

 

“He’s Steve’s best friend from World War II,” Again, Tony drained his glass in one gulp, hissing at the burn. “Sergeant James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes. He was Steve’s second-in-command in the Howling Commandos, as well as Steve’s childhood best friend. When Bucky fell from the train they assumed he died, but it turns out he was still alive. The Russians captured him, brainwashed him, and turned him into a weapon. Somewhere along the line, Bucky was sold to Hydra.”

 

There was a bitterness and anger in Tony’s words that were out of place, that weren’t on par with the sympathy Thor was beginning to feel for this wronged soldier.

 

“What aren’t you saying, Tony?”

 

Tony’s next words were rushed, as if he was afraid that if they did not leave him quickly they would not leave him at all. “He killed my parents. JARVIS found the hit order in Hydra’s files that Natasha released, Bucky Barnes killed my parents.” He raised his hand to cut off Thor’s protest, “I know, I know. He was brainwashed and it wasn’t really him, but it’s still shitty to think about, okay? It’s still okay to be angry and upset. Not at Bucky, but at the situation I guess.”

 

Thor’s friend deflated then, his anger and grief briefly sapping whatever was remaining of his energy. Slowly, as to not startle the man, Thor reached out and placed a hand comfortingly on Tony’s shoulder.

 

“No one will begrudge you your grief, Tony, you know us all better than that.”

 

“Thanks, big guy.”

 

“Is Bucky with Steve now? What has happened to the man?”

 

“Apparently, he’s MIA. Steve’s torn up about it, he’s hell-bent on going after him.” Tony once again had that look in his eye, telling Thor that his mind was far off from where he was moments ago.

 

“You’re going to help find him, aren’t you?” Tony simply nodded, too busy planning a million different things in his head to respond.

 

“Good. I shall help our friend as well. Bucky will not stay missing for long.”

 

 

* * *

 

Before Jane knew it, they were stumbling off Stark’s jet and into their way into one of the man’s many black SUVs. Her head was pounding and she was cranky as hell, so she couldn’t help the groan she let out when Darcy spoke.

 

“Why does everyone use black SUV’s when they’re trying to be discreet? They’re like, the biggest give-away ever. You might as well be shouting that you’re a fucking jack-booted thug and shady as hell.” There was a muffled laugh from Tony followed by an curse when Jane heard Darcy fall down. She probably tripped over her own feet, Jane rolled her eyes fondly but immediately regretted the action when it sent pain spiking through her head.

 

Jane rested her head against the window and sighed at the cool feeling of glass on her forehead. She hummed her thanks when Thor began rubbing circles on her back soothingly, starting to feel the tension ease out of her body.

 

Tony’s huff of laughter could be heard from the front of the SUV where he was helping Darcy into the car. “How are you not hungover as shit, kid?”

 

“Oh, I’m still hammered. Give me a couple hours though and I’ll probably feel like I took mew-mew to the face.”

 

Tony downright cackled at Darcy’s matter of fact statement, batting her hands away when she kept fumbling with her seatbelt and doing it for her. “You’re a goddamn mess, Darce.”

 

Hey,” Darcy slurred, her exhaustion starting to war with her drunken indignation, “I was in a cellar filled with vintage wine for a coupla hours by myself. You tryna tell me that you wouldn’t have done the same, Man of Iron?”

 

Next to Jane, Thor chuckled at Darcy’s antics and reached up to smooth his hand over her head from his spot behind her seat. “Rest now, Lightening Sister, we have much to do when we return to the tower.” Having gotten used  to drunk-Darcy over the past year or so, Thor began removing his cape and draped it over her just as she opened her mouth to speak. Within moments, Darcy had snuggled up to the red fabric and was snoring softly in the front seat.

 

Tony didn’t hesitate a moment to take a picture with his phone, chuckling all the while. “That’s the cutest damn thing I’ve ever seen, but what’s with the cape?”

 

“Darcy gets nightmares about New Mexico and the Elves, so she likes to use Thor’s cape as a blanket because she says it makes her feel safe. She only has the balls to ask Thor for it when she’s drunk, though.” Jane couldn’t help but to reach forward and tuck a corner of the cape under Darcy’s chin from where it was beginning to slip down.

 

“Aye, I have told Darcy that she may use it whenever she pleases, but she does not feel comfortable asking.” Thor continued, a fond smile on his face as he looked at Darcy. He soon moved his gaze to meet Tony’s in the rearview mirror, “Let us make haste, Tony, we should begin our own search for the missing Soldier as soon as possible.”

 

Jane could feel herself drifting off to sleep where she was nestled against Thor’s side. She could get caught up on what they were looking for later.

 

Later ended up being a good four hours after landing in Stark’s jet; after Jane and Darcy had naps in real beds, a couple gallons of water, a meal, and a hot shower. Darcy was feeling well enough to go get everyone coffee from their favorite cafe across the street (Tony had yet to get the owner to move into the retail floor of the Tower, much to his displeasure and bruised ego).

 

Jane sat at her desk with Bruce at her side as she watched Tony and Thor run around the lab space with a weird mix of determination and giddy excitement.

 

“You have any idea what’s going on?” She asked, quirking a brow at Bruce. Her friend just continued to clean his glasses off with the hem of his shirt as he watched the other men with amusement.

 

Bruce quickly gave her a highly condensed version of what went down in D.C. with Steve and Natasha, as well as who the Winter Soldier was.

 

“Holy shit,” she breathed, “That’s so messed up.”

 

Bruce snorted, pinching the bridge of his nose with his fingers. “I know, it’s kind of painful to think about all the fucked up shit Hydra’s been doing in the dark for the past seventy years or so.”

 

Jane shuddered in agreement. “So Tony’s going to use JARVIS and all his tech to search for the guy, and Thor’s going to use magic?” She hummed, trying to remember what Thor had said about his magic in the past. Jane knew that he isn’t as talented as Loki ever was, but from what she understood, no one was. Most of Thor’s magic involved Mjölnir, but Jane didn’t presume to know everything about it. She’d stick to theoretical astrophysics, thanks.

 

Thor and Tony were now hunched over a table in the center of Jane’s lab, arguing over what appeared to be a world map.

 

“The spell I cast shall help us to see where Bucky hides, Tony, then it will only take a short time for Steve and the rest of our teammates to convince the man to come home.” Thor clapped his hands together once and closed his eyes, brows furrowed as if he was searching for a lost memory. Jane narrowed her eyes at the hesitancy she could see on her boyfriend’s face.

 

“Wait, are you sure—” She started, but then several things happened at in quick progression.

 

Thor threw his hands down on the map with a flash of silver magic just as Darcy barged into the lab holding a tray of coffee in one hand and struggling with her zombie purse that was tangled around the other. Tony yelped and ducked as Thor’s magic ricocheted off the table, Bruce then knocked Jane off her seat when the beam of magic came hurtling for her next and tucked them both under her desk.

 

Darcy stood wide-eyed as she watched everything happen, too confused to duck when the magic ricocheted off of DUM-E and smacked her right in the chest.

 

There was a BANG! and a bright flash of white light, then dead silence for only a moment more. Jane scrambled from her place under her desk, turning around frantically when she couldn’t see Darcy anywhere.

 

“Where’d she go?! Thor, what happened?!”

 

Thor’s face was pale and bloodless, staring at the spilled coffee that was pooling on the floor where Darcy had stood seconds ago.

 

* * *

 

In 1940’s Brooklyn, New York, Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes were enjoying a game of poker together on their sofa when there was a flash of white light and a bang that shook their apartment’s walls. Suddenly, they were wondering where the hell the dame in their living room came from.

Chapter Text

Steve was enjoying the evening; he was happy to admit. Bucky had a relatively light day down at the docks and Steve managed to get paid for a couple of commissions for some storefronts down the street. Bucky had insisted that they listen to the radio and play some poker, but it was Steve who brought out the small stash of whiskey. At Bucky’s raised brow, Steve just shrugged.

“We had a good day and I think that calls for a drink, don’t you?” Instead of responding, Bucky jumped up to grab a couple chipped mugs from the cabinet. It was surely a sin to drink whiskey out of anything other than a glass, but mugs were all they had. And the whiskey was cheap, too, so that couldn’t count too much against them, Steve figured.

Steve himself could only handle a drink or two because of his small stature, but it was enough to keep him loose and happy. Bucky was polite enough to keep pace with him even though they both knew that he could put down a whole lot more and still be coherent. They were into their second drinks and their third hand of poker when the flash of light and a BANG startled them into dropping their cards and drinks. Steve could see that Bucky was about to complain about the loss of his drink when they both noticed the new arrival at the same time.

The curvy dame that suddenly appeared on the floor in front of their coffee table took precedence over cheap whiskey. Thankfully, Bucky seemed to think the same.

“Where in the hell did she come from, Stevie?”

Steve just shook his head, trying to remember basic first aid that his Ma had taught him before she passed. Bucky was usually the one who remembered, seeing as Steve was the injured one more often than not.

“I’ve got no clue, Buck. Check her head, she may have hit it when she fell.”

Bucky snorted, “You mean when she just dropped into our apartment out of thin air?” He checked over the dame’s head anyways, nodding his head when she seemed okay. “I can’t feel nuthin’ so I think she’s gonna be okay, Stevie. Except, you know, the part where she just showed up in our living room in a flash of light.”

Steve groaned, “Yeah, Buck, I get it. She’s a mystery. We’ll deal with that when she wakes, let’s get her on the couch.”

Steve busied himself with finding pillows and blankets while Bucky gently lifted the girl onto the couch, tilting his head in confusion at what she was wearing. The dame was wrapped up in a pair of tight denims that looked painted on, highlighting her curves in a way that made Steve’s face redden. She had a black sleeveless shit on, that was just as tight, under what appeared to be a men’s white button down shirt. She had a pair of boots that looked an awful lot like they were military issue, if a bit more delicate looking. Her bag was a big mess of leather, the contents all over the floor at their feet. Bucky gently pulled her glasses from her face so that she’d be more comfortable.

“Where the hell did you come from, doll?” Bucky mused, reaching out for a pillow from Steve when he came back to the couch’s side. Together they put pillows under her head and covered her with blankets as gently as they could, careful not to wake her.

Not knowing what else to do, Steve cleared off the coffee table and sat down with a quiet thump, reaching down to right the now empty coffee mugs. Shrugging, Steve poured him and Buck another measure. There was a magic girl in their apartment, seemed like a good enough reason to have a drink. He almost spat out his mouthful of whiskey when he caught Bucky going through the dame’s purse on the floor.

Buck! You can’t just go through a lady’s purse! It ain’t right.”

Bucky just shrugged and continued to fiddle with the contents of the bag. “I was trying to put it all back in her bag, but there’s just so much stuff, Stevie. I mean, what does a dame need with all this?”

When Bucky pulled out the next item, Steve’s eyes went wide and he forgot his manners. “What the hell is that?

Buck was holding what looked like a gun made out of…plastic? But instead of a normal barrel at the end there were a couple of dangerous looking prongs.

“I’d point that away from your face, man, and keep your finger off the trigger if you don’t want to meet the business end of those suckers.”

Both Steve and Bucky jumped about a foot in the air when the girl’s scratchy voice came from the couch behind them. Guilty and apologetic expressions in place, both men turned to face what they were sure would be one hell of an angry lady.

They really shouldn’t have bothered. The dame had one hand on her forehead and the other pressed against her stomach, groaning in pain. “Gods, this is worse than any hangover I’ve ever had. What the fuck happened?”

Steve felt his eyebrows hit his hairline in surprise at the dame’s cursing, but he shook it off for more important questions. “You alright, miss?” Behind him, Bucky snorted.

“Clearly she ain’t okay, Stevie.”

“Well excuse me for trying to be polite, Buck.”

Before their bickering could devolve any further, the girl on the couch chuckled hoarsely. “You guys are worse than Jane and Tony.” She turned her head slightly, eyes widening as she took in her surroundings. Steve and Bucky stayed quiet so she could absorb everything in her own time.

“So…I’m not at the lab, that’s for damn sure. You two wanna help a girl out?”

Bucky nudged Steve with the toe of his shoe, letting him know that he wanted Steve to be the mouthpiece of this conversation.

He rolled his eyes at his friend, wondering how a fella so good with the dames was clamming up now. Steve leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knobby knees, making sure he had the dame’s attention.

“I’m Steve, and this here is Bucky. You got a name?”

“Oh, shit! Yeah, I’m Darcy. Probably should’ve said that first, huh?”

“It’s alright, this ain’t exactly, erm, a normal situation. What do you remember happening before you woke up?”

Darcy closed her eyes and hummed, thinking. “I was getting coffee for my Scientists Three in the lab, then I got there and Thor….” Suddenly Darcy sat straight up, fury etched on every line of her face. “That idiot! Oh my gods he is so dead when I get back!” She looked to Steve and Bucky who both flinched back out of reflex.

“Where am I?” She demanded.

Bucky seemed to find his voice, though it was tentative. “Brooklyn, in our apartment. You just showed up in a big bang and a flash of light. Never seen anythin’ like it, doll.”

Darcy’s eyes quickly took in everything around her, and Steve knew she was getting more detail this time around. As she continued to look Steve watched her anger fade into suspicion and then fear.

“Darcy…?”

Her focus snapped back to Steve, fear now dominating her face. “Steve, I’m going to ask you something and it’s probably going to be…strange.”

He nodded, already having an idea as to what she may be getting ready to ask.

When, am I?”

“It’s September 30th, 1942.”

Darcy hung her head, hiding her face from him and Steve as her shoulders shook. It was only a couple of moments later that she righted herself, hiding her shock and heartbreak behind a wry expression.

“Well, fuck me sideways. I’m not really sure how to go forward from here.”

 

* * *

 

Darcy managed to convince the boys to give her a couple measures of whiskey as she processed all the information from the last 24 hours or so.

There was the lecture in Denmark, the call from JARVIS and the Hydra reveal, the wine cellar with Janie, then a slumber party on Tony’s jet and then finally the tower where she got a nap and a shower. After she ate, she went to grab coffee for the Scientists Three and her Lightening Bro, knowing that whatever shenanigans they were about to get into demanded coffee. When she entered the lab there was what looked like a beam of silver light bouncing around like a bullet in a B-action movie before it slammed into her chest.

Then Darcy woke up in 1940’s New York with two very nice, if confused, men. They didn’t turn her in to the police and they offered her booze, as far as Darcy was concerned this proved them as trustworthy.

She continued to sip from her mug as the guys talked to one another, only humming in acknowledgement. She was torn from her melancholy when Bucky’s teasing voice broke through.

“Why Steve Rogers, are you suggesting that we invite a strange girl into our home? I don’t know if my delicate sensibilities will allow for such a thing!”

Darcy choked on her drink, some spraying from her mouth. Steve Rogers. Steve Rogers is Captain America’s name. Oh, SHIT!

Pre-Captain America Steve Rogers wasn’t prepared for the whiskey shower, but he was polite enough to ignore the spray and see if Darcy needed any help. It was admirable, really, but Darcy had some freaking out to do. She was hanging out with Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes. Before they were in the Howling Commandos. This was so fucked up.

“Doll, you okay?”

Darcy wheezed as she fought the burn of whiskey scorching down her windpipe. “Yeah, yeah, I’m good. Just had a bit of an epiphany. And no, I will not be sharing with the class. This is a bit of an internal freak out.”

Both men looked skeptical, but they let it go for the moment and Bucky was kind enough to pour her another finger or two of whiskey. Gods, these guys were great. No wonder they were American heroes. Darcy just made a note to keep her trap shut so she didn’t mess with the space-time continuum or something. She suddenly regretted not paying more attention to Jane these past few years. While Darcy was handy with mechanics and a tool kit, she knew jack shit about Jane’s science. She picked up some, but just enough to help her boss-lady to fix the machines.

Darcy decided to focus on what the guys were talking about rather than her own helplessness, wanting to freak out about that detail by herself.

“You guys would let me stay?” She could hardly believe it. Yeah, Darcy knew that they were good men, but there was a whole mess of cultural differences between them all, and she was pretty sure that a single, unrelated female living with two single men was a big no-no in the forties.

Steve and Bucky looked at her like she had grown a second head, or more likely, fell into their lives in a flash of white light.

“Of course, Darcy, what did you think we were gonna do? ‘S not like we want to go to the police, and I’m pretty sure you don’t have anywhere to go.” Steve’s look clearly said, Because of that whole thing of you being from the future that none of us are mentioning. Darcy was about to try to subtly thank him for his discretion, but Bucky being Bucky managed to ruin her opportunity.

“Yeah, doll, I’m not sure how many people besides us would believe you when you’d say you were born in 1992.” He waved Darcy’s wallet around, her shiny driver’s license glinting in the lamp light. “I wouldn’t believe you if I didn’t see you pop out of thin air myself.”

Ignoring the fact that Bucky was snooping in her bag (she had three tasers in there, so really it was at his own risk) Darcy made sure to meet both of their gazes with as much sincerity as she could muster. “Thank you, seriously. I know you guys are putting yourself at risk by housing me here, but I appreciate it so much.”

Darcy really wanted to assure them that she’d only be there until she found a way home, but her heart sank when she realized that she didn’t have a clue as to get back to 2014. If either of the guys knew, they didn’t mention it.

“So, now that we seem to be talking about it, when the hell are you from, Darcy?” Steve’s expression had changed from concern to curiosity that made Darcy smile and think of Jane when the woman did the same thing.

“I’m from 2014. And can I just say that I’m glad we’re speaking about it? I really didn’t want to awkwardly beat around the bush the entire time I’m here.”

Bucky threw back his head and laughed, “Good, Stevie here’s a shit liar.”

Steve wasted no time in throwing a nearby pillow at his best friend’s face and following it to tackle him to the ground. They were a tangle of limbs and laughter, causing a small smile to curve on Darcy’s own mouth.

Yeah, Darcy mused, she’d be okay here.

 

* * *

 

The first order of business of the morning was figuring out what the hell Darcy was going to wear out of the apartment. She needed clothes that wouldn’t draw everyone’s attention (Steve hoped they could find some that kept eyes off of her, but she was such a looker he didn’t put much weight behind that wish) and her skin tight jeans and ‘tank-top’ certainly weren’t subtle.

They finally convinced her to button up the large white shirt she had come with and barely managed to get her curves into a pair of Bucky’s old trousers and deemed it good enough. They’d go to a church on the other side of the city where no one would recognize them and say that she was tossed out of her home or something. Hopefully, there’d be some dresses from charity that the church could give Darcy.

“We’ve got to come up with a good sob story, or else everyone is going to be suspicious,” Darcy had said as she fussed with her hair in the bathroom mirror. Steve and Bucky waited in the doorway, watching with fascination as she unearthed a multitude of hair pins from the depths of her purse and managed a decent up-do within minutes.

“You got any suggestions, doll?”

Darcy hummed, looking between Bucky and Steve in the reflection of the mirror. Steve was immediately suspicious of the glee in her eyes.

“Well, Bucky, I’m just your cousin from the south,” here she added a pretty decent twang to her voice, “who ran away to come find you when her momma passed, leavin’ me all alone. I didn’t have much money with me, but what I had was taken from me once I made it to the big city by some stranger on the train when my bags got stolen.”

Steve gaped at her with Bucky, impressed and appalled at the ease at which she spun the lie.

“It may be a bit much Darcy,” Steve hedged, “a bit far-fetched?”

Psshhh,” she waved him off, touching up her makeup as she spoke. “They’ll believe it. Bucky and I are similar enough that we’d pass for distant family to strangers, and I’m fucking adorable. Don’t worry about it Steve.” She winked at him and patted him on his ass before she squeezed her way between the two men and headed to the kitchen, not even noticing the blush work the way up his face.

Steve wasn’t lucky enough to have Bucky ignore it, of course. His friend whistled long and low, giving Steve a wink of his own.

“Looks like the spitfire’s got a soft spot for you, I think.”

He ran a hand over his face and groaned, much to Bucky’s amusement. Steve shoved him a bit with his arm as he walked past.

“Fuck off, Buck.”

 

* * *

 

Darcy was pleased that her sob story worked like a charm. She was swinging the bag full of dresses, time-period appropriate undergarments, and couple pairs of shoes in one arm and looping the other through Steve’s. She was wearing one of the dresses now, a casual dark burgundy dress that fit her snugly to the waist and then flared at her hips. She wasn’t super fond of the high collar, but it had an adorable bow-like thing on it and the dress definitely kept her boobs under control. And if Steve was fighting a blush and eyeing her out of the corner of his eye? Well, that was just a perk.

She felt conflicted about her flirting and teasing with him, knowing that with his small stature compared to Bucky he probably didn’t have many girls filling out his dance card. Yeah, he’d be big and hunky one day (she’d seen pictures since Darcy never got to meet Captain America in 2014) but these were the important years. This was when he was just Steve, the foundation of who he’d be when he became Captain America. He was just so damned good. She knew that much from stories from Thor because her Lightening Bro loved to tell her and Jane stories of their battles together. Darcy knew that even now in 1942, Steve was way out of her league.

Darcy found herself drawn to him anyways. It was stupid, really, because she had only been with Steve and Bucky for not even a full day, but she felt drawn to his side each time they moved. She felt foolish for the growing crush she had on him, knowing that it was going to get out of hand the longer she stayed.

Turning her thoughts away from Steve Darcy skipped ahead of the boys and turned to face them, walking backwards as she spoke.

“So, what do you two fellas do when you’re not helping damsels in distress?”

Steve reached forward and steered her around a mailbox by her upper arms, letting her go once she was safe from tripping.

“Bucky works down at the docks, unloading and loading all the ships and the like. I try to get commissions from people, mostly shops and I paint them signs or ads, anythin’, really.”

Darcy’s eyes narrowed at Steve’s sheepish expression, quirking her brow at Bucky to silently ask him what the hell his problem was.

Bucky smirked as he slung an arm around Steve’s shoulders, “Stevie here ‘s bein’ modest. He’s an artist. You should see some of his sketches, doll, they’re outta this world.”

Steve blushed at the praise, looking at Darcy through his lashes. She wondered if he knew just how beautiful he looked like that. Shaking those thoughts from her head, Darcy went back to loop her arm through Steve’s to walk with the guys. It was easier if she didn’t have to look right at his stupid pretty face.

“I’d like to see some, if you didn’t mind?” Darcy knew that some people were really private about things like this, so she wouldn’t pry. Even though she was dying to see what Steve could do. He must have seen the excitement on her face because he nodded shyly.

“Sure, I don’t mind.”

Darcy squealed in delight and clapped gleefully, uncaring of the stares she was getting from other people on the sidewalk. “Thank, you! I’m so excited now!” She squeezed her way in between Steve and Bucky, looping an arm through each of theirs.

“Now since you guys are being amazing and letting me stay with you, I think I need a job.” She raised her right hand from where it was in the crook of Steve’s elbow to halt their protests. “I know it probably offends your gentlemanly sensibilities, but if I’m going to be in your all’s space for who knows how long and eating your food, I need to help you guys out. It’s only right.

She turned her most earnest gaze on Steve and her most pleading on Bucky, knowing how to push their buttons just so to get them to agree. Bucky was a lady-killer and couldn’t say no to a dame, and Steve had an epic set of morals. Really, it was almost too easy to get them to agree to help her job hunt.

 

* * *

 

Bucky slumped at the kitchen table that evening, exhausted from the day. Steve was a handful on a good day, but Steve and Darcy? He groaned, wondering how the hell he ended up with these two blockheads.

They had stopped in every diner and storefront they came across, seeing if anyone was hiring so Darcy could get a job. Bucky had still wanted to tell her it wasn’t necessary, but the double set of steely blue eyes from her and Steve had him swallowing his tongue. They finally struck gold at a dress-shop not too far from their apartment that was run by an elderly woman. They kept with Darcy’s ‘cover’ as her being Bucky’s newly abandoned cousin, but lost the accent so she didn’t have to keep it up all the time. Mrs. Stanton was immediately charmed by Darcy, but Bucky knew that Steve’s aw shucks look certainly helped them convince her to take Darcy on. The older woman tutted over Darcy and claimed that Darcy needed some time around some proper ladies if she was going to be staying with ‘those two hooligans’ for a while yet.

Shiny new job in hand, Darcy practically bounced out of the store in her excitement. It was contagious, and soon Bucky and Steve were smiling like a couple of mooks along with her. They decided that a celebration was in order, so the boys each took one of Darcy’s arms and led her to their favorite diner a couple blocks away. The meal was happy and carefree, so of course when they left it all went to shit.

The sun had fallen long before they managed to leave the diner, though Darcy didn’t seem to notice the change at all. She kept chatting away happily from her spot between Bucky and Steve, unaware of their new hyper-vigilant state. Bucky stiffened his spine when he heard the sounds of footsteps coming from the alley they were passing on his right. He quickened his footsteps, trusting Steve to keep pace and keep Darcy between them. It was all for naught when three guys poured out of the next alley. With a quick look over his shoulder Bucky cursed under his breath when he realized they were boxed in. Before he could so much as direct his friends to quickly cross the street, the thugs were faster and moved to form a semi-circle around them, keeping the brick wall to their backs.

“Hey fellas, you mind letting us pass?” Steve’s voice almost seemed too loud in the quiet street, Darcy actually flinching at the force of it. Bucky spared a look to Darcy’s face, shocked when she only seemed determined and pissed rather than scared like he expected.

Steve continued to try to cajole the men into letting them pass, getting stuck in some nonsensical conversation that only made sense to the strangers. Bucky let it fade to the background and instead focused on getting Darcy out of there okay. He had no hope of getting Stevie away from this mess, god love the stubborn punk, but he just hoped he could spare his friend from getting killed.

“They’re drunk off their asses,” Darcy suddenly whispered, “can’t you smell it?”

Bucky wasn’t sure how he missed it before, but it was as if Darcy’s words made the stench of cheap whiskey assault his sense of smell.

“Doesn’t really help us when they’ve got seven to our two, doll.”

It was Bucky’s turn to flinch back, only able to describe Darcy’s glare as scathing. “Last I checked, James, there are three of us. Now I know you did not mean to imply that I was helpless, isn’t that right?”

“Yes ma’am.” Bucky knew when he was beat, and he did not want to know what happened to people who crossed Darcy. He found out only moments later when one of the drunk guys took a swing at Steve, landing a solid blow to his jaw.

Chaos reigned for the next few minutes, hell breaking loose once the first fist had swung.

Bucky’s instincts had him focused on getting to Steve when he saw four guys converging on him at once. Years of being at Steve’s side had Bucky swinging his fists with no remorse as he made his way to his smaller friend. Steve managed to land a few solid punches himself, and it was his friend’s horrified expression that reminded Bucky that he left Darcy, alone.

Steve took out the fourth guy with a punch to the temple, and Bucky spared a moment to be impressed with the amount of force Steve managed to put behind it. The guy was sprawled on the groun out cold.

They both turned to go back to Darcy, terrified at what they would find. There were three men unaccouted for, and Bucky couldn’t bear to think what might be happening. They ran into the alley, following the noises of fists hiting flesh and bracing themselves for the worst.

What they found however, was seared into Bucky’s memory forever.

Darcy was fighting the three men, spinning and dodging their blows and delivering her own with more ferocity Bucky had ever seen. Even Steve couldn’t match her, Bucky thought. Darcy took down the first man with a round-house kick to his temple, her dress twirling around her like a tutu of some macrabre dancer. As she spun, Darcy hit the ground in order to dodge a punch that the second man aimed toward her and took out his legs with a swipe of her own. She jumped to her feet and swiftly kicked the man in his ribs then again at his head when he doubled over in pain. She didn’t even hesitate to go after the third man, even when the glint of a blade was visible.

Steve and Bucky rushed forward, but they needn’t have bothered. Before they could even really tell what had happened, Darcy had the man pressed up against the rough brick of the wall with his arms twisted up behind his back.

Darcy tsked mockingly at the man, “Now that’s no way to talk to a lady, very rude.” She plucked the knife from his hand and twirled it over her fingers. She hummed in appreciation, “I’ll be keeping this, it’s pretty.”

“You bitch—” The man’s snarl was cut off when Darcy brought up her left hand and slammed his head into the wall, letting his unconscious body fall to the ground. She didn’t seem to notice Steve and Bucky gaping at her as she fiddled with her hair and brushed dirt off her dress.

“Aww, dress, no,” she whined, holding up the skirt of her dress where a large tear could be seen, “I really liked this one too.”

“What the fuck?!”

Both Darcy and Bucky jumped at Steve’s shout. Bucky had heard him raise his voice in anger before, but this was just sheer confusion. A little bit of awe too.

Darcy ran over to them, patting them down and checking their brusied faces. “Are you guys okay? I couldn’t get away and back you guys up, I’m sorry! They separated me and then I had to deal with those assholes,” she rolled her eyes as if taking on three men at once was more annoying than anything.

Bucky pinched the bridge of his nose with his index finger and thumb, praying for patience. “Let’s finish this discussion at home, alright? We don’t want to be around here when the police show.”

They walked home silently and quickly, just wanting to get back to where it was safe. The door had barely closed before Steve’s mouth was off like a rocket.

“What? Just, how did that happen? I just can’t believe it! That was—”

Darcy, expecting a rant about her being helpless (Bucky recognized the look in her eye) cut across Steve. “I swear to god, Rogers, if you so much as imply that I can’t take care of myself—”

“—amazing!” Steve breathed, awe clear in his voice and on his face.

Darcy froze mid-shout, her finger pointed threateningly at Steve losing some of its determination. “Wha...?”

Bucky just rolled his eyes at the two idiots, sitting himself down on the couch and watching the show with a faint sense of fondness and amusement. Steve was on a roll, now.

“How did you learn how to do that, Drcy? I never saw a dame who could fight like that, and I sure as hell have never seen a man fight like that either. You just took down three guys twice your size like it was nothing! You’re not even hurt!” Steve continued to wave his arms around and let his jaw open and close uselessly, seemingly overwhelmed by it all to even keep up his praise.

Bucky looked to Darcy and downright grinned like a maniac when he saw her duck her head to hid the blush that was coloring her cheeks.

“I, uh, had some training, back home,” she murmured, fiddling with the hem of her ripped dress as she sat down on the opposite end of the couch from Bucky. “I traveled around a lot with my friend and there were always people who could potentially want to kidnap her, so two of her boyfriend’s...coworkers took us under their wing for a bit.” Darcy smiled, eyes far away in a memory.

“NatNat and Clint are great, super scary sons of bitches. Clint taught me how to shoot and NatNat taught me how to take down anyone who tried to hurt me. I taught them both how to bake.”

Bucky’s eyebrows were farther up on his forehead than he could ever imagine them being, but he was pleased to see that Steve was in a similar state of shock.

He chuckled, wondering what the hell was in store for them. If this is what happened within Darcy being here for a day, what else would they get into?

“You’ve got some interesting friends, doll.”

Darcy threw back her head with a full belly laugh, her tiny frame shaking with the force of her laughter.

“Guys, you really have no idea how true that is.”

Chapter Text

Routine found itself quickly in the Barnes-Lewis-Rogers household, much to everyone’s surprise. All three would wake at roughly the same time (though Darcy would always say that dawn wasn’t actually ‘part of time’ and complain until Steve shoved coffee in her hands) and have breakfast together before each heading out to their jobs and Steve attended his art classes. Due to Darcy’s flexible schedule (Mrs. Stanton was so soft on Darcy, Steve couldn’t believe it) she would alternate days meeting the boys for lunch. She easily befriended the other men at the docks that worked with Darcy, often bringing them candies that she bought on the way over. Steve had been assured by Bucky that he made it clear that his ‘cousin’ was off limits, so Steve ‘didn’t have a thing to worry about.’ As much as Steve rolled his eyes and told Bucky to shove off, he was secretly pleased.

Two months had passed, and suddenly Steve found himself at a diner with Darcy for lunch discussing their Christmas plans.

“I know it’s not until the end of the month, but I want to know what you guys are doing so I don’t interfere with any of your plans,” Darcy said around a mouthful of sandwich.

Steve was too used to Darcy’s irreverence to be fazed by her bad manners, simply handing her a napkin as he answered. “Well, Buck’s family moved to New Jersey with his Ma’s new husband, so we probably won’t be doing much.”

Darcy’s sharp mind caught onto the fact that Steve didn’t mention anything about his own family, and it was only a second later that he could see her put the information together in her head. She reached across the tablet to place both her hands over one of his, rubbing her thumbs across his knuckles.

“Then us three will just have the best Christmas ever, okay?”

Relieved that Darcy didn’t press about his lack of family, Steve smiled and nodded in agreement. “Sure, Darce, we’ll have the best Christmas.”

Steve’s mind was going a thousand miles per hour as he walked Darcy back to the shop, wondering how the hell he was going to give her the best Christmas ever. She wouldn’t say anything, but both Steve and Bucky were able to see the homesickness in Darcy’s eyes, knowing that she was missing her friends and family from her own time.

Besides the first day when Darcy arrived, none of them really talked about it. They would mention it, sure, but no one ever brought up specifics. None of them talked about how she got sent back, or how to get her back to the future. Bucky and Steve would some of those silent conversations that they learned to have over the years when Darcy wasn’t looking and came to the conclusion that Darcy didn’t know how to get back.

With that heavy weight in his heart Steve determinedly made his way down to the docks after Darcy was returned to the shop, thankful that he was done with classes for the day. He was lucky that he managed to catch everyone on a break, weaving his way through crates and waving to familiar faces until he found Bucky.

His friend was laying out on the top of some wooden pallets, resting his eyes as he soaked up the unusually warm December sun. Steve shook Bucky by the foot until he roused himself. He was kind of guilty for barging in Bucky’s break like this, but this was important, dammit.

“What’s got you all riled up, Stevie?” Bucky stretched his arms above his head, wincing when a few knobs of his spine cracked audibly.

“Darcy says she wants to give us the best Christmas ever, Buck.”

His friend sighed, though there was a hint of a smile on his lips. “And you want to make sure give her the best damn Christmas since she’s been so homesick recently.”

Steve thanked God for Bucky, not knowing what he’d do if he didn’t have this jerk by his side. “Yes, exactly.”

Bucky just chuckled at Steve, hopping off the pallets and slinging an arm around his shoulders. “Don’t worry about it Stevie, we’ll make sure your girl has a good Christmas.”

“Buck, you know she’s not—”

But his friend just waved him off as he walked back to work, “Sure she isn’t, Stevie, sure.

 

* * *

 

The boys were scheming; Darcy could feel it. Whenever they weren’t doing something with the three of them the two men could be found whispering to one another, not even bothering to hide the fact that they were…hiding something.

Darcy supposed she couldn’t get too mad about it since she was hiding things from them. She had been planning and saving for their Christmas presents for weeks now, which was more difficult than she anticipated because she could only put so many things under the couch cushions before he makeshift bed became unbearable. 

Most of what she bought them were cheap little trinkets to make them smile more than anything, but Darcy had one awesome present for each of her guys that she was sure were going to blow their socks off. Darcy thanked the universe and the powers that be that she had a multitude of random shit in her purse when she landed in 1942 and that she was able to sell some of it (mainly odds and ends of jewelry and the like) to get some extra cash or else she’d never be able to afford the gifts she got. She also got some cash from playing cards with some of Bucky’s friends down at the docks, but she tried to hide that from her guys because she knew that they wouldn’t be too pleased about her gambling like that. If she never lost, though, was it really a gamble? Darcy was forever thankful that Tony had taught her to count cards.

She got Bucky a compass, one that was etched and looked more like a work of art than anything else. On a night out the three of them shared weeks ago, a drunk Bucky confessed to Darcy while Steve slept that he always felt like there was something missing in his chest, that there was a hole that he couldn’t seem to fill. He kept looking for love, he said, but only found girls to last a night. She hoped that the compass would help him find his way home where there were people at home who loved him no matter what.

Steve was harder to shop for, mainly because anything she wanted to get him seemed so intimate, like something you’d buy for a lover or spouse rather than a friend. Even if Darcy knew by now that she cared more for Steve than she ever cared for another friend. As time went on, she kept forgetting that he would become Captain America one day. She forgot that he was a war hero in the making, that he’d almost single-handedly change the course of history.

To Darcy, he was Steve Rogers, the beautiful and noble man who stole her heart.

She looked down at the second compass she had purchased for Steve. She worried that it would seem lazy to get him a compass too, but she also thought it was fitting to get him one as well seeing as it was his strong sense of right and wrong that shone so brightly from him. Steve’s compass was engraved, though where Bucky’s was bronze while Steve’s was a dark pewter, almost black. She didn’t know why she chose that one for him, just that it seemed fitting. Darcy looked at the small portrait of herself she held in her other hand, wondering if it would be too much to put it in his compass. She stared at it a bit longer before shoving it under the couch cushions. Not yet, something told her, you’re not ready yet.

 

* * *

 

Steve snuck back into the apartment the week before Christmas, feeling slightly guilty that he lied to Darcy about not being able to meet for lunch. When he looked around their sparsely decorated apartment though, he felt better about the deceit. Steve smiled as he started up a fire as he thought about their project. He and Bucky had been planning since the beginning of December to give Darcy the best Christmas, and now they were going to deliver. Just as he was finally getting a decent blaze going, Bucky burst through the door with snow biting at his heels.

“This snow is ridiculous, Stevie, we should meet Darcy before Mrs. Stanton lets her go because there’s no way we’re lettin’ the spitfire walk home in this. I don’t care how much she yells at us about not being a damsel in distress.”

Still feeling the chill in his bones despite standing next to the fireplace, Steve had to agree. “I still can’t believe you got half the day off, Buck. How’d you manage that?”

Bucky’s laugh was boisterous as he began pulling boxes out of their room. “Monday I bet my supervisor, Johnson, that if he could beat Darcy at poker I’d work a triple. Of course right as I say that, the spitfire comes down to meet me for lunch and looks like an angel handin’ out candy to all the guys, wearin’ that white dress with the flowers she got at the church that makes her look as innocent as all get out, so Johnson took the bet.” Bucky started pulling decorations from the boxes and spread them out on the floor. “So I go up to Darcy and tell her that I need her to win a game of poker for me, and she just goes, ‘I’m sorry, Buck, for a second there it sounded like you thought I lost poker.’ Twenty minutes later, Darcy cleaned out Johnson’s wallet and I got half the day off.”

Steve began hanging the strings of garland along the walls, shaking his head at Darcy’s antics. It was kind of hilarious how she thought they didn’t know where her extra cash was coming from these days. He and Bucky may be poor bachelors, but they could definitely tell when Darcy started coming home in higher quality dresses.

The rest of the afternoon was spent hurriedly getting the apartment looking like a Macy’s window display, or at least as close as they could manage. They had bargained and borrowed most of the decorations by means of using Darcy’s cover story. The neighborhood had quickly been charmed by the girl, and Steve wondered if they’d be just as charmed if they knew all about her bad manners, foul mouth, and her mysterious fighting skills. Steve certainly was, that’s for sure.

One of her hidden charms seemed to be her proficiency with machines. Steve suspected that it was Darcy who was slowly fixing up the apartment, appliance by appliance. First the door stopped creaking each time you opened it, then the radio stopped getting static no matter which way the antennas were pointed. Steve actually pointed them at the ground once and was shocked as hell when the sound kept coming in crystal clear. Suddenly, it was as if Steve and Bucky’s apartment was brand new: no leaky faucets and a refrigerator that always remained at the perfect temperature.

From across the room Bucky wolf-whistled and Steve knew he had a dopey grin on his face. He got it each time he was around Darcy or thinking about her. Yeah, he sighed, I’ve got it bad.

He pushed his feelings to the back of his mind and focused on decorating, him and Bucky making quick work of the small apartment. As they were putting on their coats to brave the cold once more, they admired their work. It would never be Macy’s, but Steve thinks they did a damn fine job.

There were strands of garland looping around high on the walls, running around all the windows and doorways. Steve had threaded some tinsel in too, giving everything a magical glow. Bucky made quick work of some colored paper and stuck red and green snowflakes all over the walls with tacks. Their small tree in the corner of the living room now had extra lights and ornaments, as well as a huge star that looked like it was too heavy and was going to topple the damn tree over any minute.

“We did good, punk. We did real good.”

Steve just beamed at the apartment then up at his friend. “Come on, we’ve got a dame to walk home.”

 

* * *

 

Bucky kept a close eye on his two friends as they walked home, making sure to keep a couple paces behind so he could watch them as best as he could. They were so similar: small little bundles of fury that packed on hell of a punch. Their stubbornness knew no bounds and they were scrappy as hell. Once again, Bucky wondered what he did to deserve this kind of fate. It was hard enough to keep Steve out of trouble by himself, but ever since Darcy popped in they’ve been waist deep in mischief with no signs of getting any slack. It had to be their deceiving appearances, Bucky theorized. Steve with his knobby bones and Darcy with her curves both screamed ‘no threat’ and ‘floozy,’ respectively. Boy, did Bucky ever pity the fools who fell for that heaping pile of bullshit.

Since the first night after Darcy’s appearance and the brawl, there’d been a few more scrapes over the past couple of months. None of them were as bad as that first one though, and Bucky thanked all his lucky stars for that. Typically, it was Steve chasing down a bully of some sort, and Darcy chasing after him once he got in over his head. Other times it was some guy trying to get fresh with Darcy at a restaurant or dance hall. It was only when Darcy had a bit much too drink that Steve or Bucky needed to intervene. Everyone learned real quick that Darcy Lewis wasn’t a gal you wanted to piss off.

Despite all the trouble Darcy got into, Bucky wouldn’t trade her for the world. Whenever she wasn’t wreaking havoc on her own Darcy made sure to always have both of their backs. Bucky was glad he never was sweet on her, despite her looking like a real life pin-up, always finding himself seeing her as some sort of combination of friend and sister than anything else. Besides, he’d have to be blind (or you know, Steve) to not see how gone she was on his best friend.

Bucky could feel Steve’s energy start to crank up as they climbed the stairs to their apartment, smiling as he saw Darcy narrow her eyes in suspicion. She looked over her shoulder to get answers from Bucky, but he just shook his head. Rolling her eyes, Darcy dug into her purse to find her key.

“You know, you fellas could give a girl a complex with all this secret-keeping going on,” she teased wryly, letting out an ‘ah-ha!’ when she finally did locate her key. Bucky and Steve had asked her a million times why she didn’t get a different bag that was more appropriate, but she always insisted that she liked this one. They left it alone except to tease, seeing as it was the only thing that looked odd about her these days; she could easily pass as a girl from their neighborhood, especially since she was slowly picking up their slang.

“Maybe we just like keeping you on your toes, doll.”

Darcy just rolled her eyes at Bucky and shoved her key into the lock, turning it with ease. Of all the things Darcy had fixed in the apartment, Bucky thought that the door was his favorite. No sticky lock, no creaky hinges, it was heavenly.

So lost in his thoughts Bucky almost slammed into Darcy from where she stood in the entryway to their living room, hands clasped over her mouth in surprise. He shuffled around her with Steve so they could get a good look of her face as she took in the apartment.

Darcy’s eyes were wide with shock and emotion, glistening slightly. Bucky sure as hell didn’t want her to cry, but he was relieved when she dropped her hands to rest under her chin and revealed her smile.

“You guys did this?”

Steve rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, “Yeah, Darce. We know you’ve been homesick so we wanted to give you the best Christmas we could.”

Darcy moved faster than he thought possible and suddenly Bucky was squished up next to Darcy and Steve, wrapped up tight in her embrace. He did his best to wrap his arms around her and Stevie too, just going along with the group hug. His heart broke a little when he heard Darcy sniff back some tears, but at least he knew that they were happy tears when she pulled back and beamed at them.

“You guys are amazing, thank you,” she breathed. Darcy spun around in a slow circle to take in the apartment fully. Coming to some sort of decision, Darcy nodded to herself and started shooing them back toward the sofa. Next thing Bucky knew, he and Steve each had a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate that Darcy made them with the instructions that they were not to move until she said she was done cooking dinner.

Bucky grinned at Steve, happy to see the punk was smiling too.

Yeah, they did real good.

 

* * *

 

Steve could hear Darcy cackle when she heard him and Bucky groan as she started banging on the their bedroom door. “RISE AND SHINE, FELLAS! It’s Christmas!” She thumped on the door a couple more times just for good measure and then shuffled off, presumably to the kitchen. Bucky threw a pillow that thwacked Steve in the head from his side of the room.

“Why the hell is your girl up so damn early? It’s a holiday for shit’s sake.”

Steve didn’t even have enough energy to tell Bucky to shut the hell up about Darcy being his girl, instead just burrowing further into his own set of covers and adding the pillow Bucky threw to his own. He heard Bucky grumble about not getting his pillow back, but Steve heard him settle into his own bed regardless. They both stayed curled in their beds for a few minutes more but groaned in unison when the smell of coffee wafted under the door.

“The dame doesn’t play fair, Buck, she doesn’t play fair at all.”

Both men begrudgingly crawled out of their beds, knowing they couldn’t fight the call of coffee much longer. They shuffled out into the kitchen in their pajamas and immediately sat themselves heavily in the kitchen chairs. Steve thought Bucky was being a touch dramatic when he let his head fall to the tabletop with a thunk, but he didn’t feel like he had the energy to tease him about it.

“Who are you and what have you done with Darcy?” Bucky’s words could barely be understood from where his face was smushed against the table, but Darcy heard him anyways.

“Gods, you’re such a baby, Barnes. It’s Christmas! Where the hell is your holiday spirit?”

Steve managed a wry chuckle around his coffee, but he knew that he didn’t look any better than his friend. “Christmas spirit doesn’t kick in until either eight AM or two cups of coffee, Darcy.” He looked over at the clock that hung on the wall, sighing when he saw that it was just now six-thirty. “So today it’s going to be two cups of coffee first.”

Darcy just snorted a laugh at him and gracefully put a couple plates piled high with pancakes on the table. Both men perked up instantly and were wide awake. Darcy made the best pancakes. Steve knew that the smiles they were giving her were goofy as hell, but they were just grateful for the amazing breakfast. She rolled her eyes at them both and gestured for them to go ahead and eat, digging into her own plate as she did so.

An obscene amount of pancakes and two pots of coffee later, the three of them sat at the base of their small Christmas tree getting ready to exchange gifts. Steve was both excited and nervous as hell to give Darcy his and wasn’t assured at all by the sly glances that Bucky was giving him when she wasn’t looking.

Darcy insisted that the boys go first and wouldn’t be dissuaded. Steve had gotten Bucky a new tie, a deep blue silk one that made his eyes look slate gray and intimidating. In return, Steve received a new sketchbook that had a beautifully dark leather cover. He got a little choked up, he’d admit, because he just knew that this probably cost Bucky a pretty penny.

“Okay, now here!” Darcy shoved small box wrapped in red into Steve’s hands and then shoved a similarly-sized green box into Bucky’s. “Open open open!”

Steve couldn’t help the big smile that stretched across his face at her enthusiasm, tearing into the paper with glee. He shared a small look with Bucky when Darcy’s excitement wavered into nervousness before she got her expression back under control. They pulled their gifts from the mess of tissue paper at the same time, stunned into silence. Darcy being Darcy, immediately started rambling because she misunderstood their awe for rejection.

“I know I got you both compasses but I just saw them and was like, ‘Yes, these are for my boys.’ Bucky, you’re always talking about looking for something, someone, and I just wanted you know that you can always find your way home where Steve and I are and know that we still love you, no matter what. And Steve,” Darcy took a much needed deep breath before starting another tirade. “You’re just so good, you know? You’ve got this sense of right and wrong that just is so amazing and you don’t even realize it! It’s just—” she seemed to lose steam then, just waving her hands around in exasperation.

Bucky could sense Darcy’s incoming bout of distress and reached over to pull her into a hug, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “Darce, shush, they’re perfect. They’re beautiful, and we love them.”

Together the two brunettes looked to Steve, waiting for his answer. He wiped his eyes and cleared his throat, and made sure that he met Darcy’s gaze when he spoke.

“They’re amazing, Darcy. Thank you.” He looked down at the dark metal compass in his hand and ran his thumb over the engraved surface. Steve held out his free arm and was pleased when Darcy shuffled over and cuddled into his side. Before Darcy, neither Steve nor Bucky were really that free with their casual touches, but they learned. And if Steve was especially pleased that Darcy often chose him for ‘couch snuggles’ rather than Bucky? Well, it probably wasn’t that much of a surprise to anyone, really.

Darcy sighed in contentment from her perch on Steve’s shoulder, burrowing into his side further. Her voice was uncharacteristically timid when she spoke. “You really like it?”

Steve looked at the beautiful engraved cover, the dark shine of the pewter.

“It’s perfect, Darcy.”

 

* * *

 

The three of them sat quietly for a few minutes, enjoying the silence and each other’s company. Darcy eventually disentangled herself from Steve and made her way to the kitchen to fetch more coffee for them all. She needed a moment to get her emotions in check, unsure of where they came from anyways.

She padded back into the living room as quickly as she dared, not even wincing at the sting of the cold floor on her bare feet. Carefully balancing three mugs in her hands, Darcy knelt with the grace Natasha had taught her and was proud when she didn’t spill a single drop. It wasn’t until after she had divvied up the mugs that she noticed that the boys’ presents were cleared away and only two wrapped packages remained. One was long and thin, wrapped in a shiny gold paper that Darcy couldn’t help but trace her fingers over its edges. The second gift was larger and wrapped in a deep green with a big red bow that looked like it’d seen better days. She raised her gaze to look at a sheepish Bucky.

“The bow was a lot harder than I anticipated, I’ll admit.” He laughed. Bucky nudged his gift forward and beamed when Darcy began tearing into it with glee. Once the paper was gone and the box opened, Darcy’s eyes flew open as she let out a squeal of excitement.

Inside were a pair of black leather Oxford pumps she’d been eyeing in a neighboring store for months. They had just enough of a heel to give Darcy’s small stature a lift while remaining low enough that she’d be able to walk around easily despite her clumsy nature.

“Bucky! Thank you so much!!” She threw her arms around his neck, careful not to whack him in the head with her new shoes. He patted her on the back and chuckled.

“You deserved a new pair, doll. Girl as pretty as you needs a nice set of shoes, I think.”

Darcy smacked him lightly on the chest with one of her new shoes, “Charmer,” she scoffed.

She parked herself back on the opposite side of the cleared space to complete their little triangle on the floor. Darcy reached for Steve’s gift and admired the crisp lines of the folded paper around the box. Such a perfectionist, she thought fondly.

Steve seemed a little nervous but Darcy was too busy riding the high of having a new pair of shoes to be overly concerned. She tore into the paper with the same enthusiasm as she tore through Bucky’s gift and her stocking   she dumped out earlier (they each filled each other’s stockings with candy and little cheap trinkets that made them all smile), pausing when she encountered the signature velvet that covered jewelry boxes.

Darcy stole a glance up at Steve before she eased the box open, floored when she saw his apprehension. Her worry for Steve certainly didn’t help when she looked into the box and found one of the most beautiful necklaces she’d ever seen.

She traced her fingertip over the stone in the center of the pendant, a beautiful pale blue gem cut in a perfect square. It was suspended in the center of a rounded square of gold plating, little points pulling the gold out like subtle petals.

“Steve…” she breathed, eyes welling up and her throat closing over the lump of emotion.

“Do you like it?”

Instead of answering, Darcy pulled her hair off her neck and turned her back to Steve, handing him the necklace over her shoulder. A second later Darcy had to suppress a shiver when she felt his fingertips grace her skin as he set the clasp on the chain.

“It matches your eyes,” Steve murmured, taking his time to smooth the chain on her neck with his fingers. He may have had something else planned to say, but it was cut off when Darcy turned and pressed her lips to his in a fierce kiss.

She didn’t know why she did it, just knowing that the tight knot of anxiety in her gut that had been telling her not yet was currently screaming NOW!

Steve froze for maybe half a second before he surged forward and brought his hands to cup either side of her face. The kiss remained chaste, just lips against lips, but it set Darcy on fire.

When they finally did break apart it was only far enough that they could breathe and they leaned their foreheads against one another. Darcy wanted to say something, anything, to explain all her conflicting feelings she had about falling for him and how her being out of time fucked with everything, but Steve’s eyes told her that he was thinking the same exact thing.

“It’s okay, Darcy, we’ll be okay.”

They came together again, not even noticing when Bucky muttered a finally under his breath and quietly made his way back to the bedroom.

Chapter Text

Bucky was pleased as hell that his two best friends finally got their heads out of their asses, but he had to wonder if he really deserved this cruel torture.

They were just so damn cute. Oh, Steve and Darcy weren’t really into being publicly affectionate, and they sure did their best to make sure Bucky didn’t feel uncomfortable, but they were still sickeningly sweet. The adoring looks, the brief kisses and the dopey smiles? Yeah, Bucky was at the end of his rope.

So he may have started chasing more skirt in an attempt to feel less like a third wheel around his friends. It was both refreshing and odd to be the one in a constant need for a date rather than Steve. The double dates were fucking entertaining now that Stevie had the spitfire on his arm, most dames not knowing how to react to her abrasiveness. Bucky found it to be a good selection process for which dames to take out again. Sadly, hardly any passed the test.

The ‘dating roulette,’ as Darcy had taken to calling it, made time fly by. Not knowing exactly how he got there, Bucky stood on the boardwalk under the hot May sun with a very excited Darcy. Steve had wisely gone to buy them all ice cream and left Bucky and his ‘girl-of-the-week’ Anna with Darcy. Anna had successfully survived three previous double dates with Steve and  Darcy, so it was decided that a day at Coney Island was needed to see if she was worthy of a relationship. Bucky wasn’t sure where Darcy was getting these requirements, but he knew better than to try to win an argument with her.

“So!” Darcy clapped her hands together once in decision, turning a mock-stern glare on Bucky and Anna. “We need to get Steve on all the rides. He’s being a bit of a wet blanket.”

Anna covered her soft giggle with a dainty hand as Bucky chuckled. “I dunno, Darce, last year I made him ride the cyclone and he got sick, don’t think he’ll be too keen on trying it again.”

She just rolled her eyes at him, “Well, that’s why we’re only having ice cream instead of a whole big meal, you goof.”

Before he could reply, Steve stepped up with four ice cream cones expertly balanced in his hands. After they each had their own (vanilla for everyone except for Darcy, who insisted on chocolate) Steve offered his girl his arm and they all began walking down the boardwalk.

Steve did end up getting corralled by Darcy to riding everything they came across, but Bucky could see how hard he was trying to keep his stomach in check. Bucky decided he probably would need to intervene.

“Hey, do you all want to go down to the beach? It’s a nice day and the sun’s hot.”

Steve nodded his head vigorously while Darcy groaned out her agreement. “Yesssss! It’s hotter than satan’s ass-crack, I feel like I’m melting.” She either didn’t notice or wasn’t bothered by Anna’s mortification at her colorful language and tugged on the girl’s hand. “Come on, Anna, let’s go change. We’ll meet up with the boys in a few.”

The had only just disappeared into the crowd when Steve bolted for the nearest garbage can, heaving up his ice cream and his breakfast. Bucky patted him on his back in comfort and handed him a napkin he had stuffed in his pocked, having known something like this would happen.

“I’m impressed, Stevie.”

“Fuck off, Bucky.”

He laughed a little (so he wasn’t a saint, sue him) but helped Steve get a cup of water from a nearby stall before they made their way to the changing rooms. It had only taken them a couple minutes so they had to wait a bit for the girls when they stepped out. Steve hunched his shoulders self-consciously and Bucky just patted him on the shoulder. He didn’t bother saying anything since he knew that Steve’d just ignore him anyways.

Bucky was glad he held his tongue when Darcy and Anna walked out of the ladies’ room and Steve damn near choked on his own breath. He would’ve hated to have missed the look on his face. The girls were oblivious to Steve’s plight, chatting happily in front of the restroom and not noticing all the stares they were garnering.

Anna looked beautiful in her dark blue one-piece, but Bucky felt bad that she’d probably get looked over in favor of Darcy. Anna was a gorgeous dame, no doubt about that, but her tiny slip of a figure next to Darcy’s mind-melting curves? She didn’t stand a chance.

Darcy was clearly trying to melt Stevie’s brain today, because she looked almost indecent in her red polka-dot bikini. The shorts were high wasted but hung to her hips and ass like a dream while it looked like her top was doing everything in its power to hold her breasts in. It was Steve’s near wheezing at his side that broke him from his observations.

“Steve, it’s a bathing suit. And it’s not like you haven’t seen her in less, right?”

His best friends answering blush and shuffling feet had Bucky’s brows hitting his hairline in surprise.

“Steve, are you sayin’ that you’ve been steppin’ out with Darce for five months and haven’t taken her to bed?”

More blushing.

Stevie. That just ain’t right. What the hell do you to even do when I’m not home?”

Luckily, Steve was saved from having to answer when the girls finally sauntered up to them. Bucky made sure to give Anna a salacious once-over and a wink since he could tell by her fiddling that she was a little self-conscious. “You look amazing, doll.”

“Thank you.” Her answering smile was timid, but it was still a smile.

They turned their attention to a stuttering mess of a man and Darcy, who looked a lot like a cat that ate the canary.

“You like my suit, Steve?” Bucky made a mental note to ask Darcy how to leer like that, fairly sure that it was a million times more powerful than his own. Even Anna seemed a little flushed as she caught the look on Darcy’s face.

“Y-yeah. I mean, yes. You look amazing, Darcy.” Aw, poor Stevie was trying so hard (ha!) not to stare at Darcy’s chest, or anywhere below her neck, really. Bucky sighed and started walking toward the stairs that led down to the beach, a giggling Anna on his arm.

“C’mon, lovebirds, the beach waits for no one!”

 

* * *

 

Steve dropped on the couch with a groan next to Darcy, exhausted from the long day in the water and in the sun. She already seemed halfway to sleep when he looked over to her. Bucky chuckled from his perch on the kitchen counter, a glass of water half-way to his lips.

“You kids have a good day?”

Steve just rolled his eyes, smiling fondly when Darcy snuggled under his arm and leaned her head on his chest with a happy sigh.

“Yeah, Buck. It was a good day. You gonna see Anna again?”

He frowned when Bucky did, not sure why Bucky didn’t seem to care for the girl all that much. She was a gorgeous dame and very sweet, so Steve didn’t see the problem.

“I don’t think so, Stevie.” Shit, he sounded so defeated. “I dunno, but it just didn’t feel right.”

Steve wanted to point out that he’d only been on four dates with the girl, but knew better than to needle his friend right now.

“You’ll find the right girl one day, Buck. I promise.”

Bucky flinched a little, causing Steve’s brow to furrow in confusion. “I’m not sure about that, Steve. But thanks.”

Steve wanted to ask Bucky just what the hell he meant by that, but his eyelids grew heavy and he fell asleep within moments.

What felt like moments later Steve was woken up by a twitching Darcy in his arms from where they lay spooned together on the couch. Afraid she was having a nightmare, Steve began to pull her close and run his hands down her arms in the hope that he could wake her gently.

Then Darcy moaned his name.

Not a ‘this-is-a-nightmare-and-I’m-scared-moan,’ but a moan, moan.

So. Definitely not a nightmare then.

He cursed himself when he felt his body start to react as Darcy began wriggling against him, little sighs and moans peppered with his name falling out of his mouth. It was hard (dammit, phrasing!)—difficult to figure out what the hell to do. Did he wake her up? Or did he just pretend this wasn’t happening and let Darcy continue to dream?

Steve’s choices were taken from him when Darcy’s body convulsed slightly and her eyes flew open with her broken moan.

His eyes were wide with shock as he tried to unscramble his brain. Did she just…?

“Steve?” Darcy’s whisper was low and husky, not at all helping the situation in Steve’s pants. That was now firmly pressed up against Darcy’s backside. Shit.

He cleared his throat, “Yeah, doll?”

“Were you awake for all of…that?”

“Um, yeah. I’m so—”

Faster than Steve could register Darcy had flipped in his arms so that they were now chest to chest. She placed the fingers of her left hand on his lips to keep him from speaking.

“Don’t apologize, Steve. Now I’m going to ask you some questions, and you’re going to answer either yes or no, okay?” He nodded, and she removed her hand from his mouth and gave him a quick kiss.

“Are you not sleeping with me because you’re saving it for marriage?”

Steve spluttered in embarrassment but managed to get out a choked “No.”

“Do you want me?” This question was pressed against the skin of his neck as Darcy placed little kisses across the cords of his neck.

Yes.”

Darcy hummed amusedly (he could feel her smile against him), “So, we’re not having sex because you are having some weird thing about your morals? Or some misplaced feeling of propriety?”

This question didn’t garner a blush or any stuttering responses, thank the Lord. “No,” Steve said confidently. Before Darcy could ask another question, he quickly yet gently rolled Darcy underneath him, grinding his erection to her core.

“You’re important, Darcy,” he whispered, taking his time to trace the line of her jaw and collarbone with his lips and tongue. “You’re special, and you mean more to me than any other dame I’ve dated.” Sure, there was only a couple, brief, flings, but there had been girls before.

“I didn’t want to ruin things by moving too fast, or to pressure you before you were ready. You get homesick a lot, don’t deny it, I can see it plain as day, doll, and I didn’t want to ask for more than you were ready to give. I love you, Darcy, and I wanted you to be ready.”

Darcy looked close to tears by the time he was done and pulled him down for a hard kiss, almost gasping for breath when they parted.

“I love you, too. Thank you, for being so wonderful and caring, but I’m ready now. Make love to me.”

So he did.

 

* * *

Bucky woke in the middle of the night, a bad dream about Stevie getting hurt causing his breath to stutter and his body to break out in a cold sweat. He pushed himself onto and elbow, wincing at the loud creak from his tiny, shitty bed, and looked across the room to Steve’s equally tiny and shitty bed to check on him.

Only it was empty.

It took a moment, but he eventually remembered that Steve and Darcy had fallen asleep out on the couch. Bucky didn’t hesitate to get out of bed, the dream making him worry about the punk and fueling the need to go check on him.

Due to Bucky’s shaken state, it was only when he reached the entryway to the living room that he finally registered the quiet moans and the sound of flesh on flesh.

Bucky had a moment of doubt, then Darcy’s loud moan of “Steve!” only confirmed his worst nightmare. He had to have a quiet battle with his rage and reminded himself that Darcy wasn’t actually his cousin (though she felt more like a little sister than anything) and was a time-traveling dame from the future so she could make her own decisions. Nodding to himself, he quietly ran back to the bedroom and covered his head with both his and Steve’s pillows to drown out the moaning he couldn’t un-hear.

A small part of him congratulated Steve because it sounded like Darcy was really enjoying herself, but the larger part of Bucky wanted to drink away this memory because he did not need to know what his pseudo baby-sister sounded like when she was having a good time.

Such a good time, in fact, that two pillows and a closed door couldn’t seem to drown out Darcy’s “YES!” and Steve’s echoing groan. Bucky waited for a minute or two before standing and locking the door. For making him listen to that (and probably waking up the whole damn apartment complex) Steve could sleep on the damn couch and Bucky was going to use all his blankets and pillows for himself.

He’d plan for better revenge in the morning.

Bucky wasn’t great at thinking in the morning, so his revenge consisted of getting the empty coffee pot and filling it with cold water to dump on the sleeping couple. They were cuddled close, limbs all tangled up, and Bucky was happy to see that they at least put on their underthings and Darcy had put on Steve’s undershirt. He really didn’t need to see them naked, he already had enough mental scarring from last night. But hey, he at least forgot about the nightmare.

With a mischievous grin, Bucky upended the coffee pot on the sleeping pair, cackling like a madman when they sat up in surprise and clonked their heads together.

“Rise and shine, lovebirds!”

“WHAT THE HELL, JAMES BUCHANAN BARNES?!” Bucky couldn’t fight a flinch at Darcy’s shrill tone, not a fan of how much she sounded like his mother just then. He went right back to laughing when he caught her expression.

“You look like a drowned kitten!”

Steve just groaned and wiped the water from his eyes, unable to meet Bucky’s gaze. At least the punk realized why they got the wake-up call. Bucky could still needle him though, he’d hate to miss the opportunity.

“You know, I was sleeping so well, last night,” a dirty lie, but they didn’t need to know about his nightmare, “until I was woken up by the strangest noise.” Bucky made sure to put on his best innocent expression as he finished in a whisper, “I think it was a ghost.”

Neither of them looked like they were buying it, but Bucky persevered. “No, I’m serious! There was groaning and everything!”

Steve looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him whole and Darcy was clearly fighting a smile. Playing along, she asked, “Really? What did it sound like?”

“It was spooky, doll, I don’t know if you want to hear it.” He saw her sneak a look at Steve’s blushing face and a small smirk made her lips twitch in amusement. As much as she loved Steve, she loved ‘trolling’ him just as much.

“I’m curious, Bucky, I need to know what it sounds like just in case I’m home alone and it comes after me.” Bucky almost lost his composure as the emphasis on ‘come’ had Steve turning the darkest shade of red.

“Okay, fine. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. There was a lot of grunting, but then it got real loud, like this.” He paused for suspense, then moaned as loud as he could. “OH, STEVE! YES! STEEEEEEVVEEEE!”

Darcy fell off the couch from her laughter, Bucky plopping down next to her a second later, tears streaming from his eyes as he clutched his gut as he laughed. Steve looked mortified and refused to look at Bucky, covering his face with one arm and flipping Bucky off with his free hand.

“I hate you so much, Buck, so much.”

Darcy crawled back up the couch and laid next to Steve, resting her chin on Steve’s chest.

“Aw, baby, don’t be like that! Appreciate the fact that you just heard Bucky moan your name.” Her words were almost lost among her giggles, but she kept going, “Besides, we probably deserved that, don’t you think?”

Bucky scoffed from his spot on the floor. “Damn right you guys deserved that, hearing you two go at it was not how I wanted to spend my early morning.” He jumped up from where he was lounging on the floor and strolled across the room to head for the shower.

“I expect breakfast and coffee when I’m done!” He shouted over his shoulder, “I need some pancakes to get over the mental image of Stevie here makin’ time with my baby sister.”

He closed the bathroom door quickly, knowing that the two punks would be shiny-eyed and sporting huge goofy grins at his display of familial love. Bucky could hear the happiness in Darcy’s reply as she shouted back.

“Sure thing, big bro!”

 

* * *

 

Darcy was worried about Bucky. He was chasing more girls than usual but never let it go past the third date. He was sad, too, she could tell. But he wouldn’t talk about it. Darcy wondered if it was some sort of masculine-man thing that his 1940’s sensibilities wouldn’t forgive him for opening up.

Darcy was nothing if not determined, so she wasn’t afraid of a challenge.

She made sure she had Bucky alone before she put her plan into action. The June heat was unbearable, even with as many fans as they could afford circulating the air in the small space. They were home alone while Steve was at class and Bucky was hounding her about what she wanted for her birthday, which gave her a perfect opening.

“Well one year in college my friend Matthew threw me a small party. And when I say small, I mean tiny. He knew that I didn’t like being the center of attention, so him and his boyfriend brought me a cake and a party hat. We just had a small fun time in my dorm room, which he decorated with a bunch of streamers and glitter. It was one of my favorite birthdays, actually.”

Bucky’s brow furrowed in the way that Darcy had come to recognize as him working out what he wanted to say in his head. And like she knew he would, Bucky tentatively asked, “Boyfriend?”

“Yup!” she replied, popping the ‘p’ in a way that never failed to make Bucky grimace. Smiling, she continued to chatter as if this wasn’t hitting a little close to home for her friend slash big brother. “He and Scott have been together since high school, they’re so damn perfect for one another it’s ridiculous. Matthew and I still talk now and then, and last time he called he said he was going to ask Scott to marry him.”

Propose?!”

“Yeah, in my time it’s legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry. In a good handful of states, too.”

She busied herself with making tea for them both, knowing that Bucky secretly loved the stuff. When she sat back down on the couch next to him, Bucky looked at her warily as he accepted the mug.

“And you’re okay with that, with them fellas bein’ together and gettin’ hitched?”

“Of course. They’re my friends, and it doesn’t matter who they love. There’s always going to be people who are ignorant and hateful, but they don’t matter. What matters is that anyone should be able to love anyone.”

She sipped her tea in silence, letting Bucky mull over her words and decide if he wanted to speak or not. Darcy didn’t want to push him, and she sure as hell didn’t want him to clam up on her or get angry. Bucky broke the silence a full ten minutes later.

“The Church says it’s wrong.”

“The Church says a lot of things, Bucky.”

He rolled his eyes at her, “I’m serious, Darce. Lotta people think its wrong, sick.”

“Do you?”

There was a beat of silence before he answered her with a firm, “No.”

“Look,” she sighed, “I know it’s different here. I know that there’s more risks and danger to everyone to isn’t straight, and that makes me so mad I want to vomit. Unfortunately, I can’t change that. What I can do, is let you know that I love you and want you to be happy. Whatever that entails.” She saw him begin to speak, but she cut across him. “Steve feels the same. You know he would never, could never hate you.”

“You guys talk about this?” There was a defensiveness to his tone that Darcy immediately wanted to shut down.

“No. But I know Steve. You’re his best friend and brother, you’d be dumb to think that he’d even bat an eye at this.”

Bucky thankfully seemed to relax at her reassurance, slumping back against the sofa and letting out the breath he was holding. He reached out and covered her hand with his rough larger one, the calluses tickling her skin.

“Thanks, Darcy.”

“Don’t mention it.” She cuddled up into his side, wanting to give him as much comfort as possible. And soak some up for herself, too.

They stayed there in companionable silence until he broke it once again.

“How’d you figure me out, doll? I wasn’t even sure for myself for a long time.”

Darcy rolled her eyes. “I’m basically in your and Steve’s pockets each day, Bucky. There’s not a whole lot I don’t see. Like you discreetly checking out that lifeguard’s ass when we went to the beach last weekend.” She chuckled as he tensed, patting him on the chest. “Don’t worry, no one else noticed. I just did because, well, I’m me. I’m nosy as hell and I was worried about you. Thought something was wrong.”

Bucky hummed noncommittally before chuckling himself. “He did have a great ass, didn’t he?”

“It was indeed a fine ass.”

“Why are you two talking about some fella’s ass?”

Both Bucky and Darcy jumped at the sound of Steve’s voice from where he had silently entered the apartment. Darcy was afraid that Bucky would clam up now that Steve was here, but she really should’ve known better.

He relaxed into the couch once again and quirked a brow at Steve. “She said she caught me checking out the lifeguard out last weekend.”

Steve, wonderful and beautiful Steve didn’t even seem fazed by Bucky’s subtle challenge, eyes going distant as he thought back.

“Huh. He did have a nice ass.” He shrugged and turned away, as if he didn’t just break Bucky’s brain.

“You’re such a shit, Rogers!” Bucky shouted, but his affection was clear in his voice.

Steve just poked his head back into the living room. “Yeah, so what? We should go back to the beach this Saturday, that lifeguard definitely checked out your ass, too, Buck. You should talk to him.”

Darcy couldn’t help her squeal of excitement, clapping her hands together and bouncing in her seat.

“Yes! All the yes!”

Bucky groaned, “I hate both of you, you know that? You guys are killing me here.”

Steve took pity on his friend, walking over to the couch and patting Bucky on his shoulder. “We just care about you, Buck. If you’re happy, we’re happy. The rest doesn’t matter.”

They all ignored each other’s dampening eyes, since the amount of sappiness was already at a maximum. Steve, thankfully, broke the tension.

“And if a lifeguard with a great ass makes you happy, well, we’d be horrible friends if we didn’t help you snap him up.”

Darcy cackled at Bucky’s mortified expression, unable to stop laughing at his growing expression of horror. He was undoubtedly thinking of worse-case scenarios where Steve and Darcy went up and spoke to his crush.

“Sweet Jesus. I will talk to him, not you two!”

Steve’s voice was smug. “Oh, good. Glad you’re planning on talking to him, then.” He ran his eyes over Bucky critically, “You should get a haircut.”

Bucky groaned and dropped his head into his hands.

“Cheer up, Bucky,” Darcy piped up from her spot on the couch, finally having caught her breath from when she’d been laughing so hard. “You guys will be so cute together!”

Bucky shoved himself off of the couch and started down the hall, calling over his shoulder, “I’m hiding in our room because you two are insane. Come get me when dinner is ready, you punks!”

Darcy and Steve exchanged a look when they heard the bedroom door click shut.

“I think that went well,” Darcy said.

Steve smiled, “Yeah, doll, that went real well.”

 

* * *

 

September 30, 2014

Jane paced on the tower’s landing pad, waiting anxiously for Thor to return. After the immediate panic and a near Hulk-out, Thor promised that he would return to Asgard to seek answers as to what happened to Darcy.

That was seven hours ago.

“Jane, you’ve got to come inside, you’re just going to wear yourself out if you stay up here.” Bruce’s concern loud and clear in his voice.

“He’s right, Foster,” Tony shouted from where he leaned against the railing, glass of scotch in his hand. “You’ve been up here for hours, you should rest.”

“No,” she snapped, “I need to be here when Thor comes back, so we can figure out what’s happened to Darcy. I need to help get her back.”

She was grateful that Thor assured her that Darcy was not dead, saying that the spell was intended to find someone, not harm. Even though Thor’s attempt at the spell went really, horribly, catastrophically wrong, his intent of the spell was pure so Darcy would not be hurt. Sent off somewhere else in the Nine Realms? Probably. Harmed? Well, if she was it wouldn’t be a direct cause of the spell.

Suddenly Tony was in front of her and grabbed her by the shoulders.

“Jane, we’re worried about the kid too. But running yourself ragged isn’t going to help Darcy, and it sure as hell isn’t going to help you.

“I have to find her!” Jane had meant for her voice to be loud and harsh, but instead it seemed weak and pleading. “She’s my best friend, my sister, and I was supposed to keep her safe! She doesn’t have any family, Tony, just me and Thor and Erik! We’re all she has!”

“She has us, now, as well.” Bruce was standing next to Tony now, eyes big and sincere. “Darcy spent three months here caring for us and loving us, did you really think we didn’t love her back?”

Tony huffed, but he didn’t disagree. “What he said. She’s like some strange combination of daughter/sister/friend. She’s snarky as hell and puts up with our shit.”

Bruce rolled his eyes at Tony’s inability to express himself. “What Tony means is that we’re worried for Darcy and want to get her back, but we also care about you.”

Jane’s eyes were now watery with tears that she scrubbed furiously with her sweater. “I love you guys too.”

Tony was opening his mouth to say something totally snarky when the Bifröst landed with a roar on the other end of the landing pad. Jane didn’t waste a second and ran over there and jumped into Thor’s arms. He hugged her tightly, she could practically feel the guilt coming off of him in waves.

Jane tried being mad at Thor, she did, but she couldn’t get angry no matter how hard she tried. He was just trying to help Steve, and there was no way he could have known what would happen. Thor already was beating himself up over it, he didn’t need her ire as well.

It wasn’t until Thor put her down that Jane noticed the second man standing behind Thor.

“Heimdall?”

The Gatekeeper nodded his head in greeting, “It is good to see you again, Doctor Foster, and in good health.”

“Thanks, it’s good to see you too.”

Jane looked to Thor, questions in her eyes.

“Let us go inside, my love. There is much to be said and I think it would be best to happen over a drink.”

 

* * *

 

Tony Stark was a master of bullshit. He could detect it like nobody else and could spew it and make it shine like gold, no one being the wiser. So he wanted to call bullshit on Heimdall’s and Thor’s tale.

But he couldn’t.

Because they were earnest as fuck and Darcy got sent back in time, what the hell.

“I don’t even have a response for this, which is saying something.” He winced at how loud his voice was as it broke the contemplative silence around them.

In the seat next to him, Bruce scoffed. “It’s a miracle, Tony Stark is speechless.”

Before he could snark back, Heimdall spoke. And damn did that man have a voice. If Tony was a single man and he thought he had a speck of a chance with the golden guardian, he’d climb that man like a tree.

“It is a most unusual situation, yes. The Norns have willed it to be as such, so there is nothing we can do but to wait for Darcy’s return.”

“How do we get her back?” Jane’s voice was rough with tears, having shed quite a few when they were told that Darcy was safe and sound, just…misplaced.

“The magic that sent Darcy to the past will bring her back to you when the time is right. She has a purpose to serve and will not return until it has been completed.”

Jane looked furious, and Tony inched his way behind the bar in the common room so that something would be between him and the tiny doctor.

“What the fuck do you mean she won’t come back?! She doesn’t belong there! How is she even surviving? How do we know that she’s with people we can trust?!”

Thor had placed a gentle hand on her shoulder but even Tony knew that it wouldn’t stop Jane from trying to claw Heimdall’s face apart if she really wanted to. Foster was a determined creature, downright terrifying when she needed to be.

“I see all things, Jane, including the past. Darcy is in safe hands, I assure you.” The Gatekeeper held up a hand to stave off everyone’s questions, “I cannot tell you who she is with, and for that I am sorry. At least, not yet. I will be able to tell you in the future, but not at this moment.”

The giant man stood and bowed to everyone in the room. “I must return to my post, but I thank you for inviting me into your home and listening to me. I hope that you can rest easy knowing your loved one is safe.”

Tony just had one question, so he raised his hand to get Heimdall’s attention. “I’m curious, how does this work? Will she come back and only three weeks pass here, but for her she’ll be gone for years? How does the time pass?”

“It moves at the same pace, Stark. Each day for you is one for her. You travel the same direction, just in parallel lines.”

Tony nodded his thanks, mind working a million miles per hour at the new information. He didn’t even notice when Heimdall left with Jane and Thor, or when Bruce left to return to his own apartment. It wasn’t until Pepper dropped on the sofa next to him that he brought his focus back to the present.

“Hey, Pep.”

His wife looked at him with her knowing eyes, then rested her head on his shoulder and cuddled up to his side.

“She’ll be okay, Tony. Darcy’s a tough girl. We’ll get her back.”

Tony closed his eyes and prayed that Pepper was right. His heart won’t be able take seeing Jane fall apart, so he wished with all his might that Darcy came back soon.

Chapter Text

Christmas Day, 2014

Tony sat around the tree with his team, trying not to be melancholy. Natasha and Clint had joined them, but Steve couldn’t be convinced to abandon his search for Bucky for even one day. Sam had assured them that he’d look after the idiot, but Tony still worried.

Thor and Jane looked forlornly at Darcy’s stocking above the fireplace, their smiles faltering at the sight. Thor still hadn’t shaken his guilt over the accident that sent Darcy back, even if he was told by the Norns themselves that she was supposed to be there. Tony couldn’t blame him; he didn’t appreciate how they still weren’t told who Darcy was supposedly safe with back wherever the hell she was. They wouldn’t even tell them what year she was in.

The group went around exchanging gifts with a bittersweet air to it all. The gifts all ranged from sentimental (Jane and Thor) to extravagant (Tony) and everything else in between. Pepper was the last to hand out gifts, saving Tony’s for last.

“I was visiting that old storage facility Howard set up in upstate New York, and I found this journal in a hidden compartment in his desk. I think it was his apprentice’s? Lou?”

Tony’s face lit up with glee and tore through the paper, ignoring the question of why Pepper was in his dad’s old desk since he dying to get his hands on this journal. While Howard and Tony didn’t get along all too well, stories about Lou were Tony’s favorite.

“Who is Lou, Tony?” Bruce asked.

“He was my dad’s apprentice slash partner when he was working with Erskine and Peggy Carter during the War. Apparently Lou got into a ton of shit with Steve and the rest of the Commandos and caused a lot of chaos for Phillips. He refused to be in any pictures, but he was right there in the thick of it.”

Tony took a moment to pause and run his hands over the worn leather, admiring how well loved the journal looked. He opened it gently, uncaring of everyone reading over his shoulder as he turned past the first blank pages to find the first entry.

October 4 th , 1942

I landed in Steve and Bucky’s apartment four days ago. The 40’s are interesting, so far. Since I arrived we’ve gotten me a job at a dress shop, we got in a brawl, and I’ve already lost a little of my heart to Steve…

Tony’s eyebrows hit his hairline in surprise, not sure what the hell he was reading. He didn’t have time to think about it too much since Jane tore the journal for his hands. Before he could ask what the hell? Jane was already crying and babbling.

“Jane, my love, calm yourself and tell us what is wrong.” Thor cupped Jane’s face between his large hands, making her appear even smaller.

This is Darcy’s handwriting!”

You could have heard a pin drop in the following silence.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes!” she practically screamed, “it’s Darcy’s journal!”

Jane flipped the journal over to the back cover and opened it, “See? She signed her fucking name! She always puts her name in the back cover of her books instead of the front because she said she ‘likes to be contrary,’ because she’s a little shit.” Tony was concerned that Jane was going to start hyperventilating because of the strange laughing sobs breaking out of her throat.

He looked to Pepper with his eyebrows raised in question. She raised her hands in a sign of surrender, “Hey, it was wrapped in some newspaper with Howard’s handwriting on it saying ‘Lou’s.’ I didn’t double check it because I wanted you to be the first to open it.”

Everyone sat in stunned silence, except for Jane who was clutching the piece of Darcy like it was a lifeline and letting out little hitching sobs. 

Natasha broke the silence, “So who’s going to call Steve? I think he has some explaining to do.”

 

* * *

 

Halfway across the world, Steve pulled out his old compass. He kept it tucked close to his body and away from Sam’s sight lines from across the hotel room. Steve trusted Sam, he really did, but this was something he wanted to keep for himself. It was a crazy story, anyways, and despite how Sam just got baptized with the crazy that was being an Avenger, his and Darcy’s story was something else.

Steve would forever be grateful that he didn’t have the compass with him when he went into the ice and that Peggy held onto it after he was gone. He opened the cover and traced the portrait of Darcy with the tip of his finger.

“I’m waiting, doll.” He whispered.

She never knew if she’d make it back to her time, but Steve had faith. She’d come back to him, she had to. Darcy and him were right and whatever dropped her into his life couldn’t take her away, not now. Not when he and Bucky somehow found each other once more after a lifetime. Darcy had to be here too, or else it was all for nothing.

Steve put the compass in a secure pocket where Bucky’s rested, hoping that he’d be able to give the bronze compass to its owner soon. If…when Darcy came back, he planned to have her big brother at his side for her. It’d be the three of them against the world, just how it was meant to be.

 

* * *

 

July 4 th , 1942

Steve woke to the feeling of something tickling his face and muffled giggles. There was a snort from the end of his bed where he could feel someone trying to tickle his feet.

“You both are shit at bein’ discreet, you know that, right?”

Both Darcy and Bucky laughed at Steve who cracked open his eyes the tiniest amount.

“’S there a reason you two are waking me up at the crack of dawn on my birthday?”

Darcy rolled her eyes and crawled up the bed to sit down by his torso. She bent down so that her face hovered real close to his, almost making Steve go cross-eyed.

“What’s the matter, old man? Are us young whipper-snappers making you jealous with our youthful spirit?”

Steve spluttered indignantly, “I’m only twenty-five, Darce! And Bucky turned twenty-six in March!”

“Yeah, but I’m just twenty-three as of June. That makes you old.” She scoffed, as if Steve was the one being ridiculous here.

Sighing in defeat, he pressed a quick kiss to her lips then began to sit up. “So what are we doing today? I can only assume you woke me up this early for a purpose.”

“Well,” Bucky drawled, “There’s this mighty fine lookin’ breakfast out in the kitchen, for one thing.”

“And then there’s some presents in the living room, which is so weird.” Darcy teased.

“After that, we figured the birthday boy could choose whatever he wanted to do.”

“That is, until dinner. Bucky and I made plans for dinner, our treat.” Darcy’s smile was beautiful, she looked so soft in the gentle morning light that Steve just had to kiss her.

“It sounds great, Darce, thank you.” He kissed her one more time before looking over to Bucky, who was staring at the ceiling with a grossed-out expression. Because he was a melodramatic SOB.

“Thanks, Buck, this means a lot.”

Bucky sighed but Steve could see the smile in his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, whatever. Happy birthday, punk. Get your lazy ass out of bed and come eat your breakfast.”

Once Bucky had cleared the room, Darcy didn’t waste a moment before taking Steve’s face by the hand and kissing him fiercely. He could’ve sworn he felt his brain melt down his spine with the intensity of it.

When she finally pulled back Darcy’s chest was heaving and her pupils were blown wide. “Happy birthday, Steve.”

“Th-thanks, Darce. I love you.”

“Hmm,” she hummed as she kissed him again, “I love you too.”

Steve’s heart twinged at the small flicker of sadness in her eyes when she said it, but Steve knew his eyes did the same thing. Sometimes it felt like they were on borrowed time. Darcy didn’t know how to get back to the future and she sure as hell didn’t know if she would go back. Steve had comforted her the night of her own birthday when she woke up crying at three in the morning.

Darcy felt guilty for not wanting to go home, and she felt guilty for missing home. She felt guilty for loving Steve when they had no idea how long she would be with them. She said she wasn’t worthy enough to drop into their lives and that he, and Bucky, deserved someone who was better.

“There is no better, Darce, there’s just you. You’re everything, don’t you see?”

He tried consoling her as best as he could that night, and each time she woke up crying since. Sometimes he was able to convince her that she belonged, but sometimes there was nothing he could do to comfort her. She’d still clutch him like she was drowning and he was solid ground, though.

Steve watched as she bounded from his bed and skipped to the bedroom door, teasing him over her shoulder as she walked out.

“C’mon Steve, it’s time for daytime birthday fun!” She snuck a mischievous glance out of the bedroom door before deciding the coast was clear. With a wink, she lifted up her nightgown high enough so the hint of black lace covering her amazing ass could be seen.

“If you don’t get up, then you don’t get nighttime birthday fun.”

Steve never got out of bed faster in his life.

 

* * *

 

It was a good day, Bucky decided. There was an amazing breakfast, good gifts for Steve (Darcy’s poker skills were really paying off for the Barnes-Rogers-Lewis household), and Steve smiled more that day than Bucky swore he’d seen since Sarah Rogers passed.

They spent the morning in a public park nearby where they laid out on a blanket and enjoyed the sun. Steve sketched as Darcy wrote in her journal, and Bucky just enjoyed people watching.

After getting some lunch, they made their way down to the beach where Darcy spent most of the afternoon cajoling Steve out of the shade of the umbrella and into the ocean. Bucky used their lovely distraction to spend some time with Paul the Lifeguard. He didn’t really see it ‘going anywhere’ as Darcy called it, but Paul was a good time and Bucky wasn’t about to say no to some no-strings fun.

When the sun began to sit low on the horizon, Bucky and Darcy hurried them all back to the apartment where there were quick showers (“No, Darcy, sharing with Steve will not make this go faster, for Pete’s sake.”) and everyone got dressed in their best outfits for a night out on the town. First, they were going to a restaurant that would normally be way out of their price range before going to their favorite dance hall.  Again, Bucky thanked God for Darcy’s amazing poker skills. He didn’t know how the hell she got so good, but her winnings had them living like kings ever since she dropped in.

Bucky and Steve dressed in their best suits, which weren’t anything to scoff at (they looked ‘fine as hell,’ thank you very much) but at the same time they wore their ‘best suits’ for any good occasion. What really made the evening was Darcy’s dress. Yeah, Bucky felt like her brother—living with the happy couple was so painful—but he could tell when Darcy was dollin’ herself up for the evening.

Darcy’s job with Mrs. Stanton at the dress shop was both a blessing and a curse. Blessing, because she got great clothes at a discount price seeing as Mrs. Stanton loved Darcy to pieces and took every chance she could to spoil her. The elderly woman didn’t have any children or younger family of her own and decided that Darcy would fill that role. Curse, because whenever Darcy stepped out of the goddamn apartment Bucky and Steve felt like they needed to cover her with a sheet so she’d stop getting all the appreciative leers from everyone in the damn city.

Tonight was no different.

Darcy’s dress was ink black and hugged her chest and waist, not hiding a damn curve. The bust cut down far enough to be just this side of scandalous but also covered enough that she’d still be allowed out of the house. It wasn’t her fault that she was…gifted in that particular department. The dress hit her just right at Darcy’s hips flaring out to her knees in an elegant cascade. She wore a deep red shaw around her shoulders that fell artistically around her pale shoulders.

Bucky internally groaned, making sure he had a couple of extra handkerchiefs in his pockets for future nosebleeds. He really hoped there wasn’t going to be a fight tonight, but you could never tell when it came to Steve and Darcy.

Three hours later at the neighborhood’s dance hall, Bucky was finally able to relax. Here, everyone knew that Darcy was Steve’s girl. There were some close calls throughout the night between the restaurant and the hall, but thankfully they were able to make it to a safe space before Steve and Darcy got offended on one another’s behalf.

Bucky watched Darcy lay her head against Steve’s shoulder as they danced, a smile easily finding his way to his lips.

If anyone deserved some peace and some happiness, it was these two.

 

* * *

 

September, 2015

“I just can’t believe it took us this long to get you to meet up with us, Capsicle.”

Steve rolled his eyes at Tony, wishing he hadn’t listened to Sam when his friend said he should ‘go home.’

He didn’t have a home, not here. ‘Home’ was a shitty apartment in 1942 Brooklyn with the mouthiest dame he ever met and his best friend. But his team was here, and Steve could at least reluctantly agree that they were starting to feel something like family. It didn’t mean they were ‘home’ just yet.

“I’ve been a bit busy, Tony. Bucky’s—”

“—out there tearing apart Hydra and leaving you breadcrumbs for leads. Believe me, we know. That’s not why we wanted you to be here.”

Steve had a fairly good idea as to what they wanted to talk about, but his heart was heavy and he was tired. He didn’t want to talk about all that he left behind. He just wanted to find Bucky, and he wanted Darcy to come back.

Tony took his lack of answer as confusion, unfortunately. He spent the next ten minutes drawing out the story of how Darcy got sent to the past and how they found ‘Lou’s’ journal among Howard’s things. While they weren’t things Darcy told him outright (“Think of the space-time continuum, Steve!” she had said) Steve had definitely had pieced it together since he woke up from the ice.

He turned to Jane and Thor, knowing that they deserved answers the most.

“I am sorry that I never told you about what happened,” He made sure to meet each of their gazes, guilt tearing though his chest as he saw their heartbroken expressions. “She told me all about you, as much as she could without ‘fucking up the space-time-important-shit,’ as she called it.” Jane’s laugh also sounded like a sob, making Steve wipe his own tears in reaction.

“I believe she’ll be back, I have to. She’s everything to me.”

Thor reached across the table to clap a heavy hand against Steve’s shoulder.

“She will return, Steven. We have been promised.” The Asgardian then proceeded to tell Steve all about Heimdall’s words about the magic that sent Darcy back and how it was supposed to bring her back.

For the first time since Steve woke up from the ice, he felt hope.

Chapter Text

October 7 th , 2015

Bucky adjusted the scope on his sniper a final time before he settled in to wait. Steve and the man with the wings—Sam, his memory supplied—were going to arrive at the Hydra base soon, and he needed to make sure these idiots didn’t get themselves killed.

His memory was coming back due to time away from his previous ‘handlers,’ time away from The Chair, and whatever version of the super-soldier serum Zola pumped him full with back in the 40’s that was healing his head. Most of his old personality had returned too, but Bucky thought that was more because he was stubborn as hell rather than proper reintegration to the real world.

He didn’t regret leading Steve and his friend on this world-wide goose chase, not one bit. While Bucky was getting better, he still had a long way to go before he could face Steve. There was too much blood on his hands and too many years of violence for him to just come in from the cold just yet. He knew that Steve would be wanting everything to be how it was before the ice or before the War, because he was a damn romantic no matter how much he denied it. Darcy always gave him so much shit about it too.

The memory of Darcy tore through his heart just as much as the prospect of facing Steve did. Bucky ‘died’ before Darcy made it back to her time and he couldn’t bring himself to look up her records to see what had happened to her. She was stuck with him and the punk, and it was the greatest blessing either of them could ask for but Bucky was afraid she’d never make it home. His baby sister was a spitfire, and his heart broke at the thought of her being left out of time without him or Steve there with her.

He prayed that the punk took care of Darcy before he went into the ice. If not, well, Bucky was pretty sure a bullet grazing Steve’s shoulder wouldn’t hurt too much. What good were all those muscles and serum if a tiny bullet shut down your whole day?

Bucky readjusted himself where he lay on the hard ground, smirking as he patted himself on the back for finding such a good perch.  He was about 1500m from where Steve and Sam just landed outside of the base’s fence.

Yeah, Steve would be okay with a graze. Bucky needed to make sure Steve wasn’t getting rusty, anyhow.

 

*

 

September 15, 1943

“Can’t believe you’ve been here a year, spitfire.”

“I can’t believe you guys even put up with me in the first place.”

Darcy was only half focused on her conversation with Bucky while she wrote in her journal. She started writing it shortly after she arrived in the boys’ apartment because she needed a way to keep herself sane. The boys didn’t know, but the first couple of days and weeks Darcy would wake up convinced that she was going crazy or hallucinating the whole thing. The moments of doubt were small, but oh so powerful. The journal was a way she could focus, a tangible thing she could connect to when her mind was having problems dealing with her reality.

She also wanted to keep the journal in case she never made it back to her own time. She wrote down memories of Jane and Thor and of her life in the 21 st century as well as whatever was happening to her currently. It was a touchstone for Darcy, and she was grateful that her giant purse survived the time-travel trip so that she could carry it with her wherever she went.

Bucky’s voice interrupted her concentration once more. “We should do something to celebrate,” he mused.

“Celebrate what?”

Darcy only looked up when Bucky’s shadow blocked her light from the lamp, only to meet the most unimpressed look she’d ever seen on her brother’s face. Which was certainly saying something because he spent almost all of his time chasing after her and Steve.

Bucky reached down and gently closed the leather journal, tracing his fingertips along the edge of the cover as he did so. Darcy never let the boys read it, obviously, but they knew how important it was to her.

“We should celebrate your anniversary of dropping into our lives,” Bucky finished. “You’re important to us, Darcy, and you need to know that.”

Darcy didn’t tear up, not at all. Especially not when Steve walked out of the bathroom agreeing with his best friend.

“I think it’s a swell idea, Buck. Darce is the best girl a couple of chumps like us could have asked for, she deserves a celebration.”

She sighed, knowing she wasn’t going to win this argument. Not if both of her guys were going to bust out the puppy-dog eyes like they were currently doing.

Darcy threw up her hands in exasperation and surrender. “Fine! Fine. You guys can scratch whatever itch you have about celebrating me being here. I plopped down here on the 30 th , so you guys have some time to ‘wow’ me.”

She anticipated a night on the town and a nice dinner, much like they did for every other ‘celebration’ they had.

Darcy really should have known better than to underestimate them.

Fifteen days later, Darcy woke up to breakfast in bed (or on sofa. She and Steve refused to kick Bucky out of his room, and despite all the fun sexy-times they had together Steve was still adamant about sleeping separately. Darcy didn’t see the point when he fell asleep on the couch with her most of the time, but she wasn’t going to argue when she still got to cuddle up with him at night. And the sofa wasn’t half -bad either) which included the biggest coffee mug she’d ever seen.

Bucky had found some artist and commissioned it especially for Darcy, seeing as it was about five times the normal size of a regular coffee mug.  Darcy had worried about the cost at first, but she was assured that the artist gave Bucky a discount when she realized it was for actual coffee consumption. Apparently, the artist liked her daily cup of Joe as well.

Darcy’s second gift was the deepest and most beautiful red lipstick. She thanked Steve for the gift repeatedly throughout the day by smacking big kisses on his cheeks so that the imprint of her lips could be seen by all. Steve would just blush and politely wipe it away, but Bucky cracked up each time at his best friend’s flustered state and called Darcy a hussy. She just shrugged her shoulders in agreement.

The three of them returned to the park that they went to for Steve’s birthday where they set up a picnic which was so damn cute that Darcy teared up a little bit. They had a red and white checkered blanket for fuck’s sake. And a wicker basket. Darcy squealed in delight and about took both the boys down with her enthusiastic hug. The mid-morning to early afternoon was spent lounging around in the sun. Darcy had an especially good time when a couple of bottles of wine were broken out, then a few kids came to the park with their dog and let her pet it.

They returned to the apartment before dinner so they could ‘get all gussied up,’ as Bucky said, but Darcy was shocked into silence when she came out of the bathroom in her favorite red and black polka-dot dress. The boys had turned off all the lights and instead lit candles on almost every surface. The delicious smells of a hearty dinner wafted out of the kitchen as music softly played over the radio.

“Fellas?”

“In here, sweetheart!” Steve called.

Darcy felt hyper-aware of the sound of her heels clicking loudly on the wood floor as she made her way to the kitchen. Her nerves melted away when she saw Steve and Bucky sitting on the available counter-space in their nice suits.

“What’s going on?” she laughed.

“Well,” Steve began, “you cook for us all the time. So me ‘n Buck thought the least we could do was to make you dinner for your anniversary.”

Bucky snorted at the incredulous look Darcy was sure she was wearing. “Yeah, we kind of forgot we couldn’t cook worth a damn, doll. But we did manage to get some pointers from Mrs. Stanton. So, here we are!”

Darcy couldn’t help the big dumb grin on her face if she tried, heart warmed by the lengths Steve and Bucky would go for her. She hopped up onto the counter next to Steve and leaned her head on his shoulder.

“So why are we on the counter in our fancy get-ups?”

Steve wrapped his left arm around her waist and pulled her closer as Bucky began passing them plates full of pasta. “We know how you don’t really like goin’ out to fancy restaurants even though you do like your nice dresses. We also know about your strange fixation with sitting on the countertop—”

“I like to feel tall!” Darcy protested.

“—so we decided to combine the two.”

Darcy looked up to meet Steve’s gaze as she beamed. “You’re so good to me,” she murmured before she kissed him gently. “How’d I get lucky enough to land you and Bucky in my life?”

Bucky choked on a fork-full of noodles. “Aren’t you the one who landed on us, doll?” She couldn’t describe his grin as anything other than shit-eating, but Darcy rolled her eyes and smiled good-naturedly.

Sitting on the counter with the love of her life and her brother and eating pasta, Darcy had one of the best nights of her life.

 

* * *

 

December 10 th , 1943

Darcy was freaking out. She shouldn’t, because she knew this was coming, but she was still losing her damn mind.

Bucky got drafted (she cried for three days when he came home with the news and cried another two when he went off to basic) and now Steve was out all hours of the day going to recruitment offices to get himself enlisted. She knew, she knew both of these things had to happen in order for ‘Captain America’ to be made, for her world as she knew it to be brought into existence.

But these were her boys. This was her big brother, and her…everything. Steve was her heart and soul so she wanted to tell Captain America to go fuck himself because he couldn’t take Steve from her. Darcy clung to him tighter at night, determined to keep him safe.

The small part of her brain that sounded a whole lot like Jane reminded Darcy that she couldn’t be selfish, that she had to remember that the world needed Captain America, she couldn’t’ keep Steve away just for her own sake.

She really wanted to tell her Jane-brain to shut up, but then her Thor-brain reminded her about how majestically Steve fought and the baser part of Darcy’s self really wanted to watch him to take out some baddies…maybe she had bonded to closely with Natasha in 2013?

As she witnessed her train of thought digress catastrophically, Darcy wasn’t at all surprised that when she finally noticed Steve he looked like he’d been calling her name for some time.

“You okay, Darce?” Her heart melted at his concern.

“My mind was just far off, I’m sorry. What’s up?”

Steve crossed the living room in a few purposeful strides before stopping in front of Darcy where she sat on the couch. With a gentle hand, Steve tilted her chin up as he leaned over so that their lips could meet. This kiss was tender and sweet, making tears prickle behind Darcy’s eyelids.

“You know he’ll be okay, right? Bucky’s a tough bastard.” Steve was reassuring himself as much as he was Darcy, she could tell.

“He’ll be good, I know. I just worry. Can’t seem to help it.” Darcy burrowed into Steve’s side when he sat on the cushion next to her. She sighed out her tension when she was nearly immersed in his warm presence and comforting scent.

“We got a letter from him, says he’ll get a day or two of leave before he gets shipped out. He wrote that he and a bunch of the other men were going to go to the Stark Expo toward the end of the month, wants us to meet him there.”

Darcy hummed non-committedly until the full implications of the words Stark Expo sunk into her head.

“Stark?!” She sat up so quick that Steve got dislodged and fell to the floor with a thunk. “Holy shit! Okay, yeah, wow, this is big news, BIG news!”

Steve didn’t bother to stand and get in the way of her pacing (for which Darcy was grateful) but instead wore one of the most befuddled expressions she’d ever seen on him. And that includes the time she got drunk and tried to explain a Lady Gaga music video to him.

“You going to explain to me what’s goin’ on in that head of yours, sweetheart?”

Darcy opened her mouth to let it all spill before she snapped it closed.

He sighed, noting the uncomfortable expression on her face. Rather than immediate ask what was wrong, he shuffled back enough that he could rest against the sofa as Darcy paced. “This one of those ‘space-time-important-shit’ things you can’t talk about?”

Darcy groaned but nodded her head ‘yes’ anyways, wanting more than anything to tell him why this was not only to him, but to her.

This was her chance to insert herself into the story, and she’d be damned if she was going to miss it.

 

* * *

 

Stark Expo, December 27 th , 1943

Bucky rolled his eyes as both Darcy and Steve wolf-whistled at him in his Sergeant’s uniform but Darcy could tell that he was peacocking on the inside.

“Oh, stop it. You two punks are going to make me blush.”

It was Darcy and Steve’s turn to roll their eyes at Bucky’s shit-eating grin as he downright sauntered over to them. Unable to wait any longer, Darcy let go of her boyfriend’s hand and launched herself into Bucky’s arms. She let out a high-pitched peal of laughter when he lifted her off of the ground and swung her in a circle before setting her back down.

Steve was quick to step into Bucky’s open arms once Darcy stepped back. She teared up a little at how tightly they were clutching one another.

As much as she loved these boys and they loved her, their love would always pale in comparison to the weight of the love between Steve and Bucky. They were brothers through thick and thin, their bond stronger than those who shared blood even. It both buoyed and broke Darcy’s heart at the same time. Shaking her head from the bittersweet thought, Darcy focused on the now.

She wedged her way between Bucky and Steve, unwilling to let go of either of them as they went from exhibit to exhibit. Things were about to change fast for all of them, so she’d hold onto them for as long as she could. Her heart began beating overtime when they made it to Howard Stark’s personal stage where he was supposed to show a flying car. Darcy wanted to grumble about how he should’ve tried harder because New York traffic in 2014? Yeah, that sucked.

Darcy could see where Tony got his charisma from, that’s for sure. Howard Stark worked the crowd like he was born to do it, managing to accept his failure with grace and charm that made the audience enamored with him. Thankfully, Darcy knew Tony too well to fall victim to a similar ploy. It was the same one Tony used when he tried to explain why the thing that exploded (don’t ask which thing, there’s always a thing) wasn’t his fault.

She squirreled Bucky and Steve to the edge of the thinning crowd where they’d less likely have eavesdroppers. “So, I just need to disappear for a moment and get some information on my whole ‘important-space-time-shit, can you guys meet me back here soon?”

Both of the guys looked uneasy at the prospect of Darcy doing just that, but they were wise enough to not fight her on it. Bucky sighed with resignation while Steve just looked defeated even though he nodded his head.

“Yeah, sweetheart, we’ll go take a look around a bit. How’s twenty minutes sound?”

She pressed a hard kiss to Steve’s lips and one to Bucky’s cheek, gave them each a heartfelt “Thank you!” and then disappeared into what remained of the crowd.

She was grateful for whatever powers-that-be were on her side that night because it was with surprising ease that she found her way backstage to where Howard was probably hiding. Darcy tried not to groan when she realized that no one stopped her because she was a busty gal looking for Howard Stark. Ew. Just no. But Darcy’s inner Natasha rolled her eyes and scoffed at the lax security but told her to use it to her advantage. Putting an extra swing in her hips and a coy smile on her face she found herself practically invisible to everyone and made her way to Howard’s door within minutes. Darcy barely waited a moment after knocking to squeeze herself through the door and locking herself in.

Howard was sitting on a low sofa with a glass of scotch in one hand and what looked like schematics for a handgun in the other. He eyed her up and down first with surprise and then again with intent.

“Well, you’re certainly not Jarvis.”

Darcy had to hide her excitement at potentially meeting the real-life JARVIS and instead put her focus on her mission.

“Howard, we need to talk.”

His eyebrows hit his hairline with surprise at her informality before something seemed to click in his head. He suddenly stood and raised his hands in a gesture of surrender.

“I wore a rubber, I swear to god sweetheart—”

Darcy’s jaw hit the floor. “What?! Oh, god, no! I’m not pregnant you idiot, we’ve never met!”

Like a marionette with its strings cut Howard slumped back into the sofa with relief and downed what remained in his scotch glass from where he upended it.

“I about had a heart attack, dollface, maybe you should lead with that next time.”

“Maybe you should think with your brain instead of your dick more often if you think that every girl who walks in here you’ve knocked up!”

The intent was back on Howard’s face, much to Darcy’s dismay. “I like your gumption, doll.”

“Oh my god you’re wasting my time, shut up and listen, will you?” Darcy nervously glanced at the clock and her heart sank when she realized she only had about twelve minutes left. It’s not enough time…

Before he could so much as quirk a brow in question, Darcy stomped over and sat herself down on the coffee table in front of him.

“I know about Project Rebirth, and I’m not Hydra.”

That snapped Howard out of whatever lusty state he was prone to be in. He immediately sat up straight and leaned forward, but Darcy was aware that one of his hands had moved back to his waist on instinct. So he’s armed. Good to know he’s not trusting every hussy who walks in here.

“You’ve got one minute to convince me not to take you out right now, doll. I suggest you use it wisely.”

One minute? Well, Darcy did bullshit her way through college, she could convince Howard she was from the future in a minute, right? Right. Here goes nothing.

“Well for one thing, all Hydra members are proud to shout to the heavens that they’re Hydra; why would I deny being a member? Moving on though: You won’t believe me but I’m from the future. There was a fluke in the lab I was in and somehow I got shunted back to 1940’s Brooklyn.” She held up her hand to stall his incredulous protests, silently reminding him that she had the floor. In order to convince him, she knew she’d have to tell him something no one else knew. Something Tony had told her about his Dad.

“You say you came up with the idea of a flying car because you want everything to be ‘better, faster, and stronger.’ Especially here in the good ole US of A. But that’s not true. The real reason why you wanted a flying car is because you dreamed of taking your future kids in it one day. You wanted to take your kids and show them that the sky isn’t the limit, that it’s just the beginning.”

The memory was a bittersweet one. Darcy had been working late with the Tony after Bruce and Jane had left the labs. Well, Tony was working and Darcy was just there to supervise him to make sure he didn’t get hurt. He’d been going on 36 hours without sleep so he was entering what Darcy called the ‘danger zone.’ As he waited for the computer program he started to run his experiment, he broke out a bottle of bourbon and asked Darcy to have a drink with him.

One drink turned into two, then suddenly they were each a bit to drunk to be anywhere near a lab safely. That’s when Tony started talking. He got like this sometimes, Darcy had realized, where he didn’t know how to deal with everything in his head and he just needed someone to listen. That night it was Darcy’s turn. He spoke about Howard which shocked Darcy so much she thought she’d fall right out of her chair. Thankfully, he talked about the good times when he was little. About how his father would bring him into his  workshop and teach him everything he knew. One of those stories was Howard telling Tony about the flying car. It was a rare moment of sentimentality from Howard and Darcy could tell that Tony cherished it.

The Howard in front of Darcy now looked like he’d seen a ghost.

“Jarvis doesn’t even know that,” he whispered, “How in god’s name do you know that?”

Ignoring the Jane part of her brain that said she might be creating a paradox, Darcy replied. “Your child told me. In 2014. I work for the next Stark.” To further prove her point Darcy began reciting some old tech schematics she and Tony looked at that she knew were just ideas floating around in Howard’s head.

His eyes grew wider and wider until he finally waved his hands in front of Darcy to get her to stop. “Shush! I don’t even know how to process this, but I believe you. None of that is written down anywhere, for Pete’s sake.”

Howard’s gaze flicked between her eyes, assessing her. “Why come to me? I don’t have the means to make half of what you just talked about let alone send you back your own time, do—” His inquisitive look turned to one of befuddlement. “I don’t think you actually told me your name.”

Darcy smacked herself in the forehead, appalled by her manners (the 40’s were a great time for manners, she’d learned). “I’m Darcy. Darcy Lewis.” She looked at the clock on the wall and swore when she realized she only had a few minutes to make it back to the boys.

“Well, Darcy-Lou—”

Lewis, Howard, I know you heard me correctly. I’m literally sitting two feet in front of you.”

“—it is a pleasure to meet you.”

Darcy shook his outstretched hand with probably more force than necessary, but she had two minutes left and needed to go now before Steve and Bucky tore down the expo looking for her.

“Yeah, it’s been real, can you walk and talk at the same time? I’ve gotta meet my fella and my brother in a minute here and all hell will break loose if they can’t find me.”

Howard stood up and followed Darcy out the door and down the hall, hot on her heels as she spoke over her shoulder at him. “As far as why I’m coming to you, Howard? I need you to bring me in on the Project.”

He looked like he was going to protest, so Darcy decided to name-drop. “Dr. Erskine, Agent Margaret ‘Peggy’ Carter,” then a much lower voice that she was sure Howard almost missed it, “Johann Schmidt, aka Red Skull.”

Darcy didn’t bother to wait for the man as Howard froze in shock in the hallway. Soon enough, he was back at her side though a little flabbergasted. She pulled out a folded up piece of paper that had the apartment’s address on it that she had prepared for the evening and handed it to him. “This is where you can find me. Please,” she begged, “I don’t know why I was brought here or how to get home, but I know I need to be brought in.”

Howard searched her face once more before taking the note from her and sticking it into his wallet. “I’ll do what I can Darcy-Lou.”

Though she shouted at him as she ran back into the throng of people, Darcy smiled.

“It’s Darcy Lewis!”

Chapter Text

March 3, 1944

Darcy,

Basic is going surprisingly well I’ll have you know. Mainly because of that right hook you taught me. Certainly shocked the hell out of everyone when I cold-clocked another cadet for harassing one of the nurses here on base. You’d think that the Army would teach these guys some respect, wouldn’t you?

You’d love Agent Carter, she’s a hell of a spitfire like you. First day she cold-clocked a guy for disrespecting her, it was great. It reminded me of that first fight we all got in together (somewhere, Bucky’s rolling his eyes at us, I can tell). Buck and I were so scared that you were going to get hurt, but you sure as hell showed us, didn’t you?

I miss you like crazy, Darcy. Thank you for letting me have that picture of you for my compass, I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t see your face every day. I’d love to see what you could do here, but also I’m afraid I’d lose you to one of the auto-shops and you’d disappear forever! You’d whip us all into shape in no time and have all these men minding their manners, no doubt.

I love you, sweetheart. It breaks my heart that you’re home alone right now. But I know you’re a ‘self-rescuing princess’ and you don’t need me worrying about you all the time. Just know that I love you more than anything, Darcy.

With Love,

Steve

 

Darcy wiped the tears from her eyes as a rapid knocking on the apartment door tore her attention from Steve’s letter. She gently folded it and placed it inside of her journal before calling out to whoever was on the other side.

“Who’s there and what the hell do you want?” Okay, so it was a bit rude, but Darcy was sad and lonely and didn’t have any idea to get to Steve. She didn’t want any company. However, at the sound of the replying voice Darcy downright sprinted for the door.

“Darcy-Lou, is that any way to speak to your favorite Stark?”

With absolutely more force than was necessary, Darcy wrenched the door open to see a smug Howard Stark and a woman she recognized as Agent Carter in her doorway.

Darcy had planned on giving Howard a hug, but that shit-eating grin on his face had to go. “Well, Howard, I actually left my favorite Stark back…home.”

She rolled her eyes at herself and at Howard’s smile when her sass failed to stick the landing. “Shut up, Howard. My brother is overseas and my fella just got sent to a fairly specific recruiting base for the Army. I’m allowed to be off my game.”

Both Howard’s and Carter’s brows raised in faint surprise.

“That’s actually why we’re here, Miss Lewis. May we come in?” Agent Carter looked stoic as ever, but Darcy’s time with Natasha taught her how to read the faint lines of amusement and curiosity in her eyes.

“Yes! Sorry, my manners are kind of appalling, no matter the time.” After the pair had been ushered in Darcy urged them to sit at the kitchen table as she prepared a kettle of tea.

“So, Agent Carter. I know you’re going to want to just cut right to the crux of the matter, so go ahead. Me making tea is just so I have something to do with my hands seeing as I already fixed everything in the apartment that needs fixing.”

At Darcy’s words Howard immediately grabbed the nearest appliance, which happened to be the radio, and began to take it apart to see how Darcy fixed it. Carter just seemed pleased that there wouldn’t be any small talk.

“Howard tells me you’re from the future. That you have intimate knowledge about projects of his and of people of certain interest.” Darcy’s inner Natasha applauded the other woman’s avoidance of particular details, way to not give anything away.

“And you want to know how I convinced him that I wasn’t a spy.” She finished, Carter nodding in agreement. With a sigh, Darcy began reciting almost everything that she told Howard the night of the Expo, barring the more sentimental reveal. That wasn’t her story to tell, and by the small nod Howard sent her way, he was grateful that she didn’t over-share.

Instead of going into detail about Howard’s inventions, Darcy recalled what details she could that Tony and Bruce told her about Project Rebirth’s capsule and vita-rays that would make the transformation necessary. It had been another late night of Science! and Darcy was curious. Thankfully, they indulged what they knew.

Both Carter and Howard’s eyes grew wide at the sheer amount of information that Darcy knew about the project’s finer details. She could have gone on longer but Agent Carter raised her hand to stop her rambling. As her ‘final act,’ however, Darcy reached into her purse that sat on the kitchen counter and pulled out her driver’s license and her taser. Hoping that the items seemed genuine and ‘future-y’ enough to pass muster.

Thank god they did.

Within minutes Darcy had a bag packed, changed back into her skinny jeans (that felt weird as hell after not wearing them for over a year) and combat boots, then followed Howard and Carter into a waiting car outside the apartment complex.

“Erskine is supposed to pick his candidate today by the time we return to base, and the procedure will hopefully be ready to launch either tomorrow or the day after.” Peggy (Darcy about squealed when she got permission to call the other woman by the more familiar name) informed Darcy once the car began moving through the city. Darcy assumed it was one of Howard’s because she was fairly certain that cars in 1944 didn’t move as fast as this one.

“You need a cover, Darcy, what can you manage?” Darcy was sure not to let Peggy’s cold and analytical tone bother her. The agent was simply doing her job and Darcy sure as hell didn’t want to mess anything up for her.

Howard interrupted before she could so much as form an idea though, “We’ll say she’s my apprentice.” He was confident in his decision and explained further when both Darcy and Peggy quirked a brow at him. “You say you work for my future kid at Stark Industries and you’ve done something to that radio that shouldn’t be possible, Darcy-Lou. People won’t bother you if I say you’re my apprentice or protégé.”

Well, Darcy didn’t believe that entirely, but she’d take being Howard’s pupil rather than get shunted off as a secretary or something else. And besides, that’d put her right next to Steve they whole time.

The only thing was that Darcy wished she could remember more from her high school history lessons. Her memory of her lessons on WWII were spotty at best. She just hoped she didn’t fuck things up too badly.

 

* * *

 

Steve was fairly certain he was walking around looking like a punk, but he just couldn’t get his jaw up off of the ground.

Erskine chose him. Little sickly Steve Rogers was being chosen for Project Rebirth. He just couldn’t believe it. He was broken out of his stupor when he heard Agent Carter call to him from across the base.

“Rogers! I have someone you need to meet.” Behind her was Howard Stark talking animatedly to another person that Steve couldn’t see because the man was in the way. Knowing not to keep Agent Carter waiting, Steve picked up his feet and jogged over to her.

“What can I help you with—Darcy?!”

Stark had moved just enough that Steve was able to see his girl’s lovely face. Forgetting his manners, Steve brushed past Carter without a second glance and made his way to Darcy. Carter got the better end of things seeing as Stark got shoved bodily to the side by Darcy in her excitement.

Heedless of anyone around them, the pair came together in an embrace that made Howard Stark blush.

“Darcy-Lou, you didn’t mention that your fella was also our fella.”

Steve and Darcy pulled far enough apart that they were able to breathe and speak, but refused to let go of one another.

“Sorry, Howard and Peggy. I couldn’t risk things getting messed up. Being from the future sucks sometimes.” Steve’s brows raised in curiosity as Darcy spoke but his mind was further occupied when Darcy began kissing him again.

“I missed you so much, sweetheart, so much,” Steve murmured between kisses. His heart broke when he opened his eyes and saw Darcy fighting back tears. “What’s wrong, Darcy, what’s the matter?”

Her breath hitched as he smiled. “I’m so proud of you, Steve. And I love you like crazy.” Darcy’s eyes still shone, but Steve was pretty sure that they were happy tears.

Agent Carter cleared her throat to get their attention. “We should move this…reunion, before anyone comes this way. You two are already lucky enough that you haven’t been seen.”

Steve nodded in agreement but couldn’t help but press one more kiss to Darcy’s lips before he pulled himself out of her arms.

“Okay, Agent Carter, but you and Stark here need to explain to me why the hell my girl is on a top-secret Army base with you two.”

Stark looked downright gleeful as he slung his arm around Darcy’s shoulders. “Darcy-Lou here is going to be my apprentice! Isn’t that just something?”

Steve looked to Agent Carter with something that felt like horror. She nodded her head seriously at him looking as if she would commiserate with him later. He looked back to Darcy who appeared both thrilled and terrified by this development. It was a fairly accurate sentiment, Steve realized.

“Well, God help us all, then. This will be interesting, that’s for sure.”

“Now, now, Rogers,” Stark chided, “Let’s not get hasty in making assumptions, eh?” Steve would have felt slightly guilty at his words except for the shit-stirring grin on Stark’s face.

Yeah, no. He’d make all the assumptions about his partnership. Stark didn’t have to deal with the fridge that sang the ABC’s each time you opened it just because Darcy had to stay home sick and was bored. Now they were letting her near weapons?

Things were going to get messy.

 

* * *

 

Peggy Carter prided herself on being able to roll with the punches and to hold her own in this man’s world, but seeing Steve and Darcy’s reunion melted her heart a little bit. She was allowed to be a romantic, for God’s sake, she just couldn’t let the soldiers see. Not that she’d want them too, anyways. They were downright barbaric at the best of times.

The group had retired from the center of the base to Howard’s workshop where he immediately began showing Darcy the schematics for the Vita-Ray capsule. Peggy and Steve remained to the side of the shop after they were informed not to touch anything.

Out of the corner of her eye Peggy could see Steve watching Darcy with something like awe on his face. He didn’t even blush like most men would have when he noticed Peggy looking.

“She’s a hell of a dame,” he said, as if that explained everything. Peggy supposed that perhaps to Steve, it did.

“Darcy certainly is special,” Peggy admitted. “I’m surprised that you managed to keep her a secret from us all, Steve. Any other man would have been bragging left and right about having a woman like her on his arm.”

Steve downright belly-laughed, waving off Darcy and Howard’s curious glances.

“Peggy, one thing you need to know is that Darcy’s not on anyone’s arm. She just gives you the privilege of being on hers. She’s the wildest woman I’ve ever met, and that’s ignoring the part about her showing up in our lives in a flash of light. I love her more than anything, I wouldn’t feel right bragging about her to anyone.” He shrugged his shoulders, “Besides, it’s not like anyone would believe that a fella like me would have a chance with a dame like Darcy.”

Peggy ignored the self-depreciation in his tone, it wouldn’t do either of them good to speak about it when he was about to be transformed into the ‘perfect specimen’ in two days’ time. Instead she focused on Darcy’s appearance.

“What can you tell me about what happened when Darcy…arrived?” This was certainly the most bizarre thing Peggy had ever heard of but also the most fascinating.

Steve went on to describe with as much detail as he could about Darcy’s first night in 1942. Peggy just knew that her stoic mask was ripped away as his tale continued on. She of course knew about Darcy being from the future, but hearing Steve’s account of the phenomenon was absolutely batty.

“That’s all we know from our end, at least,” Steve finished. “Anything else about what happened on her end will have to come from Darcy. She won’t say much though, since she’s afraid of messing up the space-time-continuum. I don’t really understand it much, but Darcy told us about her friend and boss, Jane, from her time who studies space, and apparently it’s a big deal. It was her friend’s fella that was the one who accidentally sent her here. Darcy she calls him Theo. I don’t think it’s his real name, but,” Steve just shrugged in a, well, what can you do? kind of way.

Peggy hummed in acknowledgement but her mind was already far, far away. The implications of Darcy’s presence in their time were almost too much to think about. If the wrong person got their hands on Darcy…?

“Who all knows, Steve, about Darcy?”

Sensing her no-nonsense attitude, Steve met her gaze head on. “Just me and my best pal Bucky Barnes.” He raised his hand to stop Peggy’s next question, “I trust him with my life, as does Darcy. They consider each other as siblings. He won’t tell a soul, I swear it.”

Peggy’s shoulders relaxed some at the vehemence in Steve’s tone, knowing that he was telling the truth. “That leaves Howard and me, then. I assure you, Steve, that I will do everything in my power to keep Darcy and her secret safe.”

Steve nodded, but Peggy could see him eye Howard dubiously. She placed a hand on his shoulder to draw his gaze back to her.

“I know that he seems unreliable, but Howard would not have been chosen for this Project if he had been untrustworthy, no matter how much his genius was needed. You may ask him yourself, but I have no doubt that he will keep Darcy and her secret safe from others, as well.”

It was Steve’s turn to relax at her reassurance, and Peggy gave him a small smile when he did so. Strange things were happening, Peggy thought, and things would probably only get stranger.

 

* * *

 

Darcy tiptoed out of the bunk that she was sharing with Peggy and made her way outside where Steve said he’d meet her. Yeah, they were definitely breaking a whole bunch of regulations but Darcy figured that Steve was going to become Captain America in the morning, they could let him out to meet with his girl at the very least. Moving silently in the way Natasha had taught her and keeping her eyes peeled Darcy made her way to the storage shed on the edge of base. She almost rolled her eyes at the cliché but Clint’s voice in her head told her not to get distracted from her target.

What felt like an eternity later Darcy knocked softly on the shed’s door, squeaking in surprise when it flew open and Steve pulled her in quickly.

They came together almost fiercely that night, after too many nights apart and fear of the future that tomorrow would bring. Darcy held onto Steve with everything she had, silently begging him not to leave her. He must have been thinking the same, for he was almost desperate in the way he made love to her.

When they laid curled up with one another some unknown amount of time later, their chests heaving and their hearts racing, Darcy felt Steve tense from where she had laid her head on his shoulder. “What’s wrong, Steve?”

She waited patiently while he gathered his words, letting her fingers trace over his torso in a gentle, nonsensical pattern.

“After the procedure tomorrow, will that change us?”

Darcy rolled onto her stomach so she could prop her hands and chin on his chest to see his expression. “I don’t understand.”

Steve sighed and ran the hand that wasn’t wrapped around Darcy’s waist through his cropped hair. She spared a moment to miss his slightly longer locks, but returned his focus when he spoke again.

“When I’m changed, bigger and better or whatever they do to me, will that make how you feel about me different?”

Darcy didn’t hesitate to sit up and pull Steve with her and immediately cup his face in her hands.

“Don’t you dare think that anything will change how I feel about you, Steven Grant Rogers. Will I be happy that you won’t get sick anymore? Absolutely. But,” she stressed when doubt flickered across his expression, “if you looked like this for the rest of your life, I’d still be the luckiest girl in the world. Understand? I don’t care what the outside of you looks like, no matter how handsome I think you are. What matters is who you are on the inside. Which is Steve Rogers, the love of my life.”

Darcy didn’t realize that she was crying until Steve’s fingers began brushing the tears that were rolling down her cheeks. She also didn’t realize how insecure she was going to be about Steve’s transformation. Darcy knew that it was selfish to worry about herself when it was going to be Steve in danger tomorrow, but she couldn’t help it.

He was going to become some golden Adonis, perfect in every way. What was on his inside would finally match his outside, her fierce Steve would finally be able to stand tall to everyone and everything in his path. Darcy was just afraid that she wouldn’t be good enough anymore.

She realistically knew she was pretty, but how could she compare to the man he would become? He was going to be a goddamn super-soldier, and she was just plain-old Darcy: slightly squishy around her edges and hardly worth Steve’s time to begin with.

Darcy’s insecurities must have been obvious on her face because Steve’s own doubtful expression became stern.

“I love you more than anything, Darcy, and no matter what happens, that will never change.” His eyes shone with tears, his expression begging her to believe him.

Darcy surged forward to kiss him again, pouring all of her heart into it.

She believed him, she did. But more importantly, Darcy believed in Steve.

Chapter Text

November 7th, 2015

Steve ran his hand down his face in exasperation as Tony tried to explain what the hell he was thinking when he built Ultron then decided to use the damn scepter on it. To his right Sam was grumbling under his breath about superheroes and their damn egos which made Steve chuckle.

“You know that you’re technically a superhero now, right? Between DC and our search for Bucky, you’re an Avenger.”

Sam groaned long and loud, temporarily halting whatever shouting match Thor and Tony were getting into. “Don’t expect me to get all crazy like you sons of bitches next, I plan on keeping my sanity, thank you very much.”

Bruce laughed, “You’re in the funhouse now, Sam, I don’t think sanity is a luxury we have around here.”

Tony’s anger seemed to dissipate for the moment. “Yeah, well, between Norse gods, frozen soldiers from the forties, and lab assistants getting sent back in time there’s not a lot of room for sanity.”

Sam’s jaw hit the floor, “Wait, what? Who the hell got sent back in time?”

“Oh, Steve didn’t tell you? Thor and Jane’s friend slash sister slash our wrangler got hit with a magical whammy and got sent to Capsicle's apartment in 1942. Romance of the century, those two.”

Steve shifted uncomfortably when Sam’s heavy gaze landed on him. “Were you going to mention this at all, Steve?”

He sighed and hunched forward in defeat. “Yeah, eventually. It just...it hurts . Darcy’s the love of my life but I never knew if she made it back to her time before I went into the ice.” Steve was sure his eyes were red and wet but he couldn’t reign in his emotions. “Then I wake up here, in her time, but I can’t look for her because she didn’t know me . We never met before she was sent back, I was a stranger to her.”

Thor crossed the room and clapped him on the shoulder, making Steve’s knees threaten to buckle at the force of it.

“I am truly sorry, Steven, but rest assured that Darcy will return to you, to us. The Norns have told me as much when I begged for their audience.”

Steve could only nod in response due to the lump of pent up emotion in his throat. He ignored Sam’s sympathetic look, as well as everyone else’s, as he wiped the tears from his face and got his breathing back under control. Straightening his shoulders and putting his Captain persona back on, he addressed the room.

“We need to focus on Ultron, and we’ve got work to do.”

* * *

March 4, 1944

Steve waited with Peggy in a back room before he was led down to the lab to start the procedure, surprising himself with the utter lack of anxiety he felt.

Peggy seemed to notice as well. “You are rather calm, Steve. Are you alright?”

He hummed, not really sure how to describe his feelings. Steve knew that the procedure would be painful, excruciating he was told. He also knew that he could be killed in the process. Perhaps it was his past twenty-five years of illness that had him making such easy peace with the concept of an early death; he was never supposed to make it past fifteen, anyways.

“If I don’t survive the procedure, will you look after Darcy? And notify Bucky? He’s listed as my next of kin.”

Peggy startled at his request but was quick to hide her surprise. “Of course, but it will hardly be necessary because you will not die , Steve Rogers. You are made of tougher things.”

Before he could reply, there was a sharp knock at the door, signaling that it was time to begin. Steve’s deep breath was accompanied with his now rapid heartbeat as he stood to follow Peggy. As he descended the stairs he ignored Erskine’s speech in favor of searching out Darcy since he had heard it before.

He couldn’t help the smile on his face when he spotted her. Darcy stood next to Howard at his bank of machines, nervously wringing her hands and bouncing on her toes. Howard actually seemed to be holding her in place if the hand on her shoulder and his amused expression was anything to go by. As if sensing Steve’s eyes, Darcy looked up and met his gaze. Her smile was strained, highlighting her nerves, but it was still genuine.

As he was led up to the capsule, Erskine’s words finally pierced his focus. “We will administer one dose of the serum to Mr. Rogers here, and should he succeed, the second and third vial will remain for our next candidates.”

So no pressure, Steve thought dryly to himself, just make sure you don’t die so the project can continue. He was distracted by his girl coming up to help strap him into the capsule. Darcy looked stunning, even in overalls and covered in grease as she was. He tried not to laugh at her wild hair that spilled from her bun and tangled around her face.

“You okay, Steve?” He could barely hear her whisper over the sound of his beating heart.

“Yeah, sweetheart, I’m okay. Better for seeing your face, that’s for sure.” She rolled her eyes at him, but he was pleased to see the faint blush that graced her cheeks. He always had found it endearing how the most crass and rude things would never faze Darcy, but rather it was the small, sincere things that made her turn bright red.

Despite her outward good humor, Steve could tell that something was wrong. Before he could ask Darcy what it was she was asked to step away so the procedure could begin. There as a syringe of penicillin, then the capsule closed.

All that Steve could think about when the pain began was Darcy.

* * *

Darcy was a mess all morning, and she knew it was bad if Howard started looking concerned. She tried to concentrate on helping him set up all the machines and monitoring equipment but it was no use.

Darcy was forgetting something.

It had been years since she needed to know anything regarding the Second World War, so her memories of her lessons faded and were instead replaced by Jane’s Science! and her baptism into the strange world of Norse gods and the Avengers.

But there was something important, something crucial that Darcy couldn’t remember and it almost brought her to tears time and time again throughout the day. Finally Howard seemed to have enough and pulled her aside before people were led into the lab.

“Darcy-Lou, I’m going to need you to either tell me what the hell is going on in your head or you’re going to need to get your shit together. I know you’re worried for--”

“Something bad is going to happen,” Darcy hissed, causing Howard to startle. “I just can’t remember! Something is going to go wrong, not with Steve,” she was quick to reassure, “but something. And I fucking forgot!” Her breath hitched dangerously, but Darcy used Natasha’s training to lock it down fast.

Howard searched her face for what felt like an eternity before he pulled her into a quick hug. “We’ll just be ready for anything, Lou, alright? I’ll tell Peggy when she comes down with Steve, you just focus on the machines for now.”

Darcy squeezed him tightly and nodded as she stepped out of his arms, making sure that she didn’t look as flustered as she felt using her reflexion on the side of a nearby piece of equipment. Seeing the mess she looked Darcy just wrote it off as a lost cause.

The next hour flew by as Howard directed her and other assistants on what to do which reminded Darcy of working with Jane and made her smile. She managed to keep her smile up until the moment Erskine stood in front of his audience and began explaining the procedure and how they hoped it would turn the tide of the war into their favor. When Steve started to move through the crowd Howard had to physically hold her still, she was so anxious and fearful.

She could sense Howard briefly speaking to Peggy as she helped Steve get secure within the capsule and she could only pray that between the three of them, they could get ahead of whatever was about to happen.

* * *

November 9th, 2015

Steve stood on the edge of the Sokovian city and watched as the ground below seemed to continue to shrink away. His heart sank the higher they rose, knowing that this was probably the end of the line for him.

Once again, Steve was glad he left his compass, and Bucky’s, behind on a mission. He had pulled aside Laura before they left Clint’s farm and begged her to keep them safe for him until he could return. And if he didn’t? She had instructions to send them to Jane to have until Darcy returned, as well as a letter he had written.

Steve wanted to rage at the world, at the injustice of it all. Here he was in 2015 with Bucky, but Darcy was left behind. He was about to lose his life, he was sure of it, and he wouldn’t even get to say goodbye. They were three lost souls, lost in time and lost without each other. Steve could only pray that when Darcy returned she’d be able to find Bucky, that they’d find each other and be family again.

Swallowing his tears, Steve turned from the edge of the weaponized city and began fighting what was left of Ultron with more rage than he thought he was capable of.

~

Thousands of miles away, Bucky watched the coverage of Sokovia with his heart in a twisted and tangled mess. His metal hand easily broke through the grip of his handgun as he saw a small dot of blue and white on the edge of the city.

“Stevie, what are you doing?!”

It couldn’t end like this, could it? Not with him and Steve in the same time together, not when they were still waiting for Darcy. Over the last few months, Bucky had hope.

He had managed to bug Steve’s phone, which was surprisingly and worryingly easy, and heard all about Darcy’s upcoming return from Thor ( Theo, his memory supplied). His baby sister, the love of Steve’s life, she was coming back . They couldn’t end the story here, Bucky begged the universe, not when they were so close.

It wasn’t the end of the line, it couldn’t be.

* * *

March 4, 1944

Steve had been sick and broken for almost every day of his life. He’d had broken bones and torn flesh, his body had been slowly killing him from the first breath he ever took, but nothing compared to the agony he was in now. Steve could feel his bones and muscles growing and rearranging, threatening to tear him apart from the inside out. Despite his body burning he demanded that they keep going, that they didn’t halt the project.

They were at war , for God’s sake, if they had millions of men overseas to fight for their country, Steve could sure as hell survive this pain.

He had Darcy waiting for him, after all.

To focus his mind off of the pain, Steve thought of Darcy, of Bucky. Of what life would be like now that he would be able to keep up with everyone else. No more asthma ruining their days at the park, no more nights waiting vigil by his bed to see if this bout of pneumonia was the one that would finally kill him. Steve would be able to run into and out of trouble with them like he’d always dreamed of.

Most importantly, Steve would live past thirty. He could grow old with Darcy and Bucky. Visions of them and their families filled his head, tears evaporating on Steve’s cheeks before they could spill due to the rays from the capsule.

Almost as soon as it began, it was over.

Steve felt like he had spent both years and milliseconds inside the capsule, his chest heaving with exertion. His lips twitched in an attempt of a smile when he realized just how easily he was breathing. When the capsule opened and he tumbled out, Steve’s soul seemed to have settled. He opened his eyes and found Darcy on the other side of the crowd, giving her the biggest smile he could manage.

He felt strange and off balance, but he also felt right. It was as if he was finally big enough for his insides like Darcy and Bucky had teased him about. Steve was right, this was how he was meant to be.

So of course, that was when the shots rang out.

* * *

Darcy waited with her breath held as Steve yelled from inside the capsule that he could take it, keep going! Tears threatened to spill when he continued to scream in pain and the light from the Vita Rays only grew brighter and brighter until she was forced to look away with everyone else.

When the light had faded with Steve’s screams, Darcy could have sworn her heart stopped completely. The roaring of her blood and her thoughts drowned out all other noise as the capsule was opened and Steve was helped out. She couldn’t even register the drastic change of his body or feel elated that the serum had worked. All Darcy could think about was he’s alive he’s alive he’s alive.

When she lifted her leg to begin to walk toward him her instincts told her that something was wrong. Without knowing why, Darcy turned her head slightly to the right just in time to see someone on the periphery move toward the case where Erskine had displayed the two vials of serum.

As Darcy opened her mouth to yell at the potential thief, a shot rang out on her left and all hell broke loose.

Darcy ignored the gunshot, Natasha’s training practically screaming at her that it was a distraction tactic, and ran to the man who was now making a grab for the vials. In the chaos Darcy supposed that the shooter must have slipped away because the first man tossed on vial to him and they both made a break for the door.

“They have the serum!”

Darcy didn’t break her stride as she tore from the lab even when she heard the uneven footsteps that must have been Steve and the lighter tread that was Peggy. The two thieves split apart once they made it outside, the shooter to the left and Darcy’s man to the right. Darcy automatically went after him, shouting to Steve to go after the shooter as she ran.

She heard Peggy only steps behind her as they dodged through throngs of people, easily spotting their mark as he knocked over people in his hasty getaway. He must not have been familiar with his escape route because Darcy knew for a fact that the alley he just ran down was a dead end. Neither Darcy nor Peggy slowed as they entered the alley, Peggy guarding the entrance with her handgun while Darcy threw herself bodily at the man and started swinging.

Darcy had gotten rusty. She was too used to getting into bar brawls with Steve and Bucky than people who have been properly trained so the man was wearing her down fast. From her tool-belt Darcy pulled a slim wrench that was light to carry but was long enough to get some good torque behind her swing. Catching the man in his jaw with the wrench Darcy immediately struck out with her other hand in an upper-cut, knocking him into the brick wall at his back. Undeterred, he used it to push off and come back at her. Darcy didn’t even realize he had a knife until she felt it slice from shoulder to shoulder along her collarbone and then again when he stabbed her in her side.

“Darcy!” Peggy’s voice was strained and Darcy knew she only had moments to give her an open shot before she passed out due to blood loss. Unfortunately, her opponent had the same thought.

With a dizzying spin, Darcy was turned to face Peggy at the mouth of the alley and pinned to the man’s chest. One arm came up around her throat, his elbow digging into the gash along her collarbone painfully. The other one held the vial of serum aloft.

“What’s it going to be, bitch? Her or the serum?”

Darcy wished she could have heard the rest of the conversation, but she was bleeding too much and fading fast. The very last thing she registered was the feeling of glass getting crushed against her wound in her side, and Peggy’s horrified scream.

Then all she knew was the burning.

* * *

Steve failed. Erskine’s killer got away (he was appalled by the cyanide capsule hidden in the Hydra operative’s mouth) and the vial of serum was destroyed in the chase. He forced his new body to run (much more difficult than he anticipated) back the direction that he saw Darcy and Peggy disappear after the other spy. He followed the wake of destruction down a few blocks more before he figured he must have been catching up.

When he heard Peggy’s scream followed by a gunshot, Steve sprinted as fast and as best as he could. He skid around the corner of the alley where he heard Peggy’s voice and his heart shattered at what he saw.

Peggy had torn off her jacket and was pressing it against a wound in Darcy’s side where she lay, convulsing , next to the body of the Hydra spy.

“What happened?!”

Tearing off his shirt Steve pressed it to Darcy’s clavicle where even more blood was seeping.

“He pulled a knife and I couldn’t get a clear shot and then h-he--” Steve had never heard Peggy sound so shaken up.

“What’s happening to her, now?!” Steve tried as hard as he could to be gentle with Darcy and his new strength, but he couldn’t stand to see her thrash around on the ground and injure herself further.

“He took the vial of serum and crushed it into her stab wound! She was already weak from the blood loss but it’s the serum that’s making her seize.”

Steve’s mind flashed to the barely minutes old memory of being inside of the capsule, how everything burned . “Why would he do that?”

“Because it’s very likely that this could kill her,” Peggy seemed to gather her strength while Steve felt a hoarse sob break through his throat. “We don’t know how the serum works, Steve, not really. Erskine never told us what could happen without the Vita Rays.”

He shook his head, refusing to believe that Darcy would die. She couldn’t. She was his time-traveling sweetheart and Bucky’s spitfire baby sister, and she could not die . When he shook his head, Peggy’s jacket caught his eye.

It wasn’t nearly as red as it should have been. He fanned the tiny flame of hope in his chest with everything he had. Darcy will not die .

“Peggy, let me see the wound.” She looked incredulous for a moment before noticing his gaze. Her eyes widened with the same realization before she gently pulled the jacket away from Darcy’s skin so they could examine the stab wound.

It was sluggishly bleeding, looking as if it was already sealing up. The shards of glass were being pushed from her skin slowly, and they watched with jaws hanging open as they saw the faint blue liquid of the serum surge into the wound rather than roll away due to gravity.

“Impossible,” Peggy breathed. As they watched, Darcy’s shaking body slowed and stilled until she only breathed softly with soft whimpers of pain, as if she was in a nightmare.

Steve’s laugh was wet and forced, “Like I told you, Peggy, she’s a hell of a dame.”

* * *

November 11th, 2015

Bucky ran his hand roughly down his face when the news confirmed that all the Avengers had lived the mess they made in Sokovia. Dumbasses, all of them.

He looked around the shitty apartment he was squatting in, an abandoned room in an abandoned complex in the bowels of London. All that he had to his name were a few changes of clothes, his (impressive) arsenal of weapons, and his memories. He didn’t hold any fondness for the room, it was barely functional enough to house a ex-hydra brainwashed assassin, let alone anyone else. It no longer felt like a safe place to Bucky, and that’s when he knew.

It was time to come in.

Chapter Text



November 14, 2015

Bucky observed the new Avengers Facility through the scope of his rifle and shook his head at what he saw. There was a blur of silver that ran around the perimeter of the practice field while a young woman remained in the center and manipulated some sort of red energy with her hands. He had no idea what to make of the flying purple guy, though, Bucky would think about that guy later.

“Can’t help picking up strays, can you Stevie?” he muttered to himself.

He quickly stood and stored his rifle in its case and threw it over his shoulder. Bucky made sure that all of his weapons were put away even if it made his skin crawl to do so. It wouldn’t do anyone any good if he walked in armed to the teeth.

It only took Bucky about ten minutes of quick-paced walking to make it to the outermost edge of the base. He shook his head and made a note to talk to Stark about his shitty security measures. Then he heard a familiar click under his left boot and groaned.

“Land mines, seriously?” Bucky threw his hands up in exasperation and then surrender when an alarm rang out through the base. Within moments the three new supers Bucky watched through his scope were in front of him. It was the girl who spoke first.

“Who are you?” The two humans looked like punk kids, like maybe they were only twenty at best. The stubborn jut of their chins reminded Bucky of Steve, making him smile.

Then he remembered the landmine.

“I’m Bucky, who are you three?”

The flying purple man tilted his head curiously though he smiled gently. “Hello, Sergeant Barnes. I am Vision, and this is Wanda and Pietro Maximoff. Captain Rogers has been looking for you for a long time. He will be glad that you are home once again.” He waved one of his hands and all the base’s alarms shut off in response.

Bucky ignored his burning question of why this Vision guy sounded like Stark’s AI, and asked the more important one. “You mind helping me out with this land mine? I don’t really want to meet Steve blown to bits.”

Vision immediately looked chastised and looked to Wanda at his side. They communicated silently for a moment and Bucky had to stifle a laugh at Pietro’s grumpy expression. Apparently someone wasn’t a fan of Vision being friendly with his sister.

Wanda nodded and concentrated on Bucky’s foot, “Move only when I say so,” she commanded.

Nodding, Bucky waited for his cue. It was rather anticlimactic when Bucky thought on it, but he figured it was a nice way to meet the punk’s new teammates. The three of them walked together, Wanda peppering him with questions about himself as they made their way to the main building, Pietro and Vision giving him mild stink-eyes on either side of him.

This is fucking ridiculous, Bucky thought. It’s a goddamn soap opera in this place.

Wanda and Vision both cracked a smile which caused Bucky to groan.

“How many telepaths do I need to worry about in this place? I’ve had my head messed with enough the past seventy years and I don’t need anyone else in there who doesn’t belong.”

“I am so sorry,” Wanda was quick to apologize and speak over Vision’s own apology. “I will do my best to not interfere. My powers are still new so I am still practicing my limitations.”

Bucky nodded in thanks.

Suddenly, Iron Man and War Machine dropped out of the sky and landed about a dozen feet in front of them. Bucky didn’t even flinch when both powered suits aimed weapons at him. He’d do the same to be honest.

“Kids, we’ve talked about this. No making friends with brain-washed cyborgs.” Bucky rolled his eyes at Stark’s voice but raised his hands in a gesture of surrender regardless.

War Machine quickly went to drag the twins away and put some distance between them and Bucky. Vision piped up from where he floated at Bucky’s side.

“Sir, I don’t think that this is necessary. Sergeant Barnes has shown no signs of danger to either us or himself. He is not even armed.”

Iron Man gestured to Bucky’s left arm, “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”

Bucky couldn’t help himself and groaned long and loud, “Was that a fucking pun , Stark?”

Despite the laughter that came from Stark, he still kept his weapon trained on Bucky. Smart move. “I couldn’t help myself,” He stepped closer, lowering his weapon some. “Look, Barnes, I don’t want welcome you in like this, but you know we’ve got to be cautious. Sam and Thor are keeping Steve back right now until we know you’re one hundred percent kosher.” Stark jerked his head to the building behind him where Bucky could see Steve at the window, his teammates holding him with hands on his shoulders.

“I understand. Just tell the punk to not do anything stupid, yeah? I’ll be okay, then we can wait for Darcy to come back together.”

Steve must of heard him through someone’s comm device because Bucky could see him smile.

Wanda spoke up from where she stood behind War Machine, “He says that he can’t do anything stupid because you took it all the stupid with you back in the forties.”

Bucky scoffed, “Yeah, but I’m not the jackass who set his plane down in the goddamn Arctic Circle, now am I?”

Over Stark’s shoulder, Bucky could see Steve laugh.

 

* * *

 

March 5, 1944

Steve sat with his head in his hands next to Darcy’s hospital bed, his heart breaking each time his girl let out another whimper of pain in her sleep. He couldn’t even hold her hand since it seemed to only cause her more pain. Howard suggested that it was probably her body adjusting to the serum that caused hypersensitivity and therefore her reaction.

Only Peggy and Howard knew what happened to the third vial of serum besides Steve, each of them knowing that Darcy couldn’t be safe if anyone else knew. She was already in danger because she was from the future, but if her new status of being a super-soldier was also revealed? None of them could keep her safe.

Peggy’s light footsteps could be heard entering the room, but Steve didn’t bother sitting up or moving at all, content to be as close to Darcy as he possibly could.

“Howard thinks that Darcy will wake soon.” Peggy’s voice was calm and soothing yet it still seemed so loud in the small room. Steve nodded to show that he heard but he couldn’t feel relief until Darcy opened her eyes.

“You need to go speak to those damn politicians, Steve. I know you don’t want to, but they’re chomping at the bit and want to know where the hell you are. Howard and I have stalled thus far, but there’s only so much we can do before they start searching.”

Steve groaned internally, knowing that Peggy was right. He sighed and looked over his shoulder, “Stay with her?”

Peggy scoffed as she pulled up a chair on the opposite side of Darcy’s bed. “I’m offended you even had to ask, Steve. Now go please the masses before I shoot you.”

His smile was strained, but Steve did his best. “Thank you, Peggy. Let me know as soon as anything changes?”

She nodded and made a shooing gesture at him, causing Steve to chuckle as he backed out of the room. He let his head thunk against the closed door when he immediately heard all the politicians and military leaders grumbling loud at one another from down the hall.

Standing tall and straightening his shoulders, Steve walked confidently into the lion’s den.

 

* * *

 

Steve wasn’t even entirely sure what he just agreed to with the Senator, too distracted by Peggy rounding the corner and waving to him urgently.

“Sir, I need to go check on something, but I will speak with you soon.”

The senator pressed a card into his hand and let Steve run off with a smile.

“She’s awake,” Peggy smiled, working to keep pace with Steve’s much longer and stronger strides. “Darcy’s in some pain but otherwise seems to be fine. We won’t know about any other effects from her exposure until more time has passed.”

He barely heard anything Peggy said, only knowing that Darcy was awake and okay. Steve burst through the door immediately went to Darcy’s side. She sat propped up against a couple pillows while Howard poked and prodded at the medical equipment next to her.

“Hey, baby,” Darcy breathed. She was obviously exhausted and hurting but her smile still lit up her entire face. “How do you like being built like a brick shit-house?”

Steve’s laugh choked on a relieved sob, shaking his head at Darcy. Here she was, recovering from something that definitely should of killed her, yet her focus was on him.

“It’s interesting, sweetheart. I keep knocking things over and running into walls.”

She laughed softly and raised a hand to cup his face. “You’re still you,” Darcy almost seemed relieved. “Still the handsome face I fell in love with, but now I don’t have to worry about you getting sick anymore!” Her happiness for Steve’s well-being caused his pent-up tears to roll down his face.

“I was so worried, Darcy, you were hurt and I couldn’t help—”

Darcy shushed him and placed the hand that was on his cheek over his mouth. “Hey, hey. None of that, okay? I was the one who messed up, I knew something was going to happen but I couldn’t remember.” Darcy’s breath started hitching and tears pooled in her eyes. “I should’ve stopped the shooter, I should’ve known —”

Steve shut her up with a kiss, unable to take the devastating guilt on her face. “No one blames you for that, no one. You hear me? Darcy, you’re not responsible for everything that happens and you can’t hold yourself accountable for things you don’t know.”

She nodded slightly from where he held her face in his hands, convinced for the moment. Steve pressed a kiss to Darcy’s brow then stood to look at Howard.

“What do we know?”

The genius threw up his hands. “Hell if I know, Steve. I’m an engineer, not a doctor. But ,” he cut across Steve’s protests, “from what I understood of Erskine’s work, Darcy-Lou should be okay. She probably won’t bulk up like you did—”

Darcy sighed in relief, “Thank the fucking gods for that.”

“—since she wasn’t exposed to the Vita Rays. She’s slimmed down some, not that she needed to, but it seems like she’s got some more muscle.”

Everyone looked down at Darcy’s exposed arms and saw the evidence for themselves. Darcy looked just as shocked as the rest of them at her new slimmer and firmer arms, yet also pleased. Without warning Darcy flipped back the blankets and whipped up her shirt to look at her stomach.

“Holy shit! I have abs!” Darcy beamed at Steve who couldn’t help but laugh with his girl.

“I know, sweetheart, I was shocked when I found them too.” He raised his own shirt to show her his stomach and blushed when her eyes went wide and dark. Peggy cleared her throat.

“Howard, maybe you can continue telling us what you know?”

The man just laughed. “I don’t know, Peggy, I kind of wanted to see where this played out.”

Steve dropped his shirt and rolled his eyes at him. “Just tell us what you know, Howard.”

Sighing, as if it was truly a hardship to not be an ass, Howard looked back down at his clipboard. “Not much, to be frank. Darcy-Lou’s probably going to have much of the same enhancements that you do, but we can run some tests to be sure.”

Darcy clapped her hands gleefully. “This is awesome! I’m totally going to punch a hole in a wall, I’ve always wanted to do that.” Steve stepped forward with Howard and Peggy when it looked like Darcy was attempting to get out of the bed.

“Lou, you need to rest! Keep your ass parked in that bed.” Howard’s usual playful demeanor was gone, replaced by stern authority.

“Ugh, fine. Way to suck the fun out of everything, Howie.”

The older man’s face scrunched up in distaste at the nickname, though Steve and Peggy snickered at it.

The four suddenly stopped laughing when there was a rapid knocking and a voice speaking through the door. “Mr. Rogers? The Senator wants to speak with you more about the USO contract you agreed to.”

Steve’s mind raced, not sure what the hell the person was talking about. “Wait, what?”

He turned to Darcy when she began to cackle manically.

“Oh, Steve. You’re going to look stunning in tights.”

 

* * *

 

November 14, 2015

Bucky was both pleased and worried by how trusting the Avengers seemed to be. They never restrained him or sedated him, didn’t even have a damned armed escort to get Bucky into the interrogation room he sat in. How could they just let him practically walk around fee? Bucky wasn’t even sure that there was a lock on the door!

What if he wasn’t okay? What if there were still Hydra triggers in his head? Bucky thought that he had worked through them all on his own (again, thank God for super-serum healing his brain) but he sure as hell wasn’t a professional.

Bucky thrummed with pent up energy, wanting to see Steve, needing to see Steve. He leaned forward and braced his elbows on his knees and cradled his head in his hands. He was getting sick of the bland walls of the interrogation room he was in so he retreated into his own mind to occupy himself.

How’d they get in this mess? How did Bucky and Steve become Captain America and the Winter Soldier? They defied all logic and probability: both of them getting dosed with the super-serum, both of them frozen for a lifetime to wake up in a strange new world where monsters and aliens were part of their new normal. Bucky let out a rough chuckle and shook his head. They were just a couple of punks from Brooklyn, a couple of kids who could barely get food on the table and couldn’t seem to stay out of trouble. Then a spitfire of a dame dropped into their lives and changed everything.

Darcy shook up their lives, giving Bucky the baby sister that he didn’t know he wanted or needed . She was able to see through all of his defenses and help him admit that he wasn’t the lady-killer he thought he was. That she and Steve loved him no matter who he loved. She loved Steve for every stubborn part of him, both before and after the serum. Darcy made Steve be brave , helped him stand tall and do what he knew was right. Darcy promised that she’d always back their play, she’d stand with them come hell or high water.

Bucky was torn from his memories by the sound of the door opening and looked up to see Sam and Vision walk in and sit at the table opposite of him.

“I’m sorry about the wings, Sam.”

The man seemed mildly surprised at Bucky’s apology but smiled warmly. “Thanks, man. You weren’t yourself so there’s nothing to apologize for.” He grinned slyly, “Besides, Stark made me an even better set, so I think I’ll be okay.”

Relief flooded Bucky, but also shock at the man’s easy forgiveness. He grew wary though when Sam seemed to exchange a silent conversation with the android at his side.

“Look, Bucky, I know this isn’t going to fly with you, but it’s our best option.” Sam sighed and looked heavenwards, as if he was hoping someone from up high would take this task from him. “The best way we can figure to make sure you’re completely clean is--”

“--for Vision to get into my head,” Bucky finished. He felt the blood drain from his face and his hands begin to shake. The thought of someone else messing with his head? It terrified him. He only just got agency over his own mind after seventy years of torture, how could he be asked to give it up so soon?

His distress must have been clear on his face because both Sam and Vision broke their tense posture, though it was Vision who spoke.

“Sergeant Barnes, I promise that I will not go looking through anywhere in your mind that you do not wish me to. I have no desire to violate you so. Rather, I will simply be targeting areas that Hydra has tampered with. You will not feel my presence, nor will there be pain. If i do find any latent programming, I will be able to neutralize it easily with my powers.”

Bucky’s trembling slowed and finally halted as Vision continued to speak. The android’s voice was soothing and a balm to his frayed nerves. Having his mind messed with in any capacity still made Bucky want to vomit, but he focused on Steve, on Darcy, and what needed to be done in order to see them once again.

Meeting Vision’s eyes, Bucky nodded. “Let’s do it.”

 

* * *

March 25, 1944

Darcy panted as she dodged another blow from Peggy. The Brit was fast as hell and Darcy wanted to double check to see if they weren’t certain Peggy didn’t have any serum herself. The woman put Darcy through her paces for three hours every day to keep her in tip top shape while Howard recorded data about Darcy’s new abilities.

Like they predicted, Darcy had the same super senses as Steve, as well as enhanced strength and health, and a metabolism that would put some teenage boys to shame. Darcy was almost exhausted at how much she needed to eat. When she wasn’t training with Peggy or working with Howard, Darcy could be found stuffing her face with as many carbs and protein as she could get her hands on.

She missed Steve, but couldn’t help but chuckle whenever she caught sight of the pictures of him as Captain America. Darcy knew that it was kind of upsetting to Steve that he wasn’t helping his country how he wanted to, but she always would write to him to be patient; that his time would come.

Sometimes Darcy really got a kick out of being from the future since she got to be ominous and cryptic with people. Her smirk was wiped off her face when Peggy punched her in the jaw.

“Focus , Darcy! This training does nothing for you if you don’t take it seriously!”

Darcy rubbed her jaw and spit out some of the blood that filled her mouth from where she bit through her lip. She ran her tongue over the puncture only to feel it already sealing closed.

“Sorry, Pegs, I was just--”

“--thinking about Steve,” Peggy and Howard finished for her.

Darcy laughed and threw up her hands, “I get it! I’m a sap, sue me. I just miss my fella.”

Howard rolled his eyes even though both Darcy and Peggy knew he was the biggest closet romantic there ever was. “Romance of the century, that’s what you two are.”

“Shut up, Howie,” Darcy hissed, though there wasn’t any real heat to her words.

Peggy walked over to Darcy where she propped herself up on the wall of Howard’s lab. They very well couldn’t risk Darcy’s (many) secrets getting exposed by training with the other soldiers on base, so Howard cleared out a corner of his rather substantially-sized lab for the women to spar. He also got the perk of studying the serum and Darcy up close, so he didn’t complain. No one thought anything of the arrangement since on paper Darcy was still Howard’s assistant/apprentice. No one batted an eye when Peggy spent most of her free time there with the pair seeing as Darcy was one of the only women on base who wasn’t a nurse, people expected their friendship.

Darcy could feel Peggy’s eyes rake over her, assessing her, but still kept her eyes closed. She wasn’t tired, physically at least; the serum took care of that. However, she was feeling a little emotionally drained. Between worrying after Steve and Bucky, dealing with her new... powers , and working to keep her secret from everyone? Darcy felt like her mind was going to split down the middle. It certainly helped to have Pegs and Howie at her side, but Darcy still couldn’t tell them everything.

“You know he’ll be back soon, Steve won’t be on the USO tour for long.” Peggy rested her hand on Darcy’s shoulder, causing the younger woman to sag and lean into the touch.

“I know, it’s just hard to be without him, or Bucky. I love you two dearly, but those guys have been with me every step of the way so far. I’m still adjusting to being without them.”

Before Peggy or Howard could offer words of comfort, a soldier knocked on the lab door. After being beckoned in by Peggy the man handed over a letter then immediately left once more.

“What’s it say, Pegs?” Howard wiped his hands off with a greasy rag, smearing more mess on his hands than actually cleaning them.

Darcy smiled faintly, the pair had quickly picked up her nicknames for each of them, seemingly without noticing the change. They were a good team, she thought.

“Colonel Phillips is having us sent overseas,” Peggy read.

“Where to?” Darcy asked, her gut twisting nervously. She was forgetting something again.

“Well, we’re going to be right on the Italian-Austrian border, who knows for how long. We leave in a month though.”

Austria. What the hell was in Austria?

Darcy’s mind was running a million miles an hour, desperate to cling onto some forgotten memory. Austria was important, she knew that, but why? What was she forgetting?

Chapter Text

November 14, 2015

They had asked Bucky if he wanted some more time before Vision went to work in his head but he declined. He wanted everything to be said and done so he could go see Steve as soon as he possibly could. He’d already been gone for far too long, it was about damn time for them to be at each other’s side again.

Bucky was curious about how much the Avengers knew about Darcy and her time in the past. Was Steve telling them everything? Did the Avengers know that when Darcy came back she’d be a super-soldier? As much as he wanted everyone to be in the know, Bucky sure as hell didn’t want to be the one to explain everything. He smirked, Bucky would definitely make sure Stevie was the one to take care of that particular conversation.

He continued to follow Sam and Vision (and was certainly not checking out Sam’s ass, thank you very much) through the base to ‘a more comfortable room,’ per Vision’s request. Apparently he didn’t want Bucky to have to deal with his mind-privacy being violated in the interrogation room since it ‘seemed so impersonal.’

Bucky rolled his eyes, Pal, you’re going to be in my head. It’s only going to be personal, doesn’t matter the venue. Thankfully, Vision didn’t respond telepathically, but Bucky did see the android roll his eyes. He’d consider that a win.

They finally stopped at what appeared to be some giant common area, filled with a kitchen and a ton of sofas and a bar that Bucky eyed appreciatively. He’d bet anything that Stark had a hell of a liquor collection in there. Vision gestured to one of the long couches and Bucky flopped back on it gracelessly and squirmed until he was laying flat, causing Sam to snort in amusement.

“Hey, I might as well be comfortable, right?”

Sam just smiled and sat in the arm chair to the right of Bucky’s own sofa, his gaze turning serious. “I want you to know that we are really appreciative of you agreeing to this, Bucky. We know it’s the last thing you want to do, but you’re being kind of amazing about the whole thing.”

Bucky smirked, “Maybe I just can’t say no to a handsome face? Always been a weakness of mine.” He winked at Sam then closed his eyes, but not before he saw the other man’s face darken with a blush.

“Alright, Vision, let’s get this ball rolling.”

“Oh, am I still here? I could leave if you wanted some more time to awkwardly flirt with Sam.”

Ooh, Bucky liked the snark of this guy.

All good humor vanished when he felt Vision’s hands rest on his temples, but his voice soothed him.

“All will be well, Sergeant, trust me.”

And for some unknown reason, Bucky did.

* * *

Tony had been sent by Bruce to find Jane since she hadn’t been in the lab all day and no one had seen her. He was fairly certain he knew where she was hiding, though. Sure enough, when Tony opened the door to the suite he had furnished for Darcy Jane was curled up on the couch with her friend’s journal in her lap.

“Sorry I’m not working,” she murmured, “but i just was having a hard time... dealing . Now that Bucky’s back I though maybe Darcy would be back too.”

“We all did, Jane, don’t be sorry about that.”

Tony began moving around the living room as Jane spoke, investigating the space. He had left it up to Jane and Thor to decorate it for Darcy, so this was the first time Tony was actually seeing it for himself. It was cozy. The walls were a dark jewel-tone blue and the ceiling was a lighter shade of the color. Along the tops of the walls were fairy lights that were artistically hung drooping across the ceiling that reminded Tony of stars. The couch was a deep chocolate brown that looked like it was so soft it’d swallow Jane whole. There was tapestries and art all over the walls, and each shelf was covered in a multitude of photographs and books. Very Darcy, Tony decided.

“You know she left notes in here for me?” Jane’s laugh was weak, but it at least sounded genuine. Tony heard her flip through the journal until she found what she was looking for. “This is the first one: Janie, If you ever get your hands on this I give you full permission to read it, even if i know you’re a no-good snoop and have probably started reading it anyways. It’s okay, I started this for you, mostly. I needed someone to have my side of the story if I never come back.” Tony’s eyes shut and his heart clenched when he began hearing tears in Jane’s voice. “ Maybe I’ll try to pull some Back to the Future thing and send it to you! I hope you and everyone else are okay. I’m enjoying it here, and I think I’m falling in love. How crazy is that?”

Tony made sure his back was turned so Jane couldn’t see him wipe the tears from his eyes. The movement put him face-to-face with a picture of Darcy, Jane, and Thor in London on her mantle. They were so damn happy, and it started Tony’s tears again. He looked to the right only to be assaulted by a picture of a woman that tugged at his memory. She was obviously pregnant, but she was stunning. It clearly was Darcy’s mother.

Her hair was long and dark, but still a few shades lighter than Darcy’s. It cascaded down her bare shoulders and rested on her baby bump. She was wearing a long, white, sleeveless dress that made her look ethereal. Darcy’s mother was smiling coyly at the camera, mischief obvious in her eyes.

It was her smile that hit Tony like a mack-truck. He knew her.

Unaware of Tony’s rising confusion, jane continued to speak. “I’m at the point in her journal where Bucky just got drafted and Steve was trying to get himself enlisted. You should see what she has to say about these boys,” Jane laughed, “it’s like with us in the labs. She goes back and forth between mother henning them nearly to death and causing more mayhem than either of them could get into on their own. I can tell she’s worried though, by the way she writes. Darcy wasn’t big on the World Wars when she was in school, and she keeps saying she’s afraid she’s going to forget important things.”

Tony was half listening to Jane and half trying to figure out how the hell he knew Darcy’s mother. That damn smile, it was so like Darcy and Tony knew it. That same smirk and those blue eyes that were almost the same shade of Darcy’s.

“I’m scared to read further, once Steve gets accepted into Project Rebirth. Darcy will be so alone . I don’t know if I could bear reading that.”

Tony finally turned to face Jane and his heart just about broke at the sight. The woman had brought her knees up to her chest, pinning Darcy’s journal between her legs and her chest, her forehead bent and resting on the top of it. She looked so small and fragile, so broken.

He wasn’t known for his sentimental side but Tony did know how not to be an ass. He moved across the room and sat at Jane’s side, pulling her to him and letting her cry on his shoulder. Tony hugged her close and fought back his own tears, putting the thought of Darcy’s mother out of his mind for the moment.

Since Darcy’s disappearance Jane, Tony, and Bruce had become closer. Bruce often joked that they were the Three Wayward Scientists waiting for their leader to return. He wasn’t that far off the mark, though. The three of them had gone through more assistants and lab managers than he’d like to admit because they all had such big shoes to fill. At the end of most work days Thor and Jane would tell Tony and Bruce stories about Darcy, about how she took care of Jane in New Mexico and through the years leading to London. Each time, they got more and more insight into what a spitfire Darcy was, and how good she was.

“She’s always been alone, Tony, and I hate to think of her alone and out of time.”

“What do you mean?” As much as Jane had shared about Darcy, not much was told about Darcy’s home life or personal life. Tony followed Jane’s gaze to the picture of Darcy’s mother on the mantle.

“Darcy’s mom died unexpectedly when she was six, and until she was eighteen she was in and out of foster homes and orphanages. College was when she first started ‘finding herself,’ she told me.”

Tony hummed, brow furrowed in contemplation. “What did her mom do? And what about her dad?”

Jane’s voice was soft and low, and Tony figured she had tuckered herself out from sobbing. “Darcy never knew her dad, it wasn’t something her mom ever told her either.” Tony watched Jane with amusement when the woman tried to smile around a yawn. “Her mom was a mechanic, helped design Corvettes and tinker with their engines. Apparently she was stubborn as hell and didn’t let any of the men in the business get in her way. Like Pepper.”

He smiled at the comparison. “What was her name?”

“Michelle Lewis. She didn’t have any family of her own to help take care of Darcy, they kicked her out when she told them she was pregnant, the bastards.”

Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis why was that name so damn familiar? His inner storm was disrupted by the sound of Jane’s soft snoring. Chuckling quietly Tony eased himself from Jane’s octopus arms and covered her with a blanket. He’d tell Thor where his beloved was, but Tony was headed back to the labs.

He and FRIDAY had some research to do on one Michelle Lewis.

* * *

April 3, 1944

Steve ripped off his cowl and threw it across the room. His damn changing room because he was a goddamn showgirl. Nothing against the ladies he worked with, they were amazing (if a bit handsy), but this wasn’t what Steve thought he was signing up for.

He wanted to make a difference, to help . There was so much happening and Steve wanted to pull his own weight. Becoming Captain America and helping to sell war bonds? It just didn’t seem like it was enough. He walked through the room until he reached the oversized armchair that was shoved into a corner and sat down with a weary sigh. Steve rested his right hand on his sketchbook where it lay on the arm of the chair.

It was full of Darcy. Her smile, her eyes, even sketches of her fighting that first time in that alley which felt so long ago. Her letters she had sent him when he was in basic were folded between the pages, soft and worn from all the times he had read them. Steve wished he could get more letters from his girl, but the USO moved the group around too much to receive any. Not to mention that Darcy’s location was classified while she was with Howard, Peggy, and the SSR, so Steve couldn’t send any to her. Neither of them could send letters to Bucky, which made Steve feel guilty as hell.

The three of them were once inseparable, and now there as oceans and miles between them all. Steve wouldn’t change anything that led them here, but he just wished he could talk to Darcy and Bucky. His gut told him that they were all where they needed to be (even if that included the USO) and that he just had to wait it out. Things would come together on their own.

Steve’s head turned to the door when someone began knocking rapidly on the other side. “Come in,” he called.

It was Susannah, one of the chorus girls. She was one of Steve’s... admirers , who was persistent no matter how many times he told her that he wasn’t interested because he already had a girl. She was a nice enough dame, Steve supposed, but she could never hold a flame to his Darcy.

“Steve, you’ll never guess where they’re sending us next!” Her voice was high pitched and oddly nasally that hit the ear wrong.

“I don’t care, as long as it’s not Texas again. That was horrible enough the first time around.”

She giggled coquettishly as she leaned against the doorframe of his room. “Don’t you worry your pretty face about Texas, Steve. They’re sending us to Europe!”

That got Steve’s attention. It was a small chance, but could they be going to wherever Bucky was based? He tried to remain rational, but the small bit of hope grew exponentially regardless. Steve felt bad when realized that Susannah was still talking.

“...know we won’t get much free time, but I’ve always wanted to see Italy ever since I was a little girl. It’s just so romantic, don’t you think?”

He tuned her out again when she continued to speak, apparently his input wasn’t needed after all. Instead he focused on the new information. They were headed to Italy first, perhaps there he could get more information about Bucky and Darcy.

* * *

April 5, 1944

He had been in some pretty humiliating situations in his life, but Steve thought that standing awkwardly on stage in front of the troops was hands down the worst. This was what their soldiers looked like, wary and downtrodden, and the government thought Steve was best helping by being a dancing monkey? He was almost disgusted with himself. With a mental shrug Steve backed off the stage and had the girls take his place. They’d definitely cheer up the soldiers more than he would.

Steve spent the next couple of hours hiding in the USO tent, unable to go out and mingle like he was supposed to. The troops didn’t need him prancing around in his costume like a mockery of them all. He sketched for hours, images from Brooklyn with Bucky and Darcy and all the trouble they got into together.

He was touching up the edges of a sketch of Darcy and Bucky from their first Christmas together when he heard someone come in his tent. Steve didn’t bother to look up, rude as it was, figuring it was Susannah coming to bother him once again.

“Mind if I just have some time alone? I’m not really feeling like having company at the moment.”

“I wouldn’t either after that performance. But I’m still going to bother you a anyways, Steve.”

Steve fumbled his sketchbook when he jumped in surprise at the familiar voice.

“Peggy?!”

She stood at parade rest just inside of his tent, but she was smiling at him. “It’s good to see you, Steve.” Peggy graciously accepted his enthusiastic hug when he finally made it out of his seat and to her.

Steve could practically hear the desperation in his voice when he asked, “Is Darcy here?” He even looked behind her, as if his girl was hiding in the small space.

Peggy rolled her eyes at him, “She was, but she managed to convince Howard that one of the planes ‘needed a test run’ so they are currently taking it for a joyride. I’ve been running interference for them on the Colonel. I don’t know how the pair of them haven’t gotten sent back to the States yet, to be perfectly honest.”

Steve laughed loudly, relieved that Darcy was feeling like herself and up to no good. “When will she be back? And when did you three get here?”

Peggy moved across the small space to sit in an empty chair and Steve returned to his original seat.

“I imagine they’ll be back in about an hour or so, and we arrived late last night. Since then, I’ve been doing all I can to keep people away from Howard and Darcy, and Howard has been doing his best to keep Darcy in his workshop. He’s grown fond of her and the mayhem they build together.”

They spent the hour exchanging stories about what the past few months had been like for both of them; Steve caused Peggy to break out in hysterics when she heard about some of his USO disasters (and fans), and Steve groaned good-naturedly at the tales about Darcy sowing chaos wherever she and Howard went.

Steve was just getting to appreciate the fact that the Stark let Peggy and Darcy call him Howie when they heard the tell-tale sound of a plane coming in for landing. Peggy must have seen the excitement in his eyes because she stood and beckoned him to follow.

“Come on, we’ll meet them back at Howard’s shop.”

They ran through the gently falling rain across the camp until they came across one of the largest tents Steve had seen around. He knew it was because Howard and Darcy worked on everything from radios to tanks, but part of Steve knew that Howard had a little bit of that notorious Stark ego that made him want a bigger tent.

They only had to wait a few minutes inside before they heard two sets of running feet coming toward the shop.

“Howie, admit it! I landed that sonuvabitch like a pro!”

Steve paled, they were letting Darcy fly?! While he could admit that it was useful and amazing that Darcy was learning, he had a brief flashback to some of Darcy’s ‘experiments’ in the apartment, and the story of the ‘accidentally-sentient’ things she made in 2014.

“Lou, I am too damn young for a heart attack.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“Sure it is, Lou. Sure it is.”

Steve reveled in Darcy’s expression of shock when she blew into the shop and saw him leaning against her workstation. She didn’t even break her stride, just ran and leaped into his arms. Steve held her as tight as he could and kissed her, wrapping her legs around his waist and supporting her with his hands on her ass, decency be damned. Darcy threw any decency out of the window with the moan she let out, but Steve couldn’t care.

She was here , and they were together . It was all that he could have hoped for, they were just missing Bucky.

“I missed you Darcy, I missed you so much, sweetheart,” he breathed between kisses.

Darcy nodded frantically in agreement, whispering I love you’s each time they parted. Once their racing hearts had calmed some they simply rested their foreheads together, Steve supporting Darcy in his arms with no trouble. They just breathed in each other’s presence, at peace now that they were in each other’s arms again. Peggy and Howard’s voices floated in the background but Steve didn’t pay them any mind until something Peggy was saying lit up a light in his mind.

“...the 107th, poor souls.”

Peering around Darcy Steve locked eyes with Peggy, “What about the 107th?”

If she was confused by his sudden change in demeanor, Peggy didn’t show it. “That’s who these men are, Steve. They had been captured by the Germans and taken to a facility in Austria, only these who remain managed to evade capture.”

As he slowly let Darcy down onto her own feet Steve could have sworn that his heart had stopped. “But...there’s only fifty men out there!”

Peggy nodded, not understanding.

“Bucky’s in the 107th.” Steve felt like he had been punched in the gut, his heart sinking to the floor. He looked down at Darcy, meeting her own horrified gaze.

They didn’t even bother to say a word as they ran from Howard’s shop, hands held tightly together as their friends shouted questions as they followed.

They needed to find Bucky, now.

* * *

November 14, 2015

He heard a quiet conversation going on around him, but Bucky was too damn comfortable to do anything about it. He rolled over onto his right side and burrowed his face into the cushions of the sofa to hide from whoever was making all the noise. Bucky was just on the cusp of sleep again when someone spoke to him directly.

“Man, get your lazy ass off the couch, Steve is nearly bouncing off the walls for you to wake up.”

That was... Sam’s voice, Bucky’s groggy mind provided. His memories started as a slow trickle until they seemed to break the dam and flood his mind. Bucky sat up with a gasp, finally realizing what the hell was going on.

“Did it work?” He was breathless, as if he had just run a couple marathons, and was trying to push his hair out of his face and look around at the same time. Simply put, he was a mess.

Sam and Vision both chuckled nearby when Bucky finally got his act together. They didn’t seem to have moved much but from the change of the light that came through the window Bucky could tell that at least an hour or so had passed.

“Yes, Sergeant. It worked. Your mind is now one hundred percent Hydra-free and completely your own,” Vision stated warmly.

Bucky looked to him and downright beamed, “Thank you.” Vision continued to speak about how he did whatever he did to Bucky’s head, but he was too busy sorting through his memories to pay attention.

The memories from his time as the Winter Soldier weren’t always clear to begin with, due to all the electricity Hydra sent through his skull, but now it felt as if they were something he had read in a book long ago. They were distant and foggy, making Bucky feel a thousand pounds lighter than before.

“You doing okay, Bucky?” Sam asked.

He chuckled, feeling like his old self, the Bucky from before . “Yeah Sam, I’m feeling okay. The best I’ve felt in a long time.”

“Good, because Steve’s on his way.”

Bucky immediately leapt to his feet, happiness and anxiousness bubbling in his gut that were making him feel unsteady as hell. When he heard Steve’s footsteps near the door Bucky didn’t even notice Sam and Vision retreating to the opposite end of the room. He barely registered the sound of even more footsteps following Steve (later he’d be embarrassed about the entirety of the Avengers witnessing the sappy reunion) instead focusing on Steve pushing open the door and walking in. Their eyes met, and Steve smiled.

So of course Bucky cried. The Winter Goddamn Soldier cried.

“Stevie I’m sorry , I’m so sorry I didn’t want to--

Bucky was suddenly engulfed in Steve’s arms, getting the breath squeezed out of him as he muffled his sobs into his best friend’s chest. He felt a little less ridiculous when he felt Steve’s chest hitch with his own cries and tears hit the side of his neck.

“Don’t you dare apologize, Bucky, not for any of it. It wasn’t you, do you hear me? It wasn’t you.”

He had no idea how long they stood there like that, hugging one another as hard as they could just to reaffirm that they were really there, together, but they eventually broke apart with heavy slaps on the back as if the macho gesture would make up for the sob fest that just occurred.

Bucky’s eyes were wet but his smile was so big that his cheeks hurt. Steve sniffed hard before turning them around with an arm on Bucky’s shoulder to face the team.

“Everyone, I’d like you to meet my best friend, Bucky Barnes,” Steve looked giddy as he met each of his teammate’s gazes. “Bucky, welcome to the Avengers.”

Chapter Text

April 5, 1944

Howard cursed the super-soldiers as he chased after them with Pegs at his side, Lou and Steve were just a dark blur in the rain as they tore across the camp. Howard groaned when he saw that they were running toward the Colonel’s tent.

“Shit,” Pegs hissed under her breath and stepped up her pace, “These idiots are going to get themselves shipped home.”

He managed a chuckle around his panting breaths, “You know as well as I do that the Colonel telling them ‘no’ won’t do any good.” With a thought, Howard changed directions.

“Where do you think you’re going?!”

“We’re going on a rescue, haven’t you figured that out yet? I’m going to gas up the plane!”

Whatever else Pegs had to say was lost in the rain and the distance between them, Howard bolting toward the make-shift airstrip with a manic grin on his face.

It seemed like it was time for an adventure.

* * *

Peggy made it into the Colonel’s tent just as the man was ‘tearing Steve a new one’ as Darcy would say.

“The USO is heading out soon, don’t you’ve got a plane to be on Captain?” The man sneered.

Peggy wanted to groan when she saw Steve and Darcy studying the map behind the Colonel’s head with a feverish determination.

“Yes sir, I do.”

“Then get the hell out of here, and take Stark’s ward with you.” Phillips turned to the girl in question, as if just realizing that she was there randomly. “Why the hell are you even here, Lewis?”

Darcy didn’t even falter or hesitate under the steely gaze, “I saw Captain America running and I couldn’t help but follow. His ass looks amazing in those tights, don’t you think?”

Peggy quickly stepped forward and grabbed Darcy and Steve both by the wrist, “I’ll deal with them, sir, my apologies.”

Once she had dragged the pair far enough away from the tent she whirled on them. “What the bloody hell are you two doing?” She raised her hands when they both put on their most innocent expressions, “Stop that, it won’t work on me.”

Darcy looked up and shared a look with Steve before meeting Peggy’s gaze once more. “We’ve got a brother to save, Pegs.”

She wanted to scream in exasperation when the pair walked around her and began running back the way to Howard’s tent. How Peggy ended up here playing keeper to two super soldiers, she had no clue. And it certainly didn’t help that her only backup was Howard, seeing as he was just as eager to jump into danger as the pair of them.

Peggy entered the tent just in time to see Darcy finish pulling on Army fatigues, raising her eyebrows in confusion. The men’s uniform fit Darcy, like a glove even. “I see you were prepared for this?”

“If you’re asking if I knew Bucky was taken, the answer is no.” Darcy’s voice was even but there was a layer of ice to it that made Peggy want to take a step back. “World War II wasn’t my favorite subject in school, I was more interested in modern politics and social issues. I can’t remember what’s going to happen,” Darcy slammed her fist to the metal table at her side, causing it to dent spectacularly.

“Howie and I fixed these up for me, just in case things got a little hairy. If I had known Bucky was captured, the space-time continuum could go fuck itself. I would have gone after him.”

Steve stopped throwing various guns into a duffle bag and quickly made his way to Darcy’s side and wrapped her shaking body in his arms.

“Sweetheart, we talked about this. You can’t hold yourself responsible for what you don’t know--”

“Then what good am I?!” Darcy exploded, tearing herself from his arms and stomping to the bag he had left behind and checking the weapons roughly. “I’m from the fucking future , I should know what’s coming! What’s the point of me being here if I can’t change a goddamn thing? If I can’t save anyone?”

Peggy’s heart grew heavy, knowing that her friend was remembering Erskine’s death. She had no idea what to say to comfort her friend and Peggy could tell by the expression on Steve’s face that he didn’t either. Both of them were saved by the appearance of Howard who poked his head into the tent.

“We’ve got ten minutes to get that bird in the air before anyone notices, and not a second more. Let’s move .”

Darcy slung a rifle over her shoulder and tossed the bag to Steve as she moved to Howard, Steve and Peggy following silently behind her. It wasn’t until they were in the air that Darcy’s shoulder’s had lost enough tension that Peggy could tell that she felt comfortable enough to speak. And in true Darcy fashion, it was meant to break the tension with all the subtlety of a hand grenade.

“I’m pissed, Steve. We haven’t gotten to try out that new bod of yours in bed yet. I bet we can do some pretty acrobatic things with the super-soldier serum now.”

The plane actually jerked from the force of Howard’s flinch, “Lou! I do not need to know about that! Jesus Christ, girlie, keep it to yourself.”

Peggy was torn between amusement and exasperation, whereas Steve had turned such a dark shade of red she was fearful that there wasn’t any blood left in the rest of him. He had to clear his throat a few times before he could speak. Even then his voice was high pitched and positively dripping with embarrassment.

“Uh, sweetheart, maybe Howard’s got a point? Discretion? Maybe phrase it different?”

Darcy simply rolled her eyes and scoffed, “That’s bull, Steve. You know how many times I’ve had people telling me about Howie’s... fondue sessions with a bunch of bimbos? Not to mention how many people thought Howie and I were fondue-ing .”

Peggy laughed aloud at the expression of disgust on both Darcy and Howard’s faces. Unfortunately the good humor couldn’t last.

“Lou, Steve, your stop is coming up.”

Both soldiers (because that was what Darcy was, deep down, training or no; Peggy could recognize a soldier anywhere) immediately stood and began strapping themselves into their parachutes then moved to the back of the plane.

Howard began shouting from the cockpit, “We’ll get you as close as we can--”

The bright blue blast of something as well as machine gun fire tore through the air right in front of the plane, causing Howard to twist the plane in a complicated maneuver to prevent them from getting shot down. Peggy turned just in time to see Darcy manually get the hatch of the plane to open.

“We’ll go now!” Steve shouted, “You two get back to base and we’ll call for an extraction!”

Before either Peggy or Howard could do anything as much as sputter out a protest, Darcy and Steve linked hands and jumped.

* * *

November 14, 2015

After proper introductions to the team, everyone sat down on the many couches and stared at Bucky expectantly. He turned questioningly at Steve, who only shrugged, equally as confused. Natasha rolled her eyes.

“We want to know where the hell you’ve been, Barnes. What you’ve been doing…?”

Bucky’s mouth opened with an ‘Oh’ of realization, feeling like a mook. Before he could get a word in, a tiny woman barrelled into the room with a contemplative Tony Stark hot on her heels. She was frantically searching the room, her excitement starting to fade as she didn’t seem to find what she was looking for. Bucky studied the woman, taking in her rumpled appearance and the book she held in her hand. The very familiar book in her hand.

“Jane?”

She stopped, clearly not anticipating Bucky knowing who she was. Slowly, Bucky stood and moved to where she stopped in the center of the room, dumbfounded. “You’re Jane, right? Darcy’s sister?”

Suddenly it was Bucky’s turn to be dumbfounded when Jane collapsed into his chest and began sobbing. He looked to Steve again, and again the punk looked just as lost. Mentally shrugging, Bucky wrapped his arms around Jane and comforted her as best as he could. He may be a formerly brainwashed assassin, but he sure as hell wasn’t a dick. Tony cleared his throat gently to get Bucky’s attention.  

“Jane thought, well, we all thought, that once you came back that Darcy would come back too. And when that happened, we thought that maybe we needed to wait for your programming to be taken care of for her to come back but…” Tony let his words trail off, shrugging. Bucky could hear the left out parts, though. Now we don’t have anything to put hope into, we don’t have a clue when she’ll be back.

Jane seemed to be getting herself back together some so Bucky loosened his hold and let the woman take a step back. Thor immediately stood and made his way to her side, wrapping a massive arm around her waist as she burrowed her face into the god’s chest.

“We know that my Lightning Sister will return to us, that much the Norns have told me. However, even the comforts of the Fates do little to warm our hearts when one of our family is still lost to us.”

Bucky blinked hard at Thor’s eloquence, “Shit, Darcy wasn’t really kidding about you being poetic, was she?”

Just like Bucky hoped, the entire room cracked a smile and let out a couple laughs, draining some of the tension that had built up. He shook Thor’s hand when the demigod struck out his own.

“It is the Allspeak, I believe, that makes me sound so to you. Though I cannot otherwise complain, it does make speaking with Darcy... difficult at times.” It was Bucky’s turn to laugh, remembering all the times it seemed that Darcy was making up words and references that led to nothing. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like for someone from another realm, he had enough trouble understanding her at times as it was.

Everyone then took their seats once more, and again looked to Bucky for his tale. Sighing, he leaned back against the sofa and let the gust of air blow strands of his hair off of his face.

“DC is the first time I can really remember anything since the fall in the Alps, sort of. My mind is.. was a mess. I’m still not entirely sure what went on in my head for the last seventy years.  I began to come to when Steve called my name when we were fighting on the highway in DC. That started knocking down the programming, so they had to wipe me again.

“It didn’t hold, not like it should have, at least. The programming fell down when I was fighting Stevie on the Helicarrier and the stubborn punk dropped his goddamn shield .” He cast an exasperated at his best friend and was pleased to see that the rest of his team was too. Good to know nobody was letting the punk get away with that bullshit.

“I... woke up , when Stevie fell out of the Helicarrier and into the river. During our fight I was beginning to get flashes of myself, my memories. It felt like me and the Asset were having a war inside of my mind, but when Steve dropped like a stone the Bucky part of my head took over and jumped right after him.”

Sam leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, making sure to meet Bucky’s gaze. “So why did you run? Why didn’t you come in?”

Bucky shrugged, “I was scared. I was an assassin for seventy years, didn’t think the Avengers would take too kindly to me showing up at Stark’s tower. I knew Steve would move mountains to get me back, but I wasn’t ready yet.

“My mind felt like it had gone a few rounds with a jet engine, I couldn’t go to Steve when I wasn’t even sure if I was alone in my head. For a long time, it felt like the Asset was lingering around the edges, waiting for me to slip up.”

From the corner of his eye Bucky saw Natasha nod slowly in understanding. She’d gone through similar things in the Red Room, he knew. Hell, he trained Natasha when she was just a kid. She probably felt the same when she broke out of their clutches. Fuck the Russians , Bucky thought.

Shaking his head to regain his focus, Bucky continued to speak. “I think it was my version of the serum that helped heal me. Memories started flooding back in and the residual pain from the Chair faded fast. It was only then that I could even get to the point of even thinking I was getting my mind back from the Asset. But then I decided I wanted to tear Hydra down. That’s how Steve and Sam ended up on the world’s shittiest road trip. I planted false leads about where I was or sometimes even cleared out bases before you two mooks showed up.”

Neither Sam or Steve seemed wholly surprised by this, but they did look a little miffed.

“Wait,” Steve hedged, “Were you the one who shot me in my arm?!”

Bucky only shrugged as Sam laughed and howled I knew it! “That was a rough day, I had found out that Darcy wasn’t back in her time and that you crashed your damn plane in the Arctic Ocean, you punk. Thought you deserved a little sting for that idiot move.”

Everyone put their two cents in about the merits of ‘saying hi’ with a .22 rifle shot, Stark saying loudly that it must’ve been a ‘40s thing.’ They joked with one another for a few minutes until they calmed down some. Bucky was thankful for the break from the serious conversation, but he knew it wouldn’t last. Everyone wanted answers, hell, Steve deserved them. Bruce was the one who asked Bucky to explain about his memories in greater detail, seemingly fascinated by the medical phenomenon that was Bucky’s brain. He didn’t fault the man, anyone else’s brain would be literal mush by this point; Bucky was just a lucky bastard that he had the serum.

“I don’t really know how to explain it,” he said, “All my memories of being the Winter Soldier are blurry, but I still remember details. I know I was sent on a mission in 1968 to take out an arms dealer that had double crossed the Russians, but I don’t remember actually killing him. It’s as if I’m reading a file about the op, and his photo is stuck on the front cover.” Bucky closed his eyes and used all of his self control to keep his voice even as he continued. “The feeling though, I remember that. The part of me that was still me in the back of the Asset’s mind that screamed for him to stop what he was doing, to run. To get away from the Russians when I could.”

He cursed himself for the hitch in his breathing but was comforted by everyone’s pitiless faces. They all just looked understanding. They also looked like they were done asking questions, at least for a while.

Jane looked like she wanted to ask Bucky and Steve about Darcy (not that he could blame her, Bucky sure as hell had a lot of questions too) but was interrupted by Stark’s new AI.

“Boss? I’ve sent the information that you requested to your Stark-pad, and the lab results should be done within a few minutes.”

“Thanks, FRIDAY,” Tony mumbled, reading on his tablet as if his interaction with the AI didn’t just raise up a whole lot of questions by the looks of inquiry on everyone’s faces. Jane looked suspicious, like she had an inkling of what Stark was up to.

“You going to share with the class, Tony?” Clint drawled.

“Oh, just a theory I’m working on. Needed some research and a test to confirm, but looking at it now I think I’m fairly confident with my gut reaction. Jane helped,” the woman in question narrowed her eyes, “she jogged my memory.”

It was as if the lightbulb went off in Jane’s mind. Her confusion was quickly replaced with realization then just as suddenly turned to incredulity. “Does this have anything to do with what we talked about earlier?” Tony nodded. “And are you testing what I think you’re testing, Tony?

Bucky couldn’t read the tone of Jane’s voice, caught somewhere between dread and hope. Tony just nodded and Bucky was able to read his nervousness easily. He must have found what he was looking for because Tony suddenly turned off his tablet and covered his face with both hands and groaned. It wasn’t quite despair, Bucky noted, but it rang with the tone of ‘shit just got real.’

Jane’s eyes went wide at his reaction. “FRIDAY, any word on the lab results?”

“It has just completed, Dr. Foster. Boss, would you like me to send the results to your device?”

He waved off the suggestion, “No, let’s do this like a band-aid, yeah? Quick and fast and everyone in one place so I don’t have to explain it a million different times.”

The tension was amped up to eleven (one of Darcy’s better expressions that Bucky had picked up), everyone on the edge of their seats as they looked between Tony and Jane who were having some sort of silent conversation.

“Certainly. The test came back positive: Miss Lewis is your daughter, boss.”

“WHAT?!” Everyone began shouting at once in confusion, except for Thor who began bellowing about what a glorious discovery it was.

Bucky’s eyebrows flew to his hairline in shock and he could practically feel Steve’s apprehension at his side. He knew that if he looked the punk’s face would be pale as death .He had to give the punk credit though, he met Tony’s gaze head on. From what Darcy had indulged about her friends from her time, both Steve and Bucky knew that she thought of Tony as some sort of combination of father/brother/friend and that the feeling was definitely mutual. It wasn’t until they both woke up in the future that they realized Tony Stark was Darcy’s Tony. It certainly explained why Darcy and Howard got along like a house on fire, though.

Tony’s smile was some strange marriage of shit-stirring and grim, and Bucky was man enough to say that it scared him a little bit. “So, Cap, you and my daughter.”

Steve fidgeted slightly at the statement. “Yes?”

“I feel like I should ask you about your intentions, that’s a thing dad’s do, right? Make sure they defend their daughter’s honor and all that?”

Before Steve could answer Jane began cackling from her spot in Thor’s lap, “Oh, Tony, you’re way too late for that. I’d be cautious if you open up Darcy’s journal, she’s a hell of a writer.”

It took both Steve and Tony a moment to piece together what Jane was implying but their reactions were simultaneous.

“Goddamnit, Darcy. Discretion , we talked about this.”

“WHY DID YOU HAVE TO SAY THAT, FOSTER?! I THOUGHT WE WERE BROS!”

All of Bucky’s control snapped at the sight of both of the men’s horrified faces and he laughed long and loud. Things at the facility would get a whole lot more interesting once Darcy came back, that was for sure.

* * *

April 5, 1944

Darcy always thought that running into battle would be loud, that there would be screaming and explosions and a whole mess of other things that would rattle her eardrums. What she wasn’t prepared for was the quiet .

It wasn’t silent by any means, but she had clearly been disillusioned by all the shitty action movies she watched with Tony.

All she could hear as she jumped from the plane was the sound of the wind rushing by her ears. She wouldn’t have been able to tell she was getting shot at if she didn’t see the bright blue lights that flew past her head from the strange guns Hydra had. After they pulled their chutes, Darcy was only aware of the sound of her blood screaming through her veins and her panting breaths. When they landed amongst the trees it was on silent feet as they shed their harnesses and holstered their weapons, communicating with only a look.

Steve took the lead, Darcy’s smaller frame easily shielded by his massive one. She didn’t like the idea the slightest but her Natasha-brain told her that it was the best tactical decision.

They ran through the woods toward the Azzano stronghold as fast as they could, taking out anyone who stood in their path. She begrudgingly admitted to herself that Steve taking point was a good distraction (with that bright as hell uniform and shield for fuck’s sake) leaving her able to take out as many men as possible when their eyes were on the Captain instead of her.  Darcy didn’t even flinch when the rounds she fired hit men right between their eyes or straight through their hearts (Clint would be so proud) because these men had Bucky, and she would do anything to get her brother back.

Darcy followed Steve step for step as they tore across the clearing until they found cover against the fort’s stone walls. “Any ideas, sweetheart?” The Nazis clearly knew they were under attack, but from the destruction the pair left in their wake the bastards were clearly hoping for a larger opposing force. Hopefully they could use this to their advantage.

She thought for half a moment before speaking quietly, “Best guess is that prisoners are in the lower floors; out of sight out of mind. It’s Hydra, so I bet they’ve got some questionable things happening on the top levels.”

“So let’s get the men out first then blow this place to kingdom come, yeah?”

“Baby, you sure know how to sweet-talk a girl, dontcha?”

Steve just winked and cocked the gun in his free hand, “Well, I just know what you like.”

Darcy’s laughter was drowned out by the sound of gunfire and shouting, and she wondered what it said about her that she was glad there was finally some goddamn noise.

Despite the ruckus Darcy and Steve cleared each level surprisingly quickly and without much resistance. The small amount of soldiers sent alarms off in Darcy’s mind.

“Steve, this is a goddamn lab!”

Her fella didn’t even pause as he knocked out a fleeing man in a grubby uniform with his stage shield, “What makes you say that?”

“There’s not enough soldiers defending the place, just a handful with some crazy scary guns outside. Rest of them are lab goons, I’d bet my life’s savings on it.”

Steve’s face was grim when he turned around to face her. “Makes you wonder what they need four hundred soldiers for, then, doesn’t it?”

The pair booked it through the remaining rooms before running down the stairs to what Darcy hoped was the bottom floor. They encountered five actual soldiers with the creepy plasma guns so she was fairly certain she and Steve were about to find what remained of the 107th. She tossed up a prayer of thanks to whoever was listening out there when Steve skidded to a stop in front of a multitude of cells, filled to the brim with half-starved and terrified soldiers.

The basement, though it looked more like a dungeon, was damp and freezing and was too damn small for however many men were being held there. Though the side that held all the men looked secure, the open space was littered with scrap metal and pipes that looked like they had been torn from the walls and ceiling.

Steve began speaking to the room at large, explaining that he was Captain America or something and he and Darcy were here to break them out. Not wanting to waste time, Darcy immediately grabbed a thin pipe from a pile of metal as she strode over to the first cell, then wedged the end of it into the lock and braking it easily with her new strength.

Darcy ignored the men’s exclamations of surprise and peered around in the dark. There were too many men and too little light to see by, so she just shouted “Bucky?!” and tried not to let her heart shatter when there was no answering call.

“Who the hell are you, darlin’?” one soldier asked. He had one hell of a mustache, and if they weren’t in the middle of a Nazi/Hydra base Darcy probably would’ve laughed at it.

“I’m nobody, just looking for my brother. James Barnes, know where he is?”

Each man in the cell she stood at shook their head, so she moved on to the next cell. She repeated the conversation at each new cell that was opened and was losing hope fast when a voice from the cell to her left called out.

“Barnes? I know him!”

Darcy’s head snapped to look at the man, seeing a handsome dark face looking at her. She ran over and began working on the lock as the man shifted his gaze between her and Steve as she spoke. “They take us upstairs, a couple at a time. We don’t know what they do, but the men don’t ever come back. Barnes got taken up last week.”

Without looking up Darcy called to Steve, “Cap! Go get him, I’ll get the rest of them out and see what we can do about getting some ammunition and transportation out of this hell hole.”

She did want to go to Bucky herself, but Darcy knew that it’d be better for them to split up and rendezvous outside. She didn’t think she could make it out of there if she didn’t find Bucky alive and breathing anyways. It was best that she helped the prisoners. Darcy was thankful when Steve just nodded and bounded back to the stairwell and back into the fray.

An average looking man with a heavy Jersey accent scoffed from his spot on the floor, “What do you think you’re playin’ at, doll? You’re cute as a button, I’ll give ya that, but goin’ out into war? I don’t think--”

He was cut off by the sound of Darcy ripping the metal door apart with her bare hands. A thrill of satisfaction rolled down her spine when every soldier stepped back in surprise and went silent. One guy even crossed himself.

“If you don’t think, don’t speak , asshat. I’m getting you out of here you ungrateful and sexist son of a bitch, unless you want to stay here? Looks cozy.”

The man with the awesome mustache laughed, “Smith, you’re a special kind of stupid.” He turned to Darcy with a hand outstretched, “Timothy Dugan, at your service ma’am, tell me what you need me to do.”

She dropped the shredded metal from her hand and took Dugan’s in a strong grip. “Grab the wounded and sick and get people to cover them, it’s not going to be pretty once they know you guys are free. Other than that, let’s raise a little hell on our way out, sound good?”

Dugan turned and barked orders to the men behind him who quickly began moving and doing as they were told. When he looked back at Darcy he raised a brow in question, “You got a name?”

Darcy weighed the pros and cons in her head for a moment but shrugged her shoulders and decided to just go for it.

“Name’s Darcy Lewis, but you can call me Lou.”

 












Chapter Text

April 6, 1944

Darcy looked nervously between the Nazi stronghold and the hundreds of men that were spilling out of the base. Even in the dark of the middle of the night (or morning, who could tell?), Darcy could see how weary they all were underneath their elation of being free.

Tearing through the Nazi defenses were easy enough, even if they were outgunned. Once they got ahold of some of those plasma rays (Darcy couldn’t wait to take it apart with Howie) it was easy going. They managed to find themselves some trucks and a tank, as well as a shit ton of supplies to tend for their wounded. A perk of being held captive in a medical facility, Darcy supposed.

Dugan stolled up with what Darcy had started calling his ‘team’ to where she was perched on the arm of the tank’s gun. They were the few good men that listened to Darcy with no hesitation and got shit done, uncaring that she was a woman . Dugan, Jones, Falsworth, Morita, and Dernier were polite to her and respected her authority. Not that she truly had any authority to speak of, seeing as she wasn’t really a soldier, but she’d take what she could get.

Dugan ran a hand over his mustache before he spoke. “We got all the men out, most are okay, if hungry and cold. We put the sick and injured in the trucks and raided as much ammo as we could find as well as medical supplies. I think they’ll be okay, Lou, we just need to get moving.”

She nodded in agreement, but looked up to the base and searched for the forms of Bucky and Steve in the shadows. They already knew that they wouldn’t be leaving without Steve and Bucky, having fought her on the issue earlier. She may or may not have accidentally squeezed a rifle hard enough to bend the barrel and render it useless in her anger, easily ending the conversation.

“Can I ask you something, Lou?” Darcy just hummed in response, “How the hell did you end up here? And how the hell did you break through those cells with your bare hands?!”

Darcy laughed, though the sound was tired and lacked her normal jovial tone. “Dugan, I like you. You and your team are good people.” She met his gaze and each of the men’s, holding each of them with all the seriousness she could muster, “But as far as you, or anyone in the unit knows? I don’t exist, I wasn’t here. There are bigger things at work around us, and it’s crucial that no one knows my part in it. Are we clear?”

Dugan and the rest of them searched her face, and she could read the dissatisfaction on theirs. But they nodded in agreement, regardless.

“We’ll spread the word, don’t worry Lou. You’ll be a ghost in no time.” Dugan smiled slyly up at Darcy, “You scared most of them shitless, anyhow. I don’t think they’ll be wantin’ to tell that particular tale.”

That time Darcy did laugh wholeheartedly, strangely pleased at the thought. She made a note to tell Natasha about it when she got back. Her thoughts were derailed when an explosion rocked the ground and fire began spilling from the base.

She was jumping off of the tank before she realized what was happening, only stopped by the men in front of her. Darcy knew that she could break out of their hold easily, but she really didn’t need any more injured men on her hands.

“Let me go!”  

“Lou, you can’t! The place is going to burn to the ground any second!” Morita was right, but Darcy’s heart clenched at the sight of the burning building.

What felt like hours but could only have been minutes, some strange ship launched itself from the rooftop and into the night. Dread filled Darcy’s gut at the sight, knowing that there was no way that was a good sign. Seconds later, two hunched figures tore out of a hole in the nearest wall of the base and began stumbling their way down the hill. Thankfully, Mortia and the team let Darcy go once it was clear that it was a set of friendlies headed there way.

Darcy choked on her tears as she ran to the pair, because it was Steve and Bucky, and they were alive. She had thought the worst when the base was swallowed by flames, unable to fight the feeling of despair. But here they were, bickering at one another it seemed as they made their way toward the makeshift camp that was set up.

She didn’t even register what Bucky and Steve were fighting about, just throwing herself in Bucky’s arms and sobbing with everything she had.

“I’m sorry, Bucky, I didn’t know I didn’t know I promise I would’ve come for you--” Her words failed her so she just let herself sob in Bucky’s embrace.

“Shh, I know, Darcy, I know. It’s okay, I’m alright, you see? I’m right here. You and the dumb punk got me out.” Bucky’s voice was hoarse and his grip was weak, and Darcy only sobbed harder when she realized he was in pain, her mind supplying unwanted images of what could have been done to him while he was being held. Bucky continued to sooth her with gentle hands rubbing circles on her back and holding her close. He didn’t let go once she stopped crying, which she was thankful for.

“Hey, spitfire?” she hummed in response but kept her face buried in Bucky’s chest, making him chuckle. “You or Steve going to tell me why he’s suddenly built like a goddamn brick shit-house?”

Darcy and Steve broke out into laughter, unable to help themselves. Steve was the one who clarified when he saw Bucky’s confused expression, “She said damn near the same thing when she saw me.” Bucky laughed with them for a moment longer, before pulling back enough so he could make Darcy meet his eyes.

“Don’t think you and I won’t be havin’ a talk about what the hell you’re doing in the middle of a war, Darce,” She opened her mouth to protest but he cut her off, “ Not that I’m not pleased as punch to see you, but this is a goddamn mess out here.”

Darcy rolled her eyes as she made her way to her usual spot between him and Steve, looping her arms through both of theirs. “Believe me, I know what a mess it is, Bucky. I may not remember much, but they taught us all about the war when I was in school. I know what type of monsters are out there.”

They were silent as they made their way back to the rest of the 107th, every soldier watching their arrival with wide eyes. Dugan and his team stepped forward from the rest, looking to Darcy with questions in their eyes.

“Everyone ready to go?” She asked, aware but not acknowledging the looks of surprise on her guys’ faces at the unspoken authority she held.

Dugan nodded, but it was Gabe who spoke, putting his hand between him and Bucky to shake. “Good to see you’re alive, Barnes.”

“Good to be alive,” Bucky’s face was grim, but they could all see the relief in his eyes. Gave smiled and jerked his head at Darcy.

“Your sister here managed to put the fear of God into the men, any idea where she gets that from?”

Bucky and Steve both looked down at her questioningly, but Darcy just shrugged her shoulders with a shit-eating grin on her face. They both sighed and rolled their eyes.

“She was born like that, I think she was made to scare the shit out of everyone she came across,” Bucky teased, causing Steve to laugh too. Suddenly, they both grew serious as the looked at the men in front of them.

Steve used what Darcy was starting to call his ‘Captain’ voice when he addressed the team and the entire unit, “I don’t know what all has been said already, but no one can know that she was here, do you understand? Darcy--”

Dugan waved off Steve’s tirade, “Ghost here already gave us the same talk, Captain.” He lowered his voice so that only their small group could hear, “And I’ll tell you what I told her: the men are already scared of her, so they won’t be mentioning her to anyone . We spread the order anyways, no one will say a damn thing.”

Once again, Steve and Bucky looked down at her with questions burning in their eyes. She sighed and stepped from between them and accepted the rifle Dernier handed her. “I’ll explain on the way back, I promise. Let’s get moving, though, it’s a long hike back to base and Pegs is probably about to shoot Howie soon if we don’t get back.”

She didn’t bother looking back at the men behind her as she strode to the center of the rest of the 107th yards away, looking at them all with an arched brow. “What are you waiting for, a goddamn invitation? Let’s move!”

Darcy let herself have a small moment of satisfaction when all of the men jumped into action at her shout. She heard Steve and Bucky groaning behind her, while the team next to them just snickered at the scene in front of them.

Gabe clapped Bucky on the shoulder and gave him a gentle shake, “Told ya, Barnes. All the men are a little terrified of Ghost.”

Ghost, she rolled the name over her mind and smiled fully when she decided she liked the new nick-name. It suited her.

“Yeah, well Ghost and the Captain and I are going to have a goddamn conversation real soon, you can count on that.” Darcy’s shoulders slumped at Bucky’s warning tone, just knowing he was about to tear her and Steve a new one.

She shared a guilty look with Steve and took his hand when Bucky started walking to the front of the convoy, knowing that he wanted to speak with them, now.

This wasn’t going to be pretty at all.

* * *

Bucky took deep breaths, trying to calm himself after Darcy and Steve finished speaking. They were a dozen or so yards ahead of the nearest soldier and they spoke quietly so no one could eavesdrop on them. Bucky was trying his damndest not to ruin that now.

“So, just to clarify: Punk, you got yourself enlisted into a goddamn super soldier program where a bunch of scientists used you to test a serum that they weren’t even sure was going to work. And Darcy, you somehow convinced Stark to take you in so you’d be in on the project, and then got turned into a goddamn super soldier too. That about right?”

He had a moment of grim satisfaction with the two punks winced at the ice in his tone. They should be sorry, getting into trouble when he wasn’t around to keep them from getting into messes. He groaned loudly when they both turned their big blue eyes on him, knowing it was his weakness. He closed his eyes when they began speaking over one another to try to explain.

“What was I supposed to do, Buck? You were off fighting and I needed to help--”

“How could I just stay in Brooklyn? You got drafted and then Steve was trying as hard as he could to get enlisted, and I had no idea what the hell to do--”

Bucky let them babble for a few more minutes, making sure they got it out of their systems before laying a hand on both of their shoulders, quieting them.

“Okay,” he sighed, “I get it. I do. Am I happy about it? Hell no, but there’s not much I can do about that except be grateful that you two punks helped get all those men, and me, out of there.”

His body shuddered against his will, forcing him to remember the feeling of needles in his arms and a shrill voice taunting him as he burned from the inside out. Bucky shook his head to rid himself of the memories and focused back on the two dopes he loved so much.

“Darce, tell me why you got a handful of men taking your orders and why three hundred soldiers seem to be scared of you. And why the hell they’re calling you Ghost, for that matter.”

His baby sister beamed up at him and launched into her tale of her and Steve’s reunion (“Darcy, I really don’t need to hear about Steve’s tongue down your throat, skip those parts, please. ”) and how Howard and Peggy managed to sneak them away and into Austrian airspace. His hand tightened on his rifle in his hands as she mentioned how they shot their way into the base, knowing that she had to have killed a good number of people to do so. Stevie, too. He pushed the thought aside as Darcy told him how she figured out it was a lab instead of a military base, taking a moment to be proud of his baby sister. Bucky always knew she was smart as hell, but who knew she’d have such a tactical mind? He downright laughed when she reenacted breaking down the cell door when Smith was being an ass. Bucky never like the guy, so he was happy he got knocked down a couple pegs.

They spent the next several hours at the head of the convoy, looking out for threats while trading stories under their breath. Bucky had to wipe a few tears from his eyes when Steve told him about his time with the USO, only laughing harder when Darcy got a steely look in her eye when Steve told them about his ‘admirers.’ Bucky could only pray that the girls were long gone when they made it back to base, because nothing was as terrifying as Darcy when she was pissed.

Despite the fact they were walking for miles and miles through the night and into morning then into evening once more, Bucky felt good. He could forget his time at Azzano, his time strapped to the metal table while Zola made him hurt in ways he never thought possible. He could just be himself , which was a greater blessing than he deserved.

Bucky had Steve and Darcy at his side again, and it was all he could have asked for.

* * *

Peggy gritted her teeth as the Colonel tore into her and Howard about sneaking Steve and Darcy off of base for an unsanctioned rescue. There saving grace was that the Colonel was to embarrassed that a ‘goddamn showgirl and an assistant’ ran out right under his nose, so he wouldn’t be reporting the incident to anyone. If word had gotten out about it, Phillips would have hell to pay on top of the humiliation.

Peggy straightened her spine when the Colonel asked how the hell she figured they’d be back when it was almost a full day since the pair had snuck off.

“I have faith, sir.”

He scoffed, but his next words were cut off by shouts outside of the tent. Peggy and Howard shared a look before bolting from Phillip’s tent, not even waiting to be dismissed. The scene that awaited them nearly took her breath away.

Steve and Darcy, as well as a man who she assumed was Bucky, led what looked to be the rest of the 107th into base. They were all exhausted and battle-worn, but they held their heads high as they strode into the center clearing and stopped in front of the Colonel. Peggy met Darcy’s eye around the man, having to bite her lip to stop a smile when the other woman winked at her from under her cap.

“I’m here to surrender myself for disciplinary action, Colonel, but a lot of these men need medical attention first.”

The Colonel just raised a brow at Steve, looking at the hundreds of men he had rescued. “That won’t be necessary, Captain.” Then he looked to Darcy.

“What do you have to say to yourself, Lewis?”

She met his gaze head on. “Nothing, sir. I wasn’t there. I saw Captain America walking toward base and couldn’t help but follow that amazing ass, again.”

If Peggy wasn’t paying such close attention she would’ve missed Phillip’s look of indignation at Darcy’s words. There was a rumble of laughter throughout the group of men that was instantly silenced when the Colonel raised his eyes to scan the crowd.

He seemed to choose a man at random, taking three long strides until he was well into the other man’s personal space. “What’s your name, soldier?” he barked,

“Falsworth, sir.”

“Did you see Lewis during your rescue?”

The man didn’t hesitate, “No, sir. There was no one named Lewis when we were rescued.”

The Colonel repeated the same questions three more times before throwing his hands in the air when a soldier named Dernier just mentioned seeing a ghost when he was held prisoner. Peggy had to dig her elbow into Howard’s side when he began to laugh at Phillip’s face that had started to turn red with anger.

The Colonel turned back to Darcy, meeting her cool gaze with his furious one. “Don’t think I don’t know that you’re behind this, Lewis, I’m not stupid.”

She cocked an eyebrow at him, “I never said you were, sir, but you just did.”

Before the Colonel could explode with rage, the man Peggy identified as Bucky began to shout, “Let’s hear it for Captain America!”

As the crowd of men began cheering and clapping for Steve, Peggy noticed that all the men were splitting their gazes between him and Darcy, though no one mentioned her name. Clearly, she was just as responsible for their escape as Steve was. Peggy couldn’t help but wonder what was said, or done , that had three hundred men look so fearful of one woman.

It made Peggy smile wide.

* * *

Bucky snuck away from Steve and Darcy as soon as he could. He buried the guilt underneath his certainty that the pair would be thoroughly occupied with one another. He just needed some time, just a moment to catch his breath, then he’d be fine.

Whatever was injected in his veins was still burning him alive, he could feel it clawing through his body as he grit his teeth against the pain. He was better than this, Bucky told himself. If Steve and Darcy could take out a Nazi base with just a couple of handguns, he sure as hell could get over whatever the hell was done to him.

He staggered over to a tree when another wave of pain crested and bit down on his tongue to prevent himself from screaming.There was fire rushing through his blood and he never thought anything could be this agonizing. Bucky braced his hands against the rough bark of the tree to ground himself but his eyes flew open when he felt the wood crumble beneath his fingers.

No, nonononono ....The burning, this strength? Darcy and Steve mentioned the same things...

Oh god, Bucky’s mind raced as he pieced everything together, Zola gave me the goddamn serum.

He let himself collapse in a heap behind the tree and succumb to the pain, just praying that no one watched him walk off and that no one could see him. Bucky curled into himself and rode out the waves of fire, promising himself that he’d keep his trap shut. They were reckless and foolhardy at the best of times, their serums only making them feel invincible. Bucky would keep his secret, if he was just plain old Bucky, they’d tone it done it down some; they wouldn’t run into anymore suicide missions half-cocked and blinded by emotions.

Bucky wanted to scream as his insides were set aflame but he swallowed the noise and repeated his promise to himself over and over again.

Steve and Darcy could never know. Bucky would keep them safe like this.

Chapter Text

April 9th, 1944

Peggy was waiting in the lab with Howard for Darcy and Steve, eager to see how her friends would like the prototypes Howard had set up. The engineer had arranged a display of various shields for Steve that would go along with his new Captain America uniform, all made of different metal alloys in a multitude of shapes. Peggy’s personal favorite was the one made of vibranium and was formed into a perfect circle. It was the best tactical decision, as well as the most aesthetically pleasing. Though she couldn’t wield it herself, the shield could be used both offensively and defensively and Howard had plans to paint it to match Steve’s uniform.

Darcy was a bit more difficult to create weapons for. While Darcy was an excellent shot, Howard knew that she had a certain... fondness, for fighting hand to hand (something about making NatNat proud), so he needed to make her weapons that would give her an advantage. So for Darcy, Howard had created some sort of battle batons out of the scraps of the Hydra weapons and ideas based off of her ‘tasers.’ They were long and sleek, but were more than deadly. They worked with a set of gloves that would prevent Darcy from being electrocuted when she used the electric charge on opponents. Peggy’s eyebrows flirted with her hairline when Howard had first given her a demonstration, but her shark-like smile matched his all the same.

Howard paced his makeshift lab, wringing his hands in an uncharacteristic sign of nervousness. Peggy rolled her eyes at ignored him since she that Steve and Darcy would be over the moon for anything that Howard made them, even if the man did not. Choosing to get out of the lab before his anxiety could rub off on her, Peggy made her way down the hall to see if she could see where Steve and Darcy were.

She certainly found them easily enough, but was too slow to stop the following scene.

Her friends were leaning against the opposite wall, bodies angled toward one another and speaking softly. Judging by the faint blush on Steve’s cheeks and the way Darcy was running her gaze over Steve’s form, Peggy assumed the young woman was saying particularly lewd and appreciative things about Steve’s appearance. Darcy had her hair tucked under her cap and was in her fatigues (she refused a dress uniform when Steve graciously accepted his), and despite her more than generous curves the shapeless men’s uniform disguised her well enough to someone who was just passing by. And that someone who was currently passing by was a blonde that Peggy recognized from the clerical sector who only had eyes for Captain America.

Captain, ” the woman purred as she encroached on Steve’s personal space. Both Steve and Darcy’s eyebrows raised in surprise at her as she continued to speak, “I just want to thank you for saving all of those men. They owe you their thanks.” She traced a finger up the lapel of his jacket toward his tie as she lowered her voice, “but since they’re not here…”

Just as the woman raised herself to her toes and leaned toward Steve, Darcy’s hand reached out and covered the woman’s entire face. With a shove, the woman ( Mary, Peggy’s mind supplied) fell hard on her ass onto the ground with an unamused Darcy standing over her.

“What the hell?!” the blonde screeched, “What’s the matter with you?!”

Darcy just shrugged nonchalantly, but her eyes were ice cold. “A whole lot, probably, but right now it’s your inclination to be all over my fella that’s got me a little worked up.”

Everyone in the hall had fallen silent when the confrontation began, but their eyes were alight with amusement when Mary quickly and gracelessly rose to her feet and stepped right into Darcy’s face. “ Your fella? What could he even see in you , you don’t even look like a lady.”

Darcy quirked a brow, “Well for one thing, I’ve got a great set of tits.” Behind her Steve blushed, but nodded along anyways. “For another,” she leaned close to Mary as if she was going to whisper, but spoke loud enough that everyone could hear, “I can do some pretty wicked things with my tongue that the good Captain likes.” She winked as she reached back for Steve’s hand, dragging him toward Howard’s shop. As they walked Steve looked down at Darcy with a mix of amusement and exasperation.

“You’re kind of crazy, you know that?”

Darcy just hummed around a smile, jumping up to peck a kiss on Steve’s cheek. “But you love me,” she said.

Steve pulled Darcy to a stop outside Howard’s door, leaning down to give her a searing kiss that caused the audience in the hall to whistle appreciatively. “Yeah, I do.”

Mary’s face was bright red with embarrassment, but Peggy had to admire how she didn’t immediately run away. Instead, she looked at the gathered crowd with indignation. “Does anyone care that she just attacked me?”

Dugan from his place in the corner just laughed. “Well it’d be hard to prove that, ma’am seeing as none of us know who you’re talkin’ about. Ain’t that right, boys?”

“Yessir,” was the widespread response, laughter evident in everyone’s tones.

Dernier looked to Falsworth at his side, “Good to know I’m not the only one who’s scared of the Ghost, eh?”

Mary, realizing that no one was going to take her side, stormed out with a huff.

Peggy rolled her eyes, but nodded a sincere thanks to the men in the room. What had started as keeping Darcy out of the report of the Azzano rescue had evolved into keeping Darcy out of everything . Ghost wasn’t a pariah on base by any means, but whenever anyone asked about her, whoever she was speaking with would claim to not know who Darcy was, saying they had never seen her before. Peggy didn’t think that the ruse would stick, especially when she could see Phillips getting more and more angry as time went on, but when three hundred soldiers banded together, no one could stop them. Soon enough, all staff personnel on base were calling Darcy The Ghost, letting her name fall from memory.

It drove the Colonel mad, but there was nothing he could do. Despite the lack of evidence, it was clear that Darcy had done more than her fair share of rescuing the men from Azzano. Before that, Darcy was quickly becoming necessary to the war effort, increasing Howard’s weapon production (and enhancement) tenfold. Phillips couldn’t deny that Darcy was a much needed asset. So needed, in fact, that when Steve put forth the idea of the Howling Commandos the Colonel made his own suggestion for the team.

“Take Ghost with you, Captain,” he said, “She’s got a certain... skillset , that will do more good in the field than it will here.”

The look he leveled at Peggy and Steve confirmed her suspicions: while Phillips may not know of Darcy’s time traveling origins, the colonel had pieced together what had happened to the third vial of serum. Peggy had no clue as to how he figured it out, or why he was keeping his mouth shut, but she was grateful all the same.

Shaking off the memory, Peggy stepped into Howard’s lab just in time to see Darcy prod Howard with one of her batons, dropping him like a stone.

She sighed loudly and cocked an eyebrow at Darcy’s sheepish expression, “Was that entirely necessary?”

“No,” Darcy tried to hide her smile and failed spectacularly, “but you have to admit, that was pretty badass. And how else was I supposed to know it was working?”

Steve looked to the heavens, as if wondering how he got to this moment in life. “Sweetheart, Howard made it. That’s a guarantee that it’s going to work.”

Winking at Darcy, Peggy palmed a handgun just as Steve reached for the circular shield and hefted it onto his arm. “Well then, I suppose you’re confident in that shield?”

“Of course, why--”

Peggy let off three rapid fire shots at the center of the shield, smiling as Darcy laughed.

“What the hell, Pegs?!” Steve spluttered, but she could see the smile making his lips twitch.

“Oh, would you look at that, Captain. It works. So glad we tested it.”

* * *

June 29th, 1944

Bucky knew that Darcy was suspicious of him, but he also knew that she wouldn’t say anything. She, more than anyone, knew the importance and the necessity of some secrets. He’d tell her and Stevie about his own serum one day, when they were home and the war was said and done. Bucky didn’t dwell on the invasive thought that said none of them would make it out of this mess alive.

Whenever the voice became too loud he’d go sit next to Darcy and watch her fiddle with whatever piece of equipment she was trying to ‘improve.’ Most of the time it was a success, but there was still a fair amount of time when Bucky, Steve, or any of the Commandos had to talk Darcy down from making something that was a touch too much.

Sometimes when Bucky was feeling fit to burst out of his skin he’d seek out Stevie and make sure he was okay. In his mind Bucky knew that he didn’t need to mother hen Steve anymore, seeing as  the serum would keep him from getting sick, but old habits died hard. He grew up counting Stevie’s breaths at night, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to stop now.

It wasn’t always campfires and harmless fun, though, they were in a war for fuck’s sake. There was blood and death on all of their hands, but they did what they could for each other.

Bucky took his baby sister under his wing and was teaching her how to shoot a sniper rifle. Though she was one of the greatest fighters any of them had ever seen, he could tell when it was wearing her thin. Bucky told her it was so the film crews that were shadowing Steve at times wouldn’t accidentally catch sight of her, but it was just for his own peace of mind. None of them were coming out of this war clean, but if Bucky could keep her out of the thick of it from time to time, he’d do what he was able to.

Steve was a whole different story. He now had the body that matched his mind, heart, and soul, and it made him reckless. He was always charging into strongholds with that damn shield raised (don’t even get Bucky started on the damn outfit) and running into bullets. Bucky knew Steve was using himself as a distraction for the rest of the commandos, but it still was giving him heart palpitations. Bucky thought that trying to keep Steve and Darcy out of trouble in Brooklyn was difficult? Ha. He wished for the ease of Brooklyn. Having the two become super-soldiers was going to turn him gray before he hit thirty.

All in all, though, the Howling Commandos was his saving grace. Bucky had no idea what he would have done if he was forced to go back stateside with a purple heart. Brooklyn didn’t have a place for a super-soldier (let alone three, what the hell would they do when they went home?) and Bucky didn’t know if he could face the old neighborhood anyways. He was too different. He was changed. But the Howlies? Now Bucky had purpose.

* * *

June 30th, 2016

Steve took in a desperate gasp for air after Rumlow punched him in the gut yet he managed to knock the other man down despite his desperate need for air. In his comms he could hear the rest of his team fighting Rumlow’s men in the distance. He tried his best to subdue Rumlow and get him to shut the hell up because no matter how well Bucky was, Steve didn’t want him near one of his old handlers. The world didn’t know that the Winter Soldier had integrated himself into the Avengers, and Steve prayed every day that the disguise they made for his best friend would keep him safe.

Ripping off Rumlow’s mask, Steve recoiled at the mess of burns that consumed his face.

“Could’ve been a lot worse,” the man chuckled, “seeing as you dropped a building on me, Cap.” Rumlow’s good nature easily deflated and instead was replaced by pure, unadulterated hate.

“You should’ve heard him scream for you, Rogers. Your buddy, your Bucky. Each time we lit his brain up he’d cry for you , wondering where the hell his Stevie was.”

Steve couldn’t have controlled himself even if he wanted to, striking Rumlow across his face with everything he had. The bastard just smirked around a bloody mouth when he righted himself again.

“Who’s the ‘baby sister,’ hmm? Who’s the ‘spitfire?’ He cried for her too, it was pathetic.”

Before Steve could form a response an explosion rocked the building at their side, showering them both with debris. In his shock his grip loosened on Rumlow, giving the man enough room to twist his head and bite down on a cyanide pill in a false tooth.

“Hail Hydra.”

Steve dropped Rumlow’s body and ran into the building, shouting into his comm’s the entire way. “What the hell happened?! Who fired on the building?!”

Natasha was the first to respond, “Not sure how they’re involved, but it was a suicide bomber. Called himself a member of the ‘WatchDogs’ before he blew the place.”

Another enemy was the last thing they needed, but Steve pushed off his dread in favor of searching for survivors from the blast. “Everyone get here, now! We’ve gotta get these people out of here.”

* * *

July 2nd, 2016

“So what you’re saying is that we’re going to be put on a goddamn list, so that everyone knows what we are, and you expect us to be okay with that?!” Sam was pacing around the conference room, indignant at the Accords they were all reading from.

Tony closed his eyes, too conflicted to even think straight. His heart clenched when Bucky spoke quietly on the other side of the table.

“Sounds a lot like some shit that went down back in our day, doesn’t it, Stevie?”

“Sure does, Buck.”

“You remember the name of the fucker who made that list?”

“Yeah, pretty sure his name was Hitler.”

Tony opened his eyes to see both Steve and Bucky lean forward and level a glare at the Secretary of Defense that would have made the Hulk take a step back. As it was, the Secretary just went a little pale. Disappointing.

There was too much for Tony even get a clear thought on the matter. Were they dangerous? Absolutely. Did they need some guidance? Probably. But did they need to be regulated? Tony didn’t have a clue. They caused damage, yes , but they did more good than harm.

...didn’t they?

Of course they did. They stopped an alien invasion in New York. Steve took down a corrupt secret agency that was hell-bent on killing millions of people for things they might do. Thor, Jane, and Darcy helped stop some crazed Dark Elf from ‘spreading darkness throughout Yggdrasil.’ Then there was the dozens upon dozens of missions between it all. They did good.

It was just the Big Bads got...bigger and badder.

He wasn’t sure when they left the conference room, but Tony came back to himself in the common area when Vision began to speak.

“Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.”

Tony dragged his hands over his face and took a shuddering breath. This whole thing was a goddamn mess. They were a goddamn mess. They couldn’t even look at a legal document without falling to pieces. Wanda and Pietro were shouting at one another across the room while Thor was asking loud questions wondering if Midgardian government ever got things accomplished. Tony was just happy that Bruce had taken a sabbatical (he was back in India playing doctor, he needed a break after Ultron but he kept contact) because they’d definitely have a code-green right now.

Looking at the chaos around him, Tony began to see the appeal of the Accords. But then a memory of Darcy filtered into his head.

He and Darcy were spending another late night in the lab and having a couple of drinks as they waited for an experiment to complete. Tony felt like talking, so he did. Darcy never judged him and always listened to everything he had to say. It was refreshing, to be seen as Tony : Boss and friend rather than Tony Stark: genius, billionaire, (former) playboy philanthropist and Iron Man. Tony was telling her about his Palladium poisoning a couple years prior, and how during that time the government tried to get their hands on his suit.

“I hope you told them to shove their ‘regulations’ up their ass. Sideways.” Darcy seethed.

“I did, sparky, but sometimes…” he took a swig of his drink and refused to meet Darcy’s eye. “Sometimes I wonder if it was a mistake. I caused so much death,” Tony pushed on over Darcy’s protests, “Both before and after Iron Man. I was the ‘Merchant of Death’ and all of a sudden I had the deadliest weapon in the palm of my hand. How does that make me better?”

Tony wasn’t prepared for the full blooded rage that took over Darcy’s face when he met her gaze. He also wasn’t prepared for her to slam her crystal glass on the ground and storm over to him. Tony remained in his chair, shocked still, so that Darcy’s usually petite frame towered over him.

“You listen to me, Anthony Edward Stark,” her voice was quiet but it held such anger that the hair on the back of his neck stood up, and he was wise enough to keep the quip about her sounding like his mother to himself. “Did you make mistakes? Yes. But you atoned for them. You fought back.

“The government that wanted, wants , your suit? They’re also the ones who decided that they rather send a nuclear warhead into New York rather than trust the team they created to take care of the problem. They were prepared to kill their ‘mightiest heroes,’ millions of innocent civilians, and then condemn the world to years of ecological damage just because they thought a normal bomb wouldn’t work. This is the same government who failed to believe in what they created. This is the government that let our cries for help go unanswered during the Convergence, and the same government that let Hydra fester and mould inside of every branch. They can’t even stop their own wars, and they want to control their heroes?!

She took a deep breath and continued, “This is the same government that can barely agree on normal human rights. My friends can’t get married because it ‘goes against the sanctity of marriage’ or life or some bullshit, but the government decided that killing millions was the right thing to do.”

“It’s different,” he protested, albeit weakly.

“It is, yeah, but at the same time, it’s not. Not really. I can’t trust a group of people to handle our heroes, let alone weapons, when they can’t even decide if it’s ethical for my insurance to cover my birth control implant.”

Tony knocked back his drink. “That’s a dark way to look at things. Don’t you think you’re a bit too young to be so jaded?” he teased.

Thankfully, she laughed. “I studied political science, Tony,” she finished the new drink he had handed her, “And then I got dragged into Superheroes, SHIELD, and You 101. I don’t think I had the choice to remain disillusioned any longer.” She pressed a kiss to his forehead.

You are Iron Man. Don’t let them take the suit from you, Tony.”

He shook himself from the memory to find everyone looking between him and Vision.

“What?” he asked.

Vision looked mildly sheepish. “I am sorry, but I may have picked up on your memory--”

“And shared it with the class,” Rhodey interrupted.

“--and I think that while Darcy was missing some of the big picture, she did have a point.”

The appearance of their favorite astrophysicist brought the conversation down to a simmer, but it downright froze when they all caught the look on Jane’s face.

“You have much bigger problems now, guys. So get your shit together. FRIDAY, turn on channel eight.”

The AI obeyed and displayed the news coverage via hologram in the center of the room.

WINTER SOLDIER BOMBS UN SOKOVIA ACCORDS CONFERENCE, KILLING FIFTEEN lit up the bottom of the screen. There was an image of someone wearing Bucky’s face outside the UN, timestamped for when the team was in Lagos. As the Avengers lost their collective shit at the false information, Tony focused on the clip of a man in army fatigues and a dog mask that kept on repeating.

“Humans are in danger from all enhanced beings. The WatchDogs are an elite group of fighters determined to take back the world from those who try to take it from us. It started with the Avengers, and it’ll end with them too.

There will be war, and they will lose.”



------------------



Chapter Text

July 7th, 2016

Bucky was hanging out with Steve, Sam, and Tony in the common room when they got the news about Peggy. They had been taking a break from looking over the Sokovia Accords and intel gathering on the Watch Dogs. The urgency and panic was still there, of course, but Jane had told them all to sit the fuck down and take a load off before they had a break in their sanity. Both Bucky and Steve had smiled at the way she had sounded just like Darcy then.

Steve was in the middle of navigating the team’s Netflix account in the search of a show called “Bob’s Burgers” that Clint wouldn’t shut up about, pausing when his phone chimed a couple times from his pocket. The way he froze after pulling his phone out immediately had Bucky on high alert.

“What is it, punk?”

Rather than answer Steve tossed him the phone and then bolted from the room. Bucky felt like following him when he read the message from Sharon Carter.

She’s gone. Went peacefully in her sleep.

He handed the phone off to Sam and Tony when he saw the curiosity on their faces. Bucky let his head fall back against the sofa as he fought back tears. Yeah, he and Peggy butted heads all the damn time, but they were friends. Kind of like how Steve and Tony still had each other’s backs even though they wanted to punch each other all the time.

Peggy kept Darcy safe when he and Steve couldn’t, as did Howard (the amount of guilt that Bucky had over that particular Winter Soldier mission was lethal, but he’d confront Tony about it another day). Knowing that Peggy was gone? It broke Bucky’s heart. He had checked in on her soon after he had broken his programming in D.C., but didn’t trust himself enough to go speak to her in person. She was frail and old (funny what time did to normal people, huh?), but her eyes were bright and determined as ever. By chance she looked out the window and met his gaze, paused a moment with shock, then smiled. He disappeared before she could call out his position to anyone, but the memory of her smile stayed with him as he continued to fight his programming. If she could see the man he was beneath the monster Hydra had turned him into with only a glance, then there must be hope for him yet, right?

“Carter could’ve at least given him a damn phone call,” Tony grumbled, “Talk about impersonal, damn.”

“Yeah, I agree. Not sure why there’s bad blood there,” Sam mused. He shrugged and turned to Bucky, “You okay, man?”

“Yeah,” he rasped, “I’m going to go check on the punk. Think you can get us a lift to the funeral, Tony?”

The (technically) older man nodded. “Consider it done. I’ll be joining too, Aunt Pegs was good people.”

“I’ll come too, if it’s okay. Figure you guys could have some support during this mess.” Thank the gods for Sam, Bucky thought, they’d need his sanity to balance them out soon enough.

Bucky nodded in thanks as he pushed himself from the couch; he had to make sure his idiot of a friend didn’t go tear through another dozen punching bags in his grief. Knowing Peggy was protecting Darcy while he was on the USO tour was the only thing that kept Steve grounded, his friend had said. He knew that darcy didn’t need protecting, not in the slightest, but having someone he trusted at Darcy’s side was a balm to Steve’s frayed nerves.

Just like he predicted (and dreaded), Bucky found Steve pounding away at one of Tony’s ‘reinforced’ punching bags. He wasn’t even surprised when one particularly strong hit snapped the chain and sent the bag soaring across the gym.

“I knew you held back on those things,” Bucky hoped to get a chuckle out of his friend but was only met with silence. Bracing himself for a difficult confrontation, he stepped forward and yanked the new punching bag Steve was trying to hang out of his hands.

“What the hell, Buck?”

“Talk to me,” he demanded, grabbing Steve by the shoulder as he tried to turn away. “ Don’t shut me out, Stevie, not now. Tell me--”

“WHAT?” Steve shouted, “Tell you what , exactly?! How another person we care about is dead? How each day that passes all I can think about is how Darcy still isn’t back? How I’ve been waiting years ,” his voice broke slightly but Steve pressed on, “to get Darcy back, and having Peggy alive was the only thing that kept me sane when I woke up?”

Steve ran his right hand over his face and used his left to grasp at the still swinging chain until his fingers bent it beneath his grip. “Peggy was there for me, before I knew you were alive. She wasn’t always there, but I had her. When I couldn’t talk about Darcy because no one would understand, or believe me, she would. Even if it broke my heart to have to start each conversation over again, Peggy was there.

Bucky took another step forward and pulled Steve into his arms, letting the larger man shake apart in his embrace. He didn’t say anything, just continued his silent support as Steve finally, finally , broke down.

It took a good fifteen minutes before Steve had let it all out (he cried his grief for Peggy and Howard and all the years lost to the ice, he cried for his longing for Darcy) and he was able to string words together once more.

“What if she doesn’t come back?” Steve’s voice was small and hesitant, just like when he and Bucky were kids in Brooklyn and the punk was sick enough to ask Bucky to read to him. It was a rare thing to win that battle against Steve’s pride, but it was worth it to see his friend finally ask for help, just like it was now.

“You know she will, punk,” Bucky muttered, “You heard Thor, and he’s got word from the Norns of all people. She’ll be back.”

“But when? I can’t stand this waiting, Buck, it’s killing me,” Steve’s breath hitched once more, prompting Bucky to pull his best friend tighter to him. “I’ve been awake for four years, and I couldn’t even acknowledge Darcy, couldn’t even meet her because she wouldn’t know me.” He laughed, but the sound was broken and hollow, “I’ve been through a lot of things, but that was a new type of hell. Having to hear Thor wax poetic about his ‘fearsome lightning sister?’ God, it killed me.”

Bucky didn’t have anything to say to that, but he didn’t have to. Steve just needed him there while the walls he had built around himself crumbled down. Another five minutes passed where Steve alternated between crying and cursing their world, but Bucky could feel the tension in the air dissipate when Steve finally began to pull himself back.  

“You listen to me, punk, okay?” Bucky waited for Steve’s nod before continuing. “She’ll come back, I have to believe that. Doesn’t matter what Thor or anyone else says, I knew she’d be back before I came in from the cold. You know why? Because the world ain’t right if the three of us aren’t in it together. That’s how it’s meant to be: you, me, and the spitfire. If we have to wait for years it’ll hurt like hell but we’ll do it. Darcy deserves that much, punk. She fell through time and turned a couple of punks into heroes, then became one herself. We can be brave and wait for her to come home, yeah?”

Steve’s eyes had begun watering again, but at least he was smiling. “Yeah, okay, I can do that. She was brave enough for the three of us, I can wait a little longer.”

It wouldn’t be easy, and they’d probably have to have this talk again, but Bucky thought it was a good start.

* * *

July 9th, 2016

Steve knew they were risking a lot by coming to the funeral--there were death threats to the Avengers and warrants for arrest on Bucky, there were even calls for the Avengers in cuffs if they didn’t sign the Accords and turn in the Winter Soldier--but he refused to be cowed by the public. Even if the general populace wasn’t buying the press release that the Avengers sent out showing their support for Sergeant Barnes, even going so far as to come clean about where exactly the Winter Soldier had been for the last seven months, Steve was grateful that his best friend was at his side. Though due to all the threats Bucky had to wear one of those fancy tech masks that blended with his skin. Thankfully, Tony had created a face that had left just enough of Bucky in the mask’s features to not make him look like a total stranger whenever Steve looked to him for support. Yeah, that was still a big risk, but he and Bucky were getting tired of hiding.

Steve was in a daze when he helped to carry Peggy’s casket and he barely heard a word that Sharon said during her eulogy. Instead, he thought back to the War.

He thought of the way Peggy protected Darcy like an older sister would protect a younger sister, the way the two were thick as thieves and cause Howard to get a gray hair or two. He thought back on how Peggy and Bucky bickered like an old married couple but still trusted one another. His face twitched with a smile when he remembered Peggy ‘testing’ his shield after Darcy had ‘tested’ her batons on Howard.

Steve thought back on the past couple of years when he’d visit Peggy in the nursing home and lean on her when the world was too different, too lonely. How Peggy would shush him and say that it’ll all work out, Steve, I promise. He tried getting Peggy to tell him what she knew, but she never claimed to know a thing. Steve didn’t know if it was because her memories were beginning to slip through her fingers or if because she truly didn’t know. Never did he think that he’d keep things from him, despite all the secrets for SHIELD she held. But no matter what, he’d ask Peggy how she knew that Darcy would come back, and she’d say the same thing:

“I have no certainties, Steve, I simply have faith.”

She said it every time, and eventually Steve had found comfort in the words where he at first had only had resentment. He had lost some of that comfort over the last couple of years, but it had begun to grow again, even as he sat in the front pew in the church at peggy’s damn funeral. Despite the morbidity or the situation, how could it not? He had lost so much, but miracle of all miracles, he’d gained so much more.

He had the Avengers, a family, and now he had Bucky. His best friend who ‘died,’ was forced into becoming a killing machine, and then found his way home, was at his side once more. With hope blooming in his chest for what felt like the first time in years, Steve promised to wait for Darcy as long as he needed to.

Of course, that’s when Tony had to throw a wrench in things. Tony leaned into Steve’s left side the smallest amount and pitched his voice low enough that only Steve and Bucky could hear it.

“Look up, one o’clock. Pretty sure there’s a dead man on the balcony.”

Steve knew better than to just snap his head up to look where Tony told him to, but it was a near thing. He bid his time and eventually flicked his gaze to the balcony above for the briefest moments and almost choked on his own breath at what he saw.

Phil Coulson.

The agent (or person wearing the agent’s face) was as stoic as ever, though Steve could see grief in the older man’s eyes when he chanced another look. His brow furrowed in confusion when Coulson made some sort of signals with his hands before disappearing through a door.

Thankfully, Bucky was able to understand. “ASL, said to meet him at the hotel, our room at three.” He then leaned to whisper the message to Sam who sat on his right.

Despite the new thrum of anxiety in his veins Steve was able to sit through the end of the funeral without losing his cool. The same couldn’t be said for Tony. Steve lost count of how many times he had to nudge his friend with his elbow to get him to stop fidgeting or how often he had to slap Tony’s hand when it looked like he was going to dig his phone out of his pocket.

At long last (and didn’t that make Steve feel like heel to think that at Peggy’s funeral) , the ceremony ended. Steve, Bucky, Sam, and Tony walked as quickly as they could while still being polite to the back of the church so they could get to the hotel before the rendezvous time with maybe-not-dead-agent Coulson. Before they could make it to the exit, Sharon’s hand on Steve’s shoulder stopped him.

“Thank you for coming, Steve, it means a lot.” Before Steve could get a word out, Sharon hefted a black briefcase in his arms. “Aunt Peggy left this for you in her will. No one has opened it, I promise. The note that went with it said that the combination was ‘Her first night,’ but none of us knew what that meant.”

Steve’s throat began to close up on him as he looked at the well-loved case, but he cleared it so he could thank Sharon properly. She simply nodded before she was swept away by mourning relatives and friends. The four men stood awkwardly in the entryway of the church for a couple moments before they shook themselves out of it.

“Have we figured out why she’s so cold to you, yet?” Sam asked.

Steve simply shrugged his shoulders and tightened his grip on the suitcase as they walked to Tony’s car, “She may have asked me out a few times and I turned her down.”

Tony scoffed, “That’s it? Seems kind of petty.”

“Welllll, I may have been having a really bad day and when she asked me to dinner the third time I may have told her that I couldn’t because I was waiting for my time-traveling girlfriend to come back.”

Bucky groaned from his place in the backseat next to Sam, “Dear god, punk, you’re a dick.”

He sighed, “I know. I meant to apologize to her but then everything went to hell in a handbasket the next day in DC. I didn’t really think about it until now. I’ll apologize soon.”

“Good,” Sam huffed, “But for now we’ve got bigger problems. Namely: what does the Phil Coulson-look-a-like want with us? Or otherwise known as: Why doesn’t anybody stay dead anymore?”

Steve actually cracked a smile at that, even though it was kind of sad. “I’ve been myself that question for years.

*

Bucky sighed in relief when he was able to peel the mask off his face once they were safe in their hotel suite (which was only deemed safe after a good forty-five minute walk through for bugs and explosives). He knew that the mask was about as light as air, but he still rubbed his hands over his face to get rid of the phantom-sensation. He fucking despised the mask.

He knew why it was necessary, of course. There was too much call for his blood from the world for him to walk around safely without it, but it didn’t mean that he couldn’t hate the damn thing. Bucky leaned forward and braced his hands against the bathroom sink and concentrating on his breathing so that he could let the tension slide from his shoulders.

How did things get so damn messy? He just wanted to be back at Steve’s side and to have his baby sister at his. Bucky didn’t care about anything else which was his mistake. He was so short sighted for so long that he forgot that the world wouldn’t forget as easily as his friends would. People still saw him as the monster lurking in the shadows, and he’d probably never be free of that. It looked like even though the Avengers publicly and privately forgave him for his actions, pardoned his as the Winter Soldier due to the brainwashing, the rest of the world couldn’t, or wouldn’t. His hands clenched dangerously on the marble edge of the counter and Bucky had to begin his breathing exercises again before he cracked the damn thing.

“You okay?” Sam appeared silently behind Bucky and leaned against the bathroom door, raking his gaze over Bucky’s tense form. Had anyone else snuck up on him like that, he’d slam them against the wall with a knife to their throat so fast that they wouldn’t even see it coming. But not Sam.

Never Sam.

Bucky extended a hand behind him and sighed in relief when Sam took it in his own before stepping to his side. He tucked his head in Sam’s neck, letting all the stress leak out of him as he was held.

This thing with Sam was new, but it was so, so good. It was a good two months of easy friendship then four months of flirting before Steve cornered Bucky and told him to get his head out of his ass.

“Second chances, Buck, use them while you got ‘em.”

Bucky had every plan to, but Sam beat him to the punch. They were just hanging out watching movies when Sam suddenly turned off his TV and faced Bucky. Before he could even ask what was wrong Sam had reached across the empty space and pulled him in for a kiss. It was soft and sweet, but it set Bucky on fire. When they broke apart Sam huffed out a laugh at Bucky’s dazed expression.

“I was tired of waiting on you, Bucky.”

And that was that. It was beautiful, easy, and it was everything Bucky was looking for when he was a punk back in 1942.

He was broken from his reverie as Sam gently pulled away from Bucky with a roll of his eyes when Tony’s voice called from the living room, “Hey! Stop necking, you crazy kids! We’ve got ten minutes before Agent Zombie shows up!”

Bucky made sure to press a firm kiss to Sam’s lips before shouting back to their friend, “You might want to watch it, Stark, your jealousy is showing!”

Sam smiled into their next kiss but he broke it with a groan once it started getting a little less chaste, but only after he had left a hickey on Bucky’s neck. It’d fade in half an hour, at least. “Alright, let’s go face Agent Zombie, yeah?”

He sighed at his boyfriend, but nodded his head in acquiescence. Truly, he rather spend more of his time necking with Sam in the bathroom (and maybe see what kind of fun they could have in that lovely tub together) but he knew they had more important things to do, as much as he hated to admit it.

That tub better be here when we’re done, Bucky grumbled to himself as he strode into the living room, I’ve got plans for it.

*

Phil Coulson was a hard man to phase, but having the Winter Soldier answer the door with a gun in his flesh hand and a hickey on his neck? Yeah, consider Coulson properly phased. He saw Tripp’s eyebrow twitch the slightest amount in surprise, but otherwise his face remained passive. He didn’t even have to check to see if May’s face was stony as ever, that was just a given. He was glad he had Daisy remain with the rest of the team in their own room because he knew she would lose her composure at the sight, just like she did when she was told Sergeant Barnes was alive. He thinks she called the reaction ‘fangirling.’

Coulson focused back on the task at hand. Despite the mask Barnes wore earlier, he knew that it was Barnes who sat at Rogers’ right-hand side during Peggy’s funeral (who else would sit there?). He also knew that Barnes was not responsible for the deaths from the UN bombing that the world was blaming him for. If there was one thing Coulson still had faith in after all this time, it was the Avengers. He’d trust in them when he couldn’t trust in anthing else.

That was what the team was made for, after all.

The four of them stood in silence for a couple moments, so Coulson decided to speak first. “I’m glad to see you alive and well, Sergeant Barnes.”

Had Barnes been any less of a professional Coulson thinks that he would have rolled his eyes. As it was, Barnes just kept his blank face unaltered.

“Tony, what’s the scan say?” the Winter Soldier barked over his shoulder without breaking eye contact with Coulson.

“All clear. Agent’s clean; no mask and no guns, and so is Junior, but it looks like the missus has an arsenal on her.”

Coulson wanted to smile at the look of respect that passed over Barnes’ face briefly, but he refrained. He almost lost his stoicism when May ruefully began handing over handgun after handgun to Barnes’ open metal hand. After a solid two minutes of weapon removal (that required another set of hands from Captain Rogers) they were finally allowed into the room.

The room was just as ostentatious as one would expect with Tony Stark, and it only seemed more so when the man himself was sprawled out on the couch with a Stark-Pad in his hand and a ‘devil-may-care’ smirk on his mouth. It was only Coulson’s trained eye that could see the tension running through the man’s body like a current. The man felt betrayed, and Coulson knew that he deserved Stark’s anger.

“So, you’re not a zombie. I have to say I am slightly disappointed, Agent. However, I am positively thrilled to hear why we thought you were dead for the past four years.” Stark lost his jovial tone partway through and let his anger bleed into his words.

Knowing the man didn’t like things being handed to him, Coulson pulled a flash-drive from his pocket and tossed it onto the coffee table. “Everything you need to know about me since my death and revival is on that USB. However, we’ve got more important issues to deal with, and I think we can work together.”

Captain Rogers spoke from where he leaned against the closed door, “Before we get into that, who’s your team?”

Coulson gestured with his right hand as he introduced the pair he brought with him. “Agent Melinda May, my right hand. This is Agent Antoine Triplett,y the grandson of Gabe Jones.”

Both Rogers and Barnes huffed out a laugh at that, though they were still on guard.

“He’s also one of my Inhuman team members.”

Everyone immediately tensed, but curiosity was alight in their eyes.

“Inhuman?” It was Sam Wilson who spoke, Coulson recognizing him from the events in DC and the file SHIELD had on him. Tripp raised a brow in question then proceeded to give an extremely condense run-down of Inhumans and the Terragenesis transformation. The four other men in the room were silent for a few beats before Stark waved the whole thing off.

“We’ll come back to that, Agent, not that it isn’t totally worldview shattering in its own gobsmacking way, but we’ve got some issues to work out.”

“The WatchDogs and the Accords, I know.”

“So what can you offer to help?”

Coulson shrugged, “Resources, back up and the like. Mainly I figured it was time to show my face. There’s a war on its way, and you guys can use all the help you can get. Together is better than separate, after all.”

The Avengers shared a few moments worth of silent communication before Rogers nodded. “We won’t say no to help, Coulson, but no more secrets. Do I make myself clear? There’s too much out there trying to tear us apart, I won’t let that happen among teammates.”

He nodded, “Crystal clear, Captain.”

They spent the next four hours clearing the air; they discussed the contents of Coulson’s USB as well as the false accusations against Barnes, creating contingency plans for every scenario they could think of as well as a few that they couldn’t. Those were hail-mary’s for sure, but it was nice to have plans for when things inevitably went FUBAR.

Coulson was taking a drink from a glass of water with his good hand while Stark poked and prodded at his prosthetic when they all took a breather. As he did so he caught sight of what was a decidedly feminine briefcase next to Rogers’ chair.

“What’s in the case?”

Rogers tensed for a moment before nodding to himself as if making up his mind. “It’s Peggy’s, she left it for me in her will. I haven’t opened it yet.”

It was curious how Rogers ran his hands over the supple leather almost reverently. “Do you know what it contains?”

The Captain huffed a disbelieving laugh and began to fiddle with the six digit lock on the front of the case. From his line of sight Coulson could just barely read 093042 . “If I understood Sharon correctly, it’s Darcy’s unofficial file.”

“Darcy...Lewis?” Rogers hummed the affirmative which only confused Coulson further. “Why would she have that?”

It was Barnes’ turn to chuckle from where he sat on the floor and leaned against Wilson’s legs, who looked at Stark with confusion. The older  man simply returned the expression to Wilson as Barnes spoke. “I think it’s actually Ghost’s file, but semantics, and all that.” He then got up to stand behind Rogers’ chair to peek into the case over his shoulder.

Tripp quirked a brow. “Ghost? You mean the stories my grandpa told me when I was growing up? What does that have to do with this Darcy person?”

Coulson was curious as well. He had studied the Howling Commandos when he grew up, but it was only when he was directly working with Agent Peggy Carter that he ever heard of Ghost. Even then it was murmured under her breath, “What would Ghost do?” Whenever Peggy breathed out that line she got the most mischievous smirk on her face then proceeded to shock them all with whatever she cooked up in her head.

“Ghost is a myth,” Coulson said. Tripp nodded his agreement.

“Grandpa Jones said they were stories the Howlies came up with around the campfires. They made up ‘a spitfire of a dame who could tear through metal with her bare hands’ to keep the moral up,” Tripp quoted.

Barnes and Rogers both let out harsh barks of laughter as they began shuffling through what looked like dozens of papers but didn’t offer any insight as to what was so humorus. Within moments though, the two were silent and focused for several minutes Rogers broke it with a quiet swear under his breath.

“Hey, Push Pops, what’s going on over there? I feel like we’re out of the loop.”

“Pegs saving Darcy’s ass, that’s what,” Barnes breathed. “This is every scrap of evidence that linked Darcy to the Commandos and the War. Every glimpse from a camera, every written word that slipped through everyone.” He placed his metal hand on Rogers’ shoulder and giving him a firm squeeze as he faced the room. Barnes turned to the room at large and spent the next half hour explaining just how involved Darcy Lewis was in the Howling Commandos.

Stark was the first to break into hysterics, though his face had gone pale. “So, just to clarify: Not only did Darcy get sent back in time, but she managed to convince my dad to take her in on Project Rebirth, as well as Carter, and then somehow during the chaos that ensued Darcy was exposed to the serum and joined the Howling Commandos. That sound about right?”

Barnes just nodded, which just seemed to make Stark angry.

“Why didn’t you tell me this?!”

Rogers spoke up from where he was still buried in the pile of papers. “We were waiting on Jane to read the journal before we could tell you guys everything. Though I suppose if she has read it, she hasn’t shared what she’s learned. She was broken up about whatever Darcy had written that she read most recently.” He looked up at Tony then, his eyes damp and beseeching on the older man. “I am sorry, Tony. Sometimes I can’t keep straight what you guys don’t know. We’d gotten so used to keeping Darcy a secret that it just became habit.”

Stark deflated a little at that, but he still had a touch of anger in his voice when he demanded, “I want full disclosure when it comes to my daughter, Cap, you hear me?”

Everyone turned to Coulson when his glass shattered on the ground between his feet.

“Please tell me you didn’t just say what I thought you said,” he begged Stark who just grinned smugly at him.

Wilson rolled his eyes from his chair, “Out of all the shit that just got discussed, that’s your takeaway? Really?”

Coulson turned wide eyes on the younger man, “I think the better question is why no one is concerned that time-traveling Darcy Lewis is a super-soldier and a Stark.”

That, thankfully, got the proper reaction of dread from everyone besides Stark, Barnes, and Rogers. Those three just smirked. Coulson looked heavenwards and sighed.

“Is she aware of her parentage yet? Her file had stated that she was an orphan with no immediate family last time I checked.

The four Avengers narrowed their eyes suspiciously, so he raised his hands in a gesture of peace. “It’s standard protocol to create a file on everyone, especially when they’re involved with something as classified as Thor’s first contact. But in the interest of full disclosure, I was planning on recruiting her after the Battle of New York.”

“No.” The word came from Rogers, Barnes, and Stark with such vehemence that Coulson rocked back on his heels.

“Okay,” he surrendered, “No recruiting Miss Lewis, understood.”

Stark had just begun to open his mouth to say something when the first shots rang out. Everyone dropped to the floor and took cover while the room was riddled with holes.

“Anybody hit?!” Rogers called out once the bullets paused. Thankfully everyone gave back the all clear.

“We’ve got what looks like ten unfriendlies on the roof across the street--” Stark’s shout was interrupted by the suite door getting kicked down, revealing a man in a black armored suit with features that looked feline on its face.

“--and another unfriendly in the room, of course,” Stark groaned as he reached for a metal briefcase under the couch. Within moments he was the Iron Man suit with a repulsor aimed at the newcomer. At Stark’s side, Coulson caught a glimpse of Wilson pulling on his wing-pack.

Stark was ignored by the new arrival who instead began striding toward Barnes. The Winter Soldier didn’t hesitate to fire off three rapid shots into the man’s chest but stopped when they simply ricocheted off the armor.

“Suit’s made of vibranium!” He shouted just as they came to blows, Captain America immediately running up to fight at his friend’s side with his shield in hand.

Shots began coming through the shattered windows once more which prompted Wilson and Stark to throw themselves through the open space toward the sound of gunfire. Thankfully Wilson tossed Coulson and his team a bag of guns from under the table before he jumped. By the time the SHIELD agents had turned around it was only to catch a glimpse of Rogers and Barnes chasing after the man in the suit from the room.

“Goddamnit,” Coulson muttered. “May, call the jet,” he barked, “This feels like a trap, they need all the help they can get.” As May pulled her phone from her pocket Coulson plucked his comm from his jacket pocket. Just as he had predicted, Stark had already patched him into the Avengers’ frequency.

“Agent, it’s not a trap, just poor planning. But tell your crew there’s a pile of WatchDogs on the roof across the way, since we’ve got bigger problems. The guy the wonder twins are chasing after? FRIDAY got a glimpse of him with his mask knocked off.”

“Who’re we dealing with?”

“It’s goddamn King T’Challa of Wakanda.”

Coulson actually stumbled over his feet as he ran down the stairs he was so shocked. “How is he involved?”

Stark’s voice could barely be heard over the sound of police sirens rapidly approaching his position, “He thinks that Bucky killed his father in the UN bombing, he’s out for revenge.”




Chapter Text

August 13th, 1944

Darcy had been enjoying the crisp weather that had come in that morning with the team, but it was ruined by having to go hide in the damn trees once the camera crew arrived. Darcy was trying her damndest not to shoot the damn director of the film crew, but it was a close thing.  There had been film crews before, each of them wanting to get propaganda films of Captain America, but this new director was the worst. The guy was just the biggest asshole she’d had the pleasure of meeting (or viewing through her scope, whatever) since 2014. The director, Sanders, was too busy throwing slurs at the Commandos to realize that he was just a couple moments away from getting shot.

“You can’t shoot every bastard you come across, Ghost,” Dernier sighed when he came to sit at Darcy’s side. “Though I don’t think anyone would be displeased if you did shoot this one.”

He pulled a pair of binoculars out of his coat and looked down at the unfolding scene. Sanders was waving his arms around as he spoke loudly and throwing scathing glances at Jones and Morita who stood at Bucky’s side. Steve was doing his best to reign in his anger but his control was slipping fast. Falsworth and Dugan flanked the Captain’s sides, providing support as well as backup for when Steve’s patience finally broke.

“Were you sent up here to babysit me?”

Dernier laughed, “Yes, but truly, I just wanted to get away from that horrible bastard before I shot him.”

Darcy chuckled but didn’t take her eyes off her scope. “How long are they going to be here? I’ve already been hiding for two hours.” She knew why she had to hide, of course, but it didn’t make it any easier. Darcy didn’t trust any of the film crews, they got to close to her team, her family , and she had to disappear into in the shadows until they got whatever it was they came for.

“I am not sure. This man thinks himself some sort of artist, trying for spectacular shots and dramatic scenes. I do not think he understands that we are in a fucking war.”

“So, probably a while longer then, is what you’re saying.”

Dernier just patted Darcy on the shoulder sympathetically as he cursed Sanders out in French under his breath. Darcy was thankful that the serum helped her pick up languages pretty quickly, because now she had a whole new arsenal of swears and smack-talk to have in her back pocket. The next half hour was spent exchanging increasingly crude and offensive things about Sanders and his manhood, under the guise of Dernier keeping her ‘French skills sharp,’ he told her. They had a good back-and-forth going until Darcy caught movement out of the corner of her eye.

“Dernier,” she cut across her friend’s rant with a soft whisper, “We got company, round up the crew. Real casual, yeah?”

He patted her on the shoulder and began the small trek down to the clearing where they had set up camp with a swagger that could put Bucky’s strut to shame. Dernier called out to Morita with what little Japanese he had picked up, knowing that there was next to no one outside of the Commandos who would understand.

“Natural. Ghost sees enemies.”

Morita smiled in response, keeping up with the charade. “Understood. Hide the crew.”

Dernier nodded and went up to Sanders and his crew to provide a distraction for both the Howlies and whoever was hunting them. He began speaking (arguing) loudly and waving his arms around as he did so, mirroring the director’s previous movements. As Dernier got Sanders worked up and managed to get him and his crew to follow him to the tree-line, Morita used the moment to light a cigarette and waltz up to Steve and offer him one. The gesture seemed nonchalant, but it was a signal they had come up with when the team was formed so that Darcy could communicate without being seen. Steve didn’t smoke, there wasn’t a need to when his super-serum wouldn’t let him get the buzz from the nicotine, so they decided that handing Steve a cigarette would translate to Ghost says we’re surrounded.

Steve didn’t hesitate to take the offered cigarette and light it, How many?

Darcy whistled one note low under her breath (knowing Steve’s enhanced hearing could pick it up), paused, then five more. Fifteen. She whistled a higher note, Aim high.

Steve leaned his head back and blew a series of smoke rings up into the air, letting the rest of the team know to aim high. Once he was done he looked across the way to check on Dernier and the crew, nodding when he saw the easily defensible position they had taken against the crew’s jeep and a bunch of trees that had grown almost on top of one another.

Falsworth and Dugan walked to the crew under the guise of breaking up the argument between Sanders and Dernier. Jones and Morita walked together to the other side of the camp, jostling one another good naturedly as they made their way to the tents. Bucky shared a commiserating look with Steve before waving him over to to where he had propped himself up against a tree. Bucky then took a worn deck of cards and shuffled them in his hands for a few seconds before deftly pulling the ace of spades from the deck, tilting it just so that Darcy could see it from her sniper’s nest.

Fire when ready.

Darcy took a deep breath and readjusted her scope to get one of the Nazi bastards that had silently climbed a nearby tree with his own sights on Steve. As she drug the crosshairs across his body to get a clean shot, she stopped when she saw the string of grenades around the man’s torso. Smiling at her new idea, she whistled ‘shave and a haircut’ under her breath.

Hit the deck.

She waited half a second for Steve to hear the message, then another half second for Steve to throw his cowl to the ground to relay the message to everyone else.

Darcy pulled the trigger.

The Nazi sniper was in a million pieces before he even could wonder what the hell Captain America was dropping his mask for. Using the explosion as a distraction, Darcy began firing at other Nazis that had taken to the trees. Jones and Morita pulled machine guns from the tents and began spraying the trees with bullets, grim smiles on their faces when bodies began falling from the trees. The crew was covered by Dernier, Falsworth, and Dugan who began shooting at the Nazis who had grown some smarts and began climbing down from the trees, even though they didn’t live much longer once their feet hit the ground. Bucky and Steve were back to back and firing at anything that moved. Darcy chuckled when she saw the disgruntled look on Steve’s face; it was killing him that he couldn’t use the shield right now, she knew it, just like she knew that he was probably muttering some stupidly crass things about the amount of trees in the small area if the fond smile on Bucky’s face was anything to go by.

After the spray of bullets stopped, Darcy checked the surrounding area three more times before she let out another whistle. The opening bars of the national anthem sent out the all clear . Steve made a OK hand gesture to pass the message along. The whole shoot out only lasted a couple minutes but it caused enough ruckus that the Howling Commandos would have to move from the area, fast. Thankfully, they had orders to go back to base for some time once the filming was done. Darcy was looking forward to seeing Howie and Pegs again, she missed them something fierce.

While everyone began gathering all their supplies and gear, Steve trotted over to the film crew to make sure they were all alright and accounted for. Once they were deemed whole and hale, Steve began helping them load their own belongings into their jeep. Darcy took a moment to appreciate the way Steve’s ass and thighs looked as he bent over to lift something that looked particularly heavy. She let herself admire her fella for another few moments before she began to clean her rifle and put it away in it’s case, just like Bucky taught her.

Darcy made her way down to the campsite, uncaring of the noise she made as she did so. All the Nazis were dead and the camera crew was too busy pissing their pants to notice an extra member of the Howling Commandos. She had her cap pulled down over her face and her hair tucked away, though, she wasn’t careless. Though the large battle batons that crossed over her back were certainly going to raise questions if the camera crew took a moment to poke their heads out of their jeep. Judging by the pale faces held by shaking hands she could see through the windows, that wasn’t going to be a problem anytime soon.

Bucky waved her over to where he was standing against the empty second jeep that the crew had brought for them to use to get back to base. Once she was close enough Bucky gently guided her by a hand on her shoulder to the opposite side of the jeep where they’d be hidden from the crew.

“You did good, spitfire,” Darcy relaxed into his embrace and let the tension she was carrying drain a little from her shoulders. “You okay?”

Darcy shrugged from her place in her brother’s arms. “Okay as I ever am, Bucky. You know.”

Bucky hummed in agreement, “Yeah, I know how it is.”

They stayed silent for a few more minutes before Steve’s heavy footfalls could be heard approaching them from behind Darcy. She let Bucky slip his arms from around her only to be replaced by Steve’s. Darcy wrapped her arms tight around his waist and let out a shaky breath as the adrenaline began to taper off.

“You with me, sweetheart?” he whispered against the top of her head.

Darcy nodded, letting the rough scrape of Steve’s uniform on her face ground her. “I’m always with you, Steve.”

She could feel his smile against the side of her face where he had ducked down to get even closer to her. “Not what I meant, and you know that, Darce.”

She just shrugged, prompting him to chuckle once more. “We’ll be back to base by middle of the night tonight, then we’ve got a few days of leave. We can have some time to ourselves.”

Darcy sagged at the idea of finally having some peace and quiet with her fella. And a hot bath. Oh god damn, a hot bath, please.

“Yes, that. Let’s do that. I feel like it’s been forever, Steve.”

“I’m sorry, Darcy, let me make it up to you?”

Darcy knew by the teasing in his voice where exactly this would end up and knew it was risky so exposed as they were, but she tilted her head up to offer her lips to him anyways. They got like this sometimes, desperate for one another after a firefight. It was equal parts from the adrenaline high and needing to reassure one another that they were there , that they were alright. Darcy wasn’t sure what it said about them (getting your freak on after a shootout probably wasn’t a healthy coping mechanism, but Darcy didn’t look too closely at that) but it was a comfort that she and Steve needed.

What had started out a chaste kiss very quickly became filthy. Steve wasted no time in pushing his tongue into her mouth and rendering her higher-brain functions useless. Darcy was suddenly pressed against the side of the Jeep with her legs wrapped tightly around Steve’s waist as he ground his hips against hers. Since she was pinned, in absolutely the best way possible, by Steve’s hips his hands were free to roam her body. One large hand knotted in her hair at the base of her neck to angle her head to the side so that Steve could work his lips against her neck. The other hand made quick work of the button and zipper of her pants and wasted no time to delve between her thighs. He moved his hips just enough to allow room for his hand while keeping Darcy pinned against the Jeep. She was almost embarrassed at how wet she was already from just some heated kissing, but let the feeling fade away at the way Steve groaned at the discovery. He teased and petted at her for what felt like an eternity before he finally gave into her silent demands.

Darcy bit her bottom lip hard to keep from moaning at the feel of Steve’s fingers pushing up inside of her. Her hands scrabbled for purchase against his broad shoulders as he picked up the pace and began circling her clit with his thumb. He teased her by slowing down his movements and then speeding up, keeping her on the edge with his unpredictability. When she began to tremble he made his movements faster and harsher, just the way she loved it, sending her over the edge with a silent scream.

“I got you, sweetheart, I got you,” he murmured in her ear but didn’t stop his movements, even increasing his speed the tiniest amount, sending Darcy into another orgasm that wracked her body with tremors due to the sensitivity. As she came down once more Steve slowed his hand, but didn’t stop.

“Steve,” she breathed, writhing in an attempt to get away from and to get closer to his hand at the same time. “Steve, I can’t…”

“Yes you can,” he growled in her ear before pressing a searing kiss against her mouth, “One more, Darcy? Just one more.”

Steve’s movements inside of her were slower, but no less forceful. He untangled his hand from her hair and dragged it down over her shirt, squeezing a breast for a moment before continuing his path. Once Steve reached the hem of her shirt he pushed his hand under the fabric and under her bra to feel her, skin to skin. Steve kissed her to silence the moan she let out as his thumb circled her nipple in mirror to his other hand’s movement between her legs. He only needed to keep it up for another moment before Darcy was coming for the third time. Once she rode out the aftershocks Steve gently pulled his hand out from her pants and refastened them, and though he stopped caressing her chest he left his other hand resting against the smooth skin of her ribs beneath her shirt.

They stayed pressed against one another for another minute or two before Steve pressed a gentle kiss to her lips. “Think you can stand?”

Darcy wanted to roll her eyes at the question, but knew that Steve was being serious rather than smug. She nodded, “I think so.” As Steve gently set her on her feet she could feel the hard line of his erection drag against her, “Want me to take care of you?”

Steve looked up over the top of the Jeep and shook his head. “Looks like they’re almost ready to head out, I can wait.” He adjusted himself in his pants so that he could get step out from behind the Jeep without embarrassing himself. As he did so Darcy tucked her hair under her cap and straightened out her shirt from where Steve had mussed it up. They couldn’t do anything about the blush on their cheeks or their blown pupils, but she shrugged it off. It’s not like the rest of the team had any illusions as to what she and Steve got up to when they snuck off together. Hell, Bucky and Dernier did the same thing, she was pretty sure.

As Steve began calling out to the team and to the crew to get everybody moving Darcy pulled open the Jeep’s door and scuttled into the back seat. She made herself as comfortable as she could and closed her eyes, determined to get a nap in on the way back to base.

* * *

Steve watched as Peggy immediately opened her arms and let Darcy fall into her embrace once the younger woman stumbled from the Jeep. He couldn’t help but to smile at the fond way Peggy rolled her eyes at whatever Darcy mumbled to her. The two were as close as sisters these days, and the thought both terrified and thrilled him. Bucky said it was good for Darcy to have another woman to be friends with since she was so homesick for Jane these days. Something about the fighting was bringing back Darcy’s homesickness something fierce, no matter how much she tried to hide it from Steve and Bucky.

They didn’t know much about Darcy’s Jane, just that she studied the stars and was the closest thing Darcy had to family in her time. Sometimes Darcy woke up from nightmares screaming for Jane and terrified of elves and something called a Destroyer. Those nights they called for Peggy when they could, because for some reason she was the only one who could pull Darcy back from whatever terrors she saw in her mind. They knew she wasn’t a replacement for Jane, but she was a close second. They were told by Darcy that NatNat was ‘such a special type of awesome that she didn’t get put on the same level as the rest of us mortals.’

Whatever that meant.

Steve just nodded his thanks to Peggy when she met his eye over Darcy’s head and pointed with one of her hands toward the barracks. Pegs would take care of Darcy in ways that Steve couldn’t, and he was forever grateful for it. Steve would find Darcy later for some time to themselves away from everyone and everything. He and the rest of the commandos headed to the mess hall to get some chow that wasn’t a shitty C ration. They needed some time to decompress from the action of the past few weeks as well.

Unfortunately, they had barely tucked into their meals when Phillips stolled in and handed Steve a file with a big red CLASSIFIED stamped across the cover. Another mission and they’d have to leave in two days.

No rest for the wicked, it seemed.

* * *

August 20th, 2016

Natasha was slowly losing her mind in the safe house in the middle of Rio de Janeiro they had all crammed themselves into shortly after Bucky and Steve managed to give the cops the slip after the chaos in London. The safe house was really some sort of large home Tony had kept off the books for this type of occasion, but even his tendency for extravagance couldn’t lessen the tension between all the Avengers under one roof with limited freedoms. Their saving grace was that Coulson’s team stayed on their ‘Bus,’ freeing up some much needed space in the house.

Vision and Wanda were the easiest of the bunch, spending their time on the roof meditating to help learn control over their powers. Pietro would pout at the closeness the two were sharing, but managed to distract himself by harassing Clint with old man jokes as often as he could. Rhodey was as cool and collected as ever, though he did seem to roll his eyes a lot more these days. Bucky and Sam were diligent with their research on the Watchdogs, when they weren’t busy necking like a couple of teenagers, anyways. Steve split almost all of his time between reading Darcy’s file and tearing apart dozens of punching bags in the basement. Thor was busy leading Jane to a safehouse in the middle of Canada, while Bruce went with her to act as protection once Thor returned to them. They’d pick him up if they needed him, but they all decided that it was best if Bruce was kept out of the high stress that was living with the eleven other Avengers.

Needing to fight the boredom (and desire to shoot her teammates), Natasha began to scroll through the documents Tony had uploaded from Agent Carter’s ‘file’ on Darcy on her tablet, one brow constantly raised in surprise. She had heard from Steve and Bucky that Darcy had gotten mixed up with things in the War, but she didn’t realize just how involved she was until she picked up the file.

Mladshaya sestra, you got into so much trouble. I am very proud,” she murmured under her breath so that only she and Clint could hear. Her partner was sprawled across the couch she was pacing in front of, reading the file for himself on his phone.

Clint whistled, “Damn. Sparky got real deadly, didn’t she?”

Natasha smiled, “Well, we did train her well.”

Steve came around the living room corner and propped himself up against the wall. “You know, you two never have mentioned Darcy’s training.”

Bucky’s voice floated to them from his spot in the kitchen, “What the punk really wants to know is how the hell Darcy got away with calling you NatNat.”

“That too,” Steve shrugged.

Natasha didn’t bother looking up from the tablet in her hands as she responded. “It was a favor to Thor, once Jane started receiving more death threats than requests for guest lectures. He wanted to know that in the event that he was not at Jane and Darcy’s sides they could at least have a fighting chance of survival until someone could rescue them. Jane was hopeless.”

Clint snorted, “She almost managed to shoot me, and I was standing directly behind her. It was almost impressive if you didn’t wonder too hard about how the hell it happened.”

“Darcy seemed to pick up self defense rather quickly, so I wanted to see she how she did with learning some offensive hand-to-hand.” Natasha’s grin was caught somewhere between shark-like and proud parent, “She barely struggled at all, once she got the hang of it. It seemed to give her some sense of purpose that she was lacking,” she mused, “She was already taking care of Jane is most ways, but I think knowing she could hold her own and protect Jane physically really took some anxiety off of her shoulders.”

“Sparky’s got a hell of a shot, too,” Clint continued, “A real natural.”

By this time Bucky and Sam had left the kitchen to join Steve in the doorway to listen. “I taught her how to shoot a sniper rifle,” Bucky said, pride in his voice, “Almost as good as I was when she first picked it up.”

“How did she do with the batons?” Clint asked, waving a picture of Darcy’s weapons of choice on his phone.

Steve’s eyes went a little wide and distant as he remembered. Sam had to clear his throat a couple times before Steve snapped back to the present.

“Uh, good,” he choked out, “She did real good with them.”

Natasha thought that his blush was adorable but decided to tease him about it another day and instead get back to the original topic. “We spent a solid five months dropping in when we could to help Darcy train since she loved it so much. I’m not sure when it happened, but one day she was calling me NatNat and I was calling her mladshaya sestra.”

“First time you called her that was when she successfully took me down with the thigh choke-hold,” Clint piped up, “I hit the mat so hard I saw spots in my vision, but I heard you congratulate her and promise her ice cream if she could do it three more times just as flawlessly. It was a damn good time.” It was Clint’s eyes that went a little distant and hazy at the memory, but he quickly snapped out of it when Bucky and Steve both took a threatening step forward. Clint was quick to hop over the back of the couch to keep it between him and the super soldiers.

“Wow, Barton, remind me to punch you in the face with a gauntlet later for that.”

Tony breezed through the doorway that lead to the front of the house with a man and a teenage boy at his heels. His tone was light but his eyes were cold and hard as he glared at Clint over his glasses.

“How come you don’t get mad at Steve?” Clint asked incredulously, “He’s the one actually dating Darcy!”

Tony scoffed, “He knows better, and is actually respectful. You’re just a dirty old man.”

The kid to Tony’s left snorted but quickly sobered when everyone turned to look at him. “Right,” Tony clapped his hands together, “This is our backup!” He gave the kid a nudge forward and held his hands out toward the boy like he was on a gameshow displaying a prize.

“This here is Peter Parker, aka, SpiderMan! And this,” he gave the older man a clap on his shoulder, “Is the great Scott Lang, but less awesomely known as Ant-Man.”

While Peter looked like he was about to faint from nerves, Scott waved at the gathered crowd with a giant grin on his face. His face broke out in an impossibly wider smile when his gaze landed on Sam.

“Hey, man!”

Sam smiled, “What’s up tic-tac?” Bucky narrowed his eyes between the two of them suspiciously at the familiarity.

“Uh about what happened last time--”

“Won’t ever happen again? You’re right.” Not understanding the context, Bucky put an arm around Sam’s waist and pulled him close. Natasha rolled her eyes at the childish display.

Scott didn’t seem to notice the glare he was getting from the Winter Soldier and shrugged in a ‘what can you do’ type of way before putting his hands on his hips. He took a look around the room at all the supers and nodded his head.

“This is going to be great, I can tell.” He looked back at Tony over his shoulder with genuine curiosity, “So what the hell is going on, anyways? You kind of just snatched me from my apartment, man, I think I need some context.”

Steve groaned and covered his face with his hands, “ Please tell me that you didn’t kidnap the kid, Tony.”

Tony squawked in indignation, “Of course, not! Right?” He nudged the kid with an outstretched hand when Peter just stared wide-eyed at Steve. Tony had to nudge him again to get the kid to actually say something.

“I’m such a big fan,” he breathed.

Natasha’s eyes closed in resignation as Clint groaned at her side. “We’re so screwed.”

* * *

August 20th, 2016

It had taken weeks, but Miles Randolph was finally getting to bring his information to the boss, Michael Thorne. No one listened to Randolph since he was a new recruit for the Watchdogs, but he knew that the information on the USB he had would change everything. Not only would he get the respect he deserved, but they finally had some leverage on the damn Avengers.

Despite his excitement thrumming under his skin, Randolph felt like an unruly schoolboy as he sat across from Thorne in the man’s impressive office in headquarters. Thorne studied the thumb drive on the desk between them before delicately picking it up in his massive hands and plugging it into his laptop.

It was filled of records (criminal, academic, SHIELD files) about a girl named Darcy Lewis who went to Culver, as well as blurry black-and-white photos of what looked like the same girl with Captain America from the 40s. He spent hours combing through all the past and present records about Lewis until he came to the conclusion that it was the same girl. Ghost is what she was known as in the War, but these days she was known as a close associate of Dr. Foster and Thor. Randolph didn’t know what to make of the information, to be honest, but he knew that it needed to be taken up as far up the chain as it could go. So that led him to sitting across from the scariest man he had ever seen.

Thorne was a goliath, well over six feet and built like a goddamn bodybuilder. He had a couple of scars on his face (Randolph tried not to chuckle at the cliche) and his hands were rough with calluses. He was wearing a dark suit that looked like it could hide a million guns right alongside his bulging muscles. Thorne wasn’t only the founder of the Watchdogs, he was jury, judge, and executioner when it came to dealing punishments among the ranks.

“Where did you get this information?” While Thorne was huge and dangerous, his voice was deceptively light and reedy that caused chills to break out across Randolph’s skin.

“The Avenger’s room in London, sir,” he mentally patted himself on the back for keeping his voice steady, “It was given to Captain America by Agent Sharon Carter, apparently it was from the late Agent Peggy Carter. After we started shooting up their hotel room and they took off after the guy in the black suit and the firing squad, I managed to sneak away and get into the room and see what the hell they were looking at.” It really was only sheer dumb luck that he had been told to go scout the hotel before the shooting had started, but Randolph would take the opportunity for what it was. “I took the pictures of what was in the case and got out before the Asian chick came back for it.” It was a hell of a close call, too. He had just thrown himself around the corner when the woman tore out of the stairwell and threw herself into the wrecked room.

Thorne’s eyes danced across the screen for what felt like a small eternity before his dark eyes landed on Randolph.

“You did well, soldier, for bringing news of this abomination to me. It is one thing to know that the Avengers are tainting the world as it is, but it is another to know that they are harboring some time-traveling whore .” Thorne palmed the USB and dropped it into the chest pocket on his jacket, “We need more intel, but this is an excellent discovery. We may have just found the key to ending the Avengers. How would you like to help me lead this new mission?”

Randolph gulped, not knowing how to respond with the bundle of excitement in his gut. Finally, he was able to smile back at Thorne.

“It’d be an honor, sir.”





 

 

Chapter Text

September 19th, 2016

T’Challa paced slowly around the perimeter of the abandoned building, debating with himself for the tenth time if this was a trap or not. The young king had been chasing after Bucky Barnes since the UN bombing, and had felt like he was just half a step behind since London. Now he had an opportunity to meet his father’s killer face to face. However, T’Challa’s desire for vengeance had lessened and was replaced by burning curiosity as the Avengers continued to run from him (and the Watchdogs) rather than fight. He had watched the team’s progress throughout the years, and knew for a fact that they would rather die than run from a battle. Something had changed, then.

The king nodded to himself when he came to the decision to see what Barnes had to say for himself. He took three leaping steps forward and jumped, grabbing the second-story window sill with the claws of his vibranium suit. Silent like the jungle cat he fashioned his suit after, T’Challa made his way through the wrecked hallways until he came to a balcony that overlooked the first floor. There, in a circle of dim light, the Winter Soldier sat with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. Rather than wearing his armored gear as T’Challa would have expected, Barnes was sitting in a simple pair of jeans and boots, and a dark henley that pushed up to his elbows and revealed the metal of his artificial limb.

Part of T’Challa immediately bristled, determined to believe that the display of vulnerability was a plot to get the king’s defenses down and to attack in a moment of weakness. The more dominant part of T’Challa was confused by the position. He had read every file that had leaked during the SHIELD/Hydra debacle and was intimately aware of the danger Bucky Barnes posed to those around him, of how the monstrous acts of Hydra bore a new monster of their making, and how their creation turned on them and tore them apart. The soldier would not show his back like this if he felt threatened.

“I came alone, just as I promised,” Barnes said. His voice was calm and gentle, though he sounded more exhausted than anything. T’Challa could understand the sentiment; they’ve been playing this cat-and-mouse game for some time.

“How do I know that your team is not waiting for me in the shadows?” T’Challa called down as he began making his way to a rickety set of stairs. He pulled off his mask so that his words would no longer be muffled.

Barnes chuckled humorously, “You wouldn’t be here if you believed that, Your Highness. Besides,” he drawled, “You can use your magic to check my words for truth if you like. Hell, I encourage it. This conversation will go a whole lot quicker if you do.”

T’Challa’s surprise must have shown on his face because Barnes smiled slightly. “Yeah,” the soldier sighed, “Thor figured it out after that close call in Rio. Said he could feel an echo of magic after you left. We knew something was up because there’s no other explanation for how you were able to keep up with me, on foot, while i was on a motorcycle. Vibranium suit or no. Sure was impressive, though.”

The king’s lips quirked slightly in faint amusement at Barnes’ teasing tone. He let the good humor slip from him as he came to a halt in front of Barnes. The other man was perched on a wooden chair that didn’t look like it could hold onto Barnes’ weight, but it managed to stay upright.

“I have your consent, then? It is the only way that I can use my magic on your mind.”

“Well, that’s a nice change of pace. Yeah, you have my consent, Your Highness. Ask away.”

T’Challa allowed himself a small moment of sorrow as he recalled everything that had been done to the man in front of him before he focused back on the present. This was the moment he had been waiting for, the moment where he was either going to kill the man who had taken the last of his family from him or let Barnes go. He felt the claws of the suit release once more in anticipation. T’Challa had to force the words over the lump in his throat as he met Barnes’ open gaze.

“Were you the one who attacked the UN summit, killing my father?”

There was no hesitation, no embellishment or emotion from Barnes, just a simple and tired, “No.”

T’Challa waited a moment for his magic to roll over Barnes’ reply, both hoping and dreading that his magic would sense a lie. It found none. He stumbled back a few steps as his chest heaved in an attempt to get air into his lungs. He felt like a ship afloat at sea when all of his anger and vengeance ripped out of his body only to be replaced by bone-deep shame.

He had been blind with a thirst for revenge as he chased Barnes, deaf to anything that wasn’t going to damn the man in front of him. T’Challa dropped to his knees and bowed his head in front of Barnes.

“I am sorry, for having wronged you. Just as you have been wronged before by so many.” T’Challa didn’t dare feel embarrassment as tears made their way down his cheeks as he cried for his actions. He was so blind.

Barnes slid off of his chair and sat on the floor with T’Challa, though he did not offer any empty platitudes or come any closer to the grieving king. He simply sat in silence until the king had let his emotions roll through him and lifted his face to look up at the man he had chased for what felt like an eternity.

The Winter Soldier smiled sadly at T’Challa, “I am sorry about your father. But I forgive you, I know what it’s like to be working with the wrong information.” It was a rather shallow and dry way to reference Barnes’ time as the Winter Soldier with the KGB and Hydra, but it made T’Challa chuckle as Barnes had intended.

Barnes stood and offered a hand to the king and helped him stand. “My turn for questions, Your Highness, yeah?”

“Fair enough, but you may call me T’Challa. The call for titles seems frivolous at this point, does it not?”

Barnes chuckled, “Good point, and you can call me Bucky. Anyways, I was wondering how the hell you’ve been managing to keep away from the Watchdogs? They’ve been on our assess every step of the way.”

T’Challa shrugged, “They’ve been focused on you and yours, which I have been able to use to my advantage. Also, they have been busy with some sort of side-project.” The pair began walking from the building as he continued, “I had thought I had found where you and the Avengers were hiding, though I somehow stumbled upon one of their bases instead. Before they could notice me, I left. But not before I overheard them speak of a new mission that promised to ‘tear apart the Avengers, permanently.’ They called it Operation Ghost.”

Bucky immediately tensed and stopped walking. His eyes were wide with fear, though the feeling was quickly becoming overwhelmed by righteous fury. “What else did they say,” he growled at T’Challa.

The king was wary of the change in Bucky, but answered him honestly. “I am not sure, just that they were speaking of a person, rather than a thing. Then I left before they had noticed my presence. What is it?”

The other man ran his hands through his hair and let out a howl of anger before reaching into his pants pocket and pulling out a phone and placed a call that was answered within moments. “Stevie, the Watchdogs know about Darcy,” he paused as Captain Rogers replied before cutting across the other man with an angry shout. “How the fuck am I supposed to know?! T’Challa says the Watchdogs have something called Operation Ghost that’s supposed to fucking wreck the Avengers, what else could it possibly be?!”

Bucky paused once more as Rogers relayed the information to their team. “Yeah, punk,” he sighed after another few moments, “I’ll bring him in, we could use all the help we could get.”

He ended the call with an angry press of a flesh finger and turned a hardened gaze on T’Challa. “That operation is about someone important to the team, to me and Steve. Will you help us? If the information gets out, it’ll wreck everything that we’ve been trying to stand for, and everything good that the Avengers have been trying to build since they started in New York.”

T’Challa searched the other man’s face, for what, he did not know, but only found honesty and desperation to protect those he loved. The king may not have been able to save his father, he could at least attempt to help these heroes who were being hunted by those they had sworn to protect. He nodded his assent and Bucky sagged in relief.

“Okay, you need anything before Stark sends a car for us? Then it’s off to the quinjet.”

T’Challa simply shook his head as he reached down to the manhole cover that he and Bucky stood on either side of. Pulling the metal disk to the side, the king pulled out a large dufflebag that he had tied to the ladder before he entered the building. He shrugged at Bucky’s quirked brow. “I like to be prepared.”

Bucky nodded in agreement. He began walking back to the building they had just left, presumably so that they could speak without being heard.

“Alright, I’ll start filling you in. The story technically starts in 2014, but for me and Steve it starts in 1942. That’s when we met Darcy Lewis…”

* * *

October 31st, 1944

Bucky leaned back against the bar and kept a weather eye on everyone in the building. The Commandos had been ordered by Phillips to occupy the space while Darcy raided the upstairs for intel that was rumored to be dropped off that night. The bar was nestled deep in the middle of Florence and was suspected to be a front for Hydra operatives. Bucky had looked at the blueprints of the building and compared it to what his new enhanced eyes could see; it was clear that there was a whole lot of indoor space that was ‘missing’ from the prints that went unnoticed by all the civilians. Thankfully, they were able to use civvies’ utter lack of situational awareness to their advantage. The Howlies would be the distraction while Ghost did the heavy lifting.  

The Commandos loitered around the smoky bar with an air of nonchalance that was perfected over the last six months or so. Dugan, Morita, and Dernier sat at a table in a corner with a few dames half-heartedly playing poker and instead flirting like there was no tomorrow. Jones had somehow made his way behind the bar to Bucky’s right and was keeping a greater part of the bar’s patrons captive with his showmanship. Falsworth had joined him, but was mainly attempting to mess up his friend and teammate by shouting insults each time Jones tossed something in the air. Steve rested against the bar at Bucky’s left, sipping a glass of whiskey that had no chance of giving the good Captain a buzz.

Bucky was just about to ask Steve what the hell the constipated expression on his face was for when he caught a flash of cherry red over his best friend’s shoulder. Peggy stood in the dingy bar looking like a million bucks in a red dress that hugged all her curves but none of the Howlies could appreciate it since they were too busy remembering their contingency plans. Peggy arriving was all part of the mission, to sneak into the back to give Darcy a dress (wearing her new stealth suit wouldn’t really work as she left the bar) and act as her extraction, but the red dress was a message all on its own.

We’ve been made.

Steve immediately straightened from his perch and made it to Peggy’s side in three long steps and leaned down to press a kiss on her cheek. They had all decided that Peggy act as Steve’s ‘secret’ sweetheart so that Darcy would have another layer of protection. Back with the 107th it hadn’t been a problem, since everyone was still too intimidated by Ghost to say anything out of line, but now that they were traveling what felt like all of Europe and constantly changing bases they couldn’t trust as easily. So Peggy’s portrait rested over Darcy’s in Steve’s compass and everyone else was convinced.

Steve hated the idea at first, as did Bucky, uncomfortable with the idea of even pretending to be with someone that wasn’t Darcy. She and Peggy had just rolled their eyes at him and Steve then laughed.

“You don’t need to worry about your virtue, Steve, seeing as I ‘play for Bucky’s team,’ as Darcy put it.” Peggy winked at the two men as if they had any clue as to what the hell she was on about. Since they didn’t, they turned to Darcy for an explanation who just made an extremely crude gesture with her fingers and her tongue that caused them both to blush from head to toes.

Darcy and Peggy had waited patiently for Steve and Bucky to get their blush under control before they brought the conversation back around to the original point. Peggy winked at Darcy as she spoke to the two men, “So Steve and I will be together in the public eye while Darcy continues to defile a national icon on every available surface in the dark of night, understood?”

That just set off another round of blushing for Steve and a litany of curses from Bucky (“Can we stop talking about my baby sister’s sex life, for fuck’s sake?!”) before they agreed.

Bucky shook of the memory and focused on the awkward pair as they slowly danced to the radio in the small open area of the bar. No one else had any hope of hearing them, but Bucky’s unfortunate new enhancements gave him a leg up on just about everything. He walked over and turned up the radio just to be safe, anyways.

“What’s the plan?” Steve whispered.

Peggy winced as Steve accidentally stubbed her toe with his giant foot as she answered, “We have four minutes exactly to clear the civilians out of the bar before Ghost brings the fight downstairs.”

Steve’s brow creased deeply as he tried not to let his concern for Darcy undermine his clear-headedness for the mission. He looked over his shoulder to meet Bucky’s eye as he made the ‘rock on’ signal that Darcy had taught them which translated to ‘ make a goddamn ruckus.’

Bucky passed it along to the rest of the Howlies and within a minute the bar was a fucking mess. Bottles were flying across the room, Jones was grappling with Dugan on the dirty floor and throwing punches, and the civilians were running out of the bar so fast it was like someone had lit a fire under their asses. Once the bar was in total disarray and empty of everyone save the team the Howling Commandos didn’t waste a moment to take up  defensive positions and arm themselves. Bucky wasn’t sure where Peggy had it on her to hide two handguns that large, but he sure as hell was impressed.

“There’s a hidden door in the kitchen behind the bar,” Peggy  and looked at her watch when everyone turned to face the door to the side of the room that led to the back, “Forty-five seconds until Ghost smokes them out, ready!”

It would have been a cakewalk to take out each goon as they bottlenecked in the small doorway, if more fucking Hydra goons didn’t drop from hidden panels in the goddamn ceiling, Bucky thought. As it was, the mission went sideways in what felt like two seconds flat. There wasn’t enough room to maneuver like they needed to, and there was too many goddamn guns firing in too fucking close proximity. They had planned on taking some of the Hydra bastards alive to get some additional intel, but even Bucky and Steve were quickly getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount of enemies that kept dropping from the ceiling. Kill shots it was, then.

The only sounds for the longest time were the sounds of gunshots and the ringing in Bucky’s ears from being too fucking close to this many firearms going off. After too many fucking close calls, the tide of the fight began to turn. Hydra agents began getting bullets between their eyes and dropping like stones by mystery shots. It took them all a good five seconds of open-mouthed gaping until the Commandos and Peggy figured out that the shots were coming from the same ceiling panels that the operatives kept dropping out of.

Guess that explained where Darcy got to, Bucky mused.

Another three minutes passed before every enemy was down for the count and they were all bloodied and breathing heavily. Darcy’s slightly muffled voice shouted down at them from the ceiling.

“What. The. Fuck. Was. That?!”

There was a sound of shuffling before a large duffle landed with a thud in the center of the room, followed by Darcy who landed in a heap on top of the bag. She was covered in cuts and bruises and had what looked like a dish towel pressed against a gunshot wound in her left shoulder. Bucky was immediately at her side with Steve, helping her stand from the sprawl she dropped down into.

“Here’s the goddamn intel,” she grumbled as she kicked the duffle, “It’s all in German, shocker, so I don’t know what the hell it is.” Bucky couldn’t help but to smirk at Darcy’s tone. She’d picked up French and Japanese easily enough from Dernier and Morita, but she for some reason was still struggling with German and it irked her to no end.

Peggy appeared at Bucky’s left with a first aid kit and brushed off some broken glass on the top before she handed it to him. Bucky nodded his thanks and did a quick patch up job on Darcy’s arm while his sister turned her bruised and furious gaze on Peggy.

“Someone sold us out, Pegs, there was twenty fucking men in the basement, and then however many just popped out of the vents. They knew we were coming and I want to know how.”

The older woman sighed, “There was a mole back at base. Phillips, Howard, and I only just found out after you had already arrived an hour ago. It was too late to pull you from the mission, unfortunately.”

Darcy hissed as Steve checked her ribs for breaks, “Yeah, Pegs, fucking unfortunate.”

Peggy ignored Darcy’s attitude since she knew that Darcy wasn’t actually pissed at her, but rather the situation. She looked around at the rest of the Commandos and let some tension bleed from her shoulders when she saw that none of them were wounded, by some miracle. Darcy seemed to get all their bad luck this round. Bucky grabbed his handkerchief from his back pocket and pressed it against the sluggishly bleeding cut on her forehead. It killed him to see his sister get hurt like this, even though he knew the serum would heal her in a couple of hours. He also knew that if it wasn’t for her, they’d all be dead a dozen times over by now.

As Steve, Peggy, and Bucky took care of Darcy’s wounds, the rest of the Howlies went about searching the rest of the building once more for any information that may have been hidden. Bucky used the moment of semi-privacy to speak freely with Steve, Peggy, and Darcy. While the Howlies were friends, family even, they still hadn’t been let in on Darcy’s origins. They knew that she had the super-serum, but Bucky and the rest of them decided that no matter how much they trusted the Commandos with their lives, they couldn’t share Darcy’s biggest and most dangerous secret.

In a hope to distract Darcy from her injuries and make her smile, Bucky let his voice become teasing as he asked her how the hell she navigated the vents so easily.

“They weren’t in the blueprints,” he continued, “I’m impressed you didn’t get lost.”

Darcy’s chuckled turned into a wince when her ribs protested. “Something Clint taught me. Even if I couldn’t hear the gunfire, I’d be able to find my way. It was one of the things Clint taught me: Vent-Fu.”

Bucky raised an eyebrow dubiously, “Clint taught you to navigate air-vents, circa 1944?”

Steve picked Darcy up bridal-style and began walking her out of the ruined bar as she rolled her eyes. “Well, for one thing: those weren’t air vents. They looked like they were designed for this exact purpose, though the principals of Vent-Fu still applied.  For another: Clint has a thing about vents, so I wouldn’t doubt that we would have eventually made it to the ‘old-ass-vents’ part of the curriculum.”

Peggy snorted from her place at Steve’s right as she ran a comforting hand through Darcy’s hair as her friend winced from being jostled slightly in Steve’s arms. “Sometimes I wonder if these friends of yours are simply characters you’ve made up.”

Darcy laughed softly as she began to fall asleep against Steve’s chest, “So do I.”

* * *

November 28th, 1944

Darcy was enjoying a rare easy day with Steve, Bucky, Howie, and the Commandos at their current base when Pegs waltzed up with a file with CLASSIFIED stamped across the front.

“And here I was just starting to enjoy the English countryside,” she groaned and let her head fall back against Steve’s chest. They were all sprawled around a clear patch of grass smoking cigarettes and playing poker. Not that she was allowed to play, really, but she was enjoying the short-lived ability to relax with her team-cum-family.

Peggy rolled her eyes at Darcy and flopped down next to Howie on the grass, snatching the cigarette from his mouth and taking a long drag for herself. “It’s freezing and smells like shit out here, Darcy, so do shut up. But believe you me, I do not want to make you all abandon the longest leave you’ve had in months. However, this intel will wait for no man.”

Bucky rolled onto his side and propped himself up on his left elbow to quirk a brow at Pegs, “That the shit from the bar in Florence?”

“Yes, took until just hours ago to break the code on it. There were layers and layers of bullshit that had us running circles around ourselves until we figured the damn thing out.” Peggy let her head fall back between her shoulders as she took another drag of her cigarette before putting her Agent Carter hat back on. Everyone sat up at attention when she did so, knowing that the time for teasing was gone. Steve didn’t let Darcy out of the circle of his arms though, refusing to lose what little time they could have being open together like this. She definitely wasn’t going to complain, that was for damn sure.

Casting an assessing eye at Bucky, Peggy flipped open the file and began to speak. “We’ve got leads on where, when, and how Hydra is moving their resources. Bases that have been hidden from us since the beginning of the war. This is information on Red Skull’s inner circle, specifically, one Arnim Zola.”

Darcy tensed with Steve and Bucky at the mention of his torturer. Her jaw clenched as memories of waking up to Bucky’s screaming nightmares flooded her mind. “When do we leave?”

Peggy met Darcy’s steely gaze with her own. “One hour, pack everything. You won’t be returning to base until Zola is captured.”

Steve’s voice carried all the weight of Captain America’s authority as he ground out one word.

“Good.”

* * *

November 30th, 2016

Miles Randolph swallowed hard at the blank expression on Thorne’s face after he had handed over the new folder of intel on the Avengers’ movement. Despite the perks of being the new right-hand man of the Watchdogs’ founder and boss, it did not make up for being the first to face Thorne’s ire when he was angry. And this information was sure to make Thorne very angry.

King T’Challa of Wakanda had recently ‘come out’ as the vigilante known as the Black Panther, and offered his, as well as his country’s, complete support of the Avengers and their actions. They had hoped that the death of the previous king would bring T’Challa to the Watchdog’s aid, allowing the developing group access to more resources. So long as the new king never knew that it was the Watchdogs who had killed his father (all for the greater good), it was a seemingly flawless plan. They were just not anticipating the young king to band with the Avengers, let alone reveal himself as some magic-wielding abomination himself.

Thorne’s reedy voice snapped Miles’ attention back to the present moment, “This is most distressing, Randolph.” Miles made sure to not let the deceptively soft voice lure him into a false sense of security; he had seen the man in front of him snap a man’s neck with his bare hands as he used the same tone. He kept silent, though, knowing that he wasn’t allowed to speak yet.

“I had rather hoped King T’Challa would lend us a helping hand, but now I see that he would have only sullied our mission.” Thorne turned his gaze to the window at his side, speaking more to himself than to Miles. “No matter, we have another trick up our sleeve, don’t we?”

Taking his cue, Miles pulled out another file from the case resting at his feet. “Yes sir, we have intel on Dr. Foster’s location.” He spread out the blueprints of the building she was staying in, as well as maps of the surrounding area and photos of the woman making trips into town. Miles had spent many a sleepless night gathering this information, making sure that it was absolutely perfect before he brought it to Thorne. Just because he was leading the investigation on Darcy Lewis, aka Ghost, did not exempt him from the larger man’s fury.

Thorne moved on silent feet to his desk, spreading the sheets of paper further to cast his assessing gaze over them all. “She is alone?”

Miles nodded, “Yes sir. No one seen coming in or out of the safe-house except for Foster, excluding the day that Thor brought her there. I’ve had our men watch the place, day and night, for weeks and they have confirmed that she’s the only person in the house.”

Thorne turned his gaze from the intel in front of him to Miles, who gulped at the dead look in the other man’s eyes. It reminded Miles of the times he’d been scuba-diving with sharks: a soulless predator assessing whether or not you were worth playing with before they sank their teeth into your flesh.

“This is good work, Randolph,” the man whisper-spoke, “If this does not draw the Avengers out of their hiding, then nothing will. Well,” Thorned smiled in a way that made Miles feel as if a blade was tracing the delicate skin over his spine, “Until we continue with Operation Ghost. I think we can hold onto it for a bit longer, don’t you?”

Miles knew that his opinion mattered little, but he nodded his agreement with his boss anyways. Soon after he was dismissed and sent back on his way to speak with the surveillance team that was watching Dr. Foster. They’d launch the mission tomorrow, and hopefully broadcast their ransom for Foster to the Avengers the day after. Despite the chilly feeling that still lingered on his skin, Miles smiled ferally at the thought of the upcoming months.

It was slow going (a marathon and not a race, Thorne always said), but Miles could practically feel the Watchdogs’ upcoming victory like a tangible force in the air. Once they had Foster and the Avengers scrambled to save her, they’d make their move to take out Thor since he was the biggest threat, next to Bruce Banner. After the ‘god’ was taken care of, they’d move to the rest of the team. There were tentative plans to take out the rest of the Avengers, seeing as they were all powered or enhanced to some degree. But that was where Operation Ghost came in.

The world was already crying out for justice since the UN bombing and the Sokovia Accords, though they wanted more legal action than the Watchdogs cared for. Once the Watchdogs began picking off members of the Avengers, they would release the information on Darcy Lewis. Her ties to the present and the past, to the Avengers and the Howling Commandos, would damn her as much as it would the Avengers.

The public would cry out for justice, for blood , once it was known that there was a girl who had meddled with time and history as Lewis did. The Avengers would scramble to protect Lewis, leaving themselves wide open for attack. The Watchdogs would take care of them in the way the world’s governments wouldn’t dare.

Miles continued to grin as he sauntered down the hallway in Thorne’s mansion to his new suite of rooms. After his hard work, he thought that he definitely deserved a drink or two.

Back in his office, Thorne watched the training grounds from his window stories above. Dozens upon dozens of men and women sparred and practiced with their firearms in preparation for the covert war they were starting. It was good, he thought, though they could be better. Many of the recruits were hicks filled to the brim with bigotry rather than true believers, so Thorne had no qualms with sending those on the more... risky missions. He stepped away from his window and made his way to the hidden door behind his desk. He followed the narrow hallway until it led to a set of stairs that rose up to Thorne’s private suite.

Once inside, and safe from prying eyes, Thorne began pulling off his suit with jerking movements and a grimace on his face. Even after all these years, it still was an unpleasant sensation to feel his skin pull over the scar tissue that covered most of his body. He stood in front of the wall of mirrors that were placed at the side of his room, letting his anger build up as more and more gnarled skin was revealed.

It was a harsh reminder of what he stood for that he made sure to look at each and every day since the Battle of New York four years ago. He had been walking down the street in Manhattan when the sky had opened up and Armageddon had rained down upon them all. Thorne had run with the rest of the civilians, but he was one of the unlucky ones. He had been blasted by one of the Chitauri weapons, the force knocking him into a building at his side. The force of the hit had caused the already weakened brick of the wall to crumble and fall around him.

Thorne had been pinned for three days, flesh continually burning from the Chitauri weapon and bones mangled and broken from the impact. He begged for death as more rubble had fallen on him, though his wish was not granted. Despite the layers of rock and twisted metal, Thorne could hear the screams of other civilians as they ran for cover and their cries for help. He heard the battle rage on and on for hours, then silence until the rescue teams came out.

He wanted to rage and scream as he continually heard others pass him by, no one noticing his faint breaths under the pile of debris. He began to fade in and out of consciousness as his body shut down, the pain too much to bear.

It was Captain America who had pulled the rubble off of him and directed medics to him, repeating that “It’s over, the battle is over now, you’re safe ,” all the while.

Thorne wanted to rage at the impossible man as he was pulled from the wreckage, as his wild eyes caught the death and destruction that hung around the city like a thick fog. It wasn’t hard to piece together that it was the Captain, as well as the rest of his team’s presence that had brought down this hell on them all. He head heard much in his three days of purgatory, after all.

No , he had thought, this is just the beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

December 1st, 2016

Jane had originally felt guilty about having Bruce stay with her in the safe house, seeing as he was confined to the cabin, but now was glad that he had come. There was only so long you could be in a cabin by yourself before going crazy, after all. Not to mention the obscene level of security that the Hulk guaranteed.

No one, save for the Avengers, knew that Bruce was staying in the safe house with Jane all these months, which was fine by the both of them. He didn’t have to worry about freaking out the small town’s meagre population, and Jane got to have a Science! buddy to hang out with.

Jane shoved her way into the small cabin she and Bruce shared while the icy wind tried to knock her down.

“I was followed again,” she called into the living room after she shut the door and turned the alarm on, “the idiots don’t do subtle very well.”

Bruce chuckled lightly from where he laid across the couch, “You won’t hear me complain about that. Think they’re going to make their move soon?”

“Yeah, I figure today or tomorrow. They seemed extra twitchy.” Jane flopped down on the overstuffed armchair next to Bruce and groaned. She was so damn tired of hiding. She didn’t want to fight, not really, but after reading Darcy’s journal Jane felt kind of helpless in comparison. A pang of sadness washed over her as she thought back to her best friend’s entry on the 29th of December.

Jane hadn’t been able to make herself read any further than that.

Bruce reached over and pat Jane on the knee in comfort, rousing her from her melancholy, “It’ll be okay. I’ll call Tony and let him know the Watchdogs are about to make their move, why don’t you call Thor? Settle your nerves a bit.”

She nodded as she heaved herself from the chair, “I’ll double check the go bags, too. Make sure they’re out and ready.” Bruce smiled in response and pulled his phone from his pocket, already dialing Tony.

Jane felt significantly better when Thor’s booming voice came over the phone, asking her how she and Bruce were and launching into a tale about their new ally, King T’Challa. She definitely did not see that one coming at all, but was thankful for the resources anyways. She and Thor chatted about everything and nothing for twenty minutes as she double checked their bags and the cabin for stray belongings until Bruce waved her over. Jane said her goodbyes and ‘I love you’s’ with Thor before ending the call and going to Bruce’s side.

“They’ve got ten people surrounding the cabin,” he said without prompting or moving his eyes from the tablet in his hands, “Due to the lack of numbers it’s safe to assume that they still don’t know that I’ve been here since August.” They chuckled for a moment before Bruce sobered, “Tony’s sending a quinjet, but it won’t be here for an hour since he’s coming from LA. You better get in the Hulk-out-room, I have a feeling they’re about to shoot down the door.”

Jane darted around the couch to pick up their go-bags as Bruce pulled the large decorative rug to the side, revealing a hatch in the floor. She didn’t say anything about the flush of green on her friend’s skin and in his eyes when he helped her get her footing on the ladder.

“I’ll let you know when it’s safe to come out,” Bruce promised, and Jane gave him a feral smile in return.

“Give them hell, big guy.”

*

Miles was practically vibrating with nerves as he directed the men around the isolated cabin, their weapons never leaving their target. Dr. Foster was going to be the first domino to fall, catalyzing the demise of the Avengers. She was also an easy target, for which he was grateful. They’ve been watching Foster since the end of September and have been closing in on her the entire time. She’d have no clue what was happening until it was too late.

He raised his walkie-talkie to his mouth and whispered into the device, signaling his men to move in on the building.

They had barely taken half a step forward when the cabin exploded outward with splintering wood and a flash of green. The roar of the Hulk shook snow from nearby trees and caused Miles and his team to drop their weapons in order to cover their ears. Hulk decimated Miles’ team with two big swipes of his hand, sending them flying across the small clearing until they came to a stop at the bases of scattered pine trees with sickening thunks. Miles scrambled backwards as he reached for his own weapon, even though he knew that it would be useless against the goliath charging toward him. He just hoped that the Hulk killed him quickly, because whatever the monster did to him would be better than his fate at Thorne’s hands.

Miles closed his eyes when the Hulk drew back his arm, his furious gaze locked on his new target.

He only heard the sickening crunch of his bones for a millisecond before the world went dark.

* * *

December 3rd, 2016

Steve wanted to be thrilled that T’Challa had stopped hunting Bucky and promised to help protect the Avengers. He wanted to be happy that despite all the darkness and turmoil of the last year, Sam and Bucky, his two best friends, had found each other. That Wanda and Vision found each other, as bizarre as that probably was (to someone who wasn’t an Avenger, anyways). Jane and Bruce were back with the team and safe , Pepper and Tony were handling the press, and all of his friends were at his side, fighting the good fight like he’d always wanted. Steve wanted to celebrate each time Coulson called and said another Hydra or Watchdog base was taken out, their operatives taken to jail.

But he couldn’t, because they-- he failed Darcy. He should’ve been keeping her safe, but he let her secret fall into the wrong hands. Everyone tried telling him that it wasn’t his fault, that there was plenty of blame to share for their mistakes in London, but he couldn’t listen to them.

It was Steve’s job to keep Darcy safe, even if he knew that she’d give him a good zap with her batons if she heard him berating himself like this (it had happened a couple times in 1944 before he had learned to keep his trap shut). He failed her, and now she was in more danger than he could have anticipated.

The Watchdogs knew who she was, both in the past and the present. They had copies of Darcy’s file, and were planning on revealing it to the world. The public was already wary of the Avengers and all enhanced humans, but Steve knew that Darcy would be the straw that broke the camel’s back. How would they react to someone who could time travel, even if it was unintentional? People would fear her, no matter how misplaced it was, because while supers were almost commonplace these days, Darcy was something else entirely. They’d call for her blood and drag her through the mud so they could feel safe again.

Any trust that they were slowly rebuilding with the public and the government would be destroyed in a heartbeat. Steve could live with that, honestly. He was more concerned about his enemies: there was no telling what the Watchdogs would do to Darcy if they got their hands on her.

Steve shuddered and turned back to the pile of punching bags on the floor. For once, he was too tired to throw a punch.

*

Tony was pacing the length of the posh living room (their new safehouse was in LA, and despite the danger of being in the US at the moment, the Avengers let out a collective sigh at being more or less ‘home’) as he thought of his and Pepper’s idea. It was a risk, but it could buy them a little more time. Not a whole lot, but maybe it’d be just enough to let them take a breather and get themselves back in top fighting shape.

Natasha and Clint were globe-trotting as they did their spooky spysassin thing, knocking out Hydra bases and stealing intel so they had one less enemy to fight. The rest of them were moving from safehouse to safehouse as they ran from the Watchdogs while Pepper and Tony tried to be the faces of the Avengers and get the public to calm the fuck down. There was an endless stream of press conferences and trips to embassies and the Capitol Hill alike as they tried to turn the tide in their favor. Having T’Challa at his side definitely helped move things along, but Tony knew they needed more. They needed to distract the public.

And Tony had just the scandal to feed to the masses.

“Shit, this is like a soap opera, but more deadly and less evil twins,” Scott piped up after Tony tossed his idea out to everyone gathered. T’Challa, Coulson, and the spysassins were on video conference on the TV, while the rest of the Avengers sat crowded around the sofas that were doing the best they could to hold up all the supers. Except for Peter, who was hanging upside-down by one of his webs for whatever reason.

“Thank you for your contribution,” Tony scoffed. He turned to Steve and Bucky, knowing that their opinion would make or break his plan. “We’re running ragged, guys, we need a break and this could give us the shove we need.”

“It’ll put her in danger,” Steve practically growled.

Tony threw up his hands in exasperation, “Like she isn’t already?! Between whatever shit she’s getting into as a Howling Commando and the crap with the Watchdogs, this is the least of her problems!” He tilted his head back and let out a gusty sigh, speaking more calmly this time. “Look, we still have Hydra running around in the shadows, as broken as they are. We don’t know who’s leading the Watchdogs, let alone how they’re managing the whole operation. Yes, this will get ugly and bring trouble to our doorstep, but this will buy us time. The public is short-sighted, they get distracted by new and shiny things that they can get in a tizzy about. How the hell do you think I’ve been able to get away with the past decade?”

Steve sagged when Bucky put a hand his shoulder and said softly, “You know he’s right, punk.”

The rest of the team was silent, thankfully, letting Steve work through whatever fears he had about the idea. Not that Tony could judge, of course, seeing as his hands had been shaking ever since Pepper proposed the stunt. It’d put the spotlight on Darcy and him, bringing a whole mess of issues to their door, but it was their best bet of getting ahead of the storm. After what looked like a conversation between the two super soldiers consisting of only quirked eyebrows and shrugs, they turned to look expectantly at Jane. While the super soldiers were quite vocal about Darcy’s protection, everyone knew that it was Jane who had final say in her pseudo-sister’s welfare.

The Avenger’s favorite astrophysicist smiled mischievously, “I say go for it. Darcy’s always had a thing for raising some hell.”

Steve managed a wry smile, “Ain’t that the goddamn truth.” He looked to Tony, “Alright, make it happen. Let’s see how this shakes things up.”

The next morning, almost every newspaper had the same headline:

STARK’S SECRET DAUGHTER REVEALED!

Tony smirked when FRIDAY notified him that the globe’s top internet trend was now #IronDaughter, when it had previously been #notmyAvengers.

“I think we’ve significantly shaken things up,” his eyes lit up with a idea, “Maybe I’ll make her a suit!”

Tony wasn’t sure how the hell Pepper knew what he was thinking all the way from New York, but the ‘ Tony NO’  text message he received the next moment had him ducking his head sheepishly.

God, he loved that woman.

* * *

December 25th, 1944

The Howling commandos were celebrating Christmas in the middle of the Swiss countryside and despite the biting cold and the C-rations, Bucky was enjoying himself.

Howard and Peggy were chatting with them all on the radio from the base after they debriefed their latest mission, Steve and Darcy were cuddled close to Bucky’s left, the rest of the team completing a circle around their small fire. Jones would sing christmas carols for them all when prompted as they all took turns telling stories of past Christmases. Darcy fiddled with the necklace Steve had gotten her that first holiday together when it was her turn--Bucky hated how it felt like an eternity ago--that had miraculously survived their time in the battlefield.

She tilted her head back against Steve’s shoulder and kissed the nearest part of Steve that she could reach, which happened to be his chin, when she was done with her story, “Best present I ever got,” she sighed. Everyone seemed to take a moment to look at the pair, marveling at the love that shone through them both despite all the blood and horror they saw every damn day. As if noticing the abrupt change in atmosphere, Darcy looked to Bucky and gave him a wink and a nudge, “Next to those shoes, of course.”

Everyone laughed good naturedly, grateful for the moment of levity, but it couldn’t last. The next mission heavy on everyone’s mind and it rested on Bucky’s a little heavier than the rest. They were going after Zola in three days’ time, and Bucky wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about the matter.

The mission was risky--not that the Howlies went on any other kind of mission, but this one felt worse. There was ziplines and a train and the goddamn Alps involved, for shit’s sake. They were given orders to capture Zola in the hopes that they could make the bastard squeal on his people and give them some useful intel on Schmidt’s movements. They’d (hopefully) take over the train and get their hands on all of the Hydra weapons that were on it and ride the damn thing until they ran out of tracks, where the SSR would be ready to receive them.

All that was fine and dandy, Bucky thought, but that wasn’t what he was concerned about. What had tension knotting his muscles was knowing that he’d be facing off with Zola.

Oh, Bucky could take the bastard, that wasn’t a question. Between Bucky’s strength (even pre-serum) and Zola’s small stature, Bucky could tear the bastard apart. But that was before the madman had torn into Bucky like he was a toy to be taken apart and remade over and over and over again. His hands shook as the memories threatened to overwhelm him but he shoved them down with a vengeance and focused on the voices around him in the now , letting their soft laughter wash over him and clear the blinding rage from his system.

He looked to his left where Darcy and Steve were nearly entwined with each other, though they remained pressed close to Bucky’s side. As if sensing his mood change, Darcy reached for his left hand as Steve threw his right arm around Bucky’s shoulder, not even turning away from the radio where they spoke with Howard. His heart warmed at the subconscious gesture of comfort, because he knew that those two punks were aware of how frayed around the edges he was at the moment.  

Bucky kept his eyes on the pair, wondering how in the hell they’d make it through this. For once, it wasn’t Darcy with the pit in her gut before a mission, it was Bucky. She had made peace with the fact that she couldn’t remember everything from her schooling about the war (and wasn’t that strange to think, that she’d be learning about the very war she was fighting in?) and let herself live in the moment, taking in the intel as it came and made do with it like everyone else. Steve was confident and foolhardy as ever, always seeing the glass as half-full and high off having his girl and Bucky fighting at his side. Steve wasn’t worried about the mission, except for how Bucky would flinch each time Zola’s name was mentioned.

He couldn’t bring himself to tell his friends, his family, that it wasn’t fear that made him cringe like that. At least, not in the way they probably thought. Bucky was more terrified of what he would do when he came face to face with Zola. Flashes of tearing into the scientist popped up in his mind, blood and screams that mirrored his own roared in his ears. Bucky clutched Darcy’s hand a little tighter and leaned a little more into Steve’s side, letting their presence ground him. He sighed when they held him a little tighter in response.

He felt like a goddamn mess most days, and Bucky wondered how much of it was the serum screwing with his head. Bucky felt... darker. Like there was a latent predator in the back of his mind that was waking up. It had begun to stir when the war started and he was handed his rifle (being a solider changed everyone, and Bucky wasn’t surprised to feel himself getting lost in his new darkness with the rest of them) but it was like the serum had woke it up completely. Bucky was able to admit that it terrified him, even if he only ever admitted it in the privacy of his own head. Sometimes he wondered how he could sit so close to Steve, who was so bright and good, and not stain him with his own shadows.

Bucky shook the thought from his head as he shoved his right hand into his pocket and clutched at his compass, letting the cold metal sting his palm. It was a promise from Darcy and Steve, he remembered as he tightened his grip, that it didn’t matter about his shadows or his bloody hands. Darcy’s hands were red like his and Steve’s weren’t any cleaner, despite the golden image Captain America had, and they still loved him. They’d guide him home when he was lost. No matter what happened, they would love him and bring him home. They promised .

Bucky repeated their promise over and over again, letting it sink into his mind and wrap around the predator that lurked there. He’d let it riot and rage all it wanted, so long as it remembered where, and who, home was.  It was all that mattered in the end, anyways.

* * *

December 28th, 1944

There was a calmness in the air that unsettled Darcy, though she wasn’t sure why. She wondered what the hell it said about her that she had begun to associate ‘calm’ with ‘danger.’ She shrugged to herself think back to the satisfaction she felt when she pulled on her stealth suit. Putting the thing on was trading out Darcy for Ghost, but it made her feel more powerful than ever before.  

Howard had given it to her last time they were at base, and the thing was so beautiful that she may have teared up when he presented it to her. She wore her usual black tac-pants and boots, so it was really the coat that made her feel all tingly when she put it on. The coat was black like her pants, though the material was made of something Howard had cooked up that was a bit more impervious to knives. It was fitted to her torso and arms but swayed from her hips to her knees, letting her have the most amount of mobility. There was also a hood that had what Darcy swore were some magical properties, because there was no other explanation for how the damn thing stayed up on her head no matter what, even if she was in hand-to-hand combat. What really got Darcy excited were the black vibranium-alloy vambraces that went from wrist to elbow and the same metal that covered her chest and back. She was able to holster her batons in a giant X on her back when she wasn’t using them. All her other guns and knives were put in holsters that climbed up her shins and thighs, as well as around her waist.

Basically, she looked like a certified badass. Darcy also loved the way Steve’s eyes would get a little dark and heated when he saw her in it. It gave her courage, for whatever reason, and she could definitely use whatever courage she could get today.

Darcy looked at the zipline that shot across the gaping chasm in the middle of the Alps and sighed. “Hey Bucky,” she nudged him as spoke, “remember when I made Steve get on all the rides at Coney Island last year?”

Bucky grinned wryly, “And he threw up the moment you turned away?”

She huffed a laugh, “Yeah, you think this is payback for that?”

Steve rolled his eyes but grinned at them, “Now, why would I do that?”

Darcy simply rolled her eyes in return as she placed her hands on her fella’s shoulders. “I love you both dearly,” she said, “but this has got to be the dumbest idea we’ve ever had.”

They both looked down at her over their broad shoulders and smirked. Steve was the one to reply, however.

“Probably,” he stepped closer to the edge and raised his hand to tug on the wire. The grin he tossed over his shoulder looked very ‘devil-may-care,’ but Darcy could see the worry in his gaze as his eyes flicked to Bucky and back again.

“But someone’s got to stop the bullies.”

*

Steve fought with everything he had on that train, a deep icy dread in his gut motivating him like he never had been before. Once Darcy and Bucky got separated from him, it was as if a whole new creature was born. He could hear the muffled sound of gunfire from the two train cars behind him, and he saw red.

Steve didn’t give a shit about Captain America or Ghost or hell, not even the mission. All he cared about was getting back to the two people who mattered most to him. He tore through the soldiers Zola sent for him like they were nothing but paper and knocked down the door to Bucky before the bodies had even hit the floor. Darcy was swinging from the bars on the ceiling and firing from above, not even flinching when blood splattered across her face, all while Bucky was dropping his fists down on the Hydra operatives with a ferocity Steve couldn’t even fathom.

In the back of his mind, Steve knew that something happened when Bucky was on Zola’s table besides the torture. It wasn’t until this moment that he realized that he had been avoiding the signs for months (Bucky’s sudden strength despite  his gaunt cheeks from hunger), fooling himself into believing that Bucky was right as rain.

Because if Bucky wasn’t fine, wasn’t whole or complete, then Steve would know that he failed. What good was he as Captain America,  or even as Steve Rogers, if he couldn’t keep his best friend safe? It was the reason he joined the army. Sure, he did firmly believe that he could help, that he could fight and make a difference. But the fact remained that Bucky had been looking after Steve since they were kids, and it was time for Steve to return the favor.

All those thoughts and realizations flew from his mind when another Hydra soldier came out of nowhere and fired his plasma gun, tearing a hole in the side of the train. Steve had instinctively reached for Darcy and covered her in the blast, losing his shield in the process. He had barely gotten his bearings when he saw Bucky pick up his shield and advance on the enemy. Steve had just gotten his breath back when the soldier fired once more, sending his best friend through the gaping hole in the tain’s wall.

Together, Steve and Darcy’s screams could have shaken the mountains to their foundations.

“BUCKY!”

*

Bucky knew, he knew , that this was it. The fact that he had managed to grab the railing as he soared from the train was just fate fucking with him, taunting him with salvation before it was torn away.

Steve was hanging out of side of the train almost as soon as Bucky’s feet left the ground, but he still knew it meant nothing; he could see the warped metal strain and bend under Steve’s weight and knew that he only had moments to let go. Bucky’s instincts still played their part and gripped the flimsy rail with everything he had despite the rest of his heart, mind, and soul sagging in defeat.

Darcy suddenly appeared over Steve’s shoulder and Bucky could have cried as he watched the torn wall bend even further. She scaled across Steve’s back like he was the cliff’s edge and wrapped her legs around his waist, using him as an anchor as she leaned down and stretched out her arms to Bucky.

“Give me your hand!” she screamed.

Bucky wanted to, but his sniper’s eyes could see that they all had fifteen seconds before the damn thing tore off, dropping them into the chasm below and killing them all.

But if he let go, the metal could hold onto Steve and Darcy’s weight. He could save them.

Darcy’s eyes went wide when the metal lurched under their weight and she saw the resignation in his eyes.

“No!” she cried, “Give me your hand! Give me your hand!”

The tips of her fingers couldn’t even make it within grabbing distance, even if Bucky had swung his free arm up to her. Bucky took half a second to memorize Steve’s face over her shoulder, then hers.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered under the roaring wind. He saw Darcy read the apology on his lips before he let go.

Bucky felt tears in his eyes as he fell through the empty air, but he couldn’t look away from his family as they shrank in the distance above him. He knew that their screams of horror would follow him into hell, but he couldn’t feel guilt about that. They were safe.

Before he closed his eyes and embraced his icy grave, Bucky let himself be thankful that he had tucked his compass into Steve’s bag. Him and Darcy would need it to guide them home, even if that meant that Bucky wouldn’t be there with them.

* * *

December 29th, 2016

Jane tucked Thor’s cape around the both of them as they settled onto the couch with Darcy’s journal in her lap. Tears pooled in her eyes at the Darcy gesture, but Jane thought she was beginning to see the allure of the cape. She felt safe.

Thor pulled Jane closer to his side and pressed his lips to her temple before he opened Darcy’s journal. She had needed him here, to share her heartbreak as they read Darcy’s words together. Jane hadn’t been able to read past the entry, but she knew it was time.

Taking a deep breath, Jane looked to the scrawled words in front of her.

December 29th, 1944

I failed.

I failed Bucky, and I failed Steve.

I should have known, should have remembered.

Bucky let himself fall so Steve and I could live.

There were plenty more words on the page, but they were all crossed out angrily and too stained with tears to read. The next legible line was cramped at the bottom of the page. Five words that felt like a bullet in Jane’s heart each time she read them:

I wasn’t worth that sacrifice.

With a wet and shuddering breath, Jane tucked her head under Thor’s chin and let herself sob for her friend and sister’s loss, for the pain that was both seventy years gone and good as new. Over the sound of her cries, she heard Thor turn the page.



 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

December 28th, 1944

Howard was thankful that the weather had cleared as he drove, letting him navigate the bumpy mountain road with less of a hassle than he had anticipated. He and Pegs rode together while the Colonel and some other soldiers followed a dozen yards behind as they made their way to the extraction point for the Commandos. The graciousness for the weather was fleeting, however, as he couldn’t shake the ominous feeling from his mind.

The mission was dangerous, yes, but there was something about it that had the hair on the back of Howard’s neck stand on end ever since they began planning it out days and days ago. He was used to sending Lou into danger with her fellas, but this time ice shredded his heart to pieces when Darcy signed off the radio the day before.

“Don’t worry ‘bout a thing, Howie, I promise I’ll keep our boys safe.”

Inexplicably, that was when Howard knew that something was going to go horribly, horribly wrong. He thrived on being the smartest person in the room, but he hated when he was proven right just moments later as the radio crackled to life.

Jones’ voice faded in and out of Peggy’s handheld, but Howard could hear him clear as day.

“We have control of the train and Zola’s in custody,” Howard wanted to close his eyes at the sound of the defeat in their friend’s voice, but he kept his eyes on the road as Jones continued.

“Barnes...he didn’t make it. He fell from the train.”

Even though he had a feeling that something like this was going to happen, Howard felt Jones’ words like a punch to the gut, and the Jeep he was driving swerved as he flinched. He looked to Peggy at his right to see his own horrified expression mirrored on her face. She drowned her emotions with her professionalism in a way that Howard could never manage, though he tried.

Despite her cool mask, it took Peggy a couple attempts before she was able to push the words out of her mouth, “Continue to the extraction point, we’ll be there in four hours.”

“We might beat you there, Carter, Cap had to restrain Ghost when she tried diving after Barnes. I’m pushing this thing as fast as I can. Neither of them are doin’ too good.”

A noise that sounded suspiciously like a growl tore itself from Howard’s throat as he snatched the radio from Peggy’s hand, “Tell Lou we’ll be there in two hours, not a second more.”

Peggy looked at him incredulously as she caught the handheld he threw back at her, “How the hell do you suppose we manage that?”

He just smiled grimly as he pulled open a hidden panel on the dashboard and began flipping exposed switches in rapid succession, causing a low rumble to rise from the engine.

“Lou and I had some extra time last time they were on leave,” Howard shrugged, “We decided to mess with the engine.” His casual tone betrayed the way his heart broke for Lou, but he planned to hold onto the familiar feeling of nonchalance until he could see Darcy with his own eyes. He winked at Peggy before he flipped the last switch.

“Better hold on, Pegs, this is going to get a little rough.”

She had hardly managed to grasp the handlebar above her head before the Jeep shot forward like a bullet, leaving the two vehicles housing Philips and the other soldiers in the dust. Howard gripped the steering wheel with everything he had as he raced them to his only family.

Howard had begun developing a theory about Darcy’s parentage ever since they had met, and his visceral protective reaction was as good as a confirmation as he figured he’d get. There was no other way that Lou would know the information she did (SI and personal alike) unless she was family. Not to mention, their physical similarities. The shape of their eyes and noses, and whenever Howard caught Lou smirking it felt like he was looking in a damned mirror.

The fact that Lou didn’t seem to see these things, however, broke Howard’s heart.

Howard tried to keep his hopes up when he thought of it, that perhaps Darcy was simply ‘not trying to fuck with the timeline,’ as she’d say, but he was smarter than that. Lou didn’t know she was Howard’s granddaughter. And that made him furious. How could Lou be the right hand of the next Stark and not know she was a Stark herself? Howard was going to give his future kid absolute hell for neglecting Darcy and denying her the chance of family.

“Your granddaughter is a warrior,” Peggy’s voice interrupted howard’s rage, “She will survive.”

Howard didn’t even wonder how the hell Peggy figured out his and Darcy’s connection, focusing instead on the latter part of his friend’s statement.

“Don’t you mean soldier?”

Peggy shook her head, “No, soldiers take orders. Soldiers fight because they are told to, they fight for for their country and their country’s beliefs. Does that sound like Darcy?”

Howard thought back through every moment of knowing Darcy: how she fought tooth and nail to get into a war she didn’t belong in, her looks of disgust at some of the higher-ups and their rhetoric, the way her hands trembled when she thought too hard about just what she was doing for the war. But she did it all with her head held high, risking her life for a couple of punks from Brooklyn that became the center of her world.

“She fights for them,” Howard sighed, “Lou doesn’t give a damn about god and country, just them.”

And now Barnes was gone. It didn’t bear to think about what that was doing to her and Steve, how their hearts were now broken beyond repair.

Howard pressed all of his weight on the pedal, hurling the Jeep even faster to Lou.

* * *

December 29th, 1944

The last twenty-four hours were a blur to Darcy, but she didn’t really care to muddle through the fog to find clarity. She was ashamed and furious and so damn heartbroken , she just wanted to curl into herself and fade away but she saw Bucky’s fall each time she closed her eyes.

Darcy had seen the moment Bucky made his decision, saw the resolution and acceptance on his face when the metal lurched beneath his hands. She couldn’t hear his apology over the howling wind, but she read his lips and felt something in her break at the sight. Bucky’s hand slipped easily from the rail as he looked at them both before he fell.

She could feel his eyes on them the whole way down.

Darcy didn’t think, just unwound her legs that were using Steve’s waist like an anchor so she could chase her brother down into the abyss. The irrational part of her mind told her that if Darcy fell with him, that if she could just reach his hand, they could survive, that she could save him. She just needed to grab his hand and everything would be alright.

She had barely gotten an inch away before Steve had used his left arm to band around her waist like Vibranium and haul them both into the train car. She threw her arms, kicking and screaming at Steve to let her go, to let her fall after Bucky. It’s what she deserved, after all. Darcy had failed him, again , and her soul roared with anguish at the fact.

She was half-mad with grief and shock and wasn’t entirely sure what else she yelled at Steve, but something must have struck him hard because he loosened his grip enough with a wince for Darcy to slide under his arm and run for the open space where Bucky had disappeared. She only made it three steps before Steve was engulfing her in his arms once more.

“Don’t you dare, don’t you fucking dare!” His voice was firm, the weight of the Captain heavy in his words though Darcy could hear his cries clawing their way up his throat.

She lost the fight in her, then, sagging into Steve’s arms as they collapsed into a heap in the middle of the car. Darcy turned around in Steve’s lap and wrapped herself around him as they broke down together. She was uncaring of Dernier and Dugan peering in from the doorway to the next car, couldn’t even bring up the energy to be ashamed that her friends saw her try to throw herself from the train.

Darcy had sobbed with Steve as they wrapped their arms tighter around one another, letting the wind outside rage with them. That was the last thing she actively remembered before the shcok took over.

She came back to the present moment when her face was suddenly drenched with cold water and she heard an incessant snapping of fingers. Dragging her mind through the heavy fog of sorrow, Darcy focused on the image of Howard kneeling in front of her, one hand in front of her face and the other holding an open canteen.

“--Lou? You with me, girlie?” She had never seen him so worried before, and she didn’t really know what to do with the look of absolute defeat on his face. So Darcy just shrugged her shoulders to let her friend know that she had heard him.

Howard shuffled forward on his knees to get closer to her, ducking his head under the edge of the desk she had wedged herself under. Darcy tilted her head to the side, wondering when the hell she crawled under it in the first place. She had a vague recollection of traveling to a new base in the back of a Jeep, but no other memories were swimming forward.

He shook up the canteen that he held up in the space between them, “Drink up, Lou.”

“Whiskey?” Her voice was rough from disuse, but her snark wasn’t lost on Howard.

He rolled his eyes, “We both know I won’t waste my good booze on you, Lou, not if you can’t get a buzz from it.”

She took a drink of the cool water, and her throat thanked her for it when she spoke again. “How do you figure that? I’ve never really tried.”

Howard’s voice lost it’s teasing tone as he looked her in the eye, “Steve’s been spending the last twenty-four hours trying to drink himself stupid. It’s not working out.”

Darcy’s heart twinged painfully in her chest as she thought of Steve and how she had abandoned him.

“Where is he?” She asked hesitantly, ashamed of her neglecting behavior.

Howard looked at her with an alarming amount of incredulity as well as concern.

“Lou, he’s been in the workshop the whole time.” He leaned to the side so Darcy could see Steve propped up against the wall across from her, empty bottles scattered around him. He looked about as torn to shreds as Darcy felt, and that just made her heart break all over again.

The corner of Steve’s mouth twitched slightly with an attempt of a smile before his expression fell.

“Couldn’t leave you, sweetheart,” he rasped, “Even if I couldn’t get through to you.”

Darcy’s lower lip trembled as her numbness slipped away only to be replaced by the pain and grief she had been stifling the last day. Howard backed out from under the desk as she began shuffling forward toward Steve. Once she was within reaching distance Steve didn’t hesitate to pull her into his arms and settle her on his lap, wrapping his giant arms around her small frame and holding her tightly. They didn’t say anything else, but their shuddering breaths rose and fell in time with the other’s as they shared their pain.

* * *

Steve clutched Darcy to him with everything he had, unwilling to let her go now that she had finally woken up.

It was chilling to have seen her vibrant eyes so empty for so long. They were wide and unseeing ever since they walked off the train at the extraction point where Howard and Peggy would hopefully be waiting for them. Steve had walked Darcy off the train first, not knowing what her (or hell, even his) reaction would be if she saw Zola. Thankfully the rest of the team seemed to understand and kept Zola restrained in a car as they watched their Captain guide his sweetheart out of the train.

They were only alone in the clearing for perhaps three minutes before the roaring sound of an engine broke the silence around them. A minute after that, Howard and Peggy were launching themselves from a Jeep before the thing had even come to a full stop.

Peggy didn’t hesitate to wrap her arms around Steve’s waist while Howard did the same to Darcy. The only difference was that Steve was able to respond.

“Hey, Lou, you hear me?” Howard jostled Darcy slightly with the hands on her shoulders but still didn’t get a response.

Steve squeezed Darcy’s hand tighter as he hugged Peggy close with his free arm. “She’s in shock, I think,” he said, “Haven’t gotten her to say anything in hours.”

No one commented on how Steve’s voice was rough and thick with tears or how red and wet his face was, for which he was grateful. Darcy just stayed silent as tears rolled down her cheeks. The ride to base was hours of tense silence and empty eyes, followed by Darcy living up to her codename as she made her way to what he assumed was Howard’s workshop. It was always her ‘safe place’ when she became too overwhelmed with the world around her.

Word must have spread to base about Bucky because everyone gave them a wide berth, and many tipped their heads in respect. Steve only registered this in the back of his mind, to sick with worry to dredge up the energy to care about anyone else. Instead, he followed Darcy as if he was her shadow, wondering how she knew where she was leading them in the unfamiliar base but trusting her completely. As they walked Steve refused to let go of her hand even though Darcy didn’t seem to notice his presence, or anything else around her for that matter.

It wasn’t until they were both standing in the middle of the shop that Steve heard Darcy’s whispers.

“My fault...should’ve known…should’ve been me...” She repeated the words along with other similar mantras so lowly under her breath that even Steve with his enhanced senses had to strain to hear her. Each word felt like a shot to his heart, so he pulled Darcy’s unresponsive form into his arms and wrapped her up as tightly as he could.

He whispered back to her, words of love and forgiveness and shared grief that filled both of their hearts. Steve didn’t know how long he stood there with Darcy, but it was long enough that her legs began trembling with the effort of standing. Gently, Steve had stepped back to see if Darcy was ‘awake’ yet, only to be heartbroken once more when he was met with her blank eyes. Now free of his arms, Darcy slid to the floor and immediately crawled beneath the nearest desk.

He didn’t know what to make of the action, but he was damned if he was going to leave Darcy now. Steve leaned back against the wall across from Darcy and let himself fall to the floor with a thunk, tearing open the drawer to the cabinet at his side. He spared a smile at the multitude of bottles that filled it, though he wasn’t too surprised that Howard had stocked his workshop with the finest booze. Bucky always thought the man had good taste and was particularly adept at sneaking bottles out of the shop, much to the older man’s irritation.

Bucky.

With the thought of his best friend’s death heavy on his conscience, Steve upended the bottle in his hand and began to drink. He kept drinking until the bottle was empty, then until the cabinet was empty.

Steve brought himself back to the present, where Darcy was awake and clutching at him rather than the empty shell she was hours before. He wanted to say something, anything , to comfort her, but he knew nothing could help. How could he think to make her feel better when Bucky was gone? When he failed to protect Bucky when he needed Steve most?

Peggy walked into the workshop then, appraising the trio sitting on the ground. She raised a brow in a silent question to Howard who just shrugged his shoulders in response. Peggy grabbed a chair from behind her and easily slid into it, keeping her eyes on Steve and Darcy the entire time.

“You two will listen, and listen well, do you understand?” She leaned forward so her elbows rested on her knees and waited for Steve and Darcy to meet her gaze.

They both nodded, cowed beneath their friend’s Agent Carter glare.

“It is a tragedy that we lost Bucky, but I'll be damned if either of you belittle his sacrifice with your guilt,” she continued over Darcy’s small whimper of pain, “He knew the dangers of joining the Commandos, just the same as you and the rest of the team. But he fought alongside you both because he loved you and wanted to keep you safe, just as he did in Brooklyn.” Her mouth quirked with a brief moment of fond amusement as she recalled stories that she had been told about the trio causing a ruckus in their hometown. The smile was gone in a flash, and it broke Steve’s heart to see it go.

Peggy turned her hard gaze to Darcy, “ No one blames you, Darcy, for not knowing every little detail about this war. You were learning about a war that was far in your past, and you had no reason to even fathom needing to memorize every detail, especially about a covert ops team whose missions are beyond classified. This is your present now and you cannot think you are omniscient, Darcy. Though you may be superhuman, you are not, in fact, a god.

“You both are grieving, we all are. But you both dishonor Bucky by blaming yourselves. Don't do that to his memory.”

Steve took a moment to let Peggy's words sink in his mind and heart alongside his grief. He knew she was right, knew that Bucky would tear him a new one if Steve didn't get his act together and keep on fighting. Not to mention what his best friend would do if Steve didn't take proper care of Darcy.

Darcy fidgeted in his lap, trying and failing to duck her head away from Peggy’s commanding words before she slumped forward with a sigh. Steve pulled her tighter to his chest in response. He could practically hear the denial still ricocheting in Darcy’s head, but it was growing fainter by the moment. Steve pressed a kiss to Darcy’s temple then lowered his voice so only she could hear.

“Please don’t blame yourself, sweetheart,” he begged, “Don’t make me lose you to that guilt, not now. I can’t do this without you.” A couple tears fell from his eyes that they both ignored.

Darcy’s breath hitched with a suppressed sob, but she nodded through it. “I’m sorry,” she whispered back, “I’m so sorry. You won’t lose me, I promise, I promise Steve.”

They stayed entwined for another couple of minutes before they simultaneously pulled back from one another, though they didn’t leave the circle of each other’s arms.

“What do we do now?” Darcy looked between Peggy and Howard, desperate for answers, a mission, anything. Steve felt his own emotions echo hers.

“For now, you rest,” Peggy ordered with fire in her eyes, “You gather yourselves, forgive yourselves, and only then will you fight again. Then we will tear Hydra apart limb from limb. Understood?”

Steve and Darcy’s smiles were grim and feral things as they responded together, “Yes, ma’am.”

* * *

December 29th, 2016

Steve didn’t bother to quiet his footsteps as he made his way to the room Sam and Bucky shared since he knew that everyone in the safe house was awake right now. How could they think to sleep with Jane crying like she was? Not to mention that Thor’s grief had brought down a rainstorm like no one had seen in years, thunder shaking the foundations of the house as lightning lit up the entire city. Not that Steve could blame them; he had watched Darcy write that journal entry and it tore him to pieces then and every day since.

Bucky’s pain had followed him around the house like a dark cloud, burying him beneath the memory of his fall that day seventy-two years ago. It was an old wound for some time, but now the scar tissue had been torn open to bleed anew.

Steve let himself into his best friends’ room and his heart broke (for what felt like the millionth time) at the scene in front of him. Bucky was curled into himself in the center of the bed, resting his head on Sam’s lap. Sam leaned against the headboard and kept a hand running soothingly through Bucky’s hair while his free hand held his boyfriend’s metal one.

“Hey, Steve,” Sam called softly, “How you holding up?”

He rounded the other side of the bed and sat gently on the bed beside Sam as he replied, “As okay as I can be, I suppose.” Steve looked down at his oldest friend and placed a hand on his shoulder, “Talk to me, Buck.”

His friend just shrugged his shoulders the smallest amount, but didn’t say anything. His face was carefully blank, though his eyes were almost overflowing with sorrow.

Sam tugged gently at the hair that was threaded between his fingers, “Hey, don’t shut us out. Not now, Bucky.”

He hesitated another couple of moments, but eventually Bucky did speak. “Can’t stop remembering the look on her face, your face,” he rasped, “Moment she realized I was going to let go I swear I could hear her heart break.”

Steve didn’t say anything, instead just holding onto Bucky’s shoulder tighter as his friend continued.

“I don’t regret it, not for one second. That busted wall wasn’t going to hold the three of us, and I couldn’t bring you two down with me.” Bucky’s breath hitched with emotion but he plowed through it, “But I hurt her, Stevie,” he whispered, “Hurt my baby sister, and I hurt you. I knew when I got drafted I probably wasn’t going to come home, but I didn’t think I’d break her heart like that myself.”

The memories of Darcy after Bucky’s fall swam in front of Steve’s eyes and he had to swallow down his own grief that they brought up. In the days following Bucky’s fall Darcy kept fighting, kept protecting Steve and her team, but she was so goddamn empty. It was as if watching Bucky fall had taken the life right out of her. There were other moments where Steve could have sworn that Darcy was filled with nothing but grief-fueled rage, when she tore through enemies like an avenging angel heedless of her own pain.

The memory of Darcy’s broken voice crackling through the Valkyrie radio as he took down the plane tried to fight its way to the surface of Steve’s mind but he shoved it down. He couldn’t think of that right now.

Bucky’s voice brought him back to the present, “I fell from the train yesterday, and you’re going down in the plane in about a week. Darcy’s got nothing but pain right now. Then when she comes back, whenever the fuck that his,” Bucky spat, “she’s coming into this mess we’ve made of the world. She’s not going to be ready for the shit that’s going down now.” He huffed, “We’re dragging her from one war right into another.”

Steve couldn’t argue Bucky’s point so he tried to add a little light to Bucky’s perspective instead, “But she’s also coming back to us, Buck, her family. Not to mention, she’s gonna find out Tony’s her Dad. Talk about a surprise, right?” The lilting tone fell a little flat but it did it’s job in making Bucky smirk, if only for a moment.

Bucky’s face fell after what felt like only half a second. “She doesn’t know I’m alive, Stevie, and that’s going to be tearing her apart.”

They had figured it out shortly after Bucky came in from the cold, Natasha and Vision going through security tapes and talking amongst the team, but it was soon realized that Darcy hadn’t learned about Bucky’s survival as the Winter Soldier. Steve and Bucky had been incredulous at the information since they knew that Darcy was with Jane and everyone else when Natasha leaked the files.

Natasha had just shook her head and laid it all out for the pair, “Darcy and Jane were in Denmark for a lecture when JARVIS got told them about Hydra, then girls got drunk and slept the whole way back before he told them everything, since his primary mission was to get them to safety rather than share intel. Tony spilled the story to Thor on the plane ride, so he knew. Then when they all finally made it back to the labs, Darcy left to get them all coffee while Bruce told Jane what they missed. When Darcy got back, it was just in time for Thor’s magic to send her to you.”

Steve watched from the corner of his eye as Sam clutched Bucky’s metal hand a little tighter. “It’ll work out, Bucky. I won’t lie and say it’ll be alright and fine and dandy,” Bucky smiled a little at Sam’s tone, “but it’ll work out. You guys are stubborn as hell.”

Sam looked to Steve next, “When did you go down in the Valkyrie?”

“The sixth,” Steve replied.

“Shit,” Same breathed, “That’s, what, nine days after Bucky’s fall?” He shook his head when Steve just shrugged in response. “Poor girl,” he muttered as he ran his hand though Bucky’s hair once more, “But she’s got you two mooks and the rest of the Avengers waiting for her when she gets back, Darcy will be okay.”

Steve nodded in agreement even though his heart wasn’t entirely certain on his friend’s reassurance. He could only dare to hope Sam was right. Letting silence take over the room once more, Steve laid down on the bed next to Bucky and just let his best friends’ presence comfort him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

January 3rd, 1945

Steve was caught somewhere between fear and awe as he watched Darcy fight three Hydra operatives at the same time, unable to stop himself from thinking back on the first fight they got into in ‘42 in a dirty alley back in Brooklyn. Darcy’s cloak mirrored the way her dress had arced around her as she fought, swirling almost too fast for Steve to see as his girl swung at each assailant. The batons in her hands never seemed to stop spinning, a blur of black metal that sparked dangerously on each end. She was beautiful like this, and that wasn’t something Steve could even try to deny, no matter how much he hated to see Darcy bloody her hands like the rest of them.

What caused Steve’s heart to break over and over again was the absolute blank expression on her face as she delivered each blow. (He didn’t know if was better or worse than when Darcy’s face was twisted with rage, though. He just wanted her to stop hurting.)

With a well-aimed throw, Steve’s shield took out two of the three Hydra agents as Darcy’s baton found its mark in the third’s juglar. All three fell to the ground with a simultaneous thunk that Steve probably would have found comical in another life. As it was, Steve kept his face neutral when Darcy whirled around to face him.

“I could’ve handled them by myself,” she told Steve. There was her usual fire in her voice but her eyes showed him how tired (of the war, of fighting, of everything ) she truly was.

“I know you could’ve, sweetheart, but it doesn’t mean you have to.” Her shoulders sagged at his slight admonishment, the words that echoed Bucky’s from whenever Steve and Darcy got into a scrape and he decided they needed another lecture.

Just because you two are a coupl’a punks who think they’ve got the world on their shoulders doesn’t mean you’ve gotta carry that burden alone, he would sigh, the words long practiced and familiar, When are the two of you gonna learn that you don’t have to take the world on your own?

Steve shook off the ghost of his best friend and instead focused on Darcy, who was busy patting down the bodies surrounding her. “Base is clear,” he reported, knowing that she was listening despite her activity, “No sign of any new weapons development or prisoners. No sign of Schmidt ever being here, either,” he sighed.

Darcy’s shoulders tightened up, but other than that small movement she didn’t respond to his words. That didn’t stop Steve from feeling the anger and disappointment radiating off of her in waves, though. He knew her far too well for that.

He bent down and grabbed his shield to hoist it onto his back as he made his way to Darcy. She had stopped searching the bodies for anything damning enough to lead them to Red Skull and instead had dropped her head to her chest, breathing deeply with her eyes closed.

Darcy tensed when he placed a gloved hand on her shoulder, but fell into his embrace only a moment later. Steve wrapped his arms around her small frame and tucked her in tight to his chest, sighing as he felt the tension drain from Darcy’s mind and body.

“You can’t keep doing this to yourself, sweetheart,” he murmured, “Can’t keep running yourself ragged like this, can’t just jump in head first without a plan.”

Like he had hoped, Darcy snorted a laugh, “Yeah, because you’re such a paragon of ‘think first, act later.’”

Happy just to see his girl smile, Steve began guiding Darcy out of the room she had been pinned in so they could meet back with the rest of the team back in the center of the base before they blew it sky-high.

“I like to think I’ve matured in my old age,” he teased, pleased as punch when Darcy chuckled at him once more and burrowed closer into his side.

“Sure you have, Steve, you’re definitely not still the little punk I met back in Brooklyn.”

He pressed a hand to his chest in mock-hurt at her dry sarcasm, “Sweetheart, how could you say such a thing?”

Darcy smacked him in his stomach with the back of her hand, and he let out a theatrical oof to get her to laugh a third time. It was the most she had smiled in what felt like an eternity.

“Don’t worry, Darcy,” he assured her, “We have the rest of our lives to make sure I mature into something respectable, one day.”

Something dark and sad flickered through Darcy’s eyes but was quickly replaced by her smile, the one that reminded Steve of sunshine and a dirty too-small apartment in New York, the one he hadn’t seen in what felt like a lifetime. It was a little ragged and tight around her eyes, but it was the best damn thing Steve had seen since he joined the damn army.

Darcy took his moment of surprise to stand on her toes and drag his face down to hers, pressing a fierce kiss to his lips.

“The rest of our lives, huh?” Her breath hitched slightly when they parted, but Steve could hear the smile in her voice, “I like the sound of that.”

* * *

Darcy was thanking whatever gods were listening for the abandoned cabin they found that night. They had been backpacking through miles and miles of forest in France for what felt like months, though was truly only hours, as they put distance between themselves and the destroyed Hydra base.

It had been weeks since they had anything even vaguely resembling a roof over their heads and the excitement and relief was almost palpable in the air surrounding the Commandos as they secured the area.

The cabin was a decent size, two stories  and amazingly still in one piece. It was surrounded by acres of lush forests and small intermittent clearings. The only way in and out of the hidden property (besides from how they stumbled in from the wild) appeared to be a dirt path on the other side of the property that was overrun with bushes, revealing just  how long it had been since anyone had stepped foot in the area.

The team regrouped after their perimeter check, falling into formation as Steve led the Commandos into the house with Darcy taking up the rear, her eyes on the tree line in the distance. The area was safe, she knew, but she had seen too much to become complacent now.

NatNat would kill her if she did. Not to mention how heartbroken Jane would be if she got taken out so easily after everything she had been through.

Pushing the thought of her friends to the back of her mind, Darcy swept the area once more before joining everyone else inside. Immediately, a smile stretched its way onto her mouth.

Jones and Morita were tearing through the drawers and laughing with delight as they found can after can of non-perishable food. Sure, it was mostly beans and the like, but Darcy knew they would all gladly take a bullet in the foot rather than eat another C-Ration given the chance.

Dernier was pulling open the doors on what looked like a china cabinet,fake-tearing up when he found bottles of wine inside.

Merci putain seigneur, ces bâtards avaient bon goût,” he exclaimed with glee, and everyone snorted in amusement at their friend as he cradled a dusty bottle to his chest like a baby.

Dugan and Falsworth came back through the kitchen doorway with grins stretched wide on their faces.

“You fuckers won’t believe our luck,” Dugan laughed, “But none of us sorry bastards will be sleepin’ on the floor tonight! There’s couches and cots in the main space down here,” he cast a sly look at Steve who had propped himself against the wall next to the kitchen table, “And even a bedroom with a door on it for the Captain and Ghost upstairs.”

Everyone whistled and catcalled at the way Steve’s face blushed (no matter how much time he spent around these foul-mouthed fools, he could never could get control of that blush) and the way Darcy leered at him. Snagging the bottle from Dernier’s hands Darcy walked with determination out of the kitchen and called to Steve over his shoulder.

“You going to make me take care of myself? That’s not the way you treat a lady, Steve.”

In a flash, Steve was lifting her into his arms and carrying her up the rickety stairs with ease, neatly stooping to avoid the low ceiling all while pressing wet kisses to the side of her neck. Before Darcy had even fully registered her rapid change in altitude, there was a slam of a door and she was dropped none-too-gently on the threadbare mattress that seemed to take up a majority of the small bedroom. In the periphery of her mind, Darcy catalogued the dark rafters that laid at an angle above them, the spiderwebs that haunted the corners, and the faint musky smell that she associated with stale air.

None of that mattered, however, when Steve was looking at Darcy like she was a meal spread before a starving man. He began removing his uniform with jerking motions, as if he couldn’t get out of the damn thing fast enough but couldn’t be bothered to make sure he wasn’t breaking every clasp and buckle as he did so. Finally getting with the program, Darcy began yanking her own gear off unceremoniously as she returned Steve’s heated gaze. Once Darcy was completely bare and exposed to Steve who still--for whatever reason--had his pants on, he crawled onto the bed and covered her body with his own.

The rough slide of his tac-pants against the soft skin of her thighs caused Darcy to gasp, and the feeling of his large, calloused hands running over her body made Darcy moan so loudly she was sure the team downstairs had heard it.

(Not that she had it in her to care, of course. There were only so many luxuries in war, and privacy sure as hell wasn’t one of them. Darcy and Steve didn’t really enjoy making their teammates uncomfortable by letting them hear something so private, but they made do. Fortunately, no one seemed willing to give them shit about it, so they tried to be quiet when they could.)

Steve used one hand to wrench Darcy’s thighs further apart and used the other to dive between her legs with no hesitation. He groaned at the wetness he found there, and Darcy let herself have a moment to be smug that she was able to pull these reactions out of him. In another life (another time), Darcy would have been self-conscious of herself: They hadn’t been to base in weeks, spent hours hiking with fifty pounds of gear, and their only baths came from murky creeks they stumbled upon as they walked. Her underarms and legs and pussy hadn’t seen a razor in months, but Darcy couldn’t care. All of that seemed petty and a waste of energy when they spent every day fighting for their lives. It was far more important that she kept her skills as a soldier honed instead of wasting time and energy to fret about her vanity.

And judging by the way Steve was rubbing his erection against her leg as he worked his fingers inside of her? Darcy didn’t think Steve gave a damn either way.

She let all other thoughts go as he brought her off, quick and rough the way she craved it, pouring his love into her ear that was at odds with the way he growled out the words. Before Darcy could even catch her breath Steve flipped her over onto her stomach and she moaned in anticipation as she heard his pants finally hit the ground.

Darcy twisted her fingers in the musty sheets as Steve propped himself over her body on one elbow, the heat of him causing a fine sheen of sweat to break out along her skin. His right hand roamed her hips up to her shoulders and back down again as he settled himself between her legs, spreading them apart further with his knee. Darcy lifted her hips slightly as he moved, silently begging him to get on with it. Thankfully, Steve was good at taking directions.

He plunged into her roughly and immediately set a breakneck pace that had Darcy writhing and scrabbling at the sheets beneath her. In an attempt to keep her from moving, Steve settled as much weight as he dared onto her, effectively pinning her to the mattress as he moved inside of her with thrusts that were just this side of brutal.

She loved it like this: Steve covering her with his massive body that made her feel so small and safe in his embrace and holding her to him as if he was scared she’d vanish in an instant (a fear she shared but wouldn’t voice),  making love in such a way that Darcy felt it all the way down to her soul. She’d gladly live out eternity in a moment like this, she thought on more than one occasion, on the precipice of ecstasy and infinity with Steve until they shattered into a million pieces as it overwhelmed them.

All thoughts flew from her mind as Steve guided his hand down between her stomach and the bed until his deft fingers found her clit. It only took a moment and a harsh command to come before Darcy climaxed once more with a scream of Steve’s name. He kept moving for only a handful more moments before he followed her over the edge with a reverent call of her name..

They barely separated before sleep welcomed them both with open arms.

* * *

Darcy woke up to the feeling of a cold rag being dragged across her skin. From the way the large swaths of her skin tingled slightly she had to assume that Steve had been at it for some time before she stirred awake. She would have objected to the shock of the cold if she wasn’t relishing in the fact she was getting clean.

“Baby, please tell me I’m not dreaming and that you’ve got more water where that came from? I need to wash my hair so badly.

Steve huffed out a laugh, “You’re not dreaming, sweetheart, the fellas brought up some buckets of water from the well for us and found some soap, too.”

She groaned in a way that was probably a touch too obscene for Steve washing off the weeks of grime off of her back, but she couldn’t find it in herself to be self-conscious.

“If I didn’t know any better, I would think that you’re liking this a heck of a lot more than what we did a couple of hours ago.”

It was Darcy’s turn to laugh as she rolled onto her side so she could get a better look at her love. He sat cross-legged on the bed at her side, and the sight of his large bulk of body folded up so small made her memory flash to Steve sitting the same exact way before the serum. She sometimes missed the way he was before, the way she fell in love with him, but she would trade that a million times over to never see him sick again. She and Bucky had spent far too many nights at his bedside praying for a miracle for her to take his new health for granted. And it wasn't as if she didn't love him as he was, super soldier and all, but she did at times have a pang in her heart when she couldn't wrap her arms fully around him like she once could. She shook that errant thought that out of her mind and remind herself that Steve was whole and healthy now, superhuman and a hero, and Darcy couldn’t thank their lucky stars enough for that blessing.

He would need the strength the serum would grant him in the coming years (decades), anyways.

“What are you thinking about?” Steve murmured, never stopping the movement of the rag as he wiped her down. Her cheeks warmed at the intimacy of the action, so she focused instead on his question.

“Thinkin’ about you,” she replied honestly, “About before and now. About the future.”

He hummed in response as he re-wet the rag in the bucked she assumed was sitting behind him on the floor. She shivered as he brought it back to her and ran it down her legs.

Maybe it was something about the hypnotic movement of his arms, the way he watched her with gentle eyes but never missed a damn thing, or maybe it was the way he didn't push for her to say anything had her spilling out her fears.

“I'm forgetting more and more,” she blurted, though she kept her voice soft to match the atmosphere around them. “I never knew a whole lot about this war. It wasn't ever something I was interested in, but I at least knew some things. But now,” she couldn't look at Steve, but she rested her hand on his knee for comfort, “Now it feels as if I know less and less. Whenever I try to remember something, whatever sent me back is blocking me. I can't remember what comes next.”

To his credit, Steve didn’t stop his ministrations or interrupt. He just listened to her with his usual calm understanding. He waited another few moments before he was sure that she wasn't going to say anything else.

“Does it matter, though? Since all of what we do is classified? It’s not as if what we do is common knowledge, right?”

She shook her head. “Some of it becomes declassified in a couple decades. Not all of it, but enough. Enough that I should remember.”

Darcy finally brought her eyes to meet Steve's after denying herself so long. I didn't remember Bucky's death, she wanted to say, so how am I supposed to remember yours?

She knew he had to go into the ice, has to be presumed dead until he's discovered and thawed out in 2012. But she can't remember when. Was it tomorrow? Three months from now?  What was the name of the plane? When was he going to jump in that plane and leave her behind?

The selfish part of Darcy demanded to know what happened to her after he was lost. Would she stay behind and rot away after the War?

The dark part of Darcy whispered that maybe she didn’t make it out of this mess, that maybe she was tossed back in time just to die.

Darcy shoved that needling voice to the back of her mind and under tons of denial and whatever small bundles of hope she still had buried away somewhere back there. Steve seemed to read her thoughts easily on her face and must have realized that she was on the brink of panic, so he laid down at her side in order to draw her into his arms. Her skin broke out in goosebumps from the abrupt change from the cold water and air around them to Steve’s furnace-like warmth, but she relished in it all the same.

“No one expects you to know everything, sweetheart, least of all me. You’re absolutely blameless in this.”

His vehemence was something Darcy hadn’t realized she needed and her body sagged in response. Her tension drained from her muscles even though her mind was still frantic.

“I couldn’t save him,” she couldn’t help but whisper, “What happens if I need to save you?” She knew that she couldn’t, no matter how hard she tried. That in order for her world to be born Steve would have to leave his own, and everyone he cared for, behind.

It didn’t make her beg the universe for a different path any less, though.

At the mention of Bucky Steve had tensed and pulled her impossibly closer until she thought that they would fuse together to form one entity. It was a gesture of comfort for Steve, just as much as it was for Darcy.

“Do not think for one moment that his death is another weight you have to carry on your shoulders.” Darcy startled at the steel that laced his soft spoken words, “You were thrown back in time, Darcy, and you’ve just keep getting thrown from situation to situation ever since. This is an impossible life you’re living, that we’re living, and that would hold true even if we weren’t at war.” He took a deep breath, cupping Darcy’s face with a hand so she had no choice but to look into his eyes as he continued.

“If anyone else dies, that’s not on you,” Steve insisted, “Anyone gets hurt, that’s because we’re on the front lines and it’s to be expected. It’s a war, doll, no one’s making out of this unscathed.”

It shouldn’t have been comforting at all, but Darcy’s war-weary mind found solace in it regardless. She let herself begin to succumb to sleep once more as Steve ran his gentle hands over her in a soothing motion. As her eyelids fell for the final time she heard Steve whisper again, words that she forgot as soon as they reached her ears.

“But if you die, Darcy, that’s on me.”

* * *

January 3, 2017

Looking at the scattered copies of the Lewis/Ghost file on his desk, Thorne felt himself build up with rage once more.

Randolph had been wrong about Jane Foster’s solitude in Canada and paid for it with his life. Oh, yes, he was technically alive in a coma that was saving him by some miracle, but he might as well be dead. Thorne couldn’t find the energy to go kill the idiot himself, though, no matter how badly he wanted to.

They had lost their opportunity to kill Foster which would have been the first domino that would tear down the Avengers in its wake. Instead, the Hulk had killed all of Thorne’s best operatives that he had sent on the mission, forcing him to drag the bottom of the barrel for replacements.

He was so close to tearing everything apart, but without Foster dead Operation Ghost was missing it’s catalyst. Now the woman was in the wind with the rest of the Avengers and Thorne’s intricate design for their downfall was ruined. He couldn’t help but to think that the Watchdogs had missed their chance.

Thorne had anticipated that the reveal of Darcy Lewis to be Iron Man’s daughter would have endeavored more people to the Watchdogs’ side (because surely the public wouldn’t want more of these abominations wreaking havoc?), but was proven horribly wrong when the public ate the story up with the same fervor as they did any other celebrity gossip. The public now saw Iron Man as ‘relatable,’ and the romanticism of finding a long-lost daughter was humanizing the bastard, and by association, the rest of the Avengers.

It made Thorne sick.

These ‘heroes’ were nothing but agents of chaos and death who had too much power at their disposal, but the average citizen was too blinded by their ‘otherness’ to see it. Whatever momentum the Watchdogs had been gaining prior to the reveal had been lost. Thorne lost his chance turn the Avengers against one another, and the public wasn’t about to turn away their new favorite father.

In his anger Thorne slammed a meaty fist against his office window, watching in fascination as a spiderweb of cracks spiraled out from the point of contact. He couldn’t be bothered by the destruction, too busy searching his mind for another opportunity to take out those he had sworn vengeance on years ago.

How could it be that something so simple as a DNA test had changed the tide of the war? Before, the outcry and demand for heads after New York, D.C., and Sokovia was astounding. The public was determined to bring down their former heroes, to drag their names and bodies through the mud and blood so that they could see the damage they had done. Now? Now it seemed as if the people were determined to turn a blind eye to it all. The world governments weren’t turned so easily, but what could they do, really, without the support of their people?

Thorne’s original plans were scrapped. His plan to frame the UN bombing on the Winter Soldier fizzled out and died a whimpering death when the Avengers failed to react to the evidence.His next  meticulous plan to pick off the team members and the ones they loved one by one had disappeared into ash and smoke, leaving him floundering for a new angle. He needed to tear the Avengers apart, to protect the world from their destruction. Everyone was just so blind to what was so clearly in front of them --

His eyes snapped open when the idea came to him: Thorne would force them to see the truth.

He would also make sure the Avengers were at the epicenter of the blast, forcing them into the light so that their sins could be seen by all as they scrambled to save themselves.

He spun to his desk and gathered the Lewis file into one of his large hands as he called out to his second in command  who was stationed in the hall. Within a moment, Mara Gerke was standing at attention in front of his desk.

She was an intimidating woman, Thorne could admit. She stood at just about six feet tall with corded muscles roping around her limbs under deceptively soft tan skin. Her soft mouth and dark green eyes were almost cherubic in nature, contrasting her razor sharp cheekbones and the harsh lines of her eyebrows that made her appear as if she were constantly scowling. He knew better than to underestimate what little delicacies Gerke showed, like the floral sundress she wore and the pale pink of her lipstick. Her feet were covered in heavy combat boots and there was undoubtedly an entire arsenal of weapons hidden on her person that she would not hesitate to use if she felt threatened. Gerke was also a true believer of the cause, willing to risk life and limb for the Watchdogs.

“We are launching Operation Ghost ,” Thorne told Gerke without deigning to look at her, “We will spread the information across every paper, news station, and every part of the internet so that the world will see just what filthy secrets the Avengers have been hiding. You will lead trails of data for the Avengers to follow, so that when they scramble to protect the girl, they will be exposed for our soldiers to attack.” Thorne paused for a moment, considering his options before speaking again, “The property I own in Germany, that abandoned airport will work perfectly for our plans.”  He made sure to keep his voice light while not letting the steel behind the command be misunderstood.

If Gerke was shocked by the order she did not let her face betray her, “It will take a couple of weeks to make those kind of preparations, sir, with our limited resources.”

Thorne leveled a glare at Gerke and was pleased to see her face pale slightly in response. “You have days. ” Gerke simply nodded at his command and promised that she would get it done before disappearing from his office.

He would be damned if he drew out this game any longer, he decided. He would hit the Avengers hard where it would hurt the most and then tear them apart limb from limb as they scrambled to save themselves.

With a feral smile born of desperation and madness, Thorne looked down at the smiling photograph of Darcy Lewis in his hands.

“You’re time is running out, my dear. Your heroes will not save you now.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

January 4th, 1945

Steve took a deep breath in time with Darcy as he laid on the bed behind her. She sat in the window of their small room of the cabin and watched the sun rise, letting her legs dangle in the air below her. The heat from Steve’s body warmed her back despite her new perch, seeing as the bed was only a meagre few inches from the window, as the air chilled her front.

Steve watched as she stretched her legs out in front of her as she drew her arms over her head and admired just how stunning she was. War had not been kind to any of them, that was true, but Darcy was still the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Whether she was covered in blood as she tore through her enemies or she was naked as the day she was born sitting on the windowsill (shameless, always so shameless) , it didn’t matter; he knew that he’d never see anything so beautiful ever again.

Steve’s eyes roved over every inch of Darcy’s skin that he could see as it glowed in the emerging sunlight. It was just as smooth and pale as when they began the war, a fact that seemed to surprise him even after all this time. The pair of them had been spared any scars from their injuries thanks to the serum, but it didn’t mean they were going to walk away clean. He could still see the pain in her eyes just as he knew she could see it in his.

Her hair was a wild tangle of curls around her head and shoulders as it cascaded down her back, free from her braid for the first time in what Steve figured was weeks. After their wash-rag baths and their brief nap they had taken care to wash themselves once more, simply because they could. Darcy moaned out a few choice expletives when he helped her wash her hair. Steve couldn’t help but to smile and laugh at her little happy sighs as she worked a comb through her heavy hair, completely oblivious to the world around her. Having left her to her own devices, Steve had quickly washed their uniforms and every other article of clothing they had, not wanting to waste the opportunity when they had it. As the material swung gently from a quickly-rigged clothesline around the room and into the short hallway, Steve and Darcy continued to make love throughout the night. There was no telling when they’d get this type of privacy again, and he’d be damned if they didn’t take advantage of it.

Steve couldn’t help the little smirk that worked its way across his mouth as he watched Darcy stretch once more. She clearly was feeling a little sore and the darker and more possessive side of Steve preened at the knowledge. The blooming grin fell completely when he saw Darcy’s shoulders grow stiff with tension before shuddering. He barely caught the sound of her hitched breath before Darcy locked it all up and swallowed it down. Steve watched as she forced the tension from her shoulders and redirected it to where her hands gripped the edge of the window frame. Had he not been watching as it happened, Steve would never had noticed.

He knew that this wasn’t the first time she had stifled her pain and sorrow down like this. It certainly wasn’t the first time he had watched it happen, either, but it was the first that they’d been in a place where they could hash it out together. Every other instance had they’d either been in battle or surrounded by the Howlies, unable to find a moment to even hold one another close, let alone break down whatever walls Darcy was continually building around herself.

Giving up the ruse of sleep, Steve reached out and traced his fingers down his girl’s spine to gain her attention. Darcy turned and gave him a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. Before she could say anything Steve tugged on her elbow, silently telling her to join him on the bed. It took little effort to tangle their bodies together, something that was as natural as breathing even before Steve gained an extra foot of height and 150 pounds of muscle, so it was only moments until they made themselves comfortable.

It should have been arousing, Steve figured, to have all of their naked skin pressed against one another (who was he kidding, it almost always was), but he pushed the thought out of his mind and instead focused on what he needed to say. In his arms, Darcy tensed as if she knew where his mind was taking him. He spoke before she could try to deflect him.

“Were you ever going to tell me how much you’re hurting?” He asked. Darcy made an aborted movement to shrug her shoulders, the motion cut short by Steve’s exhausted sigh.

“Darcy, please,” Steve let every ounce of desperation bleed into those two words as he spoke against the soft skin of her forehead, “Let me in, sweetheart, let me carry some of the weight. I won’t--I can’t lose you to this.” Darcy began to tremble in his arms but refused to say anything, so he pressed further. “Why won’t you let me help, sweetheart? I love you, Darcy, don’t you believe that?”

He didn’t know if he had simply gotten through to her or she was just so tired of keeping up the pretense of ‘alright,’ or if it was the feeling of safety in his arms or the sanctuary of the cabin that gave her the confidence, but suddenly Darcy was breaking apart in his arms.

Huge, body wracking sobs tore through Darcy’s small frame as she finally, finally , let Steve see behind whatever defenses she had made herself. Darcy tucked herself impossibly tighter to Steve’s body, burrowing her face in the notch between his neck and shoulder as her fingers dug into his shoulders, trying to pull herself even closer as she cried.

Steve didn’t say a thing, just tightened his arms around her and let her break. He pressed kisses to the crown of her head and to her temple as he waited for Darcy to catch her breath. It took some time, and she definitely was not done crying, but just as suddenly as she had broke apart Darcy had begun to speak.

“I c-can’t do this ,” she hiccuped, “I know t-too much and not enough.” Steve felt his own tears roll down his cheeks, but he kept his silence and listened as Darcy continued to wail. “Why? Why me? Why send me back? I can’t change anything! I’m just forced to watch it all happen like a fucking ghost.” She spat the word out with such venom that Steve flinched the slightest amount.

She lost her voice for another couple of minutes to her sobbing until she forced the words out around her broken keening, “I don’t belong here, and I don’t belong in 2014 either. I’m a ghost there too.” Darcy’s voice wavered as she voiced her fears, “I don’t know how long I’ve been gone to them. Days? Years? What if it’s been more? What if I get sent back, and Jane’s eighty? What if everyone’s d-dead and gone?!”

Steve didn’t have any answers for Darcy even if she had wanted any from him. Instead, he continued to hold her close and rock her gently as she broke. Even with her face pressed against the skin of his neck he heard each muffled plea and sob that she pushed out around her cries. Darcy cried for her friends that she had been taken from in 2014, questioning all the while if they even would believe her if she got sent back.

( If, always if she made it back, Steve noticed, never when .)

She cursed the world for doing this to her, for using her like some sort of entertainment as she struggled to find her place in this time all while fighting for her life. She screamed out her frustrations at not being enough, unable to save Bucky and Erskine and every other casualty she saw. Darcy sobbed out her guilt for not wanting to return to her own time before they made it to the war and her guilt for wanting to run away from this mess as fast as she could, no matter how much she loved Steve. Every little fear and insecurity poured out of Darcy’s mouth as they laid there, every ounce of anger and shame and every other emotion that she had buried deep down was finally being brought to light.

They stayed like that for what must have been hours, Darcy falling apart at the seams with only Steve’s arms keeping her from disappearing completely. Steve cried silently with her all the while and continued to after she had finally exhausted herself and fell asleep.

He knew that she had been hurting all this time, but Steve hadn’t fully understood the scope of her pain until that moment. He buried his face in Darcy’s hair as his breath hitched, thinking of the weight of the burden she was carrying all this time. He hated himself for failing her so spectacularly.

With the early morning sun bearing witness, Steve whispered a promise into Darcy’s ear, completely uncaring if she was asleep at the moment. He’d just tell her when she woke and make the promise over and over again until she believed him.

“No matter what, Darcy, I will stay with you. ‘Til the end of the line.”

* * *

Outside, Dugan and the rest of the Commandos sat with their backs against the wall as they passed around some cigarettes and a bottle of wine. They had risen with the sun (their training unwilling to let them have a lie-in) and ate breakfast together just after sunrise while their Captain and Ghost got some much needed rest and privacy.

They didn’t realize what window they sat under, though, until Ghost’s sobs floated out into the air and fell down around them all. It was muffled, but the Commandos were able to piece together the whole damn story.

Dugan looked at the others, seeing his own dumfounded expression mirrored on theirs. Sure, they knew that Lou was ‘enhanced’ just like Rogers, but they never could have expected the full extent of her secrets. Running a hand over his face, Dugan let the shame and guilt creep up his spine and settle in his chest around his heart. They shouldn’t have stayed, they should have ducked away the moment Lou started crying, but him and the rest of the men were too shocked that she was even crying to begin with to do anything but sit around like a bunch of dirty eavesdroppers.

After taking a moment to realign everything he ever knew with this new information, Dugan pulled another cigarette from his pack and lit it. Without taking his eyes off the match in his hand he addressed his team with an order.

“To the grave, gentlemen.”

“To the grave,” they vowed simultaneously.

Taking a much needed drag off the smoke in his hand, followed by a pull from the wine Morita handed him, Dugan sagged back against the cabin wall and closed his eyes. He prayed for peace, even if it was just for that young girl upstairs who had lost so damn much.

The war couldn’t end soon enough.

* * *

January 5th, 2017

As he looked around at his gathered shield brothers and sisters, Thor couldn’t help but to spare a smile for them despite the grief that weighed heavy on his heart. Though no one was completely at ease, they had managed to spare one evening for joy. (It was especially needed, as the morrow brought the anniversary of Steve’s descent into the ice). Stark had succeeded in hiding them away in another one of his safe houses--this one in rural France that was built on top of the ruins of an old cabin, Thor had been told--as they ran from the Watchdogs once more. They were ‘following the data,’ as Natasha had said, silently following the trail of innocuous information that threatened to expose Darcy’s multitude of secrets to the world. They were being taunted, Natasha had told Thor, with this mundane information. Whoever was holding Darcy’s secrets ransom was lying in wait for them, it seemed.

It did not sit well with Thor, this hiding, but he knew that it was the only way to keep his lightning sister’s fate out of the hands of the evil-doers that haunted their every step. The team had also made a vow to shed as little blood as possible. Despite the harm they had caused with the bombings in Lagos and at the UN conference, the Avengers could not seek out their enemies. Too many people in power were calling for their arrests for them to make their own justice, let alone assist any government's attempts to do so. Thor’s mind understood, but it did not sit well in his heart.

Pushing the thoughts of violence from his head, Thor turned back to his gathered family. Despite the amount of room in their dwelling, he had noticed that everyone had begun to stay near one another as of late. It was a comfort, Thor knew all too well, to lean on those you trusted when it seemed as if the Fates were determined to tear you to pieces. Shaking the melancholy thoughts away once more, Thor pulled Jane closer to his side and smiled when she hummed in satisfaction.

The living room was full of life and noise as the team teased and shouted playfully at one another. At Peter’s insistence, a multitude of board games were acquired and a tournament of sorts had begun. It was one of the rare occasions that Son of Coul and his team shared their dwelling and it had made the evening that much more entertaining.

The Maximoff twins sat in the corner with the pair known as Fitzsimmons (Thor could not help but to be endlessly amused by their joint name, no matter how often he had heard it), playing what he assumed was a modified game of Jenga. Thor had played the game before with Darcy during one of Jane’s “Science! Benders,” and he was fairly certain that drones and lasers were not standard parts. Daisy, Natasha, Peter and May occupied a free area of floorspace nearby as they discussed various weapons and fighting styles over a game of Monopoly. Similar scenes repeated throughout the room as each team member competed good-naturedly with one another.

Thor had feared that the lies of Son of Coul’s death and survival would prohibit cohesion, but thankfully whatever animosity that may have prevailed between the two entities had dissipated, allowing all of the SHIELD agents and Avengers to act like old friends with one another. It was never completely smooth sailing, of course, not with this many bold souls sharing their space and their missions with one another, but they did well enough. They all fought for the same cause in the end.

What had started as protection for Darcy had evolved spectacularly into a mission to protect them all. The world they had promised to protect had begun to turn against them, fearful of the powers that had awed them not so long ago. Thor had known that it was a thankless job, what they did, but he never would have anticipated the situation they found themselves in.

Before Thor’s thoughts could bring him even more sadness, he felt a surge of magic bubble under his skin. He sat up straight at the shock of it, accidentally dislodging Jane and sending her tumbling to the floor with a yelp. He was about to apologize to his beloved when he noticed the silver light dancing along his hands. Everyone in the room had turned at Jane’s shout, their eyes wide with curiosity at Thor’s errant magic.

“Whats happening, Thor?” Jane whispered. While he may not have been the most skilled in the art of magic, it was unheard of for it to be out of his control. As he opened his mouth to answer a chill ran along his skin.

Thor’s brow furrowed in confusion as his magic continued to swirl along his hands. What did it mean? What was becoming of him? Just as he was about to slide into panic... something took residence in the back of his mind.

It wasn’t quite a voice, but it communicated well enough. It took a moment of contemplation before he recognized the entity. The Norns were communicating with him at long last.

Thor closed his eyes, letting their ancient power roll through his mind so he could understand them better. He opened himself completely to the Sisters and waited for their message. After what felt like no time at all, Thor’s eyes snapped open when he understood.

Steve and Bucky stood in front of him, Jane having retrieved them when she recognized the silver light from when Darcy was sent back in time. The two soldiers looked down at Thor with a mixture of hope and fear.

“The Norns have spoken to me,” Thor told them. He looked between the pair as a smile began stretching across his mouth. “Darcy’s return grows near. Within two days’ time, I believe.” His smile was blinding as he looked up at Steve’s face. “She is coming home .”

The shock of his statement seemed to throw the whole room into silence, though the joy and relief emanating from everyone was almost a tangible thing in the air between them all. Just as the silence was about to be shattered, Tony strode into the room with a grave expression on his face.

“That’s some damn good news, but unfortunately, we’ve got a problem,” with a distracted look toward the tablet in his hand Tony tapped the screen, resulting in an image of a large man being projected on the TV mounted on the wall. “This,” Tony gestured, “Is Michael Thorne. Businessman, ex-military--dishonorable discharge for beating the shit out of his CO, surprise surprise--and current leader of the Watchdogs.” His tone was nonchalant, but Thor could see the rage in his friend’s eyes. “Vision and I finally managed to track the trail of data to him. Well, one of his people at least. But based on this Gerke-person’s information, Thorne’s the one calling all the shots, and he’s the one who created Operation Ghost.

The joy from moments ago was completely decimated as Tony spoke, replaced by rage and the desire for vengeance from every person in the room. Thor barely noticed the rain coming down in sheets outside as Tony continued.

“Thorne’s been leaving a trail of data for us, hoping to lead us here,” the image of Thorne was replaced by a satellite image of what looked like an abandoned airport. “Clearly, he’s angling to trap us and launch an ambush. He’s been rounding up the troops and sending them to the surrounding area to lay in wait for us. Looks like the endgame is to pull a Natasha and dump all the data for the world to see.”

“Can’t you just hack him and delete everything he has?” Steve asked, desperation tinting his words the faintest amount.

Thor’s heart sank at Tony’s defeated expression. “I can’t,” Tony admitted, “Whatever he’s been leaking so far has been relatively useless, things about Darcy that can be found with a simple Google search or from what was leaked from her original file that got leaked with everything else back in D.C. He knows that we’re looking for anything on her, so that’s how he’s got us hooked. Everything else he has--Carter’s file on her, presumably--must be on an external drive and protected from wireless networks. Whatever he’s got planned, he’s keeping it close until the last moment. I can’t hack something that isn’t there.”

Before anyone could put forth an alternative, Tony’s defeated expression was quickly replaced by grim determination.

“But we can sure as hell go take it.” He began to pace in front of them all with a calm that Thor knew hid the storm beneath.  “Let him think we fell for the trap, yeah? Let Thorne think that he outsmarted the Avengers and SHIELD as we ‘scramble,’” Tony winked, “To save our skins and Darcy’s secrets. Play up the drama a bit.” Tony’s smile fell as he looked coldly into Steve’s eyes.

“Then we take them out.”

At Steve’s side Bucky’s eyes lit up at the idea, though the rest of his face was a blank and unreadable mask. The Captain himself seemed to struggle with himself before dropping his head to his chest with a sigh.

“We can’t just kill them, Tony,” he replied, as if the conversation was solely between the two rather than the whole team, “That makes us just as bad as them. We’re supposed to be heroes.”

Tony nodded along with his teammate, though he didn’t look swayed. “Oh, I know, Cap, I do. But even if we do try to bring them all in, I can’t guarantee it’ll work.” Without prompting, the image of the airport was replaced by security footage of at least a two hundred men loading all sorts of weapons--machine guns, grenades, everything --into the empty hangars. Thor gaped as the image switched again to see even more soldiers placing explosives at seemingly random intervals along the property.

Tony’s voice was cold as ice as the images continued to play behind him.

“The Watchdogs are terrorists, Steve. They’re not letting us walk away from this one, and as long as they take us out, they don’t seem to care if they walk away either.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

January 6th, 2017

The Jane from six years ago would have been wringing her hands nervously as she watched the Avengers arm themselves, undoubtedly rubbing her skin raw as she paced and tried to make sense of what she was getting roped into. She would have been intimidated by heroes and the sheer amount of weapons in front of her and not known what to do with herself as those who were far more deadly than her moved around with such self-assuredness and efficiency, leaving her to stumble behind in their wake.

But Jane was not the same woman she was six years ago. The woman from from that time, who first encountered Thor in the desert, would balk and gape at the Jane Foster who stood among Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Jane had seen gods fall from the sky, witnessed the Destroyer, survived the Battle of New York (even if she was squirreled away in Norway), the Aether, and Dark elves. During that time Jane Foster’s theories proved to be fact, her name became renowned in her academic field, and oh yeah, she fell in love with an Asgardian god/alien. She had always thought that part to be a happy side effect to everything else, though, second to her science no matter what the naysayers had said over the years.

The only thing that 2011 Jane Foster had that present Jane didn’t was her best friend.

Darcy had started out as an intern (hell yes for free labor, Jane had thought) who was just as ditzy and irreverent as Jane had anticipated. Darcy wasn’t an astrophysicist, didn’t have a clue what Jane was talking about most of the time, and always seemed to have her headphones in her ears as she puttered around the lab. Just a month into their working relationship, Jane had wondered how it was ever going to work out between them for the next five months. She was barely hanging onto her sanity as it was (battling for research grants, trying to let the criticism roll off her shoulders, holding onto her beliefs with both hands and refusing to let go) and she didn’t know if she could afford to have a lackadaisical intern distracting her every five minutes.

Jane hadn’t realized she was in the throes of a panic attack until she felt cool hands on her face and Darcy’s soft voice in her ear.

“...breathe, Janie, okay? Deep breath in, good, now let it out,” Darcy remained a calm anchor for Jane to grab onto for the next fifteen minutes as she waded her way out of her panic-filled mind. Once she ‘came to’ of sorts, she was wrapped up tight in her interns arms and being rocked gently.

“You back with me, Janie?” Darcy asked gently.

Jane had just nodded, unable to force words out just yet. Darcy had hummed in understanding and just continued to hold Jane as if it was the most natural thing in the world to cuddle your boss close after she had a breakdown. Jane was immensely grateful for the comfort, regardless of how it may have looked to an outsider.

Another few minutes had passed before Jane was able to disentangle herself from her intern with a sheepish expression.

“I’m so--”

“Don’t ,” Darcy chided, “Don’t apologize, Jane. You’re not the only person who has panic attacks, believe me. I’m just glad I was here to help.” She shrugged and smiled at Jane, genuinely unbothered by Jane’s attack.

“Well, thanks all the same, Darcy,” Jane murmured before yawning widely. Darcy had chuckled at whatever expression Jane had made before helping her up and pushing her out the door and toward her trailer.

“Take a nap, Boss-Lady, science will still be here when you wake up.”

Jane didn’t know what it was about that whole event that warmed her and Darcy to one another, but the older woman had found that in the next few days and weeks she and Darcy had become more like friends rather than boss and employee. They more easily traded personal stories with one another, laughing (and sometimes even crying) the time away while Jane’s machines ran their experiments. Darcy’s proficiency with machinery was just another thing that endeared Jane to her intern turned friend as time passed. When it was Jane’s turn to help Darcy through a panic attack of her own a few months later, by then Jane was ready to call the younger woman one of her closest friends.

When Thor fell from the sky and Darcy tased him, Jane knew she wasn’t letting the younger woman--her best friend--leave her side anytime soon.

Jerking herself back to the present moment Jane focused on the heroes and agents preparing for war in front of her. Oh, they were technically going to offer Thorne and the Watchdogs a chance to surrender, but no one was kidding themselves that they would take it. They had all seen the footage of what laid in wait for them, after all. Jane looked at the grim expressions that surrounded her and sighed. Would it be too much to ask for them not to have to fight every day of their lives? They, more than most, deserved some peace. But then Jane looked between Steve and Bucky and the silent conversation taking place between them before coming to a realization.

For them, at least, this was the fight that would grant them peace. Perhaps not forever, but for a while. And really, Jane surmised, that was all that any of them could even hope for with the lives they led.

Jane looked at the watch on her wrist and grimaced. Not much longer now. They had been planning  to go after the Watchdogs for the last twenty-four hours, but had decided to wait for the cover of night before they made their move. Jane was confident that they would take Thorne’s forces easily but she refused to voice that opinion, lest she jinx it. She did smile that time at the very Darcy-like reasoning. And just as quickly as the smile appeared, it fell.

Jane knew better than to get her hopes up about Darcy’s return. Yes, the Norns had assured Thor (and by proxy, everyone else) that Darcy would return the next day, but they were all too battle-worn to assume that things would be that easy. The Darcy they were getting back would not be the Darcy that was taken from them in 2014, for more reasons than Jane could care to count. She didn’t even want to think about what mental state Darcy would come back in, just over a week since Bucky’s fall and a day after Steve’s crash on the Valkyrie.

(They didn’t know if the timing was a blessing or a curse, honestly. On one hand Darcy’s pain would hopefully be short-lived, but on the other, they all had to wonder if it’d be better to have time to grieve. )

She--and the rest of their mixed-up mashed-up family that was Earth’s Mightiest Heroes--could at least rest easy that Darcy was being sent home as Thor had relayed. While they were hopefully cleaning up from the mess they were about to make of Thorne’s army, Darcy would be zapped back into Stark Tower. It was the last place Darcy had called home, and they could all make it back to her before she was alone for too long. Tony had FRIDAY monitoring the tower so they could all be made aware the moment Darcy arrived.

Natasha approached Jane with a small comm device in her hand and she nodded her thanks to the spy. Jane would be manning the computers from a nearby warehouse (though not too near to the future battle) and inform the team about any police or government-agency chatter FRIDAY could potentially intercept. Any stragglers or rouge Watchdogs would also be noted by Jane’s surveillance and she’d inform the closest Avenger. Once they were done duking it out with the Watchdogs, Jane would call the team back and stop FRIDAY’s jamming signals, letting the local police (and anyone else who might be watching) finally catch wind of what was going down at the old airport.

Then they would go back to New York to Darcy.

All of this was easier said than done, of course, but Jane had faith. Placing the small device into her ear, Jane made sure that it was working before turning to face the Avengers and the last of SHIELD. As if sensing her gaze, everyone stopped what they were doing and granted her their full attention.

Jane from 2011 would have pissed herself in terror at the intensity of all their gazes, but 2017 Jane knew that in all things ‘Darcy,’ she was the woman in charge. Having all these powerful people following her orders was a heady thing that Jane was sorry her past self missed out on. Shaking the thought from her mind, Jane made sure to meet everyone’s gaze before landing on Steve, flicking to Bucky and Tony all the while.

“Tear them apart,” she ordered, “Not only for Darcy, but for the rest of the world. The Watchdogs need to burn for what they’ve done .”

No one in the room looked to one another as they nodded their agreement and spoke simultaneously.

“Yes ma’am.”

With a grim smile, Jane nodded her thanks to the room at large then turned from the dining room-turned-armory of their safehouse. It was going to be ugly, but Jane had every confidence that her army could take out Thorne’s.

 

* * *

 

January 6th, 1945

It was time.

Darcy had been ignoring the gaps in her memory with a cool nonchalance that would make NatNat proud, but she couldn’t fight the facts in front of her.

Not when she was perched on the front of a Jeep next to Steve, the Valkyrie only a scant few feet in front of them as they raced across the tarmac.

Darcy cursed under her breath as she took stock of the frankly ridiculous situation she found herself in--time travel and super-serum aside. The plan to storm the base had been stupid and foolhardy, but just crazy enough it might work. Steve definitely seemed to only have one method of dealing with the enemy (head on and fists flying) but she couldn’t help but to admit that it had served them well.

Not all of us, an insidious voice in Darcy’s mind whispered as the image of Bucky falling the train car flashed behind her eyes, not all of us fare as well as the Captain does.

She pushed that sick and twisted and hurting voice out of her mind with everything she had, unwilling to let it take root inside of her. Darcy didn’t-- couldn’t --blame Steve for Bucky’s death and she never would. Her broken heart would just have to learn to move on without a scapegoat for her anger.

“Ready?” Steve shouted at her side, effectively pulling Darcy from her thoughts and drawing her focus to the mission at hand. Sloppy, sloppy, she chided herself as she nodded in response. Steve grabbed her left hand with his right as they both crouched on the hood of the Jeep in preparation to jump.

Darcy tried not to think of what she knew would happen on the Valkyrie in the next few minutes. However, whatever had blocked her memories before now let them roam free, relentlessly, crackling like white lightning across her mind. Without her consent every last detail she had forgotten about the war slotted into place and her memories of her future (her past?) became razor sharp in their clarity. She swallowed the lump in her throat as the memory of a video she had hacked from SHIELD in 2012 after the Battle of New York played across her mind as if she was witnessing it herself. The video contained security footage of a SHIELD lab, filled with dozens of harried agents and one stoic Phil Coulson as Captain America thawed from his icy tomb.

Alone.

She knew that Steve went into the ice alone; it was something she had known in 2014 and it was knowledge she had tucked away into her mind when she landed in his apartment in 1942, even if the magic that had sent her back had dulled and muffled it until it was nothing but an echo of its former self. It was an inevitable truth that Captain America went into the ice alone and woke up in 2012 impossibly more alone than before.

That wouldn’t stop Darcy from trying, though. She refused to lie down and accept what the universe had handed her; she’d take what she wanted, even if that meant she would to sleep for seventy years at her love’s side beneath the ice, everything else be damned.

Every muscle in Darcy’s body tensed and coiled in preparation to leap as Steve’s hand squeezed her own and held tight. She could feel his energy thrumming through him, though where she was filled with dread, Steve was practically overflowing with eager anticipation. When Steve squeezed her hand a second time, Darcy jumped with him with everything she had toward the Valkyrie in front of them.

It wasn’t enough.

In the mere second they were suspended in the air bullets rained down on them and tore the pair from one another. Darcy briefly registered the sound of shattering glass and the bang bang bang of bullets tearing through the metal of the Jeep behind them before she was thrown from Steve’s grasp.

Pain radiated from Darcy’s left hand, shoulder, and thigh, but it was soon eclipsed by the sensation of dropping into a windshield as shards of glass cut into every inch of exposed skin on her face, neck, and hands. The Jeep beneath her swerved violently and Phillips did his best to keep their pace, but the Jeep began to sputter and smoke and lose speed.

“No,” Darcy moaned around the pain blooming throughout her body and the emotions in her throat as she watched Steve clammer up into the Valkyrie , “No, Steve!” She saw him look back at her with a clenched jaw before he disappeared into the jet. There was a mission to compete, and the Captain knew that it was necessary for him to move forward.

As he turned, Darcy caught a flash of red on Steve’s right palm and knew that it was a bullet wound that matched the one on her left.

They shot our held hands , Darcy mused errantly as her left hand twitched, That’s how I fell. She couldn't help but to errantly wonder if it was symbolic of something but her rising panic stifled the thought.

She barely registered Peggy and Phillips’ attempts to staunch the bleeding of her many injuries as she fought to sit up on the mangled Jeep.

“Stand down , Ghost,” Phillips ordered, “You’re in no shape to go tearing off anywhere!”

Darcy only thrashed wildly (though weakly), barely managing to roll out from under their heavy hands and fell to the tarmac with a dull thunk.

“Need a radio,” she choked out, “Need to get to a goddamn radio. ” Her words slurred, though it was due to her breaking heart rather than the physical pain she was in. She’d been hurt worse in this war, and a few bullets and some glass shards were paling in comparison to the agony ripping through her soul. Darcy shakily pushed herself to her hands and knees but only could hold the position for half a moment before her body began to tremble with the effort. Thankfully, Pegs and the Colonel each took a side and hefted Darcy to her unsteady feet before she collapsed.

“No,” she mumbled, “No I need get--”

“--a radio, yes, I heard, Darcy,” Peggy’s voice was laced with exasperation and no small amount of concern but she didn’t falter in her steps as she helped Phillips drag Darcy toward the control room. “You’ll have your radio as long as you let us patch you up.”

Darcy couldn’t hear her friend’s assurances, desperately repeating need a radio need a radio over and over again. Her friends were wasting precious seconds as Steve flew the Valkyrie closer and closer to the ice.

She must have lost consciousness for a moment (or lost herself to shock more likely) because the next thing Darcy knew she was being gently sat in a chair and a radio was pushed into her trembling hands.

Darcy didn't bother to hide her trembling when Steve’s voice crackled over the radio calling mayday.

“Steve!” She cried, unable to say much else but his name, “Steve!”

“Sweetheart, Schmidt is dead but--”

“You can't control the plane,” Darcy finished for him.

The radio was silent for a moment too long before Steve replied, “You knew.”  It wasn't accusatory in the slightest, but Darcy still felt guilt rip through her like a serrated blade.

“I tried to change it,” she hastened to explain, “But nothing worked, I couldn't remember!” Darcy was openly sobbing into the radio, uncaring of the Commandos and Pegs and Howie who wer e stationed on the outskirts of the room. All she could think about was the ice rapidly approaching the man she loved.

“You talk in your sleep, Darcy, did you know that? You say the strangest things.” Steve chuckled morosely but quickly sobered.

Darcy stilled, unable to do anything but listen to Steve's breaths come over the line.

“One night, hell, it was back before I became a chorus girl, you talked about a man frozen in ice, about a man out of time.”

She cried. Huge wracking sobs shook Darcy’s body as she realized what Steve had learned.

“I thought it was just nonsense, but it wasn't, was it, sweetheart?”

The sound of the plane rushing toward the earth could be heard over the radio as Steve kept the line open.

“I love you, Darcy, and I’ll bring you home,” Steve shouted over the noise.

Darcy finally found her voice, “I don't know you then, Steve! I won't know you!” She choked on another cry as she clutched the radio in her hand, “I love you Steve, I love you I love you--”

“I love you, I promise I’ll find you! I'll bring you--”

She didn't know what she expected--perhaps the sound of groaning metal or Steve’s choked off breaths as water flooded the ship and his lungs--but the soft sounds of the radio static wasn't it.

Darcy couldn't help her pleading whisper even if she had tried.

“...Steve?”




Chapter Text

January 7th, 1945

Darcy hadn’t moved in hours.

She didn’t move when Steve’s voice stopped coming through the radio, nor when Peggy pulled the now-crushed device from her hand, and certainly not when Morita began patching up her gunshot wounds and pulling the glass from her already healing skin. She simply sat, still as a macabre china doll as the rest of the room broke into action around her.

Howard paced along the perimeter of the control room they made an impromptu control center as the rest of the Hydra base was getting catalogued by the SSR agents. It was just past midnight and they were still hauling tech and data--not to mention Hydra operatives--from hidden rooms all these hours later.

His skin crawled as he watched Phillips orchestrate the entire effort in a seat not too far from Darcy, calling orders to his soldiers with a new radio. Howard wanted to scream at the man.

Couldn’t he see how broken Darcy was, how shattered they all were? How could Phillips just sit there like their world hadn’t been ripped out from under their feet and turned upside down?

Howard didn’t want to hear Lou’s last call with Steve, didn’t want anyone to hear it, but everything had happened too fast for them to do anything more than stand around the control room in shock.

Steve was alive. Frozen and hidden away in the ice, but alive all the same. And if Lou was to be believed (and wasn’t she always? Howard would trust his granddaughter with his life, he’d believe anything she said) Steve would wake in Darcy’s time. Howard wanted to celebrate for the briefest of moments until Darcy’s sobs told Steve, told them all, that they didn’t know each other then. They were destined to be strangers to one another until Darcy’s future-self was sent back to 1942.

Howard’s head and heart ached with the knowledge of it all.

Closing his eyes, he thought of the mess they were in. As far as any of them could make out, Darcy was irrevocably stuck in the ‘past,’ with no way to go home. Her boys were lost to the War (and to fucking time itself it seemed), leaving her alone.

“She still has us,” Peggy’s soft voice at his side startled him. He hadn’t heard her walk up. “Darcy has us, and the Commandos. She is not without family in this time.”

He swallowed the lump in his throat before he spoke. “You do that a lot, ya know? Always knowing just what to say just as I’m thinking it. It’s spooky, Pegs.”

Howard’s teasing fell flat, he knew, just as he knew that Peggy was rolling her eyes fondly at him for his attempt.

“I’m a codebreaker, Howard, all my skills lie in seeing what others do not.” She paused for a moment, “That, and you are just incredibly easy to read, my friend.”

He huffed and opened his eyes as the smallest amount of smugness threaded through her words. “Yeah, well, guess I’m just not made for spycraft then. Drat,” he exclaimed with a dry humor that rewarded him with the smallest amount of a smile on Peggy’s mouth.

Sobering, he looked back to where Darcy was still frozen in her seat, neglected food and water at her side. Jones had tried to coax her to eat hours ago, with no success. They all knew of her enhanced metabolism and feared the hunger pains that were sure to be wracking her small body.

“Think we can get her to ourselves for a bit?” He asked Peggy, “Think she could do with some peace from all this chaos.”

Peggy hummed, “That would be wise, I believe.”

Together, the pair made their way across the room and stood next to their friend ( his only family, Howard’s mind reminded him). They made sure that their backs faced the rest of the room, shielding Darcy from everyone's concerned gazes. Howard wanted to kneel down, to try to get her to meet his eyes, but he knew that if Darcy was responsive she’d find the action patronizing as hell.

“Darcy,” Peggy called gently, “Darcy, can you look at me?” She tentatively put a hand on her friend’s uninjured shoulder and squeezed. She stepped closer to Darcy and Howard mirrored her. Perhaps if they formed enough of a barrier Darcy would feel safe enough to come out of the shock she had thrown herself into.

By some miracle, the action seemed to have worked. Darcy twitched the smallest amount then shook her head, as if to shed the fog from around her mind, before looking up to Peggy. All traces of grief and fear were pushed away and hidden behind the walls Darcy had created for herself throughout the war. Howard couldn’t blame her, of course, but he wished she would let them carry some of the load.

“What happens now?” Her voice was hollow, causing Peggy and Howard to flinch in response. If Darcy cared about their reaction, she didn’t let it slip past her mask.

“We keep going forward,” Howard sighed after a minute of contemplation, “Just as we always do.” He looked to Peggy for help. He loved Lou, he did, but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t shit at comforting her.

“The SSR will take all the intel from this base and use it to end the war,” Peggy told the younger woman. “We will hunt down the remains of Hydra, and the Nazis, then bring our soldiers home.”

Darcy nodded along with Peggy’s words, though she didn’t look convinced. “Not all of them,” she said a few moments later, “And it’s never really over, is it.” It wasn’t a question, just a statement of fact.

She was right, Howard knew. The soldiers going home have all left parts of themselves all over the European Theater, in trenches and battlefields and even bases like the one they stood in. Hell, even Howard who had not personally seen the front lines had seen enough to guarantee plenty of sleepless nights in the years to come.

None of this mattered to him, as horrible as it was. Howard’s main worry was what would happen to Lou in the coming days. Though Steve was gone, Phillips wouldn’t waste the opportunity to study a super-soldier in full now that the war was over. Darcy would become US government property and would be studied relentlessly. The government would want more of her, more soldiers like Steve , and they would do anything they could to fix it.

Blood and rage surged through Howard’s veins at the thought. He’d be damned if anyone laid a hand on his granddaughter. She’d been through too much already.

Darcy spoke just as Howard had opened up his own mouth, “You guys will protect them, right? Keep everybody safe?”

Peggy’s brow furrowed, not really following Darcy’s line of thought but willing to indulge her requests if it meant that Darcy wouldn’t fall back into shock. “Of course, Darcy, we will keep them safe. The SSR was made--”

“No,” Darcy cut across, “Not the SSR, not the US government. You. You and Howie.” Lou tilted her head back so that she could look Howard in the eye for the first time all night. “Bizzare things are coming and the world needs something more. Take it into your own hands, shield the rest of them from all the ugly.” Her words had begun to slur a bit with her exhaustion, but Howard understood well enough.

“I already told our Pegs here that I’m not cut out for this spy stuff, Lou, and you want me to, what, make some sort of secret organization?” He’d do it, of course, he’d do anything for her. He just wanted to make sure he understood completely before he did.

“Yes. That’s exactly what I’m asking, Howie.”

He let out a gust of air before nodding, “Alright, then. You up for it Pegs?”

“Are you serious, Howard? Just like that?” Peggy’s voice was incredulous, but Howard was very aware of the fact that she didn’t say no. He’d pocket that bit of information for later when she undoubtedly tried to protest the idea again.

“It’ll be good, Pegs. You, me, and Lou here making something from the ground up. We’ll make some good in the world.”

Just as Peggy opened her mouth to respond (either in protest or acquicise, Howard didn’t know) shots rang out on the tarmac below them.

All at once, the Commandos were pulling weapons from their holsters and making their way down to the fight. In their surprise at the attack, Howard and Peggy were bowled over by Darcy as she bolted from her chair.

“Lou! Get your ass back here!” Howard chased after her, but even with her injuries Darcy was far too quick for him and Peggy, “You’re going to get yourself killed!”

Darcy just looked at Howard over her shoulder with a resigned expression. And in that moment, he realized that she wouldn’t particularly mind if she did.

 

* * *

 

The serum was fighting like hell to close all her wounds, but without anything to eat for the last six hours and running down dozens of flights of stairs it didn’t stand a chance.

Darcy didn’t care, though, she couldn’t care.

What was left for her here, anyways? Steve was stuck in the ice and lost to her. Bucky fell from her grasp and was lost to her. Everyone was just lost.

Jane, lost. Thor, lost. Tony, Bruce, Natasha, Clint, Pepper; she’d lost all of them. And she wasn’t getting any of them back.

Tears threatened to spill from her eyes as she finally made it to the tarmac where the new battle was taking place. She didn’t know where all these Hydra goons had come from, but she’d take the fight for the reprieve that it was. Darcy pulled her batons from the holster on her back and let them spark dangerously around her.

When she fought, she didn’t have to think. Darcy could let instinct take over as she tore a path through the fray, letting her mind succumb to the haze. She didn’t have to remember how Steve was gone, or how she’d been left behind. She didn’t have to feel the heartache and pain that came with the memory of losing every person that she loved. She didn’t have to dwell on the injustice of it all.

Instead, Darcy could take solace in the fight. She smiled ferally through her tears as more and more people fell at her hands, never to get up again. Darcy hissed through her teeth as she felt a knife rip through the meet of her thigh but she simply let it bleed.

She didn’t want to die, not really. Darcy wasn’t going to just lie down and let her opponents take her down without a fight, but she wasn’t going to refuse if death came calling, either. Perhaps that made her weak, or cowardly. Perhaps that screamed of the result of the time she spent at war and the horrors she’d seen. She didn’t care what it said of her; Darcy just wasn’t interested in a world without her family, both past and future.

Darcy was too focused on the swing of her batons and the crackling electricity dancing between them to notice the new bout of chaos that had descended on the tarmac. It wasn’t until her newest victim fell to the ground--with her neck twisted at a very unnatural degree and burns wrecking her once pretty face--that Darcy clued into the change.

Chest heaving, Darcy turned over her shoulder and felt her eyes grow wide at the sight in front of her. She knew that silver-white light, but she couldn’t dare to hope what it’s reappearance meant for her now.

The light, arcing like something made of both lightning and smoke, creeped down from the clouds hovering low over the ongoing battle. Darcy felt goosebumps raise on her skin; last time she had seen this light it was wild and untrolled, but now the light appeared as if it was hesitant, as if it was looking for something.

Or someone, Darcy’s mind supplied. After all, last time she had seen it, she was blasted right to 1942 .

“Oh, shit,” she whispered. Whether she was cursing at the implications of the magic creeping through the air or at the fact that the Hydra goons had taken her pause for the opportunity that it was to keep fighting, Darcy didn’t have time to wonder.

The lightning snapped toward her, and Darcy very much felt like she was a mouse caught by a very large, snarling, predator. Her moment of shock had distracted Darcy, and she felt the sting of another bullet graze her right side as a consequence.

“Darcy!” Peggy’s voice was somehow heard over the cacophony of the battle (Howie’s cursing a faint companion) and seemed to only be coming closer as she continued to shout, “Darcy!”

No no no no no, Darcy’s mind raced. Hydra goons were closing in on her--they seemed to have come to the conclusion that if the bright, mystical light was seeking her out she must be valuable--and her two remaining friends were about to throw themselves into the fray in an attempt to help her. But there were too many people, too many enemies that would tear them apart before they even got to her side. She couldn’t let that happen.

So Darcy ran.

It wasn’t a graceful run. She was covered in blood and her body was riddled with bullet holes and other slowly-healing wounds that hindered her enough that there were only a few feet between her and the nearest enemy. Her muscles screamed in protest for what was perhaps the first time since she had been dosed with the serum, but Darcy’s fight or flight instincts just pushed her faster in response. She couldn’t afford to succumb to her fatigue now.

The small part of her mind that wasn’t focused on the fight at hand wondered if it was just sheer dumb luck that found Darcy at the edge of the tarmac--the part furthest from the control room--but with the way the light followed her she had to consider that she was dealing with something much more complex than that. Something that was probably a whole lot more powerful and sentient than mere coincidence.

When three silhouettes appeared just a few yards in front of her, Darcy just changed directions and kept on running despite the falter in her steps. There was something so very other about the shapes, as humanoid as they were. There was a feeling of ancientness that shot chills down Darcy’s spine, as did the heavy air around her that practically vibrated with the immense power the shapes radiated. Darcy didn’t know what these things were, but they certainly were not beings that she could take on in her current state, or any state for that matter.

She had only taken a handful of steps in her new direction before she was confronted with the beings once more. They were practically on top of Darcy now, and she half-wondered if she was imagining the feeling of impatience that seemed to fill the space between them. Before that thought could even begin to take root Darcy fully succumbed to her panic.

The silhouettes had trapped her. They had fanned out so that she could not change direction once more and made sure that she couldn’t turn around and flee the way she came since Hydra was still on her heels. Steve was gone, Bucky was gone. Darcy’s body was bleeding and battered and her spirit was just as mangled. She had no hope for getting any of her loved ones back. And now she fought her rapidly increasing exhaustion as these other-worldly things trapped her like a wild animal, to do god knows what with her once they had her.

The injustice of it all surged within her, using energy Darcy didn’t know she had left, and it burned.

Darcy swung her batons wide at the beings in front of her, twisting her wrists just so, and letting the full power of her weapons unleash. Darcy didn’t know what these things were, she didn’t know what would become of her in the moments to come, but she would be damned if she didn’t at least try to take these creatures down with her.

There was something that felt like satisfaction crackling through the air between Darcy and the light beings for only a moment before three pairs of arms reached out and took.

 

* * *

 

Darcy screamed.

She was trapped, held tight in the in-between by the silhouettes that had grabbed her.

Their light was now blinding, but Darcy couldn’t close her eyes against the onslaught.

Darcy was frozen, though her screams still escaped her ravaged throat and echoed endlessly in the small space between her and the creatures.

Any hope that this light was bringing her home, to the future, was extinguished when the pain started.

This wasn’t like the light that Thor had accidentally cast; this was older, and infinitely more powerful. It wasn’t cast with the same love and care.

It had a purpose, and Darcy’s comfort sure as hell wasn’t it. The beings gripped her tighter as she felt her feet leave the ground.

Darcy screamed

 

* * *

 

January 7th, 2017

Jane watched the Avengers with something that felt like glee. She was certain that Jemma (who stayed behind with Jane to set up a makeshift medical bay in their abandoned building they holed up in) was watching her with a wary eye, but Jane couldn’t find it in her to care. Watching their plans come to life on the bank of screens (after hours and hours of planning and travel) in front of her was strangely beautiful, even if she winced each time one of her people took a hit. Thankfully, no one stayed down for more than a blink of an eye.

Their attack had been thrilling to watch. Jane’s mind couldn’t help but to be in awe in all of the moving parts of the plan that had interlocked and moved so flawlessly together to take down the Watchdogs.

Thor, Rhodey, Tony, Sam, and Vision had taken to the sky once they had moved within range to scout the area for any surprises they could have missed. Finding none, they had called everyone else to their positions before they checked the area one final time. Then it started.

Vision had swooped down to grab Lincoln just as Pietro grabbed Wanda, and the quartet rapidly made their way to the outermost edge of the airport. Wanda’s magic immediately poured over the ground and unearthed the land mines that were hidden so that Lincoln could detonate them with the electricity he conjured. Once the ground was clear of the traps, the rest of the Avengers and SHIELD rained down on the Watchdogs like fire and brimstone.

Jane could hardly keep track of all the movements on the screens, eyes darting back and forth in a futile attempt to see everything at once.

Their flyers were in constant motion, shooting and blasting and even bodily grabbing soldiers to throw them into their comrades. With Tripp creating a shield around him and Daisy by uprooting the earth beneath them with his powers, the pair cleared a path through the tarmac as Daisy used her abilities to destroy the weapons in the Watchdogs’ hands. Rhodey and Thor dropped Bucky and Clint onto high perches, letting the pair have the perfect spot for taking out long-range targets. Bruce remained on the fringe, as no one needed the Hulk to come out quite yet, though he was certainly holding his own whenever someone came near enough to draw him into a fight. Natasha, Coulson, May, Fitz, and Mack were what Jane had been internally calling their ‘spy squad,’ as they spread out and infiltrated each building and hunted for Thorne. They were to call out on their comms as soon as they had him in their sights, give the man the chance to come peacefully before they arrested him. At Steve’s insistence, they were only supposed to hurt, not kill, if it came down a violent arrest. And only when it was clear that it was kill-or-be-killed was anyone allowed to take Thorne out.

Jane wondered what it said about her that she was hoping someone disregarded Steve’s order.

Sighing, Jane focused on the Captain who was just dropped into the center of the fight by Tony and was fighting like he had nothing left to lose. His shield bounced off of his opponents in a blur and returned to his hand without fail. It was almost otherworldly the way his shield was an extension of Steve’s body, his will. The effect was ruined, however, by Peter swinging in from out of nowhere and shouting at Steve.

“That thing doesn't obey the laws of physics at all!”

Jane snorted out a laugh with everyone else over the comms. She wasn’t entirely okay with the idea of the 17-year-old in the middle of this war, but she had to acknowledge his right to choose what he wanted to do with his powers, even if it made her chest tight with anxiety.  He was just so goddamn young and reckless. Peter actually reminded her of a young and awkward Steve, what with his humongus sense of right and wrong that was on par with Steve’s own.

Jane shook her head of the distraction and focused on another screen and quirked a brow as T’Challa seemed to just materialize in the middle of the fray with Scott at his side.

“Okay, I may end up ripping myself in half, but hopefully I won’t,” Scott was telling T’Challa breathlessly, “But this seems like a good time as any to try it out right?”

Though Jane was watching the whole encounter from miles away on a computer screen, she could practically feel T’Challa’s eyebrows raise incredulously from under his vibranium mask.

“If that is a risk of whatever it is you’re about to do then maybe--” T’Challa’s voice was steady even as he dispatched a number of Watchdogs who rushed him.

“Nope! It’s gonna happen!” Scott interrupted and slammed his hand down on something on his belt before he just... grew.

Scott’s disbelieving (and if Jane was being honest, slightly hysterical) laughter rang out over the comms while the Avengers and SHIELD agents lost their collective shit. Scott began to amble across the tarmac, kicking out at the Watchdogs with his now giant feet and doing his hardest not to step on any of his teammates. Jane groaned as she watched Bruce take in Scott’s transformation with a shrug before unleashing the Hulk. Thankfully, the big guy just stayed to the outskirts of the battle and took care of any Watchdogs trying to flee the scene.

Before they lost all sense of structure within the mission, Natasha’s cool voice came over everyone’s earpieces.

“Cap, Thorne’s making a break for it, but we’ll herd him down toward you.”

Tony could be seen in the corner of one of Jane’s monitors diving down to the tarmac to meet Steve in the center of the battle zone.

“What about Darcy’s file?” Tony’s mechanical voice echoed over the tension that seemed to race across the team at the mention of Thorne, “That needs to get secure right the fuck now!”

“I’ve got it!” Fitz’s voice was next to come over the frequency, though he was panting and the sound of gunshots was nearly drowning out his voice, “I’ve got the drive!” Mack could be heard grunting and firing his own weapon in the background to cover them both.

Jane clutched at the armrests of her seat as she watched the pair make their way out of one building, Wanda’s red magic shielding them from incoming fire, just as Steve runs into another building after the hulking mass that is Thorne.

“We’re almost there, Darcy,” Jane whispered to herself, “You can come home now.”

 

* * *

 

While Steve had superior speed on his side, Thorne had the advantage of a head start and about twenty fellow Watchdogs Steve’s path to the man. Thankfully Tony and the rest of the team’s flyers were watching his six and kept any nasty surprises away from Steve.

“Cap, we’re going to lose our sightlines on you when you go in and we don’t have anyone close to your position yet. See if you can chase him to the roof,” Rhodey called over the comms.

Steve sent back his affirmative answer and ran through the path of now fallen Watchdogs that his teammate had just cleared for him.

He really should have figured it’d be a trap, though. As soon as Steve made it through the door of the building the chatter of his team over the comms was abruptly cut off and replaced with faint static. He shook his head like a dog at the sudden loss of sensation.

“Can anyone hear me? Does anyone copy?” Steve called, flinching slightly at the way his voice echoed into the empty building. He quickly ran back to the door he had come through only to sigh in disappointment when he discovered it was locked. Normally that wouldn’t have stopped him, but his enhanced hearing picked up the faint hum of what sounded like some extra machinery that was holding the door closed. He also wouldn’t have put it past Thorne to add some explosives or something equally as unfriendly into the mix.

“I think you’ll find that route to be... unwise, Captain,” Thorne’s reedy voice seemed to echo from every corner of the building, “But it would amuse me to see you try, though.”

As Thorne spoke, Steve took a moment to evaluate his surroundings. Unlike the rest of the hangars around the airport, this structure was smaller--but by no means actually small -- and looked as if it had once been some sort of office building that was built from the leftover materials from the other hangars. The room he had barged into had tall arched ceilings and looked like some sort of large common space that could have once been a mess hall. He caught the sight of Thorne standing above the area on a balcony on the opposite end of the room. Either side of the balcony was closed off with walls, and Steve could only assume that they led further into the building.

The man leaned against the railing with his arms braced wide, the pose could have passed for casual if it wasn’t for his tactical gear and his shark-like smile. Steve tried his comms once more, and was unsurprised to see that they failed to get a signal again, before he moved toward the center of the room.

Steve had been at war for too many years to not realize just how vulnerable he was making himself at the moment. Though there weren’t any windows at his back to provide a sightline for a sniper, he wasn’t naive enough to think that Thorne was alone. Steve was just hedging his bets on Thorne being the type who would want get his own hands dirty rather than let one of his men do it for him. Thorne had played this game too long to not want the satisfaction for himself. So for the moment, Steve could take the risk.

“Seeing as I don’t have a bullet in my skull, I assume you’re not done with me quite yet,” Steve projected his voice across the empty space. He knew that he was going off mission; whoever came across Thorne was to make the arrest and only engage when there was no other choice. But Steve’s sense of duty abandoned him.

In front of him was the man who had almost single-handedly turned the world against the Avengers and every enhanced person out there. Thorne orchestrated the suicide bomber who killed dozens of people in the apartment building in Lagos, as well as at least another dozen of attacks on supers across the globe. He framed Bucky for the UN bombing, caused the Avengers to go into hiding, and wreaked havoc and chaos and terror due to his desire for power. Due to his fear. Steve harbored rage and hatred for the man for the way he played them all, for the way he stole Darcy’s secrets, but he wouldn’t act on that. Darcy was fully capable of enacting her own revenge, so Steve would let her claim it for herself when she got back.

“No, Captain,” Thorne sneered, “I’ve been waiting for this moment for too long to end it so quickly.”

“Since New York, right?” Steve hid his smirk better than Thorne managed to hide his shock before the other man regained control over his expression.

“You did your research on me, I’m touched.”

Steve shook his head and took several steps closer, “No. I remember you. I pulled you from a pile of rubble.”

Thorne’s laugh was utterly humorless, “Oh, you remember, do you?” His face began to twitch in repressed anger.

“I remember everyone,” Steve pressed on. He had a feeling this was the catalyst of Thorne’s beliefs, and the way the man was shaking with fury only confirmed it. “I remember everyone I save, but I also remember everyone I don’t. The ones we couldn’t save, and the ones that had to wait too long for their rescue.”

Thorne snarled and bared his teeth, “ Fuck you, Captain, this isn’t about your heroics. This is about how you-- all of you-- drag trouble and evil behind you like a shadow. Every time an abomination like you steps up, real humans pay the goddamn price!”

Steve couldn’t hide his flinch even if he had wanted to. Thorne wasn’t wrong, hell, Vision had said something similar when the Accords first made an appearance. Humans feared what they didn’t know, and having a growing number of enhanced people around drew all sorts of unwanted attention, and there were always, always, casualties.

“You’re right,” Steve nearly murmured. Had it not been for the vast emptiness of the room they stood in he doubted that Thorne would have heard him. “You’re right,” Steve repeated louder, “Villains love a challenge, and civilians always pay the price it seems.” He adjusted his shield on his arm subtly at the admission, feeling its weight tug and pull on his sleeve.

He loved the shield, always had ever since Howard had dropped it in front of him. It was just as much a part of Steve as the serum was after all this time. It was telling, Steve always thought, of who he was as a person. Of who Erskine saw all that time ago. Sure, it could be used as a weapon, but more than anything it was used to defend. To protect. And in the end, that was all Steve had ever wanted to do.

He fixed Thorne with a glare, “But if you kill us, Thorne, that won’t stop anyone else. You think that getting rid of enhanced people, of exposing all the supers, will protect you? You’re wrong. You’ll just make a bigger target of every innocent person out there, and no enhanced villain will stop to give them mercy. And I can’t let that happen.”

Steve threw his shield with as much force as he could--uncaring of the fact that it was a guaranteed fatality--only to tense when it ripped through Thorne’s image like a stone through smoke.

“Please, Captain,” Thorne’s laughing voice echoed in the empty space that his projection once stood, “Give me more credit than that.”

Catching his shield on the rebound, Steve ran further into the building.





 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Steve chased Thorne’s echoing laughter through the building, launching himself up onto the balcony and straining his ears to figure out which direction to go. There was a slight rustle of clothing in the distance, causing Steve to bolt to the right.

“You can come in peacefully, Thorne,” he shouted down the hall as he ran, “You don’t have to make it a fight!”

Thorne’s chuckle seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once, “It was only going to be a fight, Captain! It’s a goddamn war.”

Cursing, Steve tried to use his comm to contact his team. He was running around blind and he could use the backup that Tony’s suit or Vision could supply. Receiving only static in response again, Steve gave up. He skidded to a stop in a stairwell after catching a glimpse of Thorne’s shadow that had vanished behind the door a moment ago.

“Then fight me!” Steve shouted, “If that’s what you want so badly, why run?”

The sound of deliberate footsteps resounding off of concrete caused Steve to snap his head up to where he thought the noise was originating. Thorne’s face peered down at him between the gaps of the railing several floors above, sneering.

“Because I simply enjoy watching you squirm.”

Thorne had barely pulled his head back before Steve was taking the stairs four at a time and running with all his might.

He was being goaded, Steve wasn’t so blind as to not see that. Thorne knew just how to push his buttons, how to taunt Steve in such a way that he couldn’t help but to be reminded of the bullies of his youth, and the gods knew Steve just couldn’t back down from the challenge.

Steve was being reckless, running through the building with abandon and not checking each corner (what if Thorne was using another hologram? What other traps could he have put in place?) in a desperate move to get to Thorne as quickly as possible. He was certainly playing right into Thorne’s hands, but Steve couldn’t care. Thorne had been playing god for too long.

* * *

Tony cursed as Steve disappeared into the building and lost all contact. Not to mention the giant forcefield that raised around the building wasn’t helping settle his nerves, either. Not wasting a moment, Tony targeted the shimmering wall with a repulsor and prepared to fire.

“Tony, no!” Vision’s voice accompanied the flash of yellow magic that knocked his arm off course, “The building is rigged with explosives, I cannot guarantee that an external explosion wouldn’t cause a chain reaction.”

“He’s right, boss,” FRIDAY chimed in, “Scans are showing a whole mess of wiring and charges throughout the walls. It won’t be pretty when it goes off.”

“Fuck,” Tony breathed, firing at more Watchdog soldiers in his frustration, “And no way to get the radio working again, either?”

“Not from outside, boss.”

“Fuck!” He swore louder, “Barnes, keep your eyes on the building, let us know when you see any changes.”

“Was already plannin’ on it.”

Tony rolled his eyes at the sass but focused instead on the battle in front of him. He was exhausted, but he’d never admit to it. They had been fighting for what felt like hours at this point, though he knew it couldn’t have been more than one. Looking at the corner of his HUD showed that it hadn’t even been that long, only about forty minutes had passed since they started the fight at midnight.

“FRIDAY, any word of Darcy making an appearance at the Tower, yet?”

“Not yet, but I’ll keep you posted.”

Tony grunted his thanks and went back to blasting his way through the group of terrorists who aimed a RPG at him. It was going to be a long night.

* * *

Bucky adjusted himself the smallest amount in his perch but kept his focus on the building across the tarmac. Steve had gone inside--alone like the goddamn punk that he was--lost all contact, and was probably either causing trouble or getting himself into some sort of mess that had all of Bucky’s instincts screaming at him to get his ass over there to help his idiot best friend.

But he couldn’t, because Thorne had to use a fucking force field and fucking explosives to make sure that Steve couldn’t bash his way out of there with his fucking shield.

“You okay over there?” Clint chuffed, “There’s a whole lot of grumbling and not a whole lot of shooting happening.”

Rolling his eyes, Bucky aimed and fired, knocking down four men who now had matching bullet holes through their throats. “Get fucked, Barton.”

The other man just laughed as he let loose another arrow, one of the ones that exploded beautifully.

Before Bucky could tell the man off again, his focus narrowed down to the roof across the way.

“I’ve got movement on Cap! Thorne and Cap are on the roof, looks like a stand-off.”

Tony could be heard cursing on the comm before making a victorious cry, “Got Cap back online!”

“--there’s nowhere else to run, Thorne, it’s time to come in.”

Thorne’s voice was more muted, but it came in clear enough through Steve’s device.

“No, I don’t think I’ll do that,” The man’s laugh was bordering on madness though his voice was steady. Bucky tensed as the man reached into his pocket to pull out a small device. “I’ll take the third choice, Captain, the one that ends... spectacularly .”

“Looks like a remote for the charges in the building, Cap,” Tony’s voice informed them all.

Bucky focused on his breathing as he watched his best friend face off with Thorne on the opposite roof. He knew the punk almost better than himself at this point and could easily read every line of tension in Steve’s body, knowing that the idiot was clenching his jaw hard enough that his teeth were creaking in protest.

“So you kill me, then what?” Steve asked, “You blow this building to kingdom come, killing yourself too, and then what?”

“Then I live on in my followers,” Thorne responded, the maniacal gleam in his eye brightening, “But you assume that only you and me will be taken out in the blast. That I don’t have this entire airport rigged with enough explosives to sink this whole place in the ground. And when the world sees that their precious Avengers are gone, everyone will realize that they’re free.”

Thorne’s chest was heaving now, spittle escaping his mouth with his fury as he raised his voice to a shout. The man paced, waving the remote in his hand while he never once broke eye contact with Steve.

“Every abomination like yourself--every mutant, inhuman, every super-soldier,” Thorne spat, “Will be unprotected. Their hope for salvation gone while the Watchdogs finish what I started. The Accords didn’t go far enough,” he took a menacing step forward but Steve didn’t so much as flinch, “The world is too concerned about their politics, wanting to put you all on a leash when they should have just put you down, like the monsters you are!”

Steve’s voice came so quietly over the comms that Bucky was sure that even Thorne couldn’t have heard it, even if the man had been listening rather than continue to spout his rhetoric at a stone-faced Captain America.

“Tony, I need to know if the remote is a dead-man’s switch.”

The older man’s voice sounded mildly unconcerned over the comm, “Negative. FRIDAY’s scans show it’s just a remote. Probably needs a switch or a code sequence to activate. But I don’t have confirmation on whether or not he’s got the place rigged like he said does or if that’s a bluff.”

Steve hummed as Thorne continued shouting in the background, “But it’s definitely not a dead man’s switch?”

Though Bucky didn’t take his eyes off Steve and Thorne, he knew that Tony rolled his eyes, “I’m hurt, Cap, that you would even think to question--”

Before anyone could so much as blink, Steve pulled the small handgun he kept on the back of his belt and fired three rapid shots at Thorne. A burst of red was closely followed by a howl of pain from Thorne, who now knelt on the rooftop clutching the stump where his right hand used to be. Another shot rang out and red blossomed where Thorne’s left kneecap used to be. A fifth shot took out his foot when he fell onto his side.

“What the fuck?! Steve!” Bucky wasn’t the only one shouting, but he was certainly the loudest.

Steve didn’t respond, though, just kept his gun aimed between Thorne’s eyes as he took several determined steps toward the bleeding man.

“Yes, show me what you are!” Thorne howled around his pain, “Nothing but a monster under all that wholesome image, aren’t you? Aliens and science and magic have warped all of you into something horrible.” Thorne cried out when Steve shot a sixth bullet into the fleshiest bit of his side. There wouldn’t be any lasting damage, Bucky knew, but it’d still cause the man more pain.

“Though none of you are quite the anathema that the Lewis girl is, that’s for certain,” his chuckle was soft, and Bucky had to strain to hear him through Steve’s comm. “Changing history, meddling in forces that no monster had the right to touch. That was our, history, human history!” Thorne spat at Steve’s feet in disdain. “Where is your whore now, Captain? Where is she hiding? I half expected her to be here at your side, but I suppose she’s too busy warming your bed.”

“Punk, keep your head clear,” Bucky warned as his best friend took another step toward Thorne. He didn’t know what he expected, but Steve pistol whipping Thorne in the temple was certainly not it.

Bucky sighed, “Is he going to wake up again?”

Steve only nodded--knowing that Bucky was watching his back--as he kneeled in order to pick up the now-bloody remote that fell from the other man’s hand. Once he had it, Steve held the device up and out toward Tony who was hovering just outside the forcefield.

Having taken the gesture for the cue that it was, Tony only needed another moment before replying, “See that big cliche red button on the bottom? Yeah, don’t push that one. Flip the switch on the underside to deactivate the charges then crack that fucker open and tear it apart.”

A second later, the forcefield came down around the building.

The fight wasn’t over by any means, Bucky knew. Just because Thorne was down for the count (and currently being hog-tied and cuffed to the railing of the roof) didn’t mean that the rest of the Watchdogs were just going to put their hands up in surrender. Hell, six people poured out of the building that Steve was still standing on and began to fight the punk like they even stood a chance.

Packing up his rifle, Bucky looked around the tarmac for where his hand-to-hand would be most needed. He slid his rifle across the roof so that it came to a stop within easy reach of Clint so the man could use it when he eventually ran out of arrows.

“Falcon, give me a lift? Drop me right there in the center of it all,” Bucky stood on the edge of the roof and waited for Sam, casting a wary glance at the growing clouds above them.

“Thor, mind easing up? Last thing we need is a storm right now,” Sam joked into the comms as he grabbed Bucky by the back of his gear and flew over the fighting. Lightning cracked across the sky, causing Bucky to flinch at the brightness of it.

Thor’s voice was panicked, “This is not my magic, this is not my doing--”

Bucky barely had a chance to wonder about his teammates words when the screaming started.

* * *

The scream that tore across the airport’s lot curdled Steve’s blood and caused him to recoil from the woman he was fighting. It was a sound of pure, unadulterated fear and pain, the sound of primal confusion made by an animal who had found itself trapped and prey to something much more vicious than itself.  It began like a faint whistle on a train, growing louder and louder and shrieking as the clouds above began to increase in size, the unnaturally white lightning arcing in dangerous waves before crashing down some fifty yards in front of where Bucky had begun to fight in earnest.

And it was coming from Darcy.

Steve watched with horror as the lightning storm that dropped down in the center of the battle dissipated, leaving Darcy stumbling in the center of the blast as three white silhouettes walked away from her. Everyone--Avengers and Watchdogs alike--had frozen when the lightning first arced across the sky, something about its preternatural whiteness causing their skin to crawl and their eyes to ache as they looked at it. Darcy’s screaming reached them before the lightning hit, before she had even appeared, only moments after Thor’s panicked voice reached them through their comms.

Steve had never heard Thor sound anything other than confident in all his years of knowing the god, but one glance at the white light streaking through the night sky and Thor’s centuries of composure shattered.

“It’s Darcy,” he had told them all in a dazed voice before his panic set it, “It is Darcy! She isn’t supposed to be here! The Norns were to send her home!”

No one had an answer for their teammate. Steve frankly didn’t give a damn about the particulars, he was too concerned about making it off of the rooftop he had found himself on to get to Darcy’s side. The Watchdogs had already snapped out of their daze and were converging on her position with their weapons raised.

“Someone get down there, now!” His shout ended with a grunt when another wave of Watchdogs poured out of the roof access and began swinging at him, herding Steve away from his access to Darcy.

Bucky’s voice grunted in his ear as Steve tore through his unending stream of opponents, “On it, Cap, someone cover me.”

* * *

Bucky had been expecting a fight. He had expected and anticipated every blow and gunshot that came his way as he fought a path through the Watchdogs in order to get to Darcy. He was thankful for the distraction that the storm and Darcy’s screaming (oh god, her screaming) provided for their enemies, making them easy pickings for Bucky and the rest of the team.

Once his sister had stumbled onto the tarmac and looked around herself, she stopped her screaming and immediately went on the defensive. Her chest still heaved from whatever pain she was feeling, and even from a distance Bucky could see the shock that fell over her expression like a haze. Instincts took over for Darcy, flighting and slashing out with everything that she had in order to ensure her survival in this new battle she found herself in.

It took a minute (too long, too goddamn long) for Bucky to reach the small area Darcy had cleared for herself and get in her line of sight. He didn’t know what he expected.

He just knew that damn sure wasn’t expecting to have to fight Darcy.

Once she caught a look at him, her eyes cleared for a fraction of a second before the haze of shock slammed down on her mind once more. With a wordless cry, Darcy launched herself at Bucky.

He hadn’t anticipated needing to use every trick in his arsenal to evade her attacks, even with her body as broken and battered as it was. Darcy’s batons were moving almost too quickly for even his enhanced eyes to follow, lightning arcing madly from the ends as she advanced on him. He vaguely noticed out of the corner of his eye that all the Watchdogs were getting struck down by all sorts of means--yellow and red magic, lightning, arrows and hunks of fucking rock --until only few remained on the outskirts as Bucky continued to fight Darcy.

Bucky could tell that his sister was deep in shock, possibly deeper than he had ever seen anyone go before, her wide and unblinking eyes not registering anything in front of her except for an opponent that needed to be defeated.

He wondered if this is what he looked like when he attacked Steve on the Helicarrier: mindless and roaring with pain, not understanding anything around him but knowing that he needed to survive.

“Spitfire,” he shouted, “It’s me, it’s Bucky!” He knew it was a futile attempt to break through the haze in Darcy’s mind, but he had to try. Even with his hair pulled back from his face, the Winter Soldier gear and the metal arm were enough to make him seem as far removed from his old self as he could possibly manage.

Bucky’s errant thought distracted him enough from the fight at hand that he dropped like a stone when Darcy’s batons came down with extreme force as she shrieked at him.

“Liar!”

He shook it off and grit his teeth as he rolled back to his feet before Darcy could get a clean shot on his metal arm with her batons.

“Listen to me, Darcy!” he demanded, “It’s 2017, you’re not in 1945 anymore!” He grunted when she swung her batons like baseball bat and got him in the side of his head. Reaching across his body with his right hand Bucky yanked the metal poles with all of his strength, causing Darcy to stumble away from him. Before he could yank the weapons out of her grip, she twisted them enough to cause a spark to light along the shaft causing him to let go with a yelp. With the miniscule space it afforded him, Bucky staggered away from her to get his bearings. He had seen Darcy fight in the war, but he had never seen this kind of strength from her before. It was more than likely the adrenaline and shock working with her serum, but part of Bucky’s mind wondered if something changed her in her second journey through time.

Darcy’s cry of fury was dripping with her mania as she charged on him once more.

“He’s dead! ” she screamed at him, “He’s dead-- you’re not real!”

“Please!” He begged, “Don’t make me hurt you, Darcy, don’t make me do that.”

Darcy just launched herself at him once more.

* * *

Tony couldn’t stand and watch for another second.

With something akin to a growl ripping from his throat Tony leaped into the air and charged after Thor--who like the rest of the team began rushing toward Darcy--as fast as his suit could take him. Without pausing he stuck out a gauntlet-covered hand and grasped onto the his teammate’s cape and ripped it from the man’s shoulders. He had no idea if his plan would work, but he needed to do something before his daughter hurt Bucky. She’d never forgive herself.

The tattered fabric of Thor’s cape flapped wildly in the wind as Tony soared toward the two super soldiers in the center of the lot. Only slowing himself just enough to make sure he didn’t cause any irreparable damage to Bucky, Tony kicked the man away from Darcy and took his place. Ignoring the yelling from his teammates and the thud Bucky made when he landed, Tony aimed the repulsors on his free hand at Darcy and fired two quick shots. With her batons smoking lightly yards away, Tony made his move.

It was ridiculous and stupid and reckless, but it was the only plan Tony had. Using the strength of his suit to overpower Darcy, Tony brought the cape around her as quickly as he could and tightened the fabric around her struggling form until she could no longer move. Tony wrapped his arms around Darcy’s body and brought her to his chest. Bound as she was, Darcy still squirmed and fought against the fabric and Tony’s suit even though her head and her feet were the only free parts of her body. Deciding that even that was a risk he couldn’t take, Tony dropped them both so that they were kneeling together in the center of the now silent battlefield.

Tony flipped his faceplate up so that Darcy could hear his voice rather than the mechanical version that came from the suit’s speakers.

“Darcy, Darcy! Kiddo, you gotta come back to us, okay? Come back to me, kid, you’re safe. You hear me? You’re safe!”

Darcy’s eyes were still wide and wild, terrified and unseeing, but she managed to meet Tony’s gaze.

“H-Howie? I don’t understand-- I don’t understand what’s happening--”

Tony shook her a little to cut across her horrified whispers, “Look at me, Darcy! I’m not Howard, you see? The war’s over, kiddo, come back to me,” he begged. He could hear Bucky and Steve shouting behind him and he could only hope that someone was smart enough to hold them back. There was no way that their faces would help Darcy right now.

Darcy’s eyes rolled madly in their sockets before landing on the bright red fabric encasing her. She followed the path the fabric made until it was stopped by Tony’s suit-covered arms holding her tight. She froze for what felt like a small eternity before she snapped her head back up to look Tony in the face. By some miracle, Darcy’s eyes cleared the smallest amount.

“Tony…? I don’t understand, what’s happening to me? Idon’tunderstandIdon’tunderstand--” she sobbed relentlessly, unable to catch her breath as she begged Tony for answers.

With a flick of his wrist Tony shook off one of his gauntlets and brought his bare hand up to Darcy’s face. Cupping it roughly he forced Darcy to meet his gaze, and the movement stifled her words once more. Ignoring the tears that matched Darcy’s on his face, Tony tried to break through to his daughter’s panic.

“It’s 2017, you’re in Germany, the team’s all here, and you’re safe, Darcy. I won’t let anything happen to you, okay? We can stay here all week if you want, but I’m not letting you go until you tell me to.”

He didn’t know if Darcy finally believed him or if she was just too exhausted from the fighting and her injuries, but Darcy slumped in his arms with giant, body-wracking sobs. Tony sagged out of his tense position but still held his daughter tightly, just as he promised. They sat tangled together, a mess of metal armor and blood and tears, for twenty minutes before Darcy’s sobs subsided enough for her to speak.

“Is this real?”

Tony buried his own sobs at Darcy’s broken and hesitant question before he answered.

“Yeah, kiddo, it’s all real.”








 

 

 

Chapter Text

Thor sat heavily in the chair next to his lightning sister’s cot as she slept deeply. Mjollnir rested between his feet, though she was more of a comfort rather than a weapon at the moment. Due to the shock and utter pain Darcy was in before she lost consciousness Sam had warned Thor that she might wake with violence. Despite the warning, Thor vowed not to raise hand or hammer against his sister, no matter what state she was in when she woke.

Darcy had seen and felt far too much violence in these past years. Thor would rather be banished to Hel than cause her more pain. Instead, Thor tucked his cape tighter around his sister’s body after Jemma tended to her wounds and spent every second since waiting by her side. She would not be lost to him again if he could help it.

Thor had told Steve, had told them all, that Darcy would have found her way back in time one way or another due to the Norns’ will. And that was true; no one could have stopped them. But still tears threatened to spill from his eyes as Thor counted each breath his sister took. Though the Norns had weaved this story eons before Darcy ever was born, Thor couldn’t help but feel that it was his fault that Darcy had been hurt. That it was his recklessness that cast her through time, that took her from her family and friends and sent her into a old, strange world. His hands had been the catalyst of Darcy’s fate, her pain, and there was no undoing that. He only hoped that Darcy could forgive him.

He adjusted himself in the too-small chair so he was even closer to Darcy. He held her right hand that peeked out from under his cape, smiling sadly at how dwarfed her was by his much larger one, and ran his thumb over the calluses he found. Thor knew all about the serum that was forced on Darcy and how it changed her, and his heart broke once more when he realized just how often a weapon must have been in her hand for the calluses to stay.

Thor was broken out of his thoughts by the sound of Jane’s furious half-whispers on the other side of the makeshift room. The warehouse wasn’t ideal for any of them, let alone for Jemma, Sam, and Bruce to tend to all of their wounds, but it would do. They had pushed a cot into the corner of the building and strung up some plastic sheeting they had found in order to give Darcy a sense of privacy for when she woke.

Without taking his eyes off Darcy, Thor listened to Jane as she guarded Darcy’s room once more.

“You will not be going in there, do you understand me?”

“Jane, please--”

“No!” Jane cut across Steve ruthlessly, “You saw her out there, she is hurting. She’s confused. Darcy didn’t recognize Tony, didn’t recognize Bucky. She has more injuries than I’d like to count and those are only the ones we can see!  I’ll be damned if I let you in there and upset her again.”

Thor listened to the sounds of their ragged breathing as they faced off with one another. He knew without needing to see that Steve’s eyes were a mixture of anguish and ire as he stood nearly two heads taller than Jane, hands clenched into fists at his sides. But Jane would not be cowed by the soldier, Thor was certain. Jane would be standing tall, her feet braced wide and immovable as she stared up at Steve. There would be fire in Jane’s eyes and a flush on her cheeks as she let her determination roll through her blood.

“You told us that the bullet hole in her hand was from the night you took down the Valkyrie , Steve,” Jane continued, “It was fresh . That means for Darcy it has only been hours since you went into the ice. And from what it looks like, she just went from one battle straight into another. Give her some goddamn time to reconcile all of that!”Jane’s voice did not raise in volume, but the cold steel in her voice sent chills down Thor’s spine.

Steve must have felt it too, he did not speak for several moments. When he did Thor could sense the fight had left him, “I’m sorry,” Steve whispered, “You’re right and I’m sorry. It’s just--” Thor heard the other man’s wet sigh and gripped Darcy’s hand tighter in response “--she’s everything, Jane, and I--”

“Hey, hey, look at me Steve,” Jane soothed, “You think I don’t know that? Believe me, I know. But I need you to trust me and Thor to take care of her until she’s ready, okay?” Thor could picture Jane placing a hand to Steve’s cheek in comfort. He had seen her do it countless times to Darcy when she was upset, just as Jane had done to Thor when the loss of his mother and brother were still so fresh in his heart.

Thor’s lips twitched in the smallest smile for a moment at the image. He knew how many had thought of Jane; that she was aloof and ‘scatter-brained,’ that she cared for nothing but her science. She was all of these things to some degree, Jane would admit easily, but it wasn’t until the Avengers and what remained of SHIELD came together that everyone’s eyes opened to the truth: Jane was one of the most ferocious beings any of them had ever seen when it came to her loved ones. Once you were claimed by Jane’s heart you would remain there forever under her protection. And no one was closer to Jane’s heart than Darcy, not even Thor himself. While he and Jane loved one another deeply, something greater than Thor ever thought he would deserve let alone have, he knew what it was to carry another even closer. It was a different kind of love, of course, but Thor understood. Just as Thor would forever love his brother--in this life and in the next--so Jane loved her sister.

When it became clear that Darcy’s secrets were at risk in their time, Jane stepped forward. No decision regarding Darcy was made without consulting and approval from Jane. She commanded the Avengers, and later SHIELD, with all the authority of a general commanding their army. Or, he thought to himself, like a Queen leading her people.

His thoughts were interrupted when he heard Steve’s fading steps and the rustle of plastic behind him. Thor looked over his shoulder to see Jane enter the makeshift room and sigh heavily. Jane smiled thinly as she drew near and placed a comforting hand on Thor’s shoulder.

“Still sleeping?”

He nodded, “I think she will for some time yet.” Thor used his free hand to guide Jane to sit in his lap, needing to hold her close. She came easily and laid her head against his shoulder as he spoke again, “It will not be easy when she wakes. There is much that she has missed and I don’t know how she will take the news.”

Jane hummed in agreement but otherwise didn’t speak. They knew that the greatest difficulties lie with Bucky and Steve. She had lost them only days and then hours ago, and there was no telling how well her mind and heart would accept what she would be told. Darcy’s reaction to Bucky’s history in particular caused the most worry among the Avengers. The memory of their fight on the tarmac raced through Thor’s mind and caused his heart to clench painfully. He pushed the memory down and tried to focus once more.

They would have to tell Darcy what she had missed, what battles and trials her family had faced while she was at war. Thor didn’t want to give his sister any more horrors to think on, but he knew that Darcy would want to know everything. She would want to know about Ultron, the Accords, the Watchdogs, and all of the discontent and violence that seemed to have covered the world in the time she was gone. Just thinking of it all made Thor’s heart weigh heavy in his chest. She was already carrying her own trauma, must she share theirs as well?

“How is everyone?” It may have been a cowardly move, but Thor couldn’t care. He needed the distraction.

“Well,” Jane sighed, “Physically, everyone’s more or less okay. Some scrapes and bruises, I guess, the usual.”

Thor huffed a small laugh. In this group ‘scrapes and bruises’ meant anything from actual scrapes to non-fatal gunshot wounds and stabbings.

“What of the Watchdogs and Thorne?”

Jane shifted slightly as she replied, “Everyone who is still breathing is cuffed and waiting for pickup. Coulson’s going to put in a call to that Carter woman as soon as we clear the area. She works for the CIA now and I guess has been deemed trustworthy enough to not let this all turn on us. I mean,” Jane shrugged against him, “It looks pretty damning, you know? But Tony says there’s enough evidence at the airport to prove a whole mess of nasty charges against Thorne and the Watchdogs; arms dealing and numerous counts of murder, for example, and then Thorne essentially leading a terrorist organization. They’re not getting out anytime soon.”

It was Thor’s turn to hum softly in acknowledgement. He was pleased that their enemies would be brought to justice, yet it was not as satisfying as he would have originally desired. Thor had changed since he met Jane, and all for the better, yet there were still too many centuries of being a bloodthirsty warrior in his past for him feel completely at peace with their battle.

He understood, logically, why Thorne and his soldiers needed to live to face Midgard’s justice systems and their punishments. If the world did not see what happened to monsters like Thorne, there would be no stopping someone from easily taking his place. Then the war would simply start again.

Thor felt Jane tense against him and knew she was thinking similarly. While Jane was as different from Thor as someone could possibly be, it never failed to make Thor smile when it showed just how similar their hearts were. He let the feeling wash over him as they sat together next to Darcy.

There was going to be more pain for her in the coming days, there was no denying that. Thor just hoped that he and Jane, as well as the rest of their chosen family, could ease the way for Darcy as she found her place once more.

 

* * *

 

Steve paced down the length of one of the walls of the warehouse, making sure that he was completely out of everyone’s way before he retreated into his own head. Jane’s orders to stay away and then her words of comfort still echoed too loudly in his ears and he needed to let go of some energy so he could just focus on what happened on the mission. They won today, there was no doubt about that, but Steve was such a goddamn mess. So he tried to concentrate on the wins instead of his own turmoil.

They got the drive from Thorne’s thugs, deleted everything on his servers that even hinted at Darcy, and captured the bastard alive to boot. The remaining Watchdogs (far more than any of them had anticipated, to be honest, but there were still plenty of lives ended that day; Steve wasn’t naive enough to think that everyone was coming out of this alive) were bound and gagged and separated, perfect pickings for when Agent Carter got the call. Thorne was locked in a room in one of the hangars with the door barricaded shut--it still didn’t feel like enough, though, even if all the evidence against Thorne and the Watchdogs was guaranteed to have them seeing the inside of a jail cell for the next couple of lifetimes. To top it all off, none of the Avengers or SHIELD agents got seriously injured.

So they won. By all counts, the mission was a success. Everyone worked well together, did their jobs, and their Captain couldn’t be prouder.

Steve , however, felt as if he’d just crashed the Valkyrie into the Arctic again.

His whole world had shook down to its foundations as he watched Bucky and Darcy fight one another in the middle of the tarmac. It was too similar to how he and Bucky fought on the Helicarrier during Insight; Steve had found himself struggling with the deja vu and chilling flashbacks as he tore his way through the Watchdogs in order to get to them. He was thankful that Vision had grabbed him as soon as Steve cleared the roof and carried him down because Steve would have just jumped if it meant getting to them faster. His feet had barely touched the ground before he was running full tilt toward Darcy who was advancing on Bucky ruthlessly.

Steve knew that his teammates were shouting at him through the comms but he couldn’t focus on their words. All sound that wasn’t Darcy and Bucky drained away; Bucky’s pleas for Darcy to stop and her screeching accusations. Steve knew she was in shock, he could see the fog in her eyes that clouded her mind as she fought her brother with every last drop of energy that she had. Steve knew she wasn’t in her right mind, but he couldn’t stop running for her. There was some part of him that thought that maybe, maybe , if she saw him she’d snap out of it.

Just as Steve registered Tony aiming himself toward Bucky, he was knocked off his feet by a blast of red energy. He tumbled gracelessly over yards and yards of concrete before he was able to get his bearings enough to slam his hand down to drag himself to a stop. He shook the daze from the hit off like a dog shaking off water then scrambled to his feet. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Bucky pulling himself upright, though much more slowly than Steve.

He wasn’t proud of what came next. Steve had looked back to where he had last seen Darcy and found her crying hysterically in Tony’s arms, panic clear on both of their faces as they knelt together in the center of what was left of their battlefield. Steve’s shouts for her turned to screams when he realized that everyone was intentionally keeping him and Bucky from Darcy. Wanda’s powers kept him and Bucky at a distance as she ignored their anger.

Steve knew, knew , that they were right to keep him and Bucky from Darcy at the moment, but all sense of logic had fled him as he just...reacted. He didn’t remember what he (and Bucky) screamed at everyone, but it certainly wasn’t anything good. It wasn’t until Thor landed in front of them and grabbed them each by the throat that they shut up. They could have fought Thor, but it would have been fruitless; while they had the serum on their side, Thor was a god. They didn’t stand a chance.

Only once darkness began to creep in their vision from lack of air did Thor drop them. As they wheezed for breath on their hands and knees Thor spoke with all the authority of a king.

“Stand down.”

It was only two words, but Steve finally was able to break through his own clouded mind at the command. They wouldn’t be any help to Darcy, to anyone, acting like they were. She was traumatized enough as it was. He felt shame pour over him like ice water. What if Darcy had heard him? Did he just throw her deeper into shock? He peeked around Thor’s legs just in time to see Darcy pass out in Tony’s arms.

“Finish the mission,” Thor ordered, “I will take Darcy back so that her wounds may be tended to.” He turned on his heel as he summoned his hammer from where he dropped it before them and strode quickly to the pair still kneeling on the concrete. With a gentleness that bordered on reverence, Thor took Darcy from her father, swung his hammer, then launched into the sky.

Steve let himself fall apart then, just for a moment, before he pulled himself back together. Thor was right: they were there for a job. Missions went sideways all the time and Steve had to get his shit together in order to deal with it, just the same as always. So with a deep breath Steve reeled in all his chaos and stifled it, then did his damn job.

With the gray light of dawn starting to creep into the warehouse’s high windows, Steve focused on putting one foot in front of the other as kept pacing. With each step his mind cleared and brought more shame and embarrassment as he thought back on the last several hours. He behaved like a goddamn animal to his team, screaming and fighting and failing as the leader he was supposed to be for them. He knew it was more than just being ‘compromised,’ hell, all of them had been compromised emotionally on missions before, but Steve’s actions were just unacceptable.

He was torn from his mental self flagellation when Natasha cut in front of him to lean against the wall he paced along, but he didn’t acknowledge her yet. She’d speak when she knew she had his full attention. No matter how badly he wanted to ignore her Steve never had the patience to outlast his friend and he sure as hell tried harder every time. So he paced, passing her every fifteen seconds or so, and tried once more.

He cracked after four minutes.

Rather than say try to start the conversation himself, Steve just came to a stop and leaned against the wall at Natasha’s side. He was too tired to try to fight his curiosity. When he let his shoulders sag with a release of tension, he saw her smirk a little in victory.

“No one blames you for earlier,” Natasha began, “No one expected Darcy to drop down in the middle of the firefight, let alone in the physical and mental state she was in. It messed with all of our heads, Steve, you’re not the only one affected.”

He shook his head with no small amount of disbelief, “Maybe, but none of you lost it like I did.”

“True,” she conceded with a shrug, “None of us were quite on your level of panic but we weren’t exactly as collected as we should have been.” When Steve made an inquiring noise she continued, “You were too lost in your head to notice so you missed how plenty of us kind of…lost it, when Darcy started fighting Bucky. Everyone tried to rush to her like you did when we noticed she wasn’t in control, you were just the loudest.” Natasha shrugged again, as if saying well that’s that and it’s over now.

Steve wanted to argue with her, he did, but he was just too damn tired. He wanted to tell her that it most definitely was not okay. That he should have been better, stronger, like his team and Darcy needed him to be. He had put himself and everyone else at risk acting the way he did and it shouldn’t be shrugged off as easily as Natasha seemed intent on doing. He would say all of those things and more if he wasn’t so drained. The exhaustion he felt was unparalleled and Steve didn’t quite know how to handle it.

So he did what he did best: he ignored his own issues and focused on those he cared about.

“Where’s Bucky?” Steve ignored Natasha’s eye roll--she was too familiar with his tactics to not see the deflection for what it was--and pressed on, “Haven’t seen him in a while.”

Bucky had helped finish the mission with the rest of the team hours ago, but Steve hadn’t seen him since they got off the quinjet at the warehouse. He knew his friend was hurting (Steve knew what it was like to fight someone you love who didn’t recognize you, after all) and another wave of guilt washed over him as he realized he had neglected Bucky all night.

“Stop that,” Natasha berated him with a playful swat on his bicep, “He took to the roof as soon as Darcy got patched up. Looked like he needed some time to himself but Clint and Sam are with him now.”

Steve let his head fall back against the wall behind him in defeat. Natasha clearly wasn’t going to let him stew in his own guilt and he doubted that she’d be leaving his side anytime soon, either. He was thankful for her being there, for understanding, yet it was times like these Steve just wanted to wallow, goddamnit.

He could hear the faint sigh she let out as if she could hear his thoughts before she spoke again, “Everything is ready to go, Cap. Airport is secure, everyone’s got themselves patched up, and all the gear is ready to move. Now we’re just waiting on your call.” She patted the same bicep she had hit earlier in a small gesture of comfort. Steve nudged her gently with his shoulder in return as he thought about what came next.

Coulson and his team would go to the new base upstate to get a head start on analyzing whatever data they had collected from Thorne’s servers and T’Challa would return to Wakanda. The Avengers were still going to the Tower, Steve knew, just as it had been decided when they organized the mission. Of course, Darcy had never been part of the original plan and now her appearance made things slightly more complicated. There was no telling when she would wake up nor in what mental state when she did. Was it better to wait out in the warehouse and risk detection from the various authorities chasing after them until Darcy woke up on her own terms? Or did they leave now, and risk her waking up with the same devastating shock in the confined space of a quinjet over the ocean?

Steve gently tapped his head against the wall a few times as he voiced his questions to Natasha. He didn’t trust himself to make any more decisions today, so he’d trust her judgement instead.

“I’ll ask Jane and Thor what they think,” she said after some consideration, “Personally I think we should try to get back to the Tower as soon as possible. We’ve stayed here too long.”

After getting the smallest of nods from Steve, Natasha left Steve’s side and made her way to Darcy’s makeshift room. Steve watched her pause for a moment outside of the plastic curtain, presumably to ask permission to enter, then duck behind the sheet with hardly a rustle. He was faintly surprised when Natasha left the room only three minutes later and made her way make to him as she tapped something out on her phone. He felt his own vibrate from somewhere on his person and saw several people from the corner of his eye reach for their own at the same time. Rather than check the mass text himself Steve just waited patiently for Natasha to stop in front of him.

“We’re going to the Tower,” she told him, “They’re going to give her some sedatives to keep her sleeping.” She held up her hand to stop his protests, “Darcy needs the rest so that she can heal. The quinjet can get us stateside in the few hours it’ll take for her to burn through the dose Bruce is giving her, so we won’t have to worry about her waking up. In case she does,” Natasha’s words were firm, “It’s best if you and Bucky aren’t on the same jet as her.”

Steve shut his eyes and nodded his reluctant agreement at the kindly-phrased order. He understood why they didn’t want him with Darcy until she got settled, he did, but damn it all if it didn’t feel like his heart kept breaking each time they pushed him away.

He’d been waiting years to hold Darcy again. He’d been woken up from the ice with her cries from the radio still echoing in his ears and had nothing but her memories and secrets to keep him company as he faced the new world he found himself in. Steve had tried to make himself a home as time passed--it was Darcy’s world and he wanted to love it and her friends the way she obviously did, but he kept finding that no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t . Darcy wasn’t by his side, so what good was the future if she wasn’t there to guide him through it?

So rather than try to immerse himself in what was his new life, Steve spent a lot of his new freedom researching for Darcy. He had promised her on the Valkyrie that he’d find a way to bring her home and he couldn’t stand the idea of breaking that promise to her. Nothing came to fruition and his desperation only grew--he learned plenty, amazed at the amount knowledge at his fingertips than he ever could have hoped to see back in the ‘40s, but it wasn’t enough. The pit of despair in his stomach only seemed to grow and grow with no hope of slowing down.

Things got better, slowly, as his teammates became friends as the months and years crawled by. Despite the horrors of the new battles the future kept tossing them into, Steve began to settle into his skin piece by piece, only to get knocked back off-kilter when Hydra and Bucky reappeared like his nightmares come to life. It was as if the universe had decided that he hadn’t suffered enough yet and Steve needed to be reminded that he wasn’t allowed to have good things, to have peace. So he swallowed down all his pain and kept fighting because he simply didn’t know how to do anything else anymore. After Hydra and SHIELD collapsed -nearly taking Steve down with them- someone up above must have taken pity on his sorry soul because Bucky came back. For the first time, despite all of Thor’s reassurances that Darcy would return, Steve felt hope.

(It burned in his chest like a small flame no matter how often Steve reminded himself how painful hope could be. He’d lived too long and had too much taken from him to not cautious of the feeling. Whether or not his current situation was affirming or refuting his long-held notion, Steve’s exhausted mind couldn’t figure out.)

Steve opened his eyes when he felt Natasha’s hand squeeze his shoulder with a grounding strength he didn’t realize he needed. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes to meet her gaze, “Alright, yeah. Let’s get her back home.” His voice broke slightly over the word but he forced it out all the same. She should’ve been there already, not in some goddamn war zone and Steve couldn’t help but to feel angry at that.

Natasha’s expression changed just enough to make Steve feel like she was silently laughing at him. “Am I missing something?” he asked with no small amount of exasperation.

“Yeah, but I can’t poke fun of you too bad because no one else seems to have picked it up either,” she huffed a small laugh, “Honestly, I’m shocked that I got it before the rest of you bleeding hearts.” Steve’s face must have shown just how done he was with her mind games because her trademark devil-may-care smirk eased off of her mouth.

“Darcy didn’t get sent to the Tower because it’s not her home.” She paused, as if waiting for the penny to drop, then continued when Steve was still very much not on the same page as her, “You , Steve, you’re her home. Bucky, Jane, Thor, all of us. We’re the only family she’s got, so why would the Norns drop her anywhere besides where we are?”

It took several seconds for Natasha’s words to untangle and finally make sense inside of Steve’s thick skull. When they finally did, Steve could feel his lips stretch into a smile he was sure he hadn’t worn since 1944. The little flame in his chest grew more and more until he was certain that Natasha could see burning him from the inside out.

It wasn’t a guarantee for the days to come, Steve realized, but it was definitely a good enough place to start.




 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“Miss Lewis, your breakfast is outside your door.”

Darcy startled at the AI’s unfamiliar voice but managed to get out a soft “Thank you” after she got her heart rate back under control. She moved on silent feet across her softly-lit living room to the door that led out into the hallway. With hardly any noise at all she managed to check the peephole before swiftly opening the door to get her food, then shutting it with a soft click.

Her stealth was completely unnecessary, though. She had asked for privacy from the world and everyone seemed pleased enough to give it to her for the moment. It wouldn’t last forever--only about 36 hours as she’d requested--and there were only another two hours left until her self-isolation was over. Swallowing her nerves at the thought Darcy hopped up onto the kitchen counter and began methodically eating the breakfast burrito she pulled from the bag.

She faintly registered that the meal in her hands was one of the best damn things that she’d eaten in years but the other ninety-nine percent of her thoughts were too loud and chaotic to really pay any attention to that fact. Darcy took another bite in an attempt to stifle her rising panic as they rose in volume. It didn’t really work; she was still too aware of the minutes ticking away that brought her closer and closer to the real world outside her rooms.

It was so fucking selfish, hiding like she was, though everyone seemed to understand to some degree. At least that’s what Jane told her when she asked for the time alone. Darcy had some doubt about Jane’s conviction, but no one had banged on her door to demand entry or to coax her out so Darcy had to assume that everyone was at least respecting her wishes whether or not they actually approved or understood.

Swallowing the last of her food, Darcy pulled out the giant protein shake out of the bag and made her way to the floor to ceiling window across the room as she took a sip. She didn’t really pay attention to the flavor as she looked down on the snow-covered city outside. It was beautiful as the sun creeped up over the buildings. The mixture of city lights still glowing strong and sunshine reflected off of the snow that gave the scene some type of magic Darcy couldn’t name.

Her smile faded quickly when the familiar sense of wrong crawled along her skin. She didn’t understand why she kept feeling so wrong, Darcy knew this city, just like she knew this tower and the people in it. So why did she feel like such a goddamn stranger? Like she was haunting this world and not really living in it?

She folded her legs underneath herself and sat down and let her head fall against the window with a small thunk. It was a position she was familiar with over the last day and a half since she had woken up. The city was alive in a way that Darcy simply wasn’t at the moment and she couldn’t help but to be drawn to the window whenever her thoughts poured over her. Perhaps it was the knowledge that her door that would soon be opening soon, because suddenly she couldn’t help but to think back on when she woke up in these rooms.

*

Darcy used to be slow to rise in the mornings, sleeping in til noon if she could all tangled in her blankets and surrounded by her multitude of pillows. The habit started to break once began tagging along with SI’s Scientists Three and kept breaking once she found herself in Steve and Bucky’s apartment in ‘42--Mrs. Stanton may have had a soft spot for Darcy but the woman was adamant about arriving at the shop on time--then lie-ins disappeared completely once she ‘joined’ the army. Constantly moving from one life or death situation to another tended to do that to a person. Gone was the gentle transition from sleep to wakefulness, in its place was the jolt that shot through Darcy’s mind that yanked her from sleep into being aware.

She didn’t move when she woke up; she kept her breathing even and her body lax as she assessed her surroundings. There was a haze on her mind that worried her (where was she? Who had her?) and kept her memories blurry as the serum burned whatever she was dosed with out of her blood. Despite her ability to keep control of her body’s reactions Darcy couldn’t stop the spike in her heart rate and adrenaline as panic creeped up her spine as she remembered.

Steve, the Valkyrie, Hydra. The fighting. White light, pain pain pain then more fighting. Flash of silver and red, then Howard--no,Tony?

Darcy wanted to shake her head to dispel the fog on her mind but couldn’t risk letting anyone know she was awake; she didn’t know who was with her and whether or not her memories were real and needed all the time she could get to figure out a plan. Turning her focus back in, Darcy tried to take note of her surroundings.

She was laying on something soft, something far more comfortable than the cots they had at base or even the couch from their apartment in Brooklyn. Darcy was almost thrown at how damn squishy the thing was compared to her past couple years of sleeping on the ground more often than not. If Darcy was a betting type, she’d say she was on a mattress, and a fancy one at that.

Just as the thought came across her mind Darcy felt the gentle weight of blankets on top of her. They were soft where they brushed against her hands and face, just like the pillow under her head. So, definitely a swanky bed then. It didn’t really clear anything up--her mind was still trying to comprehend the last day or so of memories--though it was good to at least confirm something around her.

Darcy wondered if she should get up and take a look around wherever she was (yes, she most definitely should for fuck’s sake she spent too much time as a soldier to be slacking off like this) even as the warmth of the bed was trying to lure her mind back into sleep where everything was quiet and less confusing to think about.

“You awake, Darce?”

Darcy had lept from the bed and hurled herself across the room before the words were even fully spoken. The sheets and blankets provided her with enough of a distraction to make it onto the other side of the bed and as far away as she could be from whoever was in the room with her. She cursed at herself internally, she shouldn’t have missed someone else’s presence in the room.

All the adrenaline dropped out of her so quickly Darcy swayed with it as she looked across the bed to see Jane casually sitting in a leather armchair. Confusion surged up in its place and Darcy felt her head swim with the sudden change. She remained crouched in the space between the wall and the bed, though she did let her hands fall out of their defensive position slightly.

“Guess that answers that,” Jane smiled, but Darcy could see the wetness in her eyes and hear the small warble in her voice. Some instinct--born from spending almost all of her time at her best friend’s side for what was considered something just shy of codependence--reared up and Darcy felt herself leaning forward the smallest amount. Her head may be a tragic mess right now, but Darcy would gladly shove it all aside if that meant she could focus on wiping the sad expression off of Jane’s face.

Her friend waited several moments for Darcy to speak and nodded like she was steeling herself for something when it was clear Darcy wasn’t going to pipe up anytime soon. She wanted to, she did so badly, yet Darcy couldn’t. Her heart was beating too fast and there was a faint echo of pain in her body that kept her wary of whatever reality she was facing then. There was still a part of her that wasn’t entirely convinced that this wasn’t some type of trick or fever dream.

“Do you know me?” Darcy began nodding feverently before Jane even finished speaking. She may not know what the hell was going on at the moment but she’d know her best friend anywhere, fever dream or not. Jane must have read her thoughts on Darcy’s face because sagged a little in her chair and smiled around a few tears, “That’s a relief; we weren’t sure what the trip back would do to you.”

Tensing as the memory of white lightning and pain seared through her Darcy almost missed the heartbreak flash across Jane’s expression before she schooled it back to something a little more neutral. “Do you remember what happened, Darce?” Jane looked like she wanted to reach across the empty space and hold her close (Darcy wanted her to yet couldn’t find the words to ask), clenching her hands together when she reeled in her reaction. Instead of trying to bridge the gap between them Jane just took a deep breath to brace herself once more when Darcy nodded, though this time much less confidently.

“Well, for starters, it’s January 8th, 2017, and about four in the morning.” Jane chuckled a little at whatever face Darcy was making before she continued, “Yeah, we got back here yesterday--not sure when, between the time change and stress of it all--and thought you’d wake up quicker than you did, but you’ve been sleeping through the past day. Guess you needed it.” (Darcy understood the ‘we’ to mean the Avengers as there was a sudden flash of Steve in her mind that burned with longing but she ruthlessly pushed it down. She couldn’t think about him--or anyone else yet--she needed to understand it all first.)

Jane shrugged when Darcy still didn’t reply, lowering her gaze and fiddling with the hem of her oversized sweater nervously. It took a moment for Darcy to recognize that the sweater was her own. She felt her lips pull into a reluctant smile at the way the sweater absolutely drowned her friend in excess fabric. Tentatively, Darcy eased herself from her crouch and sat herself on the edge of the bed. Jane’s next smile was a little more genuine when she looked up and Darcy felt some tension leave her body in response.

They sat there, smiling gently at one another like a couple of idiots with no clue where to go. They were all too aware of the thin ice under their feet and the fragile air around them both, though it seemed to Darcy that they were going to try to take their sweet damn time before they let it shatter.

It was peace--small and tentative and laid with dozens of trip wires, but it was some form of peace. Darcy couldn’t remember the last time she had that.

They sat together in their weird sort of limbo for another ten minutes before Jane moved from her chair to sit on the other side of the bed. They waited for another three until the new tension leaked from Darcy’s shoulders once more.

“Sorry,” Jane murmured. Darcy shook her head determinedly and shuffled a little closer. Taking the silent cue for what it was Jane closed the distance on her side until they sat across from one another in the center of the bed, legs crossed and knees touching. Darcy’s mouth quirked slightly when she took note of her clothes for the first time: soft yoga pants she hadn’t seen in what felt like a lifetime and an enormous t-shirt that could only have belonged to Thor.

“I was the one who got you changed,” bless Jane and her uncanny ability to read Darcy’s mind, “I wanted you to be comfortable and figured this was what you’d like.” Darcy nodded her head in thanks and smiled up at Jane.

Her friend looked almost exactly the same, for which she was thankful. Darcy knew that two years and some change (she was baffled, certainly it had been longer? It had felt like decades since she had last seen Jane) weren’t enough to drastically alter a person so visibly, though the fact that Jane hadn’t changed--apart from the sad set of her smile and the heavy circles under her eyes--set some part of Darcy at ease. She felt a sudden tension build up again with a sudden insight that weighed down on her shoulders and pitting in her chest as tears tried to fight their way down her face: Darcy couldn’t dare to hope that the world had been as immovable as Jane and it would be impossible to hide from it forever.

Darcy tried to speak, to ask Jane what happened (to her, the world, to everything) while she was gone. She wanted to know where everyone was even though at the same time she wasn’t sure if she could stand to see anyone else at the moment. Darcy let out a frustrated noise and choked on a small sob as the words froze in her throat. She’d never had problems speaking her mind before (and the gods knew that got her in more trouble than she ever knew what to do with) and Darcy couldn’t help but to panic when the words wouldn’t come. What if she was stuck like this? What if the trip back broke her even more than she already was? Darcy didn’t bother to wipe the tears streaming down her cheeks because all of a sudden Jane’s hands were already cradling her face and brushing them aside.

“Shh,” Jane soothed her, “You don’t have to say a damn thing, okay? You want to cry, then cry, Darce. You want to sit here and scream into your pillow for the next three hours, that’s great and I’ll totally join you because I’ve got some of my own shit to work through.” Darcy managed a small huff of a laugh as her friend rambled nervously that had Jane beaming around her own tears. “There we go, that’s better. You laughing at me and my scatter-brain, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, right?” Darcy couldn’t help the little incredulous and slightly hysterical giggle she let out. Gods, she was just so fucking lost and confused and everything ached.

Her turmoil must have shown on her face easily because Jane’s face went from sympathetic to considering, “I think I’ve got something to help, let go for a second?”

It took a moment for Darcy to understand Jane’s words before she hastily dropped her hands from where they were clutching almost desperately to her friend’s wrists. She didn’t realize she had done it. Moving quicker than Darcy’s addled mind could focus on, Jane reached over the edge of the bed behind her and pulled a bundle of red off of the floor.

Darcy couldn’t stop the sobbing even if she had wanted to when Jane wrapped Thor’s cape around her shoulders. A small laugh hitched in between a couple of breaths and the ridiculousness of it all. It was a goddamn cape, it shouldn’t have been as comforting as it was but even as she chided herself Darcy pulled it tighter so she was surrounded completely. Thor’s cape was familiar and a strange constant in her life that she didn’t realize she had missed dearly until that moment.

She had always wondered why Thor let her use the cape like a security blanket, because surely it deserved more dignity than whatever Darcy was showing it when she had cried into it countless times.  It was part of his armor, part of his princely regalia that was probably older than he was. Darcy had listened to dozens of Thor’s stories--his life was so long so he never ran out--and knew that the cape had seen thousands of battles and was bloodied over and over and over again. She knew that Frigga had put some of her magic into the fabric to keep her eager son as safe as she could as he went off into war with a grin on his face and hammer in his fist when she knew she couldn’t protect him anymore. The Queen of Asgard may be gone, but Darcy could still feel the strong thrum of Frigga’s magic soothing her frayed edges as she burrowed into it.

The first time Darcy had used the cape was shortly after the Dark Elves were defeated. Erik had quickly left--off to explore more Science! with an excited Ian the intern promising to look after the older man. Erik had held Jane and Darcy close before he left, then shook Thor’s hand with all the respect of a fellow warrior. All of them silently agreed to ignore the shine in everyone’s eyes as he left. They understood Erik’s need to get away from the crowded flat and to focus on something that wasn’t aliens interfering with his life again. Thor had come back shortly before Erik’s departure and was sharing the small flat with them, filling the space with his heavy heart and sad eyes as they figured out how to move forward. Once Erik and Ian left, Jane, Darcy, and Thor spent the first three days together in a stupor: Jane’s body and mind exhausted from the Aether, Thor’s soul weighed down by the loss of his mother and brother, and Darcy, well, she was just barely hanging on.

She didn’t tell Jane or Thor about what happened to her during the Convergence. Oh, they knew how Ian had saved her by using a nearby car to crush the approaching Elves that had cornered them, but they didn’t know about what happened before that.

Jane and Thor didn’t know that when Darcy and Ian got caught in a portal they originally were separated. That Darcy had found herself behind an alien crowding a couple of kids against the wall crumbling of a building, rasping out what must have been a laugh as the kids cried in fear. She didn’t tell Jane and Thor about how she picked up the twisted remains of a street sign from the rubble and shoved it through the alien’s back. (It was adrenaline and pure luck; a weak spot she managed to find and exploit before she thought too much on it, but the sound of metal pushing through flesh wasn’t one she’d forget anytime soon.) The kids knew better than to remain still and gawp, and they ran as fast as they could as the alien crumpled to the ground with a choked off gargle as its mouth filled with blood.

Darcy didn’t tell Jane and Thor that she yanked the metal bar back out and kept it--just in case--as she tried to find her way back to her friends. She didn’t let them know that her shock wasn’t enough to block out the feeling of blood trickling down her hands, tacky and horribly dark against the metal. She didn’t tell her friends that minutes later, she was driving the jagged end of the bar into another alien’s neck as it crept up on an oblivious Ian. Darcy didn’t want them to know that she felt the spray of blood on her face one moment then the feeling off cool water the next. That she only came out of her stupor enough to notice that minutes had passed and Ian had pulled her over to a fountain, wiping away the blood with his handkerchief that he had wet in the water. On autopilot, she scrubbed her hands off in the cold water until her skin was almost raw from the friction. When they finished cleaning her to the best of their abilities, Ian led Darcy away from the fountain only to be stopped by the incoming Elves. She stifled her own panic once Ian saved them, then kissed him on impulse until she felt the jolt of another portal and heard Jane’s incredulous voice. She deflected to the best of her ability and sighed relief when it worked. Darcy threw out her coat and scarf the second she got a chance; no one had noticed the speckles of blood during the battle by some miracle and she wanted to keep what happened hidden forever if she could manage it.

She made it three days before she couldn’t fight sleep anymore and finally succumbed to her exhaustion. It felt like Darcy had just closed her eyes when she was suddenly opening them with a scream when all she saw was red--the Aether and blood that spilled on the street until she was choking and drowning in it. She brushed aside Jane and Thor’s concerns each time they barged into her room as she cried out in her sleep. It went on every night for a week before Jane demanded answers, Thor hovering worriedly over her shoulder. After a couple bottles of wine and plenty of tears, Darcy finally confessed it all.

She hated herself for the vulnerability, especially compared to her friends who were hurting so much more. Thor had just watched two members of his family die in front of him while Jane was still recovering from the effects of the Infinity Stone (Jane wouldn’t say anything, but Darcy saw how pale she had gotten, how her hands would shake from some phantom pain and when she woke from her own red-soaked nightmares). Darcy didn’t want to drag her own issues into their already hurting and ragtag family.

She had expected Jane’s platitudes and reassurances and while they didn’t really fix anything, Darcy let her friend’s comfort wrap around her. What she hadn't anticipated was Thor pulling her aside with a warm hand on her shoulder after he topped of their wine. She had followed him blindly onto the small balcony and sat at his side at his insistence. Darcy wanted to smile at how they must have looked: a large, bulky god and her tiny self shoved up side by side, Darcy’s glass of wine looking almost large in her hands while Thor’s appeared several sizes too small. She thought that Thor was simply giving her time to breathe, to gather herself as the cool air cleared her head while the warmth of him kept the chill away, but Darcy startled as he began to speak.

He told Darcy the story of his first battle that took place centuries ago. While he may have been ancient by her standards at the time Thor explained to her that he was no more than a teenager when he was first sent out to war. It was his duty as the crown prince and one day future king to be on the front lines with his soldiers. How else would they ever follow his orders if he was not willing to fight alongside them? He had been trained for nearly over a century in the art of war, Thor said, and he learned every way that his body and mind could be used as a weapon. But no one had adequately prepared him for how it would feel to have blood on his hands that wasn’t his own. He was no stranger to stories of gore, of course; Asgard was a culture based off of the glory of war and he had grown up listening to the tales of battle from birth.

“You are no stranger to the tales, either,” Thor said quietly, “Perhaps not in the same way, but Midgard is filled with more battles than one can dare to comprehend and their stories are told over and over again. Passed along in your legends, your books, your media.” He sighed, “After we fight our minds tell us the logic: that either we had to kill our enemies or we would die by their hands. Yet no one tells us how to carry the weight of another soul with our own.”

“How did you learn?” Darcy hated the way her voice wavered, meek where she usually was brash. She took a long pull from her glass to give her strength and watched Thor mirror her.

Thor laughed bitterly, “I didn’t. I ignored the heaviness I trailed behind me and in my heart for many years to come. I thought,” he let his head fall back against the brick to look at the stars. Darcy frowned as she followed his gaze, they were faded from the city light and Darcy suddenly had a pang of homesickness for New Mexico’s clear skies. Thor wrapped an arm around her shoulders as if he felt it too, “I thought I would be seen as weak if I acknowledged how battles were changing me. No one spoke of the horrors we had seen, the horrors we had caused . So I let the guilt and darkness fuel me. I became the bloodied and arrogant fool you and Jane found in the desert.”

Darcy leaned heavier against Thor’s side as she thought on the man she and Jane met then compared to the man who comforted her now like the big brother she never had. “What changed?”

“Loki let himself fall from the Bifrost,” it was said so simply and heartbrokenly that Darcy flinched though Thor didn’t acknowledge her reaction as he continued, “It... broke me, in a way I didn’t understand. He is-- was , my brother, and I failed him, had hurt him with my selfish ways. I never understood that by caging my pain and turning it against myself I was also hurting him. I didn’t realize that my pain had become his. He had wanted to help me, to be my brother and try to understand what ailed me, but I turned him away. With cruelty, even.”

Thor looked down at Darcy where she was cuddled firmly into his side. “I am not telling you to spill all of what resides in your heart, Lightning Sister, not if you do not want to,” he assured, “I know that it can provide comfort to keep some things to yourself. Just do not forget that those who care for you simply want you to be well. There is nothing you can say or feel that will be judged or a burden to us. So whatever you need to start to become well again, you need only ask.”

Darcy couldn’t breathe for several moments. She felt bowled over by Thor’s sincerity and was overwhelmed by the familial love that was practically rolling off of him in waves. It wasn’t something she had known since her mother had died when she was a kid, something she didn’t start to find again until she met Jane. It was strange to think that this man, this somewhat ancient alien and god was now offering it to Darcy. She shook off the incredulity (her doubt about her self-worth had no place here) and gave Thor a shaky smile.

Brave like only a bottle of wine could make her Darcy asked, “Can I borrow your cape?”

She felt the blush fill her cheeks at the thought of trying to explain her thought process to Thor. How she figured that if Thor wore it for hundreds of years through battles and wars then it must be safe, it must keep him safe, so surely, it would do the same for her? That maybe it’d keep the nightmares away for a little while, that it’d make her feel as strong and invincible as the god who sat at her side and called her his sister. Before she could open her mouth to lie and tell Thor she didn’t mean it, he smiled at her.

“Of course!” She searched his face for any sign that he was teasing her and found none. Darcy felt the little bit of nerves pooling in her gut dissipate. She should’ve known better than to doubt him.

Wordlessly, Thor began to pull himself onto his feet with an ease that didn’t even hint at the fact that Darcy was still clinging to his side as he did so. Once he had her safely on her own two (much more unsteady) feet Thor turned them back to the sliding glass doors that lead back inside. Darcy couldn’t help but to smile fondly as Jane scrambled up from her own spot on the other side where she surely eavesdropped with no shame. Her friend shrugged and opened the door as if to say, Can you blame me? You would’ve done the same, and Darcy found couldn’t really argue that point.

Without really understanding how she got from point A to point B, Darcy found herself in her bed minutes later with Jane cuddled at her side and Thor’s cape tucked close around her, the god himself sitting at the end of the bed with his back against the wall. She watched his eyes close but knew better than to assume he was sleeping; he was acting as sentry as his two favorite mortals rested.

It undoubtedly looked strange to an outsider, but Darcy couldn’t really care. She was safe and loved in a way that she hadn’t been for a long time. They’d probably have to remind and reassure her over and over again, just as Darcy would do for them, but she would pick their odd little family a million times over again.

Darcy wasn’t sure why the memory had come forward when it did, sitting on a bed with Jane in 2017 as she tried to force words through the ice in her throat and her thoughts suffocating in too much fog in her mind. The memory was technicolor and so real Darcy shook with it as the emotions raced through her once more. She felt a rise of bitterness that a memory had been taken from her, again, by her time in the past.To remember the feeling of that warm contentment and love would have helped her immensely during the war and her time in the past when everything else was so foreign and frightening.

The logical part of Darcy’s mind wondered if maybe that was why she didn’t remember it until now. That maybe she wouldn’t have been able to fight for her life--both on and off the battlefield--if she had shown up in 1942 with that feeling wrapped tight around her skin like armor. If she had clung onto her past (her future?) too much, would she have been able to make a new family? Would she have been able to claim another brother in Bucky and found love with Steve? What about Howard and Peggy and the rest of the Commandos?

The what if’s started swirling through her, threatening to suffocate her and blind her with the possibilities of a different past and future. Darcy’s knee-jerk reaction was to swallow it all down, to grab it with both hands and squeeze until her rioting emotions crumbled into dust at her feet.

But Darcy was just so damn tired. Tired of running, of hiding, of fighting everyone and everything in front of her, including herself. She wanted to stop fighting. She wanted to get the weight of the world off of her shoulders and dig out the shadows that made a home around her heart. She wanted the comfort of her best friend who was looking at her like she was both a miracle and a mirage about to fade from view. So with one last deep breath, Darcy let herself collapse into Jane’s arms and fall apart.

Jane didn’t hesitate, just pulled her close and held her with a strength that made Darcy’s ribs creak, letting her take in all the warmth and comfort that Jane could offer. When she felt tears dropping onto the crown of her head, Darcy wrapped her arms around Jane in turn and held her just as tight. There weren’t any useless platitudes, no empty promises that everything would be okay and go back to ‘how it was’. Anything resembling ‘normal’ or something similar hadn’t been an option since they ran over a Norse god in the desert until whatever bit of it remained was shot to hell when Darcy was pulled back in time.

Darcy felt herself begin to calm down as her heaving sobs began to shift into hitching breath, letting only a few more whimpers escaped her as she settled. She kept her arms around Jane as she attempted to corral her lungs into breathing a little more evenly.

It took a couple more minutes before they were calm enough to untangle themselves and look at each other. When Darcy moved across the bed to lean against the headboard (cape spread over her legs and fabric clenched in both her fists) Jane grabbed a small cooler that was on the floor next to the bed. Inside were several bottles of water, a couple of smoothies, and several protein bars. Darcy didn’t even notice the flavors as she downed three bars and a bottle of water in about twenty seconds flat. She gave Jane a sheepish smile when her friend snorted in amusement.

“I missed you.”

The words had come easily enough though they were raspy and lacked the strength Darcy usually could put behind her words. Jane didn’t seem to care, just smiled and said it back. As if the floodgates had opened, Darcy couldn’t stop the rush of words that came out next.

Without looking at Jane, Darcy told her everything. Every detail from waking up on Steve and Bucky’s couch to her job at the dress shop and the brawl they got into the same day. She told Jane about the time before the war; days filled with work and living with the two biggest dorks that 1942 Brooklyn had to offer. Darcy didn’t skimp on any details because she couldn’t help but feel that if she left anything out it’d be gone forever. There was no telling what had happened to her journal  and the thought of no one knowing what had happened was unbearable. (Besides, who was to say that Darcy wasn’t going to get pulled out of 2017 as well? The thought was invasive and chilling so she forced it from her mind.)

Taking solace that Jane never tried interrupt, Darcy talked for what felt like hours. The sun rising higher and higher through the window was just a side note in her mind as she kept speaking. As each word made its way past her lips Darcy felt herself become more exposed than she ever could have anticipated; she dug up every emotion and laid it all out between her and Jane--everything that made her smile and laugh and cry, everything that made her shake with fear and wake up screaming at night--unwilling to bear it alone anymore. Jane didn’t say anything when Darcy told her about everyone she had killed and hurt in the war (so many, too many, she couldn’t help but to count them in her mind) and Darcy saw her smiling genuinely from the corner of her eye when she learned about Darcy and Steve falling in love.

It wasn’t until her voice was rough from use and tears that Darcy finished, “I have some fuzzy memories from getting pulled from the base in ‘45. There was a lot,” she swallowed harshly, “It hurt, a lot. It was like standing on a thousand live wires.” The shudder that traveled down her spine was involuntary but Darcy ignored it and pressed on, “Then it just...stopped. Everything was still and suddenly I was in a new fight. Not sure what happened there. I think fighting? Everything hurt and I didn’t know what was going on. There was someone fighting me, someone yelling , then I think I remember Tony? I-I’m not sure what else. Then I woke up here.” She let out a sigh that shook out of her chest and looked over at her friend, wary of what she’d see.

Jane’s eyes were a little wide and plenty wet but Darcy didn’t see anything damning in them. There was no judgement or disgust, and nothing that looked like pity. The desire to fall back on the bed in relief and let the world keep passing by now that her tale was finished was strong. She didn’t want to think of what Jane’s own tale would hold. She didn’t want to hear about how her friends changed without her. (Selfish, it was so selfish but Darcy couldn’t help it. She was too tired; she just wanted to close her eyes and let the world keep passing her by.)

Her best friend narrowed her eyes like she knew exactly what Darcy was thinking and raised her chin with a stubborn tilt of her head that Darcy knew far too well. It was a look that tore straight through a person, a look that said I see you and I know you, don’t try to hide from me. A wave of shame came over Darcy as she met Jane’s look head on for only a moment before looking away, admitting defeat.

Darcy knew she was being a coward. Gods she hated it yet she wanted to hold onto it for a moment longer even if it made her face burn hot and her eyes flush with tears once more as she thought about her actions. She couldn’t shut down on her friends, her family , and stay locked away forever in order to save herself from more pain. Yes, she’d been hurt, she’d been traumatized (she also had joy, she reminded herself, she also had love), but Darcy knew that she wouldn’t be the only one. Even just in that room Darcy wasn’t the only one who got hurt or had seen their world change in the past couple of years. There was no telling what the Avengers and world had gotten up to. She knew there had to be good as well, (she refused to believe that nothing brought joy to her friends in the past couple of years) but there was something like trepidation in Jane’s eyes telling Darcy that there was enough that would hurt to hear.

Her friend must have found what she was looking for in Darcy’s face because she reached over the bed for a third time and began tossing what felt like amount of composition notebooks onto the mattress. They were all numbered (there were no more than ten, thankfully) and looked well used, many with extra pieces of paper looking like they had been crammed in until they poked around the edges. A heavy ball of tension began to form in her gut as Darcy looked at them. She pulled her legs close so that they were crossed in front of her like a pretzel as Jane began to organize the books into two stacks with determination. Once they were as good as she deemed fit, Jane grabbed the notebook numbered with a red one on the corner and slid across the bed until she was at Darcy’s side once more.

Jane’s fingers tapped on the well-worn cover in a staccato rhythm and met Darcy’s nervous gaze. “I started making these after we found your journal,” Darcy’s relief that her journal was found was short-lived as her friend pressed on, “This first part isn’t going to be pretty, and it’s gonna hurt.” She cleared her throat and began fiddling with the cover again, “What do you remember about the day you got sent back?”

Darcy thought back and shrugged uncertainly in response, “The lecture, JARVIS calling about Hydra, us in the wine cellar. We slept on the plane and then we got to the Tower. Then...Then we ate and napped and I went to get coffee. When I came back,” she huffed a dry laugh, “There was some light Thor put out that started zinging around like a shitty action movie. Socked me right in the chest, found myself waking up in 1942.”

“Okay, yeah, that’s good.” Jane fidgeted and Darcy felt her unease ratchet up a notch. “Tell me what you remember about what Thor was doing, what we were looking for.”

“Nothing,” Darcy replied a little easier, “I figured it was Hydra related but I didn’t stick around for specifics.” She had been exhausted and decided that she didn’t need to know the details about whatever her scientists and Thor were getting up to. Darcy scrunched up her face in confusion. She didn’t understand why it was so important to Jane, Darcy had already fought Hydra once and had no qualms doing it again if that’s what her friend was trying to get at.

“They were looking for an assassin called the Winter Soldier,” Jane rushed the words like they burned her tongue, “He tried to kill Fury and Steve and Nat, there was a mission called Project Insight that was going to kill millions , so they sent the Soldier to keep Steve from stopping it. They stopped it, but not before Steve figured out who the assassin was.”

Anything Darcy was going to ask or say locked up in her throat when Jane opened the notebook and Bucky’s face looked up at her through the multitude of photographs. It wasn’t her Bucky, though, and Darcy frantically tried to make sense of what she was seeing so she could reconcile it in her mind. Picture after picture made less and less sense to her as the horror grew. Bucky with long hair and stubble. Bucky with a dead emptiness in his eyes as he sat tied into a terrifying chair that rocked Darcy to her core. Bucky with a mask and a metal arm snapping someone’s neck. Bucky’s face, eyes closed and still as death with ice clinging to his blue skin.

Half of Darcy’s mind was still listening to Jane as she explained what had happened to her brother: The serum he was given and how he survived the fall from the train only to be tortured and brainwashed for decades, turned into the Asset who was more machine than man. Darcy pulled the notebook from Jane’s hands, ignoring how her own trembled violently, and began flipping through the pages as if she moved quick enough the pictures would change. Her eyes took in the notes Jane filled in around the pictures that only added to the horror of what Darcy was hearing as well. She couldn’t focus on Jane’s words but she knew that she’d remember every one of them later. It was the burden of a perfect memory given to her from the serum. Her memory never failed her in war, had served her well even, though now she wanted nothing more than to burn the words from her mind.

She didn’t realize she was crying again until a tear landed on the pictures she was transfixed on. Bucky was strapped to a table in a lowly-lit room, his body a vague blur as he struggled against his restraints as a group of men in white coats surrounded him. There was blood on the floor and a shine of metal gleaming between two of the ‘doctors.’ Bucky’s face was inexplicably clear: eyes wide open with agony and his mouth stretched wide around a scream. The next photograph showed him unconscious, a metal arm gleaming even underneath all the blood that smeared on its surface.

Darcy shuddered at the images in her hands but couldn’t dare to look away. You did this, something in her mind hissed at her, You didn’t catch him, you let him fall. You made this happen.

She wanted to throw the book across the room, wanted to tear it to shreds and burn the damn thing until it was nothing but a pile of ash and dump the remains into the ocean. It wouldn’t absolve her of her guilt (not that she deserved absolution) and the blame would still weigh heavy on her soul, yet she wondered if destroying the book would at least help her fight the growing devastation in her heart.

“...he has all of his memories back, and has been with us all ever since. The serum helped heal him and then the rest of the triggers were taken care of by Vision. He’s...um, well, I’ll explain Vision later.” Jane’s voice was steady, though there was an undercurrent of pain that Darcy couldn’t help but notice. She wondered if it was sympathy for her or for Bucky. She wondered if he and Jane were friends.

She wondered if Steve blamed her for what happened to Bucky, and then she couldn’t wonder about anything else.

Darcy slammed down the surge of emotions that ran through her at the thought of Steve with a ruthlessness that she hadn’t known she possessed. Every rising iota of guilt, longing, and everything in between was buried and replaced with an empty numbness. She couldn’t think on him now--no matter how desperately she wanted to find him and make him hold her close. Not when pictures of Bucky’s torture were still resting in her hands and the blame on her shoulders. Not when there were still nine more notebooks to go through.

“Darcy?” Jane tentatively placed a hand on Darcy’s knee. It was a gentle and barely-there touch, yet it grounded Darcy’s mind in her body with ease. She shook her head the smallest amount before looking up at her friend.

Pulling on her emotionless mask was almost too easy for her. She’d used it so much during the war (and even before her trip to the past when it was easier to fake a smile than let her feelings show) that it felt like pulling on a favorite shirt. Darcy tried to gentle the blank look for Jane, though it was useless to think that her best friend could be fooled by it.

“Do you want to stop? Not all of these are about Bucky, they cover just about everything you missed.” Jane bit her bottom lip in a nervous gesture as she searched Darcy’s face. It was clearly hurting Jane to relive this all with her but Darcy couldn’t help but to be thankful for her friend’s strength. There was no way she’d be able to read them alone.

She dragged her gaze back down to the book in her lap. With one last glimpse at Bucky’s face in the cryochamber, Darcy closed it with gentle hands.

“Keep going,” she pressed the book to her chest as she looked at the remaining nine sitting in front of her, “I need to know.”

*

Jane had talked for hours, explaining nearly moment by moment to Darcy what had happened once she disappeared.It wasn’t until the sun had begun to hang a little lower in the sky that Jane had finally closed the tenth book. The information felt like lead in the back of Darcy’s skull, as if it’d only take one wrong twist of her head for it all to tumble down and choke her.

It had been a struggle to sit in the silence after Jane stopped talking. There was no mistaking the tension in the air mixed with their helplessness, a sense of what now? surrounding them. Jane had understood Darcy’s need for time alone without her needing to say a word. After one quick meal pulled from the fully stocked fridge in the kitchen followed by a brief tour and introduction to FRIDAY (she already missed JARVIS), Darcy was left alone with the promise of thirty-six hours of privacy.

It was selfish. Steve and Bucky were hurting and she hid away in her room like a child. All of her friends--her family-- who had been looking for her and protecting her even when she wasn’t with them. She thought about coming out of her self-isolation early a few times to stop the guilt gnawing away at her but never followed through. Darcy had held back her reactions from Jane, but once the door closed behind her friend, all bets were off.

There was crying, screaming, things in the apartment got broken in her rage as she worked through the notebooks again. There was a lot of forlorn gazes out the window that Darcy wanted to mock herself for but couldn’t because sometimes the noise in her head got too loud and she needed to focus on something before she lost it completely. (There was joy too, Darcy would remind herself, there were new teammates and friends and a world that was starting to mend it’s mistakes. She couldn’t let herself get buried in everything that hurt, they’d all felt enough pain as it was.)

FRIDAY’s chime went off--warning Darcy that she had five minutes before her door would open and pulling her out of her head--she was glad that she never left the apartment early. She had needed the time to herself, desperately.

All too aware of her time dwindling away, Darcy stood and walked to the kitchen to throw the remains of her breakfast into the garbage and toss back a glass of cold water, as if the shock of the cold would brace her for whatever happened next. A moment later, she stood in the center of the living room looking down at the coffee table.

It looked innocuous, she supposed, just a bunch of notebooks sitting on the wood like they didn’t mean a thing, as if they didn’t hold enough information to warp her mind inside out several times over. She wondered how the table didn’t break under the weight of what was in them.

Next to the two stacks was an opened envelope that contained information about Tony being her biological father: a DNA test stapled with clippings of newspaper headlines about the information being public knowledge. There was a letter too, her name written with Tony’s familiar scrawl across the folded up paper that she didn’t have the energy to read yet. (She wondered if she should feel more surprised than she did. But maybe since her life was weird enough already having Iron Man as her Dad didn’t really rock the boat.)

A glance at the clock on the TV told Darcy there was a minute left before her privacy protocols would expire. The sound of her own heart beating furiously and the rush of blood in her head almost masked the sound of someone making their way to stand outside her door. The walls may have been sound proofed, but the door wasn’t, and there was the very distinct sound of someone trying to be quiet outside.

Darcy couldn’t stop her lip from quivering or from the tears pooling in her eyes as she strained her senses to listen closer. She knew the sound of that heartbeat, that nervous shuffle of feet on hard floors. She knew the way that person breathed in order to mask the fact that they were on the brink of tears.

Steve.

Not knowing when she crossed the room, Darcy yanked open the door with enough force that the hinges bent and left the door hanging at an angle at her side. She didn’t care, couldn’t care, because Steve was there. He was standing outside her door with tears already spilling down his cheeks and a hesitant smile on his face with his hand raised like he was about to knock on the door.

She didn’t remember either of them moving but they must have because between one moment and the next they were holding each other with a strength that would have broken bones on anyone else. Steve’s arms wrapped Darcy, engulfing her so completely that she thought she’d just melt into him as he brought her impossibly closer to himself. Darcy squealed a little in surprise when Steve, clearly deciding she still wasn’t close enough, picked her up so that she had to wrap all of her limbs around him.

In another impossibly fast movement Steve traded the doorway for the couch where he sat them down quickly as if he had lost the strength to stand. Darcy wanted to tease him about the change of venue--because damn it all if she wasn’t irreverent at the best of times and hell-bent on hiding her feelings behind humor whenever possible--though she stopped the reflex when she felt him tremble all around her. They were crying all over each other already, but she realized that this was different; Steve was shaking like he couldn’t believe that she was real, like she was smoke slipping through his fingers.

It had only been days for Darcy since she last saw Steve, exhausting and draining days yes, though still only days. Steve hadn’t seen her in years. Darcy started crying harder at the revelation and was unable to settle herself even when Steve tightened his arms around her until she could hardly breathe. Despite the way Steve was trying to ground them both Darcy could practically feel whatever control he had left dissolve, letting a new wave of emotion roll over him that was even stronger than before.

Darcy couldn’t care to imagine just how much of a mess they looked. They were sobbing openly, huge body-wracking cries that couldn’t possibly be mistaken for anything other than the unleashing of raw emotions that they obviously were. Steve’s face was buried in Darcy’s neck as his hands roved over every inch of her, lingering over the places where her injuries had healed over from the battles that took place both days and years ago. Darcy had her cheek pressed against his temple, keeping him pressed against her with one hand tangled in his hair and the other wrapped as far around his shoulders as she could manage.

Her lips were moving but she didn’t know what she was saying to him. She hoped it was reassuring, that whatever she was telling Steve would begin to soothe him and let him know how much she loved him.

There was no telling how long had passed before they both reached something that could be tentatively defined as calm, since anything more would be impossible to achieve. Their hands still shook where they pressed against one another and tears were still falling with no signs of slowing down, but they at least seemed to be able to catch their breath.

Darcy felt Steve press a tender kiss to her neck before he pulled away to face her fully. Her heart ached as she looked at him. Steve’s eyes were red and tired and steadily tearing up and over but Darcy swore she had never seen anything as stunning as the joy in his eyes at that moment. He looked at her like she was the goddamn sun, like she was his reason for breathing and he’d been so terribly lost without her. Like it was worth every bit of pain if it meant he’d still get to this moment at the end of the journey.

And she was looking at him exactly the same way.

Steve’s hands moved from where they had settled on her hips up to frame her face. His thumbs brushed across her cheeks to chase the tears away, then smiled. She hoped that her own smile was just as radiant as his, even if his hands were smushing her face the smallest amount.

“Darcy Lewis,” Steve’s voice was strong, only the smallest waver leftover from his tears that he pushed through his smile, “You sure know how to keep a fella on his toes, don’t you?”

The laughter bubbled out of her too quickly for her to contain. It was ridiculous, all of it. They were a couple of super soldiers who fought in WWII and Darcy fell through time--not once but twice, they’d survived aliens and Nazis alike and got broken and bent along the way. But here Steve was, smiling at Darcy like they were still the naive punks who fell in love in a shitty walk-up in Brooklyn.

“Steve Rogers,” she couldn’t help the chuckle she let out around his name. Everything had changed around them, and they certainly weren’t the same as they once were, but it’d be okay.   This hadn’t changed: Darcy and Steve looking at each other like a couple of mooks with hearts in their eyes, holding onto one another with everything they could muster, that was the same as it had always. They could keep waking up in different times, but they’d still find a way to one another. They’d still love each other like it was the only thing they knew was real.

Then they would figure out the rest as they went. Whatever chaos waited outside for them, whatever consequences were coming their way, and all the joy, all the pain that was bubbling beneath their skin that came from the years apart, they would conquer. Even if Darcy had her doubts and didn’t believe in anything else, she’d believe in them.

“Steve Rogers,” Darcy repeated softly, already leaning toward him, “Would you really have me any other way?”

Had it been anyone else, they would have described the following kiss with something like poetry. Maybe words like ‘fireworks’ and ‘blazing’ would have been used, something describing the electricity of it all.

But she was Darcy, and while the kiss was certainly all of those things, it simply felt like coming home.

She’d have to deal with changing times again, she knew. She’d have to process everything she had learned, everything she’d experienced and felt over the past few years. Darcy and Steve would have to relearn each other and she’d have to find a way to find her place in the future once more. Soon enough she’d see Bucky again and beg him for forgiveness that she knew he’d give anyways regardless if she felt as if she deserved it or not. She’d hug everyone she missed until they had bruises around their ribs then make them introduce her to their new teammates (new members of the family) and make sure to learn their stories until she knew them as well as her own. Darcy would have everyone tell her stories of what she missed, desperate to hear everything that made them laugh or cry. She’d read Tony’s letter and try to figure out what their shared DNA meant for them, probably over a glass or six of bourbon.

There was a lot Darcy needed to do that would try her in a way that she wasn’t sure she was prepared for. She couldn’t hide behind the scope of her rifle or let Ghost hide her away. The weight of the days to come rested heavily on her heart but Darcy pushed it aside so she could sink back into the present moment for as long as possible.

For now, Darcy would kiss Steve and let herself soak up the feeling of home.