AN: The first line is an homage, of course, to Casablanca, apt given the reference in the first part of the story. Also, some adult language in this part because of course Bucky cusses.
Sass and the Lonely Soldier
In all the rooms, in all the buildings, during the midst of all the tacky gift giving ceremonies in the world, Bucky had to walk into hers. He had only wanted a Coke, the mandatory beverage of baseball, as he attempted, once more, to give the blasphemy of the Dodgers in Los Angeles a try. But one step into the kitchen, a hand clamps down onto his and tugs, and Bucky finds himself being dragged by Darcy to the end of a row of amused Avengers.
"Finally," she says, manhandling him into position next to Clint. Bucky's too stunned to tense at her touch, no one except Steve and the doctors he's still forced to see ever getting this close. "I've only had Jarvis calling you for, like, the past fifteen minutes."
"Oh," Bucky says, keeping his gaze fixed on the wall and not on Tony, who leans forward now and narrows his eyes. He doubts Stark would want to know how he had Natasha fool around with Jarvis, narrowing the list of those allowed to contact him in his rooms to Steve, Natasha, and, because he had to, Coulson. Not that anyone else tried to contact him, Bucky generally avoiding social interaction, the shadow of the Winter Soldier still heavy upon him. "I was in the shower."
"No, you weren't."
Bucky looks at Darcy. "Yes, I was."
She narrows her eyes. "Really? Then why isn't your hair wet?"
Bucky leans back against the counter and regards her quietly. He hadn't expected her to call him on his lie, but she does as she crosses her arms over her chest, jostling the plastic shopping bag in her hand. "I dried it," he says, aware that the rest of the team is now focusing on them.
Darcy scrunches up her face. "No, you didn't. Hair that long doesn't air dry in five minutes, and you don't have a hair dryer in your room. You probably can't even use one since you keep ditching the sessions I schedule for you on modern life."
Clint coughs next to him, trying to hide his laughter. Bucky shoots him a glare before returning his attention to Darcy, seeing her, really, for the first time. He'd seen her before, of course, Darcy a regular presence in the Tower and at S.H.I.E.L.D. They often crossed paths, but he'd never paid attention, everything about her screaming "minimal threat." But now she stares him down as if she hadn't heard the stories from his past, which he knows she has working for Coulson, and Bucky finds himself mirroring her pose of crossed arms. "You calling me a liar?"
From the corners of his eyes, Bucky sees Steve straighten at the question. He's placed at the other end of the row between Tony and Natasha. His gaze darts from Bucky to Darcy, worry creasing his brow, but the concern does not extend to Darcy. She continues to stare, not in the least intimidated by Bucky and his menace.
"Well, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…"
Bucky arches a brow. "I'm not a duck."
"And you suck at lying too," Darcy says, arching a brow right back at him. "Which is kind of weird seeing as you're an honest-to-God super spy."
Both Clint and Tony laugh at that. Bucky even sees a smirk flash across Natasha's face. Narrowing his eyes at Darcy, he says, "Ok. Fine. I ignored you. Baseball's on—"
"And will be for another bazillion games. You can miss ten minutes of one seventeen-hour long steroid-fest in order to come here and get your thank-you present."
The slight against baseball lights a fire within Bucky. He needed to win this unexpected showdown, if only to defend the honor of the best goddamn sport ever played. "A thank-you present? Is that what they're calling it nowadays?" Flashing Darcy a grin, he leans in close and leers. "Doll, if you wanted to see me naked, all you had to do was ask."
Steve sighs at the exchange and pinches the bridge of his nose. Tony finally stops staring at Bucky, turning his gleeful attention to Darcy now to see how she'll react. Clint laughs again and reaches behind him for a bowl of popcorn. He tosses a few kernels in his mouth and tries to pass some to Thor, who stares at Bucky with hard eyes. Only now does Bucky remember that she and the god are actual friends. But he doesn't drop his stare. He keeps his eyes on Darcy, waiting for her reaction, but it's not what he expected. She doesn't blush or squirm or look away as he figures most dames would in her place. Instead, she bites down on her lip. Her shoulders start to shake and he realizes she's trying her best not to laugh, genuinely amused by his dirty talk. His estimation of her rises.
"Here," she says, shoving a small box wrapped in shiny silver paper in his hand. "Take your damned gift. I give up."
Bucky looks down at the present as Darcy proceeds down the row, unearthing more gifts from her bag for the rest of the team. His thumb flicks the ribbon curling off the top then he looks at Clint and quirks a brow.
"Standard op," he says, ripping off the gaudy purple plaid encasing his gift. "After about the fifth time we saved her sorry ass—" Here he pauses to glance at Darcy, who flicks him off over her shoulder. Grinning, Clint continues. "—she started giving gifts to say thank you. Something small and ugly as sin most times." He opens the box and gives a snort of laughter at what he sees inside. Reaching in, he pulls out a tiny plastic hawk, a magnet, complete with giant orange beak and beady red eyes. "Like so."
Bucky blinks and looks again at his gift. He can't remember the last time someone had given him one. Nothing since his return, not anything small like this, thoughtful and personal and just for him, even if it was ugly as sin. The only gifts he received as the Winter Soldier were weapons and sometimes the ability to keep certain memories, usually those about Natasha. He and Steve couldn't really afford any presents before the war, and once they were on their own, Bucky couldn't risk being locked up for shoplifting, not with Steve being left on his own. He shifts the present in his hand, aware of the sounds of paper ripping and boxes opening around him. Licking his lips, he starts to peel apart the paper. He digs out the box and pops open the lid to find a silver and white snowflake inside, glittering in the light.
For the Winter Soldier.
Bucky blinks and then blinks again. Conversation begins to bubble around him, the team reacting to their gifts. Tony hoots and Thor waves something around, but all Bucky can do is stare at the damned gift. A few seconds pass and then a shadow falls upon him. Looking up, he sees Steve, a tiny pie in his hand, apple no doubt, his body angled to shield Bucky from the rest of the group.
Bucky shrugs, trying to pull himself together. "Fine. I just… didn't expect it."
Steve nods as though that made perfect sense, as though everyone froze like a goddamned deer in headlights when someone gave them a present. "I didn't either the first time she did it. But you'll get used to it."
He nods too, not thinking about it, his brain like a record skipping at the phrase "get used to it," as though these would be regular occurrences, these kitchen groupings, these gifts, as though Darcy will care to buy him something again in the future. In his periphery, he sees movement, the team starting to gather around Darcy, hugging her, looking for all the world like a team. Like a family. He swallows at the sight. "I…"
Steve raises a brow as he trails off.
Bucky breathes in and tries again. "Why…?" But he stops after the one word, hesitating to voice the thought, to expose himself, even here, with the few he trusts most.
"It's just a gift," Steve says. "Nothing more. Darcy does it for everyone."
"I know. I just…"
Bucky flounders and something in his flounder clarifies for Steve. He straightens and says, his voice now soft, "You didn't think you were everyone."
Bucky shakes his head. He knew he was to Steve, that he was part of the team. Part of his family. And for Natasha too, too much history between she and Bucky to make it otherwise. Even Clint had gone beyond cordial with him, treating him as something like a friend. But they were like him, all of them in the game. They knew; they understood more than most. To others, the civvies at S.H.I.E.L.D., Bucky remained a ghost, a shadow to fear, even though he fought now on their side. But Darcy, the girl who'd screamed civilian more than anyone else he'd met, too loud and too bright in her damned sweaters and godawful music, had just smashed through the idea of Bucky the ghost, the lonely soldier, in a dazzling pile of sass and glitter. She didn't fear him or hate him. She accepted him. She maybe even liked him.
His throat constricts at the thought. Before he can examine it, Darcy bounds over, flushed and grinning. "I went easy on you this time," she says, stopping beside him and Steve. "But keep with the sass and you'll be getting something as vile as Barton's next time."
She smiles at him, waiting for his response, for a return of the sass he so thoughtlessly threw her way just minutes before when the words had meant nothing, when she had meant nothing. But for one of the few times in Bucky's life, he can't think of anything to say. He clutches the box and stares at Darcy, his chest tight. The silence stretches between them, and as it does, her smile slips and a faint shadow of doubt creeps into her eyes.
"Is he okay?" she asks, glancing at Steve.
Steve stares at Bucky, concern again creasing his brow. "I don't… know."
He touches Bucky on the arm, and the touch rouses Bucky from his stupor. He clears his throat and tries to speak, but he can't shake loose the sentiment that's freezing him up. But he has to do something, Darcy and Steve still staring at him and, beyond, Natasha glancing his way too. Even Clint watches him, his gaze sharpening as the seconds pass. Looking at Darcy, Bucky nods. "It's fine. It's… shiny." The smile that he summons must look grotesque, strained and tight, since it makes Darcy frown, but before she can say anything, Bucky turns and places the magnet on the fridge by the rest. Then he strides from the kitchen, his Coke forgotten, sliding past Clint into the hall.
Murmured voices strike up as he flees, but Bucky doesn't stop. He makes his way to the elevator, poking the call button one, two, four times, needing to be gone before someone else sees or tries to talk to him. The doors open and he slips inside, pressing the button for his floor. As the doors shut, Bucky feels the weight on his chest ease. Air slides into his lungs again. He leans against the wall and lets out a slow breath, and, as he does, the reality of the past few minutes settles upon him.
He had fallen apart.
Over a fucking snowflake.
The reality horrifies him, both for its existence and the actions that were sure to follow, the extra concern from Steve, the almost assured call from Coulson, perhaps even a joke or twelve from Clint about Bucky and his feelings. Shaking his head, he watches as the elevator doors open. He half expects Natasha to be waiting on the other side, a slim brow cocked in inquiry, but the hall, thankfully, is empty. Bucky disembarks and strides to his quarters, slipping inside before any further disaster occurs.
The game plays across the television now, the Dodgers currently at bat, but Bucky no longer has any desire to watch it. He crosses the room to the remote, but as he reaches the couch, Jarvis clicks on with a prim, "Sergeant Barnes?"
Bucky closes his eyes. A message from Steve, no doubt, fueled by his persistent need to check in on him. At least he hadn't followed Bucky from the kitchen, likely the work of Natasha, who restrains the more smothering impulses within Steve. Trying to stifle his sigh, Bucky leans back against the couch and says, "Yeah?"
"A message, sir, from Ms. Lewis."
Bucky's eyes fly open. He straightens and smoothes a hand down his shirt, as though Darcy stood before him, the courtesy for dames ingrained even after all these years.
"Sergeant Barnes? I am aware this violates your contact policy. However—"
"I— No. It's okay, Jarvis. You can— I'm listening." He shakes his head at the nonsense flooding from his mouth. Hopefully Stark wasn't recording this. If he was, Bucky would never hear the end of it, the man too much like his father.
"Ms. Lewis asked me to inform you that if you found your magnet objectionable based upon its shine, she would scour the city for three dozen more and affix them with super glue to every available surface of your quarters."
For a moment, Bucky can't respond. Then he feels his mouth twitch, and then a smile forms, and then he's laughing, the laughter rich and warm and loud enough to echo through the room. The sound catches him by surprise, laughter still rare, even now, even with Steve, but it feels good.
"Sergeant Barnes? Shall I convey a message in response?"
"Yeah, Jarvis. Tell her good luck getting in."
There is a moment of silence and then Jarvis says, a smidgen of delight in his usually decorous tone, "I believe luck is not required, sir. Agent Romanov said she would assist in the matter."
Bucky freezes at the revelation. Nothing Natasha did ever lacked meaning, and neither did this, her offered assistance an encouragement, a reassurance, an intimation that he had withdrawn too much and perhaps for no reason. She must have been the one to tell Jarvis to allow the message from Darcy, too. His chest tightens at the thought, but he hesitates, again reluctant to expose himself, even here, even now, isolation ingrained within him after all these years. Yet in his uncertainty, Darcy flashes before his eyes, vivid and bold as she yanked him in, as she called him out, as she showed her love for the team, as she gathered them together, no hesitation in sight.
"Yes, Sergeant Barnes?"
Bucky feels his heart pound in his chest, and he shakes his head, at Natasha, at Darcy, but most of all at himself and at this strange turn in his increasingly strange and very long life. "Could you, uh, could you add Darcy to the list? The contact list."
There is a pause, as though Bucky had surprised Jarvis, as though Jarvis could be surprised. But maybe he could be. Because what had he observed of Bucky during his stay so far at the Tower? Silence and solitude, interspersed with forced interaction by Clint or Steve. This, this request, attempting to connect with someone, of course it would be shocking, even to a machine.
"It would be my pleasure, Sergeant."
It was, after all, to Bucky, but like Steve said, he was pretty sure that he would get used to the idea.
AN: Feedback is a wonderful and much appreciated thing. :D