That Which You Seek
"What the hell were you thinking?"
On the couch in her room Darcy sighs, too exhausted to do more. She knew this would come, the look on Jane's face as Darcy opened the door to the lab a promise of future haranguing. At least Jane had waited this long, until after Bruce had sedated a hyperventilating Bucky and Thor had carried him to his room down the hall. Steve sits with him now, though Bruce had predicted that Bucky wouldn't wake for hours, despite his enhancements. Darcy thinks that she could sit, too, but she can't, not yet, the events of the morning too much to process.
The door to her room closes. Darcy hears Jane approach, swift in her rage. She pulls her blanket tighter around her, keeps her gaze fixed on the sunlit city beyond the windows. A second later Jane steps into view, her hands in fists and her breath coming fast.
"Did you hear me?"
The response takes Jane aback, but only for a moment. "And?"
"And nothing," Darcy mutters.
"Not 'and nothing.' We're going to talk about this."
Darcy sighs again and gives in to the inevitable. "I didn't think, okay? I never do."
"You're sure as hell right about that. Locking yourself in that room with him is one of the stupidest things I've ever seen anybody do."
Anger sparks within Darcy at that, forcing her upright. "So says the woman who drove straight into a tornado before."
Jane's nostrils flare. "That wasn't—"
"And," Darcy says, pushing the blanket from her, "the woman who broke into a secret military base with a strange homeless dude from another planet."
Darcy stands. "And the woman who touched the creepy, world ending smoke, letting it infect and almost kill her."
She steps closer to Jane, resisting the urge to poke her in the chest. "And the woman who slapped the shit out of the god-dude who tried to take over the planet and killed thousands of people in the process. You are the queen of stupid ass decisions, yet you have the nerve to yell at me about mine?"
Jane presses her lips together. She inhales a quick breath, in prep, Darcy thinks, for a second wave of rage, but Jane releases it in a slow, shaky stream and says instead, "Okay. You're right. But—"
"'But he's dangerous, Darcy. But what are you doing, Darcy? But I'm the scientist, Darcy, you're just the dumb intern, Darcy, so go get me a coffee, Darcy, and let me do the thinking, Darcy, because you can't.'"
Jane blinks at her, again taken aback. "I don't—"
Darcy shakes her head. "You do. I didn't ask you to come here. I told you I was fine, but you assumed I couldn't handle it and came anyway."
"Of course I came. You know what he did to Steve. He killed people, Darcy—"
"You think I don't know that?" she says, yelling now, unable to stop. "I was there, Jane. I was in that diner. You weren't. I saw those people die. I saw Bucky fight and I saw him kill people, and I still decided to go with him. And I told you this. I told you I knew he was dangerous, but that I was fine. But you didn't listen to me. You never do."
Jane glares at her. Anger flushes her face, stains her cheeks crimson, the color stark against the otherwise pale skin. Crossing her arms over her chest, she scowls at Darcy a moment longer before muttering, mutinous, "Excuse me for caring about you."
Darcy snorts out a humorless laugh. "You mean, excuse you for ignoring me."
Jane narrows her eyes at that. She unfolds her arms and lifts a hand to point a finger at Darcy, her mouth open to continue the argument, the flush of anger extending down her neck to her chest, but she stops before she starts, distracted by something behind her. Darcy turns to find Thor in the doorway, his expression grim.
"Your disagreement is audible throughout the hall."
A sliver of shame pricks at Darcy. The last thing Bucky and Steve needed was for them to be shouting at each other. "Sorry," she says, trying to swallow down her anger.
Thor comes into the room. "I require no apology." At her look, he tilts his head toward Jane.
Darcy's jaw drops. "What?! She came here—"
"Because she cares for you," Thor says as he moves toward them. "And her concern has not been misplaced. James Barnes may not be a danger, but he is not the only piece in play, as you well know."
Thor stops beside them. Darcy tries not to squirm beneath his gaze, simultaneously stern school principal and caring bro. "Hydra found your temporary residence and were near to finding you when we came upon you," he continues. "Jane is to be thanked for alerting Anthony as quickly as she did. Otherwise, a far worse fate may have befallen you."
"Thank you," Jane says, turning to Darcy, satisfied in her vindication.
Thor looks at her, frowning now. "This does not mean you lack fault."
Darcy grins at the look of astonishment that appears on Jane's. She wishes she had some popcorn so she could plop down on the couch and watch Thor school Jane, which never happened.
"Concern may have driven you here," he says to Jane, "but you allowed anger to take the fore, and this Darcy does not deserve. You may view her actions in the lab as rash, but she does not and neither do I. Barring Steve, she has had the most interaction with James Barnes, so we must trust her and her opinions in this matter."
"Thank you," Darcy says, turning the same smug look that Jane gave back upon her.
At that, Thor sighs. He looks from Jane to Darcy, expectant, waiting, waiting for them to show the same care and maturity for each other that he himself shows. Instead, Jane stands with her arms crossed again over her chest, anger still hot and bright on her face. Darcy presses her lips together and keeps her eyes fixed on a far distant corner. Neither move nor speak. Seconds pass and then Thor sighs again as he nudges them closer together, trying to force them to look at one another.
The ploy fails, the silence persists, then Jane squeaks and grimaces and bats at something by her side. Glancing down, Darcy sees Thor retract his hand from where he poked Jane in the side.
"I don't think you're just a dumb intern," Jane says, finally looking at her.
Darcy blinks and meets her gaze. "You don't?"
Jane shakes her head. She opens her mouth only to grimace again. Darcy knows that Jane would rather bash her head against the wall than talk about her feelings, yet she pushes the words out through gritted teeth. "You're my friend. My… best friend."
Darcy bites back her smile. "Yes, I can really feel the love shining through."
Jane sighs and closes her eyes. "Darcy—"
"Relax, boss lady. We're good."
Jane opens her eyes. "We are?"
"Excellent," Thor says, a bright smile on his face. He reaches out and yanks both of them into a hug. Laughing, they move to complete the embrace, Darcy leaning closer to Jane and Jane gently wrapping her left arm around Darcy's bum shoulder. The contact soothes her nettled nerves, Thor warm and sure, Jane fierce and strong, the two of them, along with Erik, closer to her now than her own family. Darcy revels in the comfort surrounding her, leaning her head against Thor's chest and knocking her knee against Jane's. She feels Jane's grip tighten on her shirt, feels her chest shudder as she draws in a shaking breath.
"Hey," she says, retracting her arm from around Thor to complete the hug with Jane. "It's okay. I'm okay."
Jane nods, but she doesn't let go; she loops her other arm around Darcy too and holds on. "I know," she says. "I know. It's just… Three times in a week. Thinking you're dead. It's…"
"Too many," Thor finishes. He rubs slow circles on both Darcy's back and Jane's too.
Darcy snorts out half a laugh. "Tell me about it. I think I've met my quota of defying death for, like, the next fifty years."
Jane holds on another moment before leaning back. She takes a long look at Darcy, and Darcy tries not to squirm beneath her gaze, but she does, the clumped lashes and red eyes from tears as disconcerting as Jane's penetrating stare.
"Are you okay?" Jane asks. "And I don't mean physically."
Darcy eases out of the hug. She tries to shrug and she tries to smile, and she fails at both. "I'm okay. Ish. Tired. Worried more than anything."
Thor places a hand on her shoulder. "You have done a good thing helping this man. A noble thing."
"I guess," Darcy says, turning away.
She collects the blanket from the floor, intending to fold it into some sort of shape. Thor and Jane say nothing, but Darcy can practically feel the look they exchange, can hear the silent couple conversation to determine which one should approach their wayward charge.
Jane wins, or loses, depending on the perspective. "You guess?"
Darcy resists the urge to sigh. "Can we not?"
"I think we should."
"As do I," Thor adds.
Shaking her head, Darcy tosses the blanket onto the couch. She considers making a run for the bathroom to escape the discussion. If she were alone with Jane, she could probably make it, but Thor would take two giant steps and block her path before Darcy could even turn. She supposes their insistence served her right. She'd lost count of how many times she pushed Bucky to use his words when he'd rather avoid and scowl. At the thought of him and their talks, her stomach swoops with dread. Giving in to her sigh, she flops down onto the crumpled blanket. Jane and Thor follow a second later, bracketing her in, her own focused breathing buttresses.
"You saw him," she says after a moment. "He was gone and then he wasn't. He was… broken. I mean, why wouldn't he be? Bucky Barnes was a good man. And what they made him do… It— It…"
"Wasn't," Jane says.
Darcy nods. "So how can someone like Bucky deal with that? How can anyone—" She stops, unable to voice the thought that no one could, that the man she had come to know and started to care for, the one who had begun to care for her too, she read the signs that morning, that this man had been shattered by his drive to know, perhaps never to recover. Her breath hitches in her chest and she fists her hand to try to tamp down on the rush of emotion inside her.
Thor places his hand over hers. "No one is beyond reach," he says, giving her a comforting squeeze. "Not if those who care for him make the effort."
Darcy looks at him. She knows he speaks with Loki in mind, of how, despite their conflict, Loki had helped him at the end, had sacrificed his life to save both Thor and Jane. The circumstances were different, Loki choosing his path and Bucky being forced upon his, but she still appreciates the sentiment, and the support.
"Thanks, Big Guy. I hope you're right." Blowing out a breath, she eases off the couch and to her feet. "I think I'll shower now, clear my head a bit. Maybe I can try to be capable of actual effort when Bucky wakes up."
Thor nods. He helps Jane to stand, and Darcy hugs each of them in turn. She lingers with Jane to whisper an apology in her ear. Jane says the same, and both of them roll their eyes at Thor, who nearly bounces with glee at their reconciliation. If only seeing Bucky again went as smoothly, but since when did anything in Darcy's life ever go smooth?
Rarely, as an hour later, she emerges from her bathroom to find Tony flopped across her couch, a bottle of whisky in his hands. She's about to frown and to sass, but then she spots the carton of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream on the table by the couch.
Tony chuckles as she makes straight for the carton. Darcy had never heard of the brand, likely because it cost a zillion dollars a spoonful, but she digs in without hesitation, moaning at the first rich taste.
"Don't let Barnes hear you make that sound."
Tony cracks open an eye to see her reaction, smirking at the glare she casts him.
"And here I was going to share with you," Darcy says, pulling the carton closer.
"No, you weren't. But you don't need to. There are four more in the kitchen. Besides, I've got my panacea right here." He lifts the bottle and swirls the liquid inside.
Darcy eyes it.
Tony catches her stare and shakes his head. "I'm not sharing. The last thing I need is everyone kicking my ass for letting you get drunk while on pain meds."
Darcy pouts, but Tony ignores her. He closes his eyes and takes another drink, releasing a short breath upon swallowing. She sees a red welt on the palm of his right hand, likely from where he had grabbed the shock prod only for Bucky to shock him. Dark shadows ring his eyes, and the beginnings of a bruise shade the right side of his face from where he had face planted onto the floor. As Darcy shoves another bite of ice cream into her mouth, Tony drinks again from the bottle. She debates the merits of asking for about four seconds. If he hadn't wanted to talk, he wouldn't be here. He'd be holed up in his lab or halfway to Miami, anywhere other than in her room. But he was here, so she asks.
"You gonna make it, dude?"
Tony says nothing. Darcy takes another bite of the ice cream and waits, but Tony continues to say nothing. She wonders if he's fallen asleep, but then a muscle in his cheek twitches and he sighs and opens his eyes. Meeting her gaze, he gives her a rueful smile, but it's another minute before he speaks.
"I got clean. Pulled the shards from my heart. Literally, surgery and everything. I blew up my suits, went straight with Pep. I stopped. Or I thought I had." He quiets, and Darcy sees the same ugly look of hate on his face as when he had stared down Bucky on the side of the road. He lifts the bottle, but doesn't drink. Instead he shakes his head. "But I can't…" The smile returns as he meets her eyes again, harder this time and sharper. "I guess I really am an Avenger."
Darcy quirks a brow at him.
Tony takes the drink before clarifying. "Parents died when I was 17. A car accident. Except it wasn't. I know that now."
He doesn't look at her. The implication still sinks in.
Hydra and Bucky.
Stomach churning, Darcy sets the ice cream on the table. Bucky had known Tony's father. They had worked together during the war. Reports varied, but some say that Howard Stark was key to Steve rescuing Bucky and his unit from captivity. Did Hydra know this when they sent him after the Starks? She can't deny the possibility, Bucky famous even then, a Commando and the best friend of Captain America.
The need to thrust a shock prod at the closest Hydra goon surges within Darcy. Her hand tightens on the spoon, her knuckles going white. She feels Tony watching her and says carefully, trying to kill the urge to kill within her, "Being an Avenger… There are worse things to be."
Darcy nods. She lays the spoon on top of the ice cream and works on steady breathing. "I might not be the best person to ask. I've kind of been fantasizing about shoving an electric prod up the ass of the closest Hydra member so I can pull the trigger until his brain leaks out of his ears. I might not be entirely stable."
"Then you'll fit right in."
Darcy frowns at him. "What?"
There's half a smile on Tony's face, but it doesn't reach his eyes. Those are thoughtful, they are focused and sharp, as they regard her, as they rock her world when he asks, "Want to be an Avenger, kid?"
She stares at Tony, her mouth open, her brain frozen. Approximately two seconds pass and then she says eloquently, "What?"
Tony sits up and gestures toward her with the bottle. "You. Avenger. Want?"
Darcy looks around the room, at a loss. She finds no help in the corners, the room empty save for her, Tony, and his insanity. She turns back to Tony and finds one of his brows cocked in expectation of her answer.
"I've been in, like, two fights my entire life."
Tony shrugs. "So?"
"So? Avengers fight. A lot. My entire fighting prowess consists of hair pulling and firing my taser. Usually while running away."
Tony grins at her. "You'd be surprised at how effective those can be. Beside, you wouldn't be fighting. You'd be assisting."
"Me. By not being me."
Darcy narrows her eyes.
"I'm serious," Tony says, setting the bottle beside the ice cream. "S.H.I.E.L.D. got us together the last time, but S.H.I.E.L.D.'s gone. Or it's gone enough. I've got the resources. And the drive. Again. But, as I've been told many, many, times, I don't always play well with others."
"No. You? Really?"
She expects a look and some sass at her deadpan response. Instead, Tony points at her and says, "Reason number one you should say yes. You play well with me."
Darcy grimaces. "Can we switch to a new phrase? This one's skating too close to icky for my tastes."
Tony ignores her request because of course he does. "And not just me. Thor loves you. You got Foster back on track when nobody, including yours truly, thought that could happen. And do I need to mention this past week?"
Darcy looks away. She reaches for the ice cream, needing fortification against the insanity. But she stops, inches away, when Tony lays a hand on her arm.
"If you can tame the Winter Soldier," he says softly, "you can handle this life."
Darcy pulls her arm away. "I didn't tame him. He's not an animal."
"No. He's the deadliest assassin in the world and a brainwashed wreck to boot, and you've stood him down, what? Two times? Three?" He continues before she can respond. "There are only three other people in the world who have done that and lived, and all of them are on this team. Or they will be," he concedes, leaning back again, "once I bribe Wilson to join."
"Is that what this is?" Darcy asks, pointing to the ice cream. "My bribe?"
"No, Lewis. That's ice cream." He pauses, and her body buzzes with dread and anticipation at the slow smile that spreads across his face. "Did I mention you'd get an amazing salary and benefits package if you say yes?"
Her heart stutters in her chest at the revelation. "S-Salary?"
Tony nods. "Plus guaranteed time to finish your degree. You'll actually get to use it if you say yes." At her look, he clarifies. "I've already had calls from three senators about where the team stands now that S.H.I.E.L.D.'s gone." He tilts his head toward her. Darcy thinks he's trying not to smile. "How do you feel about meeting the President?"
"Jesus Christ." She twists away, lowering her head until she can rest it in her hand.
"Not him," Tony says. "Despite what the tabloids say, I have yet to actually invent time travel."
A weak laugh escapes her at the quip.
"But seriously," he says, standing now. "You should say yes." He grabs the whisky bottle from the table, but doesn't move away. Instead, he bends down until he can meet her eyes and says, "Did I mention you could also live rent free in New York in your own apartment in Avengers Tower?"
Darcy straightens, her mouth again falling open. She gapes at Tony a moment and then says, wonder in her voice, "Does anybody say no to you? Ever?"
Tony rights himself. "A surprising amount of people, actually. They're all on the team, by the way. Another reason you should say yes."
Darcy arches a brow. "I should say yes because I can say no to you?"
"Exactly. Think it over," he says, turning away now. "Talk to Foster if you need to. But the offer still stands if she says no."
Tony stops and glances back over his shoulder at her. "Okay?"
"Okay, I'll think about it."
He nods, but he doesn't resume his trek to the door. Instead, he stares at her a long moment. His hand tightens on the neck of his bottle as he says, "He's staying here, you know. It's the best place. The safest, with Hydra still out there. Cap's got a floor, so he'll be bunking in."
Darcy tenses at his keen assessment. "So?"
"So, Lewis," he says, grinning at her as he turns to leave, this grin as sharp and hard as the one before, "that is your bribe."
The offer bounds and rebounds in Darcy's head as evening falls. She wants to say yes, she will say yes, eventually, she knows that she will, despite her claim about avoiding more death defying activities, she has no reason to say no, nothing waiting for her in London, even if Jane and Thor return, the work there belonging to Jane, not to her. But when she leaves her room, she doesn't head for the elevator to track down Tony to say yes. She turns instead in the direction of the kitchen, towards the room in which Bucky stays.
Heart pounding in her chest, she walks down the hall, her step slow and steady, though who lay behind that door still eluded her knowledge. No one was beyond reach, Thor had said, and she could reach now, if she stayed.
If he wanted her to reach.
She has to know if he still wanted.
But Darcy hesitates outside his door, raised voices beyond the wood stilling her hand. Or voice, Bucky the only one audible, though she can't discern what he says. She should go, return later, after dinner, or tomorrow morning, but she doesn't, curiosity overpowering the inkling of shame wiggling within her, the latter only strong enough to prevent her from plastering her ear to the door to hear better.
After a few minutes, the voice subsides. Darcy eases closer, tilting her head toward the smooth wood. She hears muffled sounds, but no more talking, and she's just about to raise her hand once more to knock when the door opens and a wall of muscle nearly plows into her.
Steve slaps a hand over her mouth to muffle her yelp and eases Darcy back, shutting the door behind him. He glances back at the door, head cocked to listen. As he does, Darcy sticks her tongue out against his palm, smiling at the exasperated look Steve sends her a second later. But he releases her, turning the tables upon her as he wipes his palm against the sleeve of her shirt. He grins at her grimace then jerks his head toward the kitchen.
"You're lucky I didn't bite it," she says as they enter.
"I didn't bite you," Steve counters, claiming the same seat at the table where they talked just that morning.
"Yeah, but you're Captain America, all moral and responsible. I'm a taser happy college dropout."
"Who likes biting people?" Steve asks as she sits across from him.
"I did mainline an entire season of Hannibal before I flew to D.C. It must have rubbed off."
This earns her part of a smile, but only part. She watches Steve lean back in his chair and rub both hands across his face, scratchy now with stubble. He bears no other signs of the exhaustion that she and the others wear, at least none that she can see, though her eyes dart down to where Bucky had kicked him, likely where he had been shot.
Steve catches her looking and shrugs. "It's fine. Just a little tender now."
"No, uh, extra damage since the A.M.?
His smile turns wry. "No. Not physically anyway. But I guess you heard that."
Darcy shakes her head.
He cocks a brow at her, the smile still on his face. "So you weren't eavesdropping?"
Darcy scrunches up her face, the inkling of shame within her bringing heat to her cheeks. "Is it really eavesdropping if you can't hear the eaves being dropped?"
"Okay, then I was. But I didn't plan on it," she says quickly, squirming beneath the Captain gaze. "I came to see how Bucky was doing and there was yelling and I just… didn't walk away."
He shakes his head at her, simultaneously amused and exasperated. "Well, all you didn't hear was Bucky yelling at me."
Darcy expects his smile to fade, but it doesn't. If anything, it grows. "And that's a good thing?" she asks.
"It's… a Bucky thing," he says, leaning forward to rest his arms on the table. "He didn't like that I opened the door to the lab. Said it was 'a dumbass move that put everyone in danger.'"
Now Darcy starts to smile. "It was."
Steve arches a brow. "And blocking the exit to the lab wasn't a dumbass move?"
"Oh no. That was too. I already got yelled for that by Jane."
His smile settles into an amused smirk. "Yeah, I heard. Did you get everything ironed out?"
Darcy nods. "Thor played mediator. Do you need one? Because I can do it. I feel like I've really mastered the art of calming down pissed off superheroes."
Steve laughs. "Maybe. We'll see how the half-hour goes." He explains at the arch of her brow. "Bucky asked for some time alone. It's why I'm here."
"And you," he concedes. He looks like he wants to say something more, glancing at her, even drawing in a breath as the humor fades from his face, but instead of talking, he shuts his mouth and looks away.
"What is it?" she asks.
Steve stares at her a long moment. Darcy preps herself for rejection, for a polite thanks and a quick dismissal of the topic, maybe with an accompanying smile. She's so focused on generating a list of reasons why he should talk anyway that she's surprised when he does.
"I just don't know if alone is the best thing for him right now."
"Maybe," she says. "Depends on why he's doing it."
Steve rubs a hand over his face again. He pulls in another deep breath, stares past her for half a minute, seeing beyond the wall, back into the room and whatever he endured beyond Bucky yelling at him since he woke from the tranquilizers. His voice is quiet when he finally speaks. "I know he's overwhelmed. Understandably so. When I woke— and I know it's different, I can't compare— but I… I just needed space. To process everything."
Darcy leans forward, lays her hand on the one left on the table. "But…?"
"But does he really need space…"
She arches a brow. "Or is this the next phase of the Bucky Barnes guiltapalooza where he locks himself in a small, dark room to protect everyone from his wicked ways."
This earns her another half a smile. "Or that."
They stare at each other a moment, Bucky between them, in the clasp of their hands and the worry in their eyes, then Darcy pushes back from the table. "I'm going to talk to him."
Steve frowns at her and tries to reach for her hand. "But—"
"But he said he wanted to be alone," she says, evading his grasp. "I know. But he said it to you, not to me. So I've probably got, what, ten minutes, fifteen, where he feels obligated to talk to me. Maybe more because I can do innocently oblivious very well. And then, by that time…"
She trails off and gives him a significant look, grinning at the awareness that grows upon his face. "By that time, I can come back and—"
"Tag team, dude. With our powers combined—"
"There's only a fifty percent chance we'll both end up sitting on the couch getting yelled at by Bucky."
Still grinning, Darcy holds up her hand for a fist bump. Steve indulges her, smiling despite himself, she thinks. She hopes like hell Tony has paranoid security cameras recording everything because she's not sure she can arrange that awesomeness again.
"Food first?" Steve asks as she starts for the door.
"Of course." Darcy glances back over her shoulder when she reaches the threshold. "Maybe you can scrounge up some cards or something in case he doesn't want to watch TV after."
Steve nods. She gives a jaunty salute in return, earning her another exasperated smile, then she turns to leave, a plan in hand.
The room resembles hers, a bed suite in the front half, though this one is a regular bed, not a medical one. A sitting area occupies the back half of the room. A couch divides the space in two, facing the long wall of windows through which evening light filters, illuminating the room along with a small lamp by the bed. Darcy spots Bucky on the couch. Her heart pounds as she closes the door behind her, not in fear of him, despite what occurred that morning, but of who he'll be, of how much of the man from the motel will remain and if he'll know her. But Bucky's proof of knowing without really knowing, so maybe that's what she'll become, a fact from before, the time between soldier a man, just a swift, strange dream.
"You're early," he says without turning, his voice tight.
"Sweet. I'm usually late."
As his head whips around, she congratulates herself on the steadiness of her voice. Then the light from the lamp catches his face, and the world tilts beneath her feet at the sight of him crying, his eyes red, brightening the blue. Darcy forces herself to breathe in slowly. Bucky stares at her, saying nothing, and she shifts in the silence. The thought that he doesn't remember her takes firmer hold, though Steve hadn't mentioned any amnesia and he would have, Steve a good guy, he wouldn't have let her walk in her blind. But still Bucky continues to stare, so she raises a hand in a stilted wave and says, "It's, uh, Darcy."
Bucky blinks, and in the span of the blink, his face slides from blank to exasperated, and the look is so him, his head tilted to the side and his mouth pressed flat, that she nearly goes weak in the knees.
"Well, how was I supposed to know?" she asks, unable to stop the damned goofy grin as she starts across the room.
His exasperation softens at the reference. Darcy circles the couch and sits down facing him, careful not to bump her right arm against the cushions. Up close, his face dulls the sharp edge of her joy, his lips bitten raw and beard sticky with tears. She wants to reach out and clasp his hand, but she refrains, still hesitant despite his clear remembrance of her.
"How are you?" she asks instead.
Bucky shrugs. "I don't know." His voice is hoarse, from crying, from screaming perhaps, at Steve or maybe from a nightmare. He shrugs again and says, "It's all… there. It's…" Bucky pauses a long time, searching for the right world. "A lot," he settles on eventually, blowing out the words with a sigh. "It's a lot."
Darcy nods, unsure of what to say. His eyes flit to her and then away, over to the window, where he stares, eyes unseeing. He swallows and then tenses, trying hard not to shake as he draws in a breath, and his posture recalls for her the diner, Bucky there a stiff, dark shadow, the clock string wound too tight.
She breaks when he tilts his head completely to the side to try to hide his tears.
"I'm going to hug you now, okay?" She leans forward and clasps his hand without waiting for his response. "I need to. And you— you need one. You need, like, a thousand. So can—"
He's turning toward her before she finishes. Darcy releases his hand to sling her left arm over his shoulder and draw him in close, as close as she can with her sling in the way. Bucky buries his face in the crook of her neck, he circles his right arm around her and holds on tight. His left hand seizes the loose bit of her sweater by her waist, pulling the fabric taut as he breaks down. His grief comes in waves, buffeting her, and Darcy tries to bear down, to remain strong, but she breaks along with him, hot tears slipping down her nose to soak his shirt. She thought no sound would haunt her more than him screaming in the chair, but the harsh wrench of his sobs echoing in the room harrow her now. Releasing her grip, Darcy runs her hand up and down his back, trying to soothe the tension from muscles that tremble beneath her touch.
The rip of her sweater makes Bucky jerk back. Darcy lurches forward, her arm still around him, wincing at the stab of pain in her shoulder at the sudden movement. Glancing down, she finds three fingers of his left hand caught in the fabric.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
Bucky tries to yank free, but everything tangles further, bits of thread snagging in the shifting plates. His face twists in anger, and he tenses again to rip clear. Darcy reaches up before he does, cups the side of his face, and forces him to look at her.
"It's okay. It's just a shirt."
Bucky stares down at her, breathing hard. He doesn't jerk his hand free, but he does set his jaw, lifting it a bit as he says, "A shirt. A collarbone."
"Broken wings and a slug to the stomach. And I— I killed them. I—"
He stops, twisting out of her grip as he tries to move up and off the couch, but his hand's still caught in her sweater. The fabric twists taut around her body, keeping him in place long enough for Darcy to reach up and grab him by the shirt. She tugs down but Bucky resists, so she uses her grip to leverage herself up instead. He straightens as she does and tenses to move away, but she gives his shirt another sharp tug and says, "Just… stand still a moment."
He does, though he keeps his head tilted stubbornly away. Darcy presses her lips together to squash her sigh then she sets to work, releasing his shirt to start easing the threads of her sweater from his hand. The room is too dim for Darcy to see, so she works by touch, easing her fingers over the ridges and planes as she searches for the snarls. They stand in silence for half a minute. Darcy uses the time to gather herself, to even her breathing, broken by crying. She doesn't think Bucky takes a breath until his chest suddenly inflates and he tilts his head toward her to say, "I thought I would be better."
Darcy stills at the quiet admission. "You didn't need to be better."
"Not better," Bucky says, his frustration clear. Darcy peeks up at him, finds him staring off into the distance, his brow creased as he searches for the right word. Resuming her work, she waits. Nearly a minute passes before he says quietly, "More. Whole. There was… nothing before. I was nothing. They took it all. Or they tried to. Sometimes… sometimes there'd be something. Like an echo. Like— like chalk, you know, on a board." His right hand clenches into a fist. His left twitches but remains still. "I knew it was something," he continues, "but I didn't know what, and I couldn't—" Bucky stops again. His voice is bitter when he says, "They took that too."
Darcy looks up at him now. "That's never going to happen again."
Bucky peers down at her, his eyes shadowed in the dim light. "No?"
Heart pounding in her chest, Darcy lifts her chin, tries to lay steel in her spine. "No."
He says nothing, he peers at her instead, his gaze gliding across her face, eyes to cheeks to lips to nose before circling back again. For a moment, Darcy stops breathing as his metal hand shifts, brushing against hers, then he shakes his head softly and looks away. "You and Steve… Jesus Christ."
Darcy frowns at him. "Me and Steve what?"
He meets her eyes again. "Working so hard to make me a person."
Words fail her for exactly seven seconds before the frown deepens on her face and she says to him, "You are a person."
Darcy raises both brows. "Maybe?"
Bucky sighs at her question. "Yes, maybe. But not in the way you're getting ready to fuss at me for."
She flushes, her mouth open for her to do just that. Ducking her head, she snaps it shut and starts to work again at untangling him. "I wasn't," she mutters a moment later.
"Yes, you were." But his voice is fond as he says it.
She ducks her head further and tries to hide her smile. "So what way is it?"
Bucky pulls in a long breath, prepping for conversation, for revelation. Darcy pulls her sweater free from his knuckles, sliding it off his hand as he says, "There's not one in here. One person. I remember Brooklyn, being that kid. And the soldier. And the lab rat and the sniper and the dead man and the asset, and it— It's—" His voice hitches and he turns his head aside as he closes his eyes. "It's a lot."
It is. She knows that it is. But she knew it when she entered the room and when she stood by him on the side of the road and when she held his hand as he tried to sleep and when she followed him from the diner and when she looked up, found him hunched and shaking as he tried to eat, and she turned toward him, walking to his table rather than walking away.
"Then it's a good thing we've got a lot of time."
His eyes snap back to her face. "We?"
Darcy nods. "I'm staying in New York." She takes a step back then, holds out her hand for him to shake. "Darcy Lewis, official Avenger. Mostly."
He blinks at the last. "Mostly?"
"Technically assisting, which I think means that I just keep other people from wanting to murder Tony. Not in a bodyguard way," she says at his frown. "In the way where he sucks with words so I have to use mine."
Bucky stares at her, still frowning. Her hand remains outstretched between them, but he makes no move to take it. Darcy considers lowering it, but instead she very deliberately looks down at it then up at Bucky and cocks a brow. As she does, one corner of his mouth curves up into a smile. He lifts his arm, slowly, deliberately too, mischief in his eyes as he inches his hand toward hers.
"Bucky Barnes," he says as they finally shake. "Official person. Mostly."
Darcy laughs. His smile widens, and the shadows in his eyes begin to abate. She can help him, she knows that she can, can help nudge the mostly to completion, can help make him a person, actual and whole, and he can help her, show her how to throw a punch, to do more than just fire a taser while running away. But not now. Now she releases his left hand only to grab his right, giving it a tug as she says, "Come on. Let's eat some food."
Bucky doesn't move, but his face is warm as he looks at her, the hard edges temporarily at bay. "Always trying to feed me," he says. "Now who's the mama bear?"
She grins at him. "Steve. He's the one cooking. And he was supposed to find some cards. You can watch me kick his ass at rummy."
"Is that right?" he asks, cocking a brow.
"And what about my ass?"
Her nerves fizzle and pop at the look in his eyes. The motel flashes into her mind then, the exact shape and tone of his ass as he walked nude from the bathroom, seen despite her best efforts not to see. Trying not to flush, Darcy leans in and says, "Yours especially. Now come on."
He relents at last, eyes shining, grinning again as he follows. She leads him around the couch and out of the room. Bucky stops outside the door, breathing in, and they both take a moment to blink in the brightness of the hall. They were battered and bruised but not yet broken, and they wouldn't be, they would heal, in time they would heal because they had time now, here they had time, they had friends and a future and a place that they found in themselves and each other, a place that they found together.
AN: I can't adequately express how grateful I am for the wonderful reception this story has received. Thank you to everyone who followed and favorited and who left kind comments. This has been one of the best writing experiences of my life. I will more likely than not continue the story. I have three chapters of a continuation brainstormed and a title in mind, and usually when thoughts get that far they get written. So stay tuned!