AN: Part Four of "The Best Laid Plans" Series.

Overprotection 'R' Us

(Or T-Minus Twenty Part Two)

By: Wynn

At twenty minutes to seven, doom knocks on Darcy's door.

She stands in her bedroom, showered, shaved, her hair curled and her make-up done, half in and half out of her favorite pair of jeans. Despite the blatant ogling Bucky engaged in prior to her feathered departure earlier that day, she doubts it's him. Arriving this early clashed with his whole (allegedly reformed) bad boy aesthetic. Jane had already stopped by to simultaneously yell at and check up on Darcy after discovering the glittered disaster that was her lab. Maybe Thor then? But he didn't knock on doors so much as wallop them, nearly reducing the pressed wood to weeping smithereens with each pound of his hand. Natasha was still out of town, Bruce would never willingly stop by (not after her somewhat chaotic decorating sense nearly prompted the Other Guy into making an appearance), and Darcy didn't know Pepper well enough to expect an unannounced personal visit.

So this leaves Darcy with three options, all of them equal in their potential for doom.

Steve, Clint, or Tony.

By now, she imagines Steve had informed Tony of his participation in their most holy of wars: the prank war. This could have induced Tony into already retaliating or at least to an epic bitchfest about how he didn't know outsiders were welcome to their secret society, much less the elderly, and how he wasn't going to be responsible if old man Rogers broke a hip or died from horrified shock at some of their more risqué shenanigans. Normally, Darcy would listen, one of the few who actually understood and enjoyed Tony's mile-a-minute patter. But she doesn't have time, not with Bucky and a date and some hot making-out (hopefully) imminent.

Darcy put on her skinny jeans for a reason.

With Clint, she hypothesizes two reasons for coming: further retaliation or potential reparation. She doubts further retaliation could result in anything more horrific than that afternoon's affront to chickens and crafts, but she needs to avoid even the mildest of physical reprisals because, while Bucky had so far resembled the living form of sexual godhood in their two encounters, Darcy had either been a) swathed in ratty leggings and a sweater three sizes too large for her or b) been the heinous affront to chickens and crafts. She has to maintain her hot-rolled, lip-glossed perfection at least until his arrival in order to guarantee the desired making-out and perhaps future dates.

If Clint came in peace, though, he came in friendship, and he came as the most well meaning yet nosiest and over-protective of big brothers, outstripping, at times, even Thor, Darcy can't predict how Clint would react to the knowledge of her date with Bucky. Either he'd go full-blown stalker and demand a play-by-play of their first kiss or he'd run to get his bow so he could interrogate the former Winter Soldier about his intentions, which were so clearly (and thankfully) lecherous that it could only end in fisticuffs and bloodshed between them.

Two options also went hand in hand with Steve. Either nefarious scheming against Clint and Tony brought him here or the more worrisome option did- Steve as the over-protective big brother come to ask Darcy about her demented and libidinous intentions towards his recently rehabilitated and potentially still psychically fragile best friend.

It's times like these that Darcy wishes she lived in a normal apartment building. Then she could hightail it out a window or back door and carefully evade detection. Such a feat was impossible though in the Tower since Darcy was neither Spider-man nor one capable of flight. She supposes she could just stay quiet and hide and hope whoever it was goes away, but that made an encounter with Bucky that much more likely, and Darcy had had enough awkward encounters involving him this past week to last a lifetime. All future encounters with Bucky needed to be sassy and filled with sexual tension, whether resolved or unresolved, so whoever lurked outside her apartment needed to go away.

Now.

Sighing, she dons her jeans and grabs her shoes and purse to head for the door. There, she says, "Who is it?"

"Clint."

Darcy clicks on the small screen by the door for the video feed. Clint holds pizza and beer in his hands, a sight that usually made Darcy do her happy dance but now makes her a little queasy because it signified option B, brother-friend, which she didn't want to shut down, Clint really her friend, but that she had to, Bucky really hot.

"I wanted to apologize," Clint says now. "I may have, uh, gone a little overboard this afternoon."

"You think?" she says, donning her first shoe. "You dropped dicks on my head, Barton, and then made me walk down stairs. Do you know how traumatized I am?"

He grimaces at that. "Technically, that was Tony—"

"—who got involved because youtold him about the glitter."

Clint sighs. "I didn't tell him anything he didn't already know. Who else would stuff glitter in his suit?"

Darcy pulls on her second shoe. "He may have suspected it was me, but he didn't have proof. Not until you gave it to him. So fly away with your food bribes, bird man, because I am not forgiving you until tomorrow."

He pouts a little and holds up the pizza. "But it's pepperoni and pineapple."

She knows. She can smell the heavenly aroma through the door, but right now Bucky in his jeans trump free pizza on the Darcy Lewis Desirable Scale, so she says, "Bring me another one with some ice cream tomorrow and all will be—"

"Lewis! Get your traitorous intern ass out here right now!"

—shit. All will be shit apparently because the universe still hated her, courtesy of Tony fucking Stark.

"Is she in there?" he asks Barton, his voice getting louder as he closes in on her door.

"Yeah. Why?"

"Do you know who she's roped into helping her elude sweet justice?"

Clint regards the door, wounded betrayal flashing in his eyes.

"It's not Bucky," she says through the comm. "That scheming schemer told you what I said on purpose knowing you'd retaliate against me. He is noton my side."

Or in her pants.

Yet.

"No," Tony says. "It's not Barnes. Though I wish it was. He, at least, seems to have some sense of humor."

Clint sighs now. Darcy knows that if he had a hand free, he'd pinch— Nope, there he goes, shifting the beer to beneath his left arm so that he can pinch the bridge of his nose. "We talked about this, Darcy. I know you love Thor, but his concept of a prank is an act of war here."

Darcy grabs her purse and pulls out her small mirror. "It's not Thor."

"Bruce?" Clint asks, and Darcy doesn't need to look at the feed to see the trepidation on his face. Big Green had not taken too kindly to one of their pranks on Tony (the bird nests) spilling over into his lab space.

"Worse," Tony says as she fluffs out a curl. "So much worse. So very, very, very much—"

"Stark."

"Captain Drab, Hawkniss. Lewis got her very own super-dweeb to be the buzz kill to all of our fun."

Darcy glances at the feed in time to see Clint blanch. Smiling, she says, "Yeah, that's right, Barton. You two are about to get a Cap in your collective ass."

"Okay, one," Tony says, looking at the camera, "that was the weakest and dumbest comeback in the history of words, Lewis."

"Your face is dumb."

"And that was the second lamest," he continues before turning to Clint. "It's Cap, Barton, not—"

"Exactly, Stark. It's Cap. Captain America. Serum-enhanced super tactician."

"For war. Not for pranks."

"And it's Steve Rogers," Clint continues.

Tony looks at him blankly.

Clint tries not to sigh again. "Have you paid any attention to the stories about his childhood and the kind of shit he'd get into with Bucky?"

"Uh, no, because dying of boredom is not exactly high on my agenda."

Clint stares at Tony for a full five seconds, his mouth a flat line, and Darcy does a small jig of joy at the likely regret he feels for throwing her over in a fit of idol-induced insanity.

"Regretting your life choices, Barton?"

Tony speaks before Clint can. Because of course he does. "Not as much as you're going to regret yours, Lewis, if you don't let us in to talk about your extreme lack of judgment."

Darcy dumps her mirror back into her purse, grabs her phone, and checks the time. Thirteen minutes until Bucky would arrive. If he came exactly on time. But no one came exactly on time, except maybe Steve. People either came a little early or late, and Darcy thinks Bucky is a late, but he was also friends with Steve, a former Sergeant in the army, and he'd looked at Darcy like Christmas had come early, so maybe he would, too.

Eight minutes then. That gave her a five-minute window in which Bucky would likely arrive.

Eight minutes to get Clint and Tony the hell away without awakening their suspicions as to why.

What to say then? What to say?

"No," she settles on. "Go away."

Tony pouts, predictably, at her response, but Clint narrows his eyes. Which of course he would. He knows Darcy too well. Temporarily rejecting pizza and beer was one thing. but rejecting the opportunity to lord her excellent partner-in-crime over them, especially Tony, was another one altogether.

A suspicious one.

Predictably, she panics.

"My social life does not exclusively revolve around you two bozos. I have, uh, friends, you know. And things that I, um, do. So go… go away now."

Now Tony frowns at the door. Shit.

And now Clint frowns at Tony. Double shit.

And now Tony frowns back at Clint. Triple shit.

"Who is he?" they ask together, looking back at the door.

"I… have no idea—"

Tony holds up a hand. "Can the innocent act, Lewis. We're on to you, so don't even think you can drive us away before we meet this guy and literally scare the crap out of him before running copious amounts of background checks."

"I don't think—" she begins.

Tony shakes his head. "Nope. Not gonna happen. And you want to know why?" He glances at Clint. "Go on, Arrow. Tell her why."

When Clint bypasses the chance to bitch at Tony for the Oliver Queen reference and instead turns to the door, Darcy knows that she's well and truly doomed. "Two words," he says, smiling at her. "Hydra mole."

Darcy sighs. You date one Hydra mole and no one ever trusted your boyfriend judgment again. Pressing her lips together, she glances at her phone. Seven minutes until her safety bubble popped and Bucky possibly arrived, and while 'brainwashed but now recovered former Hydra assassin' ranked higher on the dating scale than 'secret evil Hydra mole,' she didn't think it rated high enough to avoid the concerned big brother interrogations from both Tony and Clint.

"Darcy."

She winces at Clint's tone. And the use of her first name. "What?"

"If you don't open the door in the next five seconds, I will do it."

Her eyes widen. "You wouldn't."

"I will. If you force my hand. It's your choice."

"And you called me the traitor," she says, desperation rising.

"Five."

"So much for friendship, Clinton. And privacy. And sanity."

"Four."

"Like you two have such sparkling dating records."

"Three."

"I'll tell Natasha."

Clint hesitates but steels himself and continues on. "Two."

Tony raises his brows. "Damn, Barton. That's hardcore."

"No," Darcy shouts into the comm. "That's crazy. You're all one hundred percent absolutely goddamn nuts. Why do you think I never want to bring any of them around to meet you? You need therapy. You need hugs. You need restraining orders—"

"One."

"Fine," she says, wrenching open the door. "Just don't call Thor."

Darcy loved Thor. He was the big brother she always wished she had, rather than the three hellspawn that her parents birthed and who stuck gum in her hair and ruined the awesomeness of Santa Claus when she was three years old, or the two deranged lunatics before her now. And Thor loved Darcy, viewing her as the younger, saner sibling he never had. But what Thor did not love were any of the guys she dated, none of them, he loudly and repeatedly claimed, being worthy of her affections. So he brought out the big guns, literally, donning the full bicep-baring Asgardian regalia, leaving Mew-Mew in some conspicuous place, one time stained with ketchup so as to resemble blood. Jane had tried to talk him out of it, and Darcy had thought she'd escaped it when they'd moved here, but then came the Hydra mole and her friendships with Clint and Tony, and Bucky would never want to make-out with her now, much less touch her in unmentionable places, with those three lunatics overplaying the protective card.

Twin smiles greet her as she opens the door, but they both vanish as Clint and Tony take her in.

"Shit," Clint says.

"Heels," Tony mutters.

"Curled hair. Brushed hair."

"Clothes that actually fit."

"Hey!"

They ignore her indignant shout.

"Is that… perfume?" Clint asks, leaning closer and making Darcy ease back.

"Yes, it is," Tony says.

"Shit," Clint says again.

"You know what this means."

"Yes, I do."

Tony turns to her and shakes her head sadly. "We got a Level 10."

"A level ten?" Darcy asks.

"A Level 10," Clint confirms.

"What the fuck's a level ten?"

"A Level 10," Tony explains, "is the highest level of interest on our Darcy Lewis Dating Scale."

Clint nods. "This guy, whoever he is, is a Level 10. You've bypassed glasses for contacts and chapstick for lipstick."

"And you've got big girls out and your big girl heels on."

"Gross, dude."

"I completely agree," Tony says. "You should put a sweater on, Lewis. Or twelve."

Clint continues before Darcy can respond. "You're wearing your favorite jeans, the pair you never wear here anymore because of the kitchen incident that nearly incinerated them."

"And," Tony adds, "you're wearing your favorite color."

She was. She loved burgundy. She looked hot in burgundy.

"You've curled your hair," Clint says.

"And put on perfume."

"And your bag is small."

"But your earrings aren't."

"So," they say, looking at her. "A Level 10."

Darcy gapes at them a full ten seconds before shaking her head and turning away. "I hope you two realize how absolutely creepy you are right now."

"Oh, we know," Tony says as he follows her inside. "But desperate times and all."

"My love life is not desperate," she protests, turning for the living room.

Clint closes the front door. "Depends on who your date is."

A hot, blue-eyed and bristly super-hero assassin soldier from the 1940s who was, undoubtedly, a Level 10. But Darcy doesn't say this. Instead, she glances at the clock on the wall and winces at the time. Eight minutes to seven. Three minutes then until Bucky could possibly arrive. Three minutes to try to convince Clint and Tony to abandon their lunacy and to allow her and, most importantly, her date to leave unscathed.

Sitting in the chair closes to the hall, Darcy directs Clint and Tony to the couch. She watches them sit, watches Clint pass Tony a beer, watches Tony wince at the brand but still pop the tab as Clint opens the pizza box and retrieves a slice, and all the while, Darcy tries to think of a plan. Twenty precious seconds pass before she abandons thinking and goes on instinct because her plans suck anyway and thinking required time she didn't have.

So.

"Okay," she begins. "You're right. The dude's a 10, and I am interested. A lot. So, as my friends, could you not take a big fat crap all over this by ambushing and interrogating him? Because, seriously, what guy is going to want to stick around after experiencing that level of crazy?"

Clint smiles at her around an enormous bite of pizza. "One who appreciates friends looking out for each other."

"Only if those friends actually respect the wishes of the friend in question because, otherwise, it's not friendship on display but testosterone-laden boorishness, and, if that occurs, then the friend in question is going to have to seriously reconsider her friendships with those friends who put their own deranged needs above those of the friend that the friends actually claim to be friends with."

They blink at her, Clint with his mouth open and Tony with his brows raised. Darcy just nods. A few seconds pass then they look at each other. Clint shrugs, prompting Tony to sigh. He looks at Darcy and sighs again, and Darcy nearly closes her eyes and weeps at the universe finally giving her a break.

"Your point, convoluted as it is, Lewis, is not without merit."

"Thank you."

"So, in that spirit of the friendship you so potently articulated, why don't we settle on a compromise? You give us his name so we can do the requisite background check, and in return we promise not to—"

"Go full cray-cray on him when he arrives?"

"No my exact choice of words, but yes."

Darcy's heart starts to pound, salvation within reach. She looks from one to the other, her gaze lingering on Clint, who shoves more pizza into his mouth, his expression indecipherable. "Just a name?" she asks. "I give it to you, you two stay here when he comes, and you don't try to follow us or send anyone else after us either, and you're gone when I get back?"

"Yep," Tony says.

He looks at Clint. Darcy does too. After half a second, Clint nods his assent.

"Okay," Darcy says. "Okay." She breathes in and tries not to blink or look away or fidget or start to sweat or do anything else to indicate that the name she's about to speak is nothing more than a big, fat lie. Calling upon her dim memories from summer drama camp, Darcy squirms a little in reluctant discomfort, heaves a grudging sigh, and then mumbles a name.

"Donald Blake."

Tony nods and salutes her with his beer, but Clint, suspicious, paranoid, super-spy Clint, goes completely still, as still as a hunter who's sighted his prey, or as still as the world's greatest marksman with a target in sight.

"Donald Blake?" he asks.

Darcy swallows and forgets how to breathe. "Uh-huh."

"You sure about that?"

She narrows her eyes at him, veering wildly from the urge to fight to that of flight and back again. "Yes."

"What?" Tony asks, looking from one to the other. "What's going on?"

Clint reaches for a second slice of pizza, and the smile he sends them lets Darcy know that she's up shit creek without a paddle, GPS, or prayer.

"Dr. Donald Blake," he says, "is an ex-boyfriend of Foster's. He was listed in my briefing file when S.H.I.E.L.D. stationed me in Puente Antiguo after Thor arrived. So either Darcy's dating the ex whose last known address was in Albuquerque, dating Thor, who briefly used the name as an alias, or, completely against the spirit of friendship she just groused about, gave us a fake name to throw us off the scent." He leans back against the couch and takes a large bite, his eyes on Darcy. "I know which one I think it is."

"You got me," Darcy says, holding up her hands. "I've got a yen for beefy blond gods as big as your boner for previously frozen super-soldiers."

Clint scowls at her. Darcy gives him a sunny smile, but then she glances at Tony, who stares at her as Clint stared just a moment ago, with the stare of a man with a mark in his sights.

"Isn't it interesting," he begins, also lounging back against the couch as he casts a look at Clint, "that the kid here chose not to give us a name? It was the perfect solution. She got the space to go out on her date. We got the chance to quietly cyber-stalk a completely unsuspecting yet still potentially evil man. Yet she didn't. Now, why do you think that is, Clint?"

Darcy shifts her gaze to Clint. She tries to control her breathing, to slow her heart, but both ratchet up as his scowl melts into the very definition of a smug, cat-caught-the-canary grin.

"I don't know, Tony, but I believe it's because we already know who he is."

Shit.

"No," Darcy says, but panic drives her to do all that she tried not to do before. She fidgets now and averts her gaze before starting to sweat and, again, she forgets to breathe, and with each betraying tell, Clint and Tony swell in triumph.

"We do," Tony crows. "We know him."

"Uh, no, you don't. His name's Joe, and he's a quant little barista—"

"No. His name's Steve, and he's a quaint little genetically engineered supersoldier."

The world grinds to a halt half a foot from the precipice of doom, and all Darcy can do is pray.

"Isn't it?" Tony asks, leaning forward, his eyes intent upon her. "It's Rogers."

Darcy shakes her head, too shocked to speak, but apparently dumbfounded stupefaction closely mimics unbridled panic because Tony's grin widens.

"It is. This is why he agreed to help you, isn't it? You bribed the ninety-year old virgin with your boobs."

"What? No—"

But a knock on her door prevents her from blowing this most wondrous of gifts from the universe. Everyone straightens at the sound, Tony from anticipatory glee, Darcy from cautious optimism as a plan forms, and Clint… Well, Darcy can't tell with Clint, which diminishes her optimism a bit.

She eases to her feet, keeping her eyes on him. "Just… give me a minute, okay? Let me prep him first for…" She waves a hand at Tony, who's nearly bouncing on her couch in excitement.

Clint says nothing.

Darcy goes for the big guns.

"Please."

The appeal works its intended miracle, resurrecting just enough sanity within Clint for Darcy to hang him with. He nods and she turns for the hall, her heart in overdrive. Licking her lips, she wipes her palms on her jeans, grabs her purse from the small table (thankful now for bypassing the one with chains for straps), and opens the door.

If there's something beyond a Level 10, Bucky achieves it. He wears a gorgeous pair of dark grey pants and an ice-blue button-up, sans tie, with the sleeves folded to his elbows. He's pulled his hair back into a small bun, and he carries a leather coat in one hand and a small box of her favorite chocolate in the other, and if Darcy didn't already want to jump his bones to make-out with him as she became intimately acquainted with his intimate places, she would now.

She settles, though, just for the first, launching herself at him and the chocolate as she hisses half-hysterically, "Run!"

He does, and they race for the stairs. Bucky edges in front of her when they get to the door and shoulders it open, asking her as she darts through, "Why're we running?"

Breathless, she says, "Clint and Tony want to know who my date is, but I don't want them to because of reasons, so we have to run."

She starts for a descent, but Bucky swoops in and herds her toward the ascending stairs. "First thing they'll do is start down."

Darcy nods and pounds up after him. The appeal of her heels gives way after approximately three steps. The appeal of running vanishes entirely after two more.

"Hate stairs," she grumbles as they round the rail for the next half flight.

Bucky stops and spins around, and before she can compute, he's scooped her up with his right arm and propped her on his hip. Acting on instinct, her higher brain functions shorted out by his impressive display of he-man strength, Darcy wraps her legs around his waist and her left arm around his shoulders, and she tries not to paw or drool on him as he resumes their ascent.

"This… is so hot."

His mouth curves into a smug little smile, which does not help her vow to restrain the urge to grope him inappropriately. Neither does the way he smells. Clean soap and crisp aftershave and the minty scent of toothpaste draw her closer, Darcy looping her right arm, equipped with both purse and chocolate, over his chest. There's a small hitch in his step then and his fingers tighten on her hip. Darcy smiles, but then she spots a tragic trail of desperation and glitter in the stairwell and eases back.

"Not your floor," she says. "They think you're Steve. Well, Tony does."

Bucky quirks a brow at that, but he stays silent. He also stays on course, clarifying at her look of inquiry, "Just passing through."

They follow the feathers onto his floor and then follow the trail to his door. As Bucky reaches for the knob, Darcy sees the fresh shine of cleaning supplies, Steve making good on his intent to disinfect the doorway. Once through the door, Bucky kicks it shut and shifts Darcy so she's facing him, her ankles now locked at the small of his back. She clasps her hands behind his neck and takes a moment to look at him. He's not sweating, though he's just run up through three flights of stairs while carrying her; he doesn't even seem to be out of breath. Her lecherous brain shorts out at the thought of all the ways that that incredible stamina could benefit her.

The smug smile returns to his face. "See something you like?"

"Yes," Darcy says, and she's not even embarrassed by her blatant lust. "This—clothing wise—is completely unexpected. And hot."

"I remember how to dress for a date."

"Yes, but knowing and doing are two different things." She smoothes her left hand over his shoulder, luxuriating in the feel of the soft cotton beneath her fingertips. "Where did you get these? Did you go shopping after I left?"

He nods.

"With Steve?"

Bucky nods again.

"And you didn't come back with something grandpa or six sizes too small?"

There's an indignant shout from deeper in the apartment followed a beat later by rich laughter. Darcy closes her eyes. Of course Steve is here, and of course he heard her, this well within his audible radius. As her face starts to heat, Bucky starts to laugh, shaking beneath her from the effort to keep silent. Opening her eyes, Darcy pokes the back of his neck, which only causes him to laugh harder. She glares at him as he walks them down the hall, the hall broadening into a living room. There she sees Steve on the couch, his feet on the coffee table and a baseball game playing on their enormous TV.

"My clothes aren't six sizes too small," he says when they walk in.

"I don't know, man. You wear some tight-ass shit."

Darcy recognizes the voice now and the laughter from before. Sam ambles from the kitchen, two beers in his hand. "Why are you two here?" he asks, tilting his head at their configuration.

"Running from Clint and Tony."

Steve nods as though this made complete sense, but Sam raises his brows. "Uh… why?"

Darcy sighs. "Because Tony's a sad only child and Clint's brother tried to kill him once, so they both work out their frustrated sibling angst with me. Today's soup du jour is deranged overprotection."

At that, Steve stands, all traces of mirth gone from his face. "Did they say something to you?" he asks Bucky. "Because I told them—"

Bucky looses a soft sigh. "Speaking of deranged…"

"—that you were healing."

Darcy looks at Bucky, finds him in the midst of a long-suffering sigh. "Oh, they don't know it's him," she says, turning back to Steve. "They think I'm dating you. Well, Tony does."

No one speaks for a few seconds then Sam and Bucky burst out laughing. Darcy smiles too at the expression on Steve's face, his furrowed brow and slack mouth simultaneously conveying shock and outrage.

"Me? What's wrong with me?"

"Is that a rhetorical question?" Bucky asks him. "Because I've got a few ideas."

Steve turns to Bucky to glare.

"Actually," Darcy says, "it's no so much that something's wrong with you. Or there is, at least Tony thinks so, but it's, uh, because, you know, he thinks, uh, that—" It's about here that Darcy reconsiders the idea of telling Captain America that Iron Man thinks he's an ancient virgin. She starts to squirm, seeking escape for the second time that evening, but Bucky holds her fast. She turns to scowl at him. The shit-eating grin he wears lets her know that he knows exactly what Tony thinks about Steve.

Steve, of course, doesn't know, so, of course, he asks. "What does he think?"

Darcy sighs.

Bucky continues to grin. "Yeah, Darcy. Tell Steve here what Stark thinks about him."

"Murder," she hisses at him. "So much murder. In your sleep."

His grin turns seductive, and Darcy tries her best to cling to exasperation rather than succumbing to intense lust. "I told you, doll. Dinner first. Then you and your modern ways can take me to bed and educate my stuffy, old, virginal—"

Darcy slaps a hand over his mouth. She glances back at Steve and sees him frowning at her. A high-pitched giggle of encroaching hysteria escapes her at the sight.

"I would not," she blurts out.

His frown deepens. "You wouldn't what?"

"I respect him as a person."

Steve raises his brows. "O…kay."

Beneath her palm, Bucky opens his mouth.

In his hands, Darcy tenses. "Please don't lecture me."

Steve frowns again. "Why would I do that?"

At this, Sam shakes his head and walks away, muttering about his need for sane friends.

"Because," Darcy squeaks, and it's then that Bucky licks a slow caress across her palm. Her eyes going wide, she tugs out a warning, a plea, perhaps, in the more lust-crazed portions of her brain, an encouragement, on a loose lock of hair at the nape of his neck. Bucky, of course, interprets the gesture in the last, squeezing her hips as he flicks the tip of his tongue against her lifeline. About sixty percent of her body spontaneously combusts, and her brain gets to work on the other forty percent by imagining in great detail how his tongue would feel on other parts of her body.

"Oh, god," she moans.

"Oh, god," Steve groans. "Stark thinks I'm a virgin."

Bucky abandons his pursuit to drive Darcy nuts to laugh at Steve. "Got it in one, pal. Now the question is, what are you going to do about it?"

The blank look of dismay Steve wears lasts exactly four seconds before dissolving into absolute glee. "I'm going to do what all awkward ninety-year old virgins do. I'm going to ask a whole lot of questions." He looks at Darcy. "Tomorrow we conference."

She nods, her prior lusty discomfort abating a bit in the face of future shenanigans. With a wave goodbye, Steve returns to the TV, to Sam and his shaking head, and Bucky directs them through the apartment to the rear door. He seems content to continue carrying her, so Darcy contents herself to let him, bringing her right arm between them in order to open his gift of chocolate.

"How'd you know about this?" she asks as she starts to pry the package open.

"Saw them on your desk when you were hiding from me."

Darcy makes a sound of disgust. "You're never going to let me forget that, are you?"

He grins at her. "Nope."

They round a corner. Bucky shifts Darcy to his left hand and opens the back door. The small foyer contains a service elevator and a second set of stairs. Darcy considers asking him why this elevator rather than the other two operating in Avengers Tower, but at that moment, she finagles the chocolate box open. She pops one into her mouth as Bucky walks them to the elevator.

"You gonna share?" he asks as he hits the call button.

Darcy shakes her head. "Not after the stunt you pulled. I don't know if I'll be able to look Steve in the eye again."

Bucky raises a brow. "You do know he's not a virgin, right?"

Darcy cocks a brow at him as the elevator arrives. "I know. Not with his ass. But if Clint and Tony and Thor occupy the overprotective sibling spots for me, then Steve does for you, and I, I don't know, I wanted to make a good impression."

Bucky presses the button for the ground floor then twists them ninety degrees so Darcy can rest against the right wall. A faint frown creases his brow as he says, "But he already knows you."

The elevator starts to descend. "Exactly. Steve knows me, loudmouth, cock-covered, glitter-addicted Darcy. But you've been to literal hell and back. I doubt my particular brand of crazy is his first choice to help ease you back into the world."

Brow still creased, Bucky peers at her, so long that Darcy ducks her head. She focuses on storing the box in her purse and not on his potential hesitation in light of Steve's disapproval. She feels her throat start to swell with emotion, hysteria and dread and a dash of the always-awesome embarrassment, then Bucky raises his right hand and she stills as he brushes his fingertips against her cheek.

"Maybe not," he says softly. "But you're mine."

Darcy lifts her eyes. He looks at her with bright eyes, both hot and soft, and the sight pulls a smile back to her face. "That was smooth, dude."

The smug grin returns. "Yes, it was."

The elevator begins to slow. They stare at each other, beaming, then his gaze drops to her mouth, and her stomach flips and her nerves begin to flutter as he says, "I'm going to kiss you now. Is that okay?"

Darcy attempts a frown. "I don't know. You're an old fashioned guy and all. Usually the kiss comes after the date."

"Well, so does dessert," he says as he leans in, "but you didn't let that stop you."

No, she hadn't. She never does, eating dessert for breakfast and breakfast for dinner. And she doesn't now either, tilting her face up to meet his. Bucky presses his mouth to hers, and the kiss is lush and sweet, sweeter than she anticipated given the heady rush she's experienced since she first laid eyes on him. He cups the back of her neck and settles his left hand low on her waist. Darcy drapes her arms over his shoulders and breathes him in only for her breath to still as he mimics his earlier teasing, drawing the tip of his tongue across the seam of her lips in a slow caress. Darcy opens her mouth, and Bucky darts in, making her clutch at his shirt, making her lean into him and tighten her legs around his—

The crack of thunder in the elevator jerks her back. Only Bucky's hand saves her head from smacking against the wall. Darcy takes one second to indulge in the sizzling flash of panic that's followed the thunder, she takes the next to try to tamp it down, and then she cracks one eye open. Thor stands just outside the elevator, Mew-Mew in his hand. She suspects Clint summoned him, not as sure as Tony in the theory of Steve as her paramour. He's eschewed the rest of his armor for jeans and a plaid shirt, but the civilian dress does little to mitigate the aura of unmistakable intimidation about him.

"Hey, buddy," she says, wincing slightly at her awkward squawk.

His voice is warm when he greets her. "Darcy."

It's less warm when he turns to Bucky. "Friend of Darcy."

Bucky hasn't moved, or he has, she's realized, but only to angle his body between her and the open elevator doors. In any other circumstance, the realization would make her sigh, both the sigh that she sighs at cute puppy videos and the sigh that she sighs when exasperated by excessive machismo in the twenty-first century. But all Darcy can feel now is pee-your-pants anxiety at this potential storm brewing. Looking at Bucky, she says, "Time to face the music, dude. Or the thunder, in this case."

He hesitates. Darcy looks past him and tries to shoot a soothing smile at Thor. Another second passes and then Bucky sighs and lowers her to the ground. She wiggles the feeling back into her legs before wiggling around Bucky. Thor watches them, his aura of intimidation increasing as she turns Bucky around.

"Thor, this is—"

"James." He blinks at Bucky, silent a moment. Then he says, "Clint did not say it was you who intended to court Darcy."

Hope blooms within Darcy at the lack of immediate fisticuffs. It increases when Bucky eases up beside her and clasps her hand. "He didn't know. We ran away because he's an assbutt who threw eggs at me. But this is good, right? Yes? Bucky is Steve's friend… a nice guy…"

"Allegedly."

Speaking of exasperation. Darcy sighs and turns toward Bucky. He doesn't look at her, but she sees the faintest trace of a smile on his face. "Is this really the best time?" she asks, trying this time not to hiss.

His smile deepens a fraction. "Yes."

"Because you have a burning desire to be squashed by a magical hammer?"

"Not particularly." He glances at her now. "But if you can't joke in the face of certain death, when can you?"

"Uh, when you're not faced with certain death."

Bucky tilts his head, all cocky swagger and delighted mischief. "Where's the fun in that?"

The response stuns her for a moment. Then Darcy shakes her head. She may or may not gape at him in the process. "And here I was worried that Steve would think I was too nuts for you."

Bucky grins down at her. "I know. It was cute."

She's about to respond, an epic rant about how she's not cute, not with hot-rolled curls and excessively high heels, primed, but Thor steps forward then and claps a hand on Bucky's shoulder. Darcy tries not to snicker as he buckles from the weight.

"Long have I waited for a worthy man to present himself as a squire for Darcy. Steven speaks highly of you, and you show great spirit, though I sought to incapacitate you with fear. This is a most glorious moment indeed."

Bucky stares at Thor, his eyes wide. "Are you… gonna cry?"

"Perhaps," Thor says. He drops Mew-Mew between their feet and gathers the three of them into a fierce hug. "I had lost hope for such an outcome after the unfortunate liaison with the Hydra miscreant."

Darcy sighs and pats him lightly on the back. "Thanks, buddy. Really feeling the love here."

"Love!" Thor bellows, making both she and Bucky jump. He steps back, gathers Mew-Mew in his hand once more. His smile dazzles, warm like the sun. "All deserve to experience such a tremendous emotion. So go forth, court one another with luminous seductions, and know," he says to Bucky, never dropping his smile, "that if you cast this opportunity to woo Darcy into decay with egregious actions, I shall be forced to demonstrate to you the true strength of a god. Which shall engender no quips, I assure you."

Stomach churning at this, the realization of all she sought to avoid the past half-hour, Darcy glances at Bucky. He doesn't tremble in the face of such deranged overprotection though, nor does he rankle. Instead he stands composed, responding to Thor with a single nod. Relief courses through her at the sight, both fizzy and fierce, like popped champagne, like water swirling over falls. She tugs on Bucky's hand as Thor eases to the side, and they disembark from the elevator.

"I shall maintain your secret," Thor says as he assumes their place inside the car.

Darcy nods, lifting her hand to wave goodbye. Then an idea takes hold and she darts back around, so unexpectedly and energetically that she nearly knocks Bucky from his feet. "Can you tell Tony you saw me with Steve instead?" she asks Thor.

Thor glances at Bucky. "You wish me to lie?"

"Not lie per se, just continue the assumption that Tony ridiculously made." At his look, she clarifies. "He thinks the only reason Steve would agree to help me against him is if I bribed him with my boobs. Because he thinks Captain Apple Tree's a virgin."

"Steven? A virgin?" Thor begins to laugh.

Darcy does too. "I know, right?"

Shaking his head, a smile on his face, Thor says to her, "I will do as you request. Gladly. And often. Now, please, enjoy your evening."

He presses the button for his floor. Darcy waves until the elevator doors close then she turns to Bucky, who stares at her with a look of utterly delighted confusion on his face.

"Captain Apple Tree?"

She nods. "Like Johnny Appleseed. He's Captain Apple Tree, with an ass like an apple and a body like a tree."

The confusion gives way to utter delight. "Please tell me Steve knows about this."

"He does. Why do you think I wanted to make a good impression?

At that, Bucky pulls her closer. He lifts their still clasped hands between them. The unexpected gesture makes her stomach flip. "You don't have to make a good impression. He likes you. He doesn't always get you, but he likes you. I'm the one who needs to make a good impression."

"Maybe with Jane," Darcy says, "but you've just gotten Thor's seal of approval. Tony wouldn't have let you to move in if he didn't approve, and there are two things that I know with absolute certainty Clint likes in this world: awesome marksmen and former Russian assassins on a current path of kickass redemption."

Bucky smiles at her. "And what do you like? We've got glitter, chocolate, Steve's ass…"

Darcy returns his grin. "There's also this really hot, really old guy who's promised me dinner. He's not so bad. Allegedly."

"Good to know."

He leans in and kisses her again, a soft one that confirms for Darcy the surprisingly sentimental core to the comely and cutthroat soldier. Releasing her hand, Bucky pivots and draws her back in with an arm around her shoulders then they head for the exit, for the first, Darcy hopes, of many dates, even those preceded by awkward gawking, glitter egg and feathering, and the certifiable madness of billionaires, spies, and gods.

AN: Thank you to everyone who has favorited, followed, and commented on this little series! I've appreciated the warm reception it's received. This is likely the last story for a while. My writing time is about to significantly diminish and what little I have will be devoted to the sequel to "That Which You Seek." If the muse strikes though, I will return here. :D