Oh look, another Wintershock soulmark story! This one is NSFV* though.

I was going to write this as a long one-shot but there was no way I was getting it finished today, so I'm giving it to you in pieces instead. Hopefully regular, quick-to-arrive pieces though. It's unbeta'd and although I've gone through it several times, let me know if you pick up any Britishisms or tense problems.

*Not Safe For Valentine's


1.

Sometimes the universe has a cruel sense of humor. Darcy tends to be the butt of the joke.

For instance, she's never had unrealistic expectations about her soulmark. Other girls had fantasies about Captain America saying their words, even while he was still frozen, presumed dead. Darcy just hoped she'd get a nice guy who'd treat her well. Maybe that's the unrealistic expectation, given what her words say, but at least there's more chance of that happening than of her soulmate being a Disney prince.

So when Thor introduces her to Captain Rogers in the common room when she moves into the Avenger's new training and development facility, she expects to make friendly conversation, if he glances at her twice. He's a busy guy, she gets it.

But he's a polite guy too. "Steve, please," he says, holding out his hand to her and correcting Thor's introduction of him. His smile's warm and she returns it. "Thor's told me a lot of stories about his brave lightning-sister."

"When he's not yammering on about Jane, I bet," she replies, throwing a teasing smile at Thor. He doesn't have the grace to look abashed at Steve's acknowledging nod.

"So what's your role here, Darcy?" If he's not actually interested in the answer, she can't tell. This is why the guy's a leader: he can make the little people feel important. Even knowing that, she appreciates the attention.

"I'm assisting Maria Hill, but I also make sure that Jane remembers to function like a human being." She shrugs. "Old habits die hard."

"I hope Stark pays you for both," Steve replies, before calling over his shoulder. "Hill's in charge of ops, but she's not always based here, so we might seeing a lot of Darcy." His words are directed at his shadow, the man who just slunk through the door and froze when he saw Steve had company. Darcy recognizes him and offers a friendly smile, but responds to Steve.

"Can't complain," Darcy says, "not when he cleared my student loans and I get to work with his tech."

When the shadow makes no attempt to move, Thor carries on with his introductions. "Sergeant James Barnes, I'd like to introduce you to Miss Darcy Lewis, master of political science and computer wizardry, soon to be the Avenger's finest asset." She elbows him in the gut, which has as much effect as punching a marble statue. "I am sure you will find her to be a fine ally, just as she was to me in my darkest hour."

Barnes shuffles until he's almost shoulder-to-shoulder with Steve and gives her the once over. "You don't look like much of an asset."

Steve frowns, turning to berate Barnes for his rudeness. Darcy should be rankled by his words, but instead she's a little shellshocked. Her stomach has apparently just caught a ride on a jet plane, swooping high, and it takes her a moment to react. When she does, nobody seems to be expecting the giddy smile that spreads across her face. She doesn't put much thought into her next words, but hey, the universe already decided what they're meant to be, right?

"Hey, just because I don't have supersoldier juice, doesn't mean I can't hold my own."

She waits for the flicker of recognition on Barnes' face, but there's nothing. He doesn't even respond, just staring at her coolly. She knows she spoke out loud: she heard Thor's huff of amusement. But she repeats the words anyway, just in case Barnes didn't hear them.

Nothing. Just a raised eyebrow in response. Steve's brow has furrowed and when she glances at Thor, he's also staring at her in question.

"Never mind," she says, her voice barely above a whisper. The jet engine is crashing and burning, her stomach plummeting and taking her mood with it.

"I'm sorry, Darcy. Bucky is still adjusting to—"

"It's fine." Darcy cuts Steve's apology off. "And you probably shouldn't apologize for him when he's right there. He's not a child or a misbehaving puppy." She tries to keep her tone light and friendly, but Steve flinches at her admonishment. She notices Bucky's expression flicker, the vague annoyance at the world giving way to surprise. "Anyway, I've got things to be getting on with. Nice meeting you both."

Her wan parting smile to Thor does nothing to smooth his expression of concern, but she's out of there before he can say his own goodbyes and follow her. Sure, he can track her down in her quarters later, but she doesn't head for her quarters. She heads for the sanctuary of Jane's lab, or rather the space it's going to inhabit when they've finished moving everything in. Because, if she knows Jane, that is exactly where she'll be.

She's right. Jane is bent over a machine which still has stray beads of polystyrene scattered over its surface, tearing a strip of duct tape off the roll with her teeth.

"It's meant to be a day off, Janie," Darcy says in greeting. "You're supposed to be unpacking your quarters."

Jane lays the strip of tape wears she wants it. "I know, but I found a part of the spectrometer in one of the boxes, so I thought I might as well bring it here, and then when I was here I might as well put this thing together so…why does your face look like that?" She hasn't glanced at Darcy until that moment, but now she's unfolding herself from the machine, scurrying over to Darcy. "What's happened?"

Darcy throws herself into one of the chairs that has been unpacked, stilling the fingers absently rubbing against the soulmark on her hip. "I met my soulmate."

Jane lets out a squeak of delight, but her face falls a moment later. "Wait, why are we not happy?"

"Because he didn't react to my words at all."

"Oh." Jane looks like a kicked puppy. "That's not good."

"No. It's not." There are a number of possible scenarios here. Darcy has run through them all on her way to the lab. Some are more hopeful than others. "But maybe it's because of who he is."

"Who is he?"

"Barnes."

"Barnes…Bucky Barnes? Steve's friend, the ex-assassin, Barnes?"

"That's the guy."

Jane's chewing her lip. "Okay, we know he's been traumatized and he's still getting used to the world. We don't know what he remembers about how the world works beyond what Hydra had him doing. He might not realize the significance of someone saying his words. That's probably not the kind of thing that people have been focusing on getting him to remember, not yet."

"Yeah, that might be it." It was one of the more positive scenarios.

"But in time…"

"Mmm-hmm." Time. Yeah. Maybe.

Jane thinks for a moment, her gaze focused inward while she considers the problem. "We could ask Natasha."

"We could ask Natasha what?"

"She's been working with Steve and Barnes a lot. Maybe she knows what the situation is, with his words, and she can…dig if we need her to. She's good at that kind of thing."

They've met Natasha a few times, at Stark Tower and when Jane was scoping out the facility before she decided to move in. Natasha had encouraged the move, practically begged them to rescue her from testosterone poisoning. Even with Wanda Maximoff and Dr Cho in situ, there was still a hormone imbalance on site. Darcy also has an inkling Natasha was behind her promotion to Hill's assistant.

"Alright, I'll beep her, see if she's busy."

As it turns out, she isn't. She's in the lab ten minutes later, scrutinizing the feed of Darcy's introduction to Barnes on a Starkpad. The expression she pulls when she hears Darcy's words make Darcy flinch; it's the minutest quirk of her eyebrow, but Darcy suspects Natasha already knows what the problem is. She takes a few minutes to check an encrypted copy of a file, one Darcy averts her eyes from but not before she's glanced a list of James Barnes' identifying marks. Natasha is just confirming what she already knows at this point, because when she puts the pad away, her expression is mild but unsmiling. The kind you wear when you have bad news.

"I didn't say his words, did I?" Darcy says, pre-empting Natasha.

"No. I'm sorry."

"It's okay. I'd already figured it out." She attempts a smile, but her traitorous mouth refuses to cooperate, sinking into a pout instead.

"Darcy…" Jane places a sympathetic hand on her shoulder, and Darcy leans her head to rest her cheek on it.

"S'fine. I just need a distraction…we might as well get the rest of the lab set up. And drinks later?"

Natasha nods and rises. "I can introduce you to Wanda and a few other people I trust." She pauses. "What are you going to do?"

"I don't know yet, beyond getting blackout drunk tonight. Just—don't tell him, okay? He's got enough guilt going on without adding my little drama to the mix."

"I won't," Natasha promises. She casts Darcy one last glance as she leaves, and it's so full of pity that it hurts.

Working on putting the lab together should keep her mind busy, but it doesn't, not even when Jane is trying to keep up a stream of chatter to keep her distracted. But Jane has to shut up to concentrate on wiring things back together, and then Darcy's mind has full reign to pick over events, and what it means.

James Barnes is her soulmate.

Darcy Lewis is not James Barnes' soulmate.

He is going to be the love of her life; she is not going to be his.

Yeah, the universe's sense of humor is all kinds of fucked up.

Everyone knows stories like it. Hell, they make movies about people with mis-matching soulmarks. Tragic love stories, the kind Darcy hates. Either the couple has a relationship until the other person meets their real soulmate and abandons their lover, or the one in Darcy's position suffers unrequited love, watching as their soulmate finds happiness in someone else's arms. Nine times out of ten, the movies has them making a dramatic sacrifice to ensure their soulmate's happiness.

As much as the second scenario sucks, Darcy knows the former is out of the question. She understands how Barnes could be easy to fall in love with—she's seen the old footage from the war, of the charming guy with the dazzling smile, the one who wore his uniform so well. But there's no way she's setting herself up to be abandoned like that Keira Knightley character…

Darcy doesn't even realize she's sobbing into a circuitboard until Jane removes it from her hands.

"Come on," Jane murmurs, gently helping her stand. "I bet Nat has a stash of good vodka she wouldn't mind sharing—"