A/N: And we have reached the end. Thank you for those who have waited. Enjoy.

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And I want you to know,

You're not alone,

Want you to know,

You're not alone anymore

Darkest Shade of Blue | Young the Giant

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Part Five | Where the Story Ends | One Year Later

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Thirty-two shades of lipstick—exactly thirty-two; she had counted them one-by-one as she waited somewhat patiently—with their caps off stared at Darcy. Divided into groups, there were circles of nudes, berries, pinks, and reds. Some even sparkled, as if they had taken a trip back to the 90s when glittery lips was all the rage. That was the 90s, though, wasn't it. Always making an unwanted comeback. Heaven forbid she walk outside with frosted shadow and bright pink blush. MJ wouldn't do that to her. Hopefully. Everything else on the vanity looked modern enough.

She chanced a look in the mirror. From where she sat about a foot away from the set-up in her director-style chair, she picked apart the flaws marring her face that would soon be hidden by a pound or two of makeup. Deep purple bruises lined her under-eyes. There was one angry, red spot that would not disappear no matter how hard she tried riding high on her left cheekbone. Her skin held an almost permanent sallowness. Sleep deprivation did not look good on her. Nor did copious amounts of stress.

This was her new normal. At least, that was what everyone kept telling her.

Say goodbye to sleep. Say goodbye to free time. Say goodbye to your social life.

Not that she had much of a social life outside of Loki and Jane and MJ. And MJ's boyfriend, Peter. And Peter's best friend, Ned. Occasionally Maria would join in on the fun, but nowadays it was rare their schedules lined up. Darcy was just so busy all of the time. The only reason she even saw Loki in the first place was because they lived together still. And the only reason she saw Jane was because her fiancé was Loki's brother. And because the wedding was fast approaching, and Darcy was doing everything in her power to ensure Jane would not search elsewhere for a maid of honour. The lead up to the wedding was not going to turn into a Bridesmaids situation on her watch.

To her surprise, everyone on her team, and everyone involved behind the scenes, was amenable enough to her polite demands for time off. The show hadn't even premiered yet and she was already getting what she wanted. MJ, the cosmetology student who started working at Warner Bros. Latte when Darcy needed to cut back her hours for filming, was chosen as her makeup artist above a slew of applicants because Darcy had asked nicely. After a couple of weeks of begging, Darcy managed to snag Loki a guest appearance on the series. He had three lines and was nameless, but Loki was still thanking Darcy every time they saw each other. Which was practically every morning in the apartment.

Phil kept telling her the reason people were giving into her requests was because of how wonderful she was. How this was really and truly the big break she had been looking for since moving from San Fransisco. Everyone in Hollywood had heard through the proverbial Californian grape vine that her performance as Patricia in The Earth Is My Grave was revolutionary, so watch out, because here comes Darcy Lewis to take over the world.

But she wasn't convinced. It was all too much too quickly. She had auditions left, right, and centre. Even following the leak—the fucking leak that kept her up at night months and months later—Phil sent her scripts every other day. Then he sent her on auditions. Then on callbacks. Then he sent her directly to whichever lot she needed to be on for filming. All before the miniseries that started it all aired. It was as if all the big name directors in Hollywood had her name whispered in their ears as they slept one night. Everyone woke up the next day with her on their mind.

And God, how stupid was it of her to feel any sort of resentment for this catapult into fame. After all, it was what she had been dreaming about endlessly since she was a child. It was what she had worked so hard for. But it really did feel like someone had strapped her inside a human-sized catapult and sent her flying into the air without a parachute.

It felt like soon enough she was going to crash land.

Pressing her hands against her cheeks, Darcy pulled back, forcing herself to smile. It was amazing to her how much of her spare time lately had been taken up by Red-Carpet-Smile practice. Prettiness at all times, no matter what, was part of the job description. She had settled on a pouty smile and a barely-there, lazy smile as her staples. Loki had applauded when she showed them to him, so she hoped they were good enough for the rest of the world. She would find out tomorrow once all the celebrity reporters had an opportunity to compile their pointless, shallow articles about what everyone looked like, facial expressions included, at the premiere that was taking place in less than two hours.

Less than two hours.

Darcy dropped her head. She stared at her crossed legs. God, she had been waiting for almost a year for this night, but as the seconds ticked forward, all she wanted was to be home with her father in San Fransisco watching Singin' in the Rain.

She wasn't ready. For any of what was to come. Not the cameras, the reporters, the screaming fans. Not him.

She wasn't ready to see him.

The door to the tiny makeup studio opened with a loud bang as the handle slammed against the wall. Darcy jumped, nearly falling out of the chair, and turned her head to find MJ and Loki panting as they set down their things on the table just inside the room.

The time for freaking out was over.

"Darce," Loki said, wiping at a bead of sweat running down from his temple, "I am so sorry we're late."

MJ nodded enthusiastically as she approached Darcy from behind. "My car wouldn't start, and since Peter is out of state right now with Ned doing some weird soul searching thing in Oregon, we had to run all the way to your place to get Loki's. And, of course, there was so much traffic. We got caught at every. Single. Light."

"Every. Single. Light," Loki repeated. He plopped dramatically on the chair beside Darcy and grabbed her hand. His sweaty palm slipped against hers. She had never known Loki to sweat like this. "She is not exaggerating."

"Guys," Darcy said, forcing Loki's gross hand away from her, "stop panicking."

"Panicking? Who's panicking?"

Darcy side-eyed Loki. "Maybe the guy who looks like he's about to have a heart attack? Seriously, you're sweating like you've just run a marathon. Are you about to have a heart attack?"

Reaching for a tissue on the vanity, Loki dabbed at his damp face and tucked his raven hair behind his ears. "This suit," he said, and Darcy's attention immediately moved to her friend's all-black, skin-tight suit, "looks amazing, but wearing it while running around LA in the summertime is torture. I might as well have coated myself in hot tar."

"It does do you many, many favours," Darcy applauded. She pointed behind her. "Take it off and hang it on the wall over there. You can use that fan to dry it out."

"Thanks, Darce." Loki stood and unbuttoned his jacket before getting started on his dress shirt. "And sorry, MJ," he added, slipping the shirt off his shoulders.

The mocha-skinned makeup artist pressed her lips together in preparation for what would surely be a classic deadpan delivery. "Nothing I've not seen before." She turned her attention to Darcy. "So, we've settled on a look for tonight, yeah? We're gonna have to work fast, but trust me, I can get you looking like a supermodel in no time."

"I trust you." Darcy stared at the makeup covering the vanity. "You know what I like."

"Cat eye and red lip?"

Darcy smiled. A genuine smile, and it felt so good that she kept smiling as she said, "Exactly. And here I was, worried that you were going to use that sparkly lipstick on me."

"One day," MJ said wistfully, tying her curls into a quick bun. "But not tonight. Tonight is all about elegance. It's your introduction to high society. You're like a high fashion, LA debutante."

"That sentiment reeks of old Hollywood misogyny, but I'm too nervous to care. Debutante away." Darcy sat back in her chair, her eyes going to Loki's reflection in the vanity mirror. He was posing in front of the full length mirror on the wardrobe beside the only window in the room. Hanging beside the mirror was Darcy's dress for the evening. Black to match Loki—her date, of course—and chesty enough to excite the crowd, but not so chesty that tabloids would call her a porn-star-waiting-to-happen. The full length gown, on loan from a top designer friends with Phil, billowed as Loki did a twirl.

MJ moved next to Darcy and started prepping her face. "You did the mask I gave you?" she asked, her eyes narrowing as she applied a clear primer.

"Scout's honour." Darcy held up four fingers, bunching her pointer and index, and ring and pinky fingers together.

"Okay, that's the Vulcan sign from Star Trek."

"Is it?" Darcy put her hand down. MJ nodded. In the mirror, Loki nodded too before getting back to his half-naked reflection. "Regardless, I did the mask. I swear. It made my skin feel like I'd just plunged my head into an ice bath. Surprisingly refreshing."

Seemingly satisfied with her description—really, she did the mask—MJ poured a mixture of three liquid foundations onto a glass palette and used a brush to combine the shades. As she spread the unique blend over Darcy's face like a painter dousing a canvas, the young artist said, "What's got you so nervous? Not to be mean, but you look like you've not slept since I saw you four days ago."

"I don't know that I have slept," Darcy admitted. The knot—or was it an ulcer?—that had formed in her stomach the day she wrapped on the project pulsed. "I'm sure you can guess why."

MJ opened a tube of extra strength concealer and got to work covering the spot on Darcy's cheek. "Look, I've not seen this thing yet, obviously, but from what all of the insiders are saying, you're amazing in this role. You have nothing to be worried about. The critics are going to love you."

"No," Darcy said, and the knot bunched even further. She felt like she was going to throw up. "It's not really that, surprisingly. I mean, I am anxious about the reviews, but it's not the main source of my insomnia."

"Is it the Voldemort thing?" Loki returned to Darcy's side still wearing only his pants.

Darcy felt like if she opened her mouth, blood would spew out. She kept her mouth shut. She clenched her jaw.

MJ pulled away. "The Voldemort thing? What the hell is that code for?"

"Nothing," Darcy said through her teeth the same moment Loki said, "You haven't told MJ?"

Darcy glared at Loki in the mirror. Forget just blood. All of her intestines, all of her organs, all of her bones, were going to ricochet out of her mouth at any second.

"Told me what?" MJ asked.

"Nothing," Darcy emphasised. "Really, it's nothing."

"Why are you talking like that?" Loki said, concerned. He turned his neck to face MJ. "It isn't nothing. It's a really, really big something."

MJ looked between Loki and Darcy a few times before her eyes landed on Darcy. "You do not have to tell my anything you don't want to."

"Thank you," Darcy sighed.

"No, you should," Loki said. "Getting it all out there before you have to see . . . He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named . . . will help. You've had it bottled up for so long, I'm kind of worried you'll explode on the carpet."

Darcy didn't want to admit it out loud, but she was worried about that too. Clenching her hands, her black-painted nails dug into her palms. "It's a long story," she apologised. Christ, was she actually going to do this? "And you have to promise not to repeat a single word of it to anybody. Not even Peter. Especially not Peter," she clarified, remembering what happened the last time she let out a small secret in front of MJ's boyfriend.

"You don't have to worry about me spilling anything," MJ said, checking the watch on her wrist. "You've got just over an hour to fill me in before you need to be on the carpet. I can carry on doing your makeup while you talk."

Taking in a deep breath, Darcy unfurled her fists and said, "Well, the story starts four years ago at the café, the day James Buchanan Barnes threatened to have me fired, and it ends on my last day of shooting for The Earth Is My Grave."

"This is her one woman show," jibed Loki, but he was sitting straighter and had turned himself wholly towards Darcy. He was as excited to hear all of this again as MJ seemed to be hearing it for the first time.

"As I was saying," Darcy continued, tilting her head to allow MJ easier access to the hollows of her cheeks, "this tale is four years in the making."

Everything poured out of Darcy. She was a rusted tap in the middle of nowhere being switched on for the first time in ages, emptying herself of all of the soiled, contaminated water. Sitting in the makeup chair, she could see with eerie clarity the figure of James Buchanan Barnes walking towards her on her first day at Warner Bros. Latte. She felt the embarrassment, then the sudden switch to anger, following their initial clash over spilt coffee. Small, black. Scalding as it splashed over the both of them.

Then, the aching anticipation and dread the day he returned three years later. The hurt—she could admit it now—that spun around inside of her when he repeatedly did not recognise her as the woman he tried to fire for a simple mistake. The tortuous way Loki teased her about the undeniable love between the sworn enemies.

Then, the audition process. The chemistry test. The elevator and the grim satisfaction as she forced the veteran actor to remember her.

"You really said that?" MJ tapped a small, tapered brush. White powder flew into the air. Suspended by light coming through the window, it looked, briefly, as though it were snowing. Darcy nodded her head once before MJ dusted her T-zone. "Well, what did he say back?"

"Nothing at the time. I think I drove away before his brain could process what I had said."

"Not at the time? So, he did say something eventually?"

Darcy's mind whirred as memories she had tried so hard to squash for so long started simmering. Soon, they would be at a boil, and she would be unable to contain them as they overflowed. "Um, yeah. Eventually. I dodged him as long as I could, you know. Like, during the first table read and cast get-togethers. But after we filmed our first scene . . ." Her voice died on her, and she wished she could switch off the corroded tap.

This was doing nothing for the knot. The ulcer. The whatever the hell was clamping down on her insides.

Damn Loki. He just liked hearing this story. He never thought about how badly the entire clusterfuck had messed with Darcy's mind.

No, that was unfair. And untrue.

Stressed, overtired Darcy was apparently a bitch and a bad friend. Good to know, she thought to herself.

"After you filmed your first scene . . .?" MJ supplied. Surprisingly, Loki did not immediately jump in and finish the story himself.

"Right, yeah, after our first scene," Darcy said, looking at the mirror but not seeing herself. Rather, she saw the lamppost illuminating the kiss 'n' ride. Felt the mist of rain so fine it gathered on the hairs on her arms like spider-webs. Heard the footsteps approaching from the direction of the studio in which she had just wrapped a day of filming for the first time ever.

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She knew it was going to be him before he reached her. I know it's you, she said to herself, and the next moment he was standing beside her. Looming over her like a statue. Silent, commanding, dreadfully tall. It was her recently discovered sixth sense. Her spider-like ability to sense danger. Danger in the form of Oscar-winning actor James Buchanan Fucking Barnes, because why would the universe send her an actual criminal when it could deliver her arch nemesis and watch her squirm worse than if it was a crazed man with a gun.

Staring down the road, she squinted, watching for Loki's headlights, praying for a lightning strike to be borne out of this miserable excuse for a rainstorm. The longer she strained her eyes in the semi-darkness, the longer it took for Loki or that Scottish guy to appear (LA traffic mixed with a bit of rain was possibly the worst combination in the world next to George Clooney and Batman), the more she became convinced the smug actor was taunting her with his looming and with his silence.

Would it be too obvious if she took a few steps to the left? Or if she sought refuge in the café and refused him entry if he asked?

"I remember you."

Darcy almost fell over. Not because she tripped on anything, but because the force of his voice, quiet though it was in the city night, almost knocked her down.

"Sorry," he said, and she didn't need to look at him to know he had moved closer. "I didn't mean to startle you. Now that I think about it, that was a horrible way to start this conversation."

He was being charming again. The bastard. The prick.

"Is it a conversation we're having?" she said when her vocal chords came out of paralysis. She refused to look at him, but God, she felt his eyes burning through her black cardigan like the sun.

"I hope so," he said. "I do remember you. From the café."

"Good for you. I'm glad I was able to jog your memory of that horrible day," she snarked. Involuntarily, her head shifted to the right. "Can the conversation be over now?"

It was funny—not really; really, it was agony—but after desperately wanting him to feel guilty for what he did, after hoping they would be in this exact situation so she could really, properly tell him off, what she wanted more than anything at the moment was to disappear. She was too exhausted. Maybe from the day's work, but most likely from the toll holding on to anger takes on a person as small as herself.

But James Buchanan Barnes was not going to leave the subject alone.

"I wanted to say that I was sorry. For getting so worked up about the coffee and threatening to have you fired."

The thing was, and Darcy was really loathe to admit it, his apology sounded genuine. Sincere. And he said it with such earnest, she wondered if he had been carrying it around with him since her callback.

Darcy glanced up. Fine droplets of rain fell into her eyes. She blinked away the uncomfortable sensation. "Okay," she said.

"Okay? That's it?" he questioned. "You're not going to forgive me?"

"Would that make you feel better?"

"I think it would make you feel better."

Why the hell would he think that? "Why the hell would you think that?" she said aloud, the exhaustion subsiding bit by bit.

He didn't answer her question immediately. Instead, he proclaimed, "We've interacted more than that one time. The time I stopped you from falling after you crashed into me? I remember that, too. Haven't I proved that I'm not such an asshole?"

Darcy's mouth dropped open. "You bumped into me!" she said, though she knew it was a lie.

"No, I didn't, and you know I didn't," he said. He turned his whole body towards her. The looming only increased. If she wasn't so angry, she would probably be afraid. No. That was another lie. "I've been trying to get all of this off of my chest since the chemistry read, but you've been avoiding me. Do you really hate me that much? All because of one bad interaction?"

"I—I don't—" Darcy stuttered, rain falling into her mouth. She did hate him. He was her very own personal Antichrist. She didn't care that it was dramatic or an almost completely baseless role to throw him into. "You are an asshole," she said eventually. "Nice people don't try to get other people fired for innocent mistakes."

"I've said I was sorry," he maintained, and he titled his head just right so that the light from the lamppost caught his blue eyes. His face was pinched in effort and tiredness.

"For trying to have me fired?"

"Yes," he said emphatically. "I wasn't in a good place then. And let's take a look at this situation, okay?" He lifted his eyebrows as if waiting for her to respond.

Maybe Loki had died in a car crash. Maybe that was why he hadn't come to rescue her yet. "Okay," she allowed. "What is the situation?"

"The situation is," he said, "I think you are the asshole."

"Me?" The fucker. Darcy glowered and folded her arms. Even though the rain was as fine as a sprinkling of flour, she had been standing in it for so long that her clothes were soaked through. She, Darcy Lewis, was having an argument in the rain with James Buchanan Barnes. "Explain your reasoning."

"Yes, you." He wiped his jacket sleeve across his forehead. Ran a hand through his hair to get the longer strands at the front out of his burning blue eyes. "You're the one holding a three-year-old grudge against me. Nice people don't do that. You think you can hate me because I'm some rich, famous guy who grew up in the industry. You think you know me because we met a couple of times, because my face is on the front cover of gossip magazines. But you don't know me. Like I said, I wasn't in a good place three years ago. Like I said, I'm sorry for being so horrible. But I'd like to think I've more than made up for it."

He took a pause. His breaths came out hard and fast. Darcy stood there, listening to him pant, unable to bring herself to say anything.

She felt a pit of guilt land in her stomach.

"You're a great actor, Darcy," he said, and her breath caught against that pit at the sound of her name coming off his lips. "I'm glad you're on this project. I'm glad I was able to convince them you deserved more than a single scene. Please," he begged.

He was going to say something else. Something deeper and more profound. She sensed it. But headlights breaking through the mist pulled both of their attentions away from the tense exchange.

"That's me," he said, waving a hand out to his driver and stepping towards the curb.

"James." She didn't mean to say it. His name lurched out of her against her will.

He twisted his neck as the car pulled up. "It's Bucky," he said. Climbing into the black car, he stared at her with such intensity she feared she would implode.

The pit rooted itself deep inside her gut.

She stared back, blinking, breathing, only when the door closed.

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The felt liner peeled away from her eyelid. Darcy cracked her eye open.

MJ stood straight up, holding the marker, a look of disbelief on her face. "Wow." She capped the liner and returned it to its spot on the vanity. "He really told you what was what, didn't he?"

"Yes," Darcy said, her eyes closing. Her insides spasmed. "Yes, he really did. I was mortified. I was sobbing when Loki finally made it to the lot."

"Was she?" she heard MJ ask. There was no verbal response, but Darcy imagined Loki's head was nodding in affirmation. "What happened next? Did you guys just never talk again? Is that why you're so anxious about tonight, because you'll have to interact with him?"

Darcy squirmed in the makeup chair. She opened her eyes. "Sort of. But not really."

Picking out a mascara, MJ untwisted the cap and pulled the wand out. "There's even more to the story?"

"A lot more," Darcy confessed.

"Okay, then. Carry on."

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Flowers. For her. Just laid out on the small desk protruding from the wall in her tiny dressing room. Setting her things down in the arm chair tucked just under the desk, Darcy picked up the bouquet. Stargazer lilies. White, pink, and green hydrangeas. White and pink snapdragons. And baby's breath, of course. What bouquet was complete without baby's breath.

The collection of flowers was gorgeous.

She lifted the stargazers to her nose and breathed in their scent. Most people found the aroma overpowering. One time she brought home a dozen of the pink flower and Loki had to ask her to leave them in her room because the odour as he called it was giving him a headache.

But she had been languishing in stargazers her whole life. They were her mother's favourite flower.

Was this a bouquet from her dad? A congratulatory gift sent from the rehab centre gift shop? She checked the note tied around the stems.

Falling like rain,

a truth that appears,

oh, the genius of pain.

Let's put the past behind us — I'm calling a truce.

~ Bucky

The previous week's encounter broke open in Darcy's mind. It's Bucky he had said. All of his friends call him Bucky Phil had said.

Bucky.

So, she was James Buchanan Barnes' newest friend. Even after she was such an asshole to him. Because, yes, she had thought about it, and, yes, she had decided he was right. No sane, normal, nice person clung that tightly to a three-year-old slight.

Darcy put the flowers on the desk. Reaching inside her bag, she pulled out her script and checked over her lines. She was due at the makeup trailer any minute. She wondered, glancing again at the beautiful arrangement, if they would have a vase for her.

Makeup didn't, but the props department did. She snagged a vase from their warehouse just before she was due on set to block her next scene. It was another Patricia/Danny encounter, and each time she thought about seeing him, the pit in her stomach grew another spindly, spiky root.

What was she to say to him now that he had gifted her the flowers? Now that he had called her out on her asshole-ery? Now that he had told her to call him Bucky?

And the stargazers. Her mother's favourite. How did he know?

He didn't. Obviously. But he still picked them out. He must have guessed she would like them.

She didn't know him, but maybe he knew her.

The thought made Darcy shiver.

On her way out of her dressing room, she spotted him—him—leaning against the wall at the end of the hallway. Turned in her direction. Dressed up in his uniform, his face and body bandaged and bruised. His left arm bound in a green sleeve that would be taken out in post.

He waited silently for her as she approached. On her way to him, she looked at everything else. The ugly green and black carpet that looked like it hadn't been replaced since the '70s. The ugly puke-coloured walls that also looked straight out of the '70s. The fluorescent lights that only highlighted the ugliness of the space. And the blue of James Buchanan Barnes' eyes.

Pausing a foot away, Darcy's mouth lifted in what she hoped was an apologetic smile. It felt more like a grimace.

"I got the flowers," she said. "I, uh—thank you. They're really pretty."

"You're welcome." He grinned at her. All of his shiny, white teeth glimmered. God, he had a stunning smile. "See, this is how it's meant to go. You say 'thank you,' I say 'you're welcome.' I say 'I'm sorry, Darcy, for being an asshole the first time we met,' and you say"— He raised his eyebrows in anticipation.

The grimace turned into an embarrassed smirk. "And I say 'you're forgiven.' And then I say 'I'm sorry for being an asshole the last however many times we've met.'"

"And I say 'you are also forgiven.'" He laughed, and it sounded like rustling leaves on a warm, spring day. He jerked his head. "Come on. They'll be needing us."

He let her go first. On their way to the sound stage, he started telling her about the first war-era project he worked on, and Darcy listened. Attentively. And when he had to stop talking once they reached their destination, she found herself wishing the journey had lasted just a little bit longer. Just so she could hear him speak.

.

"Wait." MJ held up her hand halfway through applying a coat of some gel that was meant to cement Darcy's lipstick in place. "I don't understand. You guys became friends. You both forgave each other."

"Yep," Darcy said, wishing she could look back at that time with fondness instead of dread for what was about to come. "It was a nice next couple of months before I wrapped. We would talk every time I was on set. His driver would take me home whenever Loki or Jane couldn't. He got craft services to start laying out these weird vegan gummy bears I like."

"He was falling in love with her." Loki's voice came wistfully from behind the two women as he climbed back inside of his now-dry suit.

Darcy rolled her eyes, even as her throat itched and threatened to close. "Don't pay attention to him. He was not falling in love with me. We were just friends."

Checking her watch, MJ returned to the finishing touches of Darcy's look. "I don't mean to rush you," she said, "but you have to be down there in fifteen minutes."

"Shit," Darcy breathed. At least she had her dress now. "Okay, I guess it's time to wrap up. I'll skip ahead to my last day of filming. My final scene was with, well, you know, and when it was all over, he invited me to his dressing room. Which wasn't weird. He did it all the time. But that night, things took a weird turn. A bad turn."

MJ reached for the setting spray on the vanity. She uncapped and shook the bottle. "Colour me intrigued."

Darcy didn't want to tell MJ this part. She wanted Loki to take over for her. No, what she really wanted was for it to not exist in the first place. But it did. It was sitting like a lump in her throat, and she needed to expel it before it choked her to death.

.

She would never get over how much bigger his room was than hers. He said one day she would be the lead on her own project and then hers would be the biggest, but for now she would have to deal.

There was room enough for a giant plushy sofa. A 60-inch television. Two bookshelves—one for DVDs, the other for actual books. He had a refrigerator. Not a lousy mini-fridge—a massive, chrome refrigerator with two doors and a freezer. Covering the walls were several pieces of fan art spanning the entirety of his career. Seriously, there was a life-like painting of his sleeping form from Winter Baby. There were no family photographs, though. The only image that wasn't a recreation of one of his characters was the picture of him and his best friend, Steve Rogers. A real-life military man.

Darcy took the frame off of the coffee table in front of the lavish sofa as she waited for her co-star to return with dinner from craft services. The pair were by the water. A beach with sand stretching for miles either side of them. No-one else was in sight. And they were smiling, their arms flung around each other's shoulders.

The door to the room opened carefully. Balancing three plates on one arm, he entered the room and laid the mini feast on the coffee table, his eyes narrowing when he caught sight of the object Darcy held.

"He's a good-looking guy, isn't he?"

"What?" Darcy put the picture frame down and took her plate. She shrugged. "I mean, I guess. He's got a nice smile."

Sitting beside her—right beside her—he grabbed his own plate and looked at the photograph. "Would you believe me if I told you he's the reason most people think I'm gay?"

Darcy's fork paused midway to her mouth. "People don't think that," she said.

"Maybe not People magazine," he said, smiling, "but people in Hollywood."

He said it so matter-of-factly. Like it was common knowledge. Maybe it was, though, and she was just too much of a newbie to know any better.

Looking at him from the side, Darcy took in his profile. Handsome was the first word that came to mind. Classically handsome. Strong jaw with strong forehead. Perfectly shaped brows to match perfectly shaped stubble. Lips pink enough to kiss. Which she had done, briefly, during a scene a couple of weeks ago.

He had played gay once. Wait, twice. The Internet did love him in those roles, but most plebs agreed on his staunch heterosexuality. They said he was too good-looking to be gay, which always struck Darcy as a tad homophobic. But, then again, she had never once thought to think he was anything other than straight.

"Are you gay?" she found herself asking.

"No," he said. Not in any rush, but quick enough that Darcy knew he wasn't contemplating his response. "But they all suspect. Nobody's published anything because of how taboo outing journalism has become in recent years. So, it's just this rumour that sits on the tip of Hollywood's tongue."

Darcy put down her plate. He hadn't picked up his, and she got the sense this was turning into something more than a conversation about sexual orientation. "Okay, but why does your friendship with Steve make them think you're gay?"

"I think it's got something to do with the fact that I've never settled down. The person the media see me with most is Steve. But he's not my boyfriend. He's just the guy who never puts up with any of my shit. He's essentially my brother. After his mom died when were teens, he even lived with us until he left to join the military," he disclosed, his cheeks reddening. "He's the guy—the guy who—the only person who was able to get me to go to rehab."

There it was. The bombshell. The reason for the tingles running up Darcy's spine.

James Buchanan Barnes' dark secret. It sat heavy in her soul. The longer they were together, neither one speaking, the harder it got for her to hold her body upright. She sagged, tilting towards the blotchy-faced actor.

She recalled the tabloid on display when she went for her callback. Countless other times she had been in line at the grocery store, at the pharmacy, at the wherever, reading headlines about James Buchanan Barnes' suspected drug addiction. Tabloids lied all the time, and she never suspected there to be any truth behind them.

"Bucky," she said, her voice so quiet she wasn't sure she had said anything at all.

His blue eyes shone with a wet glaze. "That's why I didn't remember you. That day at the café I was high out of my mind. It's why I was so horrible to you. Cocaine makes you angry." He laughed, though nothing was funny.

"You don't have to say anymore"— she started saying, but he cut her off.

"I want to. I like telling you things, Darcy," he said, and the weight lifted slightly as her heartbeat quickened. "I got hooked on the stuff when I was young. It was at a wrap party and this guy offered me some, and I didn't know any better. I would go on these benders. Disappear for days before Steve could find me.

"A few years ago, around the time I finished up re-shoots for Porter's Civil War, I crashed my car into a bakery near my house, and it was the last straw for Steve. We managed to keep it out of the press, and I paid for the rebuilding of the bakery, and then I headed to a facility," he disclosed. The words came out scratched, as if his throat was tearing them up before they had a chance to escape. Darcy sat still as he spoke, afraid that moving would spook him into silence. "They kept me for three months. Got me clean. I've been sober now for three years, even though there are times when it's really, really hard. This kind of a life is rough, Darcy, when you've been a part of it for as long as I have. When I got out of rehab, I started thinking I wasn't going to be able to act anymore. Like the drugs were what made me good."

That made sense. There was a year-long gap in his working history. Most assumed he just couldn't find anything he wanted to attach himself to. Some started fearing he had retired and fallen off of the grid.

Now she knew the real reason behind his disappearance.

"You know that isn't true," she said, inexplicably reaching out and taking his hand. It was different to the last however many times she had held onto him. Those were all in front of a camera. The touches were cold. This felt like a lifeline. Like they were clinging to each other.

He gripped her tight. "I know, yeah. Took me awhile to figure it out, but I got there in the end."

She smiled at him sadly and squeezed his fingers. He squeezed back. "My dad's just getting clean now," she said.

"Is he?" His eyes lit up with the knowledge that he didn't have to talk about himself anymore. "That's good."

"It really, really is, yeah. He's been an alcoholic since my mom passed away when I was a teenager. I finally got him help a couple of months ago. Right before shooting began, actually."

See, Bucky, she was saying, we're not so different, you and I.

"You and Steve would get on great," Bucky proposed, his thumb beginning a dance across her knuckles. The movement put the hairs up on the back of her neck.

"Because both of our moms are dead?" she said. It had been long enough that she could make those jokes. She hoped Bucky understood.

He appeared to. Laughing with only a hint of concern for her well-being, he nodded. "That, and you've both had to clean up messes that didn't belong to you."

They were close. The kind of closeness only seen in the movies. In the shots when two people are about to kiss for the first time. Her eyes crossed as she tried to focus on his intense gaze. She felt his hot breath against her skin. Smelled the mint he had been sucking on. She could, if she wanted to, count each individual hair lining his cheeks and jaw and mouth.

His mouth.

In other words, they were too close.

"Darcy," he said, and she swallowed her name.

"Yes?" She couldn't look into his eyes anymore. She looked instead at his cupid's bow.

Whatever he had wanted to say to her, he must have decided it wasn't important.

He kissed her for the first time on the sofa in his dressing room, and Darcy let it happen. She wanted it to happen. She kept it happening. Because it felt good. So, so good to be wanted by Bucky. And he tasted like sadness and mint, and in that moment Darcy was sure nothing could come between her and the happiness she had been searching for since her mother died.

.

Darcy took the tissue from MJ's hand and dabbed it gently underneath her eyes. "Wow, I really thought I was done crying over this," she mumbled. She looked guiltily at MJ. "Sorry for ruining all of your hard work."

"Not a big deal," MJ protested, already starting to cover the wet patches with more makeup. "I can handle some tears. But I'm confused. You guys kissed. Why didn't you run off into the sunset?"

With her face finally red carpet ready, Darcy took some deep breaths and stood up. The thing in her stomach stretched painfully. Ignoring the discomfort, she stepped away from the vanity. Loki handed her the black pumps she had picked out the other day. She slipped them on her feet with Loki's help, thinking of how to broach the final part of the story.

"Do you remember," Darcy said, hoping no-one else could pick up on how stuffed her nose was, "the reports that he was secretly dating this overweight fame-whore? That shit was circling the headlines for weeks."

"I remember."

Darcy, her look complete, held out her arms. "You're looking at that overweight fame-whore."

MJ's jaw dropped. "What?"

"Another actor walked in on us mid-kiss. This girl had apparently been after Bucky the whole production and with his disinterest staring her blatantly in the face, she went to the press. I'm not named, obviously, but the whole situation screwed me up. Bucky kept trying to call me, trying to see me, but I just—I couldn't do it. I couldn't be that girl," she said through hiccups.

"Don't you start crying on me again," MJ warned.

Darcy fanned her face. "I won't, I won't. But do you see why I don't want to be around him?"

"I see. Wow. You should totally write a book about this. When you're old, get this into your memoir. It'll sell like crazy," MJ said, and Darcy knew it was an attempt to get her to feel better, and for MJ's sake she smiled. "There we go. I'm gonna head to the bathroom and then we can leave, okay? We've just about made it in time."

"Okay."

Loki came to stand in front of her the instant MJ vanished. "That's bullshit, Darcy, and you know it."

Startled, Darcy took a step back. "What? What's bullshit?"

"Ugh, that tabloid story. You couldn't give two fucks about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's status. And he definitely couldn't give two fucks about yours. You're Darcy Lewis. You've never cared about fame. You're always the one telling me not to trust the headlines. This has nothing to do with you worrying that people will think you're only with him to boost your own career." Loki took both of her hands and pressed his forehead against hers. She couldn't escape this if she tried. "The reason you're afraid to see him is because you're afraid of how much you like him. Of how much he likes you. Because you've never felt this way before, and no-one has ever felt this way about you before."

Darcy opened her mouth to deliver a counterattack, but Loki didn't allow it. "You can do this, Darcy. You can see him. You can tell him that you're sorry for running out on him. I promise you, he will forgive you in a heartbeat."

Again, Darcy was ready to defend her decision, but then MJ came out of the bathroom and announced they had run out of free time.

With nowhere left to hide, Darcy took her clutch from Loki and departed the room.

She could do this.

.

She couldn't do it. She dodged him the whole night. When on the red carpet, she stayed as far away from him as she could. Situated herself at the very front when taking the cast photos. Laughed off questions involving his name. Especially the ones that went something along the lines of be honest, how difficult was it to not fall in love with James Buchanan Barnes.

Because, to be honest, she had no fucking clue how not to do that. Because, to be honest, she had done just that.

At the afterparty, she used Loki as a human shield, much to her best friend's chagrin. In the following weeks, as the world got used to seeing her name and face on their television screens, she avoided going outside. She camped out in San Fransisco for as long as possible until she had no choice but to return to LA for Jane's wedding. She took part in the engagement party. She planned the bachelorette getaway to San Diego. She co-planned last night's rehearsal dinner.

And there she sat at the reception, watching the lovebirds flaunt their success as the August sun finished its descent behind them. Loki had already left. Early morning date with this new photographer guy he had met at the premiere. MJ and Peter were the only other couple on the floor. Everyone else was either single or had gone home.

Of course, she was in a slightly good mood. She had just received word that she had landed another role. And Phil was already setting up another audition for later in the week. Professionally, she was doing spectacularly well. Better than she could have dreamed. Somewhere, high in the clouds, her mother was proud of her. Probably not at the current moment, but generally, she was proud. Darcy knew it.

She also knew how disappointed her mother would be knowing how royally Darcy had screwed up a potential love story over nothing other than good old fashioned fear. Rather than taking after Annie from Annie Get Your Gun or Sandy from Grease and going after what she wanted, she was Dawn from Waitress. Frightened that someone had seen her. Petrified that she had allowed him to see her.

I'm scared of breaking open, she said to herself as her phone buzzed on the empty table.

A message from Loki flashed across her screen. Picking up the device, she opened the text.

Watch this. You'll thank me later, it read. Attached was a YouTube video, and the thumbnail made Darcy's stomach cramp. It was him. Dressed in the outfit he wore to the premiere. She didn't click on it. Not until a second message popped up. Watch it or I'll kick you out of the apartment.

I can afford a place of my own, thank you very much. I'm only rooming with you out of pity at this point.

Stop deflecting and watch the damn video.

Darcy's thumb landed on the Play button before she could stop it. It was a reflex. A convulsion. A seizure that effected only her right thumb. The video was from a celebrity gossip website. That boded well. What could possibly be in this that her best friend wanted her to see so badly? Cupping the speaker, she lifted the phone closer to her face and, as Loki commanded, watched.

The focus was solely on his face. Christ, why did he have to be so good looking? His hair was shaggier than it had been during production, but that only made him look better.

Focus, Darcy, she warned herself.

"So, you get to kiss a couple of women in this show, I hear," the interviewer—a man, of course—said, his comment dripping with suggestion.

The actor's eye twitched as a sneer took over his handsome face for half a second. "Uh, yeah. Comes with the territory."

"I just want to bring to your attention an article one of our reporters wrote last year about this show." Darcy's chest tightened. She knew where this was going. "Is Darcy Lewis, the woman playing Nurse Patricia, the same woman you were connected to near the close of this production?"

Bucky's face pinched. His eyes turned to slits. His mouth formed a solid line. "Excuse me?" he said in a way that told Darcy he knew the exact article in question.

"I only ask, because she is the heftier of the two women prominently featured in this show, and by process of elim"—

—"No, stop talking," Bucky seethed. The screen glitched, freezing on a frame of Bucky looking as though he was prepared to fight. "Darcy Lewis is a beautiful woman and a tremendously talented actor, and if you speak about her like that again—even if it's not in front of me, even if I just catch wind of you speaking about her like that—I will do everything in my power to shut your body-shaming, slut-shaming, misogynistic website down. If you would like to continue this interview, please ask something relevant to the show's subject matter. If you can't think of anything, I'll be on my way."

The video stopped playing. Clearly, the guy had no other questions that weren't along the same lines as the first.

Darcy shook her head in disbelief at what she had just heard. She laughed, but it came out like a sob. The ulcer—she was sure that it was an ulcer—in her stomach twitched. Tapping on the screen to exit out of the video before she had a complete breakdown at Jane's wedding, she saw the title. James Buchanan Barnes' Defends Co-Star Darcy Lewis From Sexist Interviewer.

Her knight in shining armour.

Not that she was a damsel in distress. Although, she was a damsel, she supposed. And she was definitely in distress. And he did wear a silver suit to the premiere.

She had been a fool. For an entire year, she had been the biggest dunce she had ever been. Longer, if she included the three years prior to her getting the gig on The Earth Is My Grave. Which she did. The two months she spent wiggling her way inside of Bucky's life did not erase the years in which she thought of him as her arch enemy. The Voldemort to her Harry Potter. The Antichrist to her . . . Christ.

Her phone buzzed again.

He loves you.

He probably hates me.

Did we watch the same video? He L-O-V-E-S you.

Darcy wiped the tear that managed to escape her eye. Gathering her things, she stood and tapped Jane on the shoulder.

"I've got to get out of here," she said, admiring MJ's handiwork. Jane had never glowed like this before. But maybe that was the marrying her true love thing that just took place. "Congrats to you both. Don't wear out the dance floor. I don't think the wedding insurance covers it."

After some hugs—Thor's definitely cracked one of Darcy's ribs—Darcy exited the wedding venue. The parking lot was motionless save for the pesky bugs buzzing in the air. She needed ice cream. She needed Sergeant Tibbs and Casablanca.

She needed to find Bucky and apologise once again for being an asshole.

"Hey."

Darcy froze. This was it. Her time had come. She was going to get murdered in the parking lot at one of her best friend's weddings and she was just going to have to accept that.

"Hey."

The voice came from the parking lot. She squinted and saw a shadowy figure advancing towards her.

She took a step back. "I have a knife," she lied, annoyed that her throat shook with the threat.

"Can you really fit a knife in that tiny purse?" Out of the darkness, James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes emerged. His shoes crunched gravel until he reached her.

Her sixth sense must have faded overtime.

Her clutch fell to the ground. Bucky smiled and bent to pick it up, handing it to her without a word.

"You look nice," he complimented.

Darcy looked dumbly down at her purple maid of honour dress. She thought it was too chesty, but maybe Bucky was a boobs man.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, returning her attention to Bucky. He seemed to have appeared out of thin air.

He shoved his hands into his pockets and shrugged. "I wanted to see you. Your buddy, Loki, got in contact with me about the wedding. I had Fitz drop me off when the reception started, but I . . . well, I didn't think barging in on your friend's big day would be very classy."

Loki. Of course it was Loki.

"That was considerate of you. But I should mention that Jane is a massive fan of yours. I actually had to keep her away from you when she would visit the set last year because I was worried she would kidnap you." She didn't know why that was what came out of her mouth. She stood there mentally smacking herself for being such an idiot.

"Oh, well, that was considerate of you," he said, an awkward laugh following. "Either way, I couldn't bring myself to go in."

"It's actually an outdoor reception," she blurted.

"Ah. Well, you get what I mean."

Darcy closed her eyes and tapped her heels and wished she was Dorothy. Nothing happened. "I do," she said, opening her eyes. "My friend—Loki?—he sent me the video of you on the red carpet."

"Did he now."

"He did." She tried sucking in a breath, but the ulcer wouldn't let her. "Thank you for saying that. For standing up for me."

"I'm only glad," Bucky said, "that he asked me the question. I'm not sure you could have stopped yourself from punching him in the face."

"I don't know that I would have tried stopping myself," she admitted, bending her neck so her chin touched her chest. She tucked her hair behind her ear and peered up at Bucky. "Loki invited you, but why did you come?"

"That's a stupid question," Bucky chided. He removed a hand from his pocket and rubbed his chin. There was no more stubble, she noticed. He was completely clean-shaven.

"Oh, buddy, if you haven't noticed," she said, her throat closing on her, "I'm full of stupidity."

"But you know why I'm here," he said. "Admit it. You know perfectly well what brought me here."

She did know. But she didn't want to say it. Fear controlled her. She was its slave. She shook her head—no.

"Yes." He was closer. Looming yet again. Both of his hands were out of his pockets.

Tilting her head up, she caught sight the blaze behind his eyes. "This is crazy. You're James Buchanan Barnes."

His cheeks lifted. "And you're Darcy Lewis. You're Darcy Lewis, and I really want to kiss you."

"Okay," she said, not giving herself another moment to think about it.

Bucky's smile turned into a blinding grin. His arms went around her waist as hers coiled around his neck, and before she could catch her breath, their lips collided like asteroids in space, sending their bodies splintering and burning through the stars. Her stomach unfurled, and she breathed as though she had been drowning, sucking in the air from Bucky's mouth.

They could live like this forever, relying on each other's lungs for breath. She didn't care that it would actually kill them both. Dying didn't seem so bad.

Eventually, she did need to catch a proper breath. Pulling away reluctantly, she pressed her head against Bucky's chest. "Okay. Wow. That was unexpected."

Bucky's chin landed gently on the top of her head. She felt him laughing. His ribs kept expanding. "Is one of these yours?" he asked.

"Yes." She pulled away for real, untangling her arms from Bucky's neck and opening her clutch. Keys in hand, she clicked the unlock button. Her headlights flashed a few feet away. "There she is."

Inside the car, the original Miss Saigon soundtrack played through the speakers on low volume. Darcy sat straight against the seat and held the steering wheel tightly. She kept looking over at Bucky, sure that he would disappear each time she blinked.

"What happens now?" he said, shifting nervously beside her. "I—I've never done this sort of thing before."

Darcy smiled up at him. There was such innocence etched on his face.

How, in the light of one night, had they come so far?

.

I'm here with you,

In the darkest shade of blue,

You're not alone anymore