I almost wish we were butterflies and liv'd but three summer days. Three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.
Several pieces from dismembered dummies lie all around the room. Steve stands with his hands on his hips, wishing he had not told the Avengers-In-Training they could rest before lunch. Cleaning is not his favourite pastime, but he finds himself sweeping up piles of ash and glass and plastic limbs more and more since he was tasked with properly getting the newest recruits ready for battle. He feels like a frazzled parent running around after their crazy toddlers, forced to clean their messes with no hope of help from anyone. But like any parent, at the end of the day he is happy to be doing the work. Especially as his parenting will lead to the world being saved should it find itself in harm's way again. And if his one hundred years have taught him anything, it is that the world constantly needs saving.
Steve heads for the cleaning supply closet at the back of the training room. Pulling out a grouping of large plastic bags, he starts shoving the dummy fragments inside, singing an old tune to himself as he works. He ends up having to rip a number of larger chunks in order to fit them inside the black bin bags, an exercise that releases a bit of the frustration and anxiety that has been steadily building over the last year.
Before long, the floor is nearly spotless save for a few stray fingers Vision had singed off. Steve stands near the doorway and admires his work, turning his head over his shoulder when the automatic doors slide open. He smiles, watching an exhausted-looking, freshly-showered Sam enter. The Falcon slumps on the blue mats stacked against the windowed wall that overlooks the compound.
"I have to tell you," Sam says as Steve approaches and sits beside him, "I feel like I'm back at bootcamp."
"Well, in a way, you are back at bootcamp."
Sam whistles and shakes his head. "Was it like this for you when you joined the team?"
Remembering back to when he first got recruited for The Avengers Initiative is difficult. Trying, almost. He was in such a different place then having just come back to life after spending seventy years in suspended animation. He imagined everyone and everything he loved to be relics of the past. The world had been fairly unexposed to alien life and the idea of superheroes.
But the six of them were all happy to come together to protect the universe from Loki's misplaced anger.
"No," he admits, not holding back his laugh when Sam's face falls with annoyance. "We were just thrown together. One minute we were learning each other's names, the next we were fighting off Chitauri by the thousands. I guess that was all the training we needed."
"Right, you were all perfect out of the box. I forgot."
Sam goes quiet, and Steve knows it isn't bitterness causing the sudden end to the conversation. The conversation itself was a ruse. Protection in case someone on the compound was listening.
Steve straightens. Pushing his shoulders back, he takes in a breath and tries to fight off the questions battling for his tongue's attention. Next to him, Sam leans forward, placing his elbows on his knees. He won't catch Steve's eye.
An uncomfortable feeling of dread pours into him, but he waits for Sam to speak first.
"I think I may have found him." Sam's soft voice hits Steve square in the chest like that dummy Wanda hurled at him earlier. He scratches at the knees of his uniform, eager to hear more. "He's got Romanian heritage, right?"
"Yes," Steve says immediately, remembering the delicious foods his mother would make for them whenever Steve came round with purple marks on his face. All of the assorted spiced meats and soups and creamy, flaky desserts.
Sam finally abandons the fascinating spot of dried blood on the floor and glances sideways at Steve. "Bucharest," he says, low.
The capital. The largest city in Romania. "Are you sure?" Steve checks. Would he be so sure of his abilities to blend in with society that he would hide in such a populated and popular city?
Sam nods, returning his focus to the floor. "I got lucky, Steve, when I spotted him. I don't think anyone else knows where he is, and if they do, they aren't the kind of people who want him dead."
Unwelcome excitement snakes through Steve. He should save it for when Bucky is safely on the compound, hiding here where Steve and the Avengers can help him and protect him. Not that he needs help. It might be nice, though, to have extra hands if there was ever a raid of the space.
"When will you be leaving?" Sam asks.
"As soon as I can get away."
"And how are we going to explain your absence to the rest of the team? To Tony?"
Tony. Guilt rises inside of Steve as he recalls the photograph Zola showed him and Nat, but he reminds himself that it wasn't Bucky's choice. HYDRA had complete control over him. If he had known, if he had been aware, Bucky never would have followed through with the task. With any of the tasks, and Steve can only imagine in horror all of the dirty deeds that fell on Bucky's shoulders.
A half-truth might work in this situation. If he tells them he is working on a secret mission, but he doesn't tell them he will come back with someone else in tow. The thought makes Steve's skin crawl, but it is perhaps his only option. Besides, everyone will know where he went upon his return. If Bucky is to be granted sanctuary at the compound, the others need to know what they are getting themselves into. They need to know the Winter Soldier is no more.
"We'll think of something," Steve says, clasping a hand on Sam's shoulder. He waits for the Falcon to look at him before adding, "Thank you, Sam."
His friend nods sagely, a hint of a smirk tugging his lips, and stands. "Now, come on. I'm starving. I think Wanda said something about cooking some Sokovian dish. I don't know what it is, but I'm up for anything."
Steve smiles and gets to his feet. He grabs ahold of the several bin bags stretched wide with arms and torsos and follows Sam to the kitchen, his thoughts straying from the strong scent of spices in the air to Bucky. If Sam's intel is correct, if he really did spot his oldest friend in the streets of Bucharest, then he is not very far away from seeing him again. The real him. Not the monster HYDRA created, not the assassin who tried killing him, but the man who walked home with him after school every day. The man who protected him from thugs. Who dragged him from the river when their fight was over.
Soon enough, the conversation in the kitchen forces him to escape his own head. He laughs with the recruits and taste-tests Wanda's cooking when everybody else is too afraid. It nearly burns his American tongue right off, but once he gets past the overpowering kick, the flavour is quite nice.
When lunch is called several minutes later, Erik Selvig and Nat make their way to the kitchen from the lower level. Their conversation does not halt as they grab food and sit at the long table. Curious, dangerously so, Steve takes his own dish and pulls out a chair a couple down from the doctor.
"She's desperate to see me," Selvig says, hushed. "Something really must have rattled her. I never used to get so many calls from her when we worked together."
Nat blows on a forkful of meat, but doesn't eat it. Using it as a shield for her mouth, she says, "And you have no clue as to what might be causing this? A psychotic break, maybe? From the way you describe her messages, she doesn't seem to be in the best mental shape. She did go missing for a while, remember."
Thor has a girlfriend. Janet? Steve can't remember her name, but he knows she is a physicist. A darn good one at that. Maybe she has come across something that requires Selvig's immediate attention. Maybe it's something that needs all of their attentions.
Steve strikes up a conversation with Wanda about the food, keeping one ear focused on the doctor and Nat's discussion.
"No, I don't think it's anything like that. She's always been a bit of an anomaly, but she has a good head on her shoulders. I wish I could leave to see her, but Tony needs me on the compound. I've tried getting Jane to go to her, but she's too busy in London to check on Darcy all the way in New York."
Steve nearly swallows his mouthful of food without chewing. He splutters, disrupting the whole table. Wanda asks if he is okay, but he brushes her concerns off and everyone returns to their own gossip.
Darcy. Darcy. He has heard that name before. Once before, years ago. A whole lifetime ago. He can hear the word tumbling out of Bucky's mouth seconds before he slipped off of the railing. He asked Steve to check in on her when he got home.
Stop it, he warns himself, his brain getting ahead of itself. Darcy may not be a common name, but he is sure there is nothing suspicious about Selvig knowing one. Who just so happens to live in New York. But, again, there are probably dozens of Darcy's living in New York. It's a big state. And, as far as he is aware, time travel is not possible. Of course, it could be possible. People once thought they were alone in the universe. People once thought travelling to the moon was a pipe dream.
Shaking his head, Steve pockets his erratic thoughts and begins eating again. He listens for the name as he finishes, but the doctor and Nat have changed the subject.
. . .
"Darcy," Bucky says, the word sounding choked to Steve's ears.
"Darcy," he repeats desperately. "A girl. When you get back, tell her I'm sorry."
Steve's heart pounds in his ears, but he keeps his hand extended and says, "I will, Buck. I promise. But what makes you think you won't be able to tell her yourself?"
Straining to keep himself from falling, Steve watches Bucky try to move again. It is too much. The bar snaps clean off of the train with a final metallic shout.
"No!" Steve wails as his best friend starts to fall, his arms stretched towards him, his screams piercing Steve's soul.
Steve can still hear Bucky as he comes suddenly awake. Sitting up, he rubs his eyes, trying to wipe away the memory.
It's Sunday, which is his day off. Nat is on training duty, which gives him an opportunity to find Selvig and ask him some questions. Getting out of bed, Steve throws on some clothes and goes to the lab, passing the recruits sparring in the training room on his way. The doctor is hunched over a computer screen, glasses slipping down his nose. He pushes them up and stands upright when Steve clears his throat to make his presence known.
"Ah, Captain," Selvig greets, coming around the computer desk to shake Steve's hand.
"Please, Erik, you know I prefer Steve," he responds. He releases his grip on the doctor. "Can I have a word with you?"
"Of course, of course, Steve. Would you like to sit?" he asks, pointing to a small, square table overflowing with papers and gadgets.
Steve declines. "Standing is fine," he says.
"You look very serious," Selvig notes. "Is something the matter?"
Steve shakes off the uneasy rumbling in his stomach and attempts to put on an uncaring expression. "I'm fine, but I was curious," he says. "Yesterday, I heard you talking about someone named Darcy. . ."
"Darcy, yes," Selvig nods, the corners of his mouth flitting upward. Then his lips flatten. His eyebrows collapse. "Yes. What about her?"
"I was hoping you could tell me about her."
"Whatever for?" Erik asks.
Half-lies. Steve hates them, but they are one of those necessary evils he has had grow used to since he joined the Avengers. He thinks of one to give Selvig. "My friend, Bucky," he says, "he knew a Darcy."
"Your friend?" Erik's face darkens. "The one used by HYDRA?"
Steve fights the urge to clear Bucky's name. "That same one. I'm only wondering if you can tell me about the Darcy you know, so I can remember the good things about Bucky. It's not been easy since I found out he was the Winter Soldier."
If Erik is suspicious about Steve's answer, he doesn't show it. Adjusting his glasses, he looks out past Steve's shoulder, a glare of concentration on his old face. "She was a student," he says, wistful. Steve opens his ears, preparing himself. For what, he isn't sure. But his chest is tight with unease, like something is off. "Jane was looking for an assistant and this girl showed up, bouncy and happy. She was the only applicant, so Jane hired her, even though she wasn't a science major. She worked hard, learned the tricks of the trade, but a couple of years went by and she decided to quit. I had left at this point, but Darcy called me to say she was going back to school to get her masters.
"Well, a couple of months pass and neither Jane nor I had heard from her. I phoned her school, but they said they had no record of her ever returning. Her apartment in London was still there and Jane sent her stuff over here when the landlord informed us she was past due on her rent. I'm ashamed to say it, but Jane and I didn't do much searching for her. We were both so busy with work and invasions."
Stillness enters the room. Steve stares at the doctor, waiting impatiently for more. His heart thrashes against his ribs making it difficult to breathe.
"Where was she?" Steve asks, startling Erik. "Sorry," he apologises quickly, "I didn't mean to frighten you."
Selvig brushes Steve off. "It's alright. I didn't finish my story. The truth is, I don't know where she went. All I know is she resurfaced in New York with no explanation. I got a call from her a couple of months ago asking to speak to me in person, but of course I'm always busy, and she won't tell me over the phone whatever it is she needs to say. I sent her things down, but we haven't managed to touch base."
Erik stops talking again, but this time Steve knows his tale is complete.
He has been restraining himself from asking questions, but there is one to which he must know the answer. "Where in New York is she?" Steve can feel his fingertips vibrating in anticipation of Erik's answer.
The doctor frowns. "I believe she said it was Brooklyn." He laughs. "You know, I don't understand how she ended up there. She used to go on and on about how dismal the east coast was and how New York was the worst of them all. Maybe Natasha is right; maybe she did have a nervous breakdown."
"Thank you, Erik," Steve says, already backing out of the room.
Selvig shoves his glasses again and smiles at Steve's retreating form. "Anytime."
Steve immediately heads for his room. He needs to pack a bag now if he wants to be in the air by noon. Grabbing at clothes and burner phones and toiletries, he stuffs them all in a backpack and slings it over his shoulder. He steps out of his room, wondering where Nat has hidden the recruits.
He has been lied to all of his life, so it seems. Time travel is possible.
. . .
"I really wish you would tell me where you guys were going."
"Nat, I can't. Not yet."
Natasha crosses her arms and frowns at him, but she's good enough to not ask anymore questions, though he can distinctly see the veins in her forehead pulsing with the effort it takes to stay quiet. The wind is high on the compound today. Her red, loose curls flick across her face, diminishing the frightening look in her eyes. Steve grins at her, gathering the strands and moving them behind her ear.
The mistrustful scowl returns in full force.
"Well, be safe," she says, and through the hardness of the words Steve hears sincere concern.
"We will be."
Nat turns on her heel and goes back inside, shooing away Vision and Wanda from the window. His co-parent in action.
"This really sounds crazy," Sam admits. Steve turns to face him. "Time travel? It's not plausible."
He has been thinking the same thing all morning, going back and forth in his mind. On the one hand, there's no way they are the same girl. One lived in Brooklyn in the mid-20th century and met Bucky before he deployed. The other was born in the 1990s and only just moved to Brooklyn perhaps after suffering some mental break.
But from Erik's description of the Darcy he knows, his gut is screaming at him that she is Bucky's Darcy as well. And he doesn't know how yet, maybe he never will, but he has to find her. He promised.
"You don't have to believe me. You just have to"—
"I know, I know. I just have to trust you," Sam interrupts, waving him off. "You're sure about this, though, yeah? You don't want me to get the girl?"
"You get Bucky and bring him to Brooklyn. I'll be waiting with Darcy."
He may later regret his decision to send Sam to Bucharest alone, but the Falcon can handle his own. And if he greets Bucky the way Steve told him to, Bucky should have no qualms about following Sam stateside.
"Why can't you bring this time-traveller to Romania? Don't you think it's kinda stupid having your 20th century buddy cross into US territory after he made his escape? What if he's not really as reformed as you think he is?" Sam questions, bringing to the surface all of the worries Steve has about this covert mission.
He shrugs meaningfully. "He wouldn't have saved my life if he was still under HYDRA's control, and I want him here with her to help with the shock. The setting of Brooklyn might calm them both."
The pair squabble back and forth for a few moments longer before Sam gives up trying to change Steve's mind. He boards his plane as Steve boards his own and they wave each other off of the ground, Steve heading south and Sam heading east.
It's a quick journey to Brooklyn. He lands safely in an abandoned field. Slinging his backpack over his shoulder, Captain America, dressed in civilian clothes, walks in search of Darcy Lewis' apartment. The way in which the streets of Brooklyn have changed since his youth will never cease surprising him. Every time he is here, it is as if he has stepped into a film set in the future. The foundation is the same, but the people, the stores, the cars are foreign. Even the scent in the air is different. Less smoky, more fresh.
Darcy's apartment building looks like all the others. There is nothing special about it. Nothing that would indicate danger. Still, Steve approaches with caution, feeling vulnerable without his shield. He snags a button on the intercom, telling one of Darcy's neighbours he forgot the passcode to the door. There is no question if he is actually some thug with the hope of robbing the tenants. The woman says it happens to the best of them and buzzes him in. New York is much more trusting of strangers than he remembers.
Darcy Lewis opens the door without asking who could be knocking on her door at 2:00 pm on a Sunday, which puts a damper on Erik and Nat's theory that she is paranoid and mentally unstable. Her eyes take him in slowly, travelling from his stomach up to the tips of his hair and down to his feet. She settles her gaze on his face and Steve notices how relaxed she appears.
"Captain America," she says, and instantly it becomes clear what led to Bucky falling for her. Provided this is the same woman.
She is short, but she speaks in a way that would make you believe she were six feet tall. Her tone is nonchalant, her facial expression calm, but he would not dare cross her path. Danger lurks behind her blue eyes.
Steve clears his throat and bows his head. "Ma'am . . . I mean . . . sorry, old habit," he corrects when Darcy's dark brown eyebrow lifts, unamused. "Miss Lewis, please call me Steve."
"Okay, Steve, why are you on my doorstep? I cut my ties with SHIELD years ago. What could you possibly want with me?"
"Actually, SHIELD was forced to disband. I'm here as a member of the Avengers." He pauses, preparing to rip off the bandaid. "I know your secret," he announces.
At this, Darcy's unruffled demeanour falters. Her mouth parts. Her pupils dilate. He has caught her.
Darcy regains her composure within seconds. She laughs, but it's humourless and dry. "What secret?"
"He was my friend, you know. My best friend," he says.
This time, Darcy does not fight to keep her face neutral. Her eyes move away from Steve and focus on something on the floor. Her joints groan as her shoulders slump. "You can come in," she says, stepping back.
Steve surveys the hall. Confirming they are not being watched, he enters Darcy Lewis' apartment.
She was in London when it happened. Walking past Waterloo station on her way to her favourite frozen yoghurt spot. One minute, she was climbing up the steps of Hungerford Bridge, lamenting the unusually hot weather, when the world seemed to suddenly stop. Her surroundings vanished and she felt herself being lifted off of the ground. It felt like there was a string attached to her belly button. Like she was a balloon floating in the sky.
And then she landed. Hard. Her head pounding, her heart racing, she shakily got to her feet and found herself in the middle of a dead, cobblestoned street. Street lamps were lit around her and the water on the road glittered like stars.
1942. The year flashed on a newspaper blowing down the street. At first, Darcy thought she had gone insane. For days, she wandered around aimlessly, trying to wake up from whatever nightmare she had fallen into. Wartime-era New York was a place that existed to Darcy in film and history textbooks. Either she had gone mad, or she had time-travelled, and as the hours ticked by, she slowly began realising the latter was true. She, Darcy Lewis, had been shot through time.
"1942," Captain America says—she refuses to call him Steve; this situation is weird enough without being on a first-name basis with one of the Avengers—as she recounts her tale. It has been months since she resurfaced, but she goes over the events nightly. She has no trouble pulling the story from thin air. "Is that when you met Bucky?"
It's the first time his name has left Captain America's lips and it nearly knocks Darcy over. "No. I didn't meet him until the night of the Stark expo."
He had looked so handsome in the flashing lights of the attractions, dressed head to toe in his uniform. She remembers how her chest expanded when he first spoke to her, like his voice, the air escaping his lungs, was slipping through her pores and filling her. It was such a powerful sensation she had to stop herself from flying away.
There were quips and flirtatious glances. She had taken his hat, just to give her fingers something to do. To prevent them from reaching out towards him and grabbing ahold of his shaved cheeks. It really didn't take very long for her to agree to bring him to her place. She was almost embarrassed by the eagerness in her voice when he asked, but his palm was as sweaty as hers when he grabbed her hand and that small detail eased some of the worry.
A magical night. The stuff of fairytales. Bucky Barnes entered her and consumed her and stripped away all of her fears, all of her terror at being stuck in the past. With him inside of her, his cerulean blue eyes peppering her face with thunderous glances, the world, time, ceased to exist.
"The night before he deployed?" Captain America sounds incredulous, like he had been imagining the relationship between her and his best friend began months or years before Bucky left for Europe.
But one night was all it took.
Darcy nods, blinking away the stinging sensation afflicting her eyes. Lifting her cup of tea—she got hooked on the stuff while in the 20th century—she takes a long sip before responding. "Yeah, the night before he deployed. At first, I think, I was just some conquest. When he first spotted me, at least. But everything changed that night."
The two of them sit in her cramped living room, he on the sofa, her in front of him on the coffee table by the television. Two windows to her left filter in sharp rays of sunshine.
Captain America looks ridiculous sitting on her plush love seat, but he has yet to complain.
"Did you know who he was when you met him?" he asks.
She wishes she had. Knowing would have made things so much easier. She could have avoided his stare. Saved herself from all of the pain.
"No," she says, staring at the tea leaves at the bottom of her plain mug. "He was just another man in a uniform. They were everywhere at the time. Dime a dozen sort of thing."
He asks a few more questions before he mentions letters. Did he write to you he asks, and Darcy's eyes feel as though someone is sticking pins in them. She confirms Captain America's suspicions and gets up to grab the box containing each letter he ever sent her while he was deployed.
She walks a few paces inside her bare bedroom, surprised she has managed to walk this far. Her soul is so weighed down with sorrow. Opening the door to the very small closet, she reaches blindly up to the shelf and grips tightly the wooden box. She holds it to her chest for a moment, giving herself this one chance to sob soundlessly before she goes back to Captain America.
When her internal timer blares, she swallows the lump of coal in her throat and returns to her spot on the coffee table.
"He wrote to me before he even left on the convoy," she says, pulling the first letter from the box. The memory of receiving it burns her lungs, but she manages a pathetic smile. "While he was waiting to be shipped out, he must have gotten it to the post office somehow."
The Cap's mouth is pulled up sympathetically. She supposes he has had more time to grieve the loss of James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes than her.
He holds his hand out and nods his head towards the box. It takes some effort, but she hands it to him. Thankfully, he refrains from opening any of the envelopes; he just laughs at the increasingly messy handwriting on the front.
"It's a wonder the postman knew where to deliver them," he says. He flips through them all. "How long did he write to you?"
Darcy takes in a breath, willing her voice not to break. "I suppose it was up until he fell," she says, her throat tight and painful. "He sent one letter after you saved him to tell me . . . to say it wouldn't be long before he was coming back to me. He said: I thought it was all over. I thought I would never see you again. But . . . but I was wrong. It won't be long now before I'm on a ship home." Unable to stop it, a tear slips down Darcy's nose. She swipes at it and clears her throat.
Steve really looks at her like she's the mourning fiancée now. His forehead is creased in worry. His mouth is a straight line. "And you didn't get any telegram, did you."
It isn't a question.
"No. Nobody knew I existed. He never told his parents about me. When he stopped writing, I knew what had happened. I could . . . I don't know. I guess I could feel it."
"What did you do when you realised?"
Darcy looks Captain America in the eye, glad the story is at its end. "I came back," she says.
"I don't know." She frowns, remembering. "I was reading through the letters in my apartment when it happened. One moment I was on my bed, the next I was back on the steps of Hungerford Bridge."
It was harder readjusting to the 21st century than it had been to the 20th. She had accepted her fate when she woke up in the 1942, but when she was brought back, it was a greater culture shock. Again, she spent a few days thinking she really had gone insane, but when she gathered her bearings and headed to Brooklyn, she found this apartment waiting for her. It had changed only slightly from when she occupied it in the '40s, and hiding in the empty closet in the bedroom was her box of letters.
Nobody had been looking for her, which made her first weeks back easy. She got her teaching certificate and found a job as a journalism teacher at a high school. During the day she is Miss Lewis, the sarcastic teacher who swears too much. But nighttime provides a different story. She has been trying to contact Erik Selvig since she arrived in Brooklyn, but he always says he is too busy to come to her and that she can't come to him. She calls him numerous times when the sun is down. He probably thinks she has gone mad.
Hell, sometimes she thinks so too.
Still, Erik was nice enough to send the things she had left in London.
But there is one thing that really keeps her afloat. She tells the Cap about her journeys to DC. To the Smithsonian where Bucky is hailed as a hero. She stands in front of his picture while everyone else crowds around Captain America, wishing to God she could have one more moment with him.
When she says this, Cap stops breathing. He leans forward and clasps his knees. A serious look overtakes his face.
"What is it?" she asks, straightening her spine.
"Darcy," he sighs. "Darcy, I have to tell you something."
She doesn't ask what it is. She just lets him begin. The more he talks, the more her head fills with a loud buzzing.
He's the Winter Soldier, Steve says.
No, he washe says. He's better now. Trying to be.
When he fell, he was found by HYDRA again and they turned him into their weapon.
But really, Darcy, he is not under their influence anymore.
He has been hiding in Bucharest. My buddy, Sam, he's bringing him to us.
And then a ringing overtakes the buzzing. Captain America doesn't take his eyes off of her as he reaches into his backpack and pulls out an ancient-looking flip phone. A burner, probably. He answers and she watches his sad face come alive.
"Great!" he says. "Excellent. You know where to bring him."
When he hangs up the phone, Darcy asks, "What happened?"
"Sam's got him," he says, and the words send a wave of dizziness over Darcy. "He's bringing him now. Darcy, he'll be here soon."
After a long shower in which she spends the majority of the time lying in her bathtub crying her lungs out, Darcy, puffed and red and wearing only her dressing gown, finds Cap cleaning her apartment. She doesn't ask him why, or tell him to stop.
"How did you know who I was," she demands.
Captain America stops sweeping up crumbs from the kitchen floor. "Before he fell," he says, "he said your name. He told me to find you when the war was over."
"Did he say anything else?" she asks, the tears starting to well again.
"He said to tell you he was sorry."
Nothing is the same. It's like he has been brought to another planet. He had been to New York four times while under HYDRA's control for missions, but the feel of the place was not his concern at the time. He was too focused on finishing his missions, on making the deaths look like accidents, to notice that while he had been a puppet for the most dangerous organisation in the world, New York was changing. Gentrifying.
He looks out the window of the car being driven by Steve's new attack dog at the tall buildings and expensive clothing stores, berating himself for agreeing to follow this stranger to America. This is the last place he should be. Good guys and bad guys are after him, for his war crimes and for his head respectively. Bucharest was safe. He was well hidden. Why couldn't Steve come to him?
He has asked the winged bastard this question twice, but he receives no answer in return. Just a smug smile that makes him want to bash the guy's teeth in.
When they enter Brooklyn, a pit of unease settles in his stomach. He was told he was being taken to the Avengers facility upstate. Unless the roads have changed more than he thought, going through Brooklyn makes no sense.
"Look," Wilson says, pressing his foot on the brake as they approach a red light. "I have to be honest. I'm not taking you to the compound."
Adrenaline spikes Bucky's bloodstream. He readies himself for an attack, his eyes flicking around to find an easy escape. "Where are you taking me, then? Where's Steve?"
"Oh, I'm taking you to Steve," he says. "He's just not at the compound. He's here in Brooklyn. He told me to tell you that we were going up north, but really we're stopping in just a few more blocks."
Discreetly, Bucky places his hand on the door handle. He is ready to jump out if need be. "Why did he have you lie to me?"
Wilson shrugs. The light turns green and the car jerks forward. "I don't know, man. He's got this big plan and I only know part of it," he says. "You're safe, though. Nobody's turning you in or trying to kill you."
He settles back against the seat, but his hand remains on the door handle for the rest of the car journey. They stop outside an old apartment complex. Bucky pulls on his grey baseball cap, lowering the visor over his eyes, and zips up his leather jacket. He exits the car artfully, making sure nobody is able to see his face. Wilson shoots him a confused look, but he ignores him and follows him up to the building.
Wilson punches in the code. The door buzzes and soon they are ascending the modernised staircase. Each step of Bucky's is careful. He makes no noise unlike his companion who stomps up the stairs with his loud boots carelessly. Glaring at him, Bucky's eyes catch on the lamps lining the halls. Memories begin plucking at his brain and he has to stop, his prosthetic hand clutching the railing.
He has been here before. Once. It feels like yesterday he was walking up these same stairs, a beautiful woman leading the way.
But it wasn't yesterday. It was years and years and years ago. He was a completely different person then. Innocent to the horrors of war and warmongers. He had both of his arms. He had complete control over his mind. His hands were free of blood.
Darcy Lewis. He was going to marry her when he got home. They were going to get their own place in Brooklyn and start a family.
She was always the second thing he remembered when HYDRA's spell began wearing off. After Steve, he would see her face behind his eyes. He would hear her voice. They had only been together one night, but that one night was enough for him to know he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. And now he is in her old apartment building on his way to see Steve seventy years in the future.
"You okay, man?" Wilson checks. "We're on a tight schedule."
"I'm fine," he says gruffly, letting go of the railing. He has left an indentation in the metal. "Let's keep moving."
Wilson reaches the apartment first. Following close behind, that pit in his stomach expands to the size of a boulder.
Her door. He stood out here the morning he was shipped to Europe. She was practically naked, clothed in silk that clung to her skin.
"I wish we'd met before," she says, standing at the door to her apartment. She wears only a haphazardly tied robe and her hair is a mess, but he thinks she's the most stunning creature he's ever seen.
Steve will have a field day with all of this information.
"I've been thinking the same thing," he says. "If this wasn't my last night, I'd ask you out for tomorrow. We'd see a movie. Go out to eat. Maybe we could go back to the exhibition."
"And in two weeks, I'd introduce you to my mother," she says, "but not my father. He'd kill you before you got a chance to wave a white flag."
"And a week or so after that, I'd take you to my ma." He likes this game. It revs his engines. "And Steve would be with us to stop my mom from asking when we were planning on getting married."
Darcy laughs. She reaches for his chest and placed her palm flat against his uniform, right over his erratically beating heart.
He claps his hand over hers, urging her to look him in the eye. She does, and he almost wishes she hadn't. He can tell she doesn't want him to leave. It makes him want to stay.
"You better go, Bucky," she says after a beat. She swallows and he can hear it. "You gotta save the world."
He leans down and captures her mouth one more time. "I'll be back soon."
"You will," she agrees, dropping her hand away from him when he pulls back. "And I'll see you when you do."
Wilson wraps his fist around the handle and twists. The door creaks slowly open. Steve's messenger man steps aside. He breathes down Bucky's neck and if he weren't readying himself for an attack from the front, he would have already turned around and sent the bird flying down the stairs.
Bucky braces himself as the door stops. His body tense, he catches sight of Steve, but his focus instantly shifts to the woman standing next to him.
"No," he breathes, his knees buckling. Flashing spots invade his eye line. He doesn't see her break away from Steve, but he feels her arms go around his waist to keep him from collapsing.
She holds him against her, whispering things he can't hear. He feels his scalp grow warm with her tears.
"I'm here," she says, and the words sound as though they are coming through a radio with poor connection. "I'm here. I'm here. I'm here."
Darcy says this over and over until he summons the strength to put his arms around her. His eyes close. His nostrils breathe in her scent. His ears take in every beat of her heart as it bangs against his cheek.
. . .
Darkness has fallen when they finish sharing their stories. Steve and Wilson departed once Bucky was able to stand again, leaving him and Darcy in the apartment. They are in her bed, lying on top of the sheets, her head on his bare chest. He knows she is listening to his heart. He did the same thing earlier, revelling in her warmth. Her aliveness.
They haven't yet done anything. He isn't saying it out loud, but he thinks they are both too afraid. Afraid that if they start, the other will disappear. But he revels in the heat radiating off of her naked body. It breathes life into his soul. Makes the last seventy years of hell he has had to endure worth every second. And if he were forced to return to that train, to suffer through his days as the Winter Soldier again, he would do it, knowing that Darcy was waiting for him on the other side.
"This is otherworldly," Darcy whispers as he traces patterns on her back.
"How so?" he asks.
Perching on her elbow, she stares down at him, her long hair cascading over her shoulder. He looks up at her in anticipation.
"It's like . . . maybe the universe planned this out. Like it had this giant, confusing plot written for us from the beginning," she says, her blue eyes wide with excitement. "Like we were always meant to be."
"Like we're soulmates?" he asks as her head descends towards his. "Written in the stars and all that?"
"Exactly," she says, her lips skating across his jaw.
He is inclined to believe her as she opens her mouth against his. Stardust invades his lungs as her tongue slips past his teeth. He holds her to him, flipping them around so she is on her back. He looks down at her, still in disbelief, and kisses her again just to make sure she is real. The fingers on his right hand edge down her past her breasts, her belly, moving until they reach the fire between her thighs.
She exhales his name. The word love melts into his skin.
Soulmates, he wonders as he fills her, no more fear in their movements. The world instantly falls away. Only he and Darcy and the stars remain. It must be true.
A/N: Thank you for reading! Hope you enjoyed.