He was an excellent spy.
Wilson, on the other hand, was not a very good spy.
He had seen the signs that the base was occupied, but Wilson hadn’t noticed until it was too late. There hadn’t been time to warn him, but he had at least been able to even the odds a bit. He didn’t destroy the base completely — he didn’t know what Wilson was looking for or if it was actually important — but he did set off an explosion big enough to shift Hydra’s attention.
He found Wilson shivering in the snow, left for dead. Sloppy.
You couldn’t trust the elements to do your job for you. They were rarely so obliging.
It was cold and snow was falling on Sam’s face and his thigh was bleeding where he had been shot. He had managed to get a tourniquet tied, but that was about all he could manage. Sitting up seemed impossible, so walking was definitely out of the question.
This wasn’t the first time Sam thought he might die, but it never got easier. And if he had to pick, freezing in a snow drift wasn’t his top choice.
It seemed like he didn’t have much of a choice though — night was falling and any back-up he could have called was too far away. Blood was still seeping from his leg despite his best efforts and he was beginning to shake with the cold.
A shadow fell over him. Sam scrabbled for the gun at his side and aimed. Even he could see the tremor in his hand, but that didn’t make the figure’s raspy laugh any less insulting.
The gun was wrested out of his hand before he could fire and then he was being heaved out of the snow and up off the ground. He bit his lip to keep from crying out; definitely some cracked ribs that did not appreciate the jostling.
He heard a mechanical whir as the figure adjusted his body and there was just enough light for him to make out long hair and a scruffy beard before he finally lost consciousness.
Sam was still cold when he woke, which he assumed meant he wasn’t dead yet. He was lying on something that reminded him more of his bunk in Afghanistan than an actual bed with just a scratchy blanket over him, but it was better than the snowdrift he had been in before.
He heard a noise from the corner and reached for a weapon, only to find that he had none.
“Sorry.” The voice in the corner was hoarse and slightly accented, and not actually very apologetic. “Couldn’t let you keep those.”
The Winter Soldier slid into the dim light coming from the fireplace like a shadow peeling off of the darkness and taking form. He had a gun aimed at Sam, and while his stance appeared nonchalant, Sam could tell he was tightly coiled and ready to spring at any moment.
Sam tried to sit up, but cried out involuntarily when his ribs protested. The Winter Soldier stepped closer, close enough to press Sam’s shoulder back onto the bed.
“Don’t move. You’re hurt.”
Sam leaned up on his elbows, cause fuck if he was gonna do what the Winter Soldier told him to. He pulled the blanket up and looked down at his leg, now neatly bandaged.
“Where are my pants?”
The gun flicked towards the fireplace, then settled back on him. Sam sighed. Great.
“Your things…” The Soldier gestured to a small table beside the bed. The contents of Sam’s pockets lay on top, which was great, because it meant they weren’t in the fire, but also disconcerting, since it meant the soldier had rifled through his pockets.
“Could you not…,” Sam waved a hand in the air, “loom...like that? You’re creeping me out.”
There was a noise that might have been a sort of bitten-off laugh. The Soldier turned away for a moment, apparently content Sam wasn’t going anywhere, and pulled the chair out of the corner and closer to the bed. He sat, but didn’t put the gun down.
“I need —”
“Your bags. I got them. Before the snow got worse.”
The Soldier reached over and pulled a curtain back. The window was dirty, but Sam could see snow falling heavily outside.
Sam closed his eyes and lay back down. The Soldier didn’t say anything else. After a few minutes of silence, Sam cracked open an eye to find the Soldier staring at him.
“How long have you been following me?” The Soldier grinned. It was a smile that might once have been charming, but was now uncanny and strange, an expression that belonged to a different face than the one it was on.
“Great.” Sam rubbed the bridge of his nose. He was tired and hungry and injured and he could feel a headache coming on. “What should I call you?”
He didn’t respond and when Sam opened his eyes again, he looked confused.
“I mean, Steve insists on calling you Bucky, but you don’t look much like the guy in my history textbook right now. We could go with Barnes or James or...whatever the Russian version of James is. I’d just feel better if I wasn’t referring to you as ‘the Winter Soldier’ in my head.”
“James,” he said after a pause. “James is fine.”
“Well, all right then, James. You gonna kill me in my sleep?”
James gave him an unimpressed look. Sam wished he could get a picture of it cause it would make an excellent meme.
“If I wanted to kill you, I would have done it already. Or let Hydra do it for me.”
“Fair enough.” It shouldn’t have been easy to fall asleep with an enhanced assassin staring at him, but Sam drifted right off all the same.
He watched Wilson sleep.
He wasn’t sure why; there were plenty of other things he could have been doing. He could be checking the supplies again. Tending to the fire. Doing something useful.
But he didn’t.
The chair was uncomfortable, but that didn’t matter. He’d sat on worse.
Wilson slept and he watched, much like he had been watching for the past few months but not at all the same now that he was in the same room.
When Sam woke again, James was in the exact same place, and if it weren’t for the used food containers on the table in the other corner, Sam would have assumed he hadn’t moved at all.
“How long was I out?”
“Shit.” Sam rubbed his eyes.
“You needed the rest.”
Sam wanted to look out the window and check the weather, but the curtains were drawn. James followed his gaze and answered his unspoken question.
“It stopped snowing about an hour after you fell asleep.”
“Great.” Sam forced himself into a seated position.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“I gotta get back to Nizhny.”
“You’re not going anywhere.”
Sam tensed. “Because I’m your prisoner?”
“No, because you’ve got cracked ribs and a fucking gunshot wound in your leg.” His voice was mostly expressionless, but Sam thought he heard a thread of exasperation underneath.
Sam grunted as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. “Which is exactly why I’ve gotta get back to Nizhny and check in with Steve.”
“No.” The harshness in James’s voice brought Sam to a stop. “You’re not contacting Steve.”
Sam raised an eyebrow.
“And you’re pronouncing it wrong.”
“Well, sorry James, I haven’t had a whole lot of training in Russian pronunciation.” Now Sam was the exasperated one. “And why exactly am I not contacting Steve?”
A series of complicated emotions flickered across James’s face before the stoic mask resettled. “Because you’re with me.”
Whether he meant “so you don’t need Steve” or “and I’m not going to talk to Steve,” Sam wasn’t sure. He assumed it was probably a little of both, with some other shit he didn’t want to think about thrown in as well.
He swung his legs back under the blankets and scooted back so he could sit leaning against the wall. He tried not to wince at the pain and acknowledged internally that James was probably right; he wasn’t in any state to go traipsing around in the snow.
“Okay. I’ll play along.” Something appeared to settle in James at that response, as if a rubber band almost at the snapping point was suddenly stretched just a little bit less. “You know, you’re a lot more chatty this morning than you were last night.”
“It comes and goes. Sometimes,” he gestured towards his head vaguely, “the words get stuck.”
Sam nodded. “I get that.”
They sat in silence for a few moments. It didn’t appear to bother James, but Sam wasn’t a sniper. His phone was on the table and he reached for it, James tracking his every move. The battery still had plenty of charge, thankfully, so he flicked through his music before settling on his tried-and-true feel-good playlist.
James’s only reaction was to settle slightly in the chair.
He felt his body want to relax as the strains of music poured out of the tinny cell phone speakers.
It wasn’t familiar; he didn’t think he’d heard it before. But the singer’s voice was nice and the instruments sounded real and it made his muscles itch.
Wilson had called him James. It felt strange.
The name was his; he knew that. It was familiar, but carried no associations. Not like Bucky, that name that carried so much weight and history along with it.
James was simpler. Easier. Subtler.
James could be a lot of things; there were a lot of people in the world with that name. Probably even a dozen people with the name James Barnes.
Sam sighed, and James snapped back to attention.
“You mean aside from the gunshot wound, the cracked ribs, and the snow?”
Sam huffed a laugh. “I’m bored as hell, man. And worried.”
James’s eyes narrowed. “And annoyed to be stuck in here.”
“Yeah, exactly. Steve needs the intel from that base and I’m the only one in the area. We don’t exactly have a lot of extra resources at the moment.”
James was still looking at him like a bug under a microscope. “And you don’t like feeling useless.”
Sam started, blinking rapidly a few times. He wanted to protest, but he couldn’t. James kept looking at him, his gaze cutting Sam to the core. It had been a long time since anyone had seen straight through him like that.
James tilted his head. “No wonder you ended up with Steve.”
Sam wanted to ask what he meant, to make him explain more, but his eyes had shuttered and he was working his jaw, so Sam didn’t press.
“I’ve got a guy.”
“You’ve got a guy?” Sam asked, confused by the abrupt change of subject.
“A guy who can help me get the intel you need.”
“And we can trust him?”
James’s only response was to glare, as if that was a ridiculous question.
“Okay, fine. Let’s see what your guy has to say.”
He dialed the number and identified himself by the code name they had used before. The man on the other end of the line hesitated.
“I can’t say I ever expected to hear from you again. And I’m not in that line of work anymore.”
“Neither am I.”
There was a pause. “Really?”
“What about D.C.?”
Another pause. “Alright. Where do you need me?”
James gave him the coordinates and hung up.
James ended the call, then came back over to the chair by the bed.
“I take it your guy is in?”
James nodded. He dragged the side table over so that it was between them and produced a deck of cards.
“Oh, now you’ve got something to entertain me with. Asshole.”
He thought maybe he saw a flicker of a smile, but James just kept shuffling. The dexterity of his metal hand was mesmerizing, and Sam had to fight not to stare as James dealt the cards.
“What’re we playing?”
“We don’t have any chips, and I’m not playing you for actual money.”
James reached down and tossed some wood chips on the table.
“Those’ll work,” Sam nodded. “You cheat as bad as Steve?”
James looked up then. “No one cheats as bad as Steve.”
Sam laughed and this time he was sure there was a smile in the edges of James’s mouth.
Wilson had laughed.
He had made Wilson laugh.
The sound did strange things to him. Good things, but strange. He wanted to hear it again.
He watched Wilson as they played. The game gave him a good excuse to study him while he was awake, to catalog the way he pursed his lips when he was thinking, the way his left eyebrow twitched when he bluffed, the way his hands fidgeted with the cards and the chips and the blankets on the bed.
When all the chips were piled in front of him on the table, he gathered up the cards and slipped them back in his pocket. Wilson frowned.
“You need to sleep.”
Wilson muttered under his breath, but once he got settled, was asleep within minutes. He moved his chair back to the corner and kept watch.
Sam woke up to the smell of coffee and James standing over him dressed in his tac gear. He started, but his heart slowed more quickly than he would have expected.
He took the mug James was offering.
James nodded and placed a bundle of clothes on the bed next to him. “We’ll have company in a few minutes.”
Sam unrolled a pair of pants, and James waved vaguely. “I thought you might want…”
“Thanks,” Sam said again. James pointedly turned his back and moved to the small kitchenette on the other side of the room. He got himself to the edge of the bed, but his ribs protested when he tried to lean over to slide his legs in. Fuck, he hated this.
“Um, James?” He looked back at him over his shoulder. “I hate to ask, but I’m gonna need a little help here.”
James came over and knelt in front of him. He helped him get the pants over his knees, then supported him as he stood to finish pulling them up the rest of the way. He sat back down and groaned, which just made the pain worse.
“Want to change your shirt, too?”
He sniffed and decided that was probably a good idea. “Might as well. You can wrap up my ribs while we’re at it.”
James went to the wardrobe and pulled out a sheet, then flipped open a knife to cut it into strips. He set the pieces of cloth on the bed next to Sam and reached for him, then hesitated. Sam just lifted his arms up.
“Come on, man. A little late for you to get shy on me.”
James glared at him, but stepped closer and pulled his shirt up and over his head. Sam sat down again and held his arms out to his sides. James’s hands were surprisingly gentle as they wound the fabric around his ribs. He moved precisely, but with care, as if Sam was something precious that he was afraid he might break.
As he transferred the fabric from one hand to the other, his metal hand grazed Sam’s skin, sending a shiver down his spine. James pulled away immediately.
“Sorry,” he said, refusing to meet Sam’s eye.
“It’s fine. Just a little cold.”
James looked up at him then, something flickering behind his eyes. Sam smiled at him, trying to put him at ease. It was odd, being in that position. If you had asked him a few days ago who would feel more uneasy being in close quarters together, him or the Winter Soldier, he would have bet on himself. He might be reckless, but he wasn’t stupid — calling him James didn’t make him any less dangerous.
Then again, James had helped him. Was still helping him. Despite appearances, he wasn’t the relentless attacker they had pursued them all those months ago.
James had just finished helping him get his shirt back on when there was a knock on the door. James opened it, hand hovering over his gun, but relaxed and took a step back when he saw who it was.
The man who entered the safe house was gruff and built, his long hair hanging in his face as he shook the snow off his boots. He carried himself like a man who had seen a thing or two and wanted to forget even more.
“Soldier,” he said, nodding at James.
“Spencer.” James turned to Sam. “This is Eliot Spencer.”
Eliot stepped forward and extended a hand. “And you’re Sam Wilson. From the Falcon program.”
Sam took the offered handshake. “I am, although I’m curious how you know that.”
Eliot just shrugged and turned back to James. “All set?”
“Almost. Couple of things you should look at.”
“You got gear for me? Getting here quick meant traveling light.”
James tossed him a gun and Eliot inspected the weapon, then frowned and tossed it back. “You know I don’t like guns. And when were you in Belarus?”
“A few weeks ago,” James said. Eliot’s eyes narrowed. “I had nothing to do with Vitebsk.”
“How did you know he was in Belarus?” Sam asked, ignoring whatever other conversation was going on between the two of them.
Eliot answered without looking up. “The gun oil.”
“You could tell he was in Belarus because of the gun oil?”
“It’s a very distinctive gun oil,” Eliot grumbled.
“No wonder you two get along. You’ve both got that long-haired, growly thing going on.”
James and Eliot both looked at him, unamused, then went back to planning out the mission. Sam watched from his place on the bed, trying not to feel resentful about being left behind. He knew he wasn’t in any shape to head back into that base, but still. This was his mission and he didn’t like not being the one to finish it.
Soon enough they were ready, and Eliot led the way out of the safe house. James paused at the door and turned back to Sam. He pulled something from his pocket and tossed it to Sam.
“So you don’t get bored,” he said, with a grin and a wink that was straight out 1940s Brooklyn, and then he was gone.
“Asshole,” Sam muttered, looking down at the deck of cards in his hands.
He had only worked with Spencer the one time, but they were a good team. They moved quickly and easily through the base, neutralizing guards as they went. They found the control room and he downloaded the intel Wilson needed onto a flashdrive. He did some intel-gathering of his own, then took some time to make a final sweep of the base.
Wilson wouldn’t mind if he was a little bit late.
After an hour or so, Sam was glad he had the deck of cards. After another hour, he was pretty sure he never wanted to play another game of solitaire in his life. He got up and tried to pace the room, needing to shake off some of his nervous energy, but he couldn’t really put any weight on his leg so he gave up and got back in the bed.
It was ridiculous. There was nothing to be nervous about. He’d been caught off guard when he went in, but James knew what he was facing and had backup. He should really just lay down and take a nap.
Sam sighed, and laid out another game of solitaire on the blanket in front of him.
He parted ways with Spencer outside the base, which only remained standing because it was still daylight, then made his way through the snow back to the safe house.
Wilson’s gaze snapped to him when he opened the door, then he sighed and relaxed.
He tossed him the flashdrive, but Wilson didn't even look at it. He tilted his head, trying to read Wilson’s expression.
“Well, yeah,” Wilson replied, looking confused.
“About the mission.” Of course. That would make sense. The intel was important.
“And you.” Wilson was looking up at him, his mouth curved into a sort of half smile that he couldn’t figure out. “I was worried about you, James.”
James was looking at him like he had just admitted to killing the Pope or something. Before he could ask what was wrong, though, James moved.
He was fast — so fast — and before Sam knew what was happening, James was kissing him. And then just as soon as Sam registered that that was really what was happening, James pulled away.
“Sorry,” he said. “I — sorry.” He seemed to have surprised himself, too, but before he could move farther away, back to his corner to lurk or out the door completely, Sam reached out and grabbed his wrist.
James stopped, and waited. He didn’t look at Sam, but Sam could sense the energy vibrating through him, the instinct to run far, far away.
This was a terrible idea. He knew it was a terrible idea.
He wanted it anyway.
He hoped to god he’d never have to explain why he wanted it; he had no desire to look at that too closely. But he wanted it just the same.
He tugged on James’s wrist, and James came, letting Sam pull him back in. When he was close enough, Sam reached up with his other hand, ignoring the twinge in his side as he twisted, and slid his fingers around the back of James’s neck, drawing him close.
He waited, feeling James’s hair in his fingers and his warm breath on his skin. He knew that James could pull away if he wanted to, that even on his best day he wouldn’t be able hold him against his will, but still he waited.
First kisses were shaky, fleeting things; impulsive and instinctual and reckless. Second kisses were deliberate, purposeful; Sam wanted this, but he wanted James to choose it.
Just about the time when Sam was sure James was going to pull back, he closed his eyes, let out a sigh, and leaned in again.
Now that Sam knew what was happening, he could actually enjoy it. James was tentative, still unsure of his welcome, but the kiss was warm and tender and unlike anything he ever would have expected from the Winter Soldier. He realized yet again just how far James was from that man in D.C.
Sam squeezed the back of James’s neck, tugging a bit on his hair on accident, and when James let out a soft moan, Sam took advantage of the opportunity to deepen the kiss, relishing the way James went relaxed and boneless in response.
Wilson was kissing him.
He had kissed Wilson and instead of punching him like he should have, Wilson let him. And then asked for more.
And now his hands were in his hair and on his skin and his tongue was in his mouth and everything in his brain was white noise, blurry and staticky and he couldn’t remember the last time anything had ever felt so good.
The angle was uncomfortable and Sam’s ribs were going to start seriously protesting any minute now. He shifted and James let out a small whimper, as if he were worried Sam was going to pull away entirely and deny him any more of this.
Sam relaxed back onto the bed, not letting go of James. James looked down at him, brow furrowed, unsure. Sam shifted himself gently over to one side, leaving space where James could join him without crushing him. It was a small bed, but he didn’t care; he could always pretend they were staying close to get warm if he needed to lie to himself later.
James got the idea, stretching out next to him, but staying on top of the blankets. That was probably a good idea, so Sam just turned as best he could and pulled James back in to kiss him again. He still had a hand around one of James’s wrist, so he shifted his grip and guided James’s hand to his side, pressing down to make the permission to touch perfectly clear.
James still hesitated, but Sam kept going, tangling his other hand back in the long hair that was softer than it had any right to be and licking into James’s mouth
James was drowning. It was too good and he didn’t deserve it and he would never get away with it, but fuck if he could make himself care.
They stayed like that, trading kisses and touches, until Sam shifted the wrong way and winced. James pulled back, cheeks flushed and lips swollen. Sam stroked a thumb across his lower lip, as if to soothe it.
“Sleep, Wilson.” James’s voice was low and rough, and as soon as he spoke, Sam realized just how tired he really was.
He closed his eyes and felt James start to sit up.
“Stay,” he said, not opening his eyes to see the response. James settled next to him
He watched Wilson sleep.
He’d been watching Wilson for months, following him across Europe, drawn to him without really knowing why.
He wanted to stay. He suspected Wilson would let him stay. Would let him tag along and steal kisses and kindness that he didn’t deserve, call him James and look at him like he was a person.
Because that’s who Sam Wilson was. He had seen it. Seen it in the way Sam threw himself into missions and comforted scared civilians and smiled at the girl behind the register in the corner store where he picked up coffee. Sam Wilson was kindness and healing touches and fierce determination and extraordinary protectiveness. He was a bright angel, full of fire and too glorious for him to touch.
But maybe someday…
James Barnes was no one; James Barnes could be anyone. Maybe he could fashion James Barnes into the kind of man who could let himself get close to a man like Sam Wilson.
He picked Wilson’s phone up off the side table and fiddled with it for a minute before sending off a text.
He stood and threw another log on the fire, then gathered his things and returned the rest of Wilson’s weapons, leaving them within easy reach. He paused, taking one last look at Wilson’s face, before forcing himself to turn and leave the safe house.
A loud bang startled Sam awake. He sat up, saw the silhouette in the doorway, and reached for the gun that was on the table next to the bed.
“It’s just me,” Steve said, closing the door behind him and blocking out the bright light of the morning. He shifted his shield onto his back. “I got your text.”
Sam glanced around the otherwise empty room, then looked back at Steve, confused. “What text?”
“I got a text from you last night with coordinates, saying to come ASAP. Are you okay?”
“I didn’t…” He trailed off, not sure how to answer Steve’s question.
“You didn’t what, Sam?” Steve looked concerned, scanning the room for threats. James was clearly gone, and Sam found himself unwilling to share what had happened with Steve. At least not yet.
“Nothing. Thanks for coming. Let’s get out of here.”
Later, when he was on the plane with Steve headed off to wherever the next Hydra lead was taking them, his phone buzzed in his pocket with a text message from an unknown number. He opened it, and found a picture of him and Steve leaving the safe house, blurry and far away, but clear enough.
See you around, the message read.
Three more messages came in while he was holding the phone.
You can save this number
If you want
Just in case
Sam sent a quick response, then slid his phone back into his pocket, crossed his arms, and leaned back in his seat. A slow smile spread across his face.
Will do, James