“Yo Riley! Riley! She doesn’t want you, man. Let’s go!”
They were leaving a party and Riley, being Riley, is caught up talking to some girl who was clearly still looking to fulfill some Brad Pitt in Troy fantasy (dated, but that movie had been very formative for Sam. He knows what he's talking about). Sam’s waiting for his designated driver to get to the driving part of their evening. He’d even had the time to sober up a little (just a little) and not really need a designated driver, but he waits on his shithead of a friend anyway ‘cause he’s nice like that.
And also because he really doesn't need to get caught drinking and driving at 17 years old.
Sam’s about to go drag Riley by his fucking letterman jacket, when he starts sauntering over, in that ‘should be cocky but is oddly charming’ way of his. That’s when it hits Sam: everything comes aligned at once to help him realize how screwed he is.
The moonlight had created a spotlight over Riley that was lighting up his hair and face, and just like that he knows.
But really, it should’ve been obvious. Who the fuck notices the moonlight? In their best friend’s hair? Jesus.
“Jesus, Sammy, what crawled up your ass? I know you’re cranky when you’re tired, but when’d you turn into a cockblock?”
Oblivious to the fact that he’s making Sam’s insides melt, Riley skips around his rusty silver Jeep and waits for Sam to get in. At first, it’s like every other time they leave a party. Riley’s starry eyed about whoever he was just making eyes at, except now Sam knows why his stomach always feels like it’s filled with lead while Riley waxes poetic about “his future wife”.
When it happens, they’re stopped at a red light, Sam’s shouting about his best friend’s musical tastes while Riley slaps his hand away from the dial, laughing his ass off.
The police said they never could've seen the other car coming. The driver was drunk. Nothing could have prevented it.
When Sam tries to remember what song they were arguing about, it never comes back to him.
Sam expects panic attacks and insomnia, and he's right for the most part. While he hasn’t been able to do anything but stare at his ceiling all night ever since he left the hospital, his anxiety is different than what he’s used to.
Instead of the familiarity of the spirals he’s talked himself into in the past, Sam feels like he’s falling from the tallest building in the city. With no best friend to talk him down, he’s constantly tripping over the edge, toppling to his death every time he isn’t distracted, and every time he remembers why there isn’t someone to talk him down, why he needs distractions in the first place, which is basically all the damn time.
Around 2:52 AM, 5 days, three hours and 5 minutes after the accident, Sam starts finding the most ridiculous things to keep himself busy, to allow him to catch his fucking breath and stop perpetually crashing into concrete. He starts counting. Anything and everything: hours, classes. Worried glances, the number of hushed phone conversations he can hear his mom having. So far, there are only a few numbers he bothers to remember.
There are three dinners at Riley’s.
At each and everyone of them, Sam wishes he was anywhere else instead of being stared at by his dead best friend’s mom, who’s desperately trying to conjure her son back from Sam’s living, and somehow uninjured body.
There are two counselling sessions. His mom can’t afford more– and honestly, he's not sure he’d want them.
The counsellor he sees just feels like the Diet version of Dr. Perez, the woman he saw when his dad was killed. It’s a waste of 45 minutes of his day and he spends the entirety of the two sessions planning how the hell he’s gonna tell the team he’s quitting.
There’s one evening class vigil, and the funeral a week and a half after the accident. Both of these are a blur; all Sam registers are hands on his back and wobbly smiles. The only thing he properly remembers is apologizing quietly to Sarah for the bruises he left on her hand during the eulogy.
Three weeks later, 22 days after the accident, the world around him starts spinning again. He’s given his equipment and uniform back to the coach. His friends have stopped checking in on him daily.
Sam stills feels the way he did when he watched Riley walk towards him that night, smiling and unconcerned.
Terrified, confused. Praying for his body to obey him, but unable to move.
Almost a year later, when Sam tells his family about going away for college, he's not worried about their reactions.
It doesn't really matter anyway– it’s this or nothing, and Sam hasn't quit Varsity football and spent his senior year sleep deprived only not to attend the one good school that gives him a full ride.
His mom seems mostly happy– New York is relatively close to D.C. and he isn't being shipped anywhere to be killed. He’d never be able to get rid of the frown his grandfather had when he said he’d be majoring in Psychology, and not becoming the third generation Wilson military man. As for Sarah, she didn’t really care, as long as she got visits from her brother.
He promises them he’ll be just fine.
Sam hates breaking promises.
Sam also hates being rude to strangers, but the white boy who keeps, just... smiling at him for no reason is gonna get some of this Wilson attitude if he doesn't start minding his business. He’s in the broom closet that serves as a locker room for volunteers and was trying to grab his backpack and jacket to go home as quickly as possible when he heard someone following him inside. Sam turns around and pushes down every little guilty thought voiced by one Darlene Wilson about going off on strangers for smiling . He's ready to give the boy his warning when the boy fully turns to him.
What the hell.
Is Puppy Eyes 101 offered as an elective?
“Hey,” the human puppy says, “I don’t mean to disturb you or anything– but I see you around here and at the Queer and Trans Caucus all the time,” he says.
He starts to blush, but lifts his chin like a third grader gathering his courage before Show and Tell, and continues.
“Anyways, you seem cool. Wanna hang out? I'm Steve, by the way.”
Sam is still running on Wilson-flavored gonna verbally tear this guy apart adrenaline and needs a second to think.
On the one hand, this one-man show he's been running for the first semester of his freshman year hasn't been too bad. He volunteers here at the Homeless Shelter once a week, gets along well with his colleagues from the Black Students Association, and has a reliable partner in every class for group project purposes.
On the other hand, he’s turned down every invitation to go out, he's way too fucking young to be a cat lady (he's been resisting the urge to get Redwing a sibling, but he's hanging by a thread), and He-Man here has the most earnest blue eyes here he's seen in maybe anyone ever.
“Sure. I'm Sam.”
The smile he gets seems worth it.
Shit. They were only here to grab a textbook Sam had forgotten in his dorm room– Sam had not been planning to talk about Riley tonight, though with how much time he’d been spending with Steve, it was only a matter of time.
Steve had inserted himself into Sam’s life like Sam would learn Steve did everything – stubbornly, though not without good intentions. By the end of March, Sam was really glad he’d given Steve a chance despite his misgivings. By October of their sophomore year, they’d been inseparable.
Though Steve mentions a few other friends every once in a while, Sam’s in his dorm room almost everyday, and only remembers the name of one of Steve’s other friends (he feels pretty good about holding a candle to a genius billionaire heir).
“Sam? We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
“We can talk about anything, Steve– it’s been what...9 months since you hit on me?”
Steve throws himself on Sam’s bed and rolls his eyes. “It’s been 8 and a half months since I approached you kindly and politely. And I mean it,” he adds, choosing not to call out Sam on his attempt at deflection, “we don't have to talk about it if you don't wanna.”
“This is Riley. He's my– he was my best friend. He, um...he died junior year of high school.”
Yeah. This is why he doesn't talk about it. Nobody really knows how to react and he'd had enough pitying faces from his teachers during senior year to last him a lifetime. Still, Steve is quiet longer than Sam expects.
“It kinda feels like you're stuck doesn't it?” Steve raises his head to look at Sam, the look in his eyes reminding him of when they first met, just…sadder. “Like– like everyone one got to move on, but you're just…there? Still? Even after all this time.”
Sam nods. Steve puts the frame down, turns to him and gets off the bed in one smooth move. “Come on,” he says, hand on the doorknob, “I think I have leftover pizza at my place.”
Sam nods again, unsure how the hell Steve stole the words from his brain. Since he's not sure he wants to find out, Sam does what he does best: he packs his feelings away, and follows Steve outside.
“Hey, hey , Steve, slow down, what the fuck?”
“Can't hang out today.”
Steve is walking away from Sam faster than Sam's ever seen before, which is saying a lot. Sam's really annoyed, but mostly concerned.
“It's the third time you blow me off in two days, man–”
“Well I'm sorry Sam, I didn't know we were joined at the hip.”
Deep breaths. In and out. He's your best friend, in the whole universe.
Sam reaches out, grabs Steve's arm, and turns him around, but Steve still isn't here with him and Sam wishes he would just cut the bullshit.
“Hey. If you need some time to yourself, just fucking say so. You don't have to pretend, you can just say you don't feel like seeing me.”
“I'm just– this isn't about you!”
Well. That's one way to make things clear.
“No. Sam, no– wait . I'm sorry, that didn't come out right.”
“Nah, you're fine. See you around, man.”
“Sam, wait. Please.”
Sam's already on his way, but he turns around briefly to wave at Steve, letting him know it’s okay. His mama always said that as a guest, you had to know when you'd overstayed your welcome.
It was bound to happen.
The good thing about having literally only one friend is that when you fall out, you can catch up on all the work you’ve been ignoring.
Sam’s on a break from catching up on The Real Housewives, refreshing Tumblr. I Care is playing from his computer’s shitty speaker. He’d already worked out twice in that many days.
Yeah. He’s been real fucking busy.
Beyoncé’s harmonizing with a guitar when a knock interrupts Sam’s self-care session (Sarah called it a brooding session. Sarah needs to mind her own damn business.)
In an attempt to be mature (and to prove his sister wrong), Sam opens the door even though he’s not in the mood for the conversation he’s a hundred percent certain Steve will want to have.
“Sam, hi,” Steve says in that sincere voice that got him to give Steve a chance in the first place. He’s carrying pizza, a six-pack of shitty beer and three bags of Cool Ranch Doritos.
Before Sam can even think of something to say, his stomach growls loudly. Steve grins.
“I guess I have great timing.”
Sam gives up on his brooding for good, and waves Steve in. For a while, it’s like every other time Steve comes to his side of campus: he puts his peace offering down on Sam’s tiny desk to take off his shoes and neatly place them by the door. He washes up quickly, and comes out of the bathroom with a box of Kleenex they’ll use as napkins.
“First of all, I should apologize,” Steve says, making a point to look Sam in the eye. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that. It’s been... a rough few days for me, and that’s what I should’ve said.
He gets started on his first slice and, nodding solemnly like only he could, he adds “I’m gonna be better about this.”
Sam takes a few moments to process while grabbing a slice of his own. This isn’t it .
“We friends, Steve?”
“Yes, of course– Sam?”
“What’s been bothering you?” Steve’s eyes are now fixated on the pizza box. He heaves the heaviest of sighs.
“But we’re friends.”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you should have to deal with my problems.”
“But we’re friends?”
Steve is frowning, conflicted about the point Sam’s making, but determined. “This just isn’t– you’ve gone through enough already.”
“How about you let me decide that? How ‘bout you trust me to follow you when I can, and chill when it’s just too much for me?”
Another heavy sigh. They’re both on their third slice of pizza. Steve’s a stubborn son of a bitch, but Sam grew up with an older sister. He can hold his own.
“His name’s Bucky.”
Wait. What? All of this can’t have been over boy problems.
Steve laughs a little ruefully when he catches Sam’s expression.
“It’s not what you think. It’s…” he sighs one last time. “Even when I had nothing, I had Bucky.”
Steve talks and talks and talks. Sam listens to it all, and with a clarity he never knew he had, he realizes it all makes sense. Birds of a feather and all.
It all makes a whole lot of tragic, life really is some bullshit sense.
Sam doesn't understand. All this time he thought Steve must either be extremely picky with who he befriended (see Tony Stark as Exhibit A) or a murderer in the making, with Sam as his first victim (less likely, but that’s how it goes in horror movies).
But Steve has a whole…crew . They all seem to a) know each other, and well at that, and b) not mind his intrusion, like Steve had mentioned him before.
His assumption is confirmed when he hears a commotion followed by: “Steve’s other half– he finally let you out!”
Sam is dragged to a massive living room by the hand of...Tony Stark (what is his life ), and introduced to “Secretly an assassin”, “Secretly an Android and his boyfriend Katniss”, “My Science Soulmate”, and “ My other half”.
By the end of the night, he'd have gained Natasha’s approval (on the list of people he wanted approval from, she was just under his mama and Michelle Obama), destroyed everybody else at Mario Kart with Phil’s help, bonded with Clint over bird nicknames in sports (“Only you can understand, man– though Hawkeye beats Falcon any day”), discussed the little bit of Biology he knew with Bruce and talked with Rhodey about everything under the sun including the Giants’ season, their favorite Game of Thrones characters, having Peak White friends, and being best friends with a Drama Queen.
For now though, a little overwhelmed and still confused, he turns to Steve. In most situations, Steve and him are on parallel wave lengths– going in the exact same direction, with Steve somehow always being higher up, or further along than him (especially when it comes to getting into fights and arguing with people).
Right now though, it feels like Steve can read his thoughts.
You didn’t mind spending all this time with me? You waited. For me?
Sam's not quite sure what to say, or if he should even say any of it out loud. Turns out he doesn't have to say much, ‘cause Steve, with a rare shy smile and serious eyes says, “I'm just happy you're here now.”
“What the hell Steve?”
It's 4 AM on a Monday night, Sam just got in bed 30 minutes ago ‘cause senior year final season is in full swing.
“I'm so fucking sorry Sam, but I'm–”
Steve is full on sobbing; Sam puts Steve on speaker, turns on his lamp, and drags on the first pair of sweatpants he finds.
“Steve. Where are you, what's going on? Are you okay?”
“I'm– I'm at Tony's– he's still at the lab, he's on his way, but Sam. Sam. He's here . He's back.”
“On my way, stay on the line with me.”
It’s hard to see the chatty, cocky and bright kid Steve had reminisced about at least once a week since they’d had their pizza sleepover/reconciliation. If it was possible to stalk towards someone while being completely immobile, this was it; James – Sam would not use a name fit for a pet– is projecting standoffishness from every pore of his (remarkably toned) body.
Sam had made it to Tony’s in 15 minutes, with a sobbing Steve in his ear, telling him once more about foster care, and the army, and his arm, Sam and his sister , and he didn’t want me to see him, but he’s back now .
Now, at Tony’s apartment, Steve has thankfully calmed down. His sniffles, which had punctuated the silence, have stopped for a few minutes now.
Tony had volunteered for the coffee run and the four of them had moved to his living room. The medium black coffee, soy vanilla latte, medium coffee with half and half and the Red Eye were helping them wake up and allowing them to avoid conversation all at once.
“Oh– oh shit, sorry,” Steve says, like they were in the middle of a conversation in the first place, rubbing his red eyes, “Buck, you probably heard earlier, but this is Sam. We met freshman year. He's– he's my best friend.”
James lifts his head up and blows the hair out of his face. It takes every ounce of restraint for Sam not to scoff at the move– but it seems like James can see right through Sam's facade and raises an eyebrow. Sam is not intimidated.
James nods at him, curt. He then turns to Steve, and his mood changes instantly. He clears his throat and says, a little awkwardly, “ ‘S cool. I'm glad you're okay, Stevie.”
Huh. This guy might be human after all.
“You can’t just read stuff that isn’t there–”
“That’s literally the whole point of literature, James.”
“Well, Samuel, they’re just fucking boring. Name one Hufflepuff– who isn’t Cedric Diggory– who does anything except ‘align with the forces of Good’.”
“Everyone knows the books are biased, they’re written from– umph!”
Somehow, both of them manage to run into Steve’s back at the same time.
“Really guys? On my birthday. We’re doing this shit again.”
“You have shit taste in best friends, Stevie.”
“This might be the one thing we agree about, Barnes. How ‘bout that?”
Steve just sighs and pushes the door to the bar– Sam hadn't even noticed they’d made it there.
Steve had insisted on having all his friends (with a pointed look at both him and James he thought was subtle) around him, because he “only turned 25 once.”
Sam knows he hasn't been the most...forthcoming with James since they met three years ago, but he’d started out as mostly polite. The evolution of their– friendship? Acquaintanceship? Acknowledgment of each other's existence?– had been...interesting, at best. He would've never said it aloud, but at the time, James reminded him of a wild animal in more ways than one.
When Sam was over, he wouldn't leave Steve's room, so much so that Sam sometimes wondered whether he actually existed. The first time he properly looked Sam in the eye, without any suspicion, was months after he came back to Steve. Sam had honest-to-God gasped– if James had been able to handle human interaction and shaved that stubble (although , that look definitely worked too), he could step into the street and get ten modelling contracts thrown upside the head within minutes.
Despite the awkwardness and the lack of communication, Sam had no reason not to try to be James’ friend. Steve had, understandably, wanted his two best friends to get along. And shit, if Sam could grow to genuinely like Tony Stark, he could grow to like anybody.
Just when Sam had thought he would never hear the sound of his voice directed at him, James stopped avoiding any space he was in and instead made it his mission in life to pick apart every little thing Sam said or did.
Did anyone ever tell you you can wear something other than plaid shirts, Sam?
Why are you always so busy, Sam?
How can you bitch about “Bucky” when your high school friends called you Falcon, Sam?
How's your sister, Sam?
Why are you interested in doing counselling work, Sam?
The thing is, the way James “Bucky’s a nickname have you ever heard of those Samuel ” Barnes looks at him would have you think he actually cares about whatever bullshit is going on in Sam’s brain at any point in time. Sam believes that’s an absolute lie, but Steve had said, while insisting he wasn't playing armchair psychologist, that James was just trying to connect with people he could trust for the first time since he was a teenager, so could you please, for me Sam, just humor him? and he couldn't quite ignore that.
The real problem is that Sam wouldn’t just be humoring him. With about a year of avoidance and tentative conversations, and two years of James being the bane of his existence, he’s seen too much of who James is, as Nora Roberts as that sounds, to do that.
He’s seen it whenever Steve does something foolish or reminisces with James about something they pulled as kids, and his eyes just...light up.
He’s seen it whenever James frowns, turns to Tony, Rhodey or Bruce to shyly ask a science-related question. At the end of what inevitably ends up being a 3 hour conversation, he nods and smiles to himself, like he's unlocked one more secret from the universe.
James isn’t that kid Steve said he’d once been anymore, but when he smiles that little satisfied smile of his, Sam knows he’s gonna be alright. And that right there, just knowing that, pleases him more than he cares to explain.
But then, like clockwork, he’ll do something to make Sam forget he was raised right. Like drink orange juice straight out of the carton, the carton Steve had bought with Sam in mind ‘cause he always drank some after their morning runs, and have the audacity to complain about pulp. Or he’d talk through the entirety of Pacific Rim just to annoy him. (And despite whatever bullshit Steve tries to spin, James’ comments weren’t ‘insightful ’. Steve needs to get a good grip on how much he’s willing to let him get away with).
A slap on his shoulder from whoever’s sitting in front of him brings him back to the present.
“Wilson, why does your hair smell like that?”
Rhodey mutters something that sounds like pigtails, shakes his head and leaves their table to head to the bar with Phil.
“Why the fuck are you smelling my hair?”
“I wouldn’t have to if it didn’t smell so strong.”
“Not my fault nobody ever told you about the wonders of shampoo and conditioner.”
“Anybody ever tell you about the wonders of not being a patronizing asshole?”
“Forgive me, Mr. Barnes, I didn’t know caring about my damn personal hygiene made me an asshole.”
James is about to say some other ridiculous comment about Sam’s strong, well-nourished hair, when Steve, pint of beer in hand, facing their side of the bar, gets started on the Birthday Edition of one of those speeches of his.
“They say friends are family you choose. No matter the fights we have,” Sam’s incredibly offended when him and James get a look, “I’m so damn grateful to have each and every one of you here with me for one more year. I truly cherish each friendship, old and new,” he adds, with a nod to Thor and Val. Steve clears his throat and takes a deep breath. Oh boy .
Sam rolls his eyes and catches James’ gaze, who raises his prosthetic arm to wipe an inexistant tear from his cheek, and places his right hand over his heart. Sam bites the inside of his cheek to hold back the laughter and kicks him under the table; Bucky grins back at him. Steve’s getting closer and closer to the part where he’ll tear up when Tony mercifully gets back from the bar, Phil and Rhodey in tow, announcing that first round was on him, and as such, they were doing shots.
Predictably, chaos ensues: Steve pulls his best disappointed dad face before grabbing a glass, and Thor has somehow already knocked back 3 shots. Sam, busy watching his friends act a fool, startles (just a little bit) when Nat knocks her shot glass back on the table next to him.
“Finally wrapped your head around it, did you?”
Sam likes to believe he can keep up with the best of them– even Natasha– but he’s lost on this one.
She cocks her head to the side, like she’s trying to figure something out. After holding his gaze longer than Sam’s comfortable with, she pats him on the head, then flicks her chin towards James.
“Just don’t fuck this up Sam,” she says, before walking away.
Wait. What is there to fuck up?
James can hold his own, and Sam’s never been mean to him.
As to everything else he feels, well...it’s whatever. It’s just nice to see someone who’s gone through it all come out on the other side. He’d feel that way about it if it was anybody else.
Much later, when they’re outside after having been kicked out ‘cause Thor and Clint tried to recreate the jump from Dirty Dancing, it happens again. Sam declines James’ offer to walk him home (he’s tipsy at best and doesn’t need any help getting home).
Nat throws him another one of these looks that make him reconsider all his life decisions. He frowns and shrugs in a what about it? gesture. She narrows her eyes and starts walking towards him. For a second, Sam thinks he’s about to die, when she leans in close and kisses his cheek. She lays a hand in the spot her lips just were, cocks her head in the exact same way she did earlier, and murmurs, “You really don't see it, do you Sam?”
See what? And if Natasha's insisting, does he really wanna know?
Before he can ask anything, Nat grabs James’ hand and drags him in the closest cab.
They're long gone when Sam finally turns away and heads home.
It's late after Clint and Phil’s housewarming party when James tells him about the army. Rhodey and Tony are asleep on the floor; Clint, Phil and Nat are outside on the patio, still drinking. Sam has no clue where anyone else is, and though he only drank one beer, he's exhausted.
“You don’t drink much.”
James throws himself on the couch next to Sam, then wiggles into a comfortable position to face him. He’s got his right hand behind his head, his left on a dark teal sweater that brings out his eyes. Sam’s too tired to push Bucky’s feet off his lap, so he lets it go.
“Got work tomorrow.”
“The LGBTQ2+ Advocacy Center. That’s recent, right?”
“Yeah. Steve and I had a boss at the homeless shelter we volunteered at in college– ze put in a good word.”
“That’s how you guys met.”
Sam nods and smiles a little at the memory. “He'll try to convince you he wasn't hitting on me, but don't let him tell you any different.”
James snorts. “Why am I not surprised. He always bites off more than he can chew.”
Sam was half conscious of the fact that his hand had made its way to James’ ankle and he was tapping his fingers slowly to the beat of the fading music. “I was ready to cuss his ass out when he approached me.”
That startles a real laugh out of James. “What? Why?”
“I don't know man, I was going through it and he was just there all the time, in my face.”
“And you say I act like I was raised in a barn.”
“You're always eating my food without ask–”
“Why were you going through it?”
Sam doesn't know if it's the beer, or the fact that he feels like he could sleep for 24 hours straight, but he answers honestly.
“Lost someone. It was...a lot. We'd known each other forever– we were gonna go into the Air Force together. It just...fucked everything up.”
James doesn't say anything, but Sam can feel his eyes on him. He settles his legs more comfortably on Sam's lap. It should be annoying, but it isn't.
“Be glad you never pursued it. The Air Force, I mean. It'd be too bad if the world never got to see your ugly face.”
It takes a second for Sam to roll his eyes– he's surprised James wants to tell him about the army. His eyes, more gray than blue in the dimmed light, lose a little bit of their focus when he tells him about the army being his only chance to get a steady check, so he could provide for his sister. They hadn't been doing well after being dumped in a horrible foster home when James was 16. He tells Sam about being captured and losing his arm. About conjuring up memories of Steve and Becca when he thought he would lose it all, so he could hang on, until he could get back home.
“When I got back, it took awhile to find myself back. I needed time to figure out how to be Bucky again.”
His eyes focus, light up, when he says, “Becca’s the one who got me to do it, told me I should see someone. Found a therapist, then I found Steve. Found out he was under the influence of a terrible best friend while I was gone.”
“Glad to be of service,” Sam says with a slight smirk and a mock salute.
I’m glad you’re back, he doesn’t say. I have no clue why, but I’m so fucking glad you’re okay .
Well, that’s not completely true. He knows why.
Sam loves his job, he loves his family and he loves his cat; he hasn't been sure of much else for a while now. But he knows for a fact that despite everything, the world would’ve missed out on a lot without James in it.
Of course, it all has to come crashing down.
Sam wasn't even aware there was anything to crash, anything to upset him, which is why he's so disturbed.
This feeling of dread had taken up residence at the pit of his stomach, and had grown steadily for a week now. He's dodged calls and texts, muted group chat notifications and was about to burst out of his skin from anxiety when he decided to go on a walk without bothering to grab a coat, a hat, or gloves.
He's ten blocks away from his apartment and despite the cold eating at him, he's no longer able to keep his brain from replaying the conversation over and over again.
“I'm glad you moved on,” Sarah had said casually, like she wasn't shifting his whole fucking world.
“I've seen your Instagram. You, and all your little friends, and your boyfriend– Tall, Dark and Scowling? Another blue-eyed white boy, Sammy? You have a type.”
“My boyfr– who, James ?”
“That his name? He's real cute. Handsome, actually, he's got that old Hollywood bad boy vibe. When you're done hiding him from your family, you should bring him around for dinner.”
Another blue-eyed white boy .
Damn. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
He does his best to try not to let it get to him. He'd said it himself, James looked like a fucking model. Of course, they'd look good in pictures together. James could probably look like a million bucks next to anybody, what with the shiny hair and ridiculous eyes, and– oh.
Damn. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck .
He wants to let it go, needs to let it go, and is trying to hammer into his own head that Barnes doesn't even like him like that, ‘cause this can't happen. He remembers what happened the last time he was this careless with his feelings.
The hollowness. The loneliness.
He remembers promising to himself he’d never let himself be comfortable enough to want to be with someone like that. Fuck.
Sam's vision blurs, and he can't feel his toes. This walk in the middle of a New York City winter was a horrible idea. So was falling for Bucky Barnes.
With a sigh, Sam turns right at the next intersection and starts to head back home. His mind is miraculously quieter on the way back– he might've finally found a solution.
The thing is, this shouldn't really matter, not at all. He's done it before, and he'll do it again. It'll be hard to explain to Steve that he doesn't wanna hang out that much anymore, but he's a 25 year-old man with a grasp on his words and his feelings, however tenuous it might be. Nat and Clint, Rhodey and Phil, Bruce and Tony, even Thor and Val– they’ll understand. They haven’t known him for as long as Steve anyway– all of them can go back to the way things were. It’ll be him, Redwing, Netflix and a few books to keep himself busy for a while. He can deal with that.
Sam ignores the tightness in his shoulders and the way his throat keeps constricting at the thought of losing everything again and squares his shoulders. I can deal with anything.
By the time Sam is back home, he's made a prioritized list of the TV shows he needs to catch up on to distract himself. He nods absently at one of his neighbours who is also just getting in, and starts jogging up the stairs. Redwing’ll probably get off his pedestal and cuddle for a while what with the cold.
When he finally reaches the fifth floor, he’s also started reviewing his alcohol stock and plans to destroy the grand total of two beers sitting in his fridge when he registers an all-too familiar man leaning close to his front door. He stops dead in his tracks, and hovers over the last step, right before the fifth floor landing.
‘Why are you here’ he wants to ask, but he can hear Darlene Wilson’s disapproving voice all the way here. Instead he says “Haven't seen you for a while.”
James’ smile is soft, but hesitant in a way Sam hasn't seen before. He keeps opening his mouth to speak, before sighing and letting it go. Finally, he seems to settle on: “You haven't been around lately. I know Steve can be annoying, but he gets even worse when you’re not here.” He hesitates again before he adds, “Is it…was it something I said?”
Sam doesn't like that James immediately jumps to blaming himself when he's the one who’s kept his distance.
“No man, you did nothing wrong. I just…haven't been feeling all that well.”
“Anything I can do?”
Help me go back in time so I can figure out when you got under my skin. Stop looking so pretty so I can fucking breathe.
“No, it's alright. Listen, James–”
“I won’t be here long.” James blurts it out, like he needs to before he does anything else. “I just need to say something to you, and then you can...rest.” His prosthetic hand is wrapping his flesh and blood one, pulling slowly on each finger. Sam resists the urge to ask him if he’s okay, and instead gestures for him to go on.
James moves away from the door, stands up straight.
“ I came to see you because I wanted you to know something. It, uh, it doesn't have to mean anything for you, but I– it's important.”
“I can see that,” Sam says, pointing to James’ shifty fingers.
“Yeah.” James clears his throat. “Sam, I just think you're great, and I want you to know that.”
Sam can't stop the slight smile forming on his face. “You came all the way up to Harlem to tell me that I'm great ?”
“I came all the way up to Harlem to tell you that I like you and I'd like to take you out. On a date. And kiss you, if everything goes well.”
No, absolutely the hell not. You can't, you can't– I fucking can't.
“Why would you want,” he starts. “I'm no–” Fuck.
Sam doesn't like the look slowly taking over James’ features, and if he wasn't busy losing his cool, he'd comment on how awkward this pause is.
“If you don't... ant to, it's fine, Sam–”
“No, it’s just– it’s been so long, and I’ve never–”
His throat and chest feel like they’re about to collapse on themselves, so he slows down a second. He just needs to breathe.
Inhale. One, two, three.
Exhale. One, two, three, four.
Inhale. One, two, three.
“There was only ever,” Sam sighs– or gasps, rather– “only ever one other person.”
James’ face softens, like he knows, and he takes a step forward slowly, like Sam’s a wounded animal he doesn’t want to startle. And it's that, right there– that's why Sam needs to say it.
“There was only ever one other person, and I can’t– I don’t want to ruin it, or ruin anything. I just can’t, Bucky, I don't know how to do this.”
It wrecked me, he doesn't say. I remember it all. I remember too much.
Seven years of blond hair shining in the night. Seven years of evenings that were supposed to last forever.
Two years of grief. Months and months of sitting back against the wall of his tiny closet, a fist in his mouth to avoid waking his mother and sister up with his tears, promising himself that he'd never do it again.
But there's more, his traitorous heart whispers. I'm glad you moved on, she said it, she said you moved on.
Yeah, there is more.
Sneaky smiles and casual, reassuring touches. Loud, overbearing, unconditional friendship. They'd all seen it before he did– You really don't see it, do you, Sam?, Nat had said.
He sees it now. Lord, do I see it now.
Defiant, wary blue-grey eyes, slowly, surely, inexplicably warming to his presence. The most obnoxious of grins and the softest of smiles.
Only one thing left to do, then.
Sam climbs the final step and closes the short distance between him and James.
“Can I– I want to try, Bucky. I want to try not to ruin anything with you,” he says softly.
James swallows hard, and nods. “Do you wanna try...together?”
Sam never knew he could manage a smile with his stomach turning on itself like this, but weirder things have happened. “Yeah.”
James nods again, a little more sure. He's looking into Sam’s eyes when he says, “Gonna kiss you now. That okay?”
“Yeah,” he says again; it's all he can spare. Then, with more care and gentleness than Sam knows what to do with, James leans in and presses their lips together. The kiss doesn't last too long: Sam can't help but smile into it and soon his – boyfriend? Frenemy? Boyfrenemy? – joins, chuckling slightly.
“‘Bucky’, now, is it,” he says, lips a breath from Sam’s.
Oh God. “I still hate it.”
Bucky hmms and kisses him, short, earnest and sweet.
“But you don’t hate me .”
“I don't? That's news to me, James.”
They separate and Bucky’s still smiling that precious closed-lipped smile of his. It's small and unsure, but it shines truer than any wide grin Sam had seen him wear.
The smile falters slightly and when he touches Sam's hands.
“Sweetheart, you're freezing. Let's get you inside and warm you up.”
Sam notices, for the first time since he stepped inside and with a slight start, that he actually hasn't felt cold in a while.
“You mean to tell me that you'd noticed, Steve– for months– and you managed not to tell me anything?”
“I knew it was important for you to get there on your own time,” Steve calls from the kitchen.
After the telling silence and a few incredulous snorts from his friends, he comes back to Tony’s living room and adds: “And Natasha told me I should keep quiet.”
“I believe my words were ‘Bucky and I know how to hide bodies’, Rogers.”
“Also, it was fucking hilarious to watch Sam be the most oblivious man on Earth,” Tony pipes up from where he's leaning on Rhodey’s shoulder.
Bucky’s raised eyebrow dares Sam to make a comment about pots and kettles before he can even open his mouth.
“It's just– I don't fucking know, man,” he says instead, “It didn't seem…likely.”
“Yeah,” Clint says around a mouthful of popcorn, “I mean God knows if some guy followed me around bugging me about literally anything to get a chance to talk to me–”
“Or if he asked me about the way my hair smelled–”
“Or if he offered to walk me home when he lived in the opposite direction, an hour away–”
“Alright, alright, Jesus,” Sam huffs. “I'm oblivious, Bucky’s obsessed with me–” Bucky brings Sam's hand to his mouth and kisses it lightly– “and y'all are horrible friends. Anything else?”
“Steve met some British girl he can't stop fucking yammering about,” Tony says.
“I'm not yam– and her name is Peggy –”
“Don’t worry Steve, I’m happy you're finally gonna lose your virginity, this is great news!”
Bucky snorts. “Steve lost his virginity when–”
“We could also start the movie we're all here for, let's do that, yeah?”
Steve smiles gratefully at Sam– not that he should, really. Sam only put a stop to the madness because if Steve blushes anymore, he’s going to explode. (Also because with everyone focused on the movie, no one would give him shit for cuddling with his boyfriend.)
He would be ashamed about it, but as soon as everyone turns to Tony’s massive TV, Bucky lifts his right arm and lets Sam wiggle until they’re both comfortable, back to chest.
Bucky leans forward to whisper in his ear, and Sam does his best not to remember the last time they were in this position, when there were way less clothes involved for either of them. “When I went to your place, that day, you know what I kept telling myself?”
Sam shakes his head.
“There’s no chance in hell this is gonna go well. If you didn’t think it was likely, I thought I might as well pray to be struck by lightning while winning the lotto–” He stops briefly to make murder eyes at Clint, who’s shushing them.
Bucky tightens his arms around him. He drops his voice even more– Sam doesn’t think it’s to please Clint though. “You know what’s even unlikelier?”
“That ‘unlikelier’ is a word?”
“What’s even unlikelier, Samuel, is that you haven’t run for the hills yet. That I haven’t fucked this up.” He kisses Sam’s temple. “I guess what I’m trying to say is thanks. For trying. With me.”
Well. Sam’s eyes are tearing up two minutes into a movie, that’s a new record.
He turns to look directly at Bucky, teary eyes be damned. “Thanks for being worth trying for.”
If Sam tears up a little more when he sees that precious small smile of Bucky’s, no one else needs to know.