What no one told you about miraculously coming back from the dead was how it was a total goddamn shitshow. Because yeah, Sam was alive, and yeah, the apocalypse had been averted, sort of—he wasn’t clear on if it counted when the apocalypse had still happened but all the people who’d died came back. But at his last count, Sam had lost: five years, two best friends, a home and/or place to live, practically all of his stuff, and—okay, this one wasn’t so bad—his fugitive status. Sam had gained: Captain America’s shield and Bucky.
It wasn’t ideal.
If he’d goddamn known Old Steve was going to just fucking disappear after saying some nice things and handing over a shiny new shield, Sam would’ve asked a few more damn questions, or he’d have at least demanded that Old Steve fork over some cash, because otherwise Sam was just gonna have to pawn the shield for rent money. But noooo, Sam had told Steve, maybe you oughta talk to Bucky, and Old Steve and Bucky had talked for a few minutes, heads bent close together until their foreheads were almost touching. Then Bruce had said hey, there’s a weird reading from the quantum tunnel…? And next thing Sam knew, Old Steve had disappeared and Bucky had returned, looking so at peace that Sam had genuinely worried that Bucky had been about to do something irrevocable.
Where’s Steve, Sam had asked Bucky. Or should I be asking when is Steve?
Bucky had just shrugged. I don’t know. But don’t worry, he’s coming back.
He’d refused to explain any more, to anyone, which, whatever, fine. Bucky was entitled to the denial stage of grief if he needed it. Meanwhile Sam kept shaking the magic 8-ball of his mind for some kind of appropriate emotional response, to any of this, and the only answer he got was ask again later, so apparently Sam’s stage of grief was ??? Which was at least where basically everyone left milling around the Starks’ cabin/mansion was at right now, after Stark’s funeral and sending Steve off with the Infinity Stones.
In short, the situation was awkward as hell, at best.
For Bucky way more than Sam, what with the whole killing Howard and Maria Stark thing, but it was still plenty awkward for Sam. He hadn’t known Stark all that well, really, and the five years he’d missed out on were making him feel even more disoriented and displaced here, uncertain where the hell he fit in with these friends and teammates who were so changed now. Hell, Sam hadn’t entirely come down from last week’s/five years ago’s big battle with Thanos yet. If he didn’t feel entirely unmoored from reality, it was only thanks to a thin thread tying him to everyone else who was in the same boat as him. He just needed a day, maybe, to wrap his head around all of this. One quiet day, one day where everything just stopped.
For now, he was going to have to make do with some quiet time in nature. Sam wasn’t sure whether it was him or Bucky who’d silently decided to linger in the woods outside the cabin together, but they were still out here even now that Old Steve was long gone and the sun was setting. Sam wasn’t sure either of them knew what to do or where the hell to go next. The shield was already heavy on Sam’s arm, and he had no idea where he could put it down.
Those of the funeral attendees who actually had somewhere to go home to and a mode of transport for getting there had left already: the Wakandans back to Wakanda—and Wanda with them, to see if Vision could be restored—Lang and his crew back to San Francisco, all the space people back up to space, Thor back to New Asgard, the spider kid to Queens…the only people left were the last of the Avengers and Sam, and Bucky, who hadn’t gone back with the Wakandans, to Sam’s surprise.
Sam knew why he was still here: his family was in Atlanta now, and there was no way in hell Sam could get down there in all the chaos of half the planet’s population reappearing. He’d called them, and everyone had cried a lot, then they’d all agreed to wait until things were calmer to try any traveling. Sam didn’t know what was keeping Bucky here though. If the answer was that Bucky was waiting for Steve to return, or that he was about to use the time machine himself or some shit, Sam had no idea how to deal with that.
So it was with some trepidation that he asked, “Why didn’t you go back with T’Challa and Shuri?”
Bucky shrugged. “I might go back some time. But if I’m not a fugitive anymore, I can spend some time in the States, and I’ve missed Brooklyn. Thought I’d stick around for a while, help out here. Uh, Fury suggested it.”
“You two talked? How’d that go?” asked Sam, then helpfully added, “You know, on account of how you almost assassinated him that one time.”
“I’ve had a lot of awkward conversations today, so. Coulda gone better, coulda gone worse.” Bucky’s dryly self-deprecating tone made Sam smile despite himself, and when he looked over at Bucky, he saw that Bucky’s lips were curved upwards just a little bit. “How about you? You know where you’re headed yet?”
“Not really,” said Sam, and he hated how lost his voice sounded, hated how Bucky heard it and how it made his eyes go too soft and understanding.
Thankfully, before Bucky could say anything or ask him anything else, Rhodey called out to them from the direction of the house.
“Hey! What the hell are you two doing lurking out in the woods? Come inside! Dinner’s ready!”
Inside, Rhodey, Bruce, Barton, Stark’s security guard, and Ms. Potts—Mrs. Stark? Sam had no idea which she preferred—were all sitting around the dining table, where a mismatched dinner of sandwich fixings and casseroles was laid out on the table. Everyone looked varying degrees of tired and sad and confused, and worst of all, old. Not old old, not like time-traveling Steve or whatever, but old like ten years had passed rather than five, with new, deep lines carved into their faces and more grey hair. Hell, Banner practically looked like the Hulk’s grandpa, what with his skin’s muted shade of green, the glasses, and the salt and pepper hair.
Sam didn’t know how the hell he fit in here, without Steve and Natasha. He didn’t know this team without them. Even Lang being here would have made him feel better, which was how he knew he should have just hitched a ride, any ride, to Atlanta. Too bad the wizard dude had fucked off before he could open up a portal or something for him.
“C’mon, sit down and eat,” urged Rhodey, so Sam set down the shield and sat with Bucky. Ms. Potts gave them a tired smile and pushed a plate of sandwiches towards them.
“We were just going over how to deal with the logistical nightmare of undoing an apocalypse,” said Banner.
“How bad are things out there?” asked Sam.
The scattered news reports he’d managed to catch between the big battle and the funeral had been all chaotic joy: loved ones reuniting and people celebrating the Avengers’ win against Thanos. But maybe things had gotten worse, or maybe there were unforeseen consequences to using the Infinity Stones. Sam could feel Bucky tensing up beside him, and Sam’s own shoulders went stiff, still-sore muscles twinging, as he braced for bad news.
“Not nearly as bad as they could be, thanks to Bruce and Tony,” said Ms. Potts.
Sam let the explanations and details wash over him as he ate. He got the general gist: when they’d used the Infinity Stones, Banner and Stark had both done their best to head some potential disasters off at the pass, by returning people to safe locations and increasing resources to deal with the doubled/restored population. But there were still a hell of a lot of displaced people apparently, and Sam kept forgetting he himself was one of those people, kept forgetting that the stuff the others were talking about, about people who had to be reintegrated into a world that had changed and moved on without them, that all applied to him.
“First thing’s first, we gotta offer people some stability and shelter, give them something concrete to do,” said Rhodey.
Barton didn’t look up from his half-full plate as he said, “And we have to be ready to handle the people who are gonna take advantage of all the chaos and confusion to pull off bad shit.”
It was a good point, but the dull and blank tone Barton delivered it in sent a shivering tickle of unease down Sam’s spine. Rhodey and Banner took over from there, tossing ideas back and forth, and Sam contributed when he could, as did Bucky. But given that the both of them had just returned to life a few days ago, they weren’t exactly abreast of current events, and their contributions had limited utility.
Eventually, the talk turned to Steve.
“Should we—I don’t know, send someone after him?” ventured Banner.
“How?” asked Rhodey. “We don’t know where, or when, he even is, or if we’ve got enough Pym particles to send anyone there. And Barnes says he’s coming back.”
“He is,” confirmed Bucky, calm and even and rock-solid certain.
It pissed Sam the hell off, one fiery flush of angry heat searing through him. How the hell could Bucky sound sure of anything right now. How fucking dare Bucky act like all this shit was normal, like they’d just come out of any old battle.
“Still not gonna share how you know that?”
Bucky didn’t bristle at Sam’s pissy tone. “Other than that Steve told me he’s coming back?” Bucky shook his head. “Don’t think I should, no.”
That got Banner’s attention. “You’re worried about a paradox, aren’t you.” Bucky shrugged, which wasn’t exactly a confirmation or a denial, and Banner sighed, taking his glasses off to rub at his forehead. “Yeah, okay. I guess there’s nothing we can do anyway, if we don’t know when or where he is.”
“Listen, I don’t know what plans the two of you have,” started Rhodey, and Sam bristled at being lumped together with Bucky, like they were both just Captain America’s sidekicks, like they’d be deciding what to do next together. “But some version of Cap gave you that shield, Sam. You know what you’re gonna do with it?”
Fuck, the shield. Sam had almost forgotten for a minute. He laughed, immediately all too aware that of how high-pitched and hysterical his laughter sounded.
“Man, I don’t even know where I’m gonna be living tomorrow. I don’t have a house, and the Avengers’ compound is a pile of rubble. Unless there’s room at the Tower—”
Ms. Potts winced. “There, um, isn’t. Sorry. After the Snap, things were—chaotic. Infrastructure started breaking down, there weren’t enough people to keep it up, there were power outages…but Stark Tower has the arc reactor, and a lot of extra room with so many businesses and offices vacant. We opened it up as housing for whoever needed it, and we’re full up. I’m sorry.”
“We’re gonna have to open up some room for a temporary Avengers’ HQ,” said Hogan. “But I think that’s all the space we’ll be able to spare.”
“It’s okay. We’ll figure something out,” said Bucky.
“We?” demanded Sam incredulously. “Uh, I didn’t ask for your help, Barnes.”
Finally, there was a tiny crack in Bucky’s calm, just the slightest narrowing of his eyes.
“If you wanna do this on your own, you can. But I’ve done this before, Sam. Losing a few years, building a life again outta nothing? I know it’s not easy, but it’s not new for me the way it is for you. So let me at least help you get back on your feet.”
“Did Steve put you up to this before he left? Do you just come along with the shield? Because I did not sign up for—”
“How about we all get some rest and work it out tomorrow? You’re all welcome to stay here until we get things sorted out,” said Ms. Potts, gentle but firm, and Sam flinched.
Christ, what was wrong with him, he was in her house and she’d just attended her husband’s funeral, and here Sam was yelling about his own miraculous return from the dead leaving him inconveniently homeless.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Potts—”
She waved a hand to stop his apologies, then she snorted with a quick, tired laugh. “Sorry, just, it’s not a real funeral or wake until someone yells or has a bit of a breakdown, right? It’s fine, really. I’m gonna go check on Morgan, Happy can show you all somewhere to bunk down for the night.”
“Get some rest, Pep,” said Rhodey, and rose to kiss her on the cheek. “We’ll clean up down here.”
“Sorry for being an asshole,” Sam told Bucky, as they helped put away the food and the dishes. “I won’t say no to your help, I guess.”
Even if Bucky’s help amounted to finding him a sketchy squat in Brooklyn, Sam would take it. Beggars couldn’t be choosers.
Bucky lifted one shoulder in a shrug, and his hair slipped forward to cover his face as he stacked dishes into the dishwasher.
“It’s okay. But Steve didn’t need to put me up to this,” he said quietly. Sam didn’t have to see his face to identify the hurt buried under Bucky’s careful tone.
Before Sam could formulate a response to that, Barton approached them.
“Hey. So Nat—Natasha had a place, in Brooklyn. A brownstone in Red Hook. Nothing fancy, just a few bedrooms, and kind of a fixer-upper, but not in bad shape. She said it was a safe house, but—anyway, she had a place. I think she’d want you to live there. Both of you.”
“Yeah?” said Sam.
“Yeah,” said Barton, grief carving deep lines in his face. “And I’m—I’m as close as it gets to an executor of her will, I guess, so—it’s yours, if you want it.”
Sam wanted to say no, a reflexive denial that was mostly just a denial of Natasha being gone at all. Don’t be an idiot, Wilson, said Natasha’s voice in his head. Take the damn safe house.
“Okay. Yeah, I’ll—I’ll take it, thanks,” he told Barton, then he turned to Bucky. “Hey, good news, we’re not homeless.”
“We?” said Bucky, soft and sardonic, hair still covering Sam’s view of his face as he closed the dishwasher door gently, and yeah, okay, Sam deserved that tone.
Sam shot for casual in response. “If you’re cool with it. Until you can find a place, or you go back to Wakanda…”
Bucky tucked his hair back, finally revealing his face and eyes. There was a wary furrow in his brow, and an uncertain slant to his mouth, like he was reconsidering ever having offered to stick with Sam at all. Sam wouldn’t blame him in the least if he decided to go back to Wakanda to help out there, with the way Sam had just acted.
But Sam wanted Bucky to stick around, at least for a little while. Bucky was right, after all: he was the one who’d been in something like this crazy situation before, and Sam was getting the feeling he’d need whatever help he could get to deal with it. The prospect of being entirely on his own right now felt daunting. Even if Bucky ended up being a terrible roommate, he’d at least be another person dealing with the same back-from-the-dead shit Sam was, and plus, it would only be temporary.
“Yeah, alright. I’m cool with it,” said Bucky after a long, considering moment. “Don’t worry, you won’t have to put up with me for long, just until I find a place.”
Sam had been in enough of Natasha’s safe houses to know: this brownstone wasn’t one of them. The keys Barton had given him had opened the locks, and this was the right address, so this had to be the right place. And yet, Sam couldn’t shake the feeling: it wasn’t a safe house. It was safe enough, probably, and it was definitely a house. It was just missing all those Natasha safe house touches: no booby traps and no cameras, and a layout that had nothing to do with enabling defense or escape.
“You said this was a safe house?” said Bucky, looking around with a critical eye.
“Barton said Natasha said this was a safe house,” said Sam slowly. “But I think—I think it’s just a house.”
Dusty and half-empty, full of a haphazard mix of furniture—a beautifully carved coffee table, some bookshelves filled with books, a couple armchairs but no couch, and that was just the living room—and walls that someone hadn’t finished painting, or that someone had painted two different colors, as if not sure what color to go with yet. Sam thought the pale green looked nicer than the blue, and part of him was already calculating how many buckets of paint it would take to finish the room. Focus, Wilson. The color didn’t matter. What mattered was that Natasha had bothered to paint the place at all, because he doubted she’d bought it in this condition.
No, this was not a safe house. This was a place that might have become a home. The urge to cry twisted up Sam’s throat. Oh, Nat. You should be here.
Bucky moved carefully into the next room, some sort of den or maybe dining room, and Sam followed him. The room was empty, except for an old TV sitting on the floor, a power cord trailing behind it to plug into the wall. Sam hadn’t seen a TV like this since high school maybe: it was one of those combination TV/VCRs that public school AV departments used to favor. Bucky approached the thing like it was a bomb.
“It’s just a TV, Bucky,” Sam told him. “With a VCR. Which I guess is kinda simultaneously before and after your time, but the point is, it’s just a video player.”
Bucky hummed in assent, examining it from every side, before he knelt down to stick his metal finger gingerly into the VCR’s tape slot. “There’s a tape in here.”
Before Sam could tell him to leave it and move on—they probably had a fair amount of work to do to make this place livable in the short-term, and watching whatever ancient tape was stuck in that TV wasn’t going to help—Bucky turned the TV on and hit the VCR’s play button.
There was nothing but static for a couple of seconds, which was just long enough for Sam to remember the valuable life lessons of The Ring, then the static disappeared to show a person: Steve. It was Steve, the Steve in the horrible white uniform who’d left them on the quantum tunnel platform. Sam kneeled down next to Bucky in front of the TV. From this close up, he could hear the faint buzz and sizzle of the old CRT display, could see where the taped footage was a little grainy.
“Hey. So, if I’ve done this right, I’m hoping Bucky and Sam are the ones watching this, and I hope you’re watching this in Natasha’s house. If you’re not James Buchanan Barnes or Sam Wilson, please either get this tape to them, or leave it where you found it.” Steve paused for a moment, taking in a deep breath, then he smiled softly into the camera. “Hey Buck, hey Sam. Hope you two are doing alright and looking out for each other. I’m sorry I can’t be there with both of you right now. You got no idea how much I’ve missed both of you, the last five years. But I’ve got something to do before I can come back home, and I’m not willing to risk either of you.”
Steve paused then, the softness on his face shifting into firm resolve.
“I’m getting Natasha back. Whatever it takes. I’m still gonna return the Infinity Stones, don’t worry. And, hopefully, I’m not gonna fuck up our timeline while I do it. But I’ve got a plan to save Natasha, and I—when I have, when I find her, we’re gonna come home. I promise. Keep a light on for us, alright?” said Steve, a heartbreakingly hopeful kind of half-smile on his face.
“This is why you said he was coming back,” said Sam. “He told you he was gonna—?”
But Steve wasn’t finished talking. On the small TV screen, he swallowed hard and scrubbed at his eyes.
“There were so many things I told myself I’d tell you, both of you, if I ever got the chance. We just never seem to have enough time. I’m gonna tell you one of those things now, but I swear, this isn’t—I’m not saying goodbye, alright? But you gotta know, Sam, Buck: I love you. Both of you. A guy couldn’t ask for better best friends. And every day, every second, I am trying to do you two proud. Alright. See you soon, hopefully.”
The video ended, and the sound of static left after it was loud. Sam wiped at his cheeks, surprised to find them wet with tears.
“You think he can get Natasha back?”
Bucky put a hand on Sam’s shoulder. “If anyone can, it’s Steve.”
“But we saw Old Steve. Was that—was that our Steve? What the hell is our Steve doing? Did he tell you anything else before he left?”
Bucky was quiet for a long moment, and though his eyes were shiny with held back tears, there was nothing but calm, resolute faith on his face. Shit, between that and the long brown hair, Bucky really looked like White Jesus right about now, and Sam had to fight back some wildly inappropriate laughter.
“No,” said Bucky. “And I don’t know shit about how all this Infinity Stone, time travel stuff works. I just know that if Steve says he’s coming back, he’s coming back.” Bucky stood up and held a hand out to him. “Now c’mon. The power works, clearly, but we should check to see if the water in this place is still running.”
The water was still running, and all the appliances even worked. The rest of the brownstone didn’t have much else though: three out of the four bedrooms upstairs had bare beds in them, and nothing else, and the fourth had weapons lockers and boxed up computers, which were some of the more usual contents of Natasha’s safe houses.
Still, Sam saw Natasha in every single thing in this house. Sam had caught her flicking through an interior design magazine once, wrinkling her nose at all the Nordic minimalism on display in one photo spread, but poring over a layout that was all warm wood and cozy textiles with intense interest.
Wouldn’t have thought that was your style, he’d said, looking over her shoulder. Or that you’d be in the market for furniture what with our glamorous fugitive lifestyle.
You never know. A girl’s gotta have dreams.
Her tone had been sly and light the way it usually was, but now Sam was standing in her unfinished dream, and he knew: she’d meant it.
What else had she wanted to fill this living room with? There was a small, weed-choked yard out back: would she have wanted to fill it with a garden? Which of the bedrooms upstairs would she have wanted? The master bedroom, probably, and Steve would have picked the bedroom with the best morning light. But Sam didn’t really know anything else about what they would have wanted, or how Natasha had intended to use this house, and that made Sam not want to change anything about it. Maybe he and Bucky could just rattle around in these half-furnished rooms like unquiet ghosts, waiting for Natasha and Steve to come back and finish bringing them back to life.
The hardwood floors creaked, startling Sam out of his gloomy thoughts, and Bucky stepped into the living room.
“You got a preference for the bedrooms?” asked Bucky. “One of them has an attached bathroom.”
“That should be Natasha’s,” said Sam automatically, and he didn’t know if the awful ache in his heart was hope or grief. Right now, both options hurt just as much. He swallowed past it. “Uh, I’ll take whichever other bedroom, I don’t care.”
“Alright,” said Bucky softly. “I’ll take the room closest to the stairs for now, if that’s okay.”
It took them a couple days to settle in, helped out by enormous care packages from Wakanda and Ms. Potts. Sam felt weird about accepting the boxes of clothes and food, like surely someone else was in more need of this stuff, and he said as much to Bucky.
“Hey, this particular stuff is my stuff,” said Bucky, opening up a box full of clothes and books that Shuri had sent over.
Sam tried not to be too jealous. His mom had sent over a box of those few things of his that she’d kept, but it hadn’t arrived yet, and it would almost certainly be a much smaller box. He and Bucky were still more or less living like squatters in this house. Bucky especially was still giving off a distinct air of I’m a fugitive and I’m ready to make a break for it at any moment what with being armed at all times, and also always keeping his backpack in arm’s reach. It wasn’t really an ideal quality in a roommate. Maybe he’d settle down now that he had some of his stuff back.
“Okay, whatever, but the rest of it,” said Sam, gesturing towards all the nonperishable food. “Like, aren’t there refugees or families who could use it more than we could?”
Bucky looked up from his box, clearly exasperated. “Sam. Most of them are in the exact same boat as we are. Basically everyone who came back needs this kinda stuff. Just ‘cause we’ve got a place to live doesn’t mean we don’t still need food and clothes.”
Sam kept forgetting: he wasn’t just a former fugitive who’d been hastily exonerated and welcomed home as thanks for helping to save the world, he was back from the dead and missing five years, along with half of the entire rest of the planet.
“Yeah, I know, you’re right. I’m not used to needing charity, I guess. I was kinda starting to consider pawning the shield just for the cash.”
Sam was half-joking, but Bucky took him seriously, his forehead getting all frowny and concerned.
“Hey, no, you’re never gonna have to do that. I’ve got more than enough money to tide us over.”
“What? From where? And in what bank accounts?” demanded Sam, because he didn’t have a penny to his name at the moment, beyond the Avengers’ black card Ms. Potts had pressed on him.
“HYDRA accounts, I figure I’m owed. And offshore banking is forever, apocalypse or not, apparently. I’ve still got access to them. I transferred most of it to charities and stuff after Insight, but I kept a rainy day fund.”
“Huh. Okay, well, groceries are on you then until I’m a real live boy with a bank account again.”
“Sure,” said Bucky easily, and then he grinned, a spark of mischief in it. “That doesn’t count as charity to you?”
“Hell no, that’s just compensation on account of how I’ve been emotionally damaged by having to fight Nazis,” said Sam, and Bucky laughed.
“Yeah, that was basically my reasoning too. I’ll pick up some groceries tomorrow.”
Maybe being roommates with Bucky would be okay.
For the first few weeks, Sam was too busy to notice much of anything about what kind of roommate Bucky was, or to even spare much thought to their living situation. All he knew was that Bucky quietly handled most of the practicalities like making sure the house was secure and acquiring household necessities. Same was grateful, because while there were no big battles, no ops or missions, the new Avengers had more than enough to keep them busy in a post-post-apocalypse world, and as the new Captain America, Sam had to be the reassuring symbol of a safe, fresh start, and that took up most of his effort and time. It was a lot like the entire world had been ravaged by a long, quiet war that they had endured rather than fought, and now that it was over, everyone was looking around in shock, wondering where normal had gone and how to get it back.
Sam had to do his best to pretend he wasn’t just another one of those shocked and confused people too, though the truth was, he’d said goodbye to normal back when Steve and Natasha had knocked on his back door in DC. What Sam was missing now was the normal he’d had with them, the unpredictable rhythm of life on the run and secret Avenging.
Sam had a routine again now: training with the Avengers at the temporary HQ in the Tower, meetings with the Avengers and assorted government agencies, and working with whoever needed a boost of superhero help to rebuild or recover. At the end of the day, he went back to the house that he still couldn’t think of as anything other than Natasha’s brownstone, and tried to catch up on everything he’d missed. It wasn’t a bad life. He was doing important work with people he respected and trusted. It just didn’t feel right, not yet.
Was this what it had been like for Steve? Sam wondered. Maybe a little. But Steve, Sam knew, would have given anything to come home with Bucky. Sam was as yet undecided on the merits of that. Because, yeah, sure, it was nice not to live alone, and Bucky always got the groceries and kept the fridge stocked, and he wasn’t even a half-bad cook, but also, Sam had to share a bathroom with him.
“Barnes, you have been in there for forty-five minutes!” said Sam, banging on closed the bathroom door. “Do you have poop issues, is that it? Do I need to get you some fiber, old man?”
“What the fuck, Wilson, no, I don’t have ‘poop issues!’ And what are you, five? Use adult words!”
“Okay, then are you jerking off in there or what—”
“No! I’m taking a bath!”
“Now look who’s acting like he’s five!”
“Oh my god, just use the master bathroom—”
“Plumbing’s busted in there, so get your ass out of the tub, I need to take a shower!”
At least Bucky was scrupulously neat and tidy. Keeping the bathroom clean only just balanced out Bucky’s bathroom hogging tendencies. Or, thought Sam, as he grimly pulled out an enormous clump of dark hair from out of the sink drain, it absolutely did not balance it out. Sharing a bathroom was the fucking worst.
“Barnes!” shouted Sam. “Keep your stupid long hair out of the drains!”
“So, uh, I’m gonna start looking for a place,” said Bucky over dinner, a couple months after they’d moved in.
“Anything to avoid having to unclog the bathroom drains, huh?”
Bucky rolled his eyes. “No, I just figure you’re settled in okay, you must want this place to yourself by now.”
Sam was settled in okay, and he could admit it was thanks to Bucky. Sure, the house still looked like it was mid-renovation, or like they hadn’t quite finished moving in yet, but it was livable, with all the important stuff working. It was also now officially as secure as a safe house, because Bucky was a paranoid bastard, but better safe than sorry, Sam supposed.
“Hey, don’t leave on my account if you’re not ready. And definitely don’t leave if you’re just planning on finding some sketchy warehouse to squat in. You’re not, you know, an awful roommate.”
“Thanks,” said Bucky dryly. “But I’m guessing you just want those sweet groceries bought with re-appropriated HYDRA funds.”
Sam grinned at him. “Maybe. Let me know if you need any help though. Apartment hunting’s practically a full-contact sport now.”
“Yeah, okay, sure. Thanks.”
“So apparently, a bag full of cash is not an adequate substitute for a credit check, and neither is being an Avenger,” reported Bucky after one week of apartment hunting.
He plopped himself down at Sam’s table with a sigh. No one at the surrounding tables spared him a second glance: by now, the Avengers were a familiar sight in the Stark Industries cafeteria that doubled as the Avengers’ temporary mess hall.
Sam sighed and put his tablet down. “Just when I think you’re equipped for modern life, you have to prove me wrong. Did you need me to co-sign your rental applications or something?”
“I don’t know, how’s your credit after being a fugitive and then being dead for five years?” asked Bucky as he stole a fry off Sam’s plate.
“Get your own! And excuse you, us un-Snaptured prefer the term ‘being temporarily nonexistent’, thanks. Also, my credit is better than yours is after being presumed dead while being a brainwashed assassin for seventy years, then being a fugitive, and then being dead for five additional years,” retorted Sam, then paused.
Shit. How was his credit? Probably not good at all. Whatever, that was just gonna have to be a problem for future Sam.
“I know you’re joking, but yeah, your credit probably is better than mine. I mean, it exists, for one thing, and apparently that matters.”
“Yeah, unfortunately, it does.” Sam forwent the rant on how discriminatory credit checks for housing ended up being, and how much they fucked over the unbanked and people trying to get back on their feet. It wasn’t particularly helpful to Bucky at the moment. “Seriously, just let me co-sign for you, it’s no big deal.”
“Really?” said Bucky, the look of wide-eyed gratitude on his face making him seem all of ten years old. He pulled a stack of papers out of his backpack and slid them over to Sam. What the fuck, Sam didn’t remember rental applications being so long. “Thanks, Sam.”
Sam’s hand cramps from filling in so many damn forms weren’t in vain, because with Sam as a co-signer, Bucky actually managed to get accepted as a potential tenant by landlords and property management companies. The waiting lists were still ridiculously long, of course; a couple months post-un-Snapture, housing was a big issue. People were happy to open up their homes to let those who’d returned have a spare room or couchsurf, but that charity didn’t extend to the housing market itself, to say nothing of the widespread legal clusterfuck of people returning to homes they no longer technically owned. If Sam had thought getting an apartment in Brooklyn was bad before, it was maybe even more wildly competitive now.
So Sam wasn’t surprised that it took Bucky a few weeks to actually get himself to the top of a waiting list. When it was finally time to hoof it to the apartment and sign the papers before anybody else could get there first, Sam went with Bucky to co-sign the lease. Upon actually seeing the apartment though, Sam exercised his co-signer’s rights to nix the place, because it was a roach-infested death trap. From the outside, the grimy building had a distinct and concerning rightward tilt, and the inside was no better. Sam worried that if Bucky knocked into any of the apartment’s walls with his metal arm, the whole thing would collapse.
“Naw, Bucky. You cannot live here.”
“I mean, it’s not that much worse than my place in Bucharest…?” A roach skittered out from under the kitchen’s grimy fridge. Bucky flinched. “Never mind.”
Bucky missed out on the next few apartments by virtue of them being too busy with Avengers business to drop everything and run to sign some papers and pick up keys, and then the next batch of possibilities all rejected Bucky and Sam’s collectively meager credit score.
“I hear Jersey has a lot more vacancies,” suggested Sam during Month Two of the Great Apartment Hunt.
Bucky got an expression on his face that Sam had previously thought was reserved for foul-smelling dead alien monsters.
“Jersey? Not even if I was brainwashed and amnesiac again.”
When Bucky finally got to the top of a waiting list for a perfectly nice one-bedroom, fifth-floor walkup in Bed-Stuy, and they both managed to get to the rental office door in time to sign the papers and hand over the deposit for first and last, a new wrinkle presented itself in the form of a family of three arriving just as Sam and Bucky were about to head inside.
“You’re here for Apartment 5C?” asked the harried and tired looking man.
He was weighed down with a briefcase and a few duffel bags stuffed nearly to bursting. Sam wondered if he and his family had just arrived in New York, or if maybe they’d just returned. His wife looked nearly as haggard as he did, and she had a cute, curly-haired toddler on her hip. She was shifting him around like she’d been carrying him for a while. Sam’s muscles twitched with the automatic desire to offer to take the kid, but that kinda thing only went over well when he was in the Cap uniform.
“Uh, yeah,” said Bucky. “You too?”
The man slumped, everything about him seeming to grow more wrinkled and grey. “Yes. We’re too late, I suppose.”
Bucky’s eyes did that thing where they got very big and very sad, before his face settled into an expression of stubborn certainty. Goddammit, Sam saw what was coming here, and he couldn’t even be mad about it.
“No. No, you’re not too late. Here, let me take those for you, sir,” said Bucky, and gently took charge of the man’s bags. “Apartment’s yours, if you want it.”
“But—but you got here first?” said the woman, then she squinted at Sam. “Wait, are you Captain America?”
Sam nodded and shrugged, as Bucky said, “Yeah, I got here first, which means I can give you my spot, if I want. C’mon, let’s go inside so you can sign the papers and get your keys.”
The couple—Ali and Fauzia—protested, but Bucky would hear none of it as he chivvied them into the office.
“I’ve still got a place to stay,” he told them. “Don’t worry about me.”
As Ali and Fauzia sat down in the lobby to deal with the paperwork, Bucky distracted the kid with his shiny metal arm, and Sam got some of the family’s story. In some ways, they’d been lucky: the whole family had gotten Snapped, so they hadn’t had to mourn each other. But they’d been abroad visiting family at the time, and when the Snap was undone, they were stranded there without papers. It had taken them this long just to get back to New York, where of course they didn’t have a place to live any more.
“One doesn’t grow used to being a refugee,” said Ali with a tired grimace.
“Especially not when it’s like this!” said Fauzia. “I still can’t believe we’ve lost five years.”
Ali, wincing and rubbing at his back, moved to stand and submit his paperwork, but Bucky forestalled him. “Here, I’ll take it, sir.”
Ali smiled at Bucky and settled back in his chair with a sigh. “We have lost five years, but allahu akbar, we have been returned to life, and we have each other, and that is a miracle. The rest will sort itself out, inshallah.”
“Inshallah,” murmured Sam.
He spotted Bucky pulling out the envelope of his own cash for the family’s first and last rent deposit from his pocket, and handing it over to the receptionist with the paperwork.
“These are your copies,” Bucky told Ali and Fauzia, when he came back with a packet of papers that Sam knew was thicker than it should have been; Bucky was giving them back their money.
Warmth bloomed in Sam’s chest, expansive and sharp enough to ache. He cleared his throat to dislodge the happy tears caught there and said, “Let me give y’all some resources for the returned…”
They didn’t leave until they got Ali, Fauzia, and little Ahmad settled in the thankfully furnished apartment. To Sam’s surprise, Bucky accepted a long, tight hug of thanks from Ali. Bucky hugged Ali back with gentle caution, mindful of his own strength, Sam supposed. Sam couldn’t hear what the two of them told each other, but when they separated, they were both smiling. They all exchanged phone numbers and promises to keep in touch, and then Sam and Bucky left the exhausted but joyful family to spend their first night together in their new home.
“You’re a good man, Bucky Barnes,” Sam told him on the way back to Natasha’s brownstone.
The words were true, but they were a shortcut for something else, something Sam didn’t know how to express after seeing Bucky’s selfless kindness, something that almost ached, but in a good way. This felt different, somehow, from the super heroics of their day job—more personal, maybe.
Bucky just ducked his head and shrugged. “Nah, anyone else would’ve done the same.”
“Really don’t think so. Anyone else definitely wouldn’t have paid their deposit for them,” said Sam.
“Just putting HYDRA’s money to better use,” said Bucky, sticking his hands in his jacket pockets, his shoulders hunching up.
Sam let the deflections slide, and they walked in silence for a minute or two. “Hey, you can just stay, you know. You don’t have to get a place of your own.”
“I don’t wanna—impose, I guess. I know you weren’t ever planning on getting stuck with me, I don’t wanna overstay my welcome.”
“I think we’re past just being stuck with each other by now, Bucky. We’re teammates, aren’t we?” said Sam, gently bumping Bucky with his shoulder.
“Yeah. But you shouldn’t have to live with the guy who’s tried to kill you twice. At least. God, it was only twice, right?”
Bucky looked genuinely upset to need the clarification, so Sam swallowed down any inappropriate laughter or smart ass comments.
“Bucky, that’s—listen, you know I don’t think any of that was on you, right?” asked Sam.
Shit, Bucky did know, didn’t he? Except, maybe he didn’t. They hadn’t ever really talked about it, beyond the occasional joke. Sam had thought forgiveness was implied what with working together and trusting Bucky to have his back in the field, but maybe Sam had to use his words here.
“Sure,” muttered Bucky, eyes downcast. Shit, yeah, Sam had to use his words.
Sam stopped walking, and put out a hand to stop Bucky too. “Hey, seriously. Maybe I’ve been kinda an asshole about it, but I don’t blame you for any of that shit. You weren’t exactly behind the wheel.”
Bucky lifted his eyes, and in the streetlamp-lit twilight, they shone like a pair of old coins. “I still did it.”
“And if you need forgiveness from me for it, you’ve got it. There’s plenty of shit about you that annoys me, but the things you did as the Winter Soldier, the things that happened to you when you were brainwashed and mind wiped? None of that counts, as far as I’m concerned.”
Maybe Sam still woke up in a cold sweat every so often after late-night replays of the Project Insight fight, or nightmares of the dead-eyed Winter Soldier coming for him like some kind of implacable Terminator. But memories of the real Bucky, the one he lived with and worked with and was, at this point, friends with, had long since crowded out any unease with the remnants of the Winter Soldier. That guy was so different from the Bucky Sam had been living with for the past three months that he couldn’t imagine how anyone could ever mistake them for each other.
Bucky let out one long, shaky breath. “Okay. Um. Thanks.”
“If you wanna move out ‘cause you hate living with me, or just ‘cause you wanna be on your own, that’s cool. But don’t leave on my account. Spare yourself this whole apartment hunting ordeal and stay.”
“Alright,” said Bucky quietly, eyes still downcast, but smiling now. “I’ll stay.”
As the weeks turned into months, people started calling the five years between when Thanos had snapped half the population away and their return the Blip. It didn’t take a former counselor to psychoanalyze that word choice. People wanted it all to have been a blip, an aberration, a glitch easily skipped over before the return to normalcy. Sam didn’t blame them. He just couldn’t be one of those people.
For one thing, the empty spaces in Sam’s life couldn’t be skipped over. They yawned wide and enormous, and maybe he could keep flying over them, wings and shiny new Captain America shield on his back, but he couldn’t ever ignore them. He wasn’t going to get back to any kind of normal until Steve and Natasha came back, and if they didn’t—Sam tried not to think about if they didn’t. He held to Bucky’s faith, if not his own.
Bucky’s patient faith in Steve’s return was alternately comforting and infuriating, just like his presence as a roommate. Bucky was neat and tidy, and if he kept weird hours when he couldn’t sleep, or if he woke Sam up with his nightmares every so often, well, Sam wasn’t about to hold that against the guy. Sometimes it was Sam up at weird hours or coming awake with a shout, after all, so he figured they were even on that score, and in the dead of night after unquiet dreams, there was a comfort in knowing he wasn’t alone.
One night, their nightmares aligned, and Bucky knocked lightly on Sam’s door. Sam must have made more noise than he’d thought.
“Sorry, did I wake you? I’m alright, man, you can go back to sleep.”
“I was already up. Wondered if you wanted company,” said Bucky, his voice still hoarse with sleep.
Was Bucky asking for his own sake, or for Sam’s? It didn’t matter: the remnants of Sam’s dream made his decision for him. He wanted to feel solid, right about now, he wanted to feel seen. He didn’t remember turning to dust, not really—there’d only been a dizzying moment of wrongness, then nothing—but his sleeping brain sure liked to act like he’d felt and seen all of it, and tonight’s attempt had featured a slow disintegration of his body that no one but Sam had noticed.
“Yeah,” he said. “Gimme a minute.”
“I’ll be down in the kitchen.”
Bucky hadn’t turned on any lights on his way downstairs, so Sam stepped carefully until he reached the island of warm golden light that surrounded the kitchen, where Bucky was perched on one of the chairs at the kitchen counter. His hands cupped a steaming mug of something, and another mug waited for Sam on the counter.
“Thanks,” said Sam. He took a seat on the chair beside Bucky and sipped carefully at the hot liquid. The scent and taste were unfamiliar, woody and sweet, but it went down easy and the spreading warmth made Sam feel more present in his body.
“It’s a tea from Wakanda, supposed to be calming,” said Bucky, his voice still pitched rough and quiet. “Shuri sent some back along with my stuff.”
“It’s good,” murmured Sam. They sipped in silence for a minute as the tea did its job. “You ever dream of it? The Snap, I mean?”
Bucky hummed in assent, and stared into his tea, his eyes shaded and shadowed by his long lashes, his expression too close to absent for comfort.
“I saw it, you know. When my hand started turning to dust. Had just enough time to call for Steve. It felt—I don’t know. Like coming undone.”
Despite the hot tea warming his throat and hands, Sam went ice cold. He’d assumed it’d been the same for all of them, a moment of disorienting strangeness then nothing, but Bucky had felt it, had known—Something of his horror must have shown, because Bucky’s distant, hazy look cleared some, and he focused on Sam.
“It’s not—it’s okay. I dream about it sometimes, but it’s—they’re not nightmares. Just—weird dreams. Figure my brain is full up on nightmares, no new ones need apply.”
Sam snorted out a startled laugh. “Jesus, Barnes.”
“Do you? Dream about it, I mean.”
“Yeah. I didn’t feel it, when it happened, but tell my subconscious that.”
“You can wake me, if—I mean, in Wakanda, when I couldn’t sleep, when the nightmares were bad, there was always someone to sit with me. And—it helped. A lot. More than—I don’t know, a lot more than I’d ever expected.”
Bucky nodded. “Don’t know if I’ll be as good at it as Oluchi and Thandiwe and the others were. But I can try.”
“Yeah, okay. Thanks. You can wake me up too, you know. If you need it,” he said.
Bucky smiled at him, the sad and sweet smile that lived mostly in the fine lines around his eyes, and ducked his head back down to sip more tea. They sat in comfortable silence as they sipped on their cooling tea, Natasha’s house dark and silent around their little island of golden light.
So sharing wakeful nights with Bucky was a definite pro when it came to being roommates with Bucky. Sharing a bathroom with him remained firmly in the con column: Bucky spent as much time in there as Sam’s two sisters had in high school, and he used up all the hot water.
There was also how Bucky no longer bothered to make noise as he moved around the house. Sam hadn’t even goddamn realized that the audible steps on the hardwood floors and the rustling of clothes had all been so deliberate on Bucky’s part, a guest’s courtesy in a living space he’d figured was temporary. Now that the temporary part was off the table, Bucky lapsed back into moving around like a goddamn assassin, and it seemed like every other day that Sam was stifling a scream when Bucky came into the kitchen after him, so quiet that Sam didn’t even realize he was there until he turned from the stove or fridge to see him at the counter.
On one notable occasion, Sam had looked up from the armchair where he himself was reading the latest stack of reports from Maria Hill, only to manfully shriek when he saw Bucky sitting curled up in the armchair opposite him.
“Jesus, what’s wrong?” asked Bucky.
“How long have you been sitting there?” demanded Sam, clutching his papers to his chest.
“Like, an hour, did you not notice?”
“No! No, I did not notice, because you make less noise than a goddamn ghost, what the fuck! I’m gonna have a fucking heart attack, I swear to god.”
“Oh. Sorry. I’ll…try to make more noise? I swear, I’m not doing it on purpose.”
Bucky looked so awkward and apologetic that Sam believed him, but that didn’t make it any easier to stop jumping every time Bucky entered a room as silently as if he were stalking prey.
Sam had to admit though, that when Bucky’s sudden, silent presence didn’t scare a few years of life off of him, it was nice to have him around. Sam was used to being the relatively steady one, the guy who kept it real no matter how weird and wild things got, but being resurrected and losing five years made that pretty damn hard. Bucky, in contrast, was rock-solid steady, to an almost concerning degree. Coming back from the dead, losing years—none of it was new to him, and he was proof that all that and much worse were survivable. If there was some comfort in knowing Sam was in the same boat as half the rest of the planet—the universe, even—there was even more comfort still in living with someone who’d been on an earlier, much more ramshackle boat in those same waters, and who had found safe harbor.
Even if, on occasion, Bucky’s coping mechanisms were pretty fucking weird.
“You know Hill has, like, a whole team of people handling the intel analysis on HYDRA and terrorist-affiliated groups during the Blip, right? You don’t have to have your own wall of crazy about it.”
Bucky glared at him from where he was pinning up a new set of satellite images on his cork board. When the hell had Bucky even gotten a cork board anyway, and why was it in the living room?
“You ever wonder how I stayed off literally everybody’s radar after Insight?” He gestured towards the board and his laptop. “This is how.”
“You’re not on the run anymore, man.”
“Sure, but these guys might still be interested in the Winter Soldier.”
“Right, okay, but it’s just a little weird that this is the literal only thing you’re interested in about the five years we missed.”
“It’s directly relevant to me, which is more than you can say for all the sad TV shows that aired during the Blip that you’re watching. Are any of them even good? Because they all just seem really grim and depressing.”
“Hey, Glass Half Full is a sitcom!”
“You have watched multiple episodes where the laugh track wasn’t a laugh track, it was just a cry track. It’s fuckin’ creepy.”
Bucky wasn’t wrong. People got real weird during the Blip, from what Sam could tell, and the frequent public displays of catharsis had quickly tipped over from seeming like healthy expressions of shared grief right into being some real horror movie shit.
“I’m just trying to understand what people went through while we were gone.”
“People don’t wanna dwell on it, Sam,” said Bucky, glancing at him from over his shoulder. “And take it from me, it doesn’t go anywhere good if you do. You gotta live now, you gotta look to the future.”
Bucky had a point, not that Sam would admit it to him. Sam himself had counseled vets about exactly the same thing: the past is over, and we can’t change it. Look to what you can change: your present, your future. The problem was, while Sam was doing just fine with his present, and was even okay with his near future, anything past the next few months was a blank. He remembered what Steve had told him, during the long search for Bucky: I can’t think past finding Bucky. I don’t think I can make plans for a future if they don’t involve him. Sam got it, now. He couldn’t make plans for a future if they didn’t involve Steve and Natasha. At the very least, he needed to know whether to mourn them or not.
He didn’t feel so stuck when it came to the job, thankfully. With Rhodey’s help, Sam led the Avengers’ post-Blip efforts: supporting the world’s continuing recovery, handling the villains and assholes who tried to take advantage of those who’d returned, training up a new team, liaising with their colleagues in space. Given all that, did it really matter that he was still living in a half-furnished, half-renovated house?
Bucky thought it did, apparently.
“We should probably get, like, more actual furniture at some point. Shouldn’t we?” said Bucky over dinner one night.
Four and a half months into living in Natasha’s brownstone, and neither Sam nor Bucky had yet done much of anything to the house apart from moving any inconveniently placed furniture, and getting household necessities like sheets and towels. Looking around now, a vivid possible future flashed across Sam’s mind: Steve and Natasha coming back, taking in the whole gave-up-on-renovations-halfway-through, squatters vibe Sam and Bucky had going, and saying why have you two been living like this?
He answered their imaginary future question instead of Bucky’s.“We’ve been busy! And I hate Ikea!”
Bucky frowned at him from over his takeout container. “Okay? We don’t have to go to Ikea though. And if you’re too busy, I can take care of it. We should at least get a couch. And a kitchen table, we can’t keep doing this eating at the kitchen counters thing.”
“Oh I see how it is, someone’s got ideas now that he’s an official roommate,” said Sam, uncertain if he approved of Bucky’s initiative when it came to interior design.
This was Natasha’s house, was the thing. Sam and Bucky were practically house sitters. Hopefully. God, Sam really hoped they were just house sitters. And house sitters didn’t buy a bunch of new furniture. The counselor part of Sam unhelpfully floated the possibility that this was the denial stage of grief talking, but counselor Sam could shut it. Stages of grief didn’t apply when there were potential rescues via time travel in progress.
“Well, yeah,” said Bucky. “Also, I really want a couch.”
“Whatever, sure, go get some furniture.”
Over the next week and a half, furniture started appearing in the house. The couch showed up first: an enormous, squishy, dark green sectional with deep and wide cushions that, while it didn’t exactly match with the two dark blue armchairs already in the living room, didn’t exactly not match either. When Sam sat on the couch, he immediately understood why Bucky had bought it.
“Oh, that’s nice.” He sank back into the cushions, which welcomed him eagerly.
“Right? It’s the exact right amount of squishy.”
Next was a sturdy kitchen table and matching chairs, and a couple of desks for a makeshift office space, followed by dressers for the bedrooms, and assorted other odds and ends. It was all nice, well-made stuff, no Ikea flatpack furniture, and it even fit in with what was already in the house. Sam was sufficiently inspired by Bucky’s interior decorating binge that he made some contributions of his own, mostly in the form of throw pillows and rugs and painting the walls, and after a couple weeks, the house lost its half-abandoned vibe.
Bucky didn’t stop with the furniture. His next home improvement project was the square of dirt and weeds behind the house that might, at one point, have been a garden. One Saturday morning, he hauled in big bags of soil and assorted gardening implements as Sam drank his morning coffee and watched, bemused. When Sam asked him about it, Bucky just shrugged with one shoulder, as if to say it wasn’t a big deal.
“Had a garden in Wakanda. I miss it, is all. And it seems like a shame to waste the space. Unless, do you think—uh, would Natasha not want—”
“I don’t know. Doubt she’d say no to homegrown tomatoes or whatever though,” said Sam. “You looking to recreate your little Wakandan farmstead?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, that yard doesn’t have anywhere near enough room for goats,” said Bucky. “I was thinking of going with a chicken coop instead.”
Sam stared at Bucky, who looked back with complete earnestness. “You want to keep chickens? In Brooklyn?”
“People used to do it all the time back in my day. Free source of eggs!”
“Okay, well it’s not the Great Depression anymore, gramps, and I am absolutely vetoing a chicken coop in our backyard, are you kidding me—” Bucky broke into a grin. “Oh I see, you are kidding me, very funny.”
“I thought it was. Seriously though, it’s just gonna be some herbs and vegetables, maybe some flowers too. If there’s anything you wanna plant, you can let me know. Or you can work on it with me, I wouldn’t say no to the help.”
“I haven’t really got a green thumb, so I wouldn’t be much help. Just clearing it out seems like it’ll be a big job, you gonna have time to plant anything before winter?”
“Maybe not, but I don’t mind. It’ll be ready for spring.”
Bucky’s casual answer belied the intensity with which he worked on the little plot of land, and the attention he devoted to it through late summer and autumn, but Sam recognized a coping mechanism when he saw it, so he left Bucky to it. Sam couldn’t help but wonder though: would Steve and Natasha be back by the time Bucky’s garden bloomed next spring?
Their first real mission as a team after the Blip was simple, as Avengers’ missions went. Some scumbag human traffickers had taken advantage of displaced kids and teenagers desperate to get back home to their families, and had been ransoming them back to their families. When the families didn’t, or couldn’t, pony up the ransom, they funneled the kids into the usual horrifying avenues. The Avengers were called in to deal with it both for the optics—the heroes were back and ready to save people, things were going to be safe, things were going to be normal—and because they needed to rescue the kids fast, before they were moved.
It just so happened to be that this was Sam’s first for-real mission as Captain America too.
“Looks good on you,” said Bucky, when Sam walked down into the living room in his own version of the stars and stripes, the shield on his arm.
Bucky walked over, casting a sharp and assessing eye over Sam’s body armor. He reached out to tighten a strap here and there. Once he was satisfied, he smiled at Sam, a complicated thing that was a tangle of pain and pride and encouragement.
“Yeah, Cap.” Part of Sam still wanted to turn, look for Steve, but Bucky was looking at him, and the shield was on Sam’s back. “You got this.”
Sam breathed in deep, and squared his shoulders. “Hell yeah, I do. Let’s go.”
The mission went off without a hitch, mostly. The traffickers weren’t exactly a sophisticated operation, more opportunistic than anything else. Between Sam, Bucky, Rhodey, Lang and Van Dyne, they had more than enough firepower to deal with them. Bucky stayed on overwatch in the warehouse rafters, while Lang and Van Dyne went in to get the kids and Rhodey and Sam took on the traffickers. The shield flew from Sam’s hands easily, though every time it came back, it jarred his bones with its unexpected weight.
He was feeling good about it, until a couple of the traffickers burst out of a hidden trap door and got the drop on him. Or, almost got the drop on him. Sam knew in a split second that he didn’t have enough time to let the shield fly—he was no super soldier, he didn’t have Steve’s superhuman fast reflexes—and he hoped like hell his body armor could take a few bullets. When he heard the booming cracks of gunfire though, no bullets hit him. The two traffickers dropped.
“Alright, Cap?” said Bucky’s voice in his ear, calm and even.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good,” said Sam, and willed his heart rate back to steadiness. “Thanks, Barnes.”
After, Sam did all the right superhero things: he comforted the kids, he liaised with local LEOs, he did the press conference. But the whole time, he couldn’t forget that split-second moment, the near-miss that might’ve ended his career as Cap when it had barely begun.
“So is this how this Avenging thing usually goes, when it’s not about alien invasions and evil robots?” said Bucky when they were back in Natasha’s brownstone, on the stupidly squishy couch Bucky had bought, having a couple celebratory beers. “Saving kids and taking out asshole human traffickers? ’Cause I gotta say, it’s pretty great.”
“Yeah, this is the life,” said Sam absently, picking at the beer bottle’s label.
Sam could practically feel Bucky’s frown radiating out, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bucky set his beer down on the coffee table. On a coaster, of course, because he was that kind of person.
“Hey. This was a good mission. Saved the civilians, no casualties. Why the long face?”
“Those traffickers almost got the drop on me. All I could think was, I’m not as fast as Steve. Maybe I’m Cap now, but I’m not as fast as Steve, and someday, that’s gonna get someone killed. It almost got me killed today.”
“I’m as fast as Steve,” said Bucky, and Sam looked at him. Bucky looked back, nothing but calm certainty on his face. “And I’ve got your back.”
“Shit, you really do just come along with the shield, don’t you.”
The words came out stilted and harsh, wavering uncomfortably somewhere between a joke and a barb, and Sam winced, covering it with a swig of beer. Bucky didn’t find it a particularly funny joke, apparently.
“I’m not the weapon that comes along with the shield, Wilson, I’m a person who’s making a choice,” said Bucky, flat and furious.
Fuck. That’s not what I meant, Sam wanted to say, but the words rang hollow even in his own head. Sam forced himself to look at Bucky, to meet the hurt and anger in his eyes. Shame roiled like bile in Sam’s gut, and the smell of the beer still in his hand turned sickening. He set it down on the table before it could turn his stomach even more.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I know that, and I know you’ve got my back and I’m grateful as hell, I’m just—being an asshole for no reason. Some Captain America I am, huh? Nearly got myself shot, and now I’m here being a dick to the guy who saved me.”
Bucky sighed, the anger and hurt in his eyes fading like they’d never been there at all.
“You’re doing fine, Sam. And if it helps, it’s never been the shield I give a shit about. I wasn’t Cap’s sidekick during the war, I was Steve’s backup. And I’m not Cap’s sidekick now. I’m the guy who has Sam Wilson’s, my teammate’s, back. Okay?”
Sam believed him, but even if Bucky felt no obligation to the shield and everything it represented, there was still a Steve-shaped hole in their lives. Was it just for Steve’s sake that Bucky was sticking with him? Sam let out one long, shaky sigh. Maybe so, maybe not. But he was here. He’d watched Sam’s six today, and he’d saved Sam’s life, probably. Gratitude won out over resentment.
“Okay,” said Sam, before holding his hand out to Bucky. “Partners, then.”
Bucky smiled, small but sincere, and took Sam’s hand in a steady grip. “Partners sounds good.”
Content note: Bucky has a panic attack and/or flashback during sex, and some unspecified Winter Soldier trauma is alluded to. Sam stops as soon as it happens. If you need any additional content notes for this scene, please let me know and I'll be happy to provide them.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“I am too young and beautiful to be stuck in this house with you on a Friday night, Barnes.”
Sam flopped down on the other end of the couch where Bucky was curled up reading a book. Bucky snorted and didn’t look up as he turned the page.
“You aren’t so young, pal. Aren’t you, like, 40?”
“Okay, first of all, years spent dusted don’t count, and second of all, you are literally over 100 years old. And I am not 40.”
Sam was 38, thank you very much, and he was in his prime.
“Years spent dusted or frozen don’t count,” retorted Bucky. “Also, I’m not keeping you here, Wilson. You can go out.”
Could Sam go out though? Like, really go out? As in, on a date or even for a hookup for no-strings-attached sex? Evidence pointed to no. It had, at this point, been literal years. Because it turned out, being a fugitive wasn’t conducive to a healthy dating life, and neither was being Captain America. Which, in retrospect, maybe explained some things about Steve, actually.
“I haven’t been on a date in years,” said Sam, the true horror of it sinking in. “It’s been literal, whole-ass years. The last hookup I had was with some guy in a bar in Mykonos while we were still on the run.”
Now Bucky actually looked up from his book, his eyebrows beginning to slant with annoyance. “Aren’t there, you know, apps for that or whatever?”
“What do you know about dating apps, old man? Holy shit, don’t tell me you’ve used them.”
Bucky sighed and buried his face in his book again. “You’re not the only one who hasn’t had a date in years. Or decades, really,” he muttered. “You’re not a traumatized former assassin though, and you’re not a fugitive anymore either, so what the hell’s keeping you from stepping out with someone?”
Sam wasn’t sure if it made him feel better or worse that he was in the same sexually frustrated boat as Bucky was.
“I’ve been kinda busy, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Taking on the mantle of Captain America and helping the Avengers lead post-post-apocalypse clean up took up a lot of time and energy. Worrying about Steve and missing Natasha took up a lot of emotional energy too, and that wasn’t even getting into wondering just how the hell Steve planned to get Natasha back.
It stressed Sam out just thinking about it. Every couple weeks he asked Bucky if they should find some Pym particles and go after Steve or something, before he unravelled the fabric of spacetime, but Bucky just looked shifty and told him to trust Steve and not to worry about it.
Sam had a lot going on, was the point, and ‘stepping out’ with someone wasn’t really something he had time or energy for.
“You’re not looking too busy now,” noted Bucky. Sam couldn’t deny that he had a point there.
If this were four years ago, before he became a superhero—shit, nine years ago, Sam still wasn’t used to missing five whole years—Sam would have spent half an hour or so swiping through Tinder or Grindr, or he’d have gone to a bar or a club, and found someone to have a night of mutually fun casual sex with. Even if he still had the time and energy for it, that wasn’t really an option anymore.
“Yeah, no, Captain America can’t have casual sex with strangers.”
Bucky looked at him with raised eyebrows. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you’d planned to suit up to go pick someone up in a bar or whatever.”
“That’s not what—” Sam groaned, then continued, “I just mean, it’s not that easy anymore. My private life isn’t so private, and that kinda shit matters, now. There was an entire damn news cycle about me getting a speeding ticket and how that makes me a terrible role model. I don’t wanna give people more reasons to say I’m a shitty Captain America. Imagine the news cycle if I have a one-night stand with someone and they go straight to the tabloids.”
“Just gonna have to be you and your hand then, I guess. Or you could just date someone you already know. Maria Hill, or, I don’t know, Scott Lang—”
“Tic Tac? Hell no. He’s with Hope Van Dyne anyway.”
“The point is, maybe you can’t ask a stranger out, but you know a lot of people. There’s gotta be at least one of ‘em who doesn’t think you’re the worst.”
“Yeah, yeah…what about you?”
Bucky’s head snapped up from his book. “What?”
“You said you haven’t had a date in years either.” That made Bucky’s face go still and blank in a way that boded ill for the rest of this conversation, so Sam hurried to add, “You can’t tell me you didn’t have any good prospects in Wakanda.”
Expression leaked back into Bucky’s face, even if that expression was wry annoyance.
“I was the weird, one-armed white guy living in what was basically a retirement village,” he said, then tilted his head and squinted thoughtfully. “Though you know, if Lwazi had been interested, I probably wouldn’t have said no to him.” Sam definitely wanted to follow up on that tidbit of knowledge, not least the fact that Lwazi was a he, but Bucky continued, “Anyway, did you miss the traumatized ex-assassin part?”
“You’re a certified superhero now, come on. That makes up for the ex-assassin part.” Bucky made a scrunched-up, dubious face that Sam tried not to find adorable, and Sam continued, “But hey, I hear you, nothing wrong with not feeling up for getting down, after the shit you’ve been through.”
Sam was feeling a little sorry he’d even brought this up with Bucky now. It was a dick move to whine about not being able to get laid for reasons that were, ultimately, trivial and almost certainly fleeting, when Bucky was probably dealing with way bigger obstacles.
Bucky shrugged. “Feeling, uh, up for it is not the problem. I feel plenty ready. I just—um, can’t. With, you know, strangers, or—” Bucky grimaced, his shoulders hunching up. “—or anyone, maybe.”
“You talk to your therapist about that?” asked Sam, shooting for casual.
“Yeah. She says I gotta acclimate or whatever. Trust someone, take it slow. Or just rip the band-aid off fast and get it over with. Either way though, I’d have to—uh, let someone get that close, and I’m not sure that’s gonna go well. Guess I’m still too much of a fucking mess.”
Bucky was curled up tight and small on his end of the couch now, eyes fixed on his book even though Sam could tell he wasn’t reading. Sam was abruptly, furiously sad for him; Sam liked to give him shit, sure, but Bucky was doing so well, had worked so damn hard to free himself from HYDRA and deal with his shit. Sam had been a distant well-wisher for all of that, having gotten only brief updates on Bucky’s recovery in Wakanda, but he’d seen enough to know that Bucky should be proud as hell of how far he’d come, of the person he was now: steady and gentle and kind, with a dumbass sense of humor and a knack for annoying Sam with it, but with the ability to still be a terrifying superhero badass when necessary. He deserved to go on dates with people who liked him, he deserved to have awkward but fun hookups if that was what he wanted.
“Trusting someone’s a big ask, I’m guessing,” said Sam gently, and Bucky nodded.
“Yeah,” said Bucky, voice gone rough and barely audible. He cleared his throat. “But it’s okay. I don’t need—it’s okay. I got no real complaints with my life.”
Sam looked at Bucky’s profile: his newly short hair flopping over his forehead, his end of the day stubble highlighting his strong jaw, his too-pretty, too-long eyelashes shading his pale eyes. His mouth, downturned in a way Sam wanted to fix. His tense, mismatched hands holding too tightly to his book, when they could have been holding something else.
Sam got an idea. Maybe it was a terrible one, but—he poked at Bucky with his toes.
“Hey,” he said, and poked Bucky’s thigh again, which, what the hell, ouch. Goddamn, Bucky could stand to skip leg day, that was ridiculous.
“Ever heard of friends with benefits? Or, uh, fuck buddies?”
Bucky got that dumb, cute wrinkle on his forehead that meant he was confused. It was always a total crapshoot whether Bucky would get a pop culture reference or some modern slang—Shuri’s 21st century catch up syllabus had apparently been idiosyncratic to say the least. Sam made fun of Bucky when his pop culture knowledge seesawed wildly between the opposing poles of old Amish man and cool Gen Z teenager, and Bucky retaliated by making Wakandan pop culture references Sam didn’t understand, or by straight up inventing ridiculous 30s slang. This, apparently, was one of the gaps in Bucky’s knowledge.
“No,” Bucky said slowly. He marked his page carefully and set down his book. “Though I think I can guess.”
“It’s friends having no strings attached sex. No commitments, nothing serious, just some fun,” said Sam, doing his best to sound casual.
Bucky didn’t look shocked or offended, as far as Sam could tell, but his expression remained otherwise inscrutably neutral.
“Hmm. We called that guys helping each other out back in my day.”
“Yeah? What, quiet hand jobs in shared tents, that kinda thing?” asked Sam, and Bucky gave a one-shouldered shrug. Bucky’s reaction so far wasn’t exactly encouraging, but if Sam was gonna strike out here, he at least had to take a swing first. “I was kinda hoping we could do better than that.”
Not that Sam was averse to quickie hand jobs, he just figured a fuck buddies situation could guarantee better sex than the kind of rushed and desperate combat jacks he’d risked over in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bucky’s mouth dropped open in shock for a few long seconds before he got a hold of himself. His eyes narrowed.
“You want to—I don’t need a pity fuck, Wilson.”
“Who said anything about pity fucks?”
“Uh, this whole situation where you obviously feel sorry for me and my trauma bullshit?” Bucky snapped out, his sharp tone belied by the wounded tension vibrating through him. Fuck, Sam was fucking this up.
“Hey, I don’t feel sorry for you, asshole. I feel for you, ‘cause I know what it’s like, man. It’s not the exact same, but I get it, okay? I know it’s hard to put yourself out there after you’ve been through some shit.”
Bucky relaxed a tiny bit. He wouldn’t meet Sam’s eyes though, and his sad and mad eyebrows situation was inching closer into genuine, actual upset in a way that had Sam’s stomach roiling with guilt. Making Bucky upset was one of the worst feelings in the world, Sam had discovered; there was just something about how Bucky’s stupidly big blue-gray eyes got so damn sad and hurt that made that tragic Sarah McLachlan song start playing in Sam’s head.
“Yeah, well, thanks, but that doesn’t mean you have to—to make me feel better with sex because you’re horny and I’m convenient,” said Bucky. “That doesn’t really do it for me, if you know what I mean.”
“That’s not—okay, clearly I’m not explaining this well. Listen, we’re friends, right?”
“Yes,” said Bucky slowly.
“And we trust each other, right?”
Now Bucky met Sam’s eyes again, but he stayed silent for a disconcertingly long time, and it was all Sam could do to not look away. Bucky’s total, intent focus was—a lot. It was just a lot. It made something go hot and restless in Sam, made his heart pump faster. Fight or flight reflex, maybe, memories of when the Winter Soldier’s focus was an imminent threat to Sam’s life.
Finally, Bucky said, low and solemn, “Yes.”
Sam almost bailed out of this whole fuck buddies plan right then and there. It wasn’t like he didn’t know Bucky trusted him. He proved it in the field, over and over. Bucky jumped off buildings, trusting that Sam would catch him. Sam trusted Bucky right back, trusted in his aim, trusted him to have Sam’s six. Trust felt different in this particular context though. If Sam fucked this up, if he lost Bucky’s trust…well, that would be about five orders of magnitude worse than just upsetting Bucky.
“So that’s what’s important. Having sex, it’s just a bonus. A way for both of us to feel good without having to worry about new people or dating or any of that shit. If it’s a no for you, it’s a no, and I’m not gonna be mad or get weird about it. You can say you’re just not that into me.” Sam sprawled back on his end of the couch in an exaggeratedly sexy pose, hoping to at least get a smile out of Bucky. “Though I am a catch if I do say so myself.”
Bucky didn’t quite smile, but he did roll his eyes, and his cheeks went pink. “That’s not the problem here. I didn’t even know you were into guys. Or, uh, guys like me.”
“Don’t fish for compliments, you know what you look like,” Sam told him.
No one went around blue steeling and walking around with that much hip action and stupidly effortless grace the way Bucky did without knowing they looked like hot shit doing it.
Maybe Bucky didn’t know though, because his blush spread to the tips of his ears, which was hilarious and adorable. “Um. Thanks?”
“And yeah, I’m into guys, some of them guys like you. And women too. So? You wanna do this?”
“Yeah,” said Bucky. His throat worked, Adam’s apple bobbing. “Yeah, okay.”
There was one big problem with initiating friends with benefits casual sex on a random Friday night: figuring out how to get started without making it weird. When Sam made a tentative move towards Bucky on the couch, Bucky scooted away and stood up.
“Not on the couch, I don’t wanna have to clean bodily fluids out of these cushions.”
“Sexy,” said Sam dryly, and Bucky scowled at him through his blush. “Alright, alright, that’s a good point. My bedroom then? I’ve got, you know, stuff.”
“Sure,” said Bucky, so Sam got up and led the way up to his room.
At which point Sam wondered if he should have tried some seduction or foreplay before taking things to the bedroom, because this felt kinda weird. Were seduction and foreplay on the table when it came to friends with benefits? Sam didn’t really know. All he knew was that he didn’t want this to be about rushed hand jobs that were barely a step up from jerking off alone, both for Bucky’s sake and his own. If this was going to be the first post-trauma, post-resurrection fuck for both of them, Sam wanted it to be good. Which was kind of a lot of pressure. With each step upstairs, Sam’s nerves increased. At this rate, he was going to be too nervous to get it up. Maybe this was a bad idea.
When they reached Sam’s bedroom, Bucky stopped at the door.
“Can we start—slow?” asked Bucky, not quite managing to look at Sam’s face as he asked.
Sam’s nerves dissipated like they’d never existed at all. This was Bucky, he remembered. All Sam had to do was not hurt him, make it good for him and hopefully get some mutual orgasms out of it along the way, and everything would be fine.
“Absolutely,” said Sam. “Any time you want to stop, you just say so. It’s no big deal if this doesn’t work out, okay? We don’t need the benefits, after all.”
“Yeah. Yeah, okay.” Bucky snorted out a laugh, and some of the tension in his shoulders eased. “This is a real turn on so far, Wilson, figuring out these so-called benefits.”
Sam laughed, relieved. “Hey, fuck you, I’m trying to provide a better class of experience here than just giving each other awkward hand jobs.”
“Thank you, but maybe we should talk less,” said Bucky, and stepped closer.
Sam took that as his cue to take Bucky by the hand and draw him into the bedroom. Bucky followed, then he stepped closer still, until they were almost flush against each other. From this close up, Sam could see the ring of dark blue in Bucky’s irises, all the gray swallowed up by his dilated pupils. He could feel the heat of Bucky’s body, and Sam knew it had been too damn long since he’d had some mutually pleasurable human contact when just that was enough to start the slow simmer of arousal. Sam put his arms loosely around Bucky’s shoulders, and before he could make any reassuring comments about how Bucky could take his time, Bucky put his hands lightly on Sam’s hips and kissed him.
It was little more than a press of their lips together, just long enough for Sam to get an impression of soft warmth, then Bucky pulled away. Sam gave him a moment; he’d asked for slow, and Sam could give him that. He knew, after all, why this might be hard and overwhelming for Bucky. Bucky seemed to be silently checking in with himself and with Sam, his hands still feather light and steady on Sam’s hips, his eyes intent on Sam’s face.
“Alright?” asked Sam.
“Yeah,” Bucky said, his voice dipping low to reveal an edge of roughness. He walked Sam back towards the bed. “Can we—?”
“Yeah,” said Sam, and let Bucky set the pace and take the lead from there.
Bucky gently positioned Sam so that he was sitting up against the bed’s headboard, then he straddled Sam in one swift, graceful move. The weight of him felt good, and he was so warm. Sam relaxed under him, and maybe that was what Bucky had been waiting for, because he put his hands on Sam’s shoulders and leaned in to kiss him again, and this time, it wasn’t a fast test of a kiss. This was a real getting-to-know-you kind of kiss: a bit hesitant, but leisurely and careful, undemanding yet relentless. It was—a lot, somehow. He wants to go slow, Sam reminded himself, and matched Bucky’s pace.
When Bucky pulled away, there was no uncertainty or anxiety in his eyes, only intent focus, and that was when Sam realized he might have miscalculated here. If Sam had thought Bucky’s undivided attention and focus were a lot in non-sexual contexts, that was nothing compared to being on the receiving end of it in bed. Sam really should have thought this through better, prepared himself, because they were just making out and it already felt more intense than some of the sex Sam had had with longterm partners. Bucky kissed like he’d be happy to do just that all night, and with a diligent, careful attentiveness, as if the movements of Sam’s mouth were secrets Sam was confessing.
Maybe this was just what Bucky considered taking it slow: an exchange of deep, thorough kisses, the heat of their still fully-clothed bodies pressed up against each other. Teenaged and early twenties Sam would have been frustrated and horny as hell, but 38 year-old Sam was embarrassingly into it, into the bounty of all this contact, given and taken with such absolute focus and attention. He was half-hard already, a faint desperation to get more skin on skin action rising up in him like the need to breathe after being underwater.
“You really like making out, huh?” said Sam when they pulled apart for a breather, and his voice came out mortifyingly close to a breathy moan.
Bucky hummed a yes, and started kissing along Sam’s jaw, down to his neck. “That okay with you?” Sam nodded and gasped when Bucky’s lips hit a shockingly sensitive bit of skin under his ear. Bucky made a pleased sound at Sam’s reaction and kept talking, and if this low and almost rumbly drawl was Bucky’s sex voice, goddamn. Sam could stand to hear more of it. “Can’t remember the last time I did this, and that’s not ‘cause of the amnesia. No damn time for it in the middle of a war, you know? I really missed it.”
And here Sam had thought Bucky had wanted to go slow on account of his trauma.
“I can tell,” said Sam, and god, he didn’t want to push, but if Bucky didn’t move his hands from their stubbornly gentlemanly position on Sam’s hips, over his clothes, he was going to pass out from sexual frustration. “We can, you know, move this along closer to second base, if you want.”
“Yeah? What counts as second base?” murmured Bucky with one last kiss before he leaned back on his heels to look at Sam.
A flushed and make-out rumpled Bucky was a real pretty sight, and Sam took a moment to appreciate it: the way Bucky’s eyes had gone dark and heavy-lidded, the red of his lips, and still, all that goddamn focus, sharp and hot and entirely on Sam’s every response.
“Let’s start with you copping a feel,” said Sam. “Or I could.”
Sam had been keeping his hands on Bucky’s shoulders or sides, over his shirt, in deference to his take it slow request, but he wanted more.
“Yeah, okay,” said Bucky, so Sam slipped his hands under Bucky’s shirt and explored all the smooth, warm skin on offer. He wasn’t doing much, just stroking along the strong and lean muscles of Bucky’s torso and back, but Bucky sighed and tilted forward again to kiss Sam.
That got pretty distracting, in a lot of ways: the heat of Bucky’s mouth and bare skin, their bodies pressed up close, the maddening, so good friction on his cock as they rocked gently against each other, Bucky’s little gasps and held back moans that made Sam want to draw some real noise out of him.
Bucky finally got his own hands up under Sam’s shirt, one warm and one cooler, though he paused once he did, his touch staying light as if he were holding something fragile. For the first time since they started fooling around, Bucky looked genuinely anxious.
“Is this okay? With, uh, my left hand, I know it’s not exactly—”
“Hey, it’s fine, I don’t have a problem with it. You’ve got sensation in it, right?”
“So don’t worry about it, your robot arm is cool with me,” said Sam, and he meant it.
It was a little strange, sure, to feel metal when his brain expected to feel skin, but it wasn’t unpleasant. And it was a part of Bucky, Sam wouldn’t reject it any more than he’d reject Bucky’s nose or feet. Which, okay, yeah, sure, Sam had made fun of Bucky’s weird skinny-toed feet just last week, but the point was that Sam wasn’t about to make Bucky hide them. He didn’t like to think about the kind of asshole who wouldn’t be cool with Bucky’s prosthetic, and was glad, suddenly, that if Bucky was going to break a long and unwanted dry streak, he was doing it with Sam.
“Alright,” said Bucky, and settled his hands more firmly on Sam’s bare skin.
“You got any objections to us taking some of these clothes off? Because otherwise this is all gonna end in me coming in my pants, and I’d kinda hoped those days were behind me after high school.”
Instead of answering, Bucky grinned and tugged Sam’s shirt up. Sam got with the picture and raised his arms to help, and Bucky pulled Sam’s shirt off and tossed it to the side of the bed. Sam returned the favor with Bucky’s shirt, and then there was the usual mildly undignified scramble to get naked as they both separated to take off their pants and socks and underwear, and fetch the appropriate supplies.
As anxious as he’d been about touching Sam with his prosthetic, Sam half-expected Bucky to show some nerves about getting naked in front of another person, but he seemed unbothered, all his focus reserved for Sam. Not that Bucky had a damn thing to be self-conscious about. He had some thick scarring along his left shoulder, sure, but that scarcely registered compared to all the rest of his smooth, soft skin on offer, or how he was lean with muscle all over, and how he had a pretty cock that Sam wanted to get intimately acquainted with real soon, thick and already hard. Bucky didn’t seem to be in any kind of rush to take care of that though. He draped himself over Sam, the weight of him heavy and hot, and got back to kissing, now moving down from Sam’s neck to his chest, the stubble on his jaw making Sam shiver with the contrast of rough skin and soft lips.
“So what benefit do you wanna try out first, friend?” asked Bucky, and Sam was caught between groaning and laughing.
Bucky grinned down at him, clearly pleased with himself.
“How about you move that action downwards,” said Sam, because if Bucky was this into kissing, he wanted to know what else that mouth could do.
Bucky bit his lower lip and narrowed his eyes, then appraised Sam’s cock, which was well on its way to being wholly hard by now. Sam spread his legs and waggled his eyebrows, and Bucky laughed, nothing but joy in the rare sound. Good, thought Sam. Friends with benefits sex was meant to be fun.
“With an invitation like that, how could I resist?” Bucky said, and he slid down the length of Sam’s body in a move that was unfairly graceful, while Sam scooted up for a better position. “You can grab my hair, if you want,” added Bucky, then his mouth was on Sam’s cock and Sam learned that yeah, Bucky’s oral skills extended to sucking cock, holy shit.
“Oh god,” moaned Sam, one hand in Bucky’s hair and the other twisted in his bed’s now rumpled sheets. After what had felt like hours of making out and practically dry humping each other, Sam was more than ready to get off. The slick heat of Bucky’s mouth around Sam’s cock was already enough to start pushing Sam over the edge. “This is gonna be over embarrassingly fast.”
Bucky pulled his mouth from Sam’s cock, and looked up at him from under his long lashes. “Do you want it to be?” he said, voice gone even lower and smokier now, which was, okay, kind of a lot to deal with when his mouth was still in such close proximity to Sam’s dick.
“Uh, not sure I’ll be able to help it—”
Bucky hummed, and his eyes crinkled with sweet wickedness. “We’ll see,” he said, and Sam couldn’t tell if that meant Bucky intended to make sure Sam came embarrassingly fast, or if he was going to do his damned best to draw it out.
Probably the latter, since Bucky didn’t take Sam’s cock back in his mouth, not yet. He kissed along the shaft of Sam’s cock instead, slow and light, and Sam trembled with the effort of not thrusting up against Bucky’s mouth. Sam’s unsteady breathing seemed obscenely loud in the silence of the bedroom. He wasn’t about to give Bucky the satisfaction of begging for more already, much less of coming too soon, but fuck, it had really been a long-ass time since Sam’s cock had any relief other than Sam’s own hand, and just Bucky’s hot breath on the sensitive skin there had all of Sam’s skin going tight and tingly.
Then Bucky guided Sam’s cock into his mouth, but just the tip, because he was the fucking worst, and his tongue was doing terrible, amazing things, alternating between teasing and stroking. He absolutely goddamn knew it too, judging by the coy and triumphant flash of his eyes when he looked up at Sam. Don’t fuck his face, don’t fuck his face, that was probably rude for a friends with benefits BJ, and also it would absolutely count as losing whatever game Bucky’d started here, but goddamn was Sam tempted. Bucky’s mouth and tongue were simultaneously too much and not enough, and just when Sam was about to lose it and start fucking into Bucky’s mouth, Bucky took him in deeper.
“Fuck!” Sam cried out, and gripped Bucky’s hair tighter.
As Bucky sucked and licked and stroked, Sam began to consider the increasingly likely possibility that being a super soldier came with some preternatural sex skills, because Bucky unerringly knew when Sam was about to come, and that was when he eased off and teased Sam’s cock or his balls. Each time, it was like the high of shooting up into the air with his wings, followed by the exhilaration of swooping low without ever hitting the sweet spot of an easy glide, an unerring pendulum of pleasure and frustration. It went in cycles like that for what felt like a long time, hours even, a timeless stretch of sensation, but it couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes—surely even a super soldier’s jaw would get sore—until Sam finally lost it, desperate for release. He pulled at Bucky’s hair and thrust into his mouth, and Bucky took it with nothing more than a little moan that Sam felt more than heard.
Sam had only just enough presence of mind to start to warn Bucky, because Sam was a gentleman goddamnit, but when he gasped, “I’m gonna come,” Bucky didn’t pull off. Sam finally came, like the cresting and breaking of one enormous wave, as if all the momentum of the night had gathered towards this finish.
He was distantly aware of Bucky sitting up and wiping his mouth, looking wild and flushed and something like triumphant. Sam wasn’t about to begrudge him that, not after he’d given Sam what was almost certainly the best blowjob of his life. Shit, Sam was still shaking with the rush.
As soon as he caught his breath, Sam said, “Bucky, get over here.”
He was still riding the high of orgasm, and the sight of Bucky looking wrecked with his mussed hair and dark eyes, his breath finally coming heavy, made Sam desperate to get his hands on him. Bucky’s patience was falling away at last, and he got in Sam’s arms with one of those quiet moans of his, like he was still hanging onto some reserve and control, like he couldn’t quite let loose yet. Which was a shame, because Bucky was still hard, had probably been hard this whole time, while he’d been kissing Sam and touching him and blowing him, and the knowledge sent a ferocious rush of arousal sweeping through him. He was no teenager, he wasn’t getting it up again any time soon, but his want throbbed in him with as much strength and need as his heartbeat. Sam wanted to see Bucky’s self-control dissolve, as sweetly and inexorably as sugar in coffee, and he wanted to be the one to do it.
“Sam, please—” said Bucky, his hips rocking against Sam, his voice strained and almost breaking, and that was it, that lit Sam up with such a flash of heat that he wouldn’t have been surprised to see flames on his own skin.
“I got you, c’mere,” he said, laid them both down on the bed, and got his hand on Bucky’s cock.
He fumbled for some lube, but he didn’t need it, not with the pre-come already leaking out of Bucky’s cock, so he just stroked, focusing on Bucky’s face to judge what pace and pressure he liked best. Bucky’s eyes were half-closed, most of their sharpness gone beautifully hazy, his mouth open and gasping, and it all made Sam burn even hotter. Bucky had such steady, centered control of himself most of the time—he was expressive, sure, but he was careful with it, guarded with most everyone. He wasn’t anything close to guarded now, laid out for Sam with want in every gorgeous line of him, from his hands clenching in the sheets to his arched neck.
“I should get you back for that cocktease of a blowjob right now,” said Sam, still working Bucky’s cock.
“Seemed to me like you liked it,” Bucky said breathily, and Sam slowed down in retaliation, taking the time to really savor the feel of Bucky’s cock in his hand, the hot and smooth skin. Bucky shuddered and thrust up against Sam’s hand, and fuck, finally, he moaned, long and loud, a beautifully desperate sound. “Sam—”
“Yeah, that’s it,” he said, and sped up again. “I’m a nice guy, and you’ve been real patient, so I’m gonna give you what you need. This good? Tell me, do you want it faster, harder—”
“Just like that, just—don’t stop—”
So Sam didn’t stop, he just kept going, and watched Bucky until he squeezed his eyes shut and came with a shuddering, hitching sigh. The look on his face was like one of those Renaissance paintings of saints, where it wasn’t entirely clear whether it was agony or ecstasy they were feeling. In Bucky’s case, it was ecstasy, probably, if the relaxed state of his muscles was any indication. After a few progressively slower, deeper breaths, Bucky threw a hand over his eyes, his lips starting to curve up.
“Alright?” asked Sam.
Bucky nodded, then laughed, as if in surprise or relief, Sam couldn’t quite tell which. Maybe both. Either way, Sam was glad to hear it.
“Yeah,” he said, then he lowered his hand and turned his head to smile at Sam. His hair was fluffy and wild, and Sam had to resist the urge to smooth it back down, like some kind of apology for messing it up. “Thanks. I—I needed that, I think. Needed to know I still could, with another person.”
Sam didn’t have any jokey retort for that, and wouldn’t have used one even if he had. He wasn’t about to be careless with Bucky’s trust in this, not when he knew exactly why that trust was such a rare, precious thing.
“You’re welcome. I owe you some thanks too, that was fun.”
Bucky’s smile turned a little shy, and they both busied themselves cleaning up some, before Bucky got up to gather the rest of his clothes.
“I’m, uh, gonna go back to my room,” he said, and Sam’s stomach did an unpleasant sort of flop. Shit, he hoped Bucky wasn’t already regretting this. “Not sure I’m okay to share a bed with someone else yet. Um, if that’s even—I don’t know, is that a friends with benefits thing? I used to share a bed with Steve and we didn’t even have those kinda benefits, so I don’t know if you’re—”
Sam relaxed and grinned. Did Bucky get rambly after sex? That was cute. “Relax, it’s cool. I don’t mind either way.”
“Okay, good. Um, good night, Sam.”
“Good night, Bucky.”
The morning after, waiting for his alarm to go off, Sam did some careful mental poking around, looking for any bad-decisions-sex regret, and didn’t find it. The sex had been good, hell, the sex had been great, and the only real awkward thing about any of it had been working out how to start.
No, Sam didn’t regret having friends-with-benefits sex with Bucky. He hoped Bucky would feel the same way.
The counselor part of Sam knew that it was a big step forward in recovery to allow the intimacy of sex again, in any context, and Sam hoped like hell Bucky would feel good about it this morning. For his part, Sam felt pretty damned good about being able to give Bucky that experience. Better him than some stranger or acquaintance who might have been unkind about Bucky’s prosthetic or his scars, or who might not have made him laugh. Better him than someone who might have been careless with Bucky, when Bucky had put so much goddamn care and hard work into being the person he was today, after enduring unimaginable pain. Sam liked to give Bucky shit, sure, but he thought he was a good enough friend to him by now to care about all of that.
When Sam went downstairs after his morning shower, Bucky was already in the kitchen, drinking coffee and reading something on his tablet. He looked up at Sam with a quick and bright grin. Some tension that Sam hadn’t entirely realized he’d been carrying in his neck unwound at the sight. Good, Bucky wasn’t having any morning after regrets.
“Morning. I made coffee, there’s still plenty left.”
“Thanks,” said Sam, and poured himself a cup before rummaging around the fridge and kitchen cabinets for the makings of breakfast. “You eat already?”
Bucky shrugged with one shoulder. “Had some oatmeal earlier.”
That was unlikely to keep Bucky’s ridiculous metabolism going for long. Sam had noticed that Bucky wasn’t big on eating breakfast if left to his own devices though.
“I’ll make some eggs,” Sam decided. “You can have some.”
So Sam fried up some eggs, and Bucky kept reading and sipping his coffee, and it was more or less like any other weekend morning, calm and comfortable.
“Got any plans for the day?” Sam asked.
“I’m putting in a shift at the community garden in a bit, and I told Parker I’d go with him to some photography exhibit in Manhattan since May’s busy. You?”
“Volunteering and putting in a shift on the mentoring the spider kid project? Someone’s very wholesome today,” said Sam, and Bucky wrinkled his nose at him. “I’ve got group, then I was gonna give fixing the master bathroom plumbing a shot.”
Bucky groaned. “Just call a plumber—”
“Why call a plumber when I’ve got Youtube tutorials and some tools? I’ll figure it out, I don’t think it’s a complicated problem.”
Bucky gave him the hairy eyeball, but he just sighed and said, “Whatever. When it floods, call a plumber.”
“When? Don’t you mean if?”
Bucky slurped down the last of his coffee, and looked evenly at Sam from over the brim of the mug. “No.”
Sam crossed his arms and scowled. “It’s not gonna flood.”
Bucky hummed dubiously, then he got up and washed his dishes. Before he left for his wholesome volunteering, Sam called out to ask him, “Hey, Bucky?” Bucky turned, eyebrows raised expectantly. “We good?”
Bucky smiled, easy and sunshine bright. Morning after afterglow looked good on him. “Yeah, Sam. We’re good,” he said, then he left.
Sam sighed, and basked in his own morning after afterglow, only slightly dimmed by Bucky’s lack of faith in his plumbing skills.
The bathroom did end up flooding. Sam didn’t wanna talk about it.
If one night of great, fuck buddies sex had been it for him and Bucky, Sam would’ve been okay with that. Disappointed, sure—Sam wasn’t especially looking forward to navigating the dating or hookup scene as Captain America—but fine. The important thing was that he and Bucky hadn’t fucked up their friendship or partnership.
The sex had been really good though, and Sam didn’t think that was just his long dry spell talking.
Thankfully, Bucky made a move the next week.
“So, are the benefits still on offer?” he asked, plopping next to Sam on the couch, close enough for their thighs to touch.
Sam, whose Saturday night plans had consisted of Netflix and a beer, was happy to upgrade those plans to Netflix and chill.
“Sure,” he said, and the pattern was established.
They fucked every week or so, and sometimes more often, as a way to have some fun and let off some steam, and in Bucky’s case, a way to deal with a libido that had come roaring back after a long absence. Super soldiers, it turned out, had very short refractory periods. Sam wasn’t opposed to helping out with that.
“I feel like I’m fucking fourteen again,” moaned Bucky as Sam sucked him off. Bucky had already come twice tonight, and yet, still, he was raring to go, like he’d downed a fistful of viagra. Sam was both jealous and impressed. “This is ridiculous.”
Sam pulled off and glared up at him. “Not the kinda thing a guy wants to hear while he’s blowing you.”
“You’re not ridiculous,” said Bucky, with a disconcerting level of sincerity given Sam’s current position kneeling for Bucky’s cock. Sam took Bucky in his mouth again and Bucky sighed. “I just wasn’t expecting this.”
If Sam was being honest, that was part of what made fooling around with Bucky so fun. Sam didn’t miss his first inexperienced fumblings with sex—there’d been a whole lot of awkwardness and self-consciousness involved—but he did sometimes miss the sense of exploration and newness, the wonder of learning what his body could do for another person’s body, and vice versa. He got some of that again with Bucky, with the way Bucky was rediscovering sex in a body that had changed, and with the way Bucky was reclaiming his ability to do more with that changed body than just fight.
Like holding Sam up and fucking him against a wall. That was some exploration Sam was more than happy to help Bucky out with.
“Harder, c’mon, put your back into it.”
“If you wanted it harder, Wilson, you shoulda picked a sturdier wall,” said Bucky, barely breathless despite holding Sam up and railing him into a damn wall, the super soldier bastard. “I don’t want to break the drywall.”
Sam gasped as Bucky’s next thrust brushed up against his prostate. “Fuck—fine, I’ll choose my location with a—oh, fuck, yeah, like that, right there—with a stud finder next time.”
Bucky grinned an unholy, delighted kind of grin, and Sam groaned, knowing what was coming. “Aww, what do you need a stud finder for, you’ve got one right—”
“Absolutely not, James Buchanan Barnes! No dad jokes while we’re fucking, oh my god—”
But Bucky just laughed as he came, and then he cheerfully kneeled to finish Sam off with a blowjob.
It wasn’t all mind-blowing sex though. Sometimes, things just didn’t work out.
“Not that I don’t appreciate the effort here, Bucky, but this just isn’t doing it for me.”
Bucky let his hands fall away from Sam’s chest, and frowned down at him before flopping to the side with a huff. “Nipples are erogenous zones! Seriously, are you not feeling anything here?”
Sam rolled to face Bucky on the bed, and poked at his nipples until he slapped Sam’s hands away.
“Not everyone’s got sensitive nips like you, Mr. A Stiff Breeze Makes My Nipples Erect.”
This earned Sam a truly ridiculous eyebrow waggle from Bucky. “Oh, have you been noticing my nipples then?”
“With those tight sweaters you wear? Yeah! Everyone notices!”
“You’re throwing a lot of stones around in that glass house full of polo shirts that are definitely a size too small.”
“You just think they’re a size too small on account of this gun show I’ve got going on,” said Sam, and flexed his biceps in Bucky’s face.
Bucky’s rolled his eyes and shoved at Sam, though his cheeks went a little pink too. He got up from the bed. “Okay, benefits cancelled for tonight, the mood is ruined. I’m going back to the Netflix part of Netflix and chill.”
“That’s not how Netflix and chill works!” called out Sam, but he followed Bucky back down to the living room anyway.
Once, things went considerably worse than just ruining the mood with some unsuccessful fooling around. Sam hadn’t exactly been unprepared for it, but it was still an unpleasant surprise when they ran up against some of Bucky’s trauma during sex.
It wasn’t anyone’s fault, not really. Sam generally checked in with Bucky before they tried anything new, and both of them had already successfully and easily dealt with how Sam couldn’t stand having his hands or wrists held down, and how Bucky was fine with his hair being grabbed or pulled, but hated having any strong grip on the back of his neck. Those were things the both of them had already known about themselves though.
This time, they weren’t so lucky. Bucky had been theoretically down to try some fingering, but the moment Sam’s fingers got close to Bucky’s ass, Bucky froze up. Before Sam could even say anything, Bucky went bone-white with terrifying speed and broke out into a cold sweat that had Sam genuinely worried Bucky was about to pass out.
“Hey, you’re okay, we’re okay, that’s a no on the fingering, got it, just take some deep breaths for me, Bucky, alright? That’s it, c’mon, in and out, nice and slow. You know where you are?”
Bucky nodded. “You need me to leave?” asked Sam.
Bucky jerked his head in a no then, shaking so hard his teeth were chattering now. Sam pulled the duvet back up the bed and tucked it around Bucky.
“Sorry,” Bucky stuttered out between gasping breaths. “I don’t—I didn’t—”
His eyes were wide and terrified, and not quite focusing in on Sam in a way that made Sam start to feel cold and scared too. Not of Bucky, but for him.
“You haven’t got a thing to be sorry for, baby, alright? Nothing. We’re good, we’re safe. We’re home in Brooklyn, and we’re safe, and it’s just us. Just keep breathing with me, okay?”
Sam kept the duvet between him and Bucky, but he held him close through the thick blanket, did his best to breathe deep and even and slow, until Bucky’s harsh gasps slowed down to something approaching calm.
“You with me?” asked Sam, and felt Bucky nod against his chest.
Bucky wriggled out from under the blanket a little and threw one end of it over Sam. Sam got the message, and got under the blanket with Bucky, holding him when he burrowed against Sam’s chest. He was still trembling. Even like this though, Bucky was being careful to hold Sam in a loose grip, wary as always of his own strength. Sam held him tightly to make up for it, as if that would stop the shivers, and stroked his hair until the worst of the shaking passed.
“I can go, if you need some space,” said Sam quietly.
“I’m in your bed,” mumbled Bucky against Sam’s shoulder.
“So I’ll take yours, we’ll swap for the night. Just say the word.”
“No, stay. Please.”
“Alright. Whatever you need. You wanna talk about it?”
“Can’t,” said Bucky, his voice breaking on the short word. Sam’s heart ached in furious sympathy, a dull and bruising pain.
“That’s okay. That’s fine,” he said, and then he hesitated, uncertain if what he was about to say would help or not, but there’d been such despair in Bucky’s can’t. Sam wasn’t Bucky’s counselor, talking about it probably wasn’t what Bucky needed from him. So Sam had to try. “You know, I was the one looking for you, a lot of the time after Insight. Whenever Steve had Avengers’ business he couldn’t get out of, I was the one trying to find you.”
Bucky’s arms around Sam squeezed just a little tighter. “I know. You got close, a couple times.”
“Yeah? Well, that helps my ego a little. Anyway, I criss-crossed the better part of Europe chasing after you, and I blew up some HYDRA bases while I was at it. And I had your file, plus some stuff I found in some of those bases, on the Winter Soldier project.” Sam paused, but Bucky didn’t tense up or pull away, so he continued, “Held onto some of it to exonerate you, in case things ever came to a trial, though I made sure Steve never saw it. Figured there was no reason to hurt him like that, or to show him without knowing how you felt about it.”
“Thanks,” whispered Bucky, and Sam stroked up and down Bucky’s back.
“So I know, Bucky,” he said, as gently as he could, thinking of the Bucky here in his arms right now, safe and unhurt, instead of the horrors he’d seen in those files. “I know. And you don’t have to talk about it.”
Bucky sucked in one sharp and shuddering breath, and he shook hard against Sam for a long while. Sam felt the skin of his shoulder grow damp, heard Bucky’s breaths come in shaky, hitching gasps, but the sobs that wracked Bucky were otherwise utterly silent. The dull ache in Sam’s heart squeezed and squeezed, as if his own heartstrings were choking him.
In that moment, Sam knew exactly what he’d have done with the Time Stone, or some Pym particles, if he’d had them: he’d have flown into that snowy ravine and caught Bucky as he fell from that train in Austria. He’d have caught Bucky then, and he’d have caught Natasha, and he’d have caught Rhodey, and Riley too.
What else were his wings for, but to catch people who were falling?
No one had given Sam the power to time travel though, so this was all he could do. He held onto Bucky and kissed the top of his head, murmured what soothing nonsense he could, a few tears of his own falling into Bucky’s hair. He hoped it was enough.
They must have both fallen asleep at some point, and when Sam woke, Bucky was still curled up beside him, not looking especially peaceful in sleep. There were unhappy lines carved into his forehead, and his mouth was downturned and frowning. The poor guy was in for a rough few days, Sam reckoned. Recovery wasn’t linear, that was just a fact, but seeing proof of it hurt all the same.
Just as Sam was contemplating how to get out of bed without waking Bucky, or if he should even try given the risk of freaking Bucky out, Bucky woke up. There was no slow or gentle transition from sleep to wakefulness: he was just seemingly asleep one moment, then awake the next.
“Hey,” said Sam softly. He really hoped he wasn’t about to be the recipient of a violent startle reflex from Bucky.
Thankfully, Bucky went very tense and very still for one long moment, before he blinked a few times at Sam and relaxed. Sam held in his relieved sigh. For all that Bucky’s body had relaxed, his cloudy day eyes were still wary and shadowed. Now was probably the time to give him some space.
“Hey,” said Bucky, his voice little more than a gravelly rumble.
“I’m gonna go down and make some breakfast. Come down whenever you’re ready, alright?”
So Sam slipped out of bed, made a pit stop in the bathroom, then busied himself downstairs with breakfast. He dithered over what to make: his first instinct was to make Bucky pancakes, because they were his favorite and he’d had such a rough night, but what if Bucky thought Sam was coddling him? Maybe he should keep things normal, stick to eggs and toast and oatmeal. But like, fancy oatmeal, with nice fixings, like some apples softened up in butter and cinnamon. Yeah, maybe that would be best. He suspected Bucky wasn’t going to have much of an appetite, and tempting his sweet tooth was probably the best bet for getting him to eat anything at all.
By the time Bucky came down to the kitchen, the coffee and oatmeal were ready, and Sam was giving the eggs one last stir in the pan.
“Made some oatmeal, help yourself.”
“Thanks,” murmured Bucky, and after one spoonful of oatmeal, he smiled up at Sam. It wasn’t much of a smile, just a slight crinkling around his eyes, but it was enough to justify Sam’s effort in having made the slightly nicer oatmeal. “Fancy,” Bucky said after he swallowed.
Sam shrugged and joined Bucky at the table with his own eggs and toast. “Just added some apples and cinnamon. How’re you feeling?”
“Shitty,” said Bucky after a sip of coffee. “But could be worse. Sorry about last night.”
Bucky looked incongruously small with the way he was hunched over the kitchen table in a thick sweater, avoiding Sam’s eyes. Yeah, this definitely wasn’t one of Bucky’s good days. He only ever avoided eye contact when he was feeling truly shitty.
“Hey, I told you, there’s nothing for you to be sorry for,” said Sam, trying for light. “We tried something out, it triggered you, now we know, and it’s off the table for next time. No big deal.”
Bucky shifted his attention from his bowl of oatmeal to Sam. The haze of sad exhaustion was abruptly gone from his eyes, as if some flash of internal sunlight had seared the fog away, and he studied Sam with something like surprise. Sam had no idea what to do with that, so he just ate his eggs and toast.
“Alright,” said Bucky eventually. “Thank you. I’m, uh. I’m not happy it happened, but—I’m glad it was with you.”
“Wouldn’t have been the end of the world if it was with someone else,” said Sam gently. “You’d have gotten through it.” Bucky nodded, an upward tilt to his lips that was too sad to be a smile. “But yeah. Me too,” admitted Sam.
Bucky was quiet and withdrawn for the next week, enough so that the team noticed it, which was saying something, because even on good days Bucky was fairly quiet in the field.
After a briefing, Rhodey pulled Sam aside to ask him, “Barnes doing okay?”
“Yeah, he’s alright. He just had a rough night last weekend. Flashback, you know?”
Rhodey nodded. “I’m trusting you to know when he’s fit for duty, Sam.”
“He’s sad and upset, he’s not a walking time bomb,” snapped Sam.
Rhodey raised his hands. “Hey, I’m not saying he is. Just, if he needs a break from the field, Hill would be happy to have him in analysis, and I wouldn’t mind shifting him over into training more. He’s good with Wanda and Peter.”
“Right, sorry,” said Sam, and rubbed at his face. Maybe Bucky’s mood was getting to Sam. “I’ll check in with him.”
“You two are getting pretty close,” said Rhodey, in a carefully even tone.
Shit, did Rhodey know about Sam and Bucky being fuck buddies? Was there some kind of fraternization policy buried in the new and improved Accords? Wait, no, there couldn’t be, Lang and Van Dyne were dating—Get a grip, Wilson. How the fuck would Rhodey know you and Bucky are banging anyway. Sam shrugged, hopefully in a totally chill and casual way.
“We’re roommates and we work together. And he’s, you know, not the worst. Even if he does hog the bathroom.”
“Alright. I’m glad, you know. Steve would have been happy to see it.”
“Steve’s gonna be happy to see it. He’s coming back,” said Sam, and Rhodey sighed.
“Sam, it’s been months. He has a time machine. If he was gonna come back, he’d have come back by now.”
By mutual agreement, Sam and Bucky hadn’t told anyone else about the message from Steve. If Steve had wanted everyone to know, they’d reasoned, then he would’ve just told them all before he’d left, or he’d have left the message somewhere else. For whatever reason—probably that his plan was crazy and he was worried about someone stopping him—he’d kept it on the DL. Sam and Bucky weren’t about to snitch on their best friend.
“I’m not giving up on him,” was all Sam told Rhodey.
Rhodey clapped him on the shoulder, and Sam had the impression he’d just mentally scheduled Sam for an intervention in a few months’ time. “Alright, Sam.”
Sam wasn’t giving up on Steve and Nat, he wasn’t. But Rhodey was right, it had been months. If Steve could time travel, why the hell wasn’t he back yet? Had he saved Natasha? Would he even be able to?
And how long was Sam going to be able to wait for Steve and Nat to come back, before hope hurt too much to keep hanging onto?
Longer than a few months, surely. Steve and Nat had helped bring half the universe back. They had held onto a far more painful hope than this, for far longer. Sam could too.
After a week or so, Bucky was back on an even keel, to Sam’s relief. He knew, logically, that what happened hadn’t been his fault—he’d been a counselor, he knew that triggers could be unexpected and unpredictable—and he knew he wouldn’t have blamed Bucky had their positions been reversed. But a part of Sam kept circling around the worrying thought: had he just ruined all sex for Bucky? Had he set Bucky’s recovery seriously back?
Thankfully, the answer to both questions was no.
Sam was somewhat surprised to get those answers when, on an otherwise unremarkable Thursday night, Bucky straddled him on the couch, a look of intense determination on his face.
“I want to try again,” said Bucky. “What we were gonna do last week, I mean.”
“Okay,” said Sam slowly, putting his hands on Bucky’s hips carefully. “That’s—you know we’re not working down some kind of sex checklist, right? That’s not a requirement of these benefits we’ve got going. You can just not be into butt stuff, and that’s okay. It doesn’t even have to be about any kind of trauma.”
Bucky grimaced. “Yeah, no, you calling it butt stuff doesn’t help.” He slumped against Sam, chin on Sam’s shoulder. “I just don’t want it to be about—that.”
“I hear you,” said Sam, and rubbed his back for a moment before moving to more interesting territory. He unbuttoned Bucky’s jeans. “So let’s have a good time.”
Bucky’s hot mouth found the sensitive skin of his neck, just as Sam’s hand slid into his pants. Bucky hummed in that sweet, pleased way of his, nuzzling at Sam’s neck and jaw, then he got up. Sam had a split-second to worry before Bucky took his hands and tugged him to his feet, and up to Bucky’s own bedroom, where they did end up having a pretty damned good time, no bad memories involved.
After, Sam reached for his boxers, ready to make the usual trip down the hallway back to his bedroom, but Bucky reached out, the vibranium of his hand warm and smooth, the gold seams gleaming in the dim ambient light coming through the window.
“Stay, please,” murmured Bucky, rough and drowsy. “Too cold.”
And it was cold, winter beginning to leak through the brownstone’s walls, cold enough that Sam would definitely prefer to stay in this warm bed with his own personal super soldier heater. It was the please that got to Sam though, every time. Some sort of Pavlovian reaction by now, Sam figured, with Bucky and the word please in bed, because he was usually quiet with his pleasure, when he wasn’t sassing Sam: all soft moans and quiet sighs, until his please gave him away and Sam could draw something louder from him. It wasn’t that he was begging—that wasn’t Sam’s thing, especially—because he wasn’t.
It was about sincerity, Sam supposed. That didn’t count as a kink, Sam was pretty sure, but it always got to him: that moment during sex when his partner was reduced to honest, unguarded want. And hell, Bucky didn’t ask for much.
So Sam stayed.
“Do you have any plans on Sunday?” asked Bucky.
Sam raised an eyebrow and gestured around the barren North Dakotan field they were standing in. There was a break in the strange portals popping in and out of existence, which had disgorged a torrent of alarming sludge and bugs, but there were still plenty of weird alien bugs skittering around. And the portals could start up again any time.
Bucky rolled his eyes and shot another bug. “We’re gonna be done with this by tonight and back in New York by tomorrow morning, that’s three whole days before Sunday. So, do you have plans?”
“That seems optimistic,” said Hope grimly as she zapped a bug.
The ground shook as Jumbo-sized Ant-Man stomped around, smushing more bugs under his enormous feet with an alarmingly meaty crunch.
“There hasn’t been a new portal in ten minutes!” boomed Scott from above them. “I think the alien fish-people have fixed their ship’s portal pooping problem!”
Hope winced. “That’s not what—you know what, whatever. Sure. It’s a portal pooping problem. Scott, go smush bugs over there!”
“We have got to get on the galactic no-fly zone list or something, aliens cannot use our planet as their own personal garbage dump. I don’t buy that ship malfunction story,” said Bruce fretfully as he Hulk-smashed some more bugs. “But yeah, I think the portals have stopped. Bucky’s right, we’re probably gonna be done here soon.”
“Well, since I guess this isn’t a full-on alien invasion and is just, like, some kinda intergalactic EPA violation, yeah, my schedule’s just opened up,” Sam told Bucky. They both paused to shoot some more bugs. “Why?”
“There’s a neighborhood craft, artisan fair thing, Ana at the community garden told me about it. Wanna go with me? There’s gonna be a bunch of food trucks and stuff there too.”
Having a nice walk around the neighborhood in the crisp fall air and hitting up some food trucks sounded like a pretty perfect Sunday afternoon, actually. Sam let the autumn-colored, pumpkin spiced beauty of the idea carry him away from his current wind-burned, sludge-covered hell for just a moment.
“Sure, sounds good. Maybe I can pick up some Christmas presents early for once.”
“Yeah, I was thinking of getting some lamps for the house too, if I see any nice ones. The living room and office could use some more lighting.”
“Maybe get some stuff for the walls too. Paintings or prints or something. I feel like the hallways could use something, they’re kinda grim right now.”
“Okay gentlemen, charming as this is, if you two could stop making interior decorating plans and focus on alien bug extermination, that’d be great,” said Hope.
Sam sighed and got back to zapping bugs. Sunday couldn’t come soon enough.
Sunday ended up being a perfect fall day: all blue skies and gold sun and flame-colored leaves. It was just cold enough out to need a coat and a scarf, but not so cold that being outside was uncomfortable. The craft fair stretched down two blocks, colorful booths lined up along each side of the street, selling almost certainly overpriced artisanal hipster crafts and antiques. The smell of hot apple cider and whatever pumpkin spice fusion nonsense the food trucks were selling filled the air, and all in all, Sam was feeling pretty damned festive.
“Alright, I’m feeling this,” said Sam. “This is nice.”
He glanced over at Bucky, who was looking a hell of a lot more like the Autumn Hipster than the Winter Soldier right now. The collar of his sharp black coat was popped, and he had a blue scarf wrapped around his neck. It was a good color on him: his eyes were as blue and untroubled as the sky above them, his cheeks flushed with the day’s cozy chill.
“Right? I’m glad Ana told me about it. C’mon, let’s get some cider,” said Bucky, and grabbed Sam’s hand with a grin.
Sam ended up feeling pretty damned grateful he’d taken Bucky up on his invitation, because in the next few weeks, New York’s weather ditched picturesque fall perfection in favor of barreling full speed ahead into winter’s miseries. Snow, sleet, wintry mix, hail: they got it all, and Sam remembered just why he hated East Coast winters. Fast approach of winter or not, Sam wasn’t about to give up and hibernate.
“I’m getting cabin fever here, Barnes, c’mon, let’s go out.”
Bucky glared out balefully from his blanket nest on the couch. “It’s snowing.”
“So? It’s not exactly a blizzard out there. We don’t have to be stuck in here. Did two years in Wakanda ruin your cold tolerance, Winter Soldier?”
“Maybe,” said Bucky with a frown that was edging awfully close to a pout, before he heaved a sigh and put down his tablet. “Where do you even wanna go on a snowy Saturday night?”
“I haven’t been to the movies in forever.” Sam frowned. “Like, since before I was dead for five years. And shit, have you even been to the movies since the 40s? They have talkies now!”
Bucky’s glare upgraded from baleful to withering. “I’m not that old, Sam. And yeah, I’ve been to the movies a few times since the 40s. One of ‘em was even in 3D. What do you wanna see, anyway?”
“I don’t even know, whatever’s playing that’s not about wars or alien invasions or reaching the acceptance stage of grief.” Sam pulled out his phone to check for movie listings. “Hey, there’s a Dog Cops movie! You know you wanna see a Dog Cops movie, c’mon.”
“Fine,” groaned Bucky and began the lengthy process of exiting his blanket nest. “But you better buy me popcorn. The biggest bucket they have. And a hot dog. And nachos.”
“Jesus, you’re like a garbage disposal sometimes. But yeah, sure, only we’re sharing the popcorn and the nachos.”
“You’ve got a deal.”
Despite the fact that Bucky dressed like he was about to go on a trek across the Siberian tundra, to the point that only his eyes were showing through all his winter gear, and despite how much he grumbled on the way to the theater, the mediocre movie concessions and Dog Cops: the Movie must have made the outing worthwhile for him, because he didn’t complain on the way back home, and he pulled Sam into his bedroom.
“Keep me warm, Wilson,” he said with a coy grin, so Sam followed, and they had a very warm night indeed, and a warm morning too.
Sam supposed East Coast winters weren’t so bad, with the right company.
The first post-Blip holiday season was…a lot. Sam couldn’t blame people for going over the top, given the circumstances. The explosion of holiday spirit and sentimentality still felt borderline frantic to him though, like everyone was overcompensating. Or, not everyone, but those who’d lived through the Blip.
Not that Sam was about to say no to a long Christmas holiday with his family, or to some holiday cheer. Hell, some small part of him couldn’t help but hope for a Christmas miracle of his own: Steve and Natasha, back home safe and sound, a better gift than anything else that was likely to be left for him under the Christmas tree. Though if they did come back, they’d be coming back to an empty house. Sam was headed to Atlanta to spend a couple weeks with his family, and Bucky was spending the holidays in Wakanda.
“You sure you don’t wanna come with me?” Sam asked one last time just before he left. “My mom would love to have you, hell, she said I could bring all the Avengers along.”
None of them had taken Sam up on it; Pepper was hosting all the Avengers who were staying in New York and needed somewhere to go for the holidays. Sam had figured that would be pretty uncomfortable for Bucky, for obvious reasons, and he didn’t want the poor guy left out in the cold for Christmas.
“Thanks Sam, but I’m sure,” Bucky said with an easy smile.
Bucky seemed sincere enough, but… “Do they even celebrate Christmas in Wakanda?” he asked, sad visions of Bucky opening his present all alone in his cottage running through his head.
“No, why would they? Not that I mind. I just wanna go somewhere warm, and visit Shuri and the village.”
That mollified Sam, his conscience clearing. Now he could truthfully tell his mother that Bucky wasn’t spending Christmas alone.
“Alright. Well, merry Christmas anyway,” Sam said, and handed over a wrapped package to Bucky. “Don’t open it before Christmas!” Bucky grinned and weighed the package carefully in his hands, then shook it. “Oh, you’re one of those, I see how it is.”
Dammit. Sam consoled himself with the thought that Bucky hadn’t immediately identified the DVDs in the package too. Maybe it wasn’t the most creative Christmas gift ever, just a couple books and movies that Bucky had mentioned he was interested in, but he hoped Bucky would like it.
“No comment. You’ll find out on Christmas morning and not a moment sooner!”
Bucky scrunched up his nose. “Fine,” he said, then pointed a warning finger at Sam. “Your present’s by the door, and you’re not allowed to open it before Christmas either!”
Sam grabbed Bucky by the hand and pulled him in for a hug, and smiled when Bucky came easily and wrapped him up in a proper hug, no loose, backslapping bullshit, the warmth of him better than the thick winter coat Sam was about to put on.
“Merry Christmas, Sam,” Bucky said, low and sweet into Sam’s ear, before he pulled away. “Have a safe trip.”
Christmas with his family involved a lot of crying. Happy crying, but still crying. It also involved a lot of great food, and maybe too much bittersweet catching up on the five years he’d missed. It was overwhelming. Mostly in a good way, but still overwhelming, just like his first Christmas back at home had been, after his tour had ended. Just like back then, he went out for air a lot, only this time around, it was for the quiet instead of for having panic attacks.
He used the quiet moments to text Bucky, though the time difference meant their conversations came in staggered bursts. He got Bucky’s morning photos of the quiet border village he’d called home in the evenings, when Sam sent over photos of whatever amazing spread his mom and aunts had put out for dinner.
On Christmas Eve, he wasn’t out getting some air when his phone pinged with Bucky’s thank you text for the Christmas present: I see I was right about the present!! Thank you! You better not have opened yours yet though, I know it’s not the 25th there yet.
Sam grinned and set his mug of egg nog down so he could text Bucky back, while the rest of his family continued their holiday re-watch of Home Alone.
Only HALF right. And you’re welcome.
Got another present too, texted Bucky, and sent a photo that was quite possibly the cutest fucking thing Sam had ever seen in his entire life: Bucky with his arms full of ridiculously adorable, tiny baby goats, beaming with a smile bright enough to make summer come early.
“Oh, I have got to see what’s putting that look on your face,” said his sister Sarah, and snatched his phone from him before he could dodge her grasping hands. Sarah’s ensuing awwwwww drew the attention of the entire rest of the family. “Oh my god, what the hell, I cannot handle how cute this is.”
“Right?” said Sam. “Like, that’s ridiculous.”
How dare Bucky smile so hard that it made his dumb nose scrunch up. Also, was that lens flare or were his eyes just that sparkly? Either way, unacceptable.
“Their little hooves. Their precious fuzzy ears!” cooed Sarah.
Oh. Right, yeah, the baby goats. That made sense. “…yeah.”
“The guy’s pretty cute too,” remarked Aunt Denise.
“That’s just Bucky, my roommate,” said Sam, as if that would make him less cute.
“Just Bucky?” exclaimed Uncle Mike. “Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes of the Howling Commandos, and he’s just your roommate Bucky? Really Samuel, show some respect to your elders…”
Shit, it was a good thing Sam hadn’t brought Bucky along. He snatched his phone back from Sarah, and stared at the photo for a few seconds, trying to come up with an appropriately chill response.
I don’t care how cute they are, you cannot bring them back with you.
God, it was a really fucking cute picture though, what with the sunshine and the happy baby goats and Bucky’s big smile, no longer quite so rare as it used to be but still enough of a pleasant surprise that it made Sam’s chest feel warm. Before he could overthink it, he set the picture as his phone’s lock screen. Who didn’t want to see cute baby animals every time they checked their phone? No one, that was who.
On Christmas morning, Sam opened his allotted pile of presents along with the rest of his family. He duly appreciated and thanked everybody for his haul of sweaters and gift cards and gadgets, before finally opening his present from Bucky. The wrapped box had been intriguing Sam for days: it was about the size of a briefcase, neither exceptionally heavy nor particularly light, and Sam hadn’t been able to guess at its contents. He tore eagerly past the cheerful, neat wrapping paper—covered in tiny snowman Hulks, Sam really didn’t understand Bucky sometimes—and opened the box to reveal a record player and a short stack of records. Bucky Barnes, you goddamn hipster, thought Sam with delighted affection. The record player had a vaguely vintage look, but it was decidedly modern, given that a sticker on the side boasted the thing’s bluetooth support.
The records though, were actual vintage, and Sam remembered now that during the craft fair, Bucky had spent some time poring over one of the booth’s selections of vinyl records. Here were the results of his search: three Marvin Gaye records, the sleeves a little worn and faded, but still in good condition. Sam hadn’t even realized Bucky had been paying attention to his attempts to educate Parker and Wanda in proper music history.
He held the Trouble Man record carefully between his fingers, remembering when he’d played the album for Steve, so long ago now. Steve would like the vinyl version better, probably. Sam hoped he’d have the chance to hear it.
After the holidays, winter overstayed its welcome, and the usual post-holiday comedown hit Sam hard. Spending time with his family had kept him distracted and optimistic, but January in New York was doing its best to grind Sam down, and Steve and Natasha’s continued absence was getting harder and harder to either justify or bear. Sam found himself watching Steve’s video more times than was healthy, scrutinizing it for clues or hints about what Steve was even doing. All he found was evidence of the ways Steve had changed in the five years Sam had been gone: there were new lines on his forehead and around his mouth, more proof of grief and pain than of age, and a new hardness and exhaustion that lingered in his eyes. It worried Sam. Had they been right to let him go? Should they have insisted someone else take the Stones back?
It was too late now for those questions, but they circled around and around Sam’s head anyway.
Sam tried to stay optimistic about Steve’s return, but hope was hard to cling to, in the depths of winter. Was that the lack of sunshine and vitamin D talking? Probably. No amount of light therapy lamps were going to make Sam miss Steve and Natasha any less though, and it didn’t help that literally no one else other than him and Bucky thought Steve was coming back, let alone that he might be bringing Natasha with him. He didn’t blame them for being unwilling to hope. Sam got it, he did, he knew that closure was important, but thinking that Steve was coming back was increasingly making him feel like a crazy person.
If Bucky had the same problem, he wasn’t sharing with Sam. Then again, Bucky had his own shit to deal with as New York got hit with a harsh cold snap, the temperature abruptly plummeting down to near zero.
“Bucky, you okay in there?” asked Sam, knocking on the bathroom door. Sam had given up on Bucky leaving the bathroom in a reasonable timeframe half an hour ago and had taken his own shower in the (now functioning) master bath, but Bucky had been in there for well over an hour by now, excessive even by Bucky’s standards, and if they didn’t leave for Avengers Tower soon they were going to be late. “Have you fallen and you can’t get up, old man?”
The bathroom door opened, releasing a cloud of lavender-scented steam and revealing a half-naked Bucky. He had a towel draped around his shoulders and another around his hips, but he was otherwise naked, and Sam was only human, okay? There was a lot of bare muscled chest action happening, and that towel was low enough for a tantalizing glimpse of Bucky’s happy trail and the cut of his hips, so Sam was kinda distracted for a few seconds. When his attention actually reached Bucky’s face, worry rapidly overtook his reflexive lust, because Bucky looked drawn and pale despite the heat of the bathroom.
“Hey, are you coming down with something? You’re not looking so good.”
“Sorry,” said Bucky. “It’s the damn weather, the temperature dropped like twenty degrees last night and it’s making my shoulder sore, is all. I was hoping a hot bath would help but—” Bucky rolled his left shoulder carefully, then winced. “Not so much. I’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
He moved gingerly past where Sam was standing in the bathroom doorway, and walked with uncharacteristic stiff care to his own bedroom. Sam frowned after him, then shrugged to himself. He’d been feeling some old, long-healed injuries flare up himself, but a hot shower had eased the worst of his stiffness. Hopefully Bucky’s shoulder would loosen up.
As the day went on, it became pretty apparent that whatever pain Bucky was in, it was only getting worse. The day’s Avengers business was just some light recon of a Long Island “church” suspected of hiding a nutbar Thanos cult who wanted to kill half the population again. Sam and Bucky didn’t have to do anything more physically demanding than a light jog, and even so, by the end of the day, Bucky was pale as snow and worryingly quiet, and he was holding his left arm close and immobile, as if he was injured.
“You doing okay, Bucky? Do we need to call Shuri about your arm?”
“No,” said Bucky. “Arm’s fine, just—shoulder, collarbone, where the arm attaches, they’re acting up. It’s just the cold, it’ll be fine.”
Sam wasn’t so sure about that; this seemed a lot worse than weather-related aches and pains. He was proven right when they got back to the Tower to submit their recon reports, and Bucky couldn’t even get his own coat off, letting out a choked off, agonized gasp when he tried. Yeah, no, Sam was calling it.
“Okay, we’re going home, man, c’mon. You got anything for this at home? Should we swing by the infirmary?”
The infirmary was unlikely to provide anything that operated at less than elephant tranquilizer strength when it came to painkiller options for a super soldier metabolism, but Bucky really wasn’t looking so good. He was pressing his right hand to his left shoulder near where the port for his prosthetic was, kneading against it as if to release some tension or ease some pain.
“Shuri gave me some tea for it, but it makes me sleepy.”
“Well, you’re drinking that tea and sleeping with a heating pad tonight. Shit, Bucky, you should’ve told me it was getting this bad, you could’ve stayed home. Where’s it hurt?”
“Shoulder, like I said. And, uh, my neck on that side. And my back.” Sam gave him a Look. “It’s not that bad,” Bucky protested weakly as Sam chivvied him along to the Tower garage.
Sam was requisitioning a car for the day, they were not dealing with the subway when Bucky looked like one wrong bump from a fellow commuter could make him collapse in pain.
“Do not give me more of that BS about it just being the cold. My bad knee being stiff this morning was ‘cause of the cold. You being in so much pain you can’t move well enough to get your coat off is a whole other thing.”
“It’s nothing serious,” Bucky insisted. “I just—should’ve been taking the arm off more often, maybe.”
“Yeah?” asked Sam grimly as the elevator zoomed them down to the garage level.
There was no way this was just because Bucky should’ve been removing his prosthetic more often. Like hell would Shuri design something for Bucky that would hurt him so much just with prolonged use, especially not when it was his damn arm.
When the elevator dinged to let them out, Bucky added, “And maybe I pushed it a bit too far lifting that chunk of spaceship debris last week.”
“There it is,” said Sam as he helped Bucky into the car. “You super soldiers have limits too, you know.”
Bucky settled into the seat with a groan. “I know.”
Sam swallowed down any more I told you sos, there was no point in them now, and drove home as carefully as he could, mindful of the icy streets. Even so, Bucky gasped every time the car went over a pothole. By the time they reached the brownstone, Bucky was looking decidedly glassy-eyed, and he leaned heavily on Sam as they went up the stairs and inside the house. Sam helped him get his coat off, trying not to jar his left arm and shoulder too much, and once that was accomplished, got him upstairs to his bedroom.
“You need help taking your prosthetic off?”
“Probably,” admitted Bucky, in a worryingly thin voice.
So Sam helped him get his sweater and shirt off, a process that left Bucky trembling by the end of it, and then he followed Bucky’s instructions for disconnecting his prosthetic, which was thankfully pretty simple. Bucky did some weird internal movement that made the plates shiver then go still, and then Sam only had to help Bucky disconnect the arm from the port in his shoulder. With the arm removed and set safely on the dresser, Bucky sighed and slumped in relief, before tilting rightward and falling onto the bed with a little moan of pain.
“Nuh uh, you’ve still gotta drink your tea, c’mon.”
Bucky groaned and began carefully rolling himself into a blanket burrito. It was a sight that was equal parts sad and annoyingly cute.
“Just leave me to hibernate here, wake me up when it’s spring.”
Sam laughed, mostly in relief that Bucky was up for joking at all.
“Not an option, Bucky Bear.”
Bucky’s only response was a grumbly noise that was pretty damned bear-like. He had now disappeared almost fully into his blanket burrito, only visible from the eyes up.
“Leave room in there for a heating pad, I’ll be back in a bit,” said Sam, and went to get the tea and heating pad.
Once he excavated Bucky out of his blanket burrito enough to stick a heating pad under him, and made sure he drank all his damn tea, Sam left him to sleep it off. Before he could leave though, Bucky fumbled sleepily for Sam’s hand. He missed on his first couple of tries—that tea must have been strong stuff—and his grip was warm and lax when he finally caught Sam’s hand.
“Sam. Thanks,” he mumbled, eyes already drifting closed. Sam squeezed Bucky’s hand gently, rubbing his thumb over the knuckles.
“What’re partners for, huh? Get some rest, Bucky.”
He held on to Bucky’s hand and stayed just long enough to make sure that Bucky was asleep, the lines of pain on his forehead finally smoothing out until he looked almost young, and then he tucked Bucky’s hand safely under the covers, and left.
In a combination of both truly terrible timing and awful luck, Sam came down with some sort of winter death plague the next day. He woke up to his head pounding with the one-two punch of fever and sinus pressure, and as if whatever hell virus this was had to kick him while he was down, all his joints were aching too. He considered getting up, made one attempt he immediately regretted, and got back in bed with a groan.
Bucky heard him, of course, because super senses. “Sam? You okay?” he called out from down the hall.
“Do I sound okay?” Sam demanded through the thick snot clogging up his everything. “I am dying, Barnes.”
After a couple minutes, Bucky shuffled into Sam’s room, his blanket burrito now more of a blanket taco that he was holding closed with his one hand. “Oh, you’re just sick.”
“C’mon, up you get, let’s go downstairs.”
“‘Cause all the food’s down there. Also the magical painkiller tea.”
Food did not sound appealing, but Sam really wanted something hot to drink, preferably some of that tea if it wouldn’t kill his normal human self. So Sam got up, and reflected on what a damned sorry pair he and Bucky made, hauling their decrepit asses downstairs: Bucky still stiff and hurting judging by how he was moving more like an actual hundred-year-old man than a super soldier, and Sam feverish and so congested he was almost dizzy.
“Leave me to die,” croaked Sam as Bucky directed their tottering course over to the living room couch. “Let this snot fill my brain and kill me.”
Sam toppled onto the couch, and Bucky thoughtfully dumped all the living room’s many blankets over him.
“Why am I not surprised you’re one of those sick people?” said Bucky as he squinted down at Sam. Which was very rude, on account of how Sam was on his deathbed. Death couch. Whatever.
“Whazzat supposed to mean?!”
Bucky smiled cheerfully. “Nothing! Stay there and rest, I’ll bring you breakfast and meds.”
“And tissues! All of the tissues, ever.”
Bucky had to make two trips back and forth—he hadn’t put his arm back on yet—but he duly provided Sam with steaming hot tea, steaming hot oatmeal, a fistful of cold meds, and a box of tissues before he collapsed carefully onto the couch next to Sam. They took turns nursemaiding each other for the rest of the day; it was pretty tragic and miserable, given their collective state. Basically all they managed was to keep each other warm while huddling on the couch together and feeling shitty in their own unique and terrible ways.
If Steve and Natasha had been here…well, Sam’s horrible illness would still be equally horrible, because Steve and Natasha were the kinds of friends who mostly left you alone with soup and meds, but at least they’d be here, alive and healthy and gently mocking Sam. Steve would fuss over them but pretend not to, just coincidentally lighting the fire in the fireplace and leaving pillows and blankets in the right places. Natasha would make soup, and pretend it wasn’t a big deal that she was actually cooking something. Instead, Sam and Bucky were left to make do on their own, which was probably going to end in Sam dying of sinus congestion and Bucky falling off the couch and being unable to get up and it’d be tragic and embarrassing, Captain America and the Winter Soldier taken out by one sick day spent on their own.
It didn’t particularly help that the rest of the Avengers were sufficiently moved to pity for them that they sent Parker over with a ton of food in the evening. The food was appreciated; Parker’s disgustingly young and healthy and earnest presence, not so much.
“Hey sirs! Sorry to hear you’re not feeling well! Colonel Rhodes and Ms. Potts sent me over with all this soup, and Mr. Lang made some casserole. Oh, and I brought you a bunch of Gatorade, the red flavor of course, don’t worry, because you gotta stay hydrated, Cap, and Sergeant Barnes, Dr. Cho asked me to bring you this salve—”
“Oh my god,” said Sam, and tried to smother himself with the blankets.
“Thanks Parker, we really appreciate it. But you should probably go before you catch Sam’s plague.”
“Oh, I never get sick anymore, comes along with the spider powers, do you need any help—”
Sam groaned. Help? From this disgustingly healthy, overly earnest teenager who wouldn’t shut up? Help, like they were Parker’s decrepit uncles who needed to be in a nursing home? Sam would rather die.
Before he could express those sentiments, Bucky said, “Nope, we’re good! You should get going, long way to Queens and all that,” and then he presumably shuffled Parker out the door at that point, because blessed silence fell after that.
“So, what kind of soup do you want for dinner?” asked Bucky when he came back. “Because we have like ten kinds now.”
It was too late for soup to help Sam.
“We’re old and busted, Bucky. Death is coming for us, but that spider child is going to live forever. Steve should’ve given him the shield!”
Bucky excavated him out from under the blankets covering his head. “Can you even breathe under there? And what are you talking about—”
“We are old men who are falling apart, and I think Nat’s dead, for real, and Steve is lost in the time vortex and—”
“Hey, no,” said Bucky gently. “I mean, I’m definitely old and maybe falling apart a little, but c’mon, you’re not even 40, you’re a spring chicken. Spring falcon. Whatever. And Steve’s not lost in the time vortex, whatever that is, he’s getting Natasha back.”
“We don’t know that. How long are we supposed to wait for them to come back? Because I’m starting to think they’re not coming back.”
“Sam,” said Bucky, voice still way too soft and sweet, like Sam was a cranky toddler and not an adult superhero having a possibly cold medicine and sinus pressure-induced emotional crisis.
“Don’t Sam me, James Buchanan Barnes!”
Bucky was making his frowny face of sadness now, the one with the big Disney cartoon eyes, as he started the somewhat drawn-out process of joining Sam on the couch without throwing out his back or otherwise painfully jarring his left side. Once he’d successfully sat down and got under the blankets with Sam, Bucky tilted over slowly to give Sam a one-armed hug. This too was apparently somewhat painful for Bucky, because he let out a small “Ow,” but he didn’t stop hugging Sam, and even kissed him on the forehead. Which made Sam want to cry for some reason, before he realized it was Bucky’s dumb super-spy way of checking on his fever.
“I’m not delirious with fever here!” Sam protested.
“I know,” soothed Bucky. “I miss Steve too, Sam. And I don’t know Natasha that well yet, but I even miss her. She texted me sometimes, when I was in Wakanda, did you know that? And barged in on Steve’s Skype calls with me.”
“Yeah. Threat assessment, probably. And just being nosy,” he said, seemingly unbothered. “But she was nice about it.”
“She was happy for you, you know,” said Sam. It was something people didn’t usually credit Natasha with, but Sam knew: she really cared, really felt for people. “Happy you got help, happy you were doing better.”
I know what it’s like, a little, she’d told Sam, in a rare moment of truth about her past. I figure Barnes deserves at least the same chance I got, to get better.
“I hope she likes the garden,” said Bucky quietly, and Sam didn’t know whether he loved or hated Bucky for using the present tense.
How the hell could Bucky be so sure, where the hell did all his faith come from. It wasn’t even like he was an especially optimistic person: Bucky was a pretty pragmatic guy, which seemed like a small miracle all on its own given the shit he’d been through, but that was still a far cry from any Pollyanna positivity.
“You gotta tell me why you’re so sure Steve’s coming back, Bucky. Because I know it hasn’t really been that long, but I can’t stop thinking about it. He has a time machine. Bruce has left the quantum tunnel up, just in case. So why the hell isn’t he back yet? And what the hell was the deal with Old Steve? How long are we gonna wait until we decide he’s never coming back?”
“Sam…” said Bucky with a sigh, tucking Sam in closer against him. Sam was too sick and too tired to resist.
“Tell me, Bucky, because I swear to god, if all you’re going on is blind, dumb hope—” his voice broke on the word, and he had to stop and blow his nose.
“I don’t know if I can tell you,” Bucky admitted, before continuing, “I mean—I don’t wanna fuck something up, this is—this is time travel. I don’t know a damn thing about how it really works, and I’m worried I’ve already fucked it up for Steve, or that what I know doesn’t mean what I think it means—”
Sam pulled free of Bucky’s hold and whipped around to face him. Shit, did Bucky actually know something?
“Bucky. What do you know. Whatever it is, it already happened one way or another, so just tell me.”
Bucky shook his head and worried at his lower lip with his teeth, but eventually he said, “Steve came to see me, in Wakanda.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Sam slowly. “I was there whenever he came back from those trips, looking like he was gonna cry with happiness over you.”
Steve had always looked dumbstruck with joy and relief when he came back from visits to Wakanda. He’s safe, Sam, and he’s healing, and he even laughed—I think—I think I can finally hope that he’s gonna be okay, that he’s gonna be happy. So long ago, Sam had asked Steve what makes you happy; after those visits to Wakanda, Sam knew one of the answers to that question.
“No, not—I mean, yeah, that Steve, but. Steve from the future too.”
“What? You mean—old guy Steve?”
Bucky looked down at the blanket on his lap with a thoughtful frown, and picked and twisted at it with his fingers. “No, Steve from 2024. I don’t think—I wasn’t supposed to know it was future Steve. I didn’t really, not then. But when I saw Steve in the white suit, after the battle, I recognized it. Because I’d seen it before, way before Thanos. He’d told me it was some old Avengers’ uniform he’d found in the Quinjet then, changed out of quick like he didn’t want me to see, and I just made fun of him ‘cause it looked so awful on him, but—”
“Shit,” Sam breathed. That suit had not been on the Quinjet. Two years on the run in that jet, and Sam had known every inch of it, had known exactly what supplies it had at any given moment. Extra uniforms hadn’t ever been among those supplies, much less new uniforms in a terrible new color scheme.
“Yeah,” said Bucky. “And he seemed—pretty sad, but in a desperate kinda way? And I thought, it was just a bad mission or something, and gave him some baby goats to hug to make him feel better.”
Sam laughed, incredulous, and looked up at Bucky. “Did it work?”
“Of course it worked, Sam, they’re baby goats,” said Bucky with an affronted glare.
“Okay, okay, so—what else? Did he say anything?”
Bucky frowned again, thoughtful and worried.
“He said—he said, ‘You’re my anchor, Buck. All these years, all this time, and you’re the only reason I’m not gonna get lost in all of it. Promise me you’ll always believe that I’m gonna come back.’ He was—really intense about it. So I promised him. And when I saw him in that suit again, when he said he was gonna take the Stones back—”
“You realized just which Steve you’d been talking to,” said Sam, and Bucky nodded. “That’s why you’re so sure. That’s why you don’t wanna go after him.”
“And the old Steve, the one who gave you the shield, he mentioned my promise, asked if I’d still keep it. I asked him what he meant, because he was already back, but he wouldn’t say, and then he was gone.”
“This is some cryptic bullshit, Bucky. It’s not much to go on.”
“I know,” said Bucky. “But if he needs me to be his anchor, then I’m gonna sit tight and be that for him, Sam. I don’t know what the hell he’s doing, I just know I made him a promise. He never gave up on me, not even when he should have. So I’m not giving up on him either.”
Had Steve made that visit and asked for that promise for Bucky’s sake, or his own? And what the hell did it have to do with the Stones, or getting Natasha back? Sam wished all over again that they hadn’t let Steve go on his own.
“Wish he could’ve paid me a visit too,” muttered Sam.
“He gave you the shield,” said Bucky softly.
Through the haze of sickness and misery and cold medicine, something sparked in Sam’s head: if Bucky’s promise was an anchor, then what was Steve’s shield…?
“Anyway, I can guess why our Steve didn’t pay you a visit. I’m the only one he could’ve been sure of visiting without running into himself. He went weeks between visits, most of the time. That would’ve been the biggest window of opportunity he could consistently get, with the least chance of crossing his own timeline if he didn’t aim right, and the least chance of messing anything else up. All he did was talk to me, no one else in the village saw him before he left again.”
Whatever spark of an idea Sam had fizzled out.
“He wanted to avoid making a new timeline, I guess. Fucking time travel.”
“Fucking time travel,” agreed Bucky.
“So we just gotta keep waiting and hoping, huh?” asked Sam, and slumped against Bucky.
Bucky leaned into him with a sigh. “Seems like it.”
“Yeah,” said Bucky. “But it’s all we’ve got.”
I will be posting Chapter 3 later today! If I don't, please feel free to yell at me.
The first really bad Avengers’ mission after Thanos’ defeat wasn’t even really an Avengers’ mission, and that was what made it terrible. If it had been an Avengers’ mission, if they’d gone out and handled it, saving some people and failing to save others, it would have made for a grim mission, but far from the worst. Sam was Pararescue: he was well-acquainted with the inescapable reality that you couldn’t save everyone. But at least they tried. This time, they hadn’t even gotten a chance to do that. The Avengers hadn’t been called out in time to do any damned good at all.
Instead, they got called in for the aftermath of what the media was already calling the Mayfield Missouri Massacre: one of the Thanos and/or doomsday cults that kept springing up all over had attempted to recreate the Decimation in their small town, going after everyone who’d disappeared during the Decimation and then returned. They hadn’t entirely succeeded, thanks to local law enforcement, but they’d gotten far enough. The death toll was already in the dozens.
“Gonna be honest here, Cap, I’m not really seeing what good the Avengers can do in this situation,” said Hope grimly as the team filed into the quinjet.
Privately, Sam agreed with her, especially since they were being called in now, hours after the killings had started and when most of the suspects had already been apprehended. It was horrible, obviously, but Missouri and the FBI had adequate resources to handle it.
Instead of saying any of that, Sam went with the official story. “LEOs want help rooting out any remaining cult members, and they want it done fast. We can help with that.”
“We could have helped more hours ago, when these killings started,” Wanda said as she strapped herself into her seat. “I just don’t understand why there are people out there who think they should recreate Thanos’ genocide, I truly don’t.”
“We’re being called out for the optics,” Bruce said grimly. “If it was about being effective, this would have been a mission for Cap, Barnes, Hill, and Carter. Not sure the rest of us are much good on a manhunt.”
“Yeah, well, you’ve just got me. Bucky, Hill, and Carter can’t be pulled out of their op right now, they’re off catching Nazis.”
Sam wished like hell he’d been called in for that mission instead of this one. But apparently, he was too “high profile” for it, what with being Captain America and all.
“Let’s just do our best, okay?” said Rhodey as he started his pre-flight checks. “I wish we’d gotten called in on this earlier too, but we’ve just gotta work with the situation we have, not the situation we want.”
The situation they had was a clusterfuck. Wild-eyed cultists who raved and shrieked obscenities at them, grieving families who begged them to bring their dead family members back, just like they had before, and local authorities who were variously resentful or in shock, or some combination of both…it was hard to know where to start, what to do.
It wasn’t like Sam wasn’t used to getting somewhere after the bad shit had already happened: on Pararescue missions, sometimes he and Riley just hadn’t gotten there in time, through no fault of their own, and on secret Avenging missions, they’d often been scrambling to unfuck a fucked situation, or assist after some disaster. But this mission felt uniquely useless: the whole town of Mayfield needed a team of therapists and cult deprogrammers and counselors, and Sam and his team were not equipped for that. They were doing little good here other than being bait to round up the remaining Thanos cult members, who flung themselves at the Avengers with terrifying fervor, shouting things like the dead should stay dead! This is not the Kingdom Come! Demons, demons, all of you!
On their sweep through the town to round up any remaining cult members, things only got worse. They found bodies, too many of them.
“This is a fucking nightmare,” said Scott, voice shaking, and Sam flinched to hear Scott of all people curse like that.
“Clear,” reported Wanda as she came back downstairs, blinking away tears.
“Alright,” said Sam. He rubbed her back in some attempt at comfort as she passed. “Tag it and let’s move on to the next house.”
It took every last mental and emotional reserve Sam had to get through the three days they spent in Mayfield. He drew on every bit of training and experience he had—as Pararescue, as a counselor, as an Avenger—and none of it was enough. This wasn’t a war, or a battle against killer robots or aliens, or even an op against the average group of criminal scumbags or terrorists: this was seemingly ordinary people, who’d committed atrocities, who’d actively undone the miracle of their loved ones and community members having come back to life. For the team’s sake, Sam swallowed down all his disgust and helplessness and rage.
“One more quadrant to sweep, you guys,” said Sam, and while he couldn’t manage anything close to morale-boosting cheer, he at least sounded steady and encouraging enough.
Scott certainly tried to rally. “Maybe we’ll find some kind of, I don’t know, artifact, or, or—alien thing, maybe that’s why—”
“No,” said Wanda, the word dropping heavy as a boulder. “Their minds are clear of outside influence. These people did this of their own free will.”
Before the despair and horror of that could really set in, Sam said, “And that’s why we gotta find all of them. C’mon.”
Would Steve have handled this better? Would Natasha? Sam had no idea. He wished they were here anyway, and wished Bucky was too, because Bucky wouldn’t need Sam to keep it together, Bucky would be steady and strong through even this. Not because the horror wouldn’t touch him, because it would—Sam of all people knew that Bucky had a miracle of a soft heart—but because—because—Sam didn’t even know. He just wanted his partner here, he supposed, someone to share the load with, someone he didn’t have to be strong for.
Get it the fuck together, Wilson, he told himself, and got back to work.
After three days, all the cult members were in custody, and the Avengers left Mayfield. Not that it was over yet: there were debriefs to deal with still, and press conferences. The optics were actually genuinely important, and not just to placate the media, and Sam was Captain America now. He couldn’t beg off. He had to go up there with the shield, in the uniform, and pretend like he didn’t want to just scream about how sick and wrong and unfair it all was.
We undid the motherfucking apocalypse and you backwards, raving psychos are out there trying to reenact it? Fuck off.
But that wasn’t the kind of shit Captain America said. No, Captain America was supposed to go out in front of the cameras, looking appropriately solemn and sober and grave, to tell people what had happened and why it wouldn’t happen again. Captain America had to give people hope and make them feel safe and encourage them to be better.
We don’t want copycats, Rhodey had said, with such total exhaustion that Sam knew Rhodey absolutely expected there to be copycats. Sam didn’t think there was any speech he could give that was rousing and solemn enough to prevent that. He went out there and tried anyway, thinking of Steve and his dumb, amazing ability to talk people into better versions of themselves.
“Steve would’ve been proud,” said Bruce afterwards, and Sam had the sudden urge to deck him, to scream.
Rhodey could tell, maybe, because he sent Sam home. “Go home, Sam. Take the week off. I’ll handle things here.”
“That doesn’t seem fair, you were on this fuck-awful mission too,” said Sam. “Just—gimme a couple days, I can be back on duty—”
Rhodey put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay. Me and Bruce, we can handle things. This—this isn’t the first time, for us, with something like this. Go home, get some rest.”
The possibility of the Mayfield Massacre being Sam’s first, of there being more, or worse—it was intolerable. Sam’s breath wanted to come faster, but he forced a controlled, slow inhale and exhale, and gave Rhodey his best I’m fine smile—not super successful, judging by Rhodey’s look of concern—then left as ordered.
It was only when he was halfway up the steps to Natasha’s brownstone’s front door that he realized: he didn’t even know if Bucky was back yet, if his mission had gone okay. Surely someone at HQ would have told him if something had gone wrong, Sam reasoned to himself as he opened the door, surely Bucky was back by now, he had to be back by now, because if Sam had nothing but his own thoughts for company tonight, he’d—
“Sam?” called out Bucky, voice muzzy and rough, as if he’d just woken up.
“Yeah,” said Sam, and followed the sound of Bucky’s voice to the living room, where Bucky was already sitting up on the couch, hair a tousled mess and a couple day’s worth of stubble on his cheeks.
Bucky got one look at Sam and vaulted himself over the couch in a ludicrously graceful movement. Before Sam knew it, Bucky was hugging him, gentle like he was afraid Sam might be hurt, or maybe like he himself was. Sam tried to keep it together, tried to act like it was totally normal for them to do this, like this wasn’t because Sam probably looked like he was about to fall apart.
“Your mission go okay?” he asked, struggling not to cling to Bucky’s broad shoulders. Keep it together, Wilson, have some chill. “You hurt?”
“It was fine, and not anymore,” said Bucky, and Sam pulled back, because that was not a satisfactory answer. Sam examined Bucky for any signs of injury, but Bucky just reeled him back into his arms. “I slept it off, all healed up. I heard about your mission. Sam, I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.”
Sam laughed, half-hysterical. “You shouldn’t be. We were useless out there, too fucking late to do any good. It was fucking awful, Bucky.”
“Yeah, sounded like it. Still, I wish I’d been there,” said Bucky, low and sincere against Sam’s ear. “Are you okay?”
Sam didn’t have any kind of answer to that question; it was both too small and too big. So he kissed Bucky instead. It wasn’t a good kiss: Sam was too damned desperate, and he’d caught Bucky by surprise, so mostly it was just a slightly painful mashing of their mouths together before Bucky pulled away, wide-eyed, because they didn’t do this. They kissed, sure, but not like this, not without invoking their benefits plan, not without some bit of sly, teasing foreplay.
“Sam?” asked Bucky, his worried eyes intent on Sam. They were icy-waters troubled right now, big with concern. Even so, when Sam kissed him again, Bucky kissed back.
Bucky tried to gentle Sam’s frantic and rough desperation with a softer, slower kind of kiss, but Sam didn’t want one of Bucky’s usual luxuriously paced make-out sessions right now. He wanted enough sensation to blot out the last five days, and he wanted it fast, now, before he had time to think about the godforsaken, newly re-Decimated town of Mayfield any more.
“I’ve just—I’ve just gotta stop thinking about it, I need—”
Sam chased Bucky’s mouth for a biting, deep kiss, and Bucky finally got with the program, meeting him with an almost savage ferocity, letting Sam turn their kisses hot and dirty.
“Okay, okay,” said Bucky between kisses. His mouth was bruising against Sam’s lips, but his hands were still gentle where they gripped Sam’s jaw and waist. “I got you, Sam, I got you. C’mon,” he said, and guided Sam upstairs, to Sam’s bedroom.
Bucky was not moving fast enough for Sam’s tastes, so when they got to Sam’s room, he crowded Bucky up against the wall, grinding against him, the heat and strength of him and his dirty kisses enough to start getting Sam hard, all Sam’s useless adrenaline finally being put to good use. After a few wet, open-mouthed kisses, Bucky pulled some judo trick and swapped their positions so Sam was the one up against the wall, and yes, that was what Sam needed, they could do this hard and fast, just like this.
Sam yanked at Bucky’s shirt until he got the picture and took it off, while Sam kicked his shoes and pants off, and then he pulled Bucky close and closer still, until their hips were flush against each other. He gripped Bucky’s hips tight, tight enough to bruise, and kissed Bucky again, open-mouthed and wet, until they were both panting.
“I’m not hurt and I’m not gonna break, you can stop being so damn gentle,” Sam said, because for all that Bucky’s mouth was giving Sam deep and devouring kisses, his hands were still so careful at Sam’s side and shoulder. “I wanna fucking feel it, come on, you can stand to leave some goddamn bruises.”
He opened Bucky’s fly and palmed Bucky’s hardening cock, giving it one dragging, rough stroke, and Bucky gasped, but he pulled back too, catching Sam’s hands in his to stop him for a moment before dropping them.
“Don’t ask me to be rough with you. I’ll give you what you need, Sam, but don’t ask me to be rough with you, please,” said Bucky, soft and hoarse, his breath still coming a little fast. “I don’t—that’s not a thing I wanna be, now that I’ve got a choice, especially not for this.”
“Exactly what is it you think I need then, huh?”
“You need to get the hell out of your head. And I don’t need to make this hurt to get you there.” Bucky placed his hand—his flesh hand, warm and broad—feather gentle against Sam’s throat, where he’d once nearly choked Sam, so long ago. Sam’s pulse pounded furiously against the light touch, the beat of his blood battering into every part of him with the desperate need to let out some of the ugly emotions roiling inside of him. “Think I’ve done enough hurting you.”
“Yeah, probably,” Sam said carelessly. “And if I wanted it to be my turn?”
The words came out harsh and vicious, crawling free like he’d turned over some heavy stone inside of himself to let out dark things that should never have seen the light.
Bucky went totally still in that eerie way of his, only his eyes moving as he looked down and away, before he met Sam’s eyes again in a flash of slate blue. Sam wanted to claw his own damned skin off at the glint of fear he saw there, there and gone in a split second. Worse even than the fear was the despairing resignation that took its place, because that meant Bucky would let him. Bucky would hate it, but he would let Sam become the latest in a long, long line of people who’d hurt him, and Sam didn’t know if that was because Bucky thought he deserved it, or just because he thought Sam needed it that much. Both options made Sam feel like a fucking monster.
“Shit, forget I said that,” said Sam, and let his head fall against the wall behind him with enough of a thunk to hurt just a little. The spark of pain cleared his head enough for shame to overtake his sickeningly urgent need to overwhelm all the noise in his head. “I didn’t mean it, fuck. I’m fucking every goddamn thing up today. You should go, I should—”
“Sam, no, hey, it’s—it’s okay.”
“It really isn’t! I’m sorry, I wouldn’t—fuck, I would not do that to you, okay? I swear I will never do that to you. You should go, Bucky, I’m obviously not fit for human company right now.”
“I don’t think you should be alone either. So c’mon, I got you.” Bucky took Sam’s shoulders and tugged him gently away from the wall, maneuvering him towards the bed and pressing on his shoulders until Sam got the picture and sat down and Bucky sat down beside him. “You’ve had a really shitty week, and you need to stop thinking, I get it.”
“Yeah, and I don’t need to inflict it on you. Seriously, I’ll be okay, I’ll—I’ll nurse some whiskey and watch some bad TV and it’ll be fine.”
“I like to think I’m a better option than you drinking yourself blind,” said Bucky softly.
He turned Sam’s face towards his and kissed him, light and sweet. Sam kissed him back just as sweet, hoping Bucky read the apology in it, the promise: I know I was an asshole just now, but I’m never gonna be so big an asshole as to make you scared, not even for a second, not ever again.
“Let me take care of you,” murmured Bucky. “What else are friends for, right?”
“Okay,” said Sam, after another kiss. “Yeah, okay. Go for it.”
“Thank you,” said Bucky, like Sam was doing him a favor here.
They finished undressing, more slowly now, and then Bucky directed Sam to lie down on his stomach. Sam did, and heard Bucky rummage around the night stand, heard the click of the lube opening. Sam’s cock had gone soft, but it stirred in interest again now, anticipatory goosebumps rising up and down his spine. Bucky must have noticed, because he swept one warm, broad hand up and down Sam’s back, his gun calluses catching pleasantly against the smooth skin. Then Sam felt the lukewarm, slick metal of Bucky’s fingers along the cleft of his ass, and fuck yes, Sam knew where this was going now.
“Alright if I use this hand?” asked Bucky, his voice gone low and husky, one smooth metal finger already stroking up and down along Sam’s perineum, firm enough to make Sam shudder in pleasure.
“About damn time,” Sam told him and spread his legs, because Bucky had always used his right hand before, to Sam’s mild disappointment.
“Tell me if it hurts,” Bucky directed, and then he slid a lubed up finger in properly, the metal so much firmer and harder than his flesh fingers. Sam’s muscles went loose, and his cock began to fill in anticipation of being fucked, the friction of the sheets against him turning pleasantly maddening.
Bucky lay down beside Sam as he fingered him, and while Sam’s head was turned in the other direction, he felt the warmth of Bucky’s bare skin along his side, felt the heat of his even breaths, as he fingered Sam with slow diligence. It felt good, of course it felt good, especially with the slick and unyielding fullness of Bucky’s vibranium fingers, but goddamn Bucky and his patience, Sam wanted a thorough deep dicking here, not a lazy, Sunday morning kind of fuck.
“The last time you fucked me was last week, you can stand to move this along a little, Barnes, I can take it,” said Sam, and pushed his ass up against Bucky’s fingers.
Instead of the playful nip or light swat to the ass he usually got when he was being pushy, Bucky just hummed and pressed a hot, lingering kiss to the nape of Sam’s neck, and slid another finger inside of him. Sam groaned at the stretch, and tilted his hips to urge Bucky’s fingers deeper, deep enough to brush against the sweet spot of his prostate.
“That’s not what this is about. You wanted out of your head, Sam? I’ll get you there,” he said, and proceeded to prove that while he refused to be rough with Sam, that didn’t mean he wasn’t more than willing to drive Sam fucking crazy.
Fuck Bucky’s relentless goddamn patience, Sam thought hazily, as Bucky’s vibranium fingers fucked into Sam, two fingers for seemingly ever, then three, their smooth and steady motion better than any plug or dildo, each deeper thrust lighting Sam up. His cock was painfully hard now, and Sam had to clench his hands in the sheets to keep from touching himself, from finishing this off too damn soon, though at this rate, just rutting against the sheets would be enough to get him off, like he was some horny teenager having a wet dream.
“I can feel it, you know,” said Bucky, right against Sam’s ear, and Sam shivered. “Can feel how hot you are, how tight. Does it feel good? I can switch hands, if you want.”
“Don’t you fucking dare, just—harder, faster, c’mon—”
Sam spread his legs wider, tilted his hips for a better angle, and Bucky got the picture, and finally those smooth fingers properly stroked up inside Sam just the right way, each touch sending a lightning-flash spasm of overwhelming sensation through him. Sam was reduced to babbling and moaning, needing more or less, or he didn’t know what, but the pace of Bucky’s fingers stayed steady and unflagging as Sam’s rutted wildly against his fingers, against the sheets, until all the stimulation finally became too much and he came, clenching around Bucky’s fingers and spilling onto the sheets under him.
He was faintly aware of Bucky’s warm lips kissing down along the notches of his spine as he pulled his fingers free, and then Bucky turned him over gently, out of the wet spot. Sam looked up at him, still dazed and shaky from his orgasm. There was Bucky’s focus again, so rapt and fierce and total that Sam had to close his eyes, all his skin flushing hot. He heard the crinkle and tear of a condom wrapper though, and opened his eyes to see Bucky leaning over him, positioning him for a good-old fashioned missionary fuck.
“Bucky, fuck, I—”
“Ssshhh,” Bucky soothed, and kissed him, slow and dirty and thorough, until he was breathless. “You said you wanted to feel it.”
He slid inside Sam and it was too much too much too much, but so good, the stretch and fullness were so impossibly good. Sam fought for some sense through all the feeling, scrabbled for a mental grip.
“We’re not all super soldiers,” he gasped. “I’m not gonna be able to come again, asshole—”
Bucky shut him up with a kiss and a deep thrust that had Sam moaning into his mouth.
“That’s okay. It feels good, right? And you said you could take it.”
The bastard was barely out of breath, fucking Sam slow and thorough, like he could do it all goddamn night. Sam wrapped his legs around him and held on.
“Yeah,” said Sam, and summoned up some bravado before Bucky’s cock slammed in again. “I can take it for as long as you can last.”
Usually, that would have been a cue for Bucky to grin, wicked and sharp, before he set about proving Sam delightfully wrong. This time though, Bucky cupped Sam’s cheek with his hand and kissed him again, his eyes never leaving Sam’s.
“I know,” he said, and Sam had just enough sense to wonder what the fuck he’d gotten himself into before he wasn’t thinking of much at all beyond the impossibly too good, too much overstimulation of being fucked after already coming.
It wasn’t just Bucky’s cock that was almost too much right now, it was his focus, his dark eyes fixed unerringly on Sam. Sam wondered just what the hell it was he was seeing in Sam right now, but then he wasn’t wondering much at all, too lost in the rhythm of Bucky’s movement. His muscles felt warm and liquid, and he was getting hard again, maybe, need building up with each of Bucky’s thrusts. He didn’t know how long it went on for, when tears had built up in his eyes, when he’d started making these desperate moans, when he’d stopped being able to keep his eyes off Bucky, who had worked up a sheen of sweat by now, and who looked beautiful like this, flushed and unguarded, intent and wholly present even though he had to be desperate to come by now.
Would Bucky be like this with anyone, Sam wondered. Would any random hookup off the street get all this sweetly overwhelming attention, was Bucky looking for something he wasn’t finding in Sam? Or was this just for Sam, just for now, because Bucky thought Sam needed it?
Through the aching fog of sensation, Sam let himself look at Bucky and let himself be seen. There was fear, for a moment, all the awfulness of the last week rushing back in, and Sam was certain Bucky could see it, could see all the ways Sam didn’t live up to Steve’s legacy, to the demands of this new world. But then Bucky sank in deep, deep, almost unbearably deep, and rested his forehead against Sam’s.
“Sam, let go, sweetheart,” said Bucky eventually. “Please.”
And fuck, but it always that please, its total sincerity and raw openness, and Sam was gone, shaking with an impossible release. Bucky kissed him, after, long and slow and searing, as Sam came down, a feather-light landing on steady and solid ground.
He drifted off for a moment, maybe, and came aware again to Bucky’s arms around him. He blinked bleary eyes open to look at him, and swallowed hard at the softness he saw there, the tender curve of his mouth.
“Yeah,” he said, and laid his head against Bucky’s chest, exhausted and gloriously empty, swept clean by the hurricane-force gale of Bucky’s attention. “Thanks,” he managed, and then he was asleep.
When Sam woke up, he woke sluggish and slow, a vaguely hungover, fuzzy pressure lingering in his head. His body ached, wrung-out—something almost like the relief and weakness after a fever broke. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant: some of it was the ache of having been well-fucked, the release of multiple orgasms in a shorter time than Sam had managed since he was a horny teenager. The rest was just plain release: the release of tension, the release of all the ugly feelings that had been roiling inside of him.
Sam, let go, sweetheart. Please, Bucky had asked, fucking him so slow it had ached, and Sam hadn’t been able to fight it. He’d let go, and Bucky had seen it, and he’d still kissed Sam afterwards, deep and sweet, something like gratitude in it.
Sam didn’t know how he was going to face Bucky this morning, after that. He opened his eyes, and found he didn’t have to: the other side of the bed was empty, except for a note in Bucky’s stupidly immaculate, old-fashioned handwriting.
Fury called with a mission for me. Be back in a few days.
Why Bucky signed the note, Sam didn’t know: Sam wasn’t living with anyone else, much less sharing a bed with them. His annoyance was distant and half-hearted though. Instead Sam was caught between relief and a sinking feeling of wrongness that Bucky wasn’t here, that they wouldn’t have a chance to talk about last night, about whether Bucky was okay with what had gone down, because whatever last night had been, it hadn’t been casual fuck buddies sex. Sam worried it had just been bad decisions sex. If Bucky thought so, his terse note didn’t give much away, though Sam supposed it was a good sign that he’d bothered to leave a note at all.
Sam sighed, and the furious, helpless misery of the last few days swept over him again. The urge to just stay in bed was strong, but when he rolled over, he caught sight of the shield, resting against the bedroom wall. Too late to use it to help those people in Missouri, if it even could have helped. But the people still here today might need to see it, and there was work to be done still, to make sure some other Thanos cult didn’t rise up and recreate the Decimation on their own. Steve had always said you always get back up. That’s what my Ma taught me.
So Sam got up.
Whatever mission Fury had sent Bucky on, it was a short one. He was back in a couple of days, none the worse for wear, though he didn’t have a hug for Sam this time. Which was fine, normal. Sam had no reason to feel disappointed by that.
“Everything go okay?” Sam asked him when he returned to the Tower, and Bucky nodded, giving him a small, close-mouthed smile.
“Fine. Just a bit of follow-up from my op with Carter and Hill. I gotta go debrief, see you later.”
The short, wholly professional conversation didn’t quite sit right with Sam, but then, Bucky was usually a lot more reserved on the job. When Sam swung by Bucky’s tiny office at the end of the day—little more than a supply closet with a desk and computer shoved in, and an inbox and outbox stuffed full of classified reports—intending to pick him up so they could head home together, Bucky shook his head apologetically, still typing away.
“Gotta catch up on this paperwork, sorry. You go on ahead, I’ll be home later.”
Sam wasn’t sure what time Bucky ended up getting back home, but it was after Sam went to bed. Was Bucky avoiding him? Don’t be ridiculous, Wilson, he’s just got a job.
The next morning, Sam bit the bullet and brought up the other night. “Thanks again for the other night. Really going above and beyond with the exceptional benefits,” he said, trying to keep it light.
Sam thought he saw Bucky go still and tense, but then he blinked and Bucky was as relaxed as he usually was. Bucky didn’t look up from his coffee, but his lips moved into a smile.
“No problem. Happy to help.”
The words and light tone were right, but something was off. “We’re good, right?” asked Sam.
Bucky’s eyes flicked up to meet his, then away. “Of course.”
Things were a little weird, after that. Not actively bad, but weird, a distance in Bucky that made Sam uneasy. He smiled less often, spent more time on his own. Bucky was entitled to his moods, Sam told himself, and for all that his recent missions had gone okay, they’d still been related to HYDRA. Maybe they’d brought up some bad memories. Maybe that was all this was. Either way, they were both too busy with work to worry over it too much.
They’d be back to baseline soon enough, hopefully.
He worried a hell of a lot less about Bucky after he spotted him being flirted with by one of the analysts in the Avengers’ support staff bullpen. It was kind of cute, honestly, Bucky looking faintly bashful as the slim, sharp-suited analyst—what was his name, he usually handled the cryptographic stuff, had an amusing strong Minnesota accent…Jake, that was it—leaned in close. Although, thought Sam, Analyst Jake could stand to be a little more respectful of Bucky’s closely guarded personal space.
“What was that about?” asked Sam after Bucky exchanged whatever paperwork with Jake he’d needed.
“Oh, uh. He asked me out? For coffee? That’s—that’s a date, nowadays, right?”
So Analyst Jake moved fast. Or maybe they’d been flirting for a while. That was fine, none of Sam’s business, though it was weird that Bucky hadn’t mentioned it.
“Yeah, a casual one. Did you…say yes?”
Bucky nodded, running a hand through his hair. “Um, yeah. It’s just coffee.”
“Hey, I’m happy for you,” Sam told him, because he was. It seemed like a big step forwards for Bucky. “He’s cute, seems nice.”
Before Sam could grill Bucky any more about Analyst Jake, Hill came striding into the bullpen. “Barnes! We got that satellite imagery we were waiting on, c’mon, I need you to come take a look at it.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Bucky told her, and left Sam with a quick, nervous grin. “See you at home?”
“Sure, see you later.”
Rhodey was clearly on a mission to check on team morale, after the Mayfield Missouri Massacre. Sam tried not to be offended; sure, Sam had done his own morale-boosting rounds, and he thought he’d been pretty convincing with it, but he couldn’t blame Rhodey for checking in. At least he did it in what now passed for the Avengers’ mess hall/common area in the Tower, the open space that used to house Stark’s swanky lounge and balcony, now full of small tables and chairs and couches, with the wet bar repurposed into a small kitchen. If Sam really needed an exit strategy from this conversation, he could always fling himself off the balcony for an impromptu flight.
“Alright if I sit here?” asked Rhodey, as if Sam was gonna say no to him.
“Yeah, sure,” said Sam. “What’s up?”
“Just thought I’d check in with you. About non-Avengers stuff for once. How’re you doing, Sam?”
“Doing fine,” he said, and mentally rummaged for a topic of conversation that would convince Rhodey of that. Steve and Natasha were off-limits, obviously, and Sam did not want to talk about Bucky for reasons he wasn’t interested in examining, and if work wasn’t an option…Shit, Sam really didn’t have much else going on. Except… “The brownstone’s really coming along: painted the walls downstairs, got some nicer window treatments put up.”
Rhodey, thankfully, went along with it. “Yeah? What color? I keep meaning to repaint to something other than boring white, but I never get around to it.”
They went back and forth about home repairs and interior design for a bit, and Sam almost thought he’d get out of this conversation without any uncomfortable questions, when Rhodey’s morale boosting took an unexpected turn.
“Hey, listen, you’re single, right?”
“Uh…” Sam’s brain worked overtime, and his heart twinged with something like uncertainty. Why did Rhodey wanna know? “Yeah. Yeah, I am,” he said, and hoped it came out sounding casual and sure.
Having a fuck buddy roommate still counted as being single. Right?
“Don’t worry, I’m not coming on to you,” said Rhodey dryly, maybe mistaking Sam’s hesitation for something else. “It’s just, I’ve got this cousin, Naomi, and I think you’d like her. And I think maybe you could use a social life outside of this superhero stuff?”
The suggestion was gentle and too-knowing, and Sam had to look away from Rhodey’s steady gaze, from the worry and concern there.
“What makes you say that,” said Sam, in a tone too flat to make it a question. Which probably wasn’t helping his case any here.
“I know we’ve got a lot going on, but as far as I can tell, you suit up as Cap, you do the work, and then you go home, and that’s it. I know you know that’s not sustainable.”
“I do stuff other than just go home,” protested Sam. “I do stuff with Bucky. Social stuff.”
They definitely did things other than Netflix and chill, after all. Shit, they’d gone ice skating before things got weird. Sure, they’d dared each other into it and ended up with nothing but hot chocolate and bruised asses to show for it, but the point was, they’d done something normal and sociable outside of the house.
“Dating social stuff?” asked Rhodey, and Sam’s stomach dropped like he’d just taken a dive with his wing. “Listen, just tell me if I’m out of line here. But being Cap doesn’t mean you’ve gotta live like a monk the way Steve did. The shield doesn’t come with a vow of celibacy.”
“Is there a Captain America blind dating service now? You ever try to set Steve up with someone, or is this a Sam Wilson’s dating life is just that tragic special?”
Rhodey snorted, sad and fond. “Steve’s dating life was Natasha’s beat. I’m strictly a limited-time offer blind date matchmaker.” He pulled out his phone, showed Sam a photo of a striking, pretty black woman with a cute, dimpled smile and long box braids. “So how about it? Her name’s Naomi, she’s an architect, the Falcon’s always been her favorite Avenger, and she absolutely will not tell the tabloids anything about your date.”
“Okay. Yeah, sure, why not. Might as well give this War Machine dating service a shot, now that I can’t just hit up Tinder.”
“So how’d your coffee date with Analyst Jake go?”
Though they hadn’t exactly been avoiding each other, Sam and Bucky’s schedules had been out of sync enough lately that it had been over a week since the last time they’d had a normal dinner at home together. Without the routine of swapping cooking duty, Sam had been living off takeout and frozen meals. A home-cooked meal was a welcome respite, especially when it was Bucky’s chicken and dumplings. If it also gave Sam a chance to get back to some kind of normal with Bucky, all the better.
“Fine, I guess,” said Bucky, with a one-shouldered shrug. “He asked if we could blow each other in the coffee shop bathroom.”
“Damn, aren’t we too old for that kinda shit? And in a coffee shop bathroom? That’s nasty.”
Sam was pretty appalled, honestly. Not just on account of how it was rude and unsanitary, though it was, but because Bucky deserved better than seedy bathroom blow jobs. Wasn’t it obvious he was the sort of guy who needed a little more care and consideration than that? He’d been all shy and sweet with Jake, what about that said ‘I’m down with you fucking my mouth in a public bathroom on our first date’? Maybe Sam needed to have a friendly chat with Analyst Jake.
“Yeah, I, uh, politely declined. Not sure I’m ready for that. Or, um, into it at all, really.”
“You gonna see him again?”
“Dunno. He said he’d text me,” said Bucky, his mouth tilting up into a wry, crooked smile. Sam reached across the table to give him a bracing pat on the shoulder.
“Welcome to dating in the 21st century,” Sam told him, not without sympathy. He hesitated, but this was as good a segue as any, even if he did feel weird about telling Bucky about his upcoming blind date at all. It’d be worse still not to tell him though, probably. It had to be some kind of friends with benefits etiquette violation, right? Right. “Speaking of dating, Rhodey set me up on a blind date with his cousin.”
“For morale-boosting reasons, pretty much. He thinks I need a social life outside of this superhero stuff. I think I’m doing fine, but, you know. Might as well give it a shot, right?”
“Sure,” said Bucky, eyes on his plate. “Hope you have a good time.”
“Yeah, me too. You, uh, got any plans for the weekend?”
“Nah, been a long couple of weeks, you know? I’m just gonna stay in, read some books.”
Sam watched Bucky carefully as he chased a pea on his plate with his fork. He suspected the hair flopping over Bucky’s forehead hid a furrow of sadness on his brow.
“Hey, you doing okay? With your missions and everything?”
Bucky went still for just a second or two, his eyes still downturned with their long, thick lashes covering any expression, before he looked up with a smile. And shit, had he learned that smile from Steve? Because it was the sad smile, the one that showed the lines around his eyes were as much from sorrow as they were from joy, and it was the same smile Steve had given Sam all those years ago when Sam had asked him what makes you happy?
“I’m doing fine,” said Bucky, soft and seemingly sincere. “Just tired, is all.”
“You don’t have to keep me company if you wanna get some rest,” offered Sam, because usually after dinner, they hung out in the living room to watch something, or worked on fixing up some part of the house together. “And I can clean up down here.”
“Thanks, Sam. Think I’ll take you up on that.”
Bucky went upstairs then, and as good as dinner had been, it sat heavy in Sam’s stomach as he cleared the table and washed the dishes. He was missing something, he knew he was. Something had changed, after the last time they’d fucked, and he worried now that, sometime when he’d failed to pay attention, it had changed for the worse.
“How do I look?” Sam asked Bucky, and did a full twirl for his appraisal.
Bucky looked up from writing in his notebook with a smile. “Like you’re about to go on a really nice date. Good to see you’ve got something other than khakis and polos in your wardrobe, Wilson.”
Sam crossed his arms and glowered at Bucky. It was tough to maintain the expression, because Bucky looked very soft and cozy in his blanket nest on the couch, but the slight to Sam’s fashion honor demanded it.
“I do not wear khakis and polos that often!”
Bucky hummed dubiously. “If you say so. Blazer and slacks makes for a better look, is all I’m saying.” Bucky bit his lower lip and eyed Sam’s slacks with a gratifying flash of heat. “The slacks especially.”
“Hell yeah,” crowed Sam. “Leg day is paying off!”
“Yeah, yeah, go show ‘em off to your date,” said Bucky, turning his attention back to his notebook, and Sam studied him for a moment, looking for any telltale signs of sadness.
Sam had been worrying about that sad smile of Bucky’s all week, but he seemed in decent spirits tonight. More calm and pensive than anything approaching happy, which maybe explained the notebook and whatever he was writing in it. The point was, he was fine, and there was no reason for Sam to linger here, looking at Bucky’s fluffy, tousled hair and his socked feet poking out from under the blanket. Sam was about to go on a nice date with a gorgeous woman in a fancy restaurant, and Bucky giving off strong huggable, comfy vibes was not a good reason to be late.
“See you later,” said Sam, and saw Bucky’s hand briefly stop in its steady course across the page of his notebook, then he left.
Sam was good at first dates.
Was that an arrogant thing to think about yourself? Sam wasn’t sure. But he was sure that he was good at first dates: good at drawing out interesting and fun conversation out of his date, good at making them feel comfortable, good at being flirty and attentive. And right now, he was doing all those things with Naomi, and doing them pretty well. But he was doing them all by rote, on autopilot, and he didn’t know why.
Naomi was great: gorgeous and charming, with a generous dimpled smile and a truly lovely voice, sweet and almost musical. She was quick-witted and clever, and she hadn’t brought up the Captain America thing even once. And yet, despite all of that, Sam wasn’t feeling it. Here he was, eating an amazing meal with a great person, and all he could think of was Bucky’s hand holding a pen, and what exactly he’d been writing in that notebook of his, if he was still writing even now. As he ate his meal, Sam kept thinking that if Bucky were sitting across the table from him right now, he’d have been shamelessly stealing bites of food off Sam’s plate. But he wasn’t here, so instead Sam thought about how he should get an order of the restaurant’s hazelnut chocolate torte to go to take home to Bucky, and what the fuck. Get your head in the game, Wilson.
Naomi set her fork down with a wry smile. “This isn’t working, is it,” she said.
“Hey, no, I think it’s going okay,” Sam protested. “I’m really enjoying talking to you.”
“We’re having a real nice dinner and conversation here, yeah, but—we’re both thinking of other people right now, aren’t we?”
Sam wondered what gave him away, though he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. So he asked, “Who’re you thinking of?”
“Did Jim tell you anything about me?” asked Naomi, before she took a nervous sip of wine. “I mean, beyond the basics.”
“No, not really. There something I should know?”
Naomi nodded. “I was one of the people who—went away, during the Blip.” She laughed at herself, took another sip of wine. “God, what am I saying, went away. Died, I mean.”
“Me too,” said Sam, though she had to know that already.
“I was engaged, before it happened. And when I—when we all—came back, Micah had moved on. Found someone else,” said Naomi with a shrug, like it wasn’t a big deal, though it clearly was. “It’s not like I blame him, god, it was five years for him, I was dead, but...” Naomi’s voice trailed off, and she fidgeted with her wineglass.
“You haven’t moved on.”
“No. I haven’t,” she admitted. “It’d be one thing if it was a breakup, you know? It’d suck, but it happens, it’s—normal. You cry about it, you sing along to sad breakup albums, whatever, but—” Naomi sighed, took a swig of wine, and Sam topped off her glass.
“Ceasing to exist for five years then coming back isn’t normal,” finished Sam.
“Exactly. For me, it’s like, we were happy, we were engaged, things were going great, then bam! It’s five years later and it’s all over.” Naomi sighed, her eyes glittering with tears she blinked away. “It’s been hard, I guess, and my friends and family are a little worried about me. Hence the setting me up on blind dates.”
“Yeah, Rhodey’s worried I haven’t got a life outside superheroing.”
Naomi narrowed her eyes at him and hummed. “I spilled my sad story, what’s yours? Who are you wishing was here instead of me?”
“Bullshit,” scoffed Naomi, not unkindly. “You keep going somewhere else, in your head. Like, you’re working on a to-do list, but it’s not for errands, it’s for stuff that makes you go all—” Naomi wiggled her fingers vaguely. “Soft. So, c’mon, tell me.”
“It’s not like that, I’m just thinking about my—roommate.”
He winced, took a big sip of his own wine. Of all the things to call Bucky, roommate somehow seemed like the least accurate, even though they did live together.
“Your roommate,” said Naomi slowly.
“He’s my friend too, obviously,” added Sam. “And partner. You know, in the field. And we’ve, kinda, sorta, fooled around a little. Nothing serious, we both agreed it was just a friends with benefits thing. I’m not stepping out on him or anything, being here.”
“But you’d rather be having this nice dinner with him.”
“No! I mean, I was just thinking I should take him back some dessert, but that’s—we’re not dating.”
Naomi got a worryingly innocent, curious expression on her face. “What kind of things do you do together?” Sam flushed, mortified, and Naomi added, “Oh my god, not sex things, I don’t need to know that, but, you know, apart from that.”
“Just, normal things, you know. We switch off making dinner, we watch Netflix together—he’s still got a lot of pop culture to catch up on—uh, we go to the movies, do fun stuff around Brooklyn, go out to eat…we went ice skating a couple weeks ago, that was—” Sam stopped, looked at Naomi. She was resting her chin on her hand, an encouraging lift to her eyebrows, reminiscent of a teacher waiting for a student to arrive at a correct answer, and Sam just got it, in one mortifying, amazing flash of long-delayed insight. “Okay, I see what’s happening here. These are dates. I have just described a series of dates.”
He put his face in his hands and Naomi laughed, sweet as a songbird.
“Oh honey,” she said. “You really didn’t realize?”
“It was just supposed to be a fuck buddies kinda thing! And I mean, we’re just friends, friends do stuff together—”
Just friends, Sam was forced to admit to himself, did not do stuff together then go home together where they had excellent sex together before going to bed together and waking up together and making breakfast for each other, and right, yeah, Sam was a total fucking idiot.
He couldn’t even put this on Bucky—Sam was the one who’d come up with this friends with benefits idea in the first place, and Bucky had gone along with it, following Sam’s lead. If they weren’t already friends and partners, if they weren’t already living together, maybe they could have kept things casual. But they’d already been all tangled up in each other, Sam realized, long before Sam had made his dumb, amazing suggestion. Now Sam thought he understood why Bucky had pulled back, after that night when they’d both seen too much truth in each other. He’d realized what Sam hadn’t: that they were getting in too deep to keep things anything close to casual.
“Hmm, yeah, no. I’ve had actual long-term relationships that didn’t involve so many date activities. And you live together. Sam, you have a boyfriend. You are in a relationship.”
“I’m realizing that now, yeah.”
Sam wasn’t mad about it, was the thing. Because it was a damned good relationship, even if it was accidental. He and Bucky had stumbled into something real, and Sam should’ve known it when Bucky had seen the ugly and scared and miserable parts of Sam, and had stayed. More than that, he’d held those ragged parts of Sam as gently and carefully as he held every other part of Sam. Or maybe Sam should’ve known it earlier still, when Bucky had trusted Sam to take care of him.
“You need more wine to deal with this epiphany?” asked Naomi, still smiling, but sympathetic about it now.
“No. No, I think I’m good.” He reached across the table to take her hand. “I’m sorry, Naomi, you deserve a better date than a dumbass who didn’t even realize he was already in a relationship.”
“Hey, this was actually kind of fun for me. Plus, I can at least get bragging rights out of this. Not every girl gets to go on a date with Captain America.” She gestured for a waiter. “Now, get your man some dessert and go home to him, Sam.”
Sam left Naomi with a kiss on the cheek and a box of the hazelnut torte to go.
“I hope you find someone,” Sam told her on their way out of the restaurant, and she smiled up at him, dimples and all.
She opened her mouth to answer him, but then the phone in her hand dinged. “Sorry, that must be my Lyft—” she said, looking down at her phone, and her face went soft with some complicated emotion.
“Yeah,” she said, eyes still fixed on her phone. “It’s Micah. He—he says he misses me, and he wants to talk.”
The hope on her face made her shine, and maybe it was his light buzz or the high of his epiphany talking, but Sam knew: she and Micah were gonna be okay. Sam just had to hope that he and Bucky would be too.
On his way back home, Sam considered and discarded about fifty different plans for sharing his epiphany with Bucky before he decided, fuck it, he’d wing it. Flying was just like falling, a lot of the time: you threw yourself into the air and hoped your wings would catch the right updraft to send you soaring, and Sam hadn’t failed yet.
Although, he realized as he rushed inside Natasha’s brownstone, he was gonna feel pretty dumb if Bucky was already asleep. It was far from late, but Bucky might have gone to bed early, in which case Sam would just have to spend a likely sleepless night wondering how the hell he’d been such a dumbass about his relationship with Bucky. His phone’s lock screen was still that photo of Bucky with the goats, for fuck’s sake. Adorable goats or not, that was not a we’re just fuck buddies kind of move.
Sam took his shoes and blazer off in the entry hallway, listening for any sign that Bucky was up. When he heard the low murmur of the TV from the direction of the living room, he sighed in relief. Bucky was awake then, probably still in his blanket nest on the couch where Sam had left him earlier tonight. Sam headed for the living room, takeout box of torte still in his hand.
“Hey, you’re back kinda early,” said Bucky turning from the TV with a concerned frown. “Everything go okay?”
Sam’s epiphany hadn’t changed anything about Bucky. He was still the same Bucky Sam had left a couple hours ago: sprawled on the couch with end-of-the-day stubble on his jaw and dumb, dimpled chin, wearing a gray sweater that Sam knew for a fact was soft to the touch and that did ridiculously striking things to his changeable eyes, turning them silvery blue. Everything about him still looked just as huggable and inviting as it had earlier. It was Sam who’d changed, Sam who understood what it meant that Bucky looked like home and comfort. Even if he’d lost the socks, Sam noted with fond exasperation. Bucky could never keep a damn pair of socks on in the house for more than an hour or so, no matter how cold his feet got. That was okay though. Sam would warm them up when they got under the covers.
Instead of answering Bucky’s question, Sam lingered in the living room entryway and said, “I brought you dessert. Hazelnut chocolate torte.”
Bucky grinned, bright and sweet. “Really? Thanks, Sam, you didn’t have to.”
“Saw it on the menu, thought you’d like it,” he said, and okay, great, winging it was going so well so far, he was definitely going to find a way to transition from ‘I brought you cake’ to ‘I’ve accidentally fallen for you.’ Bucky’s smile got deeper around his eyes, which didn’t help, what with how it made Sam maybe have some feelings.
Bucky didn’t notice Sam’s ever deepening romantic crisis, apparently. “Bring it here, we can share.”
“Wow, James Buchanan Barnes is offering to share a dessert with me instead of hoarding it to himself like sugar is still being rationed?” Sam asked, like he wasn’t legitimately kind of touched that Bucky was offering to share.
Sam joined Bucky on the couch and handed him the takeout box. Bucky took it, but his eyes stayed on Sam, keen and concerned.
“I kinda feel like you might need it, if you came back from a date early with dessert for me.”
“Nah, it was fine,” said Sam with a shrug. “Just—no spark, I guess. She was great, but neither of us was feeling it.”
“That sucks, I’m sorry,” said Bucky, all earnest sympathy.
Here was Sam’s opening: all he had to say was, I wasn’t feeling it because I wanted to be at that fancy restaurant with you. Yeah, no, it surprised me too! But apparently, we are in a for real relationship, and I’d like to upgrade from friends with benefits to the whole package, so to speak, because I think I’m in love with you. Before he could say anything though, Bucky’s phone chimed, and he set the box of torte down on the coffee table and grabbed his phone, looking down at it with a frown.
“Hey, does a text that says ‘you up? Eggplant emoji, winky face’ mean what I think it means?”
Sam’s winging it flight plan underwent a swift and abrupt change of course.
“Is that Analyst Jake?” he demanded, and practically flung himself into Bucky’s lap, before snatching the phone still in Bucky’s hand and tossing it aside. “Forget about him, he’s clearly a fuckboy.”
Bucky’s brow was furrowed in confusion, all his attention concerned and intent on Sam’s face. His big hands settled lightly on Sam’s waist, thumbs stroking Sam’s hips in gentle circles, an act of easy, automatic affection. How in the hell had Sam taken this shit for granted? Sam cupped Bucky’s face between his hands, and Bucky went still, only his lips moving to part in surprise. The temptation to kiss him was strong, but Sam had to do this right, he had to use his damn words.
“The whole time I was on that date, I wanted to be home with you,” Sam confessed.
Bucky’s eyes went wide. He swallowed hard and cleared his throat. “Thought you said the date went fine?”
“I wanted to be home with you, Bucky. Or I wanted you there with me. Because I fucked up with this whole friends with benefits thing, and I’m a dumbass who took way too long to realize that we’re straight up dating and that I’ve fallen for you. So. Let’s make it official.”
“Oh,” said Bucky faintly, and Sam had a second to worry that this wasn’t going to go the way he hoped, before Bucky’s surprise shifted into the sweetest smile Sam had ever seen on his face, brighter even than his armful-of-adorable-baby-goats smile. Sam hadn’t thought anyone’s eyes could be this sparkly in real life, but with the front row, up close and personal view Sam had going right now, he had to admit they could, like sunshine sparkling on deep and pure water. “Yeah. Okay,” Bucky said, low and soft, rough with feeling.
“Hey now, I make a big declaration and all I get out of you is a ‘yeah, okay’?” teased Sam, but gently, smiling so wide it was making his cheeks hurt.
He moved his hands to cup the back of Bucky’s head and bury his fingers in Bucky’s soft hair, intending to kiss the hell out of Bucky, but before he could, Bucky wrapped his arms around him and tucked his face against Sam’s neck. Bucky held on tight, as if he was no longer afraid of hurting Sam, or maybe as if he was no longer holding anything back, and okay, maybe Sam didn’t need Bucky to say anything else, not when he was getting what was probably the best hug of his life.
“Sam, I—” started Bucky, his mouth hot and soft against the skin of Sam’s neck, but he didn’t say anything else, just pressed a kiss there.
“I know, baby,” said Sam, because he thought he understood Bucky’s language of touch by now, after so many months.
He’d been a slow learner about it, maybe, but he knew it now, all the care and tenderness Bucky had given him so freely, as if they weren’t hard-won and precious, as if he hadn’t needed to be brave to risk that kind of openness.
Bucky pulled back and kissed him then, and it was every sweet thing he hadn’t found the words to say, soft and wondering at first, almost like he was making sure this was real, then passionate and focused. Only once he’d left Sam properly breathless did Bucky find some words, as he leaned back with flushed cheeks and a crinkly-eyed smile.
“You know, we can never tell anyone we’re such dumbasses that we’ve been dating for months without knowing it.”
Sam laughed, then he took a deep breath and gathered up every aching bit of hope in his heart.
“Yeah, no, for sure. We absolutely cannot tell Natasha especially. She would literally never let us live it down, ever.”
With spring, the garden Bucky had planted came up green and lovely, and he cared for it with a focus and dedication that bordered on desperate as the weeks and months stretched on with no sign of Steve and Natasha’s return. Sam didn’t blame him; his own hopes ebbed and surged by some clock far more fickle than the moon, but around the one-year anniversary of Steve getting in that quantum tunnel and not coming back, Sam started to get a feeling, a vibe. Something good was gonna happen, Sam was sure of it.
Bucky was dubious when Sam told him so. “Got any basis for this feeling, sweetheart?” he asked, forehead smudged with dirt as he knelt in the soil to tend to his plants. “A prophetic dream, the planets aligning, a message from the birds, what?”
Sam sipped his coffee and watched Bucky from the back patio doors they’d put in a few weeks earlier. He had a pretty good view going here, what with the garden in a profusion of blossoming growth, and Bucky, face pink from the sun and his work pants stretched tight over the muscles of his ass and thighs.
“It’s just a good feeling,” Sam said, and Bucky sighed, aimed a soft and crooked smile Sam’s way.
“Well, I hope your good feeling will come to something,” he said, though Sam knew Bucky had adjusted his expectations by now, was trying to think in terms of years rather than months when it came to Steve and Natasha’s return.
Steve waited on me to get my shit together and come back to him for years, Bucky had whispered one night in bed, when they were both up with 2 AM doubts and fears. I can wait however long it takes for him to do whatever he needs to do. I just miss him.
“Baby, my gut instincts are never wrong. Just you wait.”
A year and a day after Steve went in the quantum tunnel, he came back with Natasha.
Sam didn’t notice, at first: it was Bucky’s turn to cook that night, and Sam had put a record on—they were getting pretty good use out of Bucky’s Christmas present to Sam—so Bucky was humming along, a dancer’s rhythm in the way he moved as he cooked. He kept threatening to take Sam swing dancing for date night, and watching him now, Sam figured he ought to stop making dumb jokes about it and make it happen.
“Shake it, baby,” Sam called out from the kitchen table, though “Stand by Me” wasn’t exactly the song for it.
Bucky grinned at him from over his shoulder and duly gave Sam some hip action, before he stopped and turned back to whatever delicious-smelling curry he had bubbling away on the stove.
“That’s all you’re gonna get, this isn’t a solo act. If you want some of this, you better come dance with me.”
So Sam did, and Bucky held him close through a few slow steps, before the small space of the kitchen had Sam stepping on Bucky’s toes and Bucky laughing at him about it, at which point they gave up on dancing in favor of making out. Bucky still swayed to the music a little as they kissed, lazy and slow and thorough, a promise of hundreds more kisses in it. Sam was grateful all over again that they’d gotten their shit together and taken hold of this thing between them for real.
And that was how Steve and Natasha found them.
“I hate to interrupt such a pretty sight, boys, but I think that pot’s about to boil over,” said a husky, beloved voice from behind them. Sam and Bucky sprung apart, whirling towards it. And there they were: Steve and Natasha.
They were both in battered and grimy versions of the awful quantum suit, but they both looked more or less like the Steve and Natasha Sam had last seen: Steve bearded again, and disheveled, but beaming in teary-eyed joy, and Natasha with her hair back to its natural red, making no move to wipe away the tears streaming down her cheek. They were happy tears at least, judging by the wide and dimpled smile on her glowing face. She and Steve were holding hands, leaning in close to each other, whether for sheer comfort or actual physical support, Sam couldn’t tell. He had to blink a few times, half-expecting Steve and Natasha to disappear, just like Old Steve had, but they didn’t.
“Steve?” said Bucky faintly, and a flash of pain rippled across Steve’s face before it was overtaken by joy again.
“Yeah, Buck, it’s me. Sorry it took longer than five seconds, but I had someone to get back from the Soul Stone,” said Steve, throwing an arm around Natasha’s shoulders.
Sam elbowed Bucky. “See, what’d I tell you? I had a good feeling.”
That seemed to break their standoff of joyful disbelief, and Sam only barely had the presence of mind to turn the damned burner off before it was hugging time. Bucky flung himself at Steve, and Natasha practically ran to Sam to hold him tight.
“You’re okay,” she said, voice thick with tears, and Sam almost asked her why wouldn’t I be before he remembered all over again: for her, it had been over five years since he’d died.
“Alive and well, like Thanos never snapped his damn fingers,” Sam reassured her. “Thanks to you.” He looked at Steve over Natasha’s head. “Do I even wanna know how you got Natasha back?”
“It’s a pretty crazy story,” said Steve, still holding on tightly to Bucky, who seemed pretty happy to be Steve’s super soldier-sized teddy bear. “And I only managed it thanks to you two.”
“We didn’t really do anything though?” said Bucky.
“Yeah, we got your message, and mostly we just moped around worrying about you two. And uh, did some work on your house, Nat. Hope you don’t mind.”
Natasha squeezed him tightly, then went up on her tiptoes to kiss him on both of his cheeks, happier than he’d ever seen her despite the tears still in her eyes.
“Are you kidding me, I love what you’ve done with the place,” she said. “I don’t mind at all.”
Steve pressed a kiss to the top of Bucky’s head. “You two did a lot. You didn’t give up on me, Buck. You kept your promise, and—that’s all I needed. And Sam, you took up the shield. God, I don’t know how to explain, but—that mattered. You can’t know how much that mattered.”
“Long story short, it’s Soul Stone bullshit, don’t worry about it,” said Natasha, and let him go, giving him a little shove towards Steve. “C’mon, swap, get over here, Barnes, we’re hugging.”
Sam got a glimpse of Bucky gingerly hugging Natasha with a hilariously baffled look on his face, before Steve wrapped Sam up in a long, tight hug, no bro back slapping or careful distance involved.
“We really missed you, Steve,” Sam told him, and Steve laughed tearily.
“Seems like you two have been keeping each other company pretty well. That a recent development?”
“Kinda. It’s—it’s good, Steve. It’s been real good. You’ve got real good taste in best friends, what can I say.”
“Yeah,” Steve said softly. “I missed you both too.”
“Was that your wrinkled old ass who dropped a shiny new shield off for me? ‘Cause if it wasn’t, you can have it back, you know.”
“Nah,” said Steve, and released his hold on Sam enough for them to look at each other. Behind the relief and joy, Sam could see that Steve was exhausted, the lines on his forehead and around his mouth carved deeper still than when Sam had last seen them on that video message. “Can’t think of anyone better to carry the shield but you, Sam. I’m done fighting. You remember when you asked me what makes me happy, back when we first met?”
“I’m gonna work on figuring that out, now that I’m home. Now that we’re home.”
Now Sam was the one crying, and he pulled away from Steve to wipe at his eyes. “Let’s move this party to the living room, you two look like you’re about to fall over. C’mon, you won’t believe the couch Bucky got, it’s stupidly huge and comfortable.”
“If you don’t like it, you can get rid of it,” said Bucky, looking at Natasha with wide, slightly anxious eyes. “I mean, we—it’s your house, but Barton said he thought you wouldn’t mind if we stayed here, and we just got some new stuff, fixed it up a little. I, um, planted a garden out back. I hope—Sam said he thought you’d like it?”
Sam was caught in the warm space between exasperation and adoration for his dumbass sweetheart of a boyfriend. Natasha covered her face with her hands for a moment, her shoulders shaking with one short, sharp motion, before she lowered her hands again, smiling.
“I have never cried this much in my life,” she said, laughing, before she leaned up to kiss Bucky’s cheek. “Of course I don’t mind. Why do you think I even got this house in the first place?”
“It’s really not a safe house, is it,” Sam said softly.
“No,” she said, and reached out to take Steve’s hand and Sam’s, tugging them all along with her towards the living room. “It’s a home. What do I know about those, right? But I thought—maybe, someday. Steve would find Bucky, and the Accords would get worked out, and we’d all stop running. And here we are.”
After the end of the world, here they were. Sam’s heart ached and ached thinking of how long she’d had to hold onto that hope for, how often she must have thought it was impossible. But the house was here, and Sam and Bucky had fixed it and filled it up and held onto an impossible hope of their own, and now they were all here together, safe and free and alive. Sam reached out to Bucky with his free hand, and held on tight when Bucky took it. Bucky raised Sam’s hand to his lips and kissed his knuckles, his eyes as bright and clear as safe and cloudless skies.
“Here we are,” said Sam, and it was every desperate prayer and wild hope and lost dream each and every one of them had, finally fulfilled.