Sam’s jacket whipped away from his waist, the chill cutting him to the quick in seconds.
Shivering, he moved through the plane towards the cockpit, dropping a bag in Bucky’s lap. Grinning, Bucky nodded in thanks, picking through it. The grimace on his face at the green smoothie was enough to wipe away the unsettled feeling in Sam’s gut.
Dropping into the chair beside the pilot, he knocked Bucky’s boots off the dash with a disapproving frown. Bucky shrugged at him, putting them back up seconds later.
Taking a gamely sip of the smoothie, Bucky’s grimace worsened as he let out a disgusted groan, setting the cup back in the bag and putting it on the floor. “Pass.”
Sam laughed, crossing his arms as he leaned back in his chair. “You sure? The five food groups are not beer and burgers, you know?”
Bucky looked at him, brow furrowed worriedly. “They’re not?”
“I worry about you getting scurvy.”
“Yeah, well, feed me better.” His icy gaze returned to the windscreen.
“You’re not my pet.”
“I could be,” Bucky offered with a wink, a sly grin curving across his face.
Sam rolled his eyes, stomach twisting nervously as he eyed the radar. “We’re coming up to the drop sight?”
Bucky nodded, climbing to his feet. Sam followed suit, pulling his goggles down over his eyes. The doors came down, the plane moving smoothly through the clouds. Sam eyed them, adrenaline igniting his blood. For the first time all night, he felt sure. One hundred percent confident about what he was doing and where he was needed.
He belonged to the sky.
“So, how do wanna do this, pretty bird? Backpack style? Fireman? Bridal?” Bucky teased, a glint in his eye as he took hold of his goggles.
“When have I ever bridal carried you?”
Shrugging, Bucky slid his goggles on. “Never too late to start.” He moved in closer, his grin widening slowly across his face.
With a salute, he leaned backwards, dropping out of the plane.
Cursing, Sam shook his head fondly before diving after him.
Sam was a busy man.
Saying that wasn’t an attempt to make himself seem self-important, and no, it wasn’t an attempt to side-step the guilt he felt when Sarah complained that her brother never made time for her anymore. Sam literally didn’t know if his day would be spent getting breakfast, at the gym, training recruits at SHIELD HQ, and leading his support group – or if he’d get woken up at three AM because a Hydra cell was holding Osborn labs hostage to steal some sort of formula or because a group of enhanced teenagers blew a hole in the support beam of the Brooklyn bridge or because AIM was threatening to release a toxic gas if the government didn’t meet their demands.
Sam never knew when his time was truly his.
Which made it all the more important that he had something to do when it was. When he took the shield, he’d been so busy training with Steve on how to handle it – both physically and mentally. With the shield came a lot more scrutiny, especially from men that had grown up when the name Captain America became a legend in the first place.
There hadn’t been a lot of downtime between training, helping repair parts of the world that never recovered from the Snap and helping Fury recruit and training up a new group of baby SHIELD agents. The way they told it, merging with May and Coulson’s group had gone smoothly, but they weren’t Avengers. They didn’t want the pressure, they didn’t want to handle the constant threats to end the universe, and while they’d agree to help from time to time, that was entirely differently from being on call for the next Mad Titan.
Clint had his own trainee and Wanda was busy trying for some sort of domesticity with Vision. Thor was busy running around space and Hulk was an honest to god adjunct professor at Culver University. Earth needed a team in place and the longer the roster remained painfully small, the more anxious Sam became. So, he spent whatever “downtime” he had trying to build a team.
It wasn’t perfect, everyone had some issues with teamwork to work through, but at least Earth had someone to turn to when they needed them. Photon, Spider-Toddler, Ant-Man, the Wasp, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, She-Hulk, and Captain Marvel were on reserve. With the few times their paths crossed, Black Panther, Valkyrie and Doctor Strange could also be counted on if everything went to shit again. And seeing as he didn’t seem to trust Sam alone with an unstable group, Bucky unofficially joined.
By the time the Avengers were situated and Sam had a grasp on the shield, he started to find his days easing up a bit. More time to himself, which unfortunately meant more time to think. Which meant it became damn near impossible to ignore how alone he was most of the time.
During the day, he almost never got a moment alone. Exhausted trips to coffee shops with Jennifer Walters, helping Peter Parker with some complicated training regimen Bucky designed for him, lunch with Scott Lang when they were well past starving and willing to eat anything within five feet of them, then group.
Then he went home to an empty apartment.
It wasn’t like Sam had never been alone before. Before he’d fallen headfirst into Captain America’s crazy life, he had been just fine living alone in D.C. But he’d been younger then. He wasn’t sure if it was being invited to Scott and Hope’s last minute wedding in Hawaii or watching whatever strange thing was going on between Luke, Jessica and Danny, but Sam had started to realize it had been five or so years since he’d even gone on a date. Over ten, if you counted the Blip.
Losing five years of your life really started to put things into perspective.
Sam had realized how much of his life he spent working. For SHIELD, for the Avengers, for the country, for the V.A. And he loved his work – he’d never say otherwise, but it didn’t leave much time for himself.
So, since things had slowed down, maybe it was time to try again. And hope that dating hadn’t changed much in the past decade or so.
“So, you know that Myspace isn’t like a thing, anymore… right?” Jen asked, studying him over her cappuccino.
Sam lightly glared at her, taking a sip of his latte. “I’m aware, thanks.”
Jen held up her hands with a smile. “Just checking. You know, fun experiment, ask the spider kid if he even knows what Myspace is.”
“And make myself look even older, no thanks,” he said with a laugh.
“Fine,” she replied, setting her mug down. “But how’s it going? Scott said you’d been on a few dates so far.”
Wordless, Sam tried a few times as he sat up straighter, studying his hands. It was easier to focus on the movement in the coffee shop instead of answering. Scratching the back of his neck, “It’s… going,” he said carefully.
Jen cocked her head to the side, leaning forward to catching his eye. “And?”
Sighing, Sam sat back, watching a woman nearly mow down a woman in a suit with a stroller. The woman’s eyes widened, her mouth moving about a mile a minute, but surprisingly for New York, the businesswoman only smiled and ducked down to wave at her baby.
“It’s kinda hard to know if something’s going well if I don’t know what well looks like,” Sam said finally.
Sam was great with people. He knew how to read them, it came with the job. Even more so when he couldn’t rely on super soldier strength to power through a hostage situation. Where Steve and Bucky would charge in intending to force the guy down, Sam used words. He wouldn’t have made a very good counselor if he didn’t know how to read when someone needed extra time or attention.
Even now, he watched the string of events outside. The business woman’s eyes dropped to the woman with the stroller, her hands, her ring finger specifically and back to her eyes before she reached into her suit pocket and handed the woman a card. He’d wondered if she was some sort of divorce attorney initially, but considering the way the woman with the stroller kept pushing her hair behind her ear when it was already in place, it seemed more likely this wasn’t a business thing.
He wished he found dating that easy.
The few dates he’d gone on hadn’t been disastrous, but they hadn’t gone well. Nights ended with a little too much pressure to go home with him, a little too spirited, or politically incompatible. He’d made the most of them finding Bucky either on the Helicarrier or at his apartment where they’d share leftovers from whatever restaurant Sam had gone to and “debrief”. Bucky usually appreciated it, except for the green smoothie.
“How do you mean?” Jen asked, drawing his attention.
“It’s not like I’ve never dated before, but it’s been so long that what used to be good when I was coming up probably changed a lot.” Jen frowned and he tried to explain. “Now, everyone’s on all kinds of apps and agreeing to meet up with people they’ve never seen in public. We used to meet people at bars or at the park or…”
“Coffee shops,” Jen added, her gaze falling to her mug. Clearing her throat, she sat up and asked, “It’s different, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good.”
“Maybe.” He shook his head, studying his hands once more. “I was – I had something good,” he rasped, meeting her eyes.
“He died.” Jen’s eyes widened, her hand reaching across the table. It hovered a bit above Sam’s before settling on top. It was comforting – Jen’s accident had been less than a year ago and she still didn't trust that she could be gentle enough with anyone.
“How long ago?”
Sam’s lip quirked. “If you asked me before, I would’ve said 10 years ago. But considering I lost quite a bit of time there, it was 15.”
Jen nodded, her eyes softening. “I hear you. You never dated anyone after that?” Sam shook his head. “Well, far be it from me to tell you to get back out there.”
“Hey,” he began and Jen shook her head.
“Until I can handle New York traffic without turning green, there’s no dating in my future.”
“You’ll get there.”
Jen held his gaze, her smile widening. “I’m grateful you took a chance on me, Sam. If I didn’t have the team…” she licked her lips, smile falling a fraction, “I don’t know where I’d be.”
“We’re lucky to have you.”
Jen squeezed his hand.
Sam knocked Bucky’s foot off the coffee table as he moved past, dropping a pizza box on his lap.
“Yes! Finally,” Bucky cheered, sitting up and propping his boots up on the table once more. “I’m starving.”
“Crazy idea? You could make the effort to buy yourself food,” Sam replied, sinking down on the couch beside him. As much as he could, anyway; SHIELD furniture was never that soft. Kept the recruits from getting too comfortable.
“Hmm, that is crazy,” Bucky mumbled around a slice of pepperoni. He hummed with intrigue, biting in with gusto. “This is the good stuff! Where’d you get this?”
“I dunno, some place uptown. Alessia’s? Violetta’s?”
“Alessia’s?” Bucky asked, eyes wide as he stared at Sam in shock. He chewed, swallowed as best he could before continuing. “You went to Alessia’s?”
“Yeah, that sound’s right.”
“You went to Alessia’s?” he repeated slowly.
“Yeah, what’s the big deal? It was Nancy’s idea.”
“Nancy,” Bucky said, lost in thought as he poked at the pizza. He shot Sam a curious glance as he picked up another slice. “Must’ve been pretty crazy about you if she took you there.”
“I don’t know about that.” He stretched out, covering his face. “This was the second date and she paid, which was different.”
Bucky let out a slow whistle, drawing Sam’s gaze. “That place is freakin’ expensive, Sammy. Like the appetizers cost more than whole meals anywhere else.”
Sam blinked at him. “How d’you know that?”
“I read stuff.” He shrugged, the sure sign his next words were being dragged out of him. “Just ‘cause I don’t go to the fancy pants restaurants, doesn’t mean I don’t know stuff.”
“Fancy pants,” he said again with a smile. “I didn’t grow up with money and, even though I make more now, I don’t want to waste it, you know?”
He looked to Sam briefly before returning to the pizza. Sam suddenly wished he had saved more to bring back. “It’s not a waste if you do something special once in a while.” He moved in closer, offering a smile. “I’ll take you someday.”
“You will, huh?” Bucky shook his head, taking a bite of pizza. Almost as if incapable of speaking without his mouth full. “You’re gonna treat me?” He flashed a grin before he continued chewing.
“Don’t make me reconsider.”
“You can’t, you offered. I’ll even put out,” he teased, laughing when Sam tossed a napkin at him. “I take it things with Nancy didn’t go well,” he added, brows raised.
Sam didn’t take the tone to heart. “They went just fine. Except… we ordered wine and I asked for white and she asked for red. They bring two glasses of red, which is fine. Whatever, I had to take the train anyway, I’m not gonna drink much of it, right? But she just exploded. Complained to the waiter, then demanded we be given another one and continued to talk about the guy like it was the end of the world. And that just… I don’t like people like that.”
“Well, you’re not a prick, so,” Bucky muttered. “I feel less bad about eating stolen pizza.”
Sam shook his head, leaning back into the couch. “Do you ever feel bad about eating my stolen food?
Bucky grinned at him. “Nope.”
When the Avengers were needed cleaning up a mess in New Mexico, Sam was almost relieved.
A mission to take his mind off the disaster that was trying to date in a time period he didn’t understand. And it wasn’t like he had years on ice as an excuse.
Sam didn’t want to ride in the Quinjet. Partially because Danny and Jessica Jones were bickering about what a “Chore Wheel” meant and why Jess was too damn old to care about that kind of shit. At the other end of the plane Peter was talking about “that really old movie” Anastacia and asking Bucky did Russia really look like that. And apparently unable to read the room considering Bucky was grinding his teeth loud enough for Sam to hear.
“I’m gonna get some air,” Sam said and Bucky looked to him gratefully.
Thankfully, he waited for Sam to get a grip on him before they left the plane this time.
Sam sometimes flew alongside the jet just to have time to himself. Peace and quiet, just feeling the sky carry him wherever he was headed, usually at his own speed but time was of the essence. Some days, this time was the only time he got to square the mess in his head away before he had to bury it all down and be Captain America.
He was only moderately surprised it worked just as well with Bucky with him.
When they touched down, Bucky straightened his hair a bit, waiting for the jet to land in front of them.
“Any idea what we’re up against?” Bucky asked, tugging on his gloves.
“No idea. Hill just gave us the coordinates and said we’d know it when we saw it. I’m thinking AIM.”
“I’m betting Hydra,” Bucky replied, cocking his head to the side. “Loser pays for dinner?”
“Both of you will be poorer, I’m afraid,” a voice called out from behind them.
Sam and Bucky turned around, Sam with a flash of annoyance at Bucky sliding in front of him just a bit. A woman stood in the middle of the field atop what looked like a flying horse. Sam blinked at her, watching as she climbed down and strode forward, ignoring them completely.
“Come on,” she muttered, “Come on, come on, come on, you overdramatic—”
In a flash of lightning, a figure landed heavy on the grass in front of them. Valkyrie simply rolled her eyes, arms crossed as she moved forward. “You know, you don't always have to make an entrance.”
A tall, statuesque blonde stood in the middle of a crater, silver armor gleaming in the sunlight. She reached out to touch Valkyrie’s chin, tilting it upwards as she admired her. “I thought you knew me better than that, beloved.”
Sam shifted his weight, averting his gaze as their lips met. Bucky leaned into him muttering, “You ever get the feeling you’re missing something?”
“All the time.” Sam’s eyes landed on the large hammer in the blonde’s hand. “Mjolnir?”
“Myeh-what?” Bucky stumbled over the word.
“I thought Thor was a dude.” Bucky scratched at his head, “I guess I missed a lot.”
The air shifted as the Quinjet landed in the field, drawing Valkyrie and… Thor(?) away from their bickering. The team spilled out, Peter leaping forward in excitement.
Sam frowned, glancing from Valkyrie and Thor to Peter in disapproval. “They’re people, just like us.”
Peter cocked his head to the side, silent for a moment. “Oh! Oh, no! I meant,” he pointed behind Sam. “There’s aliens!”
“Shit,” Jess muttered, staring ahead as the team tensed almost in unison.
Bucky, once again, angled his body in front of Sam, touching the gun in his holster. “Looks like you owe me dinner.”
“Don’t think so,” Sam replied, stepping backwards as his wings expanded. “Avengers assemble!”
“Are we—” Thor started to ask as Valkyrie leapt on her horse, “That means go!”
“So, you are Thor but so is old Thor?” Sam asked, rather intrigued as the team commandeered the lobby of a small hotel in New Mexico.
They’d stopped the dragons – “Aliens!” Peter kept insisting – but the clean-up had lasted well into the late hours of the morning and none of them were in decent shape to fly back.
“Translation: free room service, cable TV and a pool on Fury’s dime,” Monica explained with a grin.
“I didn’t say that,” Sam said, taking a long sip of his beer.
“But that’s what he meant,” Bucky added, knocking into his shoulder. His eyes softened. “We know you pretty well, by now.”
“I’m not complaining. No homework for me!” Peter cheered, stacking more enchiladas on his plate.
“Isn’t everything online these days?” Hope asked, catching Peter’s eye. Peter nodded, stuffing his face full. “Then, I think you can get your homework done from here.”
“Sorry, buddy. Part of the tag along rules were that we make sure you keep your grades up and Aunt May doesn’t put her foot up my ass,” Sam said.
“No,” Peter whined.
“Please?” Sam tried and Peter sighed, stuffing another bite of food in his mouth with a nod. “Thanks, man.”
“You’re a total pushover,” Jen said, a teasing glint in her eye, drawing Sam’s gaze. “It’s adorable.”
“I’m not adorable.” He watched her meet Bucky’s eyes over Sam’s shoulder, mouthing ‘adorable’. Sam’s eyes cut to Bucky’s face as he shook his head innocently, staring at his beer. “I get no respect.”
“Yet you lead this group of… Revengers?” Thor sounded out, brow furrowed.
Valkyrie pet her arm with a fond smile. “Avengers. The Revengers were my team with Thor and the beast.”
“You guys had a beast?” Peter asked excitedly, sitting up on his knees.
“Fury’s bankrolling this and we still have to share a room,” Bucky mused, moving across the carpet as he pulled his holster off and stepped out of his boots.
“Yes, and I’m not wasting money. We can share.” Bucky grumbled and Sam pointed, “And you’re not leaving your boots right there.”
“Why not, Captain Mom?”
“Because you’ll trip over them going to the bathroom in the middle of the night and then I’ll have to hear about it.”
“I have more coordination than you think.”
“Do you?” Bucky flipped him the bird, flopping down on his back. “Still, it’s nice having a night off.”
Bucky turned his head to look at him curiously. “Need a break from all that dating?”
“Yeah, well, when the ladies are literally lining up for you, you have to take a day off every now and then.”
“Oh, I bet,” he replied, brow furrowed in faux concern. “Must be hard trying to keep up the energy.”
“In between saving the world, yeah. But someone’s gotta do it.”
“You brave little soldier.” Sam laughed, watching Bucky’s eyes light up.
Sam lied down on his back. After some time, he asked, “You ever feel like you’re just pretending to be a person?” It was quiet but he felt Bucky’s eyes on him. “It’s like we’re all playing a game and I used to know the rules but somewhere along the way, I forgot them. And they’re all still playing and I’m just trying to catch up.” He licked his lips, “You ever feel like everyone else is just moving past you and you’re just standing still?”
He expected a scoff, a joke, a sarcastic ‘you’re being really melodramatic right now, Sam. Is this really all just because you had a few bad dates?’.
Instead, he heard bedsprings creak as Bucky replied, “All the time.”
Bucky waited for Sam to sit down on the couch before stretching his legs out across his lap.
Ignoring Sam’s eyeroll, he reached out with gimme hands, gesturing for the bag in his hand. Sam gave in after some time because the pout was just too adorable. He was sure Jen would thank him for the picture he snapped later.
“Oh, eggrolls! I’ve wanted Chinese food for the longest time.”
Sam stared at him. “You live across the street from like three different restaurants.”
“But money,” Bucky muttered around an eggroll. He dusted off his hands, leaning back with a happy sigh. “What’s this one’s name again?”
“Wes.” There was a choking sound and he looked over to find Bucky pounding his chest with his fist, his face flushed. “Jeez, are you okay?”
He reached over to hand Bucky his water bottle from the table. Bucky tossed back as much as he could, his eyes watering as he tried to sit up. Sam grabbed his wrist, yanking him upright.
“Maybe stop trying to eat and lay down.”
“Wasn’t that,” Bucky muttered and Sam tensed, hand tightening around Bucky’s wrist before he forced himself to release him.
“Are you… is that not cool with you?” Sam asked hesitantly. “That he’s a guy?”
Bucky’s eyes widened, his head tilted back as he drank more water. He wiped his mouth with a wince. “No, just wasn’t expecting it, that’s all. I didn’t, uh,” he ran a hand through his hair, apparently unable to make eye contact for a moment. “Didn’t know you were into that.”
“Into what exactly?” Sam asked and the fact that he was pretty much pinned with Bucky’s legs across his lap made this all the more awkward.
“Sam, don’t give me that look.” He pulled his knees up, draping his arms over them. “I’m not like that .”
“Like what? You can’t even say the words.”
In the back of his mind, he knew he was handling this all wrong. It wasn’t like this could be the first time Bucky had encountered people that dated their same gender. Not only that, Sam had been present when they pulled a woman out of peril and watched her reunite with her wife. Hell, just a few weeks ago, he’d been there when Valkyrie and Thor revealed that they clearly weren’t just comrades in arms.
But he’d been uncomfortable then, too, remember? Maybe you just looked past it because it wouldn’t be the first time someone you worked with turned out to be a bigot? Maybe you’ve avoided it this long but maybe Steve was outlier. He’d come 70 years into the future and his rage against bigots never wavered; if anything, he just thawed out angrier. Maybe Bucky wasn’t like that. Maybe he’s —
“I’m not a bigot, Sam,” he said carefully, drawing Sam out of his thoughts. He was surprised to find it hard to take air into his lungs. Bucky’s brow furrowed in concern, his mouth moving wordlessly for a reason. “I don’t care that you’re – well, I do care,” at Sam’s tensing shoulders, he rushed to add, “I just mean that it doesn’t matter that you’re,” he cursed and bit his lip. “By I don’t care and it doesn’t matter, I mean it doesn’t change the way I feel about you. It just surprised me, is all.”
Sam relaxed bit by bit, still a little wary. “You flirt with me all the time.”
Bucky shrugged. “Flirting is my default. It’s a skill I was blessed with and I’m very proud of it.”
It started out a laugh and Bucky’s shoulders lowered from his ears. “Yeah, I bet.”
Bucky averted his gaze, poking at the bag of takeout food. “Sounds like you could use some of my magic. If you’re here with me instead of Seth.”
“Whatever,” he muttered, pulling out a box of fried rice. “I take it the date didn’t go well.”
“Not exactly,” Sam said, hesitating before Bucky gave him that same look he always gave before dragging the story out of him.
Sam was glad to say he hadn’t had any terrible dates as a whole, aside from Nancy and the waiter incident. For the most part, aside from just not vibing with anyone enough to make something last, he hadn’t had any dates that made him reconsider trying to get back out there.
A solid weight slammed into his side, his back slamming into the polished wood floor as he rolled into the wall of the ballroom, bullets embedding in the floor and then the wall. Underneath a table, the tablecloth curtained him off from the firefight going on across the room as he sat up, touching his head.
“Hey, Sam,” Bucky greeted with a dangerous grin, reloading his guns.
“Didn’t expect to see you so soon.”
“Yeah, well,” he shrugged before levelling Sam with a stern glare. “No more dates with Hydra agents.”
Sam sighed, agreeing with a nod. “No more dates with Hydra agents. But to be fair, Jen set me up with her.”
“I’ll have to have a talk with her about making better friends.” He touched Sam’s chin, tilting his head to get a better look at him. “You’ll live,” he said softly, eyes widening at the look on Sam’s face. He flashed a grin and turned around. “Gotta go. Your girlfriend’s got a one way ticket to jail.”
He slid out on his knees, the gunfire echoing throughout the ballroom.
“I am so, so, so sorry, Sam,” Jen said, wincing as Sam finished the story.
Sitting at a small table in the corner at their local coffee shop, it was quiet enough to talk without being overheard. This was the first time they’d met up at night. But after Bucky’s sting operation collided with Sam’s first date with Aria, the Avengers had been called to deal with Enchantress in Brazil and it made little sense to go home just to go in for work in a few hours.
So, they were pushing through with way too much caffeine instead.
“It is not fine. I’ve known Aria for six months.” Jen covered her face, adding, “She seemed so nice. I recommended my dentist see her to handle her divorce.”
“If she’s as good a lawyer as she is a Hydra agent, your dentist is in good hands,” Sam replied, earning a laugh.
Shaking her head fondly, Jen averted her gaze to her coffee mug. “I can’t believe you can joke about this.”
“Why not? Statistically, this was bound to happen at some point.”
“Statistically, it’s crazy.” Jen sighed to herself, eyes softening. “You gotta know, I really did think she’d be great for you. I wouldn’t just set you up with anyone.”
“I know. I figured you liked me enough not to set me up with an assassin.”
Jen smiled, adding, “You’re a great guy, Sam. You deserve someone great.”
The tone shifted a bit and Sam wasn’t entirely sure, but he felt like he was missing something. “Uh, thanks.”
Jen leaned back, taking a sip of her coffee. “I’m gonna go home and worry that my neighbor is secretly Hydra. Well, more than I did before.” Sam shook his head, finishing up his latte. He felt eyes on him and looked up to find Jen studying him, her eyes dark. “Might be easier if I had someone with me.”
“If you don’t feel safe, you can stay on the Helicarrier for a bit. We can find you somewhere safer? That’s been vetted?”
Jen laughed, her eyes bright as she set her mug down. “Sam, I’m going to be very blunt for a moment. I’m inviting you to my apartment to have sex. If you’re interested.” She pushed a lock of hair behind her ears, adding, “I know this whole Hulk thing is a bit much, but I’ve got it under control.”
And it was probably a bad idea. Sam made a point of not thinking about any of his teammates that way because he liked them so much. The idea of ruining that with any kind of dating drama would just be stupid. Plus, several years ago, he’d made a vow not to get involved with anyone he worked with.
And when they’re stumbling through her apartment in the dark, her lips attached to his and her hands reaching for his belt, he kept telling himself that Jen hadn’t said she wanted to date him.
“Ice cream sundaes in our PJs? Score!” Scott cheered, sitting down in front of the coffee table.
Hope had graciously invited Sam and Bucky over to watch the Oscars. Jen overheard and made it a group affair and now everyone had crowded into Scott and Hope’s brownstone to watch the ceremony. Minus Peter who actually had a curfew when the world didn’t need saving.
“You sure you should have this much sugar before bed?” Jessica asked, leaning back against Luke.
“Hey, I’m allowed,” Scott said, but no one missed the way his eyes cut to Hope briefly before he dug into his sundae.
“I’ve got money on Mahershala Ali for Best Actor,” Danny said, stealing the cherry from Luke’s sundae.
“You realize you haven’t seen half the shit that’s nominated?” Jessica asked.
“How d’you know? I’m cultured.”
“I know because Luke hasn’t seen it and I know that because I haven’t seen it and none of us goes anywhere without each other these days. It’s like we’re conjoined triplets,” Jessica muttered, snagging Danny’s printed Oscar ballot. “If it’s that prick DiCaprio, I will flip this table.”
Scott hugged his bowl of ice cream protectively, eying her carefully. Hope sipped her beer thoughtfully, musing, “She is right, you know? We spend almost all of our time together. It’s a wonder we’re not all screwing each other.”
Sam’s face warmed and he shifted on the couch, poking at his ice cream. Beside him, Bucky kept circling, crossing out and re-circling Lupita N’yongo on the Best Actress category. Sam looked up briefly to find Jen biting down a smile, a gleam in her eyes. His eyes cut to his ice cream again, fighting a grin.
When he chanced looking up again, Jen had returned to the show. “I kinda hate that everyone’s dresses look like a variation on one design. I don’t ever want what someone else has.”
Looking to Bucky, he found blue eyes focused on Jen, a knowing look in his eye. He looked to Sam, his head cocked to the side. At Sam’s question, he shook his head, returning to the show.
Whatever the new “rules” of dating in 2024, Sam didn’t feel right about going on dates when he was regularly sleeping with someone.
He knew Jen went on dates, she told him about them. Partially to be upfront and partially to explain why she was more than glad to have found someone with whom sex didn’t feel like a chore or something given just to be “nice”. The more they wound up together after missions, the more it started to feel routine and routine meant easy. As in no uncomfortable “do I call you or do you call me?” or “is it too early to ask to see you again?”. Because it was Jen, the conversation flowed easy, he didn’t have to hide the biggest parts of his life from her and it was ridiculously easy to find times to eat meals together or catch the rare movie.
It all felt so… seamless.
“And that’s a good thing?” Steve asked, leaning back in his chair. He stared at his hand before nodding to himself and sliding a domino across the table.
“What do you mean? Of course, it is.” Steve eyed him critically before shaking his head and returning to his dominos. “What?” Steve pointedly ignored him. “What is it, old man? You gave me the Look.”
“ The Look. The look of eternal judgment.”
“That’s just my face.” He shifted a bit in his chair, touching his chin in thought. Then, "In my years-“
“So, so many years,” Sam muttered, earning a light glare. “Go on.”
“I learned that while many things change, one thing stays the same.” He stretched out. “If it’s easy, it’s not usually worth it.”
“Is that your way of saying sex isn’t everything?”
“No, it’s my way of saying I’ve had to work for everything that’s ever mattered in my life. The shield, the team, my friends, I’d have none of it if I hadn’t worked. Lied my way into the military, pushed myself out of my comfort zone to work with people I didn’t get along with easily and…” his eyes softened as he looked to Sam, “force myself out of bed each morning to go for a run in D.C. when I wanted nothing more than to lie in bed for another seventy years.”
Warming, Sam held his gaze. “Steve, if this is you putting the moves on me, you’re too late, buddy.”
Steve laughed, rolling his eyes. “Okay, okay, you’ve got jokes. I’m trying to be helpful, here.”
“I know, I couldn’t resist.” Steve tossed a napkin at him, eyes bright. “I’m sorry. You were saying?”
“Are you forcing yourself to be content with this… arrangement ,” he said, cheeks flushing, “because you’re enjoying it, or just because it’s easier than trying for something real?”
Sam thought this over for a bit. “I don’t know. I mean… Jen’s great. She’s funny, she’s smart, she’s successful, she could break me in half if she really wanted to.” At Steve’s wide eyes, he added, “That’s not a euphemism, I mean literally. She lost an earring under the couch and lifted it, me and Bucky to find it. She is crazy strong.”
“But when I think about Jen, I don’t think about having a life with her. But maybe I could?” He scratched at his brow. “And if I can’t, is that really so bad? Maybe that’s just not in the cards for me. It took me this long to find a job I truly love. If it takes me another twenty years to find love, I don’t know if I can wait that long.”
“I’m no mathematician, but that logic sounds really stupid.” Sam laughed despite the hollow feeling in his chest. “No offense, you’re probably the smartest person I know, but that’s not how life works, Sam. It’s not a math problem and those variables don’t mean anything. You could run into someone tomorrow, hell, leaving here and they could be the love of your life. If you keep your eyes closed because you’re worried about failing… haven’t you already failed?”
Swallowing thickly, Sam stared at the table, his eyes crossing to Steve’s hands, the gold band on his ring finger. “You know, I had all of that once. And I lost it. Slipped out from between my fingers.”
“I know, buddy,” Steve said gently, drawing his gaze. Blinking, Sam felt a tear roll down his cheek. “If I had the answers, I’d give ‘em to you. But I don’t. I just care a lot about you and I don’t want you to sell yourself short.”
Sam nodded, wiping at his face. “I love you, man.”
“I love you, too.” Sam watched as his lips twitched, a teasing glint in his eye. “You know… if I was about seventy years younger—”
“Shut up!” Steve laughed, louder as Sam threw the stack of napkins at him.
“This is bullying the elderly! Quit it!” he shouted, tossing them back across the table.
Sam woke up one morning and shuffled tiredly into his living room.
“I heard you went to see Steve,” Bucky said, giving Sam a scare.
He startled backwards, bumping into the wall. Bucky simply stared at him, eating another spoonful of cereal. Sam clutched at his chest as he moved into the kitchen to start the coffee.
“I’d ask how you got in,” he began and Bucky stared unapologetically. “Yes, I went to visit Steve.”
“How’s he doing?”
“You don’t know?”
Bucky chewed on his lip, dunking his spoon a few times. “I don’t think he’s honest with me all the time.”
“Steve’s the most honest person I know.”
“With you, yeah.” Bucky met his gaze.
“What d’you mean?” He leaned across the counter, holding his gaze. It always took a minute with Bucky. So much Peter’s opposite. Didn’t take more than a glance for the kid to spill his guts. Bucky always made Sam work for it.
“I get the sense he still thinks all of this is too much for me. He cleans everything up. ‘Everything’s fine. I’m okay being retired. I don’t need you to visit me so much.’”
“Maybe he really is fine.” At the betrayal in Bucky’s eye, he sighed, scratching at his brow. Busying himself for a moment, he poured himself a cup of coffee. “I don’t know. I’m not the Steve whisperer.” Bucky’s mouth twitched and Sam continued. “But he really did seem fine. And the kid visits as much as he can. I heard Clint and Bruce stop by a lot. Thor – his Thor – stopped by the last time he was on earth. He’s got people. He’s got a family.”
Bucky’s face twisted and Sam added, “You’re his family. It’s just – it’s like anything else, you know? He doesn’t want anyone to worry about him.”
“So, just don’t?”
Sam thought about the best phrasing. “Try to focus on the things you know need work. Not the things that, for all appearances, seem fine.” Bucky hung on his words, eyes soft. “Save your fighting for what really matters.”
Bucky nodded after some time, chewing on his lip. Finally, he set his spoon down. “Sam,” he began.
“Hey, Sam? Babe, you’re out of hot water and I’ve got a deposition in an hour. I’m gonna run home and…” Jen trailed off, clutching the towel wrapped around her. “Oh, hey, Bucky. I didn’t realize we had company,” she said slowly, flashing a nervous smile.
Sam winced, looking to both of them in apology. “Yeah, sorry. I should’ve—”
“It wasn’t planned. My fault,” Bucky said, grinning. He stood up, setting the cereal bowl in the sink. “I’ll just get out of your hair.”
“Oh, no, it’s okay! I’ve gotta run home anyway—” Jen started.
“You don’t have to leave, man,” Sam tried.
“It’s fine. I should’ve knocked or called or whatever,” Bucky said, eyes cutting to Sam's briefly before he focused on the floor, his boots, his jacket as he shuffled towards the door. “I’ll just go. See you guys later.”
The door shut before Sam could say anything else. He sank down on one of the bar stools, looking to Jen in question. “That was weird.”
“He practically leapt over the couch to get out of here. Am I that repulsive?” Jen asked, glancing down at her body as she clutched the towel tighter.
“It’s not that,” he said as she neared. Pulling her in closer, he kissed her cheek, earning a smile. “He’s just… going through something.”
“Aren’t we all?” She draped her arm over his shoulders as she sat down on his lap and stole a sip of his coffee. Humming, she kissed his lips, once, twice and he could feel her smile. “I really do have to go.”
“I know. You’re annoyingly responsible.” He ran his hand over her bare leg, feeling her shiver in response. Nosing into her neck, Steve’s words came to mind. “Do you… if you have time later, do you maybe want to get dinner?”
Sam pulled back, eyes widening. “Really?”
“Yeah, sure!” she said with more enthusiasm. She took another sip of his coffee. “Why are you so nervous?”
“I mean, like, you know,” his face burned as he tried not to sound like Peter did with MJ, “a date?”
Jen’s eyes softened and she touched his cheek. “I’d love to.” She kissed his forehead, murmuring, “It’ll be a change of pace to see you with your clothes on.”
“We work together. I don’t fight crime buck ass naked.”
“You could.” She pressed a kiss to his lips with a thoughtful sound, “But then I might consider a life of crime if it meant you’d chase after me.”
“So, it’s better for everyone that I wear clothes.”
“I’d say so,” she replied with a laugh. She climbed out of his lap, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. As she neared the door to the bedroom, she called over her shoulder, “Plus you look damn good in that suit.”
Dating Jen was different.
For one thing, she was sort of a local celebrity. Unlike Banner, she was pretty well known as both Jennifer Walters attorney and Jennifer Walters, She-Hulk. The accident that led to Bruce giving her the blood transfusion had made international news and when she wasn’t doing talk shows about her survival story, she was making headlines defending superheroes in court.
This meant that, wherever they went, Sam spent a few minutes watching people take selfies with Jen and getting her to sign things. The few times people were able to put two and two together and figure out that Sam was Captain America, they hadn’t even been able to eat food. Sam and Jen got mobbed with attention and it was a matter of time before the press arrived.
A few nights of this and the headlines went from “Avengers Take the Night Off” to “Is Captain America dating She-Hulk?” and everything spiraled from there.
Jen was still trying to get used to her new life. The attention, the constant control, the debilitating fear. She cut herself once when she was making Sam dinner and he’d never seen the panic on her face when she pushed him away from the cutting board and locked the entire kitchen down while she frantically wiped everything down.
It quickly became apparent that there were parts of her that she refused to let him see.
When the articles came out, with it came a rush of speculation that was not only disgustingly invasive, it was cruel. Articles about what it must be like with “a beast” and what it said about Sam as a man that he’d be with someone so much stronger than him. Sam could take the comments about himself, he’d developed a thick enough skin that most of it couldn’t’ touch him. But it was hard seeing what it did to Jen.
“I just wish I knew how to help her,” Sam mused, watching television mutedly. Bucky sat beside him, staring blankly at the TV. “You know?”
“I said I wish I knew how to help her.”
“You’ll do great, man.”
“What?” Bucky looked at him. “Are you even listening?”
Bucky rubbed at his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, sure. Something supportive. It’ll all work out. It’ll be great.”
Sitting up, Sam stared at him. “What’s up with you? You’ve been out of it every time I talk to you.”
“Every time,” Bucky muttered with a shake of the head.
“Okay,” he said slowly. “What’s going on?”
“This is the first time you’ve hung out with me in about a month.” At Sam’s face, he added, “I know because the last time we hung out, we were talking about how you totally thought Alessia Cara was the Masked Singer. I said I didn’t know who that was and you said Kate Bishop introduced you to her because she sang a song for Morena—”
“Moana,” Sam corrected quietly.
“Moana and I said you were crazy. And now the show’s almost over. So, it’s been a month.” He tossed the remote on the table, glaring at Sam. “And I watched this show pretty much by myself.”
“I’m sorry,” Sam said confusedly.
“Don’t be sorry, Sam. Just,” he ran his hands through his hair frustratedly. “I’m not in a place where I want to hear more about your dating life. I’m real sorry for Jen, that sucks. But, I just... fuck, I don’t know,” he trailed off.
“What is it?”
“I thought when you came over, we were going to hang out. But you’re just… whatever. I’ll just shut up.”
Sam was at a loss. In the time they’d been working together, he and Bucky had never really fought. They had stupid arguments that never really went anywhere, and there was that time they argued because he’d told Sam to go left when Sam had wanted to go right and Sam had ended up with a broken clavicle and never heard the end of it. But they never really fought.
Things with Bucky had always been easy.
“You never minded before. When I was bringing you food and venting and shit.”
“Yeah, well, you didn’t bring me anything tonight, so,” He leaned back into the couch, staring at the TV.
“So, that’s how it is? I don’t bribe you to listen to me, you don’t care?”
“Looks that way,” Bucky replied, pressing his lips together, jaw tensing.
A beat. The words slipped out unbidden. “You’re being a dick.”
Bucky’s eyes widened. He turned towards Sam on the couch, eyes burning. “You really want to do this?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Might as well.”
“Okay,” Bucky muttered, leaning across the space between them. “I’m all well and happy for you finding someone you care about after a sea of shitty fish or whatever, but being friends with someone doesn’t mean being a sounding board for all of their bullshit.”
“It’s not bullshit.”
“It’s bullshit! I’ll never find love, Bucky. I’ll die alone, Bucky. I’m single, I’m in a city full of women and men that would gladly fuck the shit out of me, but I can’t seem to find anyone to love me.”
Sam’s heart lodged in his throat. And he knew this was where a smart person would retreat, wait for things to cool off and attack it in the morning with fresh eyes. But he was frustrated and that twinge in Bucky’s voice made him feel strange.
“Yeah, well at least I’m doing something with my life! You spend all your time alone! If it weren’t for the team, you’d go the rest of your life never speaking to another human being.”
“Surprised you claim to know anything about my life since you never fucking ask!”
Stricken, Sam paused. “I ask after you.”
“You ask how I am and then you talk about yourself.”
“You never give me anything! You say you’re fine and you never have anything to share because you don’t do anything.”
Bucky’s jaw tensed, his eyes bright. “I do my job. I watch your ass. I listen to you whine. I show up when you call and I don’t ask for anything more than that. The least you could do is not think about someone else when you’re with me.”
The tone shifted somewhere and Sam had never felt more lost. “What is this about? Really?”
Bucky’s eyes widened. He licked his lips. “I just told you,” he rasped. “You’re not listening—”
“I am listening. This isn’t about me not watching a stupid show with you. This is about something else. What is it?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be really good at reading people?” He cleared his throat, standing up from the couch. “I’m going to go.”
“Buck,” he tried, his heart beating fast. He felt strangely ill. “Stay. I want to fix this.”
“Yeah, I don’t.” Bucky gathered his jacket, stepping into his boots. He didn’t even lace them. “I’ll be real happy for you guys tomorrow, but I don’t have it in me tonight.”
The door closed and Sam was left alone.
Sam was tired.
He hadn’t been sleeping all that well, or at all really. He’d been tempted to just crash on the couch when he finished up on the Helicarrier, but he’d forgotten he had dinner with Jen. They met at her place seeing as it had become near impossible for them to meet up at a restaurant without drawing a ton of attention.
Now, Sam sipped his wine and watched the rain patter against her large, scenic windows. A place like this cost more than Sam could’ve ever hope to afford, even on a SHIELD salary. It was a reminder of how much Jen had put into her life outside the team. Lightning flashed and he wondered what the odds were that Thor and Valkyrie were out there. Or if they’d returned to the stars after the last time they dropped in to assist the Avengers.
“Or not,” he heard distantly. A hand touched his head, drawing him out of his thoughts. Fingers traced softly over his cheek as he met curious green eyes. Jen smiled. “Hi, there. Are you alright?”
Sam blinked at her sluggishly, nodding once. “I’m fine. Sorry.” He tried for a smile in return. “Got lost in my head I guess.”
“You’ve been like that all night. And you barely touched your food.” She closed her laptop, sitting up on her knees. “What’s wrong?”
Sam studied her a moment, his chest tightening. “It’s nothing, really. I just haven’t been getting a lot of sleep lately.” He sighed, rubbing at his eyes. “Bucky and I had a fight and I’m just… tired.”
Jen rested her chin in hand, a knowing look in her eye. “You always have trouble sleeping when you and Bucky fight?”
“We don’t really fight,” he said, watching her eyes widen.
“Ever?” Sam nodded and she shook her head in disbelief. “Wow.”
“Is that weird?”
“No,” she poked at a hole in her sweats, brows raised. “It’s just, Trish and I have fought at least ten or so times since we’ve been friends. And we haven’t been friends for that long in the grand scheme of things.”
Jen looked up, brow furrowed. “My best friend. Trish Walker.”
Sam blinked at her. “Trish Walker? Patsy?” He sat up straighter. “Trish from ‘It’s Patsy? Jess’ sister?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“You guess? You’re friends with a local celebrity and you don’t mention it?”
Jen poked at his chest, “Look who I’m dating? I love her to pieces, but if someone asked me if I knew someone famous, I wouldn’t think of her first. She didn’t make nationwide papers as a known accomplice of Captain America. She didn’t get arrested in Germany for violating the Accords. And her ass isn’t scattered across magazine covers to sell more copies.”
Sam shook his head, rubbing the back of his neck. “I don’t do it to be famous.”
“I know that.” Jen leaned forward, kissing his forehead. “But you are famous. Kids look up to you. You’re – you’re their Patsy,” she said, biting down a laugh. At the eyeroll, her grin widened. “Now, I don’t know what’s going on with you and your boyfriend, but—”
Jen simply shrugged, continuing on, “But I get the feeling it’s important that you guys work things out. So, I think you should invite him to dinner.”
“He doesn’t exactly do dinner.”
“He’s gotta eat.”
“I don't know about that. I think he’s part robot.” At Jen’s stare he nodded. “Alright, yeah, I’ll get some pizza and beer or something.”
“Something with extra, extra, extra pepperoni,” Jen mused, pulling her laptop in her lap. “I like my pizza meaty.”
It gave Sam pause. He hadn’t exactly figured she’d want to attend. “Okay.”
“You guys’ll work things out, I can confirm that he doesn’t actually hate me and all will be right with the world,” she said, typing distractedly.
Sam nodded, leaning back against the arm of the couch.
Sam tugged at his collar for the twelfth time.
The fact that he was wearing a collar was strange enough but Jen was convinced that, if he looked his best, he’d feel the best. Now he was standing in jeans sans holes and a shirt with a collar that made him feel like he was slowly suffocating.
He’d never been this nervous about eating with Bucky before.
When the knock came, Jen moved past him, her hair swinging across her back. Dressed in a midnight blue wrap dress and heels, she appeared more comfortable than Sam by far. Even having heard her admit previously that she, too, was nervous.
“James! Hey, good to see you,” she greeted.
Bucky moved past her into the apartment, meeting Sam’s gaze curiously. “James?” he mouthed and Sam laughed nervously, covering it with a cough. Jen took his leather jacket and hung it in the closet. His boots sounded too heavy on the wood floor.
He ran his hands over his ripped jeans a bit, eyes flitting from Sam to Jen to the wood floor and back to Sam.
As Jen moved into the kitchen to get the plates for the pizza, Sam moved towards Bucky. “She’s a bit nervous.”
“No kidding,” Bucky replied, staring at the floor. He rubbed at his chin. “I almost didn’t come.”
Bucky took his time, sliding his hands into his pockets. “Haven’t been sleeping too good. And Fury’s got me chasing a thief across the globe.”
At the admission, Sam’s eyes traced over Bucky’s face curiously. His skin looked a bit sallow, shadows under his eyes. Part of him wanted to slip back into what felt safe for them. Tell Bucky he should go home and get some sleep and make things right between them in the morning. But it’d involve acknowledging that they were probably both having sleepless nights for the same reason and that he didn’t think they’d find a solution with Jen here. And if he was serious about trying to build something with her, was it normal that his friendship with Bucky was something he couldn’t fix with her around?
The same way having them both in the same place made him feel weird. Like he was lying without saying anything at all.
“A thief?” he asked, sticking to the safe topic.
“Yeah, started with Osborn labs in Midtown and then they popped up at the old Pym place in San Francisco. Scott and Hope are too recognizable so he asked me to look into it. Last sighting was in Beijing.”
“That sounds exciting.”
“Probably would be if I wasn’t exhausted,” he finished, meeting Sam’s gaze.
Sam swallowed, turning away as Jen moved back into the room. “Okay, we’ve got four pizzas. Sam said you can eat. He didn’t say what kind was your favorite so I got pepperoni, meat lovers, supreme and veggie lovers, which I didn’t think you’d go for but that’s okay. I can eat that one if you hate it,” she finished in a rush.
Bucky blinked at her, his brow furrowed a bit. Sam wasn’t sure what reaction he could expect, more nervous for Jen’s sake than his. Bucky looked to Sam for a moment. Finding nothing there, he nodded a bit.
“Uh, yeah, anything’s good. Really. Long as it’s edible,” he offered with a sheepish smile.
Jen smiled in relief, opening the boxes. “Okay, great! Great, great, great,” she muttered to herself, gathering slices.
“So, that’s why I fell into law. Ironically, I was attracted to superhuman and metahuman law before all of this,” she explained, gesturing to herself. “There’s so many strange quirks and rulings out there surrounding the legality of a lot of this stuff.”
“Really?” Bucky asked, clearly a bit lost.
“Yeah, like, take this guy, Fairchild we’ll call him, for privilege reasons,” She took a big bite of pizza, chewing as much as she should before speaking, “He gets caught in the crossfire of a fight between Electro and Spider-Man. Gets electrocuted while standing in the middle of a downpour. He technically dies, heart stops and everything. They bring him to the morgue, guy didn’t have a pulse.”
“So, his family goes through the steps to get a death certificate, file the life insurance claim, the whole shebang. Only, the guy shows up on their doorstep a month or so later.”
“How?” Sam asked, warming at the encouraging smile Jen gave.
“They don’t know. He’s got this weird mark where the current entered and exited his body. He’s got a strange new ability he can’t control – he can move through solid objects and disappear into the atmosphere. So, the life insurance company is like ‘that’s great, give us our money back’. He can’t hold a job because he can’t control when he’s solid or visible. He had five kids and his wife is struggling to make enough money to keep their apartment in Queens.”
“So, what? They just shut ‘em down?” Bucky asked, lip curled in disgust. “That’s not fair.”
“It’s not,” Jen said, shaking her head. “It’s my job to go to court and prove that, by the language of the policy, he did die. By nature of his condition, no one can detect a heartbeat. There’s no way to prove, by their definition, that he isn’t legally dead. This woman can barely afford her rent. She cannot afford to pay back a one hundred thousand dollar policy. Most of that money went towards paying off their debts.”
“That’s rough,” Sam said. “She must be terrified.”
“They should be fucking terrified,” Jen chimed in, picking a mushroom off her slice of pizza, voice growing in power. “They have to face me in court and I will march every last one of those heartless bastards into that courtroom and make them tell a jury in detail how they screwed over this poor mother of five over what’s a drop in the bucket to them. They’re rolling in cash after a bunch of these types of cases after the Blip. I will trash their reputation, I will sink their stock and I’ll make sure their brand is synonymous with the heartless cowards that they are.”
In the silence that followed, she looked up wide eyed. “Too much?” she asked.
It was Bucky that responded. “No, no, it’s just kinda terrifying. In a good way, though,” he said, blinking at her before he returned to his food.
Sam took her hand, squeezing it once with a fond smile. “It’s amazing. You’re doing something really important.”
“I try. And it’s not just me, it’s the firm and the staff and—”
“It’s amazing,” Sam repeated, holding her gaze. She softened, leaning across the table and stealing a kiss before returning to her food.
“Thanks, babe.” She got up to grab a beer. “You want anything?” Sam shook his head. “I can make you some tea? Something to help you sleep?”
Sam’s face warmed in response. “No, I’m good. Thanks.” He felt eyes on him and looked up in time to see Bucky’s gaze fall to his plate again. Clearing his throat, Sam said, “So, uh, Bucky’s got a case in China.”
“Really?” Jen asked with intrigue.
When the night ended, Sam stretched his arms over his head as he watched Jen stuff the pizza boxes down on top of the trash can. Grinning, he came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her as he went in for a kiss.
“That was great, right?” he asked, pausing when Jen placed her hand on his chest, holding him back. “What?”
“You really think that went well?” At Sam’s face, her eyes narrowed in question. “Wow.”
“What?” He followed her through the apartment as she moved into the bedroom and turned on the lamp on the bedside table. “Jen?”
She pulled off her earrings, stepping out of her shoes as she shook her head in disbelief. “You’re just… you’re too sweet.”
Sam frowned, standing in the center of the room to catch her as she moved towards the closet. “And that’s a bad thing?”
“Sam, really think about the dinner we just had.”
“I am. I thought it was great. We talked, Bucky said more than three words, he ate the food without staring at it like you were trying to poison him. All around, it was a good night.”
Jen froze, staring at him before laughing and pulling out of his arms. “A good night,” she muttered, tugging at the tie to her dress. She stepped out of it, hanging it in the closet before moving to the dresser. She tossed a pair of sweats and a t-shirt on the bed before pulling back her hair. “He wouldn’t make eye contact with me. The entire night.”
Sam quieted, feeling off center. “What d’you mean?”
Jen looked to him as she stepped into her pants. “I mean that every time I tried to pull him into conversation or answered the questions you practically led him to ask, he didn’t look at me. Not once.” Sam opened his mouth and she added, “And that’s not to mention that any time I touched you at all or kissed you, he practically recoiled.”
“That’s a bit extreme.”
“I thought so, except we ended the night and I said we’d have to do this again and he left without saying anything.” She tugged her shirt overhead with a sigh.
Sam’s stomach twisted and he sat down next to her on the bed. “Hey,” he tried, pulling her into his side. “I’ll work on it. I’ll talk to him. He’s just not great with new people.”
Jen’s eyes softened, that knowing look on her face that usually meant Sam was being particularly stupid about something. “Sam, it’s not even about me.” She turned towards him, propping her knee up on the bed. “It’s about you.”
“I know we fought, but he still showed up tonight. I think we’ll be fine.”
“No, that’s – that’s not what I meant.” She pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “You don’t see the way he looks at you.” Licking her lips, she hesitated a bit before explaining, “It’s like there’s nobody else in the universe.”
Sam laughed. “I don’t think so.”
But Jen was on a roll now. “He hangs on every word you say and gets this look on his face any time you say anything the slightest bit bad about yourself. And I recognize it because I do it, too.” She took Sam’s hand, staring at it silently. “Sam, I’m not saying I think he’s in love with you. I’m saying I know that he is.””
“Jen,” he tried, pulling back but she held tight.
“And it’s none of my business. Hell, if we weren’t together, I would’ve kept my mouth shut. But if you go about this not knowing, I think that’s going to hurt a lot more than just coming out with it.” She winced. “So to speak.”
Sam held her gaze, his stomach twisting nervously. He still thought the idea was insane, but he respected Jen enough to not say so. Besides, when he inevitably talked to Bucky later, he knew Bucky would get a big kick out of it.
“Okay. I’ll talk to him about it.” She nodded, the tension falling out of her shoulders. “Now, try to get some sleep.”
“You first,” she said, climbing across the bed. “You’re staying here tonight.”
Sam didn’t get much sleep that night. Or the next few nights.
He thought it might’ve been that he wasn’t in his own bed, but he’d once fallen asleep on the back of a flying horse when he and Bucky accompanied Valkyrie into battle. He could sleep pretty much anywhere if he was tired enough.
And he was certainly tired enough.
But since he couldn’t sleep, that meant he had time to think and that never ended well for him. Jen was an intelligent woman, and she knew how to read people just as well, if not better, than Sam did. She wouldn’t have gotten far as a lawyer if she couldn’t. So, that meant, if she was seeing something in the way Bucky looked at him, there must be something to see.
Sam didn’t get it. Sure, Jess and Hope and Scott and tabloids made jokes about Sam and Bucky’s closeness. About the trust that only Sam was awarded such as being able to wake Bucky on flights without getting a knife somewhere unpleasant or being allowed to be within five feet of his guns. Sam could take the Sleeping Beauty jokes and Luke joking that Sam had “clearly handled Bucky’s guns before”. They were just jokes.
But if there was some truth to them, at least a one sided truth, then what did that say about Sam that he’d never realized it? What did it say about their friendship that this was such a shock to him?
And the more he thought about it, the more he became angry. Because, if they were such good friends, why would Bucky hide this from him? And if they were so close, why did it take Jen telling Sam to make him aware of it? And if Bucky actually trusted him, why couldn’t he just tell Sam how he felt? Last night, a week ago, months ago, before Sam threw himself headfirst in dating all kinds of people that had clearly been wrong for him—
Cursing, he sat up in bed, trying to quiet his breathing.
Beside him, Jen turned over, burying her face in her pillow with a soft sigh. Sam’s stomach twisted with guilt, wringing his hands together. He fell back on the bed, resolving to get at least a few hours of sleep tonight. He’d just closed his eyes when his phone chimed.
Need you. Quinjet in -3. B in trouble – S.
Sam threw the covers back.
“Long time no see,” Sam greeted, climbing the ramp to the jet.
Sharon offered a tight smile, gripping the support bar as the ramp was recalled. “I wish it were under better circumstances.”
“Lost contact about two hours ago,” she said, tensing as she moved towards the cockpit where Hill was flying the plane. “Said he had it handled but,” she trailed off.
“That’s code for trouble,” Sam finished. “Where is he?”
“Somewhere in Beijing,” Hill replied
“Somewhere,” Sam repeated, his tone shifting. “You don’t have a tracker?”
“There wasn’t time. He wasn’t supposed to meet anyone alone. Then I get a call at three AM telling me where I can find the Hydra agents and that’s it,” Hill said, voice tight. “No check in. No debrief.”
Sighing, Sam sank down in a chair. “I don’t get it. He’s never done this before.”
“It’s different working alone,” Sharon said, resting her hands on her hips. “I’ve been doing it for the past few years and you get used to making calls on your own.”
“Without letting anyone know you’re okay?”
“Sometimes. You’re isolated for weeks, months, maybe even a year.”
When the jet touched down, they split up.
Sharon followed Bucky’s last known coordinates, Hill followed some possible leads from reports on the police scanners. Sam branched off from where Sharon started, scanning the area and trying to think what Bucky would do in this situation.
They’d been taking down a known weapons smuggler that had been selling black market tech to Hydra. Bucky had followed him from New Jersey to Beijing to Sydney and now he was lost somewhere on the streets of Paris. The case had spiraled out from one smuggler to an organized gang of thieves and considering they were armed with warehouses full of alien tech and experimental weaponry, Sam was more than a bit pissed Bucky had been out here alone.
He scanned the dark streets quietly, a little uncomfortable at how out in the open he was. He moved tighter to the walls, a shimmer on the sidewalk catching his eye.
Drops of it moving in a path along the shadows. He followed, body tense as the drops grew larger and larger, like the target had slowed down. The trail disappeared when he reached the mouth of an alley. On the left, the backdoor for a bakery. On the right, the backdoor for a bar, propped open on the corner of a heavy rock.
Grimacing, Sam went for the bakery, slamming his shoulder into the locked door. It opened with a grinding sound, unable to swing open far. He had mere seconds to veer backwards before a fist slammed into the wall where his head had been. He caught the next one, his entire body aching at the force behind it.
“Buck! Buck, stop! It’s me.” He caught the next blow, holding tight to Bucky’s wrist as panicked blue eyes came into view. His thumb traced over the pulsing veins of his arm, his voice soft. “It’s Sam.”
It took a worrying amount of time for the recognition to sink in. Then Bucky dropped his arm, his breathing labored. The scent of blood became more apparent beneath the scent of sugar and baked goods. They were in some sort of storeroom. No doubt, Bucky thought he’d have better luck finding a first aid kit without drawing attention here.
Sam carefully reached out and touched Bucky’s arm, leading him backwards. “What happened?” he asked, pushing Bucky to sit on an overturned crate while he searched for a first aid kit.
“Nothing.” At Sam’s glare, he sighed, lowering his head. “I was leaving. I got everything wrapped up. It wasn’t until I was leaving that I realized I’d taken a knife to side and by then those guys had raised the alarm so I couldn’t go back the way I came.”
“And your tracker?” Sam asked, coming to kneel in front of him with the kit.
Bucky eyed him for a second. “Didn’t need it.”
“It’s not for you,” Sam muttered, grabbing a nearby crate and sitting down in front of Bucky. “It’s for us.”
“Keeping tabs on me in case I go dark side again?” Tossed out casually, but Sam heard the undercurrent seriousness.
He met Bucky’s gaze, his voice firm. “It’s for me. For my peace of mind.” He dug through the kit, adding, “Since you insist on doing things alone.”
“Nobody else knows Hydra like I do. What, did you want to send the kid?”
Sam levelled him with a glare. “Yes, I’d send the high school student with you.”
“Whatever. He’s still a kid. You could’ve taken Hope, who knows how to lay low or Scott who’s got connections to fences for stolen goods, but you want to do everything yourself ,” he finished with a flourish, pulling out the disinfectant.
“I know what I’m doing.”
“That’s not what this looks like. Lift your shirt.” Bucky scoffed, focused on the rows of bread beside them. “Lift your shirt,” Sam insisted.
Bucky glared at him, looking all of four years old. Finally, he cursed and reached for the hem of his shirt. Carefully, he raised it up and a lead weight sank in Sam’s stomach. A small dagger was embedded between two of his ribs. The handle was ornate, encrusted with some sort of green jewels. The entire area was smeared with dried blood and it was a wonder Bucky had the mind to argue with him at all.
Sam swallowed, reaching out tentatively. His fingers touched the sensitive skin a few inches from the wound, drawing a hiss. “I can pull it out, but it won’t be pretty.”
“Nothing ever is.” Bucky moved forward, his mouth firming. “Just do it. Don’t tell me when.”
Sam caught his eye, studying him for a moment. “Right.”
He took hold of the handle and carefully removed it, quickly covering the wound with gauze. Luckily, the blade wasn’t serrated and it hadn’t gone in all the way. It’d be painful, but Bucky would live. He set to work wrapping Bucky’s chest to hold the bandage in place. Every brush of his fingers along Bucky’s skin seemed to draw an audible response, soft intakes of breath that made Sam’s head swim as he worked. When he finished, his hands settled on Bucky’s waist as his breath caught.
Bucky stared at him in the dimly lit room, his eyes guarded. Sam chest tightened, his heart drumming away like he was still roaming the streets searching for the man in front of him. He licked his lips, watching Bucky trace the movement before his eyes returned to Sam’s. Nervous, Sam searched for something to say but came up empty.
“Sam? South end’s a bust. Any luck?”
Bucky straightened and Sam looked away, touching his earpiece. “Shar,” he explained. “Yeah, I, uh, I found him. We’re in a bakery a few blocks from where you started.”
“Great! I’m on my way. Hill’s talking to Fury and he wants to draw as little attention as possible. Looks like we get a night in Paris.”
Sam returned to Bucky, a nervous flutter in his stomach.
“You sure about this, Sam?” Bucky asked, shuffling through the doorway, clutching his ribs. “It’s not too late to get another room?”
“It’s a waste of money. Besides, I’m not getting any sleep.” He scanned the room, letting out a low whistle. “And from the looks of this place, another room would probably cost a month’s rent.”
The room was awfully lavish. Soft, plush white carpet, golden fixtures and a chandelier in the center of the room that looked as if it’d been constructed in the 1930s. The staff hadn’t looked twice at the three figures dressed in black carrying duffels and that would concern Sam if he weren’t sure this place doubled as a SHIELD safehouse of sorts. Who would think to check the five star hotel with several hundred glowing reviews when searching out the SHIELD agent that blew up their illegal weapons operation?
“Maybe I don’t want to hear you snore,” Bucky muttered, leaning into the table with a grimace.
“Sit down before you do more damage to yourself,” Sam said, arms crossed as Bucky simply glared at him. “Please,” he added.
Bucky rolled his eyes, moving over to the bed. “Since you asked so nicely.”
Sam walked the room, checking the windows and making sure the door was properly secure. It was busy work considering they were more at risk of being locked in by Fury than at risk for a break in.
After some time, Bucky called out, “You should try and get some sleep.” Sam looked to him. “If you want.”
A reasonable suggestion, but it just spurred on Sam’s frustration. “What are you doing here?”
Bucky’s eyes widened. “You heard Sharon, Fury thinks we should lay low—”
“No, what are you doing here? Running around Paris without backup, running around with knife wounds and not calling for help,” he listed off, moving in closer.
“I had it handled.”
“I’ve got a pair of bloodstained gloves that prove otherwise.”
“I’m still here, aren’t I?”
“Yeah, because I knew where to find you. You didn’t even try to find someone to help you.”
Sighing, Bucky leaned forward, his eyes sharp. “Look, I’m real sorry you had to take a break from your honeymoon period to come save my ass.”
“Would you stop?” Sam demanded.
“What? Telling you that you’re being ridiculous?”
“Stop acting like I just abandoned you. You left me.” He came to stand in front of the bed. “Can you just tell me what’s going on with you?”
“Nothing I can explain,” he amended.
“It’s not – it’s not that I don’t think you can understand it. Even I don’t understand it.” He shook his head. “I just got…”
Sam gave him time. Then, “Go on.”
“We’re the leftovers, Sam.” He looked to Sam, his eyes firm. “Everybody else knows what the rest of their life looks like, where they’re going, and I just got left behind. And that used to make me feel really shitty about myself… but then there’s you. We were both just trying to figure it out and now that’s changed. And I don’t want to try to keep you here with me,” he rushed to add, licking his lips nervously, “I don’t want to hold you back. But… knowing you were struggling with all of this made me feel a hell of a lot less alone.”
Sam stilled, his chest tight. “That’s…” he trailed off.
“I told you it doesn’t make any sense.”
“But it does,” Sam said.
“I’m a selfish prick.”
“A little bit.” Bucky looked at him and he shook his head. “But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look at Jess and Luke and Danny and Scott and Hope and feel the same way.”
Sam came over to sit beside him on the bed, offering a sheepish smile. Bucky gaze landed straight ahead on the mirror over the desk.
“You lied, you know,” Bucky said slowly.
“Jess asked you, a while back, why you never went after Hill.” Sam blinked at him. “You said you’d never date someone you worked with.”
“Yeah, that.” Sam held his gaze, long enough that Bucky looked away. “That was bullshit?”
“No, it wasn’t. Not intentionally.” Sam leaned forward, clasping his hands together. “I… I met someone in the Air Force. I didn’t have the best sense of self preservation and I volunteered for this experimental project, just right out of the gate,” he said with a smile. Bucky listened intently. “They laid out the dangers, what happened to the test subjects, we’d be up in the sky with some RoboCop shit strapped to our backs and parachutes that would work in the event something went wrong with the rig.
“So, I’m barely out of basic, doing everything I can to prove myself to someone, literally anyone, because if someone else thought I was worth something, maybe someday I would, too. I was young and dumb and I just wanted…. Well, I don’t know what I wanted,” he muttered, scratching at his brow. “Point is, several guys went in for the program and not all of ‘em made it back. I could’ve dropped out, but I didn’t. No matter how hard they told me it would be, it just made me want it more. They thought I was an adrenaline junkie, but it was just nihilism.
“And I met someone.” He let out a slow breath, averting his gaze. “He just… got it. And he got me. Took one look at me and knew, at the rate I was going, if the rig didn’t kill me, something else would. He took me under his wing, looked after me, made me feel like I was more than just a lab rat. I was never scared when I was up there with Riley. Even knowing the danger, how many guys that had been where we were… it was like nothing could touch me.
“Then he died,” he finished quietly. His breathing labored, catching when Bucky touched his wrist. He looked up, meeting eyes lacking any judgment or criticism. “I don’t ever want to watch someone I love die in front of me. I can’t do that again.”
“Sam,” Bucky began, gently but Sam knew what he was going to say.
“We’re not there yet. Me and Jen. I don’t know if we’ll ever be there,” he said honestly. “But for now, I’m happy and that’s enough for me.” Bucky was caught in his gaze. “And it’d be great if things between us could go back to normal.”
“Normal,” Bucky repeated after some time.
“For us, anyway.”
Bucky nodded after some time. With a sigh, he fell back on the bed, draping his arm over his face. Sam followed suit, expecting it would take some time to get to sleep, with the way things had been going lately.
He was out in three minutes. The best sleep he’d had in months.
Things didn’t snap back in place.
It took a few weeks before things between Sm and Bucky resembled any sort of normalcy. Three weeks before his greetings went beyond “Hey” and five weeks before he offered anything about his day or what he’d done the past weekend. After a month, they were back to getting dinner from time to time, but it felt different.
It was strange but, the more time Sam spent with Bucky, the more he realized what was off with time with Jen. Without Jen, Sam could fly under the radar in most restaurants around the city. Bucky could just as well. It meant they could go out to a Chinese food place and be left alone. Or grab burgers and take them back to one of their apartments or the Helicarrier if they were working. Nights with Bucky were so quiet that Sam never felt like he had to be “on” all the time, constantly filling the silence with stories or jokes to prove he was interesting.
Most likely because Bucky already knew that Sam wasn’t interesting, Sam mused one night. They’d known each other long enough that Sam had run out of all of the “cool” and dangerous stories from his past. And Bucky had been there for quite a few of them, so he ran out of that material back in 2018.
All that was left was the little stuff like the fact that he didn’t have a sleepover until he was twelve years old because he’d been deathly afraid of being kidnapped. Or that he refused to eat apples for years after his sister told him the seeds would make trees grow in his stomach. Or that he’d broken his arm when he was seven years old falling out a tree chasing fireflies.
There weren’t nights spent with that uncomfortable knot in his throat trying to come up with something interesting to say, because he’d said all of it already and Bucky was still here. So, instead, they stretched out on their backs across the breakroom rug and told stories until their voices ran out.
“Rebecca used to tell me lightning was the angels fighting.” Bucky said, staring up at the ceiling.
“Hmm?” Bucky looked at him in question.
“Angels bowling? I’ve heard that.”
Bucky shook his head. “No, she used to think they fought because it sounded like when my parents fought.” A beat. “They used to really yell at each other. Sometimes my Ma would throw stuff. And one day she threw one of those porcelain figurines…” he trailed off.
“That’s rough. I’m sorry, man.”
“S’fine,” he said, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. “It feels like that was so long ago. I remember thinking ‘why would anyone ever want to be married?’”
“It’s not all like that.”
“Isn’t it?” Sam frowned at him but Bucky simply continued. “There’s a handful of people in the world that make it work, the rest of them seem too scared to admit they made a mistake.”
“So glad you didn’t give a speech at Hope and Scott’s wedding.”
“They couldn’t have afforded me,” he replied, earning a laugh. “But I mean it. The chances of meeting someone and making it work, s’like one in a million. Worse even if you find the right person but…”
He trailed off, his face shuttering. Sam stared at him, tracing the soft lines of his face before he shut down completely. “If you what?”
Bucky lashes fluttered, his voice low. “Nothing. I’m tired. I’m gonna go to bed.”
He climbed to his feet, running a tired hand through his hair.
It was rare they had time with Carol Danvers.
She spent most of her time in the stars, only coming down when the entire world was in danger. Sam was always thrilled to see her. She had a matter of fact attitude and a sense of humor that always took him off guard. Most of the time when she stopped by the base, the team had drills to do.
On this day, she was teaching them the Sakaaran tuck roll, which looked like something out of professional wrestling. They paired off and it didn’t long for training to turn into just trying to put your opponent on the ground first.
Sam was actually trying. At first.
Bucky was being a show off, getting way too much joy out of the fact that he had strength on his side. He put Sam on his back three different ways, once on his front which put thoughts in Sam’s head that he’d rather not dwell on.
Now, he’s on his knees panting, Bucky tight to his back, his hands on either side of him on the mat. His laugh ran through Sam’s body, a tightness in his stomach that had nothing to do with adrenaline.
“You getting off anytime soon?” Sam asked, squeezing his eyes shut seconds later as Bucky laughed. “You know what I mean.”
“Tap out. I win.”
“It’s not a competition.”
“He says after the score is five to nil.”
“If you’re counting the times you cheated.”
“You get caught out on Sakaar, they’re not gonna play fair.”
“I’ll remember that, if I ever end up on Sakaar.”
Groaning, Sam rolled over onto his back. It was fast enough that Bucky didn’t see it coming. So, Sam saw his eyes widen in surprise, curious as he scanned Sam’s face. He was closer than Sam realized, every inhale bringing them closer. Licking his lips, Sam watched Bucky track the motion, heat coiling in his center.
Leaning in, Bucky’s eyes darkened, focused on Sam’s mouth. Swallowing, Sam arched, his heart beating fast in his chest. The corner of Bucky’s mouth turned up, stretching out over Sam.
“Guys, drill’s over,” Scott said as he limped past. “Got my ass kicked by my wife. Again. Always nice when Carol comes to town,” he muttered to himself.
Sam knew he’d been rather tired lately, but this had to take the cake.
Standing in Bucky’s apartment and completely unaware of how he’d gotten there. He watched bemusedly Bucky move around his kitchen grabbing two beers from the fridge.
Covering his face, he sighed, shaking himself a bit. The fridge door closed and he heard heavy bootsteps as Bucky neared. He smelled of leather and gun oil, and Sam wondered when that scent had become comforting. He heard Bucky set the beers down on the counter before gloved hands pulled Sam’s hand down from his face.
Blue eyes regarded him fondly as Bucky murmured, “You okay, old man?” he asked gently
“You’re older than me. By a lot,” he objected, shivering as Bucky’s thumb traced the inside of his arm.
“Sure, but I can stay up past nine o’clock without getting sleepy.”
“I’m not sleepy.” Bucky’s thumb traced circles on the inside of his wrist and Sam’s face warmed. “And I have way more energy than you.”
Bucky hummed placatingly, biting down a smile at Sam’s light glare. “I’m sure you do.”
“I’ve seen you take two naps in one day.”
“By that logic, I’ll have more energy because I’m well rested.”
“Or you have to take naps because you’re geriatric.”
“Big words from the guy yawning at ten o’clock.”
“I wasn’t yawning.”
“It’s fine, pretty bird.” His eyes glittered teasingly. “I’ll just have to wake you up.”
Sam breathed out slowly, his chest coming into contact with Bucky’s front. When had he gotten so close. His eyes cut to Bucky’s, his breath warm on Sam’s face. Heart pounding, Sam felt that strange tension in his stomach, the way he felt when he was nearing the drop zone, seconds before the fall. His pulse thundering in his ears.
A gloved hand touched his cheek, sliding back to cup his neck. Sam should say something or move or do anything other than just standing here. Their lips meet in more of a bite than a kiss, sharp teeth dragging along his bottom lip in a move that made his cock pulse hard enough to leave him lightheaded. He let out a whine that made Bucky’s hand tighten possessively around the nape of his neck, his tongue seeking out Sam’s.
The bar came up to meet Sam’s back as Bucky charged forward, gripping him by the hips and pushing him up onto the counter top. Groaning, Bucky lapped at his mouth, rolling his hips against Sam’s. Lost, Sam followed as best he could, following wordless orders. Lifting his arms overhead so Bucky could take his shirt and letting his head be guided back as Bucky nipped and sucked at his throat. Every bite made him shiver, every grip to hold him still left him dizzy.
It wasn’t until Bucky’s lips met his, bruised and wet, that Sam realized he’d been tugging him upward. Bucky came willingly, sucking on Sam’s tongue as his hands tore at Sam’s pants. They came down within seconds, a gloved hand taking hold of his hard cock.
Moaning, Sam pulled away as Bucky kissed his throat and dropped down to his knees. The gloves were slick against his skin, gliding smoothly in Sam’s precome. This would be over embarrassingly fast. Sam rested his hands on the counter, watching Bucky stroke him teasingly. Breathing wetly along the head as he neared, licking his lips as their eyes held.
“Buck,” he breathed, his cock pulsing as another bead of precome welled from the slit. Bucky’s thumb smeared it over the head, grinning at the quiet whine. “Buck, please.”
Bucky leaned in closer, sucking his thumb into his mouth briefly with a moan. “You taste good, Sam.”
And he took Sam into his mouth.
Sam came with a strangled groan, bright spots going off behind his eyelids as his cock pulsed hard once, twice, four times, his stomach tensing hard enough to hurt.
His eyes shot open, hands twisted in the sheets. It took almost a few minutes for him to realize there were sounds coming from the bathroom. He sat up shakily, running a hand over his face. His pajama pants were embarrassingly wet and warm, face twisting as the bathroom door opened.
Jen poked her head out, “Hey, you’re up? Sorry, if I woke you. I’ve gotta go into the office early.”
Sam stared at her, his heart beating painfully fast in his chest. “No, you didn’t wake me. I just had a weird dream.”
“Oh?” Jen came out of the bathroom, wringing her hair out with a towel. “Wanna talk about it?”
Sam’s face burned and he reflexively curled his legs up. “No, I’ll be fine.”
Sam didn’t get it.
Things were virtually back to normal with Bucky. Well, not quite as normal as before, but still good. They were laughing again and making fun of each other and Sam didn’t get why he had to ruin it with these stupid dreams.
No matter what he did, taking care of it before bed or wearing himself out before bed, nothing worked. He woke up with wet boxer briefs and memories of things that most certainly never happened. Strapped into some sort of sex swing while Bucky filled him repeatedly. Bent over Fury’s desk while Bucky pumped into him. There had been one dream where they somehow managed to have sex while Sam was flying through the sky and the weirdest part about that one had been that the rest of the Avengers watched?
If those weren’t bad enough, the same dream kept recurring over and over again. He’d find himself sitting on the edge of some great height just watching the stars. And he’d know that it wasn’t safe, that something about where he was meant he had to be careful. Every time he’d get scared, someone took his hand. Every single time, he’d look over and find Bucky. Those bright blue eyes staring at him with such a clear fondness that Sam felt caught in place. But he was never scared.
Sam felt guilty.
He knew he couldn’t control it, he’d done everything in his power to try, but he couldn’t help but feel like he was letting Jen down every time he woke up with wet sheets. Every time she smiled at him or looked at him curiously, he felt as if she’d be able to see inside his head and somehow know what was going on in there.
It crept up in the oddest hours and he’d been finding more and more excuses not to be intimate with her. It felt dishonest.
Jen could tell something was going on, but every time she asked him about it, he lied. Changed the subject, blamed the job, blamed exhaustion, blamed anyone but himself for the fact that he finally had everything he’d wanted – a real relationship, a team he loved, a friendship he cherished – and he was ruining it.
Sam made sure his sleepless nights didn’t get in the way of him doing his job. He was alert and focused the day a Hydra agent knocked Bucky off of a rooftop in Midtown.
He shot towards him, weaving through the buildings to catch him. Bucky was out cold, bleeding from a gash on his temple as Sam wrapped his arms around him. His heart thudding painfully fast in his chest as he cut through the sky as fast as he dared with Bucky in his arms. He touched down on the Helicarrier before he remembered the team was probably wondering where he'd gone.
By the time Sam got changed and went to check on Bucky, he’d been cleaned up with his wound treated. Sighing, Sam sat down in the chair next to the bed, watching the soft rise and fall of Bucky’s chest. Reaching out, Sam brushed his hair back from his face, feeling strangely unsettled.
Bucky was so still.
Sam kept waiting for him to wake up and call him an idiot or something. Make fun of the Hulk t-shirt Sam had to borrow from Scott. But he just kept lying there. There were bags beneath his eyes, not that Sam was one to talk. Neither of them were doing that well on the sleep front, it seemed.
There was nothing Sam could do here, but it felt wrong to leave. The thought hadn’t even occurred to him until the nurse told him he could.
Besides, he could not sleep here just as well as he could at home. So, he’d stay.
Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Bucky falling through the sky.
Sam laid in his bed wide awake the next night. He just kept thinking about that dream, Bucky sitting beside him and staring at him with that look in his eye. Finally, Sam gave up on sleep for the night.
He strapped on his rig and flew upstate, dropping down in a neighborhood that was disturbingly quiet. He climbed the steps and knocked on the front door, stomach twisting into knots. The door opened after some time, worried blue eyes staring back at him.
“Sam? What’s happened? It’s past two in the morning?” Steve asked, wrapping his sweater tighter around his chest.
“Can I – can we talk? I’m sorry, I know it’s late.”
“Yeah, sure. Of course.” Steve reached out to pull him inside, closing the door behind him.
They moved through the living room and Steve shushed him, hiking his thumb over his shoulder. “They got a little rowdy tonight. They’re sleeping it off now.”
Sam peeked over the back of the couch and saw Thor curled up beneath a blanket, Valkyrie and the other Thor – Jane they’d come to learn - in a jumble of intertwined limbs on the floor.
“In this neighborhood?”
“Wasn’t my first idea, but Thor wanted to visit and it’s not like I get the opportunity to play drinking games with Asgardians often.”
“You outdrank three Asgardians?” Sam asked, wide eyed as Steve led him to the kitchen.
“Oh, no. I just pretended to. By the tenth round or so, I could toss the entire cup into the plant behind my chair without them noticing. It was very entertaining.” He started the coffee and sank down in a chair. “But I get the sense you didn’t come here to talk about Asgardian meade.”
“Not exactly.” He chewed on his lip, holding Steve’s gaze as he tried to force the words out. “I think… I’m about to make a choice that’s going to make everyone’s lives more difficult and I don’t know if I’m making it for the right reason.”
“Okay,” Steve said slowly, leaning back. “Personal or professional?”
“Maybe.” His chest tightened as he wrung his hands together. “I think so.”
“’S probably not. You’re forgetting that I know you,” Steve said, a warmth in his eyes.
“At least someone does.”
“That’s ominous,” Steve said, climbing to his feet and grabbing the freshly made coffee. He poured two mugs and set them down on the table. “Spill, Wilson. I’m not getting any younger.
So, he did.
He told Steve everything from the dates with Jen ruined by the paparazzi to the nights ruined by his uncontrollable dreams. He told him about Bucky’s weirdness around Jen, their fight, and Jen’s suspicions. When he finished, Steve leaned forward, a furrow in his brow.
“But it’s not the dreams.” Sam blinked at him. “It can’t be. Sounds like you’ve been having them for a while and you just moved past it. What changed?”
Sam’s gaze fell to the window. “It’s one dream.” He averted his gaze, studying his hands. “I keep having the same one, over and over again. And it’s not… sexual, it’s just,” he sighed, looking to Steve helplessly. “We’re just sitting on the edge of the Helicarrier and holding hands while we watch the stars. That’s it. That’s all it is. And for some reason, whenever I’ve had a bad day or I’m stressed or I’m scared, it calms me down. I just feel… safe.”
Steve’s eyes widened. “Oh.”
“It’s probably just what Jen said or I’m trying to screw things up because they’re actually working.”
“Or your body’s trying to tell you something. If this were me coming to you with this, what would you tell me?”
“I come to you for advice and you try to get me to counsel myself?”
Steve sipped his coffee and nodded unapologetically. “Yeah, because if you want my advice, break things off with Jen. You have to.”
“Sam, you’re a good guy. You’ve run through all the options, every possible explanation for what’s going on and you dragged your ass out of bed at two in the morning to bug an old man about it because you thought I might have a different answer. But you know the answer.” He offered a regretful smile. “If you continue on like this, the guilt is going to eat you alive.”
Sighing, Sam ran his hands over his face. “It already is.” He tapped his fingers on the table, almost afraid to say his next words out loud. “I think I’d be okay if this ended. But I wouldn’t be okay if,” he cut himself off, looking to Steve nervously.
“You knew the answer,” Steve said simply. “I’m guessing there’s a reason you went straight to him after every bad date.”
Sam knew that, but he still felt awful. “I really thought I might love her. Someday.”
“I know, buddy.”
Sam nodded, rubbing at his eyes. “You know, when you call me that, it makes me feel about ten years old.”
“I know, sport.”
“You’re such a dick, Steve.”
He took a long sip of his coffee, adding, “I know, champ.”
After Sam finished, Jen took a few minutes before she spoke.
“You know, when I told Jessica that we were dating, she congratulated me. Luke, Danny, Scott, all of them just said ‘congrats’,” she mused, resting her elbow on the back of her chair as she slid her fingers into her hair. “But when I told Hope, she stared at me for about five minutes before she said anything.”
Her gaze fell to the table. “Always thought that was weird,” she finished quietly.
“Oh, I know,” she said, smiling mutedly as she studied her coffee cup. Her eyes rose to Sam’s, honest and clear. “I know you are, Sam.”
He was at a loss for words. “I thought about this for a long time.”
Jen blinked at him. “Oh, honey, that makes it worse.” She stared at him. “How long have you been thinking about breaking up with me? A week? Two?”
“That’s not what I meant. I just meant that I didn’t make the decision lightly. I really care about you.”
Jen nodded after some time. “I know.” She leaned back in her chair. “Just like I know it’s nothing I did, it’s all you, I’m perfect and amazing and any guy would be lucky to have me.”
Sam felt a pained twinge in his chest. “All of that, too.”
Jen smiled, more genuine this time. “We’re okay, Sam. We’ll be okay. It may take some time before I feel okay about all of this, but I’ll get there.” She touched his hand reassuringly. “I am thankful. If it weren’t for you, I don’t know that I would’ve tried to get back out there.”
“Jen, you didn’t need me.”
“You’re the first person I’ve been with since the accident that didn’t treat me like some experiment. You made me feel like both parts of me were okay. I think I’ll always love you for that.” Her smile fractured a bit, eyes wet. “You just didn’t love me.”
Sam tensed, turning his hand over and grasping hers. “Jen,” he began.
“I’ll be fine. I’m a big girl.” A tear rolled down her cheek and she wiped at it absently. “Now, I don’t want to be rude but this is kind of my apartment, so I can’t leave. Would you mind?”
Ironically, the time when Sam could use an alien army to fight or a Hydra cell to root out, there was about a month of peace across the country.
Sam did recon work, trained SHIELD agents, worked with Peter on getting better at hand to hand, but there was only so much busy work he could drum up for himself. Any time not spent with the kid or the trainees, Sam spent alone. It felt like his time earlier in the year, except he didn’t have Bucky to distract him. Mostly because Sam was avoiding him.
He was curled up in bed, buried beneath a pile of blankets when they were snatched away from him.
“Hey!” he shouted, squeezing his eyes shut as the sunlight set in.
“It’s well past eleven, what are you doing?” Bucky demanded, cursing and fighting with Sam when he tried to yank the blankets back. “Sam, come on. Don’t do this. We both know I could toss you over my shoulder if I wanted to.”
Sam’s face warmed as he sat up, glaring at Bucky. “I know I locked up last night.”
“Your point?” Bucky asked uncaringly. He balled the sheets up in his arms and studied him. “You really gonna mope in here forever?”
“I’m not moping.”
“You haven’t shaved in a few days, you’re sleeping in which is weird for you and the kid said the last time he saw you, you cheered him on when he tripped over his own feet.”
“It’s called being encouraging.”
“It’s called moping. So, Jen broke up with you. It’s not the end of the world.”
“That’s not supportive.”
“There’s more fish in the sea.”
“One foot in front of the other.” Sam stared at him. “Look, this isn’t my forte. You wanna get drunk, I’m your guy. Until then, you need to get in the shower and try to make yourself look human.” Sam laid back down, earning a grumble. “Sam,” he warned, moving around the bed and reaching for Sam’s wrists. “Come on.”
“I don’t like you being the responsible one,” he muttered as Bucky hauled him to his feet.
“Bad news, I always have been.”
Bucky made it near impossible to wallow in guilt.
For one thing, he treated Sam’s locks like suggestions and came and went as he pleased. He showed up at all hours, usually with food or something new for them to watch. At first, he’d used the guise of keeping Sam from moping again but, over time, he claimed he was catching them both up on everything they’d missed during the Blip.
It meant nights spent sinking into the couch drowsy eyed and telling himself he could make it through one more episode of The Queen's Gambit. And then waking up with a cramped left leg from being squished into his corner of the couch, weighed down by an ex-assassin drooling on one of his throw pillows.
It felt unfair, because they were some of the best nights Sam had had in months.
They came back from missions too exhausted to do more than stuff their mouths and go to bed. Easier for Bucky to stay over and, though Sam hadn’t exactly meant for them to share the bed, it was better for their backs anyway.
He was aware the team were looking at the two of them strangely, but whatever they thought was happening wasn’t , so he didn’t put too much thought into it.
New Year’s Eve, Scott and Hope hosted a party.
Everyone was invited – everyone . A delegation from Wakanda was visiting at the time. Thor, Valkyrie and Jane had dropped in with the Guardians just to visit. Monica had convinced Carol to come down from the stars (to be fair, Maria played a huge role in it). Even Hill and Fury took the night off to grab a glass of champagne.
Bucky found Sam on the balcony staring out at the city. “You’re not being very social,” Bucky said, sipping his beer. “That’s not like you.”
Sam rested his arms on the railing. “I’m sure they’ll be fine without me.”
“Maybe not. Thor’s trying to talk the kid into doing a keg stand.”
“The kid knows better, then,” he said with a laugh. “He’s still trying to impress Jane. She intimidates him.”
“She intimidates me,” he muttered, drawing Sam’s gaze. “What? She could throw me a few miles if I pissed her off.”
“She wouldn’t though.”
“No, because she likes you too much.” He leaned against the railing, copying Sam’s pose. “Everyone does.”
Sam hummed. “I am in the exact same place now that I was last year.”
“This is why I hate New Years.” Sam looked to him in question. “It makes everyone like this.”
“What about you?”
“I don’t care.” Sam’s eyes widened. “I don’t. Considering where I started, I had nowhere to go but up. I’ve got friends, which I never thought I’d have after what I did. I’ve got a job that actually helps people. I’ve got a home, I’ve got food and I survived a war against a fucking alien army. I’m batting a thousand over here.”
Sam smiled despite himself, feeling a tug at his heart. “You are. I’m happy for you man.”
Bucky gave a tentative smile.
They returned to the Helicarrier one night after dinner. They’d just left Alessia’s Italian restaurant, the watch lights casting the empty base in a warm glow.
Sam was stuffed full of the best Italian food he’d had in ages, but even so, he felt lighter than he had in a long time. Bucky shifted close towards him, knocking him off center playfully. Sam pushed him back, laughing when Bucky narrowly avoided a light post.
“So, was it worth me having to sell a kidney to pay for it?” Sam asked.
Bucky shrugged, “You’ve got another one.” He slid his hands in his pockets. “It was great. I could’ve paid for my half, you know?”
“I said I’d treat you one day.”
Bucky smiled, scratching at his brow. He came to a stop outside the entrance to the bed quarters. “I thought you forgot about that.”
“It was so long ago. I don’t even remember half the things I say.”
“I do,” Sam said, face warming at the amused glint in Bucky’s eye. “When it’s important, I mean.”
Bucky raised a brow, grin widening. “When I promise to put out, you mean?”
Sam’s face burned, stuttering out, “No! I just remember things my friends say to me. Unlike some people.”
“I remember what you say to me.”
“I do,” Bucky insisted. “The important stuff. It’s not my fault you hardly ever say anything important,” he teased and Sam rolled his eyes, biting down a smile.
“You’re a dick, you know that?”
Bucky clutched at his chest. “Ouch. Words can hurt, Sam. That’s going in my diary tonight.”
Sam leaned against the post. It was late. They had a meeting in the morning. He should go to bed, but he didn’t want to be alone just yet. Instead, he moved toward the edge of the base, careful as he sat down, his legs hanging over the edge.
Staring up at the stars, “You know, before things ended with Jen, I kept having this dream.” He looked up at Bucky who reluctantly came to sit beside him, having never been as comfortable with heights as Sam was. “It was you and me sitting out here, just watching the stars. They’re so clear out here. I tried to reach out and touch one and you pulled me back.”
Bucky laughed, drawing Sam’s gaze. His eyes were glittering in the light. “Sam, that wasn’t a dream.” Sam’s brow furrowed, his head cocked to the side. Bucky’s smile softened. “We fought doombots on the edge of Latveria and you took a hit meant for me.” His smile fell away, lost in a memory. “I looked over at you and you were just gone . You were so out of it. We brought you back here. You had a mild concussion. I found you sitting pretty much right here that night.”
Bucky shrugged, looking at him. “It wasn’t all bad. Once I got over being scared shitless you were going to tumble over the edge,” he explained, the corner of his mouth turning up. His eyes were bright and warm, taking in Sam’s face like there was nothing else worth looking at. Sam’s breath caught, a nervous quelling in his stomach. “We sat here for hours.”
Sam licked his lips, his heart turning over in his chest. Just like that, he remembered sitting on the edge, too close to the edge. Scared for the first time since he’d been given wings. He remembered the chill of the night air and the warmth that followed after, the solid warmth beneath his cheek. Falling asleep watching the dance of the lights beneath him.
“I wanted to watch the fireflies,” he said, looking at Bucky wondrously.
“You wanted to watch the fireflies.” Bucky confirmed with a laugh. “So, that’s what we did. Anything for you, pretty bird.”
Sam had been waiting to see it – this thing Jen and apparently Hope and so many other people saw. This thing that made the difference between the way Bucky looked at him and the way he looked at everyone else. But Sam never did; because Bucky had never looked at him any differently.
It’d been like this between them from the start.
He leaned in, watching Bucky’s eyes widen briefly, guarded and hesitant. Hopeful. It gave Sam the courage he needed to clear the rest of the way. Their lips met in a press so soft Sam thought he’d imagined it. Gloved fingers brushed his cheek, drawing a shiver and a rush of nervous joy. Leaning in, Sam smiled into their kiss, wider as pulling back only earned him another and another.
Bucky pulled away and took Sam’s hand.
“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” Sam asked after some time.
“I had my own shit to work through. Still do.” His thumb traced circles over the back of Sam’s hand, his voice softening. “And you were going on all these dates with these amazing people. Didn’t think I could compete.”
Sam squeezed his hand tight, pressing a kiss to his cheek. Holding his gaze, he replied, “There wasn’t a competition.” Bucky’s eyes widen briefly and he fights a smile, pressing a kiss to Sam’s forehead and pulling him into his arms. “Wish I’d realized that earlier,” Sam added.
“Yeah, well, take this as your lesson to listen to me.”
“You literally didn’t tell me anything.”
“I’ve confessed my love to you many times.”
“After I gave you food. By that logic, you’ve been having an emotional affair with the pizza man.”
“He’s divorced with five kids. Don’t think I’m ready for that,” he mused, laughing when Sam elbowed him. “Fine, we were both stupid. But you more than me.”
Rolling his eyes, Sam replied, “If that helps you sleep at night.” He felt a rush of warmth when Bucky held him tighter.
“We should probably go back inside. It’s getting cold out here,” Bucky whispered after some time, his breath on Sam’s neck making him shiver in response.
Reluctantly, he let Sam pull out of his arms as Sam stood and offered a hand to help him up. Sam followed Bucky through the hall, trusting him to guide them through the dark. When they came to a stop at Sam’s door, he scratched at the back of his neck, his eyes on the floor.
“So, this is you.” Sam waited, amused but trying not to show it. “So, yeah… good night, I guess.”
“You’re not coming in?”
Bucky’s eyes cut to his. “I thought - that was a joke. You don’t have to.”
“I know that,” Sam said with a smile, crossing his arms and leaning against the door jamb. “I sleep better when you’re here.”
Sighing, Bucky covered his face, his shoulders falling. “Oh, thank god. Me, too. I thought I was going fuckin’ crazy.”
He moved past Sam, pulling off his jacket and boots. Sam shook his head, sliding the boots under the nearby table. Shutting the door, he followed Bucky’s lead and dived headfirst into bed.