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It's You I Keep

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Despite their rocky start, it would be a lie if Sam said he was surprised that he counts Bucky among his friends now. That was always their trajectory—despite Bucky’s resistance and Sam’s refusal to let someone else tell him how he should feel about the shield. 

 

Sam, to his sister’s affectionate woe, does his best to see the potential for good in other people. 

 

He disagrees with her on this. It’s not that he sees good, per se, more that he’s willing to recognize and acknowledge the shades of gray.

 

No one is solely good or bad. Sam has many things that he regrets from his time oversees, things from just months ago—days even—that he knows he’ll be atoning for. 

 

Like Karli. Her death might technically be on Sharon’s hands, but it weighs heavily on Sam. 

 

He wasn’t lying to Bucky in the dappled warmth of a Louisiana afternoon. Sorry is not good enough. There has to be action, intention to bring some kind of healing or relief to the parties wronged. 

 

Which is why when the dust settles, he reaches out to Bucky. What Bucky had been doing since Karli’s death, Sam isn’t sure. 

 

But he’s an adult, and he can acknowledge that despite their previous fights, they understand each other now. Sam actively wants Bucky at his side, and not just because he’s good in a fight. 

 

No. Sam wants him because on some innate level, they’ve managed to understand each other. It’s a connection that Sam’s struggled to make again since Riley’s death. 

 

For a moment, Steve filled that void. 

 

Steve, however, is not what either of them need. Not now. But maybe Bucky and Sam can be that for each other. And Sam wonders if Bucky has found something for himself yet. 

 

Sam

got a minute? 

 

It takes nearly an hour for Bucky to respond, but that’s not really surprising. He doesn’t actually know where in the world Bucky is right now—what time zone or sleep schedule he might be keeping. It’s hard to keep track when Sam is busy with all the bullshit that comes with the shield and the title of Captain America.

 

It will be worth it. He knows it will. It’s about damn time someone turned the world on its head and showed it a new perspective.

 

But it still makes Sam lonely in the face of it all. He feels the weight differently than Steve did, but he feels it just the same. With people like Isaiah watching him, he refuses to stumble under this burden.

 

Bucky

give me five 

 

Must be in the middle of something then. Sam leans against the boat, letting the salt in the air take the edge off of a shitty week. 

 

He’s not sure what aches more, his head or his body. Coming home was a good choice, even if he can only afford a day or two before he’s needed elsewhere. 

 

When Bucky finally calls, he picks up on the second ring.

 

“What’s going on?” Bucky asks promptly, and the intensity teases a laugh out of Sam.

 

“Nothing immediately on fire, don’t worry,” Sam reassures him. “How have you been?”

 

It’s been weeks since they saw each other, maybe longer. Days have started to blur together for Sam. 

 

Bucky’s quiet on the other end, contemplative. “I started with the first person.” 

 

Sam breathes out. “And?” 

 

“It hurt,” Bucky’s voice trembles just slightly around the admission. “But I owed him closure. I think he’ll heal, eventually.” 

 

“I’m glad, Bucky.”

 

He means it. Bucky has more trauma than anyone Sam’s ever met, which is saying something, but Sam has faith that he can pull through it. Will pull through it. 

 

“You wanted to ask me something,” Bucky says after a long moment of silence.

 

“I did,” Sam agrees, though now he’s hesitating. He doesn’t want to break this tentative peace or newborn identity that Bucky has begun to build for himself. 

 

Bucky snorts. “Oh, just spit it out, bird-brain.” 

 

“That’s rich coming from you, cyborg,” Sam retorts without heat. 

 

Bucky’s chuckle crackles over the line and spears directly into Sam’s chest. Oh .

 

“I want you by my side,” Sam begins. “But—“

 

“Yes.” 

 

Sam rolls his eyes skyward. Bucky makes it so goddamn hard to keep his heart in check.

 

But only on your terms, Bucky. And as equals. You will not be Captain America’s sidekick.”

 

“Never have been,” Bucky says, a little wistful and dare Sam say, affectionate ?

 

From the house, Sarah waves to let him know dinner is ready. God, Sam misses this every time he leaves. He even misses the bit of home the Avengers built, but that’s been gone since Tony died. The Avengers are scattered, and it’s Sam’s shield to lift. 

 

“I won’t give you an identity, Bucky,” he warns. “You have to find that on your own.” 

 

“I know.” 

 

“But there’s no one I trust to watch my back more.” 

 

I know ,” Bucky repeats, and this time there’s no mistaking the fondness in his tone. 

 

Sam is wise enough to recognize that he’s in danger with this, and yet he doesn’t care. 

 

“So?”

 

“Of course I’ll do it,” Bucky’s eye roll is audible. “When do we start?” 

 

“Forty-eight hours. If you’re on this continent, feel free to come for dinner, Sarah is cooking.” 

 

If there’s anything Bucky can’t resist, it’s Sarah’s cooking and the simple warmth of Sam’s hometown. It’s rather ridiculous how easily he fits in here. 

 

“I’ll let you know my ETA,” Bucky hums. 

 

“Thank you, Bucky,” Sam says quietly. 

 

“Don’t be stupid, Sam.”

 

He hangs up without another word, but Sam can’t be mad. He’s going to have Bucky at his side for the foreseeable future, how could he be?

 

*

 

Bucky misses dinner, but he lands in time for Sarah’s famous Sunday morning breakfast. He’s sporting the beginnings of a five-o’clock shadow and his seemingly permanent eyebags, but he’s a sight for sore eyes. 

 

“Good to see you,” Sam greets him at the door. 

 

“Samuel, let the man in to have some breakfast,” Sarah calls from the kitchen. 

 

“Yeah Samuel, let me get some breakfast.” Bucky slides Sam a sly smirk that has Sam smacking his arm in retaliation. 

 

“Both of you are insufferable,” Sam grumbles, following Bucky into the kitchen. 

 

AJ and Cass are both already at the table, shoveling waffles in their mouth like there’s no tomorrow, but they beam at Bucky when he drops into a chair across from them. 

 

“Don’t speak with your mouth full!” Sarah scolds them before they can even start, setting a plate in front of Bucky. 

 

“Thank you,” he offers her a smile. 

 

Sam rolls his eyes, kicking the leg of Bucky’s chair as he goes to get his own plate. He knows Bucky isn’t actually flirting. The man just has an impeccable set of manners when he isn’t beating the shit out of people. 

 

“Jealous are we?” Sarah coos in his ear as he goes about heaping waffles on his own plate. 

 

“You’re evil.” 

 

“I’m your sister,” she counters, which really, is one in the same. 

 

She’s not going to let this go anytime soon, and it’s quite problematic for Sam’s valiant attempt to ignore his growing feelings. Time for a tactical retreat, then. 

 

The rest of breakfast goes smoothly, and then Sarah bullies Bucky into taking a nap on the couch. 

 

“You look like you need it,” she says sternly. “I’ll kick the rest of these hooligans out of the house so they won’t bother you.” 

 

“I’m a grown ass man,” Sam protests.

 

Bucky shakes his head. “It’s really fine.”

 

Sarah gives them both a look. Sam’s been getting this look for years—knows it means he’s losing the argument no matter how hard he fights. Bucky appears to have also drawn this conclusion and is meekly finishing his food.

“Fine, I’ll take the boys outside,” Sam sighs. He meets Bucky’s gaze. “Come get me after your nap , yeah?” 

 

“Yeah, okay.” 

 

*

 

When Bucky emerges an hour later, Sam is getting his ass kicked at the most convoluted game of tag he’s ever played. AJ and Cass are far too old to find regular tag entertaining, so they’ve come up with a new version that’s basically designed to torment Sam. 

 

He’s pretty sure he gets less of a workout doing his Captain America training.  

 

“You’re it!” Cass howls in delight, smacking Sam’s arm. 

 

Before Sam can retaliate, he’s out of reach. It’s amazing how much the weights throw Sam off, considering he’s used to his jetpack and wings. But having them on his wrists and ankles really shifts his center of balance. 

 

“Doing okay there champ?” Bucky leers. 

 

“Someone’s feeling better after their nap,” Sam scoffs.

 

“For some reason I sleep better on your couch.” 

 

It’s so raw—so honest that Sam’s temporarily at a loss for words. He’s silent for a beat too long, long enough that Bucky will notice, so he does the only distracting thing he can think of. 

 

Sam darts forward, catching Bucky around the waist like this is a backwards game of flag football. Bucky goes absolutely still under his touch as Sam grins his victory. 

 

“Guess you’re it now.” He reluctantly lets go of the solid, comforting, warmth and dances back a step out of Bucky’s reach. 

 

That seems to get Bucky into gear—Sam knew he had to be a competitive little shit—and then they’re tearing across the yard. AJ and Cass have climbed onto the porch to cheer. 

 

“Get him Bucky!” Cass hollers, his face split into a grin. 

 

“Hey now,” Sam complains, just barely escaping Bucky’s outstretched fingers. “Shouldn’t you be cheering for your uncle?”

 

“You’re obviously gonna lose, Uncle Sam,” AJ puts in.

 

Traitors. They shouldn’t be enjoying watching Sam run all over the yard like a fool trying to evade capture, but that’s kids for you. 

 

Not only is Bucky not wearing weights, he’s also faster than Sam normally because of the serum. The fact that Bucky hasn’t caught him yet means that he’s holding back, toying with Sam. 

 

“Are you gonna catch me or what, grandpa ? I know you’re going easy on me!”

 

3...2...1… “ Oof ,” Sam gasps as Bucky slams into him. 

 

Yeah, he thought as much. Except Bucky doesn’t stop there. Sam’s feet are suddenly not touching the ground. 

 

“Hey!” he protests, only to find his face inches from Bucky’s. 

 

Bucky’s barely even breathing hard, the smile on his face absolutely radiant. “You were saying?” 

 

Sam’s brain is full of static. “Bridal carry? Really?” 

 

“Did you want me to throw you over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes?” 

 

Huffing, Sam gently pinches Bucky’s cheek in retaliation. “Put me down, show off.” 

 

“Says the one who essentially caught an armored vehicle full of people.” 

 

“Oh shut up.” 

 

Bucky sets him carefully on his feet. “So, where are we going next?” 

 

Everything about him seems lighter. The question isn’t begrudging—like he would follow Sam anywhere. 

 

It’d be the best day of Sam’s life if he agreed to that. 

 

Sam brushes himself off and gladly removes the weights, throwing a look the boys’ way. “Let’s walk and talk.”

 

Perhaps walking will help him ignore the frantic way his heart rate has picked up. Bridal carried by Bucky, huh. 

 

He shouldn’t want it to happen again.

 

*

 

Months pass, and life develops a routine. Sam gets a call, Sam calls Bucky, and then the two of them get on a plane to wherever the hell they’re needed most. 

 

When they’re done they crash land in Louisiana and let Sarah or one of the neighbors smother them with home cooked meals before departing to their respective apartments. Sam still has a place in DC—it’s convenient even if he doesn’t love the city life—and Bucky is still in Brooklyn. 

 

It’s so easy, so comfortable having Bucky with him more often than not that Sam begins to hate going back to his empty apartment. The quiet that he used to yearn for feels cold and unwelcoming. 

 

“Y’know, we should get a place,” Sam says offhandedly, heart in his throat after another successful mission.

 

His whole body is a bruise and there’s a headache building with the knowledge that there’s going to be so much goddamned paperwork to fill out. 

 

Bucky tilts his head. “Like, together?” 

 

Damn those piercing blue eyes. Sam can’t look anywhere else. 

 

“I—yeah? We have the same schedule, and are both gone for long periods of time. Seems dumb to pay for two apartments.” Sam sounds breathless, he knows he does. 

 

There’s a difference between basking in Bucky’s presence and asking for more . This, asking for a real place in Bucky’s life, is terrifying.

 

“You know, you could just ask me out, Samuel,” Bucky takes a step forward into Sam’s personal space. 

 

Sam’s brain fills with white noise. Yes he’s thought about it many times, but rushing Bucky is something he’s wanted to avoid at all costs. 

 

Bucky’s recovery is far from linear, Sam knows that and even though the last few months have been good, he knows that expecting it to always be like that is unfair. Bucky might seem ready, seem better , but that was never Sam’s to decide.

 

So he kept his mouth shut, despite Sarah’s constant ribbing and meaningful looks. Even when Bucky melded seamlessly into their little family, Sam held his tongue and did his best to make him feel welcome. 

 

AJ and Cass have started calling Bucky ‘uncle’ too, squeezing the vice even tighter around Sam’s heart. 

 

“Sam?” There’s a hand on his shoulder, grounding him.

 

“Yeah,” Sam says hoarsely. And then, hopefully, “You want that?” 

 

A soft, raspy chuckle. “I thought you were good with people.”

 

“I am ,” Sam protests, blowing out a breath. “I didn’t want to rush you. Or make you feel like I had expectations.”

 

The hand on his shoulder squeezes—soothing, encouraging, gentle. 

 

“I know,” Bucky’s got that rare smile of his on, the one that Sam only sees when Bucky is incandescently happy. 

 

Sam’s heart thunders in his chest as the other hand—the metal one—comes to rest on his waist. “You’re enjoying this too much,” he breathes.

 

“Oh it’s fun, seeing you like this. You usually have the upper hand in these conversations.” 

 

“Seriously? I thought we were having a moment.” 

 

“We are,” Bucky confirms. 

 

When he leans in, Sam is ready—meeting the press of his lips with equal enthusiasm. The noise he makes when Bucky tugs him so that their bodies are flush is frankly embarrassing, but he consoles himself by sliding an appreciative hand up Bucky’s bicep to cup his jaw. 

 

It’s easy, easier than Sam could have dreamed it would be. 

 

Bucky pulls back first, bumping his forehead gently against Sam’s. “I’m still going to be a mess,” he warns, that thread of insecurity returning. “I might always be a mess.” 

 

Sam thumbs the stubble on his cheek—they really spent far too much time chasing rumors in the backwoods this week. “I won’t ask you to be someone you’re not, James Buchanan Barnes.” 

 

The relieved breath that huffs out of Bucky makes him ache. There will be no expectations here. Bucky is whoever he decides to be, and that’s all Sam wants for him. 

 

“Promise?” 

 

“I promise.” 

 

Sam is often leery of promises, knows Bucky is more distrustful, but this is one Sam is confident he can keep. One he will keep, even if he puts his own heart on the line to do it. 

 

“So, apartment hunting?” he asks lightly.

 

Bucky groans, clearly unenthused, but Sam dips his head back in for a kiss that changes that attitude very quickly. 

 

*

 

Bucky is, as usual, hogging their bed. 

 

He doesn’t sprawl. No, he inevitably migrates to Sam’s half of the bed seeking him, until Sam is practically sleeping on the edge. 

 

Sam presses his nose into Bucky’s shoulder, tangling their legs together so that maybe he won’t fall off. Bucky’s breaths are steady and even so Sam keeps his eyes closed too, letting the easy warmth of the morning cocoon him.

 

It’s nice to be home, where both their boots sit by door and Bucky’s dog-eared copy of The Hobbit lives on the nightstand. 

 

Sam’s about to drift back off—he deserves it—when his phone buzzes. He ignores it, but it’s enough to wake Bucky.

 

“Who’s it?” Bucky mumbles. 

 

“They can wait,” Sam hums back, pressing feather-light kisses up the column of Bucky’s neck. “I’m sleeping.”

 

Another ding, Bucky’s phone this time. Bucky’s a better person than Sam and stretches to grab it, leaving Sam grumpy and cold. 

 

“It’s Sarah,” Bucky thumbs his messages open. 

 

Sam rolls over to chase after his warmth. Three days in Siberia has left a chill in his bones.

 

“Tell her I’m sleeping.”

 

Bucky chuckles. “I did. She says that we’d better be home for dinner on Sunday, no excuses.”

 

“Bossy,” Sam grumbles, pressing his cheek into Bucky’s chest. 

 

Lips brush the top of his head and Bucky’s human fingers trace their way down his spine. “Funny, you two are so alike.” 

 

Hey ,” Sam complains, turning his face up for apology kisses, which Bucky indulges him in. 

 

They kiss for a few minutes like that—languid and unhurried—remapping the familiar pattern of each other’s bodies. Sam pulls back a bit, pressing a kiss to the center of Bucky’s forehead.

 

“Breakfast?” Bucky asks. He’s developed a thing for Nutella waffles that’s frankly hilarious. 

 

“Oh no,” Sam shifts so that he can tug Bucky back against his chest. “Another hour of sleep, then breakfast.” 

 

“Lazy,” Bucky teases, intertwining their fingers where they rest over his heart. 

 

Sam yawns. “Tired.”

 

Bucky chuckles. “Go back to sleep, love.” 

 

Sam doesn’t have to be told twice. There’s nowhere he’s more comfortable than here, listening to Bucky’s steady heartbeat.