Autumn had come over Louisiana, the air was getting cooler and more biting with the promise of a frosty winter, the leaves turning red, yellow and orange before a stiff breeze tore them with them.
As October progressed, the children in Delacroix became more and more excited and happily talked about the upcoming Halloween, making bets among themselves about who would get the most candy or wear the coolest costume.
A loud yawn escaped Sam as he mechanically raked together the fallen leaves, which had apparently spread around the house overnight. And since Bucky had left to pick up AJ and Cass from school so they could spend the weekend with them, Sam had to tidy up at least a bit. Otherwise, he would lose his nephews in the mess of leaves and not get them into the house.
With a sigh, Sam interrupted the work, straightened up and stretched extensively. He was getting too old for this shit. A look through the garden, however, revealed that his hard work paid off. He was almost finished, just had to put the last pile of foliage in a garbage bag and then it was good to go. Sam looked up into the blue sky, where white clouds slowly passed by. His thoughts drifted toward the upcoming Halloween and he thought about asking Sarah if Bucky and he could take the boys for the evening. They could take the boys through the neighborhood, then bring them back to spend the night at their place and in the morning he or Bucky would drive the boys to school. Easy. And Sarah would certainly appreciate a free evening, especially when it was Halloween. She could meet up with some friends or something.
Since he and Bucky moved into their own house together four months ago, they often had Sarah's children over. First, because Sam enjoyed spending time with his nephews and he knew Bucky felt the same way. Second, he also wanted to give his sister a little more time to relax. Raising two boys on her own and taking care of the boat and everything else, especially in the five years after the Blip, was by no means easy and Sam wanted to ease her burden as much as possible.
Yes, he would ask Sarah about it on Sunday when he brought the boys back to her.
For now, he, Bucky, AJ and Cass would spend a fun weekend with each other.
Sam collected the remaining foliage before going back to the house and looking at the clock. Bucky would soon be back with the boys, so Sam got started on the food. As he prepared everything, a smile started to form on his lips. How domesticated they had become, Bucky picking up his nephews from school while Sam cooked the food. If someone had told him a year ago that his life would look like this today – that he would live with Bucky Barnes in his hometown in his own house, that he would be married to Bucky Barnes – he would have declared that person insane. His life had really changed rapidly in a short time. First the Flagsmasher and Karli, then he became Captain America and somewhere in between he had fallen in love with this grumpy old man with the heart of gold.
A slight laugh escaped him as he thought back to the cook out, which they had held after he became Captain America, and how Bucky had been so exuberant that Sam had briefly feared he was dealing with a case of body swapping. Someone who wanted to embody Bucky Barnes but obviously hadn't done his homework.
Sam sighed contentedly. Bucky had smiled so brightly and laughed so much that day, had been so completely happy that even now it made Sam's heart beat faster – that Bucky had felt so comfortable, surrounded by Sam's family and community, that he had completely dropped the walls he had always raised around him. Sam had fallen in love with Bucky a bit more that day.
An hour later, Sam heard the familiar rattling of his truck, and a quick glance out of the kitchen window confirmed that Bucky was back with the boys. Sam made sure the stove was turned off before going outside to greet them.
"Hi, Uncle Sam!" Cass exclaimed joyfully, immediately running towards Sam after getting out of the truck.
"Hey, buddy! All good?" Sam said, putting his arms around his youngest nephew when the boy hugged him.
"Jupp, all good!" came the muted response of the first-grader, who had pressed his face into Sam's pullover.
Sam looked up and saw Bucky and AJ slowly walking up to them. The two seemed to be deep in conversation, with AJ gesticulating exuberantly and Bucky nodding affirmatively. Sam raised questioningly an eyebrow as the two approached him.
"Hey, Uncle Sam!" AJ greeted him with a smile and also threw himself into Sam's arms after Cass let him go.
"Hey yourself! What's so exciting to talk about?" Sam asked and brushed a hand over AJ’s head.
"I just asked Uncle Bucky if he could help me later with an essay I have to write." AJ replied.
"What and I can't help?" Sam replied, playfully insulted. "I'm smart, too!"
AJ giggled: "Yes, but it's about history and we're talking about Captain America and the Howling Command."
Sam put his head slightly to one side and shrugged: "Good point. Ask Uncle Bucky."
AJ and Bucky shared a quick look and chuckled.
"Okay, get inside and wash up, you two," Bucky then said and gently pushed the boys towards the house.
"Yes, Uncle Bucky!" replied AJ and Cass at the same time, running up the stairs to the house.
"Howling Command, huh," Sam said after the children disappeared, looking at his husband with a smile. "What's the essay about?"
A bashful smile appeared on Bucky's face and he rubbed with one hand over his neck. "They should write an essay about a member of the Howlies and AJ absolutely wants to write about me."
A warm feeling spread to Sam's chest and a beaming smile appeared on his face. "I bet the other kids all want to write about Steve and AJ gave a passionate speak about why you're the coolest of them all."
A telltale blush appeared on Bucky's cheeks and the older man shrugged. "Well, Steve was the original Captain America, so..."
But Sam shook his head before grabbing Bucky by the collar of his wool coat and pulling him closer. "No, I think I agree with AJ on that one." He looked his partner in the eyes and covered Bucky's cheek with one hand. "You are the coolest of them all."
As a result, the blush in Bucky's cheeks became even stronger, which amused Sam deeply. If there was one thing Sam found the most adorable about his husband, it was that even the simplest sincere praise made him shy.
"Well, what can I say? Either you have it or you have it," Bucky tried to brag, but the obvious redness in his cheeks and the way he didn’t meet Sam's gaze took away the intended effect.
"Mhm," Sam hummed, before he moved his hand from Bucky's cheek to the back of his head and pulled his partner into a gentle kiss.
Bucky sighed contentedly and put his hands at Sam's waist to draw him closer. He swiped his tongue over Sam's lips, which parted almost immediately so that Bucky could deepen the kiss. Sam moaned slightly and his grip on Bucky's hair got stronger. Over the course of the last couple of months Bucky's hair had grown longer again. Not nearly as long as in his Winter Soldier days, but long enough for Sam to get a good grip. Now it was Bucky who moaned and his arms wrapped completely around Sam to pull him against his chest.
Sam's heart somersaulted in his chest and absentminded he wondered if his reaction to a kiss from Bucky Barnes would ever change. He really hoped it wouldn’t.
"Uncle Sam! Uncle Bucky!" the loud voice of AJ suddenly rang out.
Surprised, the two men broke away from each other and looked over to the house, where AJ stood in the front door, his hands pressed firmly into his hips and with an unimpressed expression on his face. At that moment, he reminded Sam so much of Sarah that he had to suppress a laugh.
"Could you," He pointed to Bucky and Sam as a whole with a hand gesture. "Do any of that later? We're hungry and the food smells really good!"
Bucky's shoulders trembled slightly and Sam knew the older man was also trying not to laugh.
"Sure thing, buddy. We'll be there right away," Bucky shouted back, his face and voice betraying nothing. Sam hated him.
AJ looked suspiciously at his two uncles before disappearing back inside. He left the door purposefully open.
"Wow," Sam said after they were alone again. "He's becoming more like Sarah with each passing day."
Bucky chuckled slightly before stepping back from Sam and nodding to the house. "Well come on, let's go in. Before he chases us in with a broom or something."
Sam nodded and grabbed Bucky's right hand with his left hand, enjoying the clinking of their wedding rings, and dragged Bucky into the house.
After the meal, Cass hopefully held up a football, while AJ energetically held up pen and paper. Bucky and Sam shared a quick look, before nodding at each other and splitting up. Sam went outside with Cass, while Bucky sat down with AJ in the living room.
In a way, Sam was a little jealous of AJ. He watched through the living room window as Bucky told the elementary school student about his Howling days while AJ was eagerly taking notes. Sam would love to listen to the stories as well. Sure, he had heard a lot, both from Bucky and from Steve, but he still wanted to hear more, wanted to know more about his partner, wanted to know everything about Bucky Barnes. It sounded a bit obsessive, Sam knew that, but he couldn't change anything about it. He was interested in the man he loved, sue him!
The next two hours passed relatively uneventfully. Bucky and AJ worked on the essay, while Sam and Cass kicked a football back and forth. Cass had been determined about becoming a professional soccer player for a few weeks now and he really put effort into it. Sam was impressed by his nephew's determination, even though he knew the six-year-old's dream would soon change again. But that was okay as long as Cass had fun with what he was doing.
However, their game was abruptly cut short when Sam heard the sound of a helicopter. This was more than unusual, as not many – to be precise none at all – helicopters or planes flew over Delacroix. Sam looked in the direction of the helicopter to see if it might have been a rescue helicopter and a serious accident had happened somewhere nearby. But even from a distance, Sam could see that the flying object in question was black and without any markings whatsoever. That aroused Sam's suspicions.
The last couple of months had been very quiet. Apart from one or two missions or the occasional interview, Sam has so far been left alone by the outside world. He knew it wouldn't last forever. Now that he was Captain America his life would of course pick up more pace sooner or later. He knew that from Steve and had seen it with Walker – though it had seemed quite exaggerated with Walker, as if the government wanted to compensate somehow – so he wasn't too surprised that they would approach him.
However, Sam had expected them to call or write an email. Instead, they seemed to come directly to him, which made him understandably restless. There had to be something extreme when they picked him up on his doorstep.
Sam looked down at his nephew, who had also noticed the helicopter and looked up at him in question.
"It’s okay," He assured the child and put his arms around Cass. "I guess, that's my work."
"Does that mean you have to go?" Cass asked unhappy and looked up at him, pouting.
Sam stroked calmly over the child's shoulders. "I'm sure they won't take me with them right away." *At least I hope so*, He added mentally.
He heard the back door open and a quick glance to the side confirmed that Bucky, with AJ, came out, no doubt attracted by the noise of the approaching helicopter. Bucky threw a questioning glance at Sam, but Sam just shook his head. He also didn't know what was going on here. Bucky then put his right arm around AJ and pulled the boy closer to his side as he subtly readied his left arm.
They watched tensely as the helicopter landed in front of them on the open space behind their house. Suddenly Sam was glad they had such a large – and empty – garden. He mentally patted himself on the shoulder that he had not followed his idea of putting up a swing for AJ and Cass.
Eventually, the helicopter's noise decreased when the engine was switched off and shortly afterwards the side door opened. Bucky and Sam were surprised when Nick Fury got out of the vehicle. Again, the two men shared a look. None of them had expected this.
Fury approached them with his usual stoic face and stopped a few feet before them, his hands put behind his back. "Good afternoon, gentlemen," he greeted the two, before his eye slid to the two children. "And good afternoon, the slightly younger gentlemen."
The brothers looked uncertainly up to Fury before each of them hesitantly raised a hand to wave at him, before Cass gripped Sam's hands on his shoulders and AJ pushed himself a little closer into Bucky's side.
"It's been a while, Fury," Sam said now. "Didn’t you want to go on holiday or something?"
"I have. Now I'm back," Fury replied briefly, before looking at Bucky and his eye narrowed a little. "Barnes."
Bucky nodded to him, his face expressionless.
Sam realized that Bucky and Fury were now seeing each other again for the first time, after the Winter Soldier had almost killed Fury.
"Is there a reason for your visit?" asked Sam, subtly stepping a little closer to Bucky. "I'm sure you didn't come here all the way just to let us know that you're back on duty."
Fury turned his attention back to Sam: "No, you're right, Wilson. But first of all, congratulations are probably appropriate, Captain America."
Sam frowned slightly. "Um, thank you."
"And you're right, I'm here for a reason," Fury continued. "There are things happening in the world at the moment that need rapid intervention. Captain America's help is needed. I thought it would be better to tell you personally."
Inevitably, Sam's grip around Cass's shoulders tightened and the boy looked up at him anxiously. Sam couldn't say that he wasn't surprised that the next disaster was already waiting for them, but he would have liked his break to last a little longer. Less than a year had passed since the situation with Karli and the next disaster was already looming ahead. So was the life of Captain America.
"AJ. Cass. Why don't you guys go in and watch TV for a bit," Bucky said, smiling calmly at the children. "Uncle Sam and I just have to speak about something here."
The boys looked back and forth between Bucky, Sam and Fury before finally nodding. AJ took Cass by the hand and pulled him back into the house. "Okay, Uncle Bucky."
Sam waited until the door had closed behind the children before turning back to Fury. "Okay, hit us, how close is the apocalypse this time around?"
"Let's just say things are starting to get worse," Fury replied, saying nothing. "We need every reinforcement we can get and now that you're Captain America..."
No, Sam had already understood that.
"You could have called," Sam said, raising an eyebrow. "Or write an e-mail. Why all this fuss?" He pointed to the helicopter behind Fury.
Fury's gaze briefly went to Bucky before focusing on Sam again. "Let's just say I was curious if the rumors were true."
Ah, there it was – Fury just wanted to snoop around.
"What rumors?" Sam asked, playing dumb as if he didn't know exactly what Fury was about.
Where would be the fun in that? He wanted to hear Fury say it.
Fury narrowed his eyes at him and Sam knew he was seen through.
"There’s been rumors that say that you and Barnes" Again, his eye briefly went to Bucky. "Have tied the knot." Now his eye focused on Sam and Bucky's hands, which were side by side, and the rings on their respective ring fingers.
"Oh, there are, are they?" Sam asked, feigning surprise, and exchanged an amused look with Bucky. "Wow. It's good that we didn't put an advertisement in the newspaper, otherwise the whole universe would probably know by now."
It rubbed Sam the wrong way that Fury had so obviously been spying on them. Sure, they hadn’t made a secret of their marriage – why would they? – but they had not passed it on to the national news either.
"Be that as it may," Fury continued, ignoring Sam's sarcastic comment. "The world needs Captain America. So what do you say? Are you in?"
Sam raised an eyebrow. Was that a joke? Of course he was in. He had made this commitment and took it very seriously. However, he had one objection.
"Sure," Sam replied and grabbed Bucky's hand. "Captain America and the White Wolf are ready to safe the world – again."
From the corners of his eyes, Sam saw the corner of Bucky’s mouth twitching up briefly, and he knew it was because he had called him "White Wolf." So what? It was the name he got in Wakanda and Sam thought it suited him better than "Winter Soldier" – in any case, it was far more accurate.
Fury's facial features hardened a bit, and Sam drew a perverse pleasure in making Fury so uncomfortable. He didn't know why Fury seemed so pissed at Bucky for something he did when he was controlled by HYDRA. Also that was more than 10 years ago, for heaven's sake!
"Well," Fury said suddenly, nodding briefly. "Can we leave now?"
Sam blinked perplexed. He didn't expect Fury to give in so quickly. It seemed that he had already expected Sam to go nowhere without Bucky. Bastard.
"What? Right now?" Sam asked, a bit overwhelmed.
"Time is precious," was all Fury said.
"We can't just go," Bucky said, speaking for the first time since Fury's arrival. "We have two children in the house that we can't just leave behind."
"And my sister won't come back until Sunday," Sam chimed in.
Fury then sighed as if they were giving him an incredibly burden.
"Well," he said, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "Then I'll come back Sunday to pick the both of you up."
"Where are we going anyway?" Bucky asked and Sam could hear the subtle note of anger in his partner's voice.
Unimpressed, Fury looked at the ex-assassin: "Venice, Italy." Fury then turned away from the couple and went back to his helicopter. "I'll see you on Sunday, gentlemen."
Silently, Sam and Bucky watched Fury get back on board, the helicopter took off and rose into the sky.
When the engine noise finally fell away, Sam squeezed Bucky's hand, which he had held all the time.
"I guess, there goes our break."
Bucky turned his head to him and gave him a little smile: "Yep. Back to work."