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[ID: Banner artwork. Looking over Sharon's shoulder, we see she's sitting at dinner, scrolling through her phone. Title: Setting Sam Up. Story: burnthatbridge. Art: velociraptorerin. End ID]

 

1 – Sarah

Sarah doesn’t start it straight away. 

When Sam first returns after the Blip things are too confusing. Though that isn’t a strong enough word for it. For Sarah it’s a mix of swirling emotions: shock and disbelief and joy and fear and complete, abject confusion over what has happened. Because her brother who has been gone — disappeared, dead — for five years is suddenly back. Back and helping to save the world, which is near enough the best possible confirmation that it really is him; world saving is a very Sam thing to do. 

She doesn’t see much of him for the first month. He does come within the week — and holding him in her arms is the most surreal thing, except, she thinks, maybe what he feels over seeing Cass and AJ so much bigger than he remembers — but he has to return, to help sort things out. He calls her every day and he sounds tried out, sad; the contrast to her happiness so strong. 

When he comes back to Delacroix after that, it’s with a case so distinctly shaped it must be what she thinks it is, even if he doesn’t explain it, doesn’t talk about it, initially. Only says, Steve’s gone, and, Nat’s dead, and cries into his wine, her arm wrapped around his shoulders, late at night after the boys are asleep. 

He stays. She wasn’t sure she expected him to, but he does, he stays. He has to go back on to DC, to NYC on occasion, to give testimony at Sergeant Barnes’ hearing, to attend meetings, eventually to go on missions — though never with the shield in tow. But he always comes back, and Sarah thinks he just might be going to stick around.

Once enough time has passed and she has almost gotten used to having him back — except not really, she isn’t sure she ever will, still gets flashes of relief so intense they nearly bring her to her knees — and he tells her he’s giving up the shield, not taking on the Captain America mantle, she allows herself to start tentatively thinking about the future, their future in one another’s lives — something she thought was lost. 

Sam could get a house in town, even if he’ll always be in and out of her place. Maybe he’ll get a dog— no, a cat; easier to manage since he’s still going to be Falcon even if he’s not Captain America. Sarah doesn’t have time to walk a dog for him, but she will make time to feed and pet a cat when he’s away. He’ll be able to be Uncle Sam again, and much more than he used to be when he was miles away in DC. He can take the boys to baseball, and help them with the math homework that Sarah struggles to explain, and he can come for dinner a couple of nights a week, help her put them to bed, maybe even stay over some weekends so they can have family breakfasts. Sarah can cut his hair for him, like Mom used to when they were kids, and he can teach her his recipe for jambalaya, which she never thought she’d taste made his way again.

And maybe Sarah could introduce him to someone nice, someone local, someone from town. Because Sam needs love, needs all the love he can get. She can see it in his pain over losing so many people, of having so few now. It’s blatant in how he will sometimes start talking about Natasha and then have to stop, choked up and tears in his eyes. In the way he doesn’t smile like he used to when he mentions Steve. In how he has a momentary spike of joy after he has spoken to James Rhodes, or even his new colleague Joaquín Torres, but then it drops as if he’s realizing how few people he has to talk to now. Showcased even more in his frustration that Barnes isn’t responding to his messages. 

New friends would be a start, but if he’s going to stay here, make a life here, Sarah could help him find romance. She knows the options better than Sam, gone for five years and only here sporadically in the couple of decades before that. So, she starts a mental list of possible candidates. Not people to push onto Sam, just people to introduce or reintroduce him to. Maybe people to invite to dinner or to send Sam to on an errand. People like Ella, a couple of years younger than Sam at school, he might remember her but probably not, finally divorced from her asshole ex. Or Hugo, recently returned to Delacroix, like Sam, but not from the Blip, from time working away in Europe. Or Miss Anderson — Jess — who only moved to Delacroix during the Blip, to work at the elementary school as a classroom assistant, and who AJ and Cass both talk highly of.

Typically, as soon as she starts planning, that’s when things change. Sam gets the shield back, becomes Captain America, and Sarah has to reassess. Ella gets removed from the list; she’s been far too into Sam since he assumed his new role, seems only interested in him because of it. But Tiana, one of Sarah’s neighbors, has been added because of how genuinely concerned she has been over not just Sam’s welfare, but also how Sarah is coping with everything, how the boys are taking it.

Sarah’s even started to think she might have to toss out the list entirely, on account of how little time Sam’s been spending in Delacroix. It’s because he’s so busy settling into the role, but Sarah also suspects that he might settle back in DC, or maybe in NYC to be near to Bucky, his partner now — or at least, that’s what Sarah’s going to call him, none of this co-worker nonsense. 

But then Sam comes down for a weekend, to visit them but also to look at apartments in Delacroix, and Sarah, who, on first hearing that, had been dusting off the list and checking placements instead of resigning herself to scrapping it, finds herself thinking the list might be redundant for a whole other reason.

She’s sitting out on the deck, laptop on her thighs, glass of iced tea sweating beside her, as she goes through invoices for the boat. She’d be more comfortable inside at her desk, or the kitchen table, or even the couch, but Sam is roughhousing with the boys on the lawn, and maybe it’s something that she’s been witness to many times before, but knowing how easily it could be lost, she’s never gonna tire of seeing their grins. Their laughter and shouts might not be the most peaceful soundtrack to work to, but it’s worth it.

She looks up from the laptop screen at a particularly loud shriek from AJ. He’s punching at Sam’s abs and the source of his amusement seems to be his brother, who has jumped on Sam’s back, wound his skinny arms around his neck and gotten his knees clenched around his sides. Sarah knows Sam could dislodge Cass in a second, but he doesn’t, just wiggles from side to side, shaking him a bit, eliciting more laughter from AJ. 

Sam’s phone chimes and he freezes in the middle of grabbing one of AJ’s wrists with one hand and attempting to tickle Cass with the other. “Hang on a second,” Sarah hears Sam say. He releases AJ’s wrist and sticks his hand in his pocket and pulls his phone out. Cass slips down off his back as Sam looks at the screen.

Sarah almost goes back to looking at hers but Sam’s face splits into a huge grin, and he stares at his phone for too long, his expression turning dopey, and that catches her attention — it’s been years since she has seen this particular expression on his face. He’s been a bit like this before: happy when Rhodey has called, or amused at something Joaquín has sent him, or even just relieved to have gotten a response from Bucky, but this… It reminds her a lot more of how he was with Riley. Whenever they were on leave, but not together, Sam at home and Riley at home, separate, Sam was always carting his phone everywhere and smiling at it, constantly.

Sarah thinks he’s just going to stay like that, transfixed by whatever message has come through, but AJ punches him in the stomach. He’s in no way able to hurt him, but, caught off guard, Sam exclaims, “Oof!” He pockets his phone again, says, “Hey, I called a time out!” and launches himself at a snickering AJ, looking even happier than before. 

Then, nearing dinner time, he’s helping her make their mom’s shrimp étouffée, though Sam would probably claim it’s the other way round: that she’s helping him. His phone doesn’t sound but he digs it out his pocket anyway, snaps a photo of the pot on the stove, and there’s the swooshing sound of a message being sent. He doesn’t put it away, stands instead with his hip cocked and leaning against the counter and watches his phone, obviously waiting for a response. She knows when he gets one because he bites the inside of his cheek as the other half of his mouth curves up in a smile that crinkles his eyes. 

Sarah wants to ask. She couldn’t when he was off with the boys, didn’t want to interrupt their fun, but now, just the two of them in the kitchen, Cass and AJ in the den playing on their Switches, she almost opens her mouth to ask who has got him smiling so big. But before she can decide if she’s going to call him on his sappy expression, he sticks a spoon in the pot, gives it a taste and says, “This needs more paprika,” which is just patently false, and arguing that he’s wrong takes precedent over her curiosity. 

Later, the four of them squish together on the couch to watch a movie, even though there is the armchair and both Cass and AJ have ridiculously large beanbags that could be brought through. Sam and Sarah are at either end with the boys between them. AJ is snuggled into Sarah’s side, popcorn bowl on his lap. She can hardly believe her baby is getting so big but here, like this, she can pretend for a moment he’s still tiny. Sam has one arm along the back of the couch behind Cass’ head, the other is on the armrest, where his phone is sitting. He keeps picking it up whenever it buzzes to tap away at it. 

“Uncle Sam,” Cass complains, after at least the fifteenth time that it has gone off, this time in the middle of a quiet scene in the movie, “Turn off the vibration, it’s so annoying.”

“Sorry, bud,” Sam says, and picks it up. There are no more sounds from it after that, but the lack of noise doesn’t stop him from checking it, typing out messages every few minutes.

Once the movie is done, Sam goes upstairs with the boys to put them to bed, while Sarah clears up the many pieces of dropped popcorn, gathers up their glasses. As she’s rounding the couch to take everything into the kitchen, the screen of Sam’s phone, parted from him for the first time today — miraculously so, considering Sarah was starting to think it was surgically attached to him — and still sitting on the armrest, lights up momentarily and then darkens again. It takes everything in Sarah not to step back, set the bowl down, and reach out, tap the screen, just to see if the contact name is on the display and she can find out who it is that has got her brother happy like this, like he’s in love, for the first time in forever.

When Sam comes back downstairs, saying, “That’s them in bed, AJ’s light is out, but Cass said he wanted to read,” he picks it up and then he giggles — literally giggles — at whatever is there, before sliding it into his back pocket and coming over to help Sarah wash up. 

Who is that? The question is on the tip of her tongue, but she makes herself swallow it down. She’s not sure why, exactly. Normally she’d take any opportunity to tease Sam, to nose into his business. Maybe it’s that she doesn’t want him embarrassed or defensive over this. Not now, when it’s so new, and such a rare sight to see him like this: soft and giddy and luminous. 

Instead, she asks, “You want cocoa?” It’s not at all cold enough out to justify it but it’s never stopped them before, and Sam nods eagerly. 

While she gets the milk out the fridge, Sam says, “I’m just gonna make a call,” and points to the back door, heads out onto the porch. 

When the milk has heated and Sarah has stirred in the dark chocolate, she transfers the rich liquid into two mugs and picks them up. She crosses to the door to fetch Sam. But she pauses in front of it, doesn’t immediately push it open. Because the window beside it is cracked open and she can hear her brother through it, hushed, voice very soft, tone so fond, so tender.

The last time she heard him sound like this was the last time he called Riley from here, from the house, possibly even from exactly where he is right now: on the porch in the cooling night air, stars out. Sarah can’t quite discern what he’s saying, but she doesn’t need to know the words to identify the adoration in his voice. 

She pushes the door open with her elbow, gently, and Sam turns to look at her as it creaks. “Drinks are ready,” she tells him. 

He nods at her, straightens from where he’s been leaning against the railing, and says, into the phone, “Gotta go, Sarah’s made us a nightcap.” As Sarah turns and heads back inside, he says, “Yeah, you too. Talk to you tomorrow.”

Sam doesn’t comment on his phone call as they move through to the living room. So, as they settle back on the couch, feet up in the space previously occupied by the boys, Sarah finally breaks and asks, “Who was that?” Smiles at him, knowingly.

Sam swallows his mouthful of cocoa, tilts his head in question, brow furrowing. “Hmm?”

“Your call,” Sarah prompts, wonders if Sam will be coy about it or if he’ll come clean to her. 

Instead, he simply says, “Oh, that was just Buck.”

Sarah takes a drink from her own mug to mask her confusion. If she hadn’t heard Sam’s tone on the call, she’d assume the someone he has been texting all day, that has been making him so happy, is a different someone. Because whoever he’s been in communication with is clearly not ‘just’ anyone. If she didn’t know Sam better, she’d think that he’s lying about it being Bucky, using his name to hide someone else, or that he’s bluffing in his nonchalance over his partner. But Sarah does know Sam, and he’s being truthful with her. 

And of course he is. Trust her brother — her smart, sharp, superhero brother — to be this dense over anything to do with his own feelings. He clearly has them, for Bucky, but he’s not lying to her when he says that Bucky is a ‘just’, because that’s what he thinks, not what he feels. Sam hasn’t cottoned on to his own emotions. Yet. 

Feeling fond, but resigned, Sarah mentally puts her list in the recycling and instead starts a tally of how many days it takes Sam to realize he’s in love with his co-worker.

 


 

2 – Sharon

The problem with Sam is that he’s too smart for his own good. 

They’re out for dinner. Sharon’s in DC for a few days on business and Sam is the same. Well, some of Sharon’s business is decidedly less than official while she’s sure Sam’s is nothing but, so there is some dissimilarity. 

The restaurant is decadent: polished marble floors, walls of dark, textured wallpaper contrasting with smooth mirrors, drop lamps hanging from the high ceiling. The floor is large enough to give every table space, and there is covering, but unobtrusive, music playing, adequate that one can have a private conversation. Sharon reckons she could close an in-person deal here if she wanted and have no concerns of being overheard. As it stands, this is a friendly dinner, and she doubts she and Sam will discuss anything sensitive — or scandalous — enough to warrant it.

She picked the place on account of the menu — the food is supposed to be incredible, worth the visit and the cost. She’s already told Sam she’s paying. She can afford it. As far as he’s aware, or as far as he should be — and that’s the issue, Sam is often far too aware — that’s because of left-over money from her past dealings in Madripoor. As opposed to current income from her continuing trade in Madripoor and new enterprising in the States and Europe.

Out of place on their immaculately laid table, lying atop the white linen tablecloth, to the side of the polished silverware and almost touching the base of her crystal wine glass, Sharon’s phone buzzes. Sam’s eyes flick down to it and away again, like he’s not interested, but she knows he’s noted that it’s not tucked away in her bag. She wishes she could ignore it or not have had it out in the first place. Instead, she picks it up, because she has to. It’s going to be Chua with communication about a sale. It’s time-sensitive and Sharon doesn’t want to lose out on the buyer. Or make an enemy of them. 

Sam drinks some of his wine, eats a mouthful of his meal, while Sharon quickly scans the message and taps out a response. Deal sealed. She sets her phone down.

“New boyfriend?” Sam says, putting his fork on the side of plate and reaching for his glass again. His voice is teasing, as is the smile that curves his lips, but there’s something in the creasing of his brow. Something suspicious. Yeah, Sam is too smart for his own good. 

Sharon entertains, for a moment, the idea of forcing a blush, pretending that it is a guy. That could make for a good cover. She’s sure Sam doesn’t truly think the message was from some man that she’s seeing, so making one up, pretending there is someone and being a touch bashful about it, balanced with a lot sure of herself, might do it to convince him and throw him off. And she wants to throw him off. 

Sam is someone that she genuinely likes, respects, despite their differences in opinion, despite him buying into the Captain America brand. She would like to keep him as a friend, would rather not make an enemy of him; not least because, even reformed, she’s certain that Barnes will be able to find it in himself to kill her if she causes Sam any harm. 

Maybe the boyfriend idea could have some merit, but she puts a pin in it to revisit after more thought. Instead, she shrugs and hums, noncommittal, and then asks, “What about you? Are you seeing anyone?”

Sam laughs. “Turns out, being Captain America doesn’t make for the romance opportunities that you’d think it might.”

“No?” Sharon cocks her head to the side, lets her eyes roam over the breadth of Sam’s shoulders, run down the length of his torso. “All that training keeping you in shape and the way you look in your suit not getting you any offers?” She’s not ashamed to flirt a little. She’s not serious about it but Sam’s a very attractive guy and it’s fun. The only thing that would make it more fun would be if Barnes was here to be pissed off at her over it, obviously jealous in that sullen way of his. 

Sam grins at her. “Oh, plenty of offers but, I dunno, people hitting on me in the middle of rescuing them doesn’t really do it for me. And I gotta tell you, there’s nothing less sexy than Kay from the Press Team having to relay me DMs sent to the official Cap Twitter that state in explicit detail what they want to do to me, or me to do to them.” 

“You could get a Tinder account, or Grindr, whatever you like, and pop a photo of you with the shield up. Get the explicit details directly to you.”

He shakes his head, decisively dismissive of that idea. “I’m not so desperate that I’m sinking to that level yet.”

“What? Resorting to exploiting your position or to downloading a dating app?” Sharon laughs at the exasperated look on his face. 

“Either.”

“Well, they do say dating is hard as a celebrity, and that’s certainly what you are now, Cap.” 

“Yeah? You got any suggestions for this celebrity?”

She thinks on it for a moment, drinks some of her wine. She’s probably got a few people who could be an option for Sam, actually. “I think you’ve come to the right person,” she tells him, sly smile on her face. “It was previously my job to get people the things they wanted, and I was the best in the business.” Joking about her supposedly previous position feels safe enough, maybe enough to keep Sam from cottoning on to the supposedly part of it. “What are you looking for?” Maybe she’ll do two deals tonight. Though the payment for this second one won’t be cash; it’ll be the smug satisfaction of being the one to set Captain America up with a date.

Sam shrugs, pauses with his fork close to his mouth. He might be trying to play it cool, but he’s got a slice of perfectly cooked ribeye on it waiting to be eaten, and he’s clearly invested enough to let it get cold. “Not sure,” he says. “It’s been a while.”

Sharon tilts her head at him. “Give me something to work with here, Sam. Are you after a hook up? Dating? The white picket fence?” she asks, mind cycling through everyone she knows that’s single and categorizing them accordingly. 

“Weren’t you just bragging about being the best? You’re saying that you can’t just take one look at me tell what I’m after?” he teases. Then he says, “A bit much to be thinking about any color of picket fence before even having a first date, I think. But I’d like more than a one-time thing,” and finally puts his fork in his mouth.

“You want someone close to home?” Sam’s living in Delacroix, near to his sister, now, though he spends a lot of time in NYC with Barnes, and he’s in DC often enough that he could probably make something work here. 

Sam shrugs as he chews, then swallows. “Preferably on this continent, but I can fly, you know,” he quips. 

Sharon fixes him with an unimpressed look. Though, Chua does have a friend in Madripoor who is single, and she thinks she could be Sam’s type. Not for the first time, Sharon thinks it’s a damn shame she can’t clue Sam into her second life. 

But, lucky for Sam, Sharon’s also got other, closer to home, options for him. A friend of a friend here in DC — smart and professional, but compassionate too, works in international law, Sam and she would get on well. A guy she knows in New York — admittedly through links from her Madripoor days, but he is legitimately clean now and she reckons Sam would find him attractive. Sharon doesn’t know anyone in Delacroix, but there’s an old CIA colleague who has moved to New Orleans and that’s near enough, plus he’d be understanding of Sam’s job.

“I think I’ve got a few options that you won’t have to break out the wings for.” She picks up her phone with one hand and spears a piece of her own steak with the other — she’s more than happy to help Sam, but she’s certainly not going to let her food spoil while she does. 

“You keep a list in there?” Sam jokes, nods his head towards her phone. 

Sharon lowers it to the tablecloth, cants an eyebrow and says, “If you prefer, I can make it a blind date?”

“Alright, alright,” Sam concedes. “Show me what you got.”

“Okay,” Sharon says, pulling up the LinkedIn page of her ex-colleague. There is vastly more information about his current job and his employment and education before joining the CIA, which is just listed as Government Agency Analyst — and isn’t that a nice and quite false way of putting it? — but Sharon can fill in the gaps for Sam. There’s also a pretty good photo for just an employment headshot. “This is Mathias Lind. He lives in New Orleans, but he used to work for the CIA. Our paths crossed on a couple of cases.” She sets her phone down halfway across the table and scrolls for Sam, who leans forward to see.

Sam’s looking reasonably interested as she talks about her impressions of Lind from their work together and Sharon’s thinking she might not even need to present any more options — and choosing to believe it’s that she’s just that good, and not that Sam hasn’t dated in so long that anyone seems appealing — when there’s a pinging noise from Sam’s person. He drops his fork at the side of his plate, tines staining the tablecloth with tiny points of grease, leans back, and tugs his phone out of his pants pocket. 

“Oh my god,” he says, and if it wasn’t for his tone of voice and the fact that he almost immediately he breaks out in a frankly ridiculous grin, Sharon would be wondering what disaster Captain America is being alerted and called away to. 

“What?” she asks, curious.

Sam turns his phone to reveal a photo of a tiny white bundle of fluff with huge blue eyes and a powder pink nose. “This is Alpine,” he says, “Bucky just picked her up today.”

“Wow, Barnes fancies himself a responsible cat dad, huh?” It’s almost funny to think of perpetually scowling Barnes with a little kitten, though Sharon figures he frowns less when she’s not around to rib him and flirt with Sam. Maybe he even goes as far as to smile when she’s not there. 

Sam doesn’t respond as he turns his phone around again to look at the photo of the kitten. 

“So,” Sharon says, getting back on topic, “If you’re not sold on Mathias, I also know someone here in DC that’s single. She—”

Sam’s phone pings again, another message coming through. It must be a second photo because Sam taps on the screen with his thumb as if to enlarge it. His smile somehow gets even wider, but also softens. 

Huh. Sharon has always pegged Sam for a dog person but maybe she was off in her assessment. Because those are some actual heart eyes that Sam has fixed on the screen.

“Another photo?” she asks.

Sam nods, without looking up at her, and then turns the phone so she can see, but only partly, like he can’t bear to lose sight of it himself. 

This time, the kitten isn’t the only thing in frame. Barnes’ leaned back on a couch, and he is smiling — it’s maybe the nicest one she’s ever seen on his face, certainly outside of the old photos and video from the forties — and his eyes are filled with delight. The kitten is cradled against his chest and Sharon must admit that she is a cute little thing. 

“Adorable,” she says and smiles at Sam. 

“I know, aren’t they?” Sam says, still looking at the photo. Sharon takes a second look herself because she could swear she only saw one kitten in the photo, and Sam had certainly only mentioned the one name. 

Yep, definitely one, singular kitten. 

So, the ‘they’ Sam is referring to is Alpine and Barnes. 

Sam thinks Barnes is adorable. Sam is looking at a photo of Barnes and a kitten like it is the best thing he has ever laid eyes on. 

For Christ’s sake, how could she have missed this? Barnes’ feelings for Sam have been apparent forever, and a great source of amusement for her. But she had always thought, as she has not previously had cause to think of Sam as lacking a brain, that Sam was politely ignoring them. God, she’s ashamed of herself. How did she not notice that Sam quite clearly returns Barnes’ affections? She never picked up on it before, but now the evidence is written plain across his face. 

Sharon takes a large gulp of wine. She takes another very quickly after when it sinks in that Sam has asked her if she knows anyone who’s single and now is looking at Barnes like that, like he’s everything he has ever wanted, not ten minutes later. 

Sam is only distracted from staring at the photo and typing something, presumably a response to Barnes, into his phone, when their waiter approaches to take away Sharon’s empty plate and to see about clearing Sam’s and asks if there was any problem with his meal. 

“Oh,” Sam says, looking down at his half-eaten, undoubtedly cold, food. “No, it was great. I, uh, just got a bit distracted.”

Sharon drinks another mouthful of wine and then puts her phone away in her bag; absolutely no point in showing Sam any more dating options when he already has an obvious favorite — one not on her list. She’s not going to be making another deal tonight after all, and she takes back everything positive she has ever thought about Sam’s intelligence or observational skills: he is neither too smart nor far too aware. 

But at least if she ever needs to distract him in the future she can just ask if he has any new photos of Alpine and watch any suspicions he has of her get squashed under the weight of his ginormous crush on Barnes. 

 

[ID: Digital painting of Sharon at the restaurant, scrolling through her phone contacts. We see her wavey blonde hair over her shoulder, and she wears a black shirt with a cutout detail on her shoulder. She has a glass of red wine with her steak dinner. End ID]

 


 

3 – Torres

Lately, Joaquín’s favorite place to be is the lab. That’s new. He’s always loved being out in the field so much, whether it be literally — riding around in an army jeep — or on a mission in general: intel gathering in a city, coasting over the Atlantic in a C-5 Galaxy, scuffling around in the sand on his belly in the desert. 

His new favorite place should be in the air, but not in a plane: with the wings. And he thinks it will be. It’s just that, right now, he’s still kinda terrified of them. Thrilled and amazed and exhilarated, sure. But terrified all the same. Couple that with his fear that he’s never going to live up to Sam’s Falcon and you’ve got the perfect recipe for being up in the endless sky, wings extended from either side of him, not quite making the top spot. Not yet. 

But the lab, tinkering about with the wings, with Sam here too, that’s keeping the spot warm till his skills build up and his insecurity dissipates. 

“Hand me that wrench,” Joaquín requests, nods to it and holds out his hand. Today, they’re in adjusting the steering feathers. The other day, on his last flight, Joaquín might have, maybe, almost crashed into the side of the hangar. Sam hadn’t laughed his ass off, but it was a near thing, and Joaquín thinks he would have if Bucky hadn’t been there, diverting his attention. Joaquín both is and isn’t looking forward to the test flight they’ll run after the modifications are made. Bucky isn’t here today to distract Sam, and though Sam maintains that it’s definitely something in the tech throwing Joaquín a hard banking left when he’s only after a soft one, Joaquín’s not sold on it not being his inexperience in actuality. 

Sam doesn’t even move to stretch a hand out for the small wrench. He looks at it, then lifts his head to face Joaquín and raises a very pointed eyebrow. 

“What?” Joaquín laughs. 

“Kid,” Sam says, “What did I tell you about that?”

Joaquín refrains from rolling his eyes because he’s trying not to fully earn the kid label. It’s not terrible, he knows it’s meant with affection, but still. He’s twenty-eight years old. He’s hardly one of Sam’s actual kid nephews. It’s Bucky’s fault anyway. Sam never used to call him it, but Bucky does, and they spend so much time together that Sam has picked up the habit. 

“I know what you told me, Sam,” Joaquín argues, “But I’ve had nothing but luck with it.”

Sam tilts his head and sighs out through his nostrils. Then he picks it up and hands it off to Joaquín. “Alright,” he acquiesces, “They’re your wings. On your head be it if you screw them up.” He grins at Joaquín, all wide and bright, the gap between his front teeth on full display. 

Joaquín smiles back, then looks down at the wings, at the truly tiny fastenings he’s adjusting and the wires connecting to them that he can tell Sam is itching to bat his hands away from and take over. But Sam’s getting better at letting him have free reign. They’re a long ways from the day Joaquín got his knuckles rapped for trying to help — or as Sam would probably put it, interfere — with Redwing. It’s trust, and it feels good to have it from Sam. 

Sam’s not the only one who has made improvements in their working relationship. Joaquín is better at not letting his attention snag on Sam’s incandescent smile. Or any of Sam’s other fine features, that he’s previously caught himself looking at a little too long. He’s gotta admit he still allows himself a glance sometimes, and he can’t really blame himself; Sam has redefined the phrase easy on the eyes. But Sam is kinda his boss, mostly his mentor, and absolutely his friend. The crush that Joaquín has, he’d like to keep as that: just a harmless crush. He knows well enough that looking for anything more is asking to get his heart broken and have him wind up too embarrassed to look Sam in the eyes. And that would be a real shame; Sam has the prettiest of eyes. 

“Hey, did you get a date set up with Ryan?” Joaquín asks. 

So, maybe in an effort to ensure that the crush stays just a crush, or, better, dissipates into a general appreciation for Sam’s… everything — attraction that’s never going to go anywhere because, well, he’s Sam — Joaquín might have taken it upon himself to try and help Sam out with his, self-proclaimed, ‘barren’ love-life. Joaquín knew better than to take any comments like that from Sam as hints, especially when they’ve been made on days when either Sam or Bucky or both have called him kid. But, even if Joaquín couldn’t personally do anything about Sam’s lack of a love-life, he could be a good friend and try to help. 

Ryan is a friend of Joaquín’s, or a close acquaintance at the very least. They met through the Air Force, though Ryan’s out now and living in New York. And he’s in no danger of falling into kid category since he’s late thirties, close to pushing forty, which Joaquín is pretty sure is older than Bucky’s presenting as. Though in truth Joaquín struggles to do the math to work out how old Bucky actually is biologically — what with him being serumed and repeatedly frozen and then blipped out of existence for years. 

Joaquín passed on Ryan’s number weeks ago, and then it took Sam two, and two occasions of Joaquín curiously enquiring, to even message him. He has now though, Joaquín knows that, had watched Sam tug out his phone and send off the message that second time he asked. But he knows they haven’t been out yet. Sam’s heading to New York in a couple of days, though, so perfect timing. 

Sam’s focus has been split between watching, supervising, Joaquín’s work on the wings, and his own tinkering with one of the baby Redwings. Joaquín can’t remember what their names are — there’s been too many quips about Bluewing vs Redwing 2 vs Junior vs Trash batted back and forth between Sam and Bucky for Joaquín to be sure what was serious and what was a joke that only Bucky found funny. And, okay, maybe Joaquín too, but he’s never telling Sam that. Sam doesn’t look up from where he’s staring at Shuri’s schemata for the little guy, but he does say, “Not yet.”

Joaquín shakes off any minor pleasure he might feel at that response. He wants Sam to go out with Ryan, have a good time, be happy; he does. Plus, being the one to set Sam up is going to get him so many brownie points. That is, if Sam ever does go out with Ryan. “Seriously, Sam? It’s been, like, a month. You both got such full calendars?”

That does get Sam to look up. He smiles, wry, and says, “Well, my schedule is pretty unpredictable, you know?”

Joaquín grins around a scoff and waves Sam off with the wrench.

Sam goes back to scrutinizing the schemata, flicking between them and zooming in on sections, but he does also expand on his answer. “Nah, it’s not that. We’ve been texting. I said I’d pick some place for us to go and then we could fix a day, but I haven’t come up with anything yet.”

“How come?”

“Little low on ideas.”

Joaquín perks up. He’s great at date ideas, if he does say so himself. Extra brownie points will be in order if he gives Sam the person and the place. He slots the wrench in, carefully, against one of the tiny nuts and starts to turn, slow. “Let’s brainstorm, we can come up with something. What are you going for? Dinner? Or lunch instead? Or an activity?”

Sam shrugs, turns Baby Redwing over and pops open the hatch on the bottom. “Not sure. I was thinking maybe just drinks.”

“No, that’s so boring, Sam,” Joaquín tells him. “You can do better than that.”

Sam looks more amused than offended when he says, “What? I am the opposite of boring.”

“So, show him that. Come on, we can think of something better than just drinks.”

“Fine,” Sam grumbles, but he still looks amused. “Well, I can always eat.”

“What about that Thai place that you mentioned you wanted to try?” Joaquín asks. He pries the nut out with the tips of his fingers, sets it on the magnetic holder on the table.

“Kin?” Sam says, “No, me and Buck went a few weeks back. It wasn’t all that.”

“Hmm,” Joaquín hums, and goes back in for another nut. Sam has suggested he try adjusting three of the feathers in particular. “Ryan likes sushi. You could take him to that place you always go. Where Bucky’s friend works. Leah, right?” 

Sam screws up his face, and Joaquín’s not sure if it’s at the suggestion or at something on one of the schemas that’s confusing — Wakandan tech is very hard to get your head around. “No, I don’t really care for sushi.”

Joaquín cocks an eyebrow at that, but Sam isn’t looking at him. Joaquín is certain that Sam has sushi every visit he makes to New York, so what’s that all about? “Okay,” he says, and he must sound off enough that it gets Sam’s attention because he does look, and then immediately zeros in on what Joaquín’s doing. 

“You’re taking them all the way out? You just need to loosen them.”

“I’m going to grease the plate, want to get under the nuts too.”

“Full detail?” Sam sounds like he finds it funny. 

“Only the best for my wings,” Joaquín declares, and Sam’s answering smile is unquestionably amused. “Okay, so not Thai and not sushi. Surely you can’t go wrong with a good pizza place?”

Sam shakes his head. “Pizza is the least date-appropriate food. Trying to eat it gracefully is impossible. Tomato sauce everywhere, cheese stringing from your mouth. Don’t think I’ve forgotten the last time we ordered it for here and you and Bucky just didn’t bother to tell me about the cheese in my goatee,” Sam says, accusatory.

Joaquín can’t help but smile at the memory. It was fun to be in on something with Bucky, both of them in silent agreement not to tell Sam. He’d asked what they were grinning about so much, but they’d bluffed it off. It wasn’t until one of the young airmen came in to ask Joaquín something, already shy about doing so in front of Captain American and Sargent Barnes, and had basically clammed up and been unable to look Sam in the eye when Sam had said something to him, all focus on the right side of his chin, that Sam had realized anything was up. Joaquín might have been able to hold in his laughter if he and Bucky hadn’t glanced at one another at the same time and simultaneously broken. Sam gave them twenty minutes of silent treatment; it would probably have been shorter if Bucky hadn’t started wheedling at him after ten — that just made Sam double down. 

“I mean, that’d be less likely to happen if you used a knife and fork,” Joaquín points out. 

The look Sam shoots him is so appalled that he stops unscrewing the last nut to hold up his hands, to yield the point. “Okay, okay, no pizza. Maybe a restaurant is out. An activity would be more fun anyway.” He picks up the grease and starts applying it carefully to the plate feathers as he thinks. “I’ve been to the zoo on a date before. It sounds kinda childish at first, but it was actually great fun. What about Bronx Zoo?” he suggests. 

“Me and Buck took the boys when they came up with Sarah last month, so she could have a day shopping. Did I not show you any of the photos? After this, remind me. We got a great one with the giraffes in the background.”

“Well, what about the Natural History Museum? It’ll be touristy, but it’s big enough that it probably won’t be too crowded, and I think it’s a nice space.” 

“That’s where we’re taking the boys next time. Buck promised AJ; he’s been doing minerology as a topic in science and he’s super into it. Wants a rock tumbler for his birthday. I’m sure Buck’s gonna buy him one and Sarah’s gonna blame me for letting him.”

“Right, so not kid stuff then. Um. Oh, what about one of those city adventure things, where you go to different sites following clues and stuff?”

Sam looks unimpressed. “Buck says they’re dumb.”

Baffled, Joaquín says, out loud, “What? No, they’re great.” And in his head, he thinks, and what does it matter, since you’re not going with Bucky; you’re taking Ryan. He swallows a sigh and says, “But if you’re sure you’re not into it, I think you can’t go wrong with a nice picnic. Central Park, good weather, easily go for drinks after if you want.”

“A picnic isn’t really a date though,” Sam says.

Joaquín stops in the middle of oh-so-carefully adjusting the first feather a fraction of a degree clockwise while that sinks in. “Not a date? Sam, a picnic is peak date.”

“No, it isn’t,” Sam argues. “Bucky and I went for a picnic last time I was in the city. Prospect, not Central, but still.”

Taking his hands off the feather, Joaquín picks up a rag to wipe them on. His hands are not really greasy; he’d already wiped them off before. But he needs something to do with them, something to occupy his body while his mind goes through a monumental realization.

Sam — Captain America, one of the world’s greatest heroes, Joaquín’s idol — is an idiot. 

It’s a very strange sensation: realizing that who you look up to most is a real person. A very real person capable of some very real dumbassery, if Sam has been on all these pseudo-dates with Bucky and not noticed what is going on, not realized what is between them. If Sam’s chosen what amounts to be at least double digits of date-like activities to take Bucky on — and that’s only counting those where Joaquín knows the place was Sam’s suggestion, not those where he’s not sure or he knows Bucky chose it or any and all that he’s unaware they’ve been on because they never merited mentioning in front of him — and now is trying, and failing, to organize a singular date with another man. 

Joaquín might have been working on excising any idea of ever dating Sam from his dreams, but that process has just been expedited. And his natural alternative crush on the other very handsome — but significantly more grouchy — man he works with is dead before it can even breathe life. Joaquín can’t entertain the concept of either of them being with anyone else now that he’s seen it: Sam and Bucky are perfect for one another. Or, they will be perfect for each other, if they can ever figure that out themselves. Maybe Joaquín should have more faith in them, but he already knew Bucky was a dumbass — watched him jump out of plane parachute-less and prove it — and today he is learning Sam’s not at perfect as he seems. 

Joaquín masks his wince of embarrassment on Sam’s behalf with a smile, and says, “You know what, Sam? I think you might be better off going for just drinks after all.”

 


 

4 - (Scott +) Hope

It’s over dinner that the subject gets brought up. 

Bucky is having everyone who can make it round, hosting them all for the first time. Hope can tell he’s nervous about it: he’s been quiet, focused on getting them food at the right time, not under-cooking or burning anything. But, other than a delay to dessert, which no one is fussed about except for him, everything has been going great. 

They’ve finished their appetizers and are already well through the main course, with the exception of Joaquín who has barely arrived, late.

“Who has a morning date?” Scott asks. 

Joaquín flushes a little, smiles, shrugs, as he slides into the space left for him at the table, carrying the plate that has been keeping warm in the oven for him. 

Hope thinks, privately, opting not to join in on teasing him, that the date must have gone pretty well before it ran over into the afternoon and he left DC to make the trip here late, arriving farther into the evening than he must have intended. 

“The youth, obviously,” says Sharon.

“It sounds more like something the elderly might go for,” Scott comments.

“Yeah,” Sam agrees. “Does it sound like something you’d do, Buck?” He glances over his shoulder to where Bucky, who had wolfed down his food as fast as he could, is now at the counter preparing the dessert.

Bucky doesn’t look up from the stack of ingredients he is sorting through, but he does raise a hand to flip Sam off over his shoulder.

Sam chuckles, then says, turning back to the table, “Though, actually, the chronically single probably shouldn’t knock it.” He indicates himself. Sharon pinches the bridge of her nose and Joaquín rolls his eyes. Hope figures Sam must have complained about his lack of dating life to them before and they’re tired of hearing about it. 

As they digest their meal and Joaquín eats his and Bucky brushes off offers of assistance with the dessert prep, Scott leans his elbows on the table and starts talking up one of Hope’s single co-worker friends to Sam. Hope half-listens to them, lets Scott rope her in to add a detail here and there, half-listens to Darcy asking Joaquín about his breakfast date, who breaks off from answering her questions, to enquire, “You got any hot sauce?”

Bucky, fingers coated with butter and flour, looks over, says, “Yeah, should be in the cupboard over there.” Nods in the direction with his chin. 

Joaquín stands and goes to look. 

“And she’s fantastic at her job, very smart, very driven,” Scott is telling Sam. “Isn’t she, Hope?”

Hope nods. Erica is great. And she’d probably really like Sam. 

“No, no,” Bucky says. “The— the other cupboard.”

Joaquín shifts one along. Reaches for the handle.

“No,” Bucky says, again. Sighs. “Just— give me a second.” Lifts his hands and shakes them over the mixing bowl. 

“I got it, Buck,” Sam says, and stands from the table, shooting Scott a smile that says sorry, just a moment. 

“You think she’d be up for it?” Scott asks, turning to Hope. 

“I think so,” Hope nods; she can’t see why Erica would be opposed to a date with Sam, at all. “He’s Sam, he’s great.”

Scott grins, “And he’s Captain America. Plus, have you seen that ass?” His gaze shifts to where Sam is leaning forward over the counter, stretching up on his toes to reach the top self of a cupboard that is not at all the one Bucky seemed to be nodding too. 

“Hmm,” Hope says, half-agreement, half-amusement at her fiancé’s apparent obsession with Captain America’s ass. 

Sam relaxes down onto his heels, steps back from the cupboard empty-handed. Looks apologetically at Joaquín and says something too low for Hope to hear over the babble of the others’ conversations, the music from the speakers, the noise of the oven’s fan. Then he says, louder, directed at Bucky, “You’re out of hot sauce.”

Bucky looks up from the bowl, frowns over at Sam, says, “Can’t be, bought some last week.”

“Nah,” Sam tells him, “That was in Delacroix.”

“Oh. Right. Put it on the list then.”

Sam crosses to the fridge and Hope watches him add a line to the notepad magnetized there, in looping cursive — the handwriting that is definitely the most common on that piece of paper, the other maybe-quarter of the lines in blocky print.

Hope frowns. Are Sam and Bucky living together? Sam does spend a lot of time in NYC, she knows, but mostly only when he’s on-mission or has other bureaucratic work to do, so, if she’d thought about it, she would have assumed he stayed at the city base or got a hotel. Maybe crashed here, sometimes, if it was convenient. But maybe it’s more than sometimes.

She looks around, scrutinizing in a way she hadn’t when they’d arrived and Bucky — and only Bucky — had been welcoming them in. Before Sam had turned up later, with the missing ingredient that had prevented Bucky’s pre-preparation of dessert and some extra supplies, and had greeted Bucky casually, the briefest of hugs that, when Hope considers it, could have been because he was just returning rather than first arriving. 

There’s wine stacked in a little rack in one corner on the kitchen counter — too many bottles to have been bought only for tonight — and Bucky is near-exclusively a beer-drinker. 

Sam’s phone is the one connected to the speakers, curating their music selection; he’d been the one mock-offended by Sharon’s teasing about the song choices. 

By the inside of the front door, on the floor there’s a jumble of all their shoes, but the pair Hope is sure Sam was wearing are on the rack, like he’s used to stowing them away there.

Sam knows where everything is in the kitchen. Might have failed to turn up any hot sauce, but successfully retrieved napkins, extra serving spoons, ice cubes, and all without even being asked. Just got them, like he is Bucky’s co-host, not another of the guests. 

On the far side of the room, the bookcase against the wall of the open-plan living area is filled mostly with science fiction titles, stacked haphazardly. But there is a smaller selection of neatly shelved volumes on twitching. Hope can just about make out some of the titles: The Native Birds of North America; A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia; and An Encyclopedia of European Birds.

So, maybe Sam spends a lot of time here. She considers Bucky — or Bucky and Sam — buying food down in Delacroix, like he and Sam had gone grocery shopping together; it sounds like Bucky spends as much time there as Sam spends here. 

“Alright,” Sam says to Scott, as he drops back into his seat, “Tell me more about Erica.”

Alpine, who has been elusive and shy since they all arrived, who darted away when Hope tried to pet her, wouldn’t even let Scott — who animals usually love — near her, takes the opportunity to jump into Sam’s lap. She rubs her head against his chest until he scratches under her chin, strokes a hand over her back. As Scott continues to talk up Erica, she settles down on Sam’s thighs, disappearing from view below the edge of the table, but Hope hears the rumble of her contented purring. 

Sam continues to stroke her, without looking down, almost an unconscious, automatic gesture, as if he does it all the time, as he listens to Scott. 

And Hope thinks, oh

There’s unquestionably something here, something she’s missed. That Scott’s missed. But who can blame him, when Sam is entertaining his chat about Erica. And not like it’s just that: Sam indulging Scott in it because he’s trying to keep whatever this is with Bucky under wraps. It’s as though he’s genuinely interested, sick of being single, and considering going on a date with Erica. 

Bucky comes up behind Sam, dishtowel over his shoulder, hands rubbed clean and holding his phone. Sam cuts off from whatever he has been agreeing with Scott about Erica as Bucky leans down over Sam’s shoulder, holds the device out in front of Sam. “What the hell has Sarah written here?” Bucky asks, taps at the screen with his thumb. “How the fuck is her handwriting even more loopy that yours, Samuel?”

Hope catches a glimpse of a photo of what looks like a handwritten recipe on the screen before, instead of taking the phone from him, Sam grips Bucky’s wrist and moves it to angle the phone so he can see it better. 

As Sam squints at the screen, Bucky lowers his other arm over Sam’s other shoulder and Alpine’s nose pokes up to sniff at his fingers. She tilts her head back so that Bucky can rub one under her chin. 

Sam nods to himself, then leans back, rests his head on Bucky’s shoulder behind him and lifts Bucky’s wrist higher to hold up the phone, so he can point at the screen. “See here,” he says, and Bucky looks away from Alpine, leans his head in closer to Sam, chin practically on his shoulder. “I think this says tablespoon, not teaspoon. And, for some reason, this is in ounces, so this is probably based off something in one of Mom’s old books.”

And, again, Hope thinks, oh. But this time with no small amount of incredulity. Because this is the exact opposite of trying to hide anything, so it’s clear that’s not what is going on here. What’s actually happening is Sam is letting Scott try to set him up with one of Hope’s friends because Sam genuinely thinks he is single, blatantly hasn’t realized that he is in a relationship with Bucky.

Hope turns to look at Scott, finds him looking back at her with the exact expression she thinks is on her own face: dumbfounded disbelief. Like how are these idiots completely unaware that they’re basically married? And maybe a little and how didn’t we notice until now? Hope wonders if she and Scott are slow on the uptake, wonders if the reactions of Sharon and Joaquín that she had mistaken for exasperation over Sam complaining about being single mightn’t not have been exasperation over Sam complaining about being single when he obviously isn’t. 

Bucky moves away, goes back to finish up dessert with the clarified instructions from Sam, and Sam looks back to Scott, says, “Sorry, what was I saying?”

“Uh…” Scott says.

“Oh, yeah, Erica. Yeah, I’d be down to see her.”

“Uh,” Scott says again. Shoots Hope an alarmed look, then looks back to Sam. “Um, yeah—”

Under the cover of the table, Hope sets a hand on Scott’s thigh, stops him. Smiles at Sam. “Sure,” she says. “I’ll talk to her at work next week, get you her contact details.”

And Sam says, “Great, thanks,” as Hope resolves to do no such thing. 

 

[ID: Digital painting of Sam seated at the dinner table, plate empty, holding Alpine with his left hand. Bucky is leaned over behind him holding his phone in his right hand. Both men are focused on the phone, while Bucky reaches over Sam's shoulder with his left hand to pet Alpine. Behind them, the kitchen is partly visible and a mixing bowl sits on the counter. End ID]

 


 

5 – Rhodey

Rhodey is standing, relaxed, surveying the milling guests, and sipping champagne when Sam sidles up to him, his own glass in hand. “Hey, man,” Sam greets. 

It’s technically their first proper interaction of the day because there wasn’t time before the ceremony to chat — Sam only arriving after most of the guests were seated, Rhodey already boxed in between an excitable Parker and an, possibly even more, excitable Lang. But they had traded smiles and nods as Sam’d prodded Barnes into the last empty chair at the end of the opposite row and taken the seat directly behind for his own.

“Hey,” Rhodey replies and extends his champagne flute to chink with Sam’s, “Cheers.”

Sam returns the toast, takes a sip, and then asks, “You here stag too?” as he settles beside him and turns to look over the hotel conservatory.

“Yeah,” Rhodey confirms. “Wanda gave me a plus one, but this seemed a little too intimate to bring anyone to.” 

It had. It’s perhaps the strangest wedding Rhodey has ever been to — and he attended Tony and Pepper’s. But it’s more odd in how normal, if small, it is. Held in a nice New Jersey hotel, the ceremony in the ballroom, the sun shining through the glass roof of the conservatory that’s home to the drinks reception, the photographer snapping photos of the happy couple just outside in the garden. That the happy couple is half-Sokovian orphan, half-synthetic being means the typical guest list of several dozen distant relatives your mom insists it would be criminally rude not to invite isn’t really a thing. Though technically, Wanda and Vision do have family, in the shape of the two tween boys who Rhodey tries not to think about too hard, lest the reality of them, their existence, give him a migraine. 

“Same,” Sam says, then adds, “Though it’s not like I had someone to bring, anyway.”

Rhodey turns his head to regard him. Sam’s made a couple of noises about being unhappily single the last few times they’ve caught lunch or dinner, so it’s not news to him. But Sam does sound a touch more put out about it than previously, even if he’s trying to pass his comment off as a joke. 

Sam must feel Rhodey’s gaze, because he slants his eyes over, shrugs, and then says, “I don’t mind being here alone. As you say: small wedding. But I wouldn’t mind not flying solo to Hope and Scott’s.”

Rhodey smirks at the phrasing, but doesn’t comment on it. 

“God, that’s only in like a month and a half, right?” Sam says. “Are we just at that age now, where it’s nothing but weddings?”

Rhodey thinks they probably reached that age a while back; he certainly did — all his older cousins tying the knot. Now it’s trickled through to the younger ones. Which reminds him: “You think two is bad? My cousin is getting married the month after theirs, so I’ve got a third to attend this summer.” 

Sam grimaces at him, in sympathy, but, truthfully, Rhodey doesn’t mind a good wedding. It’s lovely to see Wanda and Vision together, whole and well and happy; he knows that the Lang-van Dyne celebration will be every bit the party that Scott wants and Hope also wants but will pretend to only tolerate; and his groom-to-be cousin is the brother of Rhodey’s favorite cousin and he’s looking forward to seeing her in person for the first time in a while. 

Lila’d texted Sam the other day to say just that to him, and to complain about how her brother’s fiancée’s little sister getting a boyfriend means she’s now going to be the only single bridesmaid. She’d stipulated quite clearly that Rhodey better be willing to ditch any date he might bring so that she’d have someone to dance with. And, actually, it makes him wonder: can he pull off a save for her and Sam here?

“You know,” Rhodey says, “His sister’s looking for a date to that.”

Sam raises an eyebrow in question, takes another sip of his champagne. 

“Lila, she’s my closest cousin, daughter of my mom’s sister,” Rhodey fills him in. “I could see if she’d be interested in being a date for you, if you’ll be a date for her?”

“Yeah?” Sam says, “You trust me with your cousin?”

Rhodey scoffs. “Lila doesn’t need anyone defending her. I’d give her the shovel talk over you if it came to it.”

Sam laughs. Bobs his head in a nod. “Alright, sure. See if she’d be up for it.”

He’s about to confirm that he will do when Barnes appears. “They want us outside,” he says, eyes on Sam’s face. “Something about a group photo.” Then his gaze drops lower, his brow furrows and he lets out a full-body sigh. “How have you fucked this up already, Wilson?” he complains, shoving his champagne flute into Sam’s free hand. 

“Excuse me?” Sam protests, but only verbally; he doesn’t make to move away when Barnes steps close to him and lifts his hands to fuss with the, admittedly crooked, knot of Sam’s tie. 

“I don’t know what you’ve done to this,” Barnes grouses.

Sam lifts his hands up, the remaining champagne sloshing in both glasses, as he snarks back, “Well you’ve put it in some weird old-man knot that I don’t know how to tie.”

“It was perfect before, all you had to do was keep your hands off it.”

“I told you not to bother, I said I was gonna keep it simple. But no, you had to get all fancy. And it made us late.”

“It did not make us late; we were here before Wanda.”

“Christ, Buck, I certainly hope we were here before the bride.”

Parker waves at them from the patio doors, pointing out to the lawn where the rest of the guests are assembling. Rhodey glances at the bickering pair beside him and decides someone else can come hurry them up. He’s great friends with Sam and he gets on fine with Barnes, but he’s not getting in the middle of this quarrel. He downs the rest of his drink, deposits his glass on the nearest table, and leaves them to it. 

 

Between the photos and shuffling back inside to the rearranged ballroom for the wedding breakfast, Rhodey manages to shoot off a text to Lila. Are you still dateless for Terrence’s wedding? But he tucks his phone away in his pocket before she has responded and settles in his seat between Monica and Darcy. 

The rest of their six-seater table consists of Jimmy, Stephen, and Wong, and really, this could almost be some kind of team meeting, especially with how the bulk of the other tables are also occupied with Avengers or related personnel. There are a couple of tables seating people that Rhodey didn’t recognize and who were introduced as neighbors of Wanda and Vision’s or parents of Billy and Tommy’s friends. Apparently, they’ve taken to suburban life well, or better than the last attempt at least — though that’s not exactly hard. 

Dinner is delicious. Rhodey spends most of it talking shop with Monica, but he does spare note for how well cooked the beef is, how nicely the wine pairs with the sauce, how generous the portions are. For having a collective total of zero experience of weddings, unless Wanda attended any as a small child, they’ve picked a great venue. 

The speeches are lowkey: there’s no best man or maid of honor or parent of the bride or groom, but Wanda stands to say something about Vision; he about her. And then Sam gets up to lead the toast to them both.

Because they’re a relatively small party, the ballroom doesn’t need a second rearranging after the meal; the tables are in one half, the dance floor in the other. Rhodey has no idea what kind of music the band is going to play before they start — he’s unfamiliar with Sokovaian wedding traditions — but when they do begin, it’s pretty standard American fare. Wanda and Vision have forgone a proper first dance, but they do some approximation of a waltz in the center, alone for the first minute, before more pairs swing out onto the floor to join them. Rhodey heads for the bar to get a drink.

There, he leans against the counter and pulls out his phone. Lila has responded: Yep, still firmly in always-the-bridesmaid territory.

Can’t guarantee that it’ll get you into bride territory, Rhodey taps out, but I might just have an option for you. 

The message doesn’t flip over to Read so Lila evidently isn’t on tenterhooks waiting for his reply. He tucks his phone away and picks up his glass. Monica and Jimmy twirl past, followed by an overwhelmed looking Parker partnered with Darcy. Rhodey looks over at the table he thinks Parker was at and spots his girlfriend still in her seat, seemingly deep in conversation with Happy. 

When he trails his eyes around the rest of the room he sees Sam on the dance floor, one hand clasped with Barnes’, the other on Barnes’ shoulder. Rhodey’s lips curl up in a smile, amused. Barnes’ arm is around Sam’s waist, his palm resting in the small of Sam’s back and he’s clearly the one leading the dance. Here’s maybe something else old-fashioned that he’s engaging in today, not just tie tying. 

Though Sam seems far less disgruntled over the dancing than the tie; his mouth is open on a laugh, and, as they turn, Rhodey sees that Barnes’ face is split in a grin. Not for the first time, Rhodey is glad that Sam has Barnes for a partner, a friend. Sam was so close to Steve and, maybe it’s not quite the same, since Steve’s not dead, but Rhodey knows what it’s like to lose a friend like that. And that’s not even counting Sam’s earlier loss of his wingman. Rhodey and Sam are friends, of course, but they’re both very busy people, only able to see one another as often as their jobs allow. He takes comfort in Sam having someone to work with. And he thinks that Barnes is goddamn lucky to have Sam. 

Sam and Barnes come to a stop as the song tails off and is replaced by something modern, something firmly in the wedding disco category. Rhodey’s eye is caught by Scott, where he’s standing behind and a bit to their left, who throws up his arms in excitement and immediately begins to wiggle his hips ridiculously, Hope laughing at his side. 

Barnes steps back from Sam, moves as if he is going to turn and leave dance floor, but Sam keeps a grip on his hand. Rhodey is too far away to hear Sam’s words, even if the music wasn’t loud, but whatever he says has Barnes shaking his head, and looking a touch embarrassed. He steps back further but Sam still doesn’t release his hand, and whatever Sam says next has his uncertain, uncomfortable expression breaking open on a laugh, and when Sam tugs him back towards him, he shakes his head again, but he goes. 

Barnes’ disco dancing is decidedly more stilted than his waltzing, which makes sense, given the demographic he constitutes. But as the chorus bleeds into the second verse, Rhodey thinks that, actually, Barnes’ isn’t half-bad, not when he’s got his eyes on Sam and he’s smiling and not worrying so much about what his arms are doing, because he has the fingers of one hand wound with Sam’s and he copies Sam’s moves with the other. But it’s still a funny sight to behold. 

Rhodey only gets the first half of the song to be entertained and a little oddly impressed by Barnes, before Monica bumps elbows with him, points out to the floor and says, “Shall we?” Rhodey figures just one won’t hurt, though he suspects that where he found Barnes’ dancing amusing, now someone is going to find his similarly so. 

 

He’s sitting taking a break from dancing, after being passed from Monica to Darcy — and he’s anticipating being dragged back onto the floor by one or both of them once they’ve caught their breath — when he thinks to check his phone to see if Lila has responded. She has: Do tell about this mysterious “option”.

Rhodey writes: He’s not exactly what I’d call mysterious. I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of him. Sam Wilson ring any bells?

“Ooh, cake!” Darcy exclaims. Rhodey looks up and sees that she’s right; two of the waitstaff are bringing out the now fully sliced cake, along with tea and coffee. Darcy is the first one out of her seat to go and claim a piece, but she grabs Monica’s wrist and a handful of Rhodey’s shirt sleeve to drag them with her, so they’re the first three to reach the serving table. 

Rhodey picks up a plated slice and a silver cake fork, asks for a decaf coffee, and is allowed to walk back to their table under his own power, though that might only be because Darcy has her hands full with two plates of cake — Rhodey thinks one is for Jimmy, until he spots him heading up to collect some with Scott as they head away. 

He gets peace to eat his cake and drink his coffee and then Monica asks Stephen to dance, and Darcy thankfully takes Wong, sparing him. He scans the dance floor and then the tables, looking for Sam. Figures, if he’s not dancing, he’ll go talk to him, maybe arrange this exchange wedding date thing properly. He spots him across the room, sitting close beside Barnes at one of the tables, so he stands from his seat and makes his way over. 

As he approaches, he sees that they’re eating a slice of cake. But not each, no. One single slice between the two of them. And possibly— yes, definitely— not even with two forks. They’re sharing the lone fork, handing it back and forth, and they’re being very clam and civilized about it, considering, as Rhodey gets close enough to be able to hear what they’re saying over the music, he finds that they’re bickering again.

“…asked you if you wanted a slice and you said ‘no’,” Barnes is grumbling. 

“I changed my mind, alright,” Sam grouses back, taking the fork from Barnes’ hand, using it to scoop up a bit of cake. “That’s allowed.”

“It’s not when it means you’re eating all of mine,” Barnes says.

“I’m not eating it all,” Sam argues back, somewhat muffled, cake in his mouth, passing the fork back to Barnes. “I’ve had less than half.” 

Barnes looks skeptical as he spears a section of cake for himself, eats it. 

“You were halfway done already before I decided I wanted any,” Sam insists. 

“Well, you’re eating all of the best bit,” Barnes says, tone approaching petulant, “The frosting.”

“Nah, you’re just missing it,” Sam points out, and reaches up and swipes a smear of it off Barnes’ upper lip. 

Sam brings his thumb to his mouth and sucks the frosting off it, while Barnes narrows his eyes at him, says, “Theft.”

What am I looking at here? Rhodey thinks, astounded. What even is this? Who’s wedding are we at again? Because it’s so painfully couple behavior, right down to the way Sam laughs when Barnes’ next forkful is all frosting and presses his knee into Barnes’ thigh, leaves it there, and how Barnes concedes the fork after and lets Sam finish the last maybe two and a half bites all to himself. 

Seems very much like Sam doesn’t need a date to Scott and Hope’s wedding. Since Barnes is obviously also invited, Sam’s all set. Just— maybe obliviously so. 

Rhodey pulls out his phone to apologetically backtrack on his offer to Lila and finds that he has a message waiting from her: Captain America’s single??? 

Apparently not, he sends back, Sorry, misunderstanding

A moment later his phone buzzes with a reply: I thought you two were friends? 

We are, he confirms. 

Then why did you think he was single? He’s dating that soldier, right? comes Lila’s response.

Yeah, I’m getting that, Rhodey thinks, but I don’t think Sam is. 

He replies to Lila: Right. Sorry to disappoint, looks like you’re stuck with me as a dance partner. 

Rhodey, somehow, doesn’t suppose Sam will be too dissatisfied to be similarly stuck with Barnes. 

 


 

+1 - Sam (+ Bucky)

Sam has officially sunk to that level. 

Not to exploiting his position as Captain America. But he has resorted to downloading a dating app. Or two. He’s had to, though, is the thing. All of his friends have been useless at helping him out in the dating department.

Rhodey got his hopes up about a date for Hope and Scott’s wedding and then it turned out that his cousin wasn’t single after all, leading to him going stag again. He still had a great time, of course: lovely service, delicious meal, plenty of booze, lots of people to ask to dance, including Bucky — similarly dateless.

Hope never had come through with the contact info for her colleague that Scott was so sure would hit it off with Sam. It had seemed rude, and more desperate than he wanted to appear at the time, to chase it up — especially with them planning the wedding. 

Joaquín’s friend had, after Sam took — admittedly — too long to propose a date idea, already started seeing someone else by the point at which Sam gave up trying to come up with something fresh for them to do and asked him to pick a place instead. 

Sharon’s contacts had all seemingly evaporated when, the day after their dinner, weirdly while he was sitting in the airport waiting to board his flight to Delacroix — well, by way of an overnight in NYC; he had to go see Alpine for the first time — Sam abruptly recalled what they’d started but never finished discussing at dinner and texted her to ask after her list of options. And that was a bit odd, but things sometimes are where Sharon is involved, so nothing new there. 

What is weird is Sarah not trying to meddle into his dating life at all. Sam had expected her to throw every Delacroix local she deemed eligible at him, after he committed to living there and got his apartment, but nothing. Not a single contrived meeting or pointed introduction. She hasn’t even pried into his love-life with invasive questions, even though he has to her (no, she is not seeing the nice math teacher from the high school, thank you very much, Samuel). 

He really wishes they could have come through for him because dating apps, it turns out, are the worst. First, he had to make himself a silly little profile, pick photos where he looked good but not too good, not like he was trying to show off or be unrepresentative, and write some of his interests down for a bio. Which, when you’re trying to avoid the Captain America thing, becomes quite limiting. To read it, Sam is an active guy who likes spending time with his nephews, collecting facts about birds, and stealing recipes from his sister to teach to his best friend. It’s dull, but the opposite was a witty comment and Sam hates the profiles that have those, and he didn’t want to be that guy. 

And now he’s sitting on his couch on a Saturday night swiping right and left when all he wants to do is swipe up to exit the bloody app. 

It all feels so useless. Sure, there’s some really hot people — or at least they appear that way in the pictures, but who actually knows what’s real and what’s not on the internet? — and he’d probably be down to hook up, but that’s not what he’s looking for here. 

He swipes left on another profile that is a single solitary torso shot and a lone fire emoji in the bio below, tips his head back against the couch, and sighs. In the kitchen, he hears the sink cut off and a moment later, Bucky appears in the doorway, toweling dry his hands. 

“Dishes done?” Sam asks.

“Yes, chef,” Bucky says. “Your kitchen is now immaculate.”

“I don’t believe that for a second.”

“Hey, is this the thanks I get for washing up?”

“Don’t whine, you had thirds. I was supposed to have leftovers for the whole week. You owed me.”

Bucky shakes his head but he’s smiling. He ducks back into the kitchen and, when he comes out, he’s lost the towel but gained two bottles of beer. He comes over and sits down beside Sam on the couch, sets one of the bottles on the coffee table in front of Sam, leans back with the other in hand, brings it to his lips. After he swallows, he asks, “What’s got you all sighs?” and looks pointedly at Sam’s phone.

“I downloaded Tinder,” Sam says. 

Bucky raises an eyebrow. 

“Alright,” Sam confesses, “And the rest.”

“Ah,” Bucky says, smiling around the mouth of his beer bottle. “Yeah, I tried the apps a while back. It was very weird.”

“Oh, okay, oh wise one, impart to me your great wisdom.”

“Shove off,” Bucky says, and, quite literally, shoves Sam with his elbow. 

Sam laughs, but says, “No, actually, come here and tell me what you think.”

Bucky leans sideways to get a better look at the phone screen and Sam meets him, tipping into him so their shoulders press together, and he can hold his phone in the middle of them.

“Hmm,” Bucky says, eyeing the new profile. This one has a proper photo of the whole guy, head included, but there is also a tiger cub in the picture with him. “I still don’t get what the tigers are all about.”

“Yeah, me either. I mean, if it’s a full grown one I think they’re compensating for something, but a cub? What’s that all about?”

“It’s cute,” Bucky remarks. Figaro takes that exact moment to launch himself onto the space left on the couch beside Bucky, since Bucky’s scooted over so close to Sam, as if he’s understood that Bucky’s just described a feline other than him as cute under his roof. He turns in a circle and settles down, the curve of his spine pressed against Bucky’s thigh, and Bucky scratches behind his ear with two fingers. 

“Think that’s a no from Fig,” Sam says and moves on. 

The woman who pops up next is pretty and she’s smiling wide and genuine in the photo, not pouting or posing sultry for it, but there is a one-liner and nothing else written below it. 

“Nope,” Sam says, and swipes his thumb left across the screen. 

“She seemed okay,” Bucky says.

“How does ‘Let’s go on an adventure’ tell me anything about her?” Sam argues. 

“Fair point,” Bucky says and reaches out to flick through the photos of the next guy, while Sam reads the bio. This one does contain facts. He’s a college lecturer and he likes baking, cycling, and spending time with his family and friends — it’s like he’s ticking all the boxes on the most standard dating profile check list. “He seems nice,” Bucky says. 

Sam shoots him a look. How can Bucky be into this? “You’d date this guy?” Sam asks, can’t keep the incredulity out of his tone. 

Bucky looks up at him. “No,” he says. “I wouldn’t, but we’re looking for you, and he sounds like an alright guy.”

“He sounds boring. What kind of list of interests is this?”

Bucky tilts his head at Sam. Strokes his hand along Fig’s back. Then says, considering, “What have you got in your profile? Does it make for riveting reading?”

Sam opens his mouth to say damn right it does, then thinks about what is there and realizes, shit, he has pretty much this exact same bio doesn’t he? Except for the part where he doesn’t list an occupation because, you know, he’s Captain America. Sam shuts his mouth, exhales loudly through his nostrils, and glares at Bucky, whose lips curl up in a grin before he takes another drink of his beer. 

“Just so we’re clear,” Bucky says, “You haven’t included your daredevil tendencies in yours, have you? Or did you put ‘likes: jumping out of planes, doing loops in the sky, and kicking people in the head’?”

“Shut up,” Sam grouses. “So, mine is kinda boring too, whatever. This guy’s still dull and I’m not interested.” He swipes left. 

The swiping left only continues. 

“Oh, she has that she likes Marvin Gaye written here,” Bucky says. And Sam couldn’t tell you why the idea of dating someone who has appreciation for good music feels wrong somehow, couldn’t explain it to Bucky either, so says that he’s just not feeling her. Left.

“He’s a runner,” Bucky points out about a guy who has a nice sunrise photo in his set, probably taken on a morning jog, and Sam suddenly has zero desire to have a running partner, even though he very much enjoyed Steve’s company — if not the fact that it was never a fair competition. He dismisses the guy on account of his shirtless photo — he looks good, but it’s basically public bragging. Left.

“She’s Air Force,” Bucky reads, and Sam scrunches up his face. He has a legitimate reason to be put off by that — losing one partner to that job was enough — but it’s not fear or grief or anything like that that’s turning him off. He just… can’t muster any kind of enthusiasm. Left. 

Left.

Left.

Left, left, left, left, left—

Sam,” Bucky takes the phone out of his hand. “You’re not even reading these now. You haven’t looked at a single second photo.”

Sam reaches forward and snags his beer off the table, leans back beside Bucky again and takes a long drink. 

“Do you even know what you’re looking for?” Bucky asks. “Like, what criteria are you using here?”

“I dunno,” Sam says. “What criteria do you use to look for someone?”

Bucky regards him for a long moment, then says, “I’m not looking.” He takes a drink of his beer. “But if I was, I guess, I’d like someone who I enjoy spending time with. Someone who can deal with the job. Someone who is smart and kind and good. Someone who’s fun and doesn’t let me take myself too seriously. Someone who can put up with me.”

There’s an odd feeling inside Sam. At first, he thinks that it’s sympathy, that he’s commiserating with Bucky about how tough it is to find someone that amazing. But Bucky said it pretty neutral, not wishful or invested, just laid it out like facts. Sam doesn’t have cause to pity him, so he’s not sure what it is he’s feeling, what it is about how perfect this hypothetical person Bucky has described is that’s got his stomach tense and his heart sinking and a sour taste on his tongue that’s not just from the beer. He brushes it off, grins, and says, “That’s a big ask. It’s an effort to put up with you, I can tell you.”

“Yeah, yeah, you’re a joy yourself,” Bucky says, flashes him a smile, hands Sam’s phone back and then tips up his beer bottle, downs the rest. “I’m gonna head to bed.” He stands from the couch. Fig raises his head to see where his favorite person is going — the traitor that he is. “I think you should too. And lay off the apps till you figure out what you’re looking for. That’s my wisdom for you.”

Sam shakes his head but smiles and bids Bucky goodnight as Bucky heads for the guest room, which really is half his — Bucky has half the wardrobe, the top half of the dresser, and one of the nightstands filled with his stuff — Figaro in pursuit. 

There’re a good two thirds of his beer left, so Sam swipes through a couple more profiles, slower this time, thinking about what Bucky has said. Trying to figure out what he’s looking for, what makes all the people here feel so lacking. Sam’s not sure. He hasn’t ever sat down and made a list of what he wants.

He doesn’t need someone to have the exact same taste in music as him. Bucky has objectively awful taste — in Sam’s opinion — and that hasn’t stopped them from getting along, even if there have been some arguments and lots of sending one another songs to listen to and Sam spending too much money buying Bucky a record player for his birthday in an effort to reform him. 

He doesn’t want a running partner, not really, is perfectly happy with his solo jogs. It would be a bonus if whoever he dated came with him occasionally — even if it was under duress, like the times Sam has forced Bucky — but Sam would be happy to come home to them still in bed, slip back in beside them and kiss them awake, or find them up and in the kitchen, breakfast ready.

What Bucky said he would look for sounded almost too good to be true. Someone who understands the job. That’s hard. Sam had that once with Riley — it’s easier when the person gets the job because they do it too, but it’s still tough. 

Sam needs someone who is strong and can handle his baggage. Wants someone compassionate and caring. Someone who can tolerate or join in with his addiction to adrenaline, but who will also watch movies and nature documentaries with him. Someone who’s curious about the world and will only lovingly mock him for his fascination with birds. Someone who will appreciate his need to try out at least one new recipe a week and maybe join him in the kitchen. Someone who is good with his nephews and nice to Sarah. Someone who isn’t just not allergic to cats but also will recognize Fig for the amazing creature he is.

A thought kindles in Sam’s brain. He looks at the end of the couch where Fig’s left a small covering of white and pale grey hairs on the dark cushion. He turns his head and looks over at the closed guest room door, behind which are Bucky and Fig.

Ah. 

Someone sure sounds an awful lot like Bucky

Bucky who completely understands Sam’s job and who likes Sam for Sam, not because he’s Captain America. Bucky who has jumped out of planes and into fire and the line of with him. Bucky who finds fault with all of Sam’s favorite movies but is the first to head for the popcorn if Sam suggests one. Bucky who slanders Redwing daily but reads sci-fi books like there’s no tomorrow and always finds an excuse to be in the lab if Sam’s having a call with Shuri to talk about the wings. Bucky who hasn’t disliked a single thing Sam’s cooked him and makes a great sous-chef. Bucky who some days Sam would swear Cass and AJ prefer and who all days he’s sure Sarah prefers. Bucky who Fig will choose over Sam, and who will choose Fig over Sam. 

Sam swipes out of the app and locks his phone. Pours the last inch of beer down the kitchen sink. Brushes his teeth. Gets into bed. Lies there and looks at the ceiling. Allows the thought to flare and ignite until it’s burning freely in his brain. 

This is it, isn’t it? Sam doesn’t have criteria, he has Bucky. He’s comparing everyone on the dating apps to Bucky and finding them wholly wanting. None of the people suggested to him by his friends were Bucky, and maybe that’s the reason Sam couldn’t get himself to set up a date with Torres’ friend, why he didn’t push for Sharon’s suggestions, or chase up Hope for her colleague’s contact info. Why he didn’t ask Rhodey if he had any other single cousins. Why he hasn’t asked for Sarah’s input on his love life. 

Sam lies awake for too long turning this over and over in his head, wondering how he hasn’t noticed before that Bucky is exactly what he’s looking for. What he didn’t know he was looking for. 

 

His alarm buzzes at his usual 6 am but Sam turns it off. He’s tired, hasn’t slept well, can’t quite remember why in the haze of only having a few hours of rest. He rolls over, goes back to sleep. 

 

When he wakes later, the flame of his realization is still blazing. 

It’s after nine, so he makes himself get up. Shuffles out of his room and into the hallway. Looking through the open kitchen door, he sees Bucky’s there, in sleep pants and a thin, stretched out tee, at the stove, cooking something that smells like it might be pancakes and bacon. His hair, which he has been growing out, is rumpled and soft-looking, and Fig is winding around his legs, alternating between rubbing his head on Bucky’s calves and sniffing the air hopefully. 

It hits Sam all at once, an explosion where last night’s discovery had been the slowest of burns, that Bucky isn’t what he’s looking for; Bucky is what he has. 

Sam is in love with Bucky, and he’s here in Sam’s kitchen on a Sunday morning in his pajamas making breakfast and probably sneaking Sam’s cat pieces of bacon fat, which he’s absolutely not allowed. What Sam wants is exactly what he has right now with Bucky, just with the added perks of being able to kiss him and take him to bed.

He wants to cross to Bucky and put his hand on Bucky’s side, feel the warmth of his skin through the thin cotton, and tell him how he feels. So he does. 

Bucky turns as Sam enters the kitchen, easily able to hear his approach, even over the whir of the extractor fan and the sizzle of the bacon. “Morning,” he greets, spatula in hand, and smiles at Sam. His hair looks even more unkempt from the front, curling a little at the temples, standing high on top. 

“Good morning,” Sam replies and doesn’t stop his approach until he’s right in front of him. He puts a hand on Bucky’s waist and leans around him to flick off the hob, lest anything burn for real, then straightens back up but leaves his hand there.

Bucky looks at him questioningly. “Is everything okay?”

Sam nods and says, “I was thinking that—”

“That’s dangerous,” Bucky cuts in. Sam rolls his eyes and when Bucky snickers he feels it under his palm. 

I was thinking,” Sam tries again, “Since our friends have been no use at setting me up with someone and clearly dating apps are the devil’s work, that maybe you could help me out?”

“I’m not sure I can set you up with anyone, either. I think you know everyone I know. And I gave you my dating app advice last night.” Bucky doesn’t sound apologetic over not being able to help Sam find someone to date, and Sam takes that as a good sign. 

“There’s something else you could do.”

“Yeah?” Bucky looks unsure, brows scrunching together in thought. “What?”

A shiver of nerves snakes down Sam’s spine, but he ignores it, swallows, and says, “You could ask me out?” He can’t help that it comes out like a question.

Bucky’s brows unscrunch, rising, and he stares at Sam for too many heartbeats. Enough that Sam has to clench his teeth to stop himself from forcing a laugh, brushing this off as a joke. It’s not a joke. He wants this more than he knew, and he thinks that maybe, just maybe, Bucky could want it too. 

“I could…” Bucky starts, then stops and blinks rapidly at Sam, as though that’s helping him to process the words, or maybe like they have and it has short-circuited him. Then he tries again, words tentative, tone unsure, “I could ask you out?”

Sam nods, throat tight. 

“I could ask you out,” Bucky says again, a hint of wonder in his voice this time. “Can I take you out?” Sam doesn’t react, doesn’t grasp the meaning what Bucky has said until Bucky says, “Sam,” and stretches his hand out into the small gap between their torsos, but doesn’t quite take hold of Sam’s free one. “I’m asking, can I take you out?” He sounds hopeful but his eyes border on desperate, like Sam might say no despite being the one to request it. 

“Yes,” Sam says, emphatic, the fire of his sentiment a warmth in his chest. He lifts his hand and tangles his fingers with those of Bucky’s waiting hand. “Yes, you absolutely can.”

The desperation in Bucky’s eyes burns up in the joy that blazes there. “Now?” he asks, eager, a grin splitting his face. 

Sam has to laugh. “I’m in my pajamas. You’re in the middle of making breakfast.”

Bucky pouts, but his eyes remain ecstatic. “Tonight, then?”

“Please,” Sam says and squeezes Bucky’s hand. Tonight sounds amazing. 

“I gotta ask,” Bucky starts, and Sam knows whatever he’s going to say will be cheeky on account of the sly tilt of his lips, the mischievous glow in his eyes, “What are your views on kissing on the first date?”

“I don’t,” Sam tells him. “But,” he goes on before Bucky’s pout can return, “I think I could be persuaded to kiss before the first date.”

Bucky’s smile turns eager, hungry. He tugs on Sam’s hand, uses it to drag him even closer, nearly chest to chest, the hand Sam has on Bucky’s waist sliding round to rest in the middle of his back. “Yeah?” Bucky wets his lower lip with his tongue.

Sam’s eyes dart down to track the motion, involuntarily, though he’s not mad about it. When he pulls them back up to meet Bucky’s gaze, he confirms, “Yeah,” and closes the last of the gap.