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Bucky had been standing on Sam’s doorstep so long he was actually starting to get cold. That took some doing, for him; his serum-boosted metabolism usually meant he almost preferred snow camping and the flow of cool air across his perpetually warm skin. But he wasn’t usually frozen in the grip of an existential crisis.

What the hell was he doing? He knew Sam wouldn’t shoot him on sight or anything, and he wouldn’t think Bucky would do the same. They were long past that: the time Sam had gotten the jump on him in Geneva had ended with a jaunty salute from Bucky and a shit-eating grin from Sam; two weeks ago in Madrid when Bucky had rousted Sam from his insufficiently-concealed rooftop perch, they’d actually ended up talking for awhile, legs dangling over the eaves and words flowing more easily than Bucky would have expected. Maybe he should have expected it. You play cat-and-mouse long enough with somebody, you have a way of getting to know them even if you don’t say a word. 

But this was different. He’d never sought Sam out when he wasn’t on Bucky’s tail, when he was off on a completely unrelated mission. Intel gathering only, Bucky hoped, since Sam was out here in this remote cabin in the Finnish backcountry with no backup. 

Well, no backup that Sam knew of. 

The lights arched through the velvet-dark sky again, ribbons of red and green so massive and seemingly so close that Bucky imagined he could hear a crackle in the air. Awe, more than cold, made his breath catch in his lungs and he steeled his resolve. Sam couldn’t miss this, even if it meant Bucky crossing a line.

The door burst open so suddenly at Bucky’s knock that he wondered if Sam had been waiting on the other side this whole time to see what Bucky would do. Bucky had to catch himself to avoid knocking on Sam’s broad chest. He was wearing a thermal undershirt, the type of thin wool base layer that clung to every ripple of muscle. And there were a lot of those. 

“What did you do,” Sam demanded. Bucky’s eyes snapped up to see Sam’s face creased in an accusatory frown.

“I didn’t do anything!” he said automatically, and thought it was probably true?

“Well this mission’s got nothing to do with you, so I can’t think of any reason for you to be here other than you need my help.” Sam crossed his arms determinedly. It did not make it easier for Bucky to keep his attention on the very real reasons he was there that didn’t have anything to do with Sam’s pecs. “What did you do?”

“I brought hot chocolate,” Bucky said, and that was true. He held up the thermos in peace.

Sam’s mouth dropped open a little at that, and a little more when Bucky stepped aside so Sam could take in the splendor of the landscape behind him. The warm light of the cabin glistened on the snowy steps but faded quickly against the gleam of the sky, painted with the masterful strokes of the Aurora Borealis. 

“No way,” Sam murmured, wonderstruck.

“Yeah,” was all Bucky could say.

“Let me get my coat.”

The top crust of snow crunched under their boots as they walked wordlessly to the center of the field that ran alongside the woods. The lights shifted and swirled above them, more towards green now and a little more distant. Just when Bucky was hoping they’d give Sam a proper show, a bright beam of red erupted directly overhead and Sam’s steps faltered. Bucky reached out and caught his arm automatically. When he steadied, Bucky just…couldn’t let go, now that he knew what it felt like to touch him, even through layers of down and fleece.

They came to a stop like that, side by side, arm in arm, Sam’s face pointed up to the sky, Bucky’s face pointed over to Sam. He was so beautiful like this, expression open and relaxed in delight, the arches of his brows and high lines of his cheekbones highlighted only by celestial lights. He’d never seen Sam so relaxed before. It felt like an honor. Bucky tried to commit the moment to his unreliable memory, feeling the way it clicked into place in his mind, an undeniable confirmation that Sam wasn’t the one following him anymore. That it was the other way around. His running heart was coming to rest here in this quiet, snowy field, so help him.

Sam’s scarf had fallen loose around his neck when he tipped his head back and before he could think better of it, Bucky reached out to adjust it, to pull it up to keep Sam warm. Sam looked at him in surprise, but didn’t pull away. 

He didn’t move closer, either.

Bucky wordlessly held out the thermos of hot chocolate, as if that’s what he’d meant to do the whole time. Sam eyed him for a moment longer, considering, then accepted the thermos. Unscrewed the cap. Took a sip. Looked down at the drink.

“Are there mini marshmallows in this?”

Bucky scoffed a laugh.

“It’s the 21st century, Sam, of course there are mini marshmallows in it. I’ve learned things.”

“Yes you have,” Sam murmured. He turned his attention back to the sky and drank the hot chocolate, his breath misting warm in the air between sips. He passed it back to Bucky after a few minutes, who tried in vain not to think about Sam’s lips while he drank.

“This is a date,” Sam said. 

Bucky choked on his hot chocolate.

“What?” he sputtered.

“I’m just saying, Northern Lights in the snow, bringing hot chocolate to share, standing all close to me, fixing my scarf up cute. This is a date.”

Bucky just stared at the sky as if the Aurora would mercifully vaporize him. It was one thing for him to realize he had feelings for Sam. It was entirely another for Sam to-

“It’s cool,” Sam said, taking the remaining hot chocolate back like it was no big deal. “I get it. I look good, you can’t help it.” And then he smirked.

“I hate you,” Bucky grumbled.

“Sure you do,” Sam said, and then leveled a cocky, megawatt smile directly into Bucky’s face, and Bucky felt like his heart was going to beat out of his chest and he…panicked, ducked to the ground, reached for Sam, and stuffed a fistful of snow down the back of his jacket. 

“What the hell, man!” Sam squawked, pushing him off. “Real nice, Barnes. Are we in kindergarten?”

It was an accurate description. Bucky squeezed his eyes shut and rested his face in his hand, lost for words. Maybe he should go on the run again. Just turn and run right now. He clearly couldn't be trusted to behave remotely normally around Sam and Sam... was laughing. It wasn't a full laugh, more of an incredulous snort, but even so the sound was like a balm to Bucky's tense nerves. “Thought you were supposed to be smooth,” Sam said. Sam wriggled and pulled the back of his coat away from his body. Some chunks of snow fell out, and Bucky had the sudden urge to run his hands up the back and warm Sam up. That would probably be the kind of offer he would make if he were smooth. 

“It’s a common misconception,” Bucky mumbled after a silence that was rapidly becoming awkward. When Sam gave him a look of confusion, Bucky realized it had been long enough since Sam’s words that the context had been lost. Great. This date — fuck, he really did want it to be a date — was going absolutely great. “That Bucky Barnes was smooth,” he clarified.

“You don't say. Are you telling me Steve’s been overselling your ‘gal on each arm?’” Sam was thankfully watching the lights again, so Bucky couldn’t read his expression. Probably for the best.

“No,” he admitted. “I could be smooth, I guess, unless—“ he exhaled slowly, willing the words to fall on the breath, tamping down any more impulses towards self-sabotage before he lost a chance at something important due to fear. “Unless I really liked someone,” he finished. As if to make the silence as ringing as possible, the lights above them faded.

Bucky’s enhanced senses didn’t include night vision, so he couldn’t be sure, but he thought he might see a glimmer of amusement in Sam’s eyes in the dark. Hope flared brighter in his chest.

“I’m gonna go dry off,” Sam said, starting to walk back to the cabin. He’d only taken a couple of steps before he paused, realizing Bucky wasn’t moving. “You coming or what?” Sam said. Bucky sure was. His feet got with the program.

They trudged through the snow for a minute before Bucky quietly tried: “You do look good. You always look good.” He was proud of himself for responding to what Sam had said when he’d been teasing Bucky. Flirting back fifteen minutes later was actually pretty good progress with a guy he liked this much.

“If I forget about the snow in my coat, that was a pretty nice date,” Sam said, knocking their shoulders together and making Bucky want to reach for his hand.

It doesn’t have to be over, Bucky thought but just couldn’t make himself say. He let out a frustrated huff of air that was something close to a laugh. “If you’re waiting for me to say something sexy, you’re gonna be waiting awhile, pal,” he said. At least fifteen minutes, apparently, he thought. And then he wasn’t laughing anymore, because they were suddenly at the door and Sam’s face was close enough to kiss.

“Do you think we’ll see the lights again tomorrow?” Sam murmured. His breath ghosted between them in a cloud of white that Bucky could feel against his lips. His brain screeched to a halt.

“Tomorr— oh.” His brain caught up. “That was smooth.”

Sam grinned and opened the door, and Bucky followed him into the warmth.