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do i tell you i love you or not (cause i can't really guess what you want)

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Honestly, Bucky doesn't care very much about his hair. He's got bigger problems, maybe, like everyone keeps trying to kill him, for shits sake, and he’s got Hydra command files in his head that keep turning him into a weapon when he’s just trying to quietly go about his life and buy some fruit, and he can’t remember what’s last week and what’s seventy years ago. He hasn’t bothered to cut it. Keeps it out of his eyes with a baseball cap. It’s just hair.

"Come on, Vanilla Ice, have you never heard of a comb?" Sam asks, and Bucky frowns at him. He’s still groggy from cryo and jetlag and the goddamn weirdness of sleeping in a soft bed all by himself, isn’t up to his usual level of snark with Wilson. Pours himself a coffee from the machine brewing on the kitchen bench.

“What’s a comb,” he says, flat, and Sam chokes on his spoonful of cereal. Watches as Bucky makes his own breakfast - whaddya know, they’ve still got CheeriOats in the future, although apparently they’re Cheerios now, what’s with that - and sits down in the seat next to Sam, not too close.

“Seriously, man, your hair, what do you even wash that with?”

“Soap,” Bucky says, like it’s obvious. It’s fucking obvious. His hair’s still damp, even, because he took a fucking shower just this morning. Lathered up the bar of soap, scrubbed his hair and his face and all the rest of him. Washed until all the traces of cryo were gone. Sam sighs.

“Come on, man. Long hair like that, you gotta use, like, conditioner.”

“What.”

“You know. Shampoo. Conditioner. Soap fucks up your hair PH.” Bucky chews his cereal and thinks about this information. This seems. Complicated. He doesn’t remember worrying about fucking up his hair PH back when.

“Why,” he says. Eats another bite of Cheerios. Sam’s eyebrows go up.

“I mean,” he starts, “it makes your hair soft? Shiny? Makes it look good. You know, the kind of hair that’s nice to touch, and shit.” Bucky squints at Sam’s hair for a long moment.

You don’t,” he says, and Sam rolls his eyes.

“What, use conditioner? Nah, man, I ain’t got white boy hair. This is all down to a special oil blend, my hair’s pristine, thanks.” Bucky glances at Sam’s hair again. It does look soft. It looks like it’d be nice to touch, maybe. He doesn’t remember ever thinking this about someone’s hair before now.

(Steve’s hair is like fine threads of gold in your hands, his memory supplies helpfully, you touched it a lot. Brushed it out of his face, all casual.)

“Can I?” he asks, quiet, and Sam frowns.

“No,” he says, “man, come on, it’s rude to just touch someone’s hair, what’s wrong with you?”

“Oh,” Bucky says, drops his hand. “Sorry. I. Sorry.”

“Don’t sweat it,” Sam tells him, “now you know. Hey, is your hair even longer than when you went into cryo, or what?”

“Yeah,” Bucky agrees. “Post-cryo cell regeneration.” It’s fucking irritating, is what it is; his hair’s down past his shoulders now, making damp patches on his t-shirt. It’s almost worth cutting it off, or something, except that would acknowledge Sam’s got a point about Bucky needing to do something with it, and he’s enough of a dick to make this a competition.

“That is weird as shit,” Sam says. Leans back in his chair, drinks his coffee. “Pity you never brush it more than once a century, huh.”

Bucky stares at him across the kitchen table for a long moment, non-verbal, and then shakes his hair into his face, very deliberately.

 

The next morning, he’s in the shower again. People wash a lot nowadays, apparently. Bucky understands why, given how good hot water feels when he’s standing underneath it. Anyway, he’s in the shower, head tilted back under the stream of it, and then he spots the bottles in the corner.

Shampoo, he thinks. Conditioner.

The kind of hair that’s nice to touch, he hears Sam say again, and reaches for one of the bottles.

It’s different than soap. Smells nice, like fruit and flowers. The shampoo lathers up soft as clouds, washes away easy. Conditioner’s worse; he can’t tell when it’s fucking rinsed out, his hair feels weird. But he grabs the plastic comb - yes, thank you, Wilson, he does know what a goddamn comb is, he’s not a barbarian - and it slides through without catching, like all the knots are just gone. There could be benefits, he’s willing to admit.

He brushes past Sam, in the kitchen, winces when they make physical contact, but Sam doesn’t seem to notice. Just pats his shoulder absently, like he’s not quite awake yet, and passes him a cup of coffee.

“Man, what smells good?” Sam asks after a couple minutes, and Bucky shrugs, sips his coffee. “You can’t smell that? Some kind of perfume or something?”

“I dunno,” Bucky says, carefully casual. “So much goddamn perfume in everything nowadays. Fabric softener, what’s up with that.”

“Huh,” Sam says. “Smells good, whatever it is.” He goes to put on another pot of coffee, and Bucky allows himself to smile, just a little, against the rim of his cup.

“Who the fuck used my Bumble and Bumble,” Nat demands from the hallway door, and Bucky shrugs again.

“Maybe Steve,” he suggests, “he likes all that nice shit,” and Nat narrows her eyes at him before going to hit up Steve. Bucky’s not even sorry. It’ll do Steve good, getting yelled at about hair products for a bit instead of goddamn world-carrying responsibility.

 

He thinks, a couple days later, that he should probably go buy his own hair shit, because Natasha’s gonna figure it out pretty fucking soon. Ugh. Shopping. Why, ugh.

“Going to the store,” he mumbles at Sam, who glances up at him.

“You want me to come with?”

No,” Bucky says, emphatically, and Sam shrugs, goes back to his book.

“All good, man, see you in a bit.” This is why Bucky chose Sam to tell he was going out, because Steve would have squinted and made difficult faces and talked a lot about feelings and going with Bucky and did he have his fuckin’ galoshes on and a clean handkerchief in his pocket and don’t forget to wait for the lights when he’s crossing the road. Shit like that. Bucky’s amnesiac, he’s not a kid, and he’s going to the fucking store to buy some damn hair products, that’s all.

The mall is maybe a mistake.

It’s just, it’s really bright, and really loud, and there are people everywhere, wandering around and getting in his way and not paying any goddamn attention at all. It would be a lot easier if he was wearing his boots, could put his shoulders into the swagger and stare them down, that’d sure clear the fuckin’ area, but he’s honestly really trying not to look like a terrifying assassin, so that route is probably out. The earbuds help, although he has to put his hands in his pockets when his fingers twitch like he can play right along with the Chopin.

(I played the piano? he thinks, and blinks at the rush of memories. Mrs Goldberg’s front room, the little polished upright. Your hands on the keys. Steve loved to watch, maybe. Especially when you tried Flight of the Bumblebee, too fast for your fingers to keep up.)

Anyway, he finds the drugstore, and then the hair aisle, and oh, shit, why’s the twenty-first century gotta be like this. He read an article a couple days back about choice overload, and this is just a goddamn perfect example right here. Okay. He can do this. Think, Barnes. Jesus god, why’ve they all gotta be so terribly packaged.

He stares at them a little longer, eyes narrowed, and then spots a bottle. Tousle Me Softly. Okay, shit, why not, it’s herbal essences, whatever that is. He likes herbs. He picks both, the shampoo and the conditioner. Eyes the gels and pomades cautiously. Yes?

(Sticky, his brain supplies. You wore Brylcreem, slicked your hair right back. Looked good, man.)

Nope. No. He grabs a packet of hair ties, since they’re right there. A better-looking comb than his shitty sad plastic one, and he’s done, he’s out.

He gets a coffee on the way home. Three coffees, in fact. Venti vanilla lattes, delivered to Sam and Steve. Steve looks perplexed. Sam looks pleased. Shopping is a fuckin’ success, and Bucky didn’t even have a clean goddamn handkerchief in his pocket. Take that, Steve.

 

This mall shampoo is nowhere near as good as Natasha’s fancy shampoo, Bucky decides. But it smells okay, and the conditioner does the thing, the slippery-smooth sleekness, and hair ties. Hair ties are a little bit of a revelation. He pulls his damp hair into a knot at the nape of his neck, evaluates the effect in the bathroom mirror. Good, it’s- good, but jeez, maybe he should shave once a fucking century. There are plastic razors in the drawer, even a little bottle of shaving soap that must belong to Steve, and he doesn’t really think too hard about it, just lathers his face, drags the blade through the stubble.

Steve’s shaving soap is terrible. Shaving is terrible. Plastic razors are really terrible. He reminds himself to buy a safety razor the next time he’s out, rinses his face, towels off. Pulls on a sweatshirt, joins Sam in the kitchen for breakfast, and the look Sam gives him, it’s just surprised and interested enough that Bucky actually smiles.

“Morning,” he says, “you sleep well?”

“Oh, that’s how it is? You’re actually asking personal questions now? Tie your hair back and you go multi-syllabic?”

“Sure,” Bucky agrees, “hey, French-braid it for me and you’ll get me talking about my feelings.” Sam’s eyes go wide, and he actually blushes a little, and Bucky smirks at him just enough to show that he’s noticed. Still got it, James Barnes.

“I did sleep well, since you’re asking,” Sam tells him, accepts the mug of coffee Bucky passes him. “You?”

“Enh,” Bucky says. Scrunches his face a little. “It’s not- I mean, I don’t really know. The last time I slept the whole night, you know?”

“Yeah, I feel you,” Sam says, and Bucky’s so warmed by the way Sam’s looking at him, not hesitant or concerned or terrifically sad but just agreeing, that it slips right out of his mouth.

“You want eggs? Bacon?”

“You offering?” Sam asks, and Bucky shrugs and nods at the same time.

“Yeah,” he says, “why not. I’m bored of cereal.”

He makes the eggs the way he used to, when he had enough money to do it right. When it wasn’t powdered eggs and water. Cracked into a bowl, whisked, salt and pepper. Lots of butter in the pan. Bacon grilled until it’s the perfect middle ground between chewy and crispy. The toast pops just as the eggs are done, and Bucky slides a plate down in front of Sam, sits down and eats. Yeah, that’s how eggs are supposed to be, alright. Enough butter he can fucking taste it.

“Hey, cryo-freeze, this is good,” Sam says. Kicks him under the table. Bucky looks up, and grins, and Sam’s face does that blushing thing again. Hmm. Shaving is apparently powerful. Bucky really needs to get that damn safety razor.

 

A couple weeks later, he wakes up in a panic. Something is strangling him, something’s on his throat, he can’t breathe. He flails, too breathless to yell, and then realizes, abruptly.

His fucking hair.

He gets up, showers, yanks on jeans and a grey henley and his jacket, the glove he wears over his metal hand in public. Grabs his wallet.

“Going out,” he yells, and Sam pokes his head out of the kitchen.

“You okay?”

“Nope. Don’t worry, just- something I gotta do.”

“Person stuff or soldier stuff?”

“I’m not gonna kill anyone, Sam,” Bucky says seriously, and Sam grins.

“Just checking,” he says. “I’ll let Steve know you’re out.” Bucky nods, feeling grim, and gets in the car, drives until he finds a hair salon.

It’s not a barber. Bucky realizes this pretty much as soon as he parks and walks in, because it’s way too nice to be a barber. He feels a little panicked, is about to walk back out, when the receptionist spots him and smiles very winningly.

“Hey there,” she asks, “you got an appointment?”

“No,” he says, “no, I just- I wanted to get it cut, is all.”

Ten minutes later, he’s in a chair, a shiny fabric cape wrapped around his shoulders, and he’s making a terrible face at himself in the mirror, this was a terrible idea, what the fuck was he thinking.

"So," the hairdresser asks cheerily, "what are we doing today? Just a trim? Going short? Sky's your limit, man."

Bucky thinks about cutting his hair short. He could, he’s seen photos, he looked good with short hair, but it’d make Steve make that distressed face again, probably, and besides, he thinks maybe Sam likes the long hair. He hasn’t made any comments about Bucky needing a comb, not since he started actually doing things with it, and Bucky thinks maybe he’s even caught Sam looking a time or two.

"I want-" he says, and thinks about it some more. "Like. Long? But. More, uh... Not all..."

"More volume?" she guesses from his hand gestures. "Not so flat?"

"Yeah," Bucky agrees. "And, uh. I want it to look like it's nice to, um. To touch.”

The washbasin chair is bad, at first. Too much like the Chair. But her hands are very gentle, and Bucky closes his eyes, breathes very slowly, and then she’s running warm water, stroking his hair gently back from his forehead.

“Temperature okay?” she asks solicitously, and Bucky nods. The temperature is great.

Having someone else wash his hair is even better. Oh god, her hands, oh god. She lathers up the shampoo, scrubs it through, her nails just barely scraping his scalp in a way that makes Bucky shiver all the way down to his toes, and then she’s rinsing it out, working in the conditioner.

“Would you like a scalp massage?” she asks, and Bucky nods. In for a penny, etc. Then she starts, and-

“Ngghhh,” Bucky mutters. He might actually die. He might straight up just die from how fucking good this is. She’s working her thumbs in circles, up behind his ears, down to the nape of his neck and back up to his hairline, and Bucky just melts right into it. He never, ever wants her to stop. He’s gonna come here like every goddamn week just to have his hair washed and more of this. This is way better than a barber shop.

He’s so relaxed from the massage that he barely even minds the sharp scissor blades in his immediate vicinity. It’s a goddamn miracle, is what it is. She snips and snips, keeps running her hands through his hair to see how it falls, and Bucky feels like he’s about to fall asleep, maybe. When she’s done, he blinks awake, and then stares.

“Goddamn,” he says appreciatively, “I mean- goddamn, sweetheart,” and she cracks up laughing.

“It’s all you, honey, I just tidied it up,” she tells him, and Bucky lifts a hand to his hair, touches it carefully. Holy shit it is soft. And it’s loose, and a little wavy, and his jawline is fucking impeccable, even if he does say so himself.

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah. Hey, you think you could, uh…”

“You want me to show you how to make it do this at home? Oh, sure,” she agrees. Takes him through the basics. He can pull it up in a bun, or leave it out, sweep it back. Whatever shampoo she’s used smells exceptional.

“Can I, uh, can I buy this?” he asks, “the shampoo, I mean,” and she grins.

The haircut costs eighty dollars, and Bucky tips another forty, and then the shampoo and conditioner and, Jesus, pomade and serum and styling gel, they’re two hundred fucking dollars. Bucky hands over his card, and thinks, I am never, ever telling Steve how much this cost, and I’m coming back here in a month.

 

Sam’s not around, when he gets home. He’s weirdly disappointed, like maybe he wanted Sam to see all this in its fresh glory, but whatever. He flops down on the couch with the coffee and breakfast sandwich he got on the drive home, and tries not to mope.

When Sam gets back that afternoon, Bucky’s curled up, deep into a book. Debussy on the stereo, just soft enough that it’s comforting. He’s never had the time to read for pleasure, not since way back, and god, science fiction’s gotten great in the meantime. He remembers this guy from before, maybe, short stories in his magazines and pulps, and now apparently he’s one of the classics. Weird to think about, so Bucky doesn’t.

“Hey, man, you’re looking significantly less murderous,” Sam says, and Bucky nods. Glances up just long enough not to be rude, grins hello at Sam, goes back to his book. Tucks a lock of hair behind one ear without really thinking about it. Sam makes a noise that has Bucky looking up again, but Sam’s face isn’t giving anything away.

It’s not until later, like, way later, lying in bed, that Bucky plays it back, and wonders if maybe that noise was about Bucky’s hair, and if, maybe, Sam wanted to touch.

He kind of hopes it was. He really hopes it was, actually.

 

A week or two later, Sam wanders into the kitchen while Bucky’s cooking dinner, opens the pantry and glances at it like he’s assessing.

“Grocery shopping?” Bucky asks. Pokes at the vegetables in the pan.

“Yeah, I figured I’d send Steve, he’s working too hard on mission shit again. Do him good to get out the house and go do a normal person thing for once.”

“Good call,” Bucky agrees, “and we need more peanut butter.”

“We need more everything,” Sam says, grabs an envelope to start writing a list. “Hey, you got a pen?”

Bucky does have a pen. He reaches up, pulls it out of his hair where it’s been twisted up into a bun. Feels his hair tumble down loose, and swears under his breath, hands Sam the pen.

“You-” Sam says, a little breathless, and Bucky glances at him through his eyelashes, takes in the flush just visible in Sam’s cheeks, the way he suddenly can’t quite look at Bucky.

“What?” he asks, as if nothing’s the problem. Shakes his hair out, and pulls it back again, ties it up messy with the hair tie on his wrist.

“I- nothing. Never mind. Thanks for the pen. Jeez, that smells good, man.”

“Pot pie,” Bucky tells him. “Stop being so surprised I’m a good cook, okay, you think Steve kept us fed back then?”

“Yeah, okay, you’ve got a point. Anything else you want from the store?” Bucky crosses his arms, thinks about it for a minute or two. Plays with his hair, just a little, just to see if Sam looks.

He does. He totally looks, and then looks away, as if he’s being casual.

“Hey,” Bucky says, “ice cream, too. The good kind. With chocolate in.”

“I’ll add it to the list,” Sam agrees, and turns away so he can evaluate the contents of the fridge. Bucky stirs chicken stock into the vegetables, and smirks, because yeah, Sam’s looking, alright.

 

Since he realized he could play, Bucky’s been thinking about pianos. Wanting one. Nobody has them in their house nowadays, apparently, not unless you’re rich as shit, but Bucky has the internet, and a credit card.

Finding a second-hand store in the city that’s willing to deliver, that’s easy. Managing to get the fucking thing delivered while Steve and Sam are out, that’s harder. Bucky’s not even sure why he doesn’t want them to be there; it’s not like they’re not going to notice a fucking piano in their living room. Maybe it’ll just be easier to explain after the fact. He manages, anyway, manages to outsmart Sam and Steve without either of them realizing they’re being outsmarted, and when the piano arrives, he spends a good fifteen minutes just sitting on the stool, hands light on the lid.

It’s not anything special, just an upright, not a grand. Not a Steinway or a Bösendorfer. Just a simple wooden piano from the sixties or seventies, but when he’d tried it in the store, the sound was sweet and round and clear, and Bucky’d said, yes without really thinking about it.

He lifts the lid, touches his right hand to the keys. Thumb on C sharp, and his fingers fall into place for the chord without any conscious thought. He lets the note resonate just a little, tries some fingering exercises. Scales, easy as pie.

(Scales are boring, Steve says, play Chopsticks, Buck.)

He slides into it, the Chopsticks waltz played how it’s supposed to be, and then Chopin, again. Nocturnes, E-flat major, playing from memory. How does he know this? How’s it stuck around? How’s his left hand light enough to touch these keys without breaking them, to coax this music out like it’s more than a weapon?

When he looks up again, Sam’s in the doorway, and his expression is something Bucky’s never seen.

“Didn’t know you could play,” he says, and Bucky shrugs without pausing his hands.

“Yeah, I didn’t know I could play, until I did,” he says. Sam just keeps watching, and Bucky looks down at the keys, feels his hair fall loose over his face. The rill of the music, and then building, fortissimo, and Jesus god, how has he forgotten that he knows this.

“You’re good,” Sam murmurs. “It’s good.”

“Yeah,” Bucky agrees. “Yeah.” He looks up, tosses his head, tries to get his hair out of his eyes. Fails. Blows at the strand, ineffectually, and gives up. “This is my favorite, though, I think,” and starts playing again. Clair de Lune, maybe it’s a little sentimental, but he likes it. He keeps going, andante très expressif, pianissimo, lets it go soft and tender, and Sam just watches and watches. Bucky can’t look up, and then he does, and Sam’s face, god.

“Can you help me out?” he asks. Doesn’t stop playing. “This goddamn hair in my face, it’s driving me nuts, you think you could…”

“Oh,” Sam says, “yeah, okay, yeah,” and then he’s crossing the room, sitting down on the edge of the stool. He reaches up, smooths Bucky’s hair back off his face like he’s done it a million times before. Tucks it behind his ear, and Bucky smiles sideways, stretches the notes out slow.

His hair falls back into his face. Bucky swears under his breath, and Sam laughs. Smooths it back again, sliding his fingers into the strands this time. Holds it back, loosely fisted at the back of Bucky’s head, and Bucky’s suddenly breathless, because Sam’s hand in his hair, it’s better even than he thought it would be. His hands stall on the keys, just a little.

“Keep playing,” Sam says, and tightens his grip, thumb stroking down against the nape of Bucky’s neck. Bucky takes a deep breath, and keeps going, moves into it, feels Sam tug.

“You’re touching my hair,” he says, eyes on his hands.

“Yeah,” Sam agrees. “It’s really soft.”

It is. It’s really soft. Bucky’s goal for the last three goddamn months has been soft hair, like Sam might want to touch, maybe, and here he is, and it’s… it’s fuckin’ distracting, is what it is. Sam releases and then strokes his fingers through again, grips, pulls, and Bucky makes a noise, something soft and breathy and high.

“Jesus Christ,” he mutters, and finishes the movement, lets his hands go still.

“Not gonna play something else?” Sam asks, teasing, and Bucky turns, twists at the hips to face him, and Sam pulls him straight into a kiss.