When Sam gets off the Raft, there’s nothing in his new room but a bed and a plant.
He doesn’t notice the plant at first. So tired all he can do is collapse into bed, into sleep without twenty-four/seven cell lights and cameras and guards monitoring the situation. He sleeps for ten and a half hours, wakes up long enough to stagger to the bathroom and drink half a bottle of water before he crashes again for another six.
He pulls himself up out of sleep again and this time around he actually feels human. Lies in bed for a minute staring at the soothingly plain wall, the window and its soft linen curtain. Sees, for the first time, the plant sitting on the ledge under the window. It’s some kind of lily, Sam thinks. Glossy green leaves. No flowers, but there will be.
Fuck, he’s hungry. Hungry enough to get out of bed, to find his way to a kitchen. He's figured out the coffee pot and is halfway through a bowl of puffed rice cereal when Steve shows up, makes a face of surprise.
“Didn't expect you to be up,” he says. Pours himself a cup of coffee. “How…”
“I'm fine,” Sam says, although maybe he's not fine, really. Rhodes fell and he was up there just to— it should have been him, it could have been him. “How's Barnes?”
“He went back into cryo,” Steve says, brittle, “his choice,” and now that Sam thinks about it he can remember having this conversation already, the two of them in the back of the helicopter.
“Sorry, man, you said, huh. I was dead on my feet getting off the Raft, you know how it is.”
“Sure,” Steve says. Rubs his palm across his jaw, the faint beginnings of a beard. It doesn't look bad, Sam has to admit. Maybe he should try growing his out too.
“Who put the plant in my room?” he asks, chewing his cereal. Steve frowns.
“The plant. In my room. It wasn’t you? Where’d it come from?”
Steve shrugs, face blank. “Wasn’t me. T’Challa’s staff, maybe? I dunno, you could ask around.”
“It’s no big deal,” Sam says. “It’s just— I thought it mighta been you, that’s all. I was curious.”
“You don’t want it?”
“I want it,” Sam says, firmer than he means to. It’s a nice plant.
They relocate three days later, set up in a safehouse unofficially attached to the Wakandan embassy in Johannesburg. It’s not the fanciest, nothing on his old place in DC, just a two-bedroom apartment with a tiny living room and even tinier kitchen, but it gets good sunlight. Sam guesses he can’t exactly complain.
He takes his plant with him. Sets it up on his bedside table.
Wanda stays in Wakanda, apparently working with T’Challa’s scientists on a solution for the Bucky problem; Clint and Laura and the kids have set up in Melbourne, some kind of deep cover situation. Sam and Steve have Canadian papers, backpackers on an extended trip through Australia and New Zealand and South Africa. Nick Fury coming through for them again, and Sam wonders what they’d have done without him, whether they’d be stuck on T’Challa’s good graces in Wakanda.
Sam, at least, would have fit in a little more than Steve’s white ass, he thinks, and pulls on his ball cap, goes out to the grocery store—supermarket—to pick up some more cereal and milk and coffee.
They don’t do all that much in the safehouse: reading, crosswords, a jigsaw puzzle that gets spread out across the battered kitchen table and never fucking finished. Sam’s pretty sure at least a couple of the pieces have gotten lost under the fridge, and anyway, it’s all trees and sky, endless blue and green pieces that seem entirely interchangeable and therefore even more boring than chewing biltong and watching Steve try to figure out seven down, ten letters, town in Scotland.
He’d gotten to call his family from Wakanda, T’Challa’s secure diplomatic line and a burner cell Natasha had delivered to his sister’s coat pocket while she was watching Monique at the park, but they’ve got no internet connection in the safehouse for fairly obvious reasons, and Sam feels weirdly cut off, caught in a bubble that’s just the two of them. He sends a postcard to his mom, Mary-Beth at the DC VA. Considers mailing one to Secretary Ross just for the joke of it. Hell, if he was gonna do that, he could send one to Tony. Sorry how it turned out. How’s Rhodes?
He doesn’t. Licks the stamp and addresses one to a mailbox in rural Minnesota. Wish you were here. Natasha will check it, eventually.
There are notebooks at the store where he buys his postcards, nice ones with thick lined paper, bright leather covers. The first time Sam sees them, he ignores them. The second time, he picks one out: deep burgundy, creamy paper inside, and a good pen to match. It feels kind of dumb, but—
“What are you doing?” Steve asks that evening, and Sam looks up, shrugs a little.
“Writing my memoirs,” he says, half-joking; he’s not sure what he’s doing, really. Keeping a journal, writing embarrassingly teenage scraps of poetry. Whatever. It’s his damn book, he can do what he wants.
“Maybe I should write mine,” Steve says, voice low and warm the way it is when he’s poking fun at himself, and Sam blinks at him, laughs out loud.
“Yeah,” he agrees, “you should,” and buys Steve a notebook the next time he’s at the store, rich cobalt blue and unlined paper so he can use it as a sketchbook if he wants. Steve laughs again when Sam gives it to him, but he uses it too, Sam sees him. Doesn’t read over his shoulder, but knows when Steve’s drawing him, can feel the attention resting heavy on the profile of his nose and mouth and chin. It’s not uncomfortable. Feels nice, even, and he just turns a page, breathes out, finds a measure of peace in this enforced solitude.
“Good news,” Steve says one morning, dropping heavily into a chair and grabbing Sam's coffee.
“That's mine, you asshole. Good news, huh? We can go home?”
“No,” Steve says, face falling. “No, we— sorry, Sam, I'm still working on that. But I just heard from T'Challa. Dr Khethiwe and Wanda think they've got a solution for Bucky's brainwashing triggers. He can come out of cryo.”
“Oh,” Sam says, and then, because he's a good person, “hey, Steve, that's great.”
“Yeah,” Steve agrees, and he's clearly so fucking happy about it Sam doesn't have the heart to ruin it all. But—
“I’m not sharing my room,” Sam mutters, knowing as he says it that it sounds exactly like he’s a fucking ten year old facing a new sibling. Steve hastily makes what Sam thinks is supposed to be an understanding face.
“Of course not,” he says soothingly. “He can bunk in with me, it’s not like we haven’t done it before. It's a twin room, anyway, there's already a spare bed.”
Sam guesses a bigger house is out of the question. Whatever; the three of them have spent eight hours crammed in a Mini, it can’t be that bad.
It’s not that bad. It’s worse. Yeah, whatever, there’s nothing objectively terrible about Barnes; he’s quiet and careful and extremely respectful of Sam’s space. That only makes it grate more, makes Sam want to go home to his own fucking apartment or the cheerful white noise of his sister’s place. He knows he’s not being fair to Barnes, not being reasonable, whatever that means. He’s sulking like a goddamned teenager, as if it’s Barnes’ fault they’re all stuck here on the other side of the world. But it doesn’t matter whose fault it is, who chose this, who said sign me up and followed Steve right into every bit of trouble; they’re here now and it fucking sucks, and very abruptly Sam feels himself dive right down into the sort of black mood he’d last had just after Riley died, the kind that leaves him in bed for days unable to do anything except contemplate the inevitability of eventual death.
He doesn’t even sleep, not really. Just lies there, drifts dully from hour to hour. Steve knocks occasionally, pokes his head in the door. Sam can tell he’s worried. Doesn’t know what to tell him. He knew this was coming, if he’s being honest with himself—Rhodes fell and Sam watched him fall, and you don’t just walk away from that—but in the moment, all his coping strategies and counselling techniques are gone and he’s just a cloud of misery scowling at everything including his own damn bedroom wall.
His mom would bully him out of bed; his mom did bully him out of bed, got him onto the couch so Monique could climb all over him, and then his sister had very pointedly given him the local VA number, sat down and stared at him until he made the fucking call. It’d be easier, now, if someone would do the same thing, even as Sam knows it’s on him. That’s okay; he’ll get there. Not today, maybe. He rolls over. Buries his face in the pillow, drifts back into uneasy sleep.
The leaves of his plant are drooping.
Sam stares at it for a minute or two. It's too far away from his bed for him to reach, and anyway, his water bottle is empty. He should get up and take it to the kitchen. Give it a good soaking.
Fuck it, he thinks, and heaves himself up, pulls on some sweatpants.
He puts the plant in the kitchen sink, turns on the faucet and lets it soak the earth until the pot is streaming at the base. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to take a shower himself, he thinks, rueful. Might as well, now he's out of bed.
“I made you some toast,” Bucky says when Sam gets back into the kitchen, still a little damp from his shower. Bucky is eating toast himself, crumbs collecting at the corner of his mouth.
“You made me toast,” Sam repeats. Bucky nods. Licks a streak of jam off his thumb.
“With peanut butter,” he says. “And there's some vanilla protein shake in the blender, if you want it.”
“You made me breakfast,” Sam says, still a little uncertain, and Bucky shrugs.
“It's three in the afternoon, but sure. I was just hungry. Figured you might be too. Hey, I found this documentary about excavating a Bronze Age village, you wanna watch it with me?”
“Yeah,” Sam says slowly. “Yeah, okay.”
Bucky passes him one of the couch throws without looking at him. Hits play on the DVR.
Sam falls asleep somewhere about twenty minutes into the third documentary. Wakes up an hour later when the throw slips off his lap, and Bucky glances at him as he peels a clementine, hands him a segment and shoves the rest in his mouth.
“Feel better?” he asks through his mouthful, and Sam has to think about it for a minute. Chews his clementine and tastes the sharpness of the juice.
He does, is the thing. Feels better without even having noticed it.
“Wanna order takeout on Steve's credit card and watch this one about Stonehenge?”
“Yeah,” Sam says. “Sure, sounds good. Where is Steve, anyway?”
“Talking negotiation with Secretary Ross. Nakia picked him up earlier, they’re discussing it via Wakandan channels.”
“Oh, shit,” Sam mutters, feeling suddenly guilty that he’s apparently slept through some whole damn mess. Bucky shrugs.
“He told me to tell you not to worry about it. So, don’t worry about it. You want pizza or Chinese?”
“Thai,” Sam says, just to be a dick. Bucky rolls his eyes, but he orders Thai anyway, tom kha gai and penang and the curry puffs Sam likes, so Sam gets up to answer the door when the delivery driver knocks, comes back with plastic bags in both hands, plates and the roll of paper towels tucked under one elbow.
“Stonehenge?” he says, passing Bucky the red curry, and Bucky nods, flicks on the TV. Sam makes himself comfortable. Eats his food, steals the last curry puff off Bucky’s plate; Bucky scowls at him, but doesn’t complain, and Sam smirks as he crunches the pastry between his teeth. Waits another few minutes, and then tucks his feet up onto the couch, deliberately pushing a little into Bucky’s space.
“Your feet are cold,” Bucky grumbles. Sam wriggles his toes further under Bucky's thighs.
“Yeah,” he agrees, “they are. And you're really warm.”
“God bless the super serum,” Bucky says, sarcastic. “Glad it's useful for something,” and then he's focusing on the TV again, frowning a little like he's concentrating on ignoring Sam's very existence.
After that, things are different. They’re not nicer to each other; actually, it’s like Bucky has decided that watching archaeology documentaries and sharing a bunch of takeout after a very minor breakdown is enough to switch off ‘quiet and respectful’ and revert to what Sam is absolutely sure is his natural asshole state.
Sam can’t even pretend to hate it. They basically immediately settle into the same bickering relationship that Sam remembers with his own sister growing up. Bucky uses up all the hot water. Sam deliberately buys the wrong kind of peanut butter just to fuck with him. Bucky eats the stash of chocolate Sam thought he’d successfully hidden behind the canned goods in the pantry. Sam drinks all the filtered water in the fridge and doesn’t refill the pitcher.
“You guys,” Steve sighs every time he gets caught in the crossfire, earnest and kind of sad that his best friends aren’t best friends, and that makes Bucky and Sam band together against him to roll their eyes in mutual resignation that this is just who Steve is as a person.
That doesn’t mean Bucky’s not an absolute dick, though, because—
“Oh, come on,” Sam says under his breath. Scowls at the empty freezer. Raises his voice to yell in the direction of the rest of the house. “Hey, who the fuck ate all my ice cream?”
“There's a fresh carton,” Bucky says, from where he’s sprawled on the couch with one leg hooked over the back of it like nobody else needs a damn seat. “It’s no big deal.”
“It was dairy-free, you asshole,” Sam tells him. “I'm allergic to lactose.”
“Huh, I guess that's why it tasted weird. I thought it was just my tastebuds.”
“There's nothing wrong with your tastebuds,” Sam mutters, “just something wrong with your brain.”
“Well, yeah,” Bucky agrees, sliding out of his seat and joining Sam in the kitchen, “that tends to happen what with all the brainwashing,” and Sam just stares at him for a minute before breaking into laughter. “Come on,” Bucky adds, reaching for a wallet and the keys, “let's go to the mall, I'll buy you some more of that weird ice cream, it'll be fun.”
“That's Steve's wallet,” Sam points out, and Bucky smiles.
“I know,” he says lightly.
Fine. Whatever. Bucky can take him out and buy him ice cream, that’s not weird, and anyway, he owes Sam.
“Hey, have you seen my…” Steve’s saying, as they get back in the door a little later. Stares at the both of them, their ice cream cones. “My wallet?”
“Oh,” Bucky says. “Yeah. Here.” Digs Steve’s wallet out of his back pocket. Steve stares at them a little harder.
“You took my wallet to go out and buy yourselves ice cream,” he says eventually, sounding kind of pissy. “And what, you didn’t even get me any?”
“Your best friend is an asshole who ate all my dairy-free,” Sam tells him. Bucky elbows him in the ribs, sharp.
“Your best friend is a weirdo who can’t eat normal fuckin’ ice cream,” he says, argumentative. Steve glares at them both.
“Neither of you are my best friends,” he says, “because neither of you bought me any fucking ice cream. I liked it better when you weren’t buddies.”
“We’re not,” Bucky shrugs. Catches a drip of ice cream with his tongue.
“Yeah,” Sam agrees. “Anyway, there’s a fresh carton in the freezer. Barnes here didn’t even need to buy himself a cone.”
“I did,” Bucky says, elbowing Sam again. “We only got vanilla in the house. I wanted chocolate chip.” There’s another drip of ice cream about to run down the side of the cone; Sam doesn’t say a word about it, just watches as it gets closer to Bucky’s fingers. Steve sighs. Goes to the freezer, grabs the carton, slams the door a little harder than necessary. Bucky glances at Sam, and smiles just a little, secretive like they’re getting away with something.
The drip hits his fingers. Bucky squawks, transfers the cone into his other hand, licks sticky melted ice cream off his hand.
Oh, Sam thinks, fuck, and looks away, too late.
Sam’s not precisely into early mornings—it took him a while to wean himself off the habit, but the enforced nothingness of the safehouse schedule has done it in the end—but apparently Bucky’s even less about it, because Sam’s finished his oatmeal and is working on his third cup of coffee when Bucky appears, shirtless, looking hollow-eyed and bleary, the matte black of his new arm standing out stark against his skin.
“Put a fucking shirt on, would you,” Sam mutters into his cup, and Bucky blinks at him, looks down at himself and blinks again like his lack of a shirt is surprising. It shouldn’t be endearing, Sam thinks. It’s kind of endearing.
“Right,” he says, “yeah, shirt,” and disappears, comes back in pulling on the same shirt he’d worn yesterday. Beelines for the coffee pot, and Sam almost, but doesn’t quite, feel guilty.
There’s a brief pause as Bucky processes the situation. Looks at the empty pot, and reaches for the canister, stares at the flecks of grounds at the bottom. “You,” Bucky says, after a minute. “You drank all the coffee.” It's not even accusatory; he just sounds resigned.
“Yeah,” Sam says, tilting his mug to swallow the final mouthful. “I did.”
“All the coffee.”
“Yep,” Sam agrees. “Spot on, Barnes.”
Bucky's lips press into a thin line. “Right,” he says, “okay,” and reaches for the keys and Steve’s wallet where they’re in the bowl on the shelf next to the door. Slams the door behind him. Reappears twenty minutes later carrying a cardboard tray of takeaway coffees, a paper bag full of pastries tucked under one arm.
“Soy latte,” he says, handing a paper cup to Sam. Sam feels his eyebrows go up a little.
“You didn't have to get me one,” he tells Bucky, “seeing how I was a jerk about drinking the whole pot, and all.”
“I know,” Bucky shrugs, “I wanted to,” and he waits until Sam's taken a sip before adding, “I got you decaf. Since you drank the whole pot, and all. Figured you didn’t need any more caffeine in your system.”
“Jerk,” Sam mutters, “you know decaf tastes like ass,” but it's without heat. Bucky grins at him, sharp and playful, and dumps the packet of dark roast on the counter, takes his own coffee and flops down on the couch with his book like maybe he's gonna live there for the next five hours. Digs a cinnamon scone out of the bag, cracks open his paperback.
“Gimme some of that,” Sam says, because it looks good, dammit. Bucky rolls his eyes at him.
“Oh, now you want to share,” he grumbles, but he waves the paper bag. “There’s another one in here, come on. Don’t say I’m never nice to you.”
“You’re very nice to me,” Sam agrees. Settles at the other end of the couch, nudging Bucky’s butt with his foot so he’s got room to stretch out.
“Well, this is worryingly domestic,” Steve says half an hour later, back from his run and dripping sweat all over their floor, and Bucky just rolls his eyes again.
“You’re the one who wanted us to be pals,” he says without looking away from his book. “There’s a coffee for you on the counter. Might be kind of cold by now.”
“Oh,” Steve says, a little taken aback. “Hey, thanks. You went out to the coffee shop already? Early for you.”
“I guess,” Bucky murmurs, sounding distracted. Sam blinks; he’d kind of expected Bucky to bitch about it, but Bucky doesn’t say a word, just runs his tongue over his lower lip, turns another page.
The weird peace between them doesn’t last. Or, rather, it lasts exactly as long as they’re reading on the couch together, and then Bucky disappears into his and Steve’s bedroom for something, and Sam gets up to grab a drink. The only soda in the house is some weird South African off-brand, and sugar-free on top of that, but Sam pours himself a glass anyway. Makes a face at the artificial taste of aspartame in his mouth but doesn’t stop drinking it. He’s kind of hungry, he thinks, and opens the fridge, considers his options, reaches for the jar of pickles.
The lid won’t open. He twists a little harder, and it still doesn’t budge, not even a fraction.
Sam takes a deep breath. “Barnes!” he yells, glaring at the fridge door, and then Bucky appears in the doorway and Sam transfers his glaring to him.
“What?” Bucky asks, a little out of breath, and Sam raises an eyebrow, hands him the pickles.
“Stop doing up the lids so fucking tight,” he snaps, and Bucky bites his lip like he's hiding a smile.
“Sorry,” he says, sounding at least half genuinely apologetic. Twists open the jar. “Still getting used to the new settings, I guess.”
“We could have left your ass in cryo,” Sam tells him. “It's not too late for me to get T’Challa on the line and put you back in the freezer.”
“Whatever,” Bucky shrugs. Hands Sam the open jar. “You'd miss me, Wilson, you know it.”
“I wouldn't miss shit!” Sam yells after him, but he can't help smiling as he says it.
Things keep going like that, friction interspersed with odd moments of easy companionship, or maybe the other way around. Sam spends his days sleeping late, finishes his book and starts another one, writes another postcard and sends it to Monique; this one has giraffes on it, and he’s pretty sure she’ll love it. Steve takes a call from Tony, and it lasts for a whole fifteen minutes before Steve’s tightening his jaw and glowering at the tabletop.
“Pretty sure that’s a record,” Bucky mutters to Sam as they’re watching it happen from the living room. “No raised voices, nobody even broke anything.”
“Once,” Sam replies, talking out of the corner of his mouth, “back when we were all living in the Avengers base upstate, they got into a discussion about the direction of the Democrats for the mid-terms and it only took five minutes before Steve called Tony a fascist and Tony told him they could go a round in the middle of the team dinner.”
“You know I can hear you,” Steve sighs mildly. Sam shrugs.
“Tony threw a handful of mashed potato at him,” he tells Bucky, who cackles loudly. “And then Steve got mad because that's a waste of food, called Tony a spoiled rich guy who'd never missed a meal in his life and didn't know what it meant to be poor, so how could he criticise working-class voting patterns.”
“It's disrespectful,” Steve says as if he's actually a part of this conversation. “People going hungry, still, and Tony's gonna throw food at me? Come on.”
“Didn't it shame him into funding a soup kitchen for like a year?” Sam asks, and Steve smiles just a little.
“Five,” he says. “And he held a benefit to fundraise for food banks, raised half a million bucks serving rich people canned food. Fuck, I should call him back, huh.”
Sam doesn't bother to reply; Steve's already heaving a sigh, grabbing the burner phone and dialing Tony again.
“Tell me you got a photo of Steve covered in mashed potato,” Bucky says to Sam, quiet. Sam smirks.
“In his eyelashes,” he says. “It's on my old phone, so if Ross ever cracks that security I'm sure he'll get a thrill out of it, but I probably uploaded it to the cloud. I'll check the next time we go down to that internet cafe on the next block.”
He did upload it to the cloud; Sam blesses his past self’s level of foresight, and then forwards the photo to Bucky, who immediately prints it out and sticks it to their fridge, and also makes mashed potatoes for dinner for the next week.
“Aw, come on,” Steve complains, but things seem a little less tense with Tony after that, so Sam guesses he’s willing to tolerate a higher than usual amount of potato-based meals. At least Bucky seasons it properly.
Three weeks later, Sam’s supposed to be taking the next negotiation call alongside Steve when he wakes up at five in the morning feeling like death warmed over. Bucky finds him in the bathroom an hour later, stands in the doorway and blinks at him for a minute.
“What's wrong with you?”
Sam scowls. “Nothing,” he says, but it's undercut by heaving into the toilet bowl.
“You're sick,” Bucky says dispassionately. “Food poisoning?”
“Just a bug,” Sam says weakly after another bout of retching. “I'll be fine.”
“Hmm,” Bucky says. Walks away without another word, and Sam thinks, weirdo, before he's distracted again by throwing up what feels like everything he's ever eaten.
It’s okay. He can do this. There should be some Pedialyte powder somewhere—they keep a stock of it after the fifth time Steve ran fifteen miles and forgot to rehydrate—and he drags himself up, squints at the stash of meds in the cabinet. Nothing, shit, they must have run out. This is just getting better and better.
“I told you,” Bucky is saying to Steve as Sam shuffles into the kitchen, “Steve, didn’t I fuckin’ tell you—” but he cuts himself off as he sees Sam. Steve huffs out a sigh like they’re in the middle of an argument. Draws a deep breath to say something probably unnecessarily loud in return, and just as Sam’s about to say, preemptive, shut it, Rogers, Bucky shoves Steve’s shoulder, hisses under his breath.
“No fucking way,” he tells Sam, “don’t you take another step, pal, the last thing we need is for you to go spreading your damn stomach flu germs all over the kitchen,” but his tone is gentler than his words, like perhaps he kind of feels sorry for Sam.
“Fuck you,” Sam manages, “I just need a glass of water.” Leans in the doorway, closes his eyes.
“What you need,” Bucky starts. Falls quiet, and Sam hears him mutter to Steve, Steve’s footsteps as he disappears down the hall. The fridge door opens and closes, and then Bucky’s touching Sam’s shoulder, very gentle.
“Here,” he says. “Gatorade, that’ll do you better than water,” and Sam doesn’t open his eyes, just sips the Gatorade gratefully. The bottle is cool in his hands, and he presses it to his forehead, sighs a little.
“You should go back to bed,” Bucky tells him, “sleep it out.”
“Can’t,” Sam says, “we got—” but sways with another wash of nausea.
“Come on,” Bucky says again. Presses his hand back between Sam’s shoulder blades, gets him up and back into his bedroom. It’s dim, curtains closed—Steve must have come in and shut them again, Sam thinks—and Bucky manages to bully him into bed, pulls the covers back up over his shoulders. Sets a bowl down beside the bed, just in case.
“This sucks,” Sam mutters, “fuck, I hate it,” and Bucky exhales, touches his forehead very lightly.
“Yeah, sweetheart, I know,” he agrees. Disappears for a minute, and when he comes back, it’s with a cool washcloth, the smell of peppermint oil.
“Oh,” Sam sighs, “oh, that’s—” and the dark and the cold and the scent, it drags him down into soothing quiet.
He manages to keep the Gatorade down, and even sleeps for a few hours. Staggers out of bed that evening for exactly long enough that Bucky spots him, frowns, points meaningfully back towards his bedroom.
“Jesus, you’re worse than my mom,” Sam grumbles, and Steve grins at him.
“Pal, you got no idea,” he says, “this guy mother-henned the entire damn regiment,” and Bucky switches from frowning at Sam to glaring at Steve.
“You don't gotta bring that all up,” he growls. “Go on, sweetheart, back into bed and I'll bring you some dry toast.”
“Oh,” Steve says meaningfully, tone arch as he turns a page, “he’s sweetheart now, huh? I thought you weren't buddies?”
“Shut up,” Bucky mutters, flushing scarlet all the way to his hairline. Huh, Sam thinks, and files that away to consider later. “Bed, Wilson, before you puke all over us.”
“I’m not gonna puke all over anything,” Sam says, “I’m feeling way better, come on,” but he gets back into bed, pulls the covers up, and Bucky does bring him some toast, a mug of ginger tea.
“How’d you know?” Sam asks, and then, when Bucky just looks confused, clarifies his statement. “About the peppermint, I mean. I’ve never…”
“Oh,” Bucky says. “Yeah. It’s just, right, coming out of cryo, it fucks with your stomach for a while. Not such a big deal while I was in Hydra, they mostly had me on protein shakes, but for a while after, uh, after DC, I had to stick with oatmeal, plain white rice, that kind of thing. Figured out the peppermint helps, so. I got some more while I was in Wakanda, brought it with me.”
“Well,” Sam says, yawning. “It’s better than my gram’s cure, that’s for sure. She used to grate up a potato into a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out the juice, make me drink it. She swore by it until the day she died, and let me tell you, I loved my grandma but it would have been a damn sight pleasanter if she’d scrubbed the potato a little more first.”
“Your grandmother made you drink grated raw potato juice,” Bucky says, wrinkling his nose. “Pal, Hydra kept me alive for at least a decade on unflavored protein slurry and that still sounds awful, Christ.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sam mumbles. Feels his eyes begin to drift closed, and opens them again valiantly, fighting sleep. “Fuck, I can’t believe I missed that call today. I really wanted the chance to yell at Secretary Ross myself instead of just asking Steve to do it on my behalf, he never gets the phrasing right even when I write it down for him.”
“Oh, you didn’t hear? Ross’s been fired,” Bucky says, with not a little satisfaction. “Yeah, turns out engineering that degree of international clusterfuck doesn’t look great in your job history.”
“Man,” Sam says, giving into the urge to close his eyes properly this time. Feels Bucky slide the mug out of his hand just as he slips into sleep.
The next time Sam’s at the store writing his postcards, he glances at the section of notebooks, chews his lip contemplatively. Maybe it’s weird, maybe it’s overstepping the bounds, but—
“Here,” he says when he gets home. Drops the paper bag on Bucky’s stomach. “Got you something.”
“Oh,” Bucky says, rubbing his ribs where the corner of the book must have jabbed him, “jeez, pal, you didn’t have to,” but then he opens the bag, pulls out the notebook, falls silent for long enough Sam’s suddenly just a little worried.
“You can take it back,” he says, “if you don’t like the color, I just figured—” and Bucky reaches out, grabs Sam by the wrist.
“You bought me a notebook,” he says, quiet, and Sam nods. Watches Bucky stroke his fingers slowly over the forest-green leather binding.
“Yeah,” he says, a bit too slow. “I mean, you looked after me while I was sick, right, I thought I should say thanks, or something.”
“We’re friends,” Bucky says; it’s probably not meant to sound like a question, but it does, his tone tilting up at the end. “You don’t gotta say thanks.”
“Well,” Sam shrugs. “My mama raised me with manners, I guess.”
“Oh, she did, huh?” Bucky’s eyes crinkle at the corners, and Sam knows before he says it that Barnes is about to rag the shit out of him. “First I’ve ever seen of it, Wilson.”
“Whatever,” Sam huffs. Sits down on Bucky’s feet very deliberately. “I’m very polite.”
“Uh huh,” Bucky murmurs. Wriggles to try and get out from under Sam’s ass. “I believe you, darlin’. Christ, you’re heavy.”
“It’s all the muscles,” Sam tells him. Shifts his weight, stretches out so Bucky’s trapped. “What, you can only throw me across a room when you’ve got your winter soldier thing going on?”
“I threw you across a room?”
“Oh, come on, you telling me you don’t remember?”
“I grabbed you by the face,” Bucky says slowly like he’s piecing together the memory. Reaches up and traces his fingertips over Sam’s jaw. “Fuck, no wonder you weren’t a fan of me.”
“What makes you think I’m a fan of you now?” Sam jokes, and Bucky pauses, looks intently at Sam, drags his thumb over Sam’s lower lip. It’s slow enough the gesture is telegraphed; Sam could pull away. Doesn’t.
“You bought me a notebook,” Bucky points out, as if that means anything.
It means something. Sam’s just not sure what.
“I’m gonna make some dinner,” he says, pushing himself up. “You hungry?”
“Nah,” Bucky says, looking away. “I already ate.”
Yeah, Sam thinks, it means something, and knows he’s gonna be thinking about this the whole damn night.
When he’s done with dinner, he dumps his plate in the sink along with the pots. Pours himself a glass of water and goes to head back to his book; he’s almost done, and it’s better than he expected when he picked it up off the shelf at random.
“Wilson!” Bucky yells five minutes later. Sam turns around, raises his eyebrows.
“Get back here and do your damn dishes. Don’t think you can go fluttering your pretty eyelashes at me and I’ll just roll over and do them for you.”
“You think my eyelashes are pretty,” Sam says, raising his eyebrows higher. Bucky clears his throat, gnaws his lip like he can’t decide which way to go with this.
“Yeah, you heard me,” he says in the end, maybe blushing a little. Sam squints at him. Definitely blushing a little. “You got pretty lashes and a sink of dirty dishes, Wilson, congratulations.”
“Aw, come on,” Sam says, “you don’t even wanna help me a little?”
“Since you asked so nice,” Bucky tells him, “I’ll dry. God, I didn’t even eat this dinner and I’m still helping you with your dishes, the fuck.”
“You threw me off a helicarrier one time,” Sam says as he fills the sink with soapy water. “Pretty sure that means you owe me one.”
“Yeah,” Bucky agrees eventually, squinting at Sam's face like it's got secrets he can't work out. “Guess it does.” He looks like he's getting morose about it; Sam regrets the jibe, suddenly. Flicks soapy foam at him to cover it, and then they're shoving each other, splashing the dishwater and making a mess of the floor, and that's just fine.
The kitchen's narrow enough Bucky has to squeeze past Sam to put the clean plates away, and the second time he does it he brushes Sam's hips with his fingertips like he wants to shift Sam out of the way. Then he's leaning over to hang up a ladle, pressing his palm to Sam's lower back as if he's gotta brace himself. It's careful, solicitous, entirely unnecessary. Sam flushes hot. Wants to lean right into it.
It's just because they've been in this damn safehouse so long, he tells himself. In each other's space, under each other's skin, and hell, it's not like Sam's had much of a chance to get out in the dating world recently. He's pretty sure the last time he actually got a successful date he was still living in DC.
“Behind you,” Bucky murmurs, and this time he actually squeezes Sam's hips, pauses minutely before letting go.
Is this a thing, Sam wants to ask, or maybe do you want this to be a thing, but his dishes are all done, and Bucky’s already hanging up the dish towel, walking away.
Sam should probably figure out if he wants this to be a thing, anyway, before he goes asking those kinds of questions. The guy fucking ripped out his steering wheel, threw him off a helicarrier; that’s got to count for something, right?
He thinks your eyelashes are pretty, he thinks to himself, and feels the imprint of Bucky’s thumb ghosting gentle over his lower lip.
“So,” Tony says a few days later, “you wanna hear the good news or the bad news?”
“Uh,” Steve says, and Sam kicks his ankle.
“We’ll take the good news,” he says, “but I gotta say, Stark, it has to be actual good news, not your engagement announcement, because we heard that one already all the way on the other side of the world. Congratulations, by the way. Don’t fuck it up.”
“Thanks,” Tony says, not rising to the bait. “We’re very happy, spring wedding, it’s gonna be lovely. Okay, good news it is. With Ross gone, there’s been a bit of a change in opinion, politically. Putting it bluntly, guys, it’s a bad look to have Cap as a war criminal, the President’s getting a lot of heat about it from both sides of the House. It’s either a violation of human rights and international legal process or a disrespectful desecration of a war hero who was brave enough to take a stand for America’s independence from the UN, depending which senator you get your soundbites from. Anyway, point being, now that Ross isn’t in the picture they want to settle things quietly, let everything calm down a little.”
“Are you saying we’re clear to come home?” Steve demands. Sam nudges Steve, pinches his arm.
“Yeah, Cap, you’re clear to come home,” Tony agrees, and Sam bites his lip.
“Barnes too?” he asks, quiet, and either there’s a few seconds delay on the international line or Tony pauses for a long moment before sighing.
“Yeah,” he says, “yeah, Barnes too. Kind of surprised to hear it coming from you, Wilson, I didn’t think you were his biggest fan.”
“We’ve mellowed,” Sam shrugs, knowing Tony must have mellowed too, knowing what this is costing him. “Wait, if that’s the good news what’s the bad?”
“Oh,” Tony says, like he forgot. “That. Yeah, the both of you are gonna have to come tux shopping, you gotta be my groomsmen. Rhodey insisted, threatened not to be my best man if he didn’t have you two running point for him and, I quote, keeping me off the booze and pills so I don’t embarrass myself on the wedding video.”
“Are you serious? Man, that’s not bad news.”
“We’d be honored,” Steve agrees. “Thanks, Tony. I appreciate it.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll email you the details of the settlement, I think it’s reasonable but you’ll wanna read it over, pick it apart, make sure there’s no secret underwater supermax hidden in the fine print.”
There’s no secret underwater supermax hidden in the fine print. There’s no carefully elided treason charges waiting for Rogers and Barnes to step back on US soil, no post-facto court martial and dishonorable discharge ready for Sam. It’s exactly what Tony said: embarrassed politicians, a settlement doing its best to repatriate them without making it a thing.
“Huh,” Sam says when he’s done reading it the second time. “Guess we’re going home.”
“Guess so,” Steve agrees, and for some reason Sam looks up from the kitchen table, glances at Bucky only to find that he’s looking right back at Sam, his expression hard to read.
“What?” Sam asks, and Bucky shrugs.
“Nothin’,” he says, and looks away.
Even with the deal on the table, it takes a few days to clear things up. Steve’s visibly champing at the bit, but Sam figures he’s got nowhere urgent to be—it’s taken this long, another day in Jo’burg isn’t that big a deal—and besides, he’s not done with his book just yet.
He wakes up late that night thirsty, gets up for a glass of water, and it’s not until he’s standing at the sink with the faucet running that he spots Bucky on the couch and jumps about a foot in the air.
“Lord almighty, you scared the fuck out of me.”
“Sorry,” Bucky says, “shit, sorry, I didn’t—”
“What's your problem?” Sam asks, squinting at Bucky as he drinks his water.
“No he doesn't,” Sam says. This much he knows.
“No,” Bucky agrees, “he doesn't.” He pulls his feet up onto the edge of the couch, wraps his arm around his shin and rests his chin on his knees. “He used to,” he adds. “Real bad. Could cut fucking glass with it. That’s the kind of sound you don’t forget, let me tell you.”
Sam nods. Fills the kettle from the faucet, flicks it on to heat.
“That get fixed with the serum?”
“Yeah,” Bucky agrees. Chews his lip. “Fixed everything, huh. It was weird, at first. In the barracks, in the Commandos, I had to get used to the sound of it again, his breathing.” He falls silent; the kettle comes to a boil, and Sam drops herbal tea bags into a couple of mugs, pours hot water over them and leaves them to steep.
“It's stupid,” Bucky says after a minute. Drags his palm over his face. “It's. The way Steve breathes. You know how long I slept next to him? It makes me feel like I was— and I'm not that guy anymore. I dunno. Don’t know why it’s suddenly a problem tonight, I’ve held out this long.”
“Going home,” Sam says. “That’s a thing, right? Normal to feel weird about it.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Bucky shrugs. “You excited? You got a sister, right? A niece?”
“Monique,” Sam agrees. Hands Bucky a mug of tea, sits down on the other end of the couch and cradles his own mug in his palms. “She just turned seven. It’s gonna be good to see her, that’s for sure. And my mom, that’ll be nice.”
“I’m glad,” Bucky says. Sips his tea. “You moving back to DC?”
“Honestly, I haven’t really thought about it,” Sam admits. Takes a moment to consider. “I mean, I quit my job at the VA after I started doing the superhero thing, let my lease expire, so I guess not. Stark said the facility upstate is still open, but I dunno how I feel about that. Be kinda nice to get my own place, although fuck knows where I’ll find one in New York these days.”
“I can find you an illegal squat in, like, three hours,” Bucky says. Grins, showing all his teeth. “A day, tops.”
“Thanks,” Sam says, dry. Shoves Bucky’s thigh. “I’d prefer something with running water, if you don’t mind. Central heat, that kind of thing. A lockable door, maybe.”
“God, you’re so picky. Fine, guess it’ll just be me by myself in my illegal squat.”
“You kidding? Steve’s gonna insist you get a place together, if he doesn’t make you go upstate with him.”
“He’s gonna insist, huh?” Bucky says. Twists his mouth up slightly, a painful little smile that only lifts at one side. “Not sure how that’s gonna go for him.”
“Oh,” Sam says, taking in the set of Bucky’s shoulders. “That’s what this is about?”
“He snores,” Bucky mutters, exactly as if he’s trying to dodge the issue, and Sam rolls his eyes.
“He doesn’t snore, man, we established that. Ugh, I gotta get back to bed.”
“Yeah,” Bucky says. “Yeah, I— thanks for the tea, Sam.”
Sam nods. Pushes himself up to his feet, looks at Bucky’s tired face.
“Come on,” he says. “You can share with me. One night offer. As long as you don’t steal all the blankets.”
“Yeah?” Bucky asks. “I— you sure?”
“It’ll be fine,” Sam shrugs, as if saying it will make it true. The way Bucky smiles, though, small and pleased, Sam knows it’s something.
They climb into bed and Bucky is cautious about it, keeps careful space between the two of them to begin with. Sam settles quicker than he’d thought he might—there’s something even kind of nice about Barnes’ solid weight next to him—and he’s right on the edge of sleep when Bucky shifts restlessly, rolls closer.
“Sam,” Bucky whispers, just as Sam’s beginning to think he’s fallen asleep after all, and Sam rolls over, squints at Bucky in the darkness.
“We could get an apartment.”
I— what, Sam thinks, what, and maybe he takes too long to reply, because Bucky huffs out a sigh, rolls onto his back. “Never mind. It’s stupid.”
“No, I mean—” Sam starts. Reaches out, intending to grab Bucky’s wrist, and winds up poking him in the stomach. “Sorry, shit. You were serious?”
“Of course I was serious,” Bucky says. “You don’t wanna live upstate, Steve doesn’t want me living alone, none of us can fuckin’ afford New York. We’ve all lived here without killing each other so far.”
“Oh,” Sam says. “You mean, like— the three of us? Roommates?”
“Well, yeah. What’d you think I meant?”
“I dunno,” Sam says. He does know, it’s only— He yawns loudly to cover it, breathes out a long sigh. “I don’t know, man, you’re a terrible roommate. You eat my ice cream and take up all the damn space on the couch.”
“I cannot believe you,” Bucky says. “You’re still holding grudges over that? I bought you more ice cream, for shits sake. You never make more coffee when you’ve finished the pot, and you make me share my pastries every time I buy something good, and you leave your books lying all over the place for people to trip on.”
“You use up all the hot water!” Sam says, defensive now, and Bucky laughs low and amused.
“You always shower before me,” he says, and that’s true, goddamnit, and Sam knows it.
“Well,” he says, trying to recover. “I dunno. I’ll think about it in the morning.”
“Yeah,” Bucky murmurs, “you do that, sweetheart,” and Sam pokes him again, this time deliberately.
“I invited you in here,” he says pointedly, and Bucky laughs again, grabs Sam’s hand and pulls him in closer so Sam’s arm is slung across Bucky’s chest.
“Yeah, yeah, you’re very nice like that. And here I am keeping you awake.”
“And making me be the big spoon, apparently,” Sam grumbles, but he doesn’t pull his hand away. Just strokes his thumb over the base of Bucky’s ribs, and listens to Bucky hum under his breath like he’s quietly satisfied. Yeah, Sam thinks, on the edge of sleep, I think we’re gonna make this a thing, and feels himself drift.
He wakes in the gray of early morning to find that he’s moved closer in the night, his hand drifting down Barnes’ ribcage to rest against the bare skin of his hip. Sam’s forehead is pressed close to the nape of Bucky’s neck, a tangle of dark hair tickling his cheek with every breath. It’s not unpleasant. He closes his eyes. Goes back to sleep.
When Sam gets back from the bathroom in the morning Bucky’s still asleep, his arm flung up over his face so that the pale underside of his bicep is visible. Sam pokes his foot.
“Hey, Barnes. Wake up.”
“Yeah, ‘m awake,” Bucky mumbles from behind his arm. Lies still a moment longer before propping himself up on his elbows, blinking slowly.
“The shower free?”
“Yeah, if you get there fast enough,” Sam tells him. “I don’t think Steve’s back from his run yet.”
“Cool,” Bucky mutters. Sits up, rubs his palm over his jaw, yawns wide and blinks at Sam. “You got up without waking me?”
“You don’t… seem super enthusiastic about mornings,” Sam shrugs. Opens his closet to grab a clean t-shirt.
“But you got up,” Bucky says, plaintive. Yawns again. “Why’d you get up?”
“It’s like nine in the morning,” Sam tells him, “it ain’t exactly early, man,” and apparently that satisfies Bucky, because he flops back against the pillows, stretches his arms above his head and watches Sam get dressed, looks around his room in the half-light of the morning shining in around the edges of the window blind.
“Did you like the plant?” Bucky asks, and all Sam can do is stare at him a little blankly.
“The plant,” Bucky agrees, gesturing at Sam’s lily. Sam pauses.
“Wait. That was you?”
“I thought you might like it,” Bucky shrugs. “After getting off the Raft, I just thought— in Bucharest I had plants. Not in my apartment, it was too dark with how I had to cover all the windows, but up on the roof. Put ‘em all in pots, had a nice little garden. I guess they’re all dead now, or maybe the woman across the hall is taking care of it now, I dunno. I hope so.”
Sam remembers the potted garden; he’d knocked his ankle against one, watched a SWAT team kick them over like they didn’t give a fuck about some Bucharest resident’s plants. Fuck, he thinks, and focuses.
“You gave me the plant,” Sam says again, and Bucky blinks.
“Yeah,” he says, like Sam is slow. “Went out and found it before I went into cryo. I thought you'd like the color, even though it wasn't flowering.”
“Oh,” Sam says, and pauses; Bucky bought him a plant, Bucky bought him a goddamn plant before going into goddamn fucking cryo, and he's here in Sam's bed, and— “Fuck, Barnes, you—”
He drops the pair of jeans he was about to put on. Bends over, takes Bucky’s face in his hands and kisses him long and slow and sweetly intent. Bucky’s lips are chapped, and his mouth tastes stale: he hasn’t brushed his teeth yet. Sam doesn't care.
“Christ,” Bucky says when Sam finally pulls away; his pupils are dilated dark, and he fists a hand in Sam’s shirt to stop him from going too far, leans up for another kiss. “If I’d known that’s what it’d take, sweetheart, I’d have bought you about a thousand plants by now, I swear to god.”
“Yeah?” Sam says. Gives in, climbs back into bed so he’s sitting in Bucky’s lap, and Bucky immediately settles his hands on Sam’s hips, plays with the hem of Sam’s shirt like he wants to tug it off. “You can still buy me a thousand plants, I guess, we’re gonna have an apartment in New York to fill.”
“Yeah,” Bucky says, “I— yeah, okay, Christ,” and that makes Sam laugh, makes him kiss Bucky again, makes them slide down into bed together so Bucky can get his hands under Sam’s shirt and Sam can tangle his fingers up in Bucky’s hair. They’re packing up the safehouse that day, Sam’s pretty sure, and knows he never wants to move, wants to stay right here under the covers with Bucky kissing him breathless.
“So, you changed your mind about being roommates?”
“You’re a goddamn terrible roommate,” Sam tells him. Draws his fingertips lazily in swirls down Bucky’s side. “It’s lucky I’ve gotten used to it.”
“Oh, I’m terrible,” Bucky huffs, and sinks his teeth into the skin over Sam’s collarbone. “You take that back, Wilson.”
“Nah,” Sam says, and apparently Bucky takes that as a challenge, because half an hour later Sam’s gasping, laughing breathlessly, grabbing at the sheets and trying desperately to stop himself from arching up into Bucky’s mouth.
“Just say it,” Bucky says, low and hot. Grazes his teeth over Sam’s hip. “Come on, darling, just say it.”
“You’re not—” Sam gets out, “fuck, fine, you’re not a terrible roommate, will you just—”
“Yeah,” Bucky growls, and fucking finally gets his mouth on Sam’s dick, Jesus Christ, Sam’s pretty sure he’s never been about to come so fast in his goddamn life.
“I got some bad news for you, though,” he tells Bucky when he’s recovered, when he’s rolled over onto his side and taken Bucky’s dick in hand and stroked him slow and easy until Bucky had come wet and messy all over the both of them.
“Can’t be that bad,” Bucky shrugs. “Unless it’s, like, hey Barnes, there was some fine print in that settlement after all. What is it, baby?”
“You gotta be a plus-one for me at Tony’s wedding,” Sam says, “and we’ll try not to cause an international incident,” and watches with satisfaction as Bucky frowns and then smiles and then laughs out loud, kisses Sam again.
“Yeah,” he says, “sure, fuck, why not. We’ll give ‘em a plant,” and that makes Sam dissolve into laughter, makes him reach for Bucky all over again.
Yeah, he thinks, finally, this is— this is a thing, and it feels good, it feels right; it feels like going home.