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just won't do right

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Bucky has been ignoring Sam's texts. 

Even though that had been a little hard to admit both to himself and Dr. Raynor. 

After the blip, or reverse blip, whatever they're calling it, and Stark's funeral, it was only him and Sam for a while. 

They'd been kind of lost, kind of wandering around the forgotten wasteland everyone stumbled back into. And that had been perfect in a way, in a very comforting and familiar way. Bucky had gotten just a little too comfortable. 

Sam sprung it on him, early one Autumn morning: He was planning on returning home to be with his family. His sister needed help with the business, and Sam had mentioned feeling guilty about leaving Sarah. And he gets that; being missing for five years had played hard on everyone, but Bucky hadn't precisely lost anything. 

Except for Sam.

He saw Sam off the morning he left. Stood watching as the plane whisked him away, and suddenly everything had felt quieter. Emptier. 

Thing is, it wasn't just comfort in the wild unknown of their post-blip life. Sam wasn't just comfort. Sam was… damn. Bucky found himself stealing glances far too often at the way Sam smiled, his funny little quirks, his weird possessiveness about Redwing. More often than not, he'd find himself close to Sam like a shadow, always guarding and watchful. 

He dreamt of Sam too, dreamt of them together and admitting how he felt out loud. He was falling hard, and he'd done that one too many times; he knew it only ended in tragedy each time. Still, he stayed close, hoping Sam would have the courage to say something if he even felt anything at all because Bucky would never get it past his lips.

But Sam left instead.

 

 

1 July, 15:11

Wilson: Hey man, just checking in. How's it going in NY?

2 July, 06:00

Wilson: Flip phones don't got a reply button now, huh?

5 July, 14:33

Wilson: Dude, I'm worried. Text me back when you can.

10 July, 07:21

Wilson: Anyway I hope you're good, staying out of trouble and all. 

16 July, 19:00

Wilson: I was thinking about that night we went to see Star Wars at the open-air cinema. 

They got one here too. We can go if you visit. Let me know.

19 July, 23:45

Wilson: Buck? Come on man.

You know what fine

Whatever

20 July, 00:00

Wilson: Pepper sent over samosas today, I know you like them, like that place down on 4th.

Anyway they made me think about you.

29 July, 17:01

Wilson: png_i5153 *unreadable content*

Goddamnit Bucky

I sent you a picture of the docks at sunset. It's nice. Kinda romantic shit you'd like. The sky is pink tonight. You'd love it, you should come see it.

Bucky stares at the screen, flips it shut, and stares up at his celling instead. At least there's a game on t.v tonight. It should get his mind off the nagging feeling that screams "Sam" from every fiber of his body. 


"You should go see her," Says Yori during lunch at the sushi bar. Bucky looks bewildered from Leah to Yori and feels his face heat up. 

"Who?" he says, mouth full, definitely not making eye contact with either of them.

Yori motions to his face, crinkles his nose up, "The one that makes you look stupid like this." He flutters his eyes.

"Wow." Bucky pops another Maki in his mouth, "That's nice." 

"Go see her." Yori pours more soy sauce on his already soaked roll and eats it. 

"I agree," says Leah with a smile, "Not that I don't enjoy the faces you make at your phone. But that's some shit you gotta sort out, man." 

"I'm finding another place to eat," he says, pointing at them with his chopsticks. They laugh.

He's wondering if perhaps they're right. Maybe hanging out with Sam again will do him some good. Maybe he's really just lonely and alone.

Later, back at his apartment, he calls Dr. Raynor, runs the idea by her, and expresses just how stupid he thinks it is. Because she loves when he fucking expresses stuff. She doesn't love that he "depreciates and devalues his own thoughts," though. 

Ultimately they agree that perhaps going to see Sam is in everyone's best interests. Might get him some closure, but he doesn't share that part. The last thing this woman needs to know is that Bucky is helplessly stupidly and one-sidedly in love with someone. A man at that. 

Maintain friendships, she said. So that's what he's going to do. Friendship. He's going to friendship the hell out of this.


Sam was right. 

The dock at sunset is exactly the kind of thing Bucky likes. It's all pink and grey and peachy hues. The clouds gather thick on the horizon, white balls shining with golden light. 

He stands and watches for a while, lets the last rays of sun bake on his face as it sets in the distance. And then—

"Barnes?" 

It feels like a shudder within hearing that voice. When he turns, Sam's up to his elbows in grease, wiping it on an old rag. There's a smudge on his cheek just below his eye, and he's kind of sweaty, wearing a loose and dirty white t-shirt and a pair of worn, washed jeans. 

"Hey, Sam," Bucky says, losing his voice in the middle of it, swallowing instead as Sam begins to smile. And yeah, he hadn't been prepared for that at fucking all. He'd forgotten just how goddamn devastating it can be. 

"You got my messages?" Sam asks. He comes closer, motions for Bucky to put his bag down on a bench. 

"There was a lot." He frowns.

"That's because you're meant to answer them. It's called a conversation." 

"That's not a conversation." 

Sam puts one greasy finger in the air, "The 21st century begs to differ."

So he's lost none of that infuriating cheek. Bucky is equal parts annoyed and nostalgic. He remembers the days after they just got back, and Sam's smart ass jokes were all that made him laugh. Late at night when they were up for no good reason, he'd let Sam talk him to sleep about some or other wild story from his childhood on these very docks, in this very town. 

He sighs, "Did you really invite me here to argue? 'Coz I can just—"

"No, no, no, come on, man. I'm fucking around. You hungry? Wanna eat?" he grins wide, expectantly, waggles his eyebrows, "We got fish." 

They do have fish. So many fish, buffets of different kinds of fish, a grill, a salad bar, battered and fried fish, and it all smells divine, yet Bucky can't shake the uneasy longing in his gut. 

He wants to be back in the tiny apartment they shared before Sam left. He wants to go back to Chinese take-out on Fridays and shitty action movies and playing monopoly to the point of fighting. He wants that safe feeling back, that complete contentment he felt when it was just them. 

But Sam's got all this now- his family, his home, friends, a whole life to get into. Sam has no reason to miss the bewilderment and confusion, the uncertainty and loneliness. There's no reason he'd miss Bucky or what they had. Or didn't have. 

"So therapy, huh?" Sam says, licks some sauce off his fingers, eyes flicking up at Bucky across the table. The lights draped around the wooden logs cast an orange glow all around him, kind of like the sunset. Same as the sunset, he's beautiful too. Far too much. Devastating, like he said.

He breathes in, makes himself stop looking, "It helps, plus it's obligatory for the pardon." 

Sam laughs, "She grilling your ass?" He pushes the hot sauce over to Bucky. He declines.

"Her and everyone else." 

"Woah Woah Woah, you got friends?" 

"Yeah, I got friends, Wilson. Jesus." 

"Who? Who are your friends then, huh?" 

"What? Are you jealous?" He doesn't honestly want to hear the answer to that, "I met them at the sushi place down the road." 

"For real, man?" Sam smiles, Bucky swears it looks a little sad, a little fond, something in between perhaps, but he's never seen this look on Sam before. Sam looks away, folds the corner of the menu, "That's good, Buck. That's real good."

It's quiet then, kind of awkward, while Bucky pecks at his salad and Sam dips a few prawns into the hot sauce without actually eating anything. 

"So," Sam finally says, clearing his throat, "Friends. Plural?"

Bucky nods, "Leah, Yori and… well Leah and Yori. Unique's kind of weird."

"Nice." Sam shifts in his seat, "Leah?" 

"Leah, yeah. Works at the sushi bar. Yori's been trying to set us up; the old man's convinced I need a lady in my life."

Sam laughs, "Wait, how old are they?" He leans forward, grinning so stupidly cute Bucky wants to punch him.

"No—hey, no. Come on, don't laugh. Yori's almost my age, but Leah, she's young." he rolls his eyes, scrunches his napkin into a ball, and tosses it at Sam, "Stop that." He can't help it, though; he starts chuckling too. The more Sam laughs, the more contagious it becomes. 

Then, for a brief second, it's how it was back then, just after the blip, when it was them alone in a shabby apartment, playing board games on the small coffee table. Back when he thought he'd find the courage one day to tell Sam just how he felt. When he thought he had all the time in the world.

Bucky rubs at his jaw with his gloved hand, he hasn't laughed like this in a good long while, and it aches a little, and then as the laughter dwindles, they're just sort of staring at each other. Also, awkwardly familiar. Still feels just as helpless as it always had, ever since he realized. 

But, fearing that Sam might notice, he talks instead, "What about you? Where's your friends?" 

Sam's mouth opens, about to answer, but he's cut short. 

"Sam!" 

There's a guy in a US Airforce uniform and a backpack, making his way over. Young and clean-shaven, sharp jaw, doe eyes with pink glowy cheeks.

Sam gives Bucky a look, "Speak of the devil." He gets up, drags an extra chair over to their table. They're pretty familiar too, Bucky thinks, judging by the way Sam's greeting him- a handshake turning into a hug, and a happy smile.

"Buck, this is First Lieutenant Torres," Sam says, “Torres, Bucky.”

"Oh, wow, hey man," says the young Lieutenant, holds his hand out to Bucky in greeting. "Nice to meet you." His fucking teeth are pearly white, and his skin is clear as goddamn glass, and he's sporting that bruised eye like it's a fashion statement.

Bucky bites down on the urge to growl—Dr. Raynor says that's a terrible thing to do "what the fuck James"—and shakes his hand, eyes him carefully although that doesn't deter the First Lieutenant over here; his gaze slinks right back to Sam. 

"Oh! I got Redwing something!" They sit down, and the kid starts digging through his backpack. Pulls out a motherboard and a flash drive of some kind, "Now this stuff we can keep up with. It's brand new from the base." And he's beaming, grinning wider than Bucky thought someone's mouth could go. 

Sam fawns over the tech, smiles up at Torres in awe, "This is the good shit, man! How'd you even get this?" 

"Oh, it's nothing. Just had my CO make a few calls." He sheepishly scratches the back of his neck, "He knows a few guys, so—"

Sam's eyebrows go up, impressed, and he reaches over to squeeze Torres' shoulder, "This is amazing, kid. Thanks, really."

Bucky sits and watches in utter horror as the pink darkens on Torres' cheeks. 

Oh, he realizes. 

Oh.

Fuck.

This kid's completely in love with Sam, Bucky thinks with terrible clarity, still watching Sam gush about the tech Torres brought him, and, in turn, watching Torres smile so hard he might start vibrating.  

And fuck. How'd he not think about this? That perhaps Sam had moved on, perhaps he was out there… doing stuff with people. How'd it not occur to him that there's someone out there absolutely perfect for Sam, someone kind and good and without all of Bucky's gross baggage?

It occurs to him now though, and it's sobering at best, crushing at worst.

"Evening, gentleman," a woman says from beside Sam. Must he be his sister, she's gorgeous; he sees the resemblance instantly. Though, Sarah seems a little quieter, reserved, wiser than Sam, if he thinks about it. 

"Ah," Sam says, reaching up to flip the ends of Sarah's braids. She smacks his hand away, "Ow—this is my sister, Sarah."

Torres shoots up, holds his hand out to take hers, and then fucking kisses it. Jesus Christ. 

"Ma'am, the name's Joaquín. It's a pleasure."

"Oh my," she laughs, "I think the pleasure's definitely mine."

Before Bucky thinks any better of it, he's up too, knocking Torres aside with his hip. 

"Bucky Barnes," he flips her left hand over, checking for a ring, "Miss Wilson, is it?" and masters an easy rule 3 smile. "Thrilling to meet you, truly."

"Oh my god, yeah. Sarah's fine though—Sam, where've you been keeping these finely jawed men all this time?" She says, regarding both Bucky and Torres with amusement. 

Torres frowns at Bucky, still smiling, constantly goddamn smiling with his mouth full of perfect white teeth. 

Sam's just eyeing them both suspiciously, "Uhh," he laughs, "Okay, well, now that we're all acquainted, wanna join me at the house for a cigar?" 

Sarah waves them off, "I got stuff to do here, can't sit around smoking all day."

Torres salutes her, and so does Bucky. Because fuck this guy.

"You got some fans, huh?" Bucky hears Sam tell his sister as he stalks out of the restaurant.

"I think you do actually," Sarah says, amused.

"Huh?" 

"See you later, superhero man." 

Bucky practically feels her eye roll from here; he's enjoying this conversation.

"Wait, what does that mean? Sarah!"

"Hey, wait up!" Torres calls from behind him, jogging to fall in line with Bucky. 

Great. Just great. He has to pretend to be totally fine now. He's gotten pretty great at pretending, actually. He's so good at it now that sometimes he convinces even himself. But the ugly, angry feeling currently bubbling in his chest, that annoying niggling pain of rejection, that's… he's not sure he knows how to conceal that. He's not even sure he wants to.

He keeps walking.

"So, uh, you with the Avengers too?" Torres asks.

"No," Bucky says, hands shoved deep in his coat pockets. He looks straight ahead.

"Oh. How do you know Sam then?"

Bucky's head whips to him, "How do you?"

Torres chuckles nervously. He is cute; Bucky gives him that, "He did some work for the airforce, I helped. He's pretty great, huh?"

Bucky hates this. This kid doesn't know Sam. He's got no idea. So what, he's seen him fly a few times, seen him up in the sky when he's free and soaring, and he thinks he knows him? No. He hasn't heard Sam whimpering through a nightmare; he doesn't know Riley, doesn't know the pain Sam carries every time he's up in the sky.

"He's awesome." Bucky does the thing that Dr. Raynor calls a half-assed smile. He doesn't care. 

They all meet up at the house. Redwing's lying in the middle of an old wooden table on the porch among screws and wires and tools, and they sit down around him. Sam brings out his cigar box and a few beers. He hands them out then props his legs up on the porch rail, and exhales hard. 

Bucky pokes absently at Redwing's body when Torres says, "Oh, Sam's very protective of Redwing, doesn't like people touching him."

And Bucky knows. God, he knows this. He remembers it, remembers Sam hunched over the little A.I late at night, tightening up screws, downloading new software, flicking Bucky's hand away when he tried touching anything. 

He glares at Torres, blinking away slowly and takes a sip of his beer instead. That way he won't say anything he'll regret.

The night drags on like that, Sam and Torres joking, talking about mission intel, laughing about some idiots at work. Torres keeps looking at Sam like he hung the moon and Sam gets all coy about it, Torres makes him smile, makes him laugh. It's just like Bucky and Sam used to be, and it eats away at him slowly.

Deep down, he curses the serum for keeping him from getting absolutely shitfaced right now. He'd leave, but he doesn't want to leave Sam.

But the terrible thought of having to share Sam with this guy, forever being on the outskirts watching, makes him choke up. 

"Uhm," he shoots up, chair scraping, "I'm, uh," he forces the tight smile again, and Sam knowing what Bucky's real smile looks like, frowns, "I'm beat. Can I—" 

Sam gets up too, "Yeah man, Sarah's got the cottage keys, she'll—"

"Okay," he says and jogs down the steps, feels Sam's eyes on his back all the way to the docks. 

God fucking damn it.

 

Chapter Text

Bucky is awake far too early the following morning.

He scoops up the blankets he'd spread out on the floor beside the couch and folds them neatly, places the pillow back on the bed, and gets himself in the shower.

He's in there a while, just standing with his forehead against the cold tile, thinking. It's no surprise that when he closes his eyes, there's only one face that appears. Sam. Always Sam. 

Bucky thinks about him in that oil-stained white t-shirt, the way it clung around his biceps. Bucky lets himself imagine just for a second what it'd feel like if that was all his, if he could touch, how it would feel if Sam wrapped him in a hug with those arms. He imagines, foolishly, Sam coming home to him every day, laying down beside him each night. Sam choosing him. 

And then he remembers Joaquín and his perfect face and the honest to god goodness seeping out of him and instead imagines him in Sam's arms, him in Sam's bed, him at the receiving end of Sam's smile.

He gears up, pulls back, but stops himself from making a vibranium fist-sized dent in Sarah's tile and instead takes a deep breath through his nose. 

Once he's dried off, he gets dressed, pours himself some coffee, and goes to watch the sunrise outside the cottage. A little while later, he decides to walks up to the main house where Sarah told him to meet for breakfast. He's early, so he sits by the old table on the porch and waits.

Redwing's still laid out there and has a spring protruding from his side that looks easy enough to repair. He picks up a screwdriver, twisting the spring back inside, lines it up to the mini rocket slope, and screws it shut. 

Sam, rounding the property on his morning run, decides to jog by at the exact moment that Bucky's holding Redwing up to inspect his belly. 

"Aw hell." He rolls his eyes, places the bot down, and holds his hands up, "Sorry."

Sam all sweaty and downright sinful, climbs the steps up to the porch. Out of breath he says, "Nah, man. It's cool. What's up?" He nods to Redwing and sits down next to Bucky.

It's not even that close, they've been closer, but Bucky's breath catches. Sam's wearing shorts, his legs are bare and far more muscular than Bucky remembers, he's in a blue sleeveless top, and his arms are bulging and glistening, and Bucky can't fucking think right. 

"Uh. Had a spring loose. One of the rocket propellers." 

Sam makes an impressed face, nods, "Nice. Thanks." He's quiet as he turns Redwing over and pics him up, "He got nicked with a bullet here." There's a burnt scrape on his belly, and to Bucky's surprise, Sam hands him over for Bucky to see. "Now, when I activate Chase Mode, he toggles left."

Bucky stares at Sam then at Redwing in his hands, knowing full well this man hates hands other than his own fiddling with his robot bird. Bucky blinks, "Weight down his right side." 

Sam smiles, sudden and bright, "Shit, that could work!" And Bucky's stuck on Sam's gaze again, the warm glow of it, the long swooping curl of his lashes, those cheekbones, that smile. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, help me, he thinks uselessly. 

He thinks, too, that if he weren't such a coward, and had the guts to come out and say it, now would have been the moment. 

The sun is peeking out over the horizon, everything is simply golden and new, and they're already here, already watching each other for no reason at all except to take in their fill. But, like so many times before, reality sets in. 

It's just that usually, reality had been work or Bucky's heaps of insecurities or his utter lack of guts that ruined the moment. 

This time, on this fine morning, it's the one and only Lieutenant Baby Face.

"Up at the crack of dawn, huh?" he says, coming up the steps with a huge grin and his hair neatly styled in a fucking side parting, wearing a pair of faded jeans and a thin little t-shirt. God. Fuck. 

"Hey now, you know the Airforce don't play," Sam greets him, getting up, and Bucky thinks, for the love of all that is holy do not leave me here with Bright Eyes. But Sam has no mercy and doesn't read minds either. "Catching a shower, I'll bring coffee."

"Copy that, Falcon One!" Torres says, watching Sam go. And hell, Bucky gets that. He knows what it feels like watching, dreaming, stupidly hoping that he notices. Being in such total awe of Sam Wilson and unable to tell him. 

"Hey, you sleep okay?" Torres asks, and Bucky realizes he must have been staring.

"Fine," he mumbles, Redwing still in his hands. Torres notices, and a weird thing happens to his face like he realizes something for the very first time, a dawning clarity. Whatever it is, he doesn't say anything, just sits down with a stupid knowing grin on his face. 

"You got bad circulation?" 

Bucky places Redwing down, "What?" 

Torres points to his gloved hand. His long-sleeve covers the rest. 

"Read this article about it; compression gloves help, apparently. Once I sat in a jet so long I couldn't feel my leg for hours after." He laughs, "It's a trip walking like that man! I wear compression leggings now."

Bucky's mouth makes a smile, just like he practiced with Dr. Raynor. He nods slowly. Torres apparently takes that as an invite to babble on about the crazy missions he and Sam undertake. He's gesturing wildly, imitating how Sam flies, high circles and low swoops, making whooshing noises.

"He yanked the dude right out the helicopter! For real, dude, you should have seen it! That was—"

"—classified," Sam says, finally returning with a tray of coffee, "Don't tell this guy, though. He'll steal all my moves."

Torres laughs, making Sam laugh too, and when they both look away, Bucky mocks them with a hugely childish grimace. He's beyond caring right now. Dr. Raynor's going to have a goddamn field day if he decides to tell her. An actual 106-year-old baby, we should call People Magazine,  he can hear her say.

 

Later Sarah joins them, and the restaurant sends over a full English breakfast, enough for an army. Thankfully while they eat, Torres can't flirt and gush, but he does take photos of his food, which is the strangest fucking thing Bucky's ever seen. 

Sam leans into one of his photos at some point, hooks his arm around Torres' neck, and smiles. And suddenly, the otherwise delicious coffee tastes foul in Bucky's mouth. It's exactly what he had imagined earlier—Torres in Sam's arms. 

He looks at his plate, feels the fork start to bend in his grip.

"So!" Sarah says pointedly beside him, "Bucky, you work in Brooklyn?"

He blinks over at her, exhaling, managing a genuine smile this time, "No, living off back pay."

"Oh, Sam didn't say you were military too. Where'd you serve?" 

Sam clears his throat, swallows his food, "This guy's been all over! Aw dammit, would you look at that? My coffee's run out!" 

Bucky's grateful; he didn't have a single answer prepared for that. And Dr. Raynor wonders why he's disinclined to socializing. 

"Oh, let me get that for you," says Torres, fixing up another cup for Sam. Bucky rolls his eyes. Sarah sees, he doesn't care. She seems amused, though. The kid hands it over then comes to collect Sarah's empty cup too. And if he doesn't sit the fuck down right now...

"I'm fine, honey, thanks," Sarah says.

And then he's coming over to Bucky, but before he touches the cup, Sam hisses out in pain. 

"Damn, kid. Nobody told you about milk before?" Sam's waving at his mouth, his scalded tongue sticking out just a bit. 

And that's Bucky's queue. 

"I got it!"

He jumps up, grabs the milk, wedges himself between Torres and Sam, and pours cold milk into Sam's cup.

Sarah smiles for some reason, like maybe she's sick of goody-two-shoes too, and looks at Sam with her eyebrows high. 

Sam stares at her, looks behind him, confused, "What?" 

"Oh, you dumb." She shakes her head but doesn't divulge anything further. 

"What!?" 

Torres interjects, "So, uh, I saw on the local page they'll have a fun day out by the river today; how about it?" 

"Hells yeah," Sam says, doing a little excited shimmy making Sarah and Torres laugh. And Bucky would too, but he's preoccupied with the thought of Sam wet and shirtless. 

This can only end in disaster. 


 

The thing is, Bucky had seen Sam without a stitch of clothing before. He'd seen it all when they lived together, and it had been a goddamn sight. But this- Sam, shirtless and glowing in the harsh sunlight, this is something else.

It's a real struggle keeping his eyes to himself. He only just keeps from being caught out several times. 

They're on the riverbank, there's a buzz of people on the other side, some guys have thrown a barbecue and a barrel of drinks together, and there's music pumping from Sarah's restaurant.

Torres is already in the water, soaked and gloriously parading  his youthful body around. Bucky is not fucking jealous. He's not. He was the goddamn Winter Soldier; he's got muscles too, he's got abs and stuff. But this kid's really got it going on.

Bucky hates to think that Sam's watching right now. Doesn't want to turn and see. 

Torres climbs up on the diving board, the highest tier, and waves at them. He cups his hands around his mouth and shouts, "Hey Bucky! Remember that story about Sam flipping out of the helicopter? Check this out!"

He launches himself off the plank, straightens his body, and then does a rather impressive two-part flip before curling into a tight ball, plummeting, and finally arrowing into the water without a splash. 

"Jesus," Bucky mumbles, and Sam huffs out a laugh beside him where they're watching from the riverbank.

"Damn," Sam says when Torres comes jogging out of the water dripping wet, "Now that's in shape."

Bucky turns to Sam, shrugs, "You're in shape."

"I'm old now, I don't look like that no more."

"Bullshit," Bucky says, so fast he's embarrassed, "I mean. You know. Whatever. You look good." 

He feels Sam grinning at the side of his face, "Yo, Torres! Get your phone. Bucky said something nice!" 

"Aw Jesus. Stop, will you? I am nice." He turns just a little to see Sam's face. Can't help that he smiles or that his cheeks have gone impossibly hot.

A wet, tanned, incredibly toned Torres then plops down in front of them. He shakes his hair out, pushes it back, and smiles, all big and stupidly pretty. 

And okay, when the fuck did Bucky start thinking that shit? No. 

"Buck, you gotta try the diving board," Torres says, eyeing Bucky, who is still fully dressed. "I got an extra pair of trunks if you—"

"No thanks, I do not—" He shifts, tugs his left sleeve down so his wrist doesn't show, "—need to try the diving board."

"You don't like swimming? The water's nice, I swear." 

"Look, kid—"

Sam touches Bucky's arm, "Buck," he says gently, "He's cool. Everyone's cool here. You can… you know, you can take it off." 

Torres looks a little confused, eyes flicking between Sam and Bucky. Bucky clenches his jaw, exhales, and looks down at his left hand in the glove. No one but Sam knows. Sam is the only person who has seen Bucky with nothing to hide all the gruesome scars and metal. 

Bucky's determined to keep it that way, but…

"Buck, come on." 

But then Sam does that. It's a problem he'll have to sort out, but he knows he'll never be able to deny Sam Wilson anything. 

Slowly he pulls the leather glove off. It drops to the ground as he flexes his fingers. They whir quietly, and Torres sucks in a sharp breath.

"Oh my god. You're—"

"Yeah." 

Sam pokes at Bucky's arm, grinning, "Pretty neat, right?" 

"Oh my god," Torres says again, blinking as Bucky pulls his Henley off too. "Of course! Bucky. Bucky Barnes, how'd I not figure that out.?"

"Good thing you're pretty," Bucky grumbles.

Sam laughs, "Man, the history books left out how salty he is, huh?" 

Torres has malfunctioned.

"Oh my god?"

"Okay, lieutenant babyface, let's breathe." Sam claps a hand down on his shoulder and gets up. 

They all head down to the water this time. They climb all the way to the top and take turns diving off the board. Sam goes first, triple flip, and a cannonball. Torres does another mid-air spin with just a minor splash when he submerges. 

Sam cheers wildly from where he's floating in the water below. When Torres comes up, Sam high-fives him, and pulls him closer by the neck and gives a rough little shake. They float together, looking up at Bucky to jump. 

He smirks, takes a few steps back, and thinks, t ake this, private heart eyes.

He runs, launches into the air, propels himself around, and does five perfect spins in the air before diving straight down into the waiting water with a splash. 

While under, he hears the clapping and cheering of onlookers around the lake. Feeling warmly satisfied, he pops back up. And yes, that was incredibly worth it. Sam's staring at him, mouth open with an awe-filled grin. 

While they wait for their lunch to cook, they play some football. Bucky hasn't played in a terribly long time, but he remembers watching it, kind of remembers the rules. Not that it matters when he can do the things he can do. 

Sam plays rough, but he lets Torres win. Time and time again. Bucky knows Sam can go harder and knows he can kick both their asses, but he lets the kid slide each time. And as if that's not enough, his hands are all over Torres, dragging along his bare stomach as he lets a tackle slip, around his thighs when he hoists him up to catch and flat against his sides when he lowers him again. 

The soft smiles, all these touches, the two of them in each other's space. Bucky's losing his goddamn mind.

They kick off again, Sam runs with the ball, and Torres jumps in front of Bucky, screams "pass!" and holds his hands up for the ball. Sam smiles, brilliantly and beautifully, glistening with sweat, and that's it.

Bucky spins around and stalks off. He can't stand it anymore. Can't be here, can't look at Sam, can keep feeling this helpless and stupid and lonely. He can't.

"Buck?" Sam calls after him, "Bucky? Wait up!"

He keeps walking, grabs his shirt, and slips it on, forcing down the frustration and the rush in his pounding heart. 

"Bucky!" Sam shouts again, caught up with him now, and grabs his elbow to spin him around. "Man, stop!"

He snaps his arm away from Sam's hold, looks him dead in the eye—those beautiful big brown eyes—fuming inside, throat clogged up and tight.

"What!" 

Sam reels back, "What the hell is your problem?"

"I'm so fucking—I'm in love with you! That's my problem!" 

Everything goes fuzzy and quiet around him; he just sees Sam blink in surprise, the angry frown between his eyes melts away and his jaw snaps shut. It'd be funny if Bucky didn't just monumentally ruin everything.

"Fuck," he whispers to himself, drops his head. He squeezes his eyes shut. That's not it. That's not what he wanted to say, not at all how he pictured coming out with it. 

Sam's still looking at him, wordlessly, and Bucky's never wanted to be sucked into one of Dr. Strange's orange time holes so bad in his life.

Behind Sam, Torres is stunned too, "Wow…" 

Sam turns to glare at him then looks back at Bucky, "Buck—"

But Bucky stops him. He knows what's coming. He doesn't need to hear it. 

"Look, I'm sorry." He takes one last look, commits it to memory, and then he runs.

 

Chapter Text

"Aw shit!" Sam looks at Torres for some kind of answer he guesses, hands on his hips and absolutely at a loss. In the distance, Sam can see Sarah watching from the docks too. Great.

Bucky has disappeared down the road, and he runs way too fast for Sam to simply catch up by sprinting. He wants to, though. He wants to run after him and tackle his dumb ass to the ground, maybe beat some sense into him.

"Sam!" Torres laughs half incredulously, snapping him out of it, and Sam frowns at him for a moment. "Jesus," he says like he's exhausted, "Go after him!" 

"Fuck. You're right!" Sam starts sprinting toward the porch where he left his wing pack, pulls on a shirt in the same haste Bucky had just seconds ago. He flings the gear onto his back, straps in, and runs toward the pier. The road curves just behind the trees near there; he'll be able to intercept Bucky on the way if he's quick about it. 

Sarah shakes her head when he passes the restaurant, "Get it, mister superhero man!" 

Sam lets out an honest to god growl as he runs, "Arg! Is this why you called me dumb before? You saw this coming, Sarah!"

She cackles out loud and snaps a photo. He can't believe this shit. He helped save the world multiple goddamn times; he doesn't deserve this. 

As he takes flight, a nervous unease starts building up in his chest, a choking sensation that he doesn't care for at fucking all. What if he's too late and Bucky is gone? They both know how easily and quickly he can make himself vanish into thin air. He could be long gone by now, blended into society like a shadow. 

And Sam would never get the chance to tell him… tell him what exactly? That he's been missing him like a goddamn heartbeat ever since he left, that nothing's been the same, and no one makes him laugh quite as hard as Bucky trying to make a card payment online. 

That he had been sending message after message in the hopes of getting a call back instead—he knows that man's fingers are too big for those little keys—and maybe he hoped to hear that Brooklyn accent cuss him out from hundreds of miles away. 

Maybe he'd tell him that he'd gotten used to his ruffled, sleep wrinkled ass being in the kitchen when he wakes up, gotten used to the comfort of falling asleep in his presence, knowing no harm would come to him as long as Bucky was near.

He'd tell him how he can't fall asleep properly anymore, not without hearing the soft whir of his vibranium arm. He'd tell him he misses strolling side by side down the street, going shopping for more black clothes, getting coffee on the way home. Most of all, he'd tell him that he wants it back more than anything.

Probably, he'd tell him that yeah, he hadn't realized it, but he fell in love too.

Finally, to his relief, he spots an angry speck below, stomping down the dirt road that leads to the highway.  

Bucky looks up and sees Sam, throws his hands in the air, "No! Go away!"

Sam swoops down, cuts off the angry walking, and lands right in front of him.

"Nah, we gonna talk."

"I don't wanna talk about it." 

He starts walking again. Sam falls into step with him and retracts the wings.

"So, what, you're just gonna walk back to Brooklyn?"

"Yes." He glares at Sam then looks ahead again.

"And then?" 

"And then I'll go to therapy for twenty-four hours straight." 

Sam laughs. He fiddles around in the wing pack's strap and pulls out an old burner phone, holds it to his ear. 

"Yeah? Okay. What's your doctor's name?" 

Amused but still kind of offish, he looks at Sam, eyebrow up. "Dr. Raynor—What are you doing?" 

Sam bites back a smile, knowing they're both complete idiots, huge fucking fools. But this is what they do, what they've always done. This is who they are.

"Hello? Dr. Raynor?" He says, obviously faking hard, "Cool. Yeah, I'll let him know."

Bucky shakes his head, eyes up at the heavens.

"She said you gotta talk to me."

"She said that, huh?" he starts smiling, but it drops off quickly, "You don't want me to start talking, believe me." 

Sam stops walking and grabs Bucky's wrist carefully. "Hey. For real man." 

It seems to pain him physically to do it, but he stops, looks at Sam so completely, devastatingly sad, and sighs. 

"Look, I shouldn't have said that stuff. That wasn't... I didn't want it—"

"That stuff?" Sam laughs, "That stuff, as in the stuff where you love me? That stuff?"

"God. Yeah." he makes a face, "Yeah, that stuff. I was just… with Torres, and you, I was just—"

"Jealous? Wait, wait, wait. Oh my god!" And now Sam's really goddamn laughing, his belly aches, "You serious?" 

"Apparently not. Anyway, goodbye, Sam." He starts down the road again, faster now, and okay, maybe Sam shouldn't have laughed. This dude's just beginning to figure out his emotions, and Sam knows Dr. Raynor is probably at the 'expressing things' stage of counseling, but the idea that they've managed to miss the mark so epically is beyond him. Gotta fix it real quick, superhero man, he hears Sarah say.

"You didn't even let me reply, man!" he shouts at Bucky's back. 

Bucky keeps walking. Over his shoulder, he gives an incredulous snort, "Reply with what, huh? What a big asshole I am? Nah—" 

"That…" he pauses, inhales, "Me too." 

That makes Bucky stop at least; his back is still to Sam, but his head tilts up to the sky. "What?" 

"Look, Buck, with all that's been going on, with the shield and the world being what it is, I didn't think—can you look at me? Please?"

Bucky slowly turns then, shoves his hands in his pockets, hunches forward in the way he always does when the world gets too big around him. And there's that deep grove between his eyes again. Sam wants to ease it out with his thumb but doesn't.

"Never felt like the right time to say anything, you know," Sam tells him, "And that's on both of us." 

Bucky's chin cants up a little, his lips twisting up, "Well, we said it now, didn't we?"

Sam goes closer to where Bucky is standing, close enough to curl his pinky around Bucky's vibranium one. The contact feels good, sweet, like relief. 

"Yeah, we did," He says, smiles up at Bucky, and watches the frown melt away, his eyes carefully flicking over Sam's face. Sam knows that look. He felt this exact same way when Bucky showed up at the docks yesterday. That's the content look of a man reunited with what he had been missing. 

Bucky exhales, shakes his head, and pulls Sam closer to wrap him up in a long-overdue hug. That feels even better. Sam breathes out into his neck and holds on tight, arms around his back. 

They stay that way for a while under the baking sun, just standing close with no real rush to move, until Bucky softly, tentatively, presses his lips against Sam's temple and pulls away. 

"They're uh, probably wondering," Sam says, cheeks a little warm now as he motions back to the docks. 

Bucky lets out a rough laugh, nervously scratches his beard, "I, uh, don't think they're wondering about anything." He points to something behind Sam.

Redwing bleeps hysterically like he's malfunctioning when Sam turns around, swiveling from side to side, not really knowing where to flee to after being caught.

"Torres!" Sam shouts at his drone, "I'm about to kick your ass!"


Later, everyone's at the restaurant, and Sarah has some up-beat jazz playing through the speakers. A few folks are dancing inside, and Sam had just taken Mrs. Jones for a spin when he notices Bucky's nowhere to be found. 

He spots him at the edge of the docks, beer in hand, peering out at the setting sun and rippling water. He hands Mrs. Jones over to Torres, who happily takes her hand and then does some acrobatic shit that probably ain't that great for her hips. 

"You feeling jealous again?" he says, coming to stand beside Bucky, "Relax, she ain't really my type."

Bucky snorts, bumps his shoulder into Sam's, "I'm not jealous. Just, uh, tell that kid to keep his shirt on, okay?" 

When Sam laughs embarrassingly loud, Bucky smiles too, watches him. Their eyes meet again when Sam has composed himself; he feels a fondness grow in his chest that makes his tummy feel fluttery and makes his heart pound right in his throat. 

"I have a list," Bucky tells him, then takes a deep calm breath. 

Sam leans his forearms on the wooden railing. They both look out at the water. "What kind of list?" He knows what kind of list. 

"Names. Amends I need to make."

"Atonement," Sam says. 

"I'm not putting Torres on the list," he says quickly, "But I will apologize, I guess, for being an asshole or whatever." 

"I don't think he's too mad," Sam says smiling, "He knows two superheroes now. Dude's kind of a fan." 

Bucky pulls a face again, "Yeah, it's unsettling." 

"It's cute." 

Sam laughs when Bucky narrows his eyes and looks like he's about to square up, "I'm still sensitive, Sam." he mumbles. 

And god, this is exactly what Sam had been missing. This easy bullshitting, the way everything is ten times funnier when Bucky says it, the way he always makes Sam laugh even when he's doing nothing at all. 

Sam straightens up again, "Okay," he says quietly, shifting into Bucky's space, so they're standing close together now. "I'm sorry."

Bucky's breath pulls in sharp as he looks down at Sam, and carefully brings his right hand up to Sam's face. He traces over Sam's cheek and curls his fingers around the back of his neck. 

"It's okay," he says absently, quietly, eyes on Sam's, and then he leans down and finally kisses him. 

It's not like anything Sam ever imagined, kissing Bucky Barnes; it's definitely better. Bucky's careful and slow about it. His hands, even the vibranium, are warm on Sam's skin, and Sam leans into it eagerly.

Bucky's lips are red and bothered when he pulls away and blinks down at Sam, "That's," he starts laughing, cheeks flushing.

Sam can't help but laugh, too; it's no secret that they're absolute idiots.

"Yeah," he says. His fingers brush over the wetness on his lips where Bucky's had been a second ago. 

And then they're just kind of staring at each other with delirious happiness on their faces, grinning so hard Sam thinks their faces will crack at any moment now. Sam doesn't give a single shit. He's just watching the way Bucky's biting his lip, basking under his steady gaze.

They'd stay there all night; they really would, but—

"Whoop whoop! Heart eyes for the win!" Torres yells from the restaurant.

"I'm really gonna have to kick his ass, huh?" 

"In a minute," Bucky says, paying Torres no mind, then kisses Sam again.

Happily, Sam thinks he'd be an idiot with this guy any day.