“This isn’t the way to your apartment,” Sam says, five minutes after Bucky takes a right when he should’ve taken a left.
“Excellent observation, Sam,” says Bucky. He doesn’t slow or turn around, just keeps pushing ahead, dusty black boots a steady thump-thump-thump over the ground. “You do your former namesake proud.”
“You think you’re real funny, don’t you, Buck. Where’re we going?”
“To a place,” says Bucky, because he’s a smartass.
“A place,” Sam echoes, unamused. “Mind elaborating a little more?”
Sam narrows his eyes at Bucky’s back. “Alright, don’t tell me,” he grumbles. “See if I care.”
The scent of recently-fallen rain is fresh on the night air, mingling with the less desirable city-smells of car exhaust and manhole steam. Sam catches a whiff of garbage from an alley, curses under his breath, and widens his stride—not everyone can power walk as fast as a super soldier. Sam’s not embarrassed of that.
He ends up so preoccupied with watching how Bucky’s dark shadow cuts through the smeary-wet glow of city lights on pavement that when his friend stops in the middle of the sidewalk, Sam plows straight into him.
“Whoa,” Bucky says, smirk spreading over his face, even as he catches Sam gently by the elbow before he bounces off his back and onto the sidewalk. “Falling asleep on your feet, flappy bird? You gonna need someone to tuck you into bed now? Rest those weary bones of yours?”
“Shut up. You’re the weary one, old man,” Sam says, and then casts a considering eye over the restaurant they’ve stopped in front of. He whistles. “Sushi? Pretty fancy for our usual post-mission, Buck.”
Bucky shrugs. “It’s my turn to buy, so. My choice.”
This has become somewhat of a tradition, ever since Sam and Bucky fell into their little not-partnership during the Flag Smashers situation and never managed to fall back out. In the wake of that final, devastating battle, Bucky had waited for Sam to return from fishing the final Flag Smasher out of the water, and then followed Sam in silence all the way back to Sam’s apartment—only, he claimed in nonchalance, to make sure Sam’s ‘delicate human body’ didn’t pass out after such incredible exertion, and then he’d be ‘right on his way’.
What actually happened was that Bucky had planted his ass on Sam’s little couch, heard Sam’s stomach growling, declared loudly that he was entering step one of plan ‘go to them and be of service,’ Sam edition, and then ordered them both Chinese takeout and stared mournfully until Sam relented and started wolfing down his box of reparations stir-fry.
And then he’d joined Sam on every one of his missions since, and somewhere along the line, a habit formed; in between having each other’s backs and taking down bad guys, they’d head over to one of their places, patch themselves up, and then order food and eat, taking in their creeping fatigue and bruised bodies and the fact that they were still alive, together.
Sam had gotten them Thai curry after their last mission, so Bucky is right in saying that it’s his turn to choose. He’s just surprised Bucky was a sushi type of guy.
He says as much, and Bucky snorts.
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean? And anyway, I wasn’t the one griping about how he wanted sashimi yesterday,” Bucky says, looking away. “I just don’t wanna have to sit through more of your complaining.”
Sam suddenly recalls a vague memory of chattering about hand rolls while looping through the sky and dodging bullets, and fondness swells warm and high in his chest. He didn’t realize that Bucky had actually been listening.
“Aw, Buck,” he cheers, smacking at a leather-covered arm. “You really do care!”
Bucky yanks the door open, faux-annoyed, but under the orange-lantern glow leaking through the glass storefront, Sam can see the side of his mouth tick up in the corner, just for a second.
“Shut up,” he grouses, “and get your ass inside.”
It’s late enough in the evening that most of the little restaurant is cleared out; there are only a few occupied tables in the corners, each group of patrons chattering quietly to themselves over their tea. At the bright jingle of the bell on the door, a pretty young woman pops her head out from the back. “Welcome to Izzy’s! I’ll be with you in just a sec—oh! It’s you.”
For a moment, Sam stops in his tracks, confused. Then, he follows the woman’s eyeline to Bucky, who’s frozen just over Sam’s shoulder and making a very interesting face.
“Hi, Leah,” Bucky greets, voice weak. “Didn’t think I’d see you tonight.”
‘Leah’ raises an eyebrow and scoots her way out from between the curtains at the kitchen’s entrance. “I work here every weekday.”
“Oh,” says Bucky, shifting from foot to foot, fidgeting like he’s on the verge of sprinting off into the night. “That’s right.”
“Mhm. Were you hoping I got fired or something?”
“I’m just messing with ya,” Leah says, a dimpled smile finally breaking across her face. “Just surprised to see you here with someone other than Yori! Surprised you’re coming back at all, considering last time. Grab a seat, it’s been a while!”
Somehow, this makes Bucky wince even further, and Sam—sharp as a shark in bloody water and a most avid collector of Bucky’s embarrassing moments—jumps on it eagerly.
“Hi, Leah,” he says, approaching the bar and extending one hand in greeting. “I’m Sam. I’m sorry you had the misfortune of knowing this ol’ grump.”
“Leah,” she says, dipping her head. “I know who you are, Captain America. I’d shake your hand, but I’ve got rice vinegar all over my fingers.”
“Ooh, yeah, I’ll pass on that. But it’s nice to meet you. Good to know Buck still gets to know people outside of work, you know, I was starting to get worried for him!”
Bucky slides up next to him at the bar, shoulder-to-shoulder; Sam doesn’t look, but he can feel Bucky’s glare drilling into the side of the face. He knocks their arms together.
“C’mon, loosen up. Your friends are my friends, right? I just wanna know what you’re like around other people!”
“Don’t act clever, Sam. You might strain something,” Bucky says with a scowl, but he still goes to the trouble of pulling Sam’s chair out for him.
(Sam will admit, he’d been a bit thrown by Bucky’s behavior in the beginning, what with all the pulling of chairs, opening of doors, and carrying of heavy things. He’d asked Bucky about it, once, just a couple of days after he’d noticed it, and Bucky had deflected with a shrug.
Dunno, Sam, he’d said, a weird, shifty look sliding over his face. I just wanna—I’m used to doing that, I guess. Don’t see why I have to stop.
Sam had written it down to a holdover from typical 1940’s chivalrous-gentleman etiquette and gotten used to it. Whatever makes the guy feel better, he supposes.)
When Sam slides down into his seat without a word, Leah takes a long moment to simply look between her two new customers, eyes dark and thoughtful.
“Hang tight,” she says finally, wiping her hands off on her apron. “Let me go grab menus for you both.”
Five minutes later finds Sam and Bucky with their heads tucked over the laminated restaurant menus, bickering about what to get. The counter is slightly damp-sticky under their arms, in the way that means it was wiped down not long ago; Sam drums his fingers across the dark wood as he makes his case for ordering one more dish than usual.
“Should I get the yellowtail—”
“Jeez, Sam, that’s the most expensive thing on the menu!”
“But it’s delicious, c’mon, you know I can’t say no to that.”
“What happened to ‘I would sell my liver just for some cheap crab right now,’ huh? Are you just doing this ‘cause I’m the one paying?”
“Yeah, why else? Gotta put that military backpay somewhere.” Sam smiles widely, relishing the way Bucky’s face flushes slightly in agitation. Ooh, Sam’s got him now—that pasty-ass skin can’t hide anything. “What, all those riches collected at your advanced age, and you’re gonna be a scrooge? Huh, old man?”
Bucky leans in. “Oh, that’s how it is. You only want me for my money.”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Buckaroo. The only wanting happening here is between me and that sweet, sweet yellowtail. C’mon, don’t be boring, you’re gonna have thousands of dollars in the bank just to eat some lame-ass California rolls?”
Bucky brandishes his own menu at Sam like a weapon, the laminated paper making an unpleasant wibbling noise as it flops about in the air. “You,” he declares, “are a pain in my ass. Fine, get whatever you want. See if you can finish it later.”
“I know you’re gonna steal my leftovers anyway. You and the black hole in your stomach.”
Leah, taking her cue, slides up to them from where she’d been polishing glasses at the other end of the bar. She’s got a good customer service face, but judging by the way her lips are twitching up at the corners in thinly-veiled amusement, Sam’s guessing she had been listening in; not that it really was hard to hear them, either. They’re by far the loudest patrons in the restaurant.
“So,” Sam says as Leah scribbles down their orders. “I don’t mean to pry, but I was just curious—how did you and Bucky here get to know each other?
There’s a beat of silence. Leah fiddles with her notebook, and when she looks back up, her expression seems almost apologetic.
“We actually went on a date,” she admits, and when Sam splutter-laughs through his surprise, she adds on hastily, “But it wasn’t anything more! I’m not that invested, I don’t really wanna chase after guys who walk out on me during board games, anyway, no offense, Bucky.”
Sam cackles even louder.
Bucky shrinks a little in his seat. “I’m really sor—”
“Hey, it’s fine. I think I get why you weren’t really into it, anyway,” she says. Her gaze flicks over to Sam as she says that, weirdly enough.
He twists around a little to see what she’s looking at. Nothing out of place, he thinks; the other customers in the dimly-lit restaurant are keeping to themselves, heads down as they eat their sushi. Bucky’s not making weird faces, either, is just settled into his seat with his arm slung up on the back of Sam’s chair, purposely hogging up space like he always does to try and get on Sam’s nerves.
When he looks back forward, Leah is in the middle of delivering a very meaningful glance towards the side of Bucky’s face. “Anyway,” she says quickly, turning to catch Sam’s eye, “I’m gonna get your orders to the kitchen, Don’t wanna keep you gentlemen waiting too long on empty stomachs.”
With that, she breezes back into the kitchen.
“Oh my god,” Sam says under his breath, amazed. He knocks his foot into Bucky’s legs under the counter, even though he knows that it won’t do anything to his shins of steel. “Bucky! What happened to your whole manners thing!”
“What manners thing?” Bucky asks.
“You know, that old-fashioned chivalrous stuff you always do for everyone!”
Bucky gives him one of his typical x-ray stares.
“Not everyone,” is all that Bucky says, and then he turns his face away and frowns at the wall until Leah comes back with two steaming cups of tea.
By the end of the meal, Sam feels like his body has become more sushi than man.
After Bucky sneaks the last pieces of sashimi from Sam’s plate—”I told you you couldn’t finish it!” he adds, mouth full—he starts taking care of the check, giving Sam the time to slip off to the bathroom.
On his way back out, he catches the low rumble of conversation from the main dining room and stops to listen.
“I really am sorry,” Bucky’s voice drifts out to where Sam is standing behind the bend in the hallway. “I shouldn’t have ditched you like that. Back then.”
“Could’ve used a text, at least,” Leah sounds like she’s smiling. “Hey, I get it. I was being pretty pushy with my questions, too. I know I probably touched a nerve before you walked out, so I’m sorry too, if I overstepped somehow. No hard feelings?”
“I—yeah. Thanks, Leah.”
“It’s all cool. Congratulations, anyway. You seem pretty happy, I’m glad you got that sorted out for you. Be honest, was I the appetizer to distract you from that main course? I gotta applaud you, your taste is spectacular.”
“Uh,” Bucky says, sounding thrown. “Well, I haven’t really—”
Sam takes this as his cue to step in. Even though he definitely wants to keep listening, he figures that Bucky’s suffered enough ribbing tonight, and he can tell that Leah’s tone is teasing, even if he has absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.
Bucky holds the door for Sam on the way out, and when it swings closed, Sam catches the ringing of Leah’s laughter from the back of the restaurant, faint and amused.
Sam knows Bucky’s habits well enough to take his long, brooding silences in stride.
So, when Bucky settles down on the bench across from him and commences their usual post-mission staring contest without a single word, Sam complies gladly.
It’s a welcome distraction, anyway; his shoulders are feeling particularly sore, and he’s not looking forward to the hour-long flight between him and the hot shower waiting for him at home. The mission hadn’t been particularly hard, but Sam’s had a long week. He just wants to be not covered in dust and sweat and bruises for longer than one day at a time, and he can see in Bucky’s eyes that he’s thinking the same thing.
But that’s a pipe dream for now, so. Distractions it is.
The metal rings that secure the safety netting rattle noisily as the plane banks to the left; Sam leans forward, planting his elbows on his knees as he fights to keep his eyes wide open.
Bucky stares back, foot tapping.
Sam’s eyes are beginning to water a little.
Bucky remains unbothered. Damn super soldier eyes, what the hell kind of enhancement is that? Super eyes?
Sam starts to squint—
“Hey, guys!” Torres says cheerfully, dropping down from the ladder that leads up to the cockpit with a loud, echoing clank. “Everything’s set up there, so I figured I’d hang back with you two for a bit. Sam, that seat next to you free?”
When Sam shoots him a thumbs-up without looking, eyes screaming with discomfort from the strain of keeping them open for so long, Torres slides happily onto the bench next to Sam, boots knocking against Sam’s own as he does.
Across the cargo hold, Bucky’s eye twitches.
“Hah!” Sam whoops, probably enthusiastically than necessary; his voice reverberates in the metal chamber of the plane’s belly, and his celebratory in-place bounce sends him into a near-collision with Torres’ shoulder. “That was a blink! This round goes to me, Buckaroo! Hey, Torres.”
“Hey, Sam,” Torres says, eyes shining enthusiastically. “Great job today!”
“He always does a great job.”
“Uh,” Sam says, blinking at where Bucky’s straightened from his slump against the wall of the plane, chin lifted. “Okay? Thanks, Buck. Wow, praise from the cyborg himself? Gotta say I wasn’t expecting that.”
Bucky looks away, arms coming up to cross in front of his chest. “What?” he says, sounding defensive. “It’s not weird. What are you staring at?”
“I didn’t say it was weird, man.”
“You’re implying it.”
“Yeah, maybe I am. S’not my fault you’re a man of few words.”
“And that’s my fault?”
“I’m just saying, you don’t give compliments very often! So I was surprised!”
“Well, you shouldn’t be! I was just telling the truth!”
“Well, okay! Thank you for that!”
There’s a prolonged beat of silence, during which they stare each other down from their respective seats, and Torres drums his hands on his thighs awkwardly, eyes darting between them like he’s trying to decide if he should say something. Then, as Sam eases himself back into his seat, his shoulder twinges sharply. Something must show on his face, because Bucky’s expression slides from defiant annoyance to concern in a split second.
“What was that?”
“Nothing,” Sam says quickly, rolling his shoulder back. “Probably just tired.”
“Didn’t look like nothing.”
“C’mon, don’t be stubborn. Unless you wanna wait until we get back?” He looks at Torres when he says that, putting a strange emphasis on the words ‘we.’
Sam furrows his brow. Yeah, the rattling of the cargo is a bit loud, but here’s no reason to shout. “Why are you hollering like that?” he asks. “We’re literally sitting right across from you.”
Bucky sighs. “Just get over here,” he says, flexing his hands.
Sam goes. That’s one of the perks about being friends with Bucky Barnes, he supposes: the vibranium arm is awfully good for giving massages.
“Closer,” Bucky says when Sam folds himself down on the bench next to him, back facing Bucky. Sam scoots over a few inches, obliging. “That’s good. Where’s it hurt?”
“Left shoulder,” Sam grunts.
“Okay,” Bucky says, and then gets to work.
Torres seems pretty content to sit across from their impromptu massage session for a while, but he must be getting bored; at the three minute mark, he breaks the silence by drumming his hands on his thighs.
“Bucky was right earlier,” he says casually, ignoring the look that Bucky shoots at him for using his first name. “Sam, you have a really impressive track record. Actually, you had a lot of fans at my old high school, did you know that?”
“Yeah?” Sam tips his head, excited, even as the rest of his body continues to melt back into Bucky’s skilled hands—
(He catches himself doing that very often, now. Leaning into Bucky’s touch. He tries not to think about why.)
—because, even in the middle of a post-mission-exhaustion massage, it’s always a treat to hear about his own supporters. It’s something he’s never gotten used to, even years after joining the Avengers. “That so?”
“Yup! The Avengers were always on tv, so it was a thing for a while. Iron Man fans versus Cap fans, all that jazz. I was kinda in on the trend, too,” Torres admits, looking a little shy.
“Let me guess,” Bucky says sarcastically. “You were the head of the Falcon fan club. Cap fan club, now, I guess.”
“You’re right!” Torres’ face lights up. “How did you know?”
Bucky’s hand spasms on Sam’s shoulder.
“Wow,” he mutters under his breath. “Who would have ever known.”
Sam reaches back to slap at him. “Hey,” he jokes, “are you doubting my fanbase?” To Torres, he says, “I always knew you had good taste!”
“Yeah,” replies Torres, “I actually had a massive crush on you when I was seventeen!” And then, as soon as the words leave his mouth, his eyes go as wide as dinner plates; the expression on his face suggests that he’s considering hurling himself out of the moving plane, sans parachute.
Sam’s sudden snort of laughter is strong enough to send him off balance and reeling backwards into Bucky, who has gone oddly still behind him. “You’re pulling my leg!”
“I didn’t mean to say that out loud,” Torres says weakly.
“You’re for real? Did baby Torres have posters of me all over his room?”
“There were only two…”
“Oh my god,” Sam wheezes. He tips back and almost brains himself on Bucky’s abnormally solid pecs. “Only two! Torres, I’m not laughing at you, I just—wow, I’m flattered! Real flattered! You’re only human, and I’m a fine specimen, I know—the Wilson family beauty is running strong in these veins, makes me hard to resist. Right, Buck?”
For some reason, Torres goes pale at that, eyes darting first over Sam’s shoulder and then down at where Bucky is practically holding Sam’s laughter-limp body up. “Wait, I just realized how it might sound, but I swear I’m not gonna try and make a move on you—I mean, I’m seeing someone right now, too—”
Too? thinks Sam
“—and it was ages ago! I was still in school! I mean, not that I don’t still think you’re a very beautiful man—”
“Torres,” says Bucky, breaking his silence for the first time since Torres’ admission. He sounds constipated. “I think we get the point.”
“Yeah. Yeah, got it.” Torres mimes zipping his lips and folds his hands in his lap, looking sheepish. “Sorry, Sam. Sorry, Bucky.”
Sam has three seconds to wonder about why the kid’s also apologizing to Bucky before the vibranium hand digs back in, effectively melting away both the muscle knot in his shoulder and any conscious thought left in his brain. He groans loudly.
“Hnn, that was the spot. Thanks, Buck. You’re the best.”
“Yeah,” says Bucky, sounding smug. His grip tightens, metal fingers pressing cold and insistent against Sam’s back. “I am.”
“I said that I’d let you know when to come over,” Sam sighs in exasperation, “not that you could break into my apartment while I was gone.”
Bucky raises an eyebrow from where he’s made himself at home on Sam’s goddamn couch and is drinking Sam’s goddamn orange juice. “You didn’t say that I couldn’t, either. By the way, you really need better security. It took me literally ten seconds to pick your lock.”
When Sam glares at him, he adds, “You should get inside. You’re letting in all the bugs.”
“Sorry that my regular-person apartment isn’t built to keep out super spies such as yourself,” Sam grumbles, but he does as asked, sliding into the crowded foyer and kicking—uncouth, he knows, but his hands are full of groceries!—the door shut behind him. He aims another kick at the heavy combat boots lying around in the middle of the walkway, sending them tumbling sole over lace into the wall next to his perfectly lined-up sneakers. “Seriously, Buck? I keep telling you to put your shoes in the shoe rack.”
“Oops,” says Bucky, not sounding particularly sorry. He steps forward into Sam’s space, slides the grocery bags out of his grip without a word, and trots off to the kitchen to start unloading them into the fridge and pantry. “I’ll say it again, since you didn’t seem to hear me again the first ten times—Captain America should not be living in an apartment with regular-person security. What if someone tries to break in?”
“What,” Sam shoots back, “Like you did?”
Bucky scowls. “You know what I mean.”
“Do I really need security when the esteemed White Wolf—”
“—god, I never should have told you that—”
“When his magnificence the White Wolf,” Sam continues loudly, “is basically over at my apartment every day, mooching off my hospitality, and providing live-in guard services on top of free-of-charge security evaluations?”
“I’m not here that often,” Bucky protests, and then proceeds to prove himself wrong by knowing exactly where Sam stores every single grocery item in the house. He doesn’t even pause between bags, hands moving quickly as he tucks everything away; soy milk on the left side of the second shelf in the refrigerator, brown sugar on the top cabinet next to the stove, organic green tea bags in the drawer below that.
“Right,” says Sam, watching as Bucky gathers up the emptied paper bags and stores them beside the plastic bag of plastic bags under the sink. “Totally unfamiliar territory, this is.”
There’s only one thing left on the kitchen counter, dug out from where it had been buried deep beneath bunches of carrots and celery. When Bucky swipes up the red-and-white striped bag and holds it out expectantly, Sam scoffs at him.
“Pop it yourself, Barnes.”
“You’re the one who bought it.”
“So you can break into my home for movie night, but you can’t make one bag of microwave popcorn?” He turns around without another word, already shifting through his mental list of Movies/Shows Bucky Has Not Watched Yet But Definitely Should. They’ve made it through a pretty good chunk of the list in the past couple months; if Sam remembers correctly, they’re about halfway through Black Mirror.
Three steps into the living room, he freezes in place and and swivels back quickly. “And remember not to—”
Bucky waves his hand at him, already poking at the microwave touchscreen. “Don’t use the popcorn setting, yeah, yeah. You don’t have to keep reminding me.”
Sam’s half-perched on the arm of his sofa and scrolling through Netflix to try and find the My List section when his ringtone starts blaring through the half-light of the living room. He looks down at where his phone is face-up on the coffee table; Sharon’s name is flashing on the screen.
He picks up immediately.
“Heya, Cap.” Sharon’s voice is thin and tinny through the speaker. “Don’t sound too stressed, nothing too alarming. I wanted you to know that we just got some new reports coming in from—”
The microwave goes off in the kitchen. Bucky’s voice follows, strong and clear over the high-pitched beeping: “Sam! Popcorn’s ready! You want me to add salt on this or not?”
“Oh,” says Sharon after a long pause. “Sam, if this isn’t a good time...”
“The Winter Asshole’s over for movie night,” Sam replies flippantly. “It’s okay, I can still talk right now. We can be over in ten if you need—”
“Oh, ” says Sharon, now in a completely different tone. Sam immediately feels on edge; her voice has slipped into that sly register that almost always means she’s holding back a smile, usually at his expense. “In that case! This isn’t urgent at all. Don’t let me interrupt your night, I’m sure you’ll be getting busy later.”
“Huh?” Sam fumbles with his phone, fingers loose with confusion. “Sharon, what—”
“Don’t sweat it, Cap! I’ll just call back tomorrow. Enjoy yourself!”
Click. The line goes dead.
Sam stares at the black screen, looking for answers. The only thing sees is his own scrunched-up, baffled face being reflected back at him.
What the hell was that? Getting busy?
“Sam,” Bucky says, poking his head in from the kitchen. “I said your name like three times, did you hear me—”
When he sees the look on Sam’s face, he frowns, getting the little crinkled line in the brow that he always gets when he’s concerned. His eyes automatically scan the room, looking for threats. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Sam shakes himself and slides back onto his feet. Slaps his phone back down on the coffee table. “Just Sharon being weirdly cryptic again.”
Bucky relaxes. “Ah. Just like usual. Okay, as I was saying. Whaddya want on this popcorn, salt or butter?”
“Both,” says Sam, because he knows Bucky likes it that way. He pauses, purses his mouth in consideration. “Or we could just do no seasoning, you know. Just to suit your old man tastes.”
The look on Bucky’s face sends him into a fit of laughter.
Twenty minutes into the episode, Sam starts feeling a little thirsty.
“Gonna get water,” he says, heaving himself up from the couch. The air conditioning is on at full-blast to combat the mugginess seeping in from the outside, and the cold breeze from the vents is a shock against his skin; he shivers just a bit, and feels goosebumps rise on his bare arms. “You want anything to drink?”
Bucky doesn’t even turn his head, eyes glued directly to the screen. “Water for me, too,” he says absently. “Thanks, sweetheart.”
Sam does his best not to trip over his own feet on the way to the kitchen.
The pet names are a fairly recent development.
(Sam‘s not sure when this whole thing started, but he thinks that it might have been kicked off with the conversation they’d had after leaving the restaurant after that evening at Izzy’s.
Sam had said something like, Bucky, was romance back then really so lacking that you couldn’t even sit through a date with a nice young lady, and then Bucky had said something like, I had incredible game in the forties, you don’t even know, and then Sam had said something like, Oh yeah? Name three moves that would still work today. What was it, did you call your girls ‘sweetheart’ or ‘honey’ or something, haha, forties pet names, now that’s something I’d like to hear—
Okay. In retrospect, Sam can totally see how he brought this whole thing upon himself.)
The first couple of times, he had been convinced that he’d heard Bucky wrong. However, they’ve long since moved past the realm of plausible deniability; there are only so many ways a word can be misheard, and Sam’s pretty sure that Bucky’s not quite weird enough to go around calling people “meat tart” for no reason.
But the thing is, he’s not sure what Bucky’s angling for with this. Is he doing it just to get on Sam’s nerves? Is he doing it to prove some sort of weird, asinine point?
If he thinks about it carefully, there is a very simple explanation for all of this. For the little touches, the pet names. The staring. The soft creasing at the corners of Bucky’s eyes and the shine in his gaze. The slow, sweet curve of his smile, when he thinks Sam isn’t looking.
No. Sam’s overthinking it.
He has to be careful, now, in all things. Has to be careful with the shield, with the suit. With this. There’s so much resting on his shoulders.
He can’t ruin this.
He can’t lose this, too.
“Here,” he says when he plunks Bucky’s designated mug down in front of him. “To quench your thirst, m’lord.”
Bucky snorts. “Don’t be weird. It’s not like I ordered you to fetch water.”
“You have legs.”
Bucky aims a kick at him, but there’s no heart to it; his foot only just brushes against Sam’s calf, and Sam can tell he’s using about one percent of his power. Barely enough to feel the impact. “You were literally the one who asked me if I wanted anything to drink.”
“You didn’t have to say you wanted anything.”
“And, like I said, you didn’t have to go get it.”
Sam rolls his eyes and slides back into his spot on the couch, leaving the usual two-inch gap between their legs, and brings his gaze back on the tv screen.
Bucky’s quiet for a long moment. “Cold?”
“I saw you shiver earlier. You cold?”
“S’fine, Buck, just the air con.”
“That’s what you get for turning it on so high.” Even as Bucky chastises him, he moves over to Sam on the couch; suddenly, the platonic, inches-wide no man’s land between them is gone. They’re close, shoulder to shoulder and thigh to thigh.
Sam holds himself very still. “Whatcha doin’, Buck?”
“I run warm. Come here.”
When Sam doesn’t move an inch, Bucky sighs and shuffles himself even closer, dropping a heavy arm around Sam’s shoulders. “Lazy,” he huffs, and rubs his hand against Sam’s arm, trying to warm him up. “Wow, you’re all chilly. You should’ve worn a long sleeve.”
“It’s almost summer,” Sam manages to say, mouth dry.
There’s something happening on the tv, probably, something with running and screaming and cursing, but Sam’s sure that even if Steve Roger’s bare and wrinkly old ass was being scrolled across the screen like the flag during the national anthem, he wouldn’t notice. He’s too focused on the heat of Bucky’s hand like a flame against his skin; too focused on Bucky’s sharp profile, his features stark in the silver wash of the television screen; too focused on the relaxed slump of his body against Sam’s little couch. Casual.
Casual, like it’s just another slow evening among many, spent with Sam tucked into his side. Like it’s normal.
And it is normal, Sam realizes, something sharp-toothed clawing in the pit of his stomach. This is normal for them. They’ve been doing it for weeks.
“Little better?” asks Bucky, voice low and smooth. Unnervingly intimate.
“Yeah,” says Sam.
Bucky hums in his throat. “That’s good, sweetheart.”
You’re overthinking it, Sam tells himself, feeling the hot weight of Bucky’s arm over his shoulder. Tells himself that again, when he feels himself nodding off against Bucky’s side. And again, when he wakes for just a second, sleep-loose and tucked under his sheets.
There’s a gentle hand over his cheek.
“Shhh,” says Bucky, voice a soft whisper in the dark. “Just me, darlin’. I’ll be on the couch.” Then, the sound of his careful tread, and the open-and-close click of the bedroom door, and then Sam has nothing else left to do but close his eyes and drift off again.
You’re overthinking it, Sam thinks again, desperate, when he remembers everything in the morning.
Keeps repeating it, even as he feels the bottom of his stomach drop out. As if in freefall.
The air wafting from the open refrigerator is a cool reprieve from the muggy Louisiana summer. Sam only barely resists sticking his head inside to chill along with the eggs and milk, and instead snags the six pack of beer tucked behind the leftover gumbo from last night’s dinner.
When he turns around to head back out into heat and comes face-to-face with his sister, he flinches so hard he nearly drops the cans on the kitchen floor.
“Ah! Jesus,” he wheezes, slapping a hand against his chest, “Sarah, don’t sneak up on me like that!”
Sarah stares back, unimpressed. Sam hadn’t even heard her step into the kitchen.
Heaven save him from little sisters with silent feet; when they were younger, he used to say that they needed to put a bell on her. A joke like that now would definitely get him punched in the arm, so he only ever uses it on Bucky.
When Sam’s finished clutching dramatically at his side, Sarah drops her keys into the key holder on the kitchen counter with a jingling clatter and pins him in place with one look. “So when were you gonna tell me about all that?”
“All what?” Sam shoots back. “More importantly, when did you get home? I didn’t even hear the truck come down the driveway.”
“Mmm,” says Sarah, crossing her arms. “I got back just now. But you were preoccupied, I bet.” She purses her lips, too, in the universal sibling look of You know exactly what I’m talking about, and you better act like it before I show you the consequences.
Sam frowns. Slides the six-pack onto the counter because the plastic rings are digging uncomfortably into his fingers, shakes out the chill that’s settled into his hands. “What’s that supposed to mean? I just came up to grab drinks.”
“So we’re gonna do it like this?” Sarah narrows her eyes at him and puffs up. “Fine! First of all, Sam, you know I love having you home, but you gotta start giving me warning in advance if we’re gonna have guests! I only left the house for three hours, and you didn’t tell me anything, so imagine my surprise when, the second I pull into the driveway, the boys come running up to me and tell me that ‘Mr. Bucky’ has come round to visit again!”
Sam winces, and suppresses the urge to twist his hands into his t-shirt like he’s eight and just knocked over Sarah’s art project. “Okay, I’m sorry. I should’ve told you, but he didn’t really give me any notice, either—”
“Samuel Thomas Wilson, I am not done speaking. Second of all—and this one’s the bigger offense, in my opinion—when exactly were you planning on telling me that you’ve finally sealed the deal with that boy? My God, I mean, I’m not surprised, it sure took you long enough, but I would’ve thought that you’d tell your only sister that you’ve finally gotten yourself a boyfriend—”
“Hold on, hold on, hold on,” Sam says. “A what?”
“Your boyfriend. Your boy toy. That hunk of vanilla wafer that follows you everywhere, whatever you wanna call him. Don’t treat me like I’m stupid, Sam, it’s not cute.”
“I don’t—he’s not my boyfriend! And what do you mean, I’m not surprised?”
“Don’t be coy with me,” Sarah huffs. When Sam stares at her bewilderment, she blows out a long, agitated breath and starts bustling around the kitchen, taking down a glass and pouring herself sweet tea from the pitcher in the fridge.
“Well, first of all, when y’all were fixing up the boat? I was there, too, and I got eyes, just in case you forgot. And then there’s just now—Cass and AJ told me, and this is verbatim, ‘Mr. Bucky called Uncle Sam sweetheart and then touched his cheek and it looked like they were gonna kiss.’”
“There was dirt on my face, he was just getting it off! And the name thing is just an—inside joke! And, also, the boys shouldn’t be going around spying on people—”
“They’re kids. That’s like asking the sun not to shine,” Sarah says, and takes a drink.
“Well, they shouldn’t do it anyway.”
Sarah glares at him over the rim of her cup. “Look, Sam, I’m happy for you. You don’t have to hide these things around me. But if you’re really gonna have your boy over just to let him mack on you in our boat, I’m gonna have to ask you to save that for when you’re back at your own place.”
“It’s not like that,” Sam says. “We’re not like that. Besides—you saw him when he was over fixing the boat, talking you up like nobody’s business, even after I told him to stop, and at the cookout—”
“Oh, so you’re gonna gatekeep my love life now? Don’t pull that ‘man of the family’ bullshit with me.”
Sam winces. “You know I didn’t mean it like that..”
Sarah steps forward, jaw set. “Who let your teenaged ass cry on her shoulder after you were rejected by Maria from down the street? Who covered for you in high school when you snuck out while you were grounded to go on a date with Benjamin, the one with all the piercings?”
“You did,” Sam says meekly.
“That’s right. Yes, Sam, your boy flirted with me for a day or two! That’s because he’s got taste, come on, look at me.”
“Let me finish. If you really had eyes, you’d have seen that between the two of us, I’m not the one he was showboating for!” Sarah tilts her head then, dipping her voice down low into an exaggerated Brooklyn drawl. “Hey, Sammy, want me to help you lift that with my big strong muscles? Ooh, let me touch up all over your body—but I’m just movin’ around ya on this little cramped boat. Don’t mind me. Hey, darlin’, I’ll screw that tighter for you, and if you want, I can also screw y—”
“He doesn’t sound like that,” Sam interrupts, face feeling red-hot. He’s thought about that day a few times too many for it to be something so easily brushed off, but that’s his business. “Okay, you’ve made your point. But it’s not like that.”
Sarah drops the accent instantly, face serious. “Okay. Then tell me how it is.”
“We’re friends,” Sam insists.
“A friend who practically lives in your apartment, even though he has his own place? Every single time I’ve facetimed you, he’s been there in the background.”
“Bucky doesn’t sleep well when he’s alone.”
Sarah closes her eyes. “Lord, give me patience.”
Sam drums his fingers nervously against the counter, heart pounding. The beer cans are gathering condensation in the wet heat; Bucky’s probably still waiting for him out there. He’s been gone for longer than expected.
“I’m not falling for this bullshit, Sam. I know you like him. He brought one damn cake to the cookout and you spent the rest of the night hanging off his shoulders! And he’s worse! Follows you around like a puppy. Stares at you like you hung the moon.”
“And the pet names, for crying out loud! What is with that?”
It’s an inside joke, Sam thinks about saying again. It’s supposed to be funny, okay? Because Bucky calls me sweetheart but I’m not actually his sweetheart, ha-ha. It’s not for real.
“Sam,” says Sarah, insistent.
Something sour curdles in his stomach.
“I don’t know,” he gets out. “But it’s not—he’s not looking for something like that, not after all he’s been through. I know that. I won’t do that to him.”
“Sam, I know you. I know you’ve gotta be seeing everything that I’ve been seeing. Why won’t you just admit it? Why are you making it so hard?”
Sam’s ribs draw tight. He bites the inside of his cheek, feels the sharp sting of his teeth against flesh. Almost draws blood. I won’t ruin it, he thinks fiercely. I won’t lose him, too.
Sarah’s eyes have gone soft with worry. “Tell me. What’s the real problem here?”
Sam looks away.
“Sam,” says Sarah, quiet. “Is this about Riley?”
When Sam first returned to Louisiana from Afghanistan, all those years ago, he spent day after day just going through the motions. Barely eating, barely sleeping. Gritting his teeth through the nights. Biting his tongue when he woke, so the whole house wouldn’t wake with him.
A month in, Sarah found him in the dark kitchen at 4am, standing on colt-wobbly legs and clutching at a maple-glazed donut like it was the last thing tying him to the world. She had brought a dozen home from the bakery that afternoon.
When she asked him what he was doing, he turned to her, eyes red, and replied: Riley said that when he came back home, this was the first thing he wanted to eat. That dumbass. His voice cracked as he spoke. That fucking dumbass. It’s not even that good.
Then, he broke down in Sarah’s arms like he was a little boy again, barefoot on the cool kitchen tile and covered in nightmare-sweat. Gasped and shook, his heart shuddering like it would spill right out of his chest. Felt Sarah’s arms wrap tighter around him as he soaked his tears into the cotton of her t-shirt.
He said, I was up there just to watch.
He said, They had to drive around in a humvee just to collect all the pieces of him. Like a damn treasure hunt.
He said, I was scared. I was weak. It could have been me. There was nothing I could do. Maybe there was. Maybe if I hadn’t been so afraid of being hit. Maybe if I hadn’t tried to save myself. Maybe if I had flown lower—if I had dived faster—I could have—
The kitchen is a still cocoon around them. The dimming light spills, warm and mellow, from the windows in slanting streams. There are no nightmares here.
“There are more ways to be hurt,” says Sarah, “than just losing someone.”
Sam watches a water droplet slide down a beer can.
“You can’t keep the world on your shoulders forever, Sam. Let yourself come first. Let yourself have this, just for once.”
When he finally heads back down to the boat, Bucky’s propped up against a stack of boxes on the end of the dock, watching the sun sink down into the horizon with his feet dangling over the water.
Sam doesn’t bother sneaking up behind him, both because the floorboards of the dock creak like a haunted house in the wind and because Bucky’s super-hearing is too good for that to ever happen. When he wrestles a can out from the pack rings and presses the cool metal to the back of Bucky’s neck, he doesn’t even flinch.
“Thanks, sweetheart,” Bucky says, and snatches it away to pop the tab. “You took a while. Got lost on the way to your own kitchen, huh? Knew all those knocks to the head would come back to bite you eventually.”
Just for that, Sam slams his knee into Bucky’s back as he settles himself down on the jumble of boxes.
“Oof,” Bucky grunts, more for show than out of actual pain. He puts his hand onto the bony knob of Sam’s kneecap. “Watch where you’re putting those,” he gripes, and then he slings his arm across Sam’s lap, props his head up with his hand, and makes himself comfortable.
Sam stares down at where the vulnerable curve of Bucky’s ribs is pressing hard into his thigh. Tears his gaze away, over the slow play of muscle under Bucky’s worn henley, and instead focuses his eyes on the little whorl of hair on the top of Bucky’s head.
“Watch where you’re putting yourself,” he says faintly. “Not everyone is patient enough to be your armrest.”
Bucky looks up at that. He grins up at Sam with his stupid white teeth and stupid blue eyes, and, god—
“Good thing I have you, then,” he laughs, and Sam feels like he’s burning up.
Sam’s not the type of person who goes on their phone first thing in the morning—no, he leaves that up to Bucky, who, always and without fail, pulls his phone out as soon as he’s had his first cup of coffee and props his feet up on Sam’s nice chairs to scroll through like it’s the Sunday paper.
It makes sense, then, that he doesn’t see the notification for Sarah’s text until he’s already finished his morning run.
“Hey,” Bucky says, mid-yawn, and Sam looks up from his phone. Bucky is shuffling through the entranceway to the kitchen, hair wet and dripping on his shoulders. “Shower’s open now. You’re almost out of body wash, by the way, I’ll pick some up from the store when I get groceries.”
Sam tries not to stare too long at the flush of heat spreading across his pale skin. It’s nice to see him like this, soft and shower-fresh and wandering around Sam’s kitchen in soft sweats and a t-shirt, squinting into the morning light. He looks like he’s at home.
“Okay,” says Sam when he thinks he’s been silent for too long. He does his best not to muse over when exactly Bucky started buying his groceries for him, and redirects his attention back to Sarah’s text.
The timestamp is from an hour ago. Sam scrolls down, water cup still halfway to his lips.
Did you see this?
Text me back when you’re done freaking out. Or laughing. Or both.
She’s attached a link in her next text. Vaguely curious, Sam clicks it, blinking through the sweat that’s dripping in his eyes, and a website pops up with a video.
It’s on autoplay, and stereotypical peppy intro music starts blaring through the kitchen.
“And you call me an old man,” says Bucky from where he’s settled himself at the kitchen table. He always sits facing the window, because he likes watching the sun come in over the roofs of the city buildings. “Who’s the one who’s playing the news loudly on their phone at the breakfast table with no headphones on?”
“I’m not at the table, I’m at the counter,” Sam retorts. “And you’re giving me an awful lot of lip for someone who was just whining earlier about how my couch gives you backaches. Shut up and eat your cornflakes, geezer.”
When Bucky doesn’t say anything in return, Sam focuses his attention back on the video. The colorful intro banner fades away to be replaced with a blonde news anchor with a Colgate commercial smile.
Sam frowns—he can already tell that this isn’t the type of news that Sarah usually listens to. It looks like the online version of People magazine, or any other trashy news source lying around any clinic waiting room in America. He’s about to exit out of the page and nag at Sarah for becoming a gossip-rag-follower when a voice starts piping out of his phone’s speaker.
“Breaking news on our favorite superhero couple,” says the host of the show, bright and plasticky under the studio lights. “That’s right, folks! We’ve got solid evidence that the Cap and Winter Soldier romance is real—”
Sam’s finger slams down on the pause button.
What, he thinks, the hell.
There’s a graphic frozen on-screen, superimposed over the feed of the news anchor in the studio. It’s an awful paparazzi photo of him and Bucky, somewhere on the streets of New York, looking like they’d both just gone three days straight without sleep—Bucky’s hand, resting casually on Sam’s waist, is circled in red. Just in case the viewers couldn’t tell where to look, based on the ten arrows also edited to point in that direction.
Emoji hearts have been added onto the border of the photo. Sam closes his eyes.
There’s the clink of a spoon knocking against ceramic.
“Don’t stop on my account,” says Bucky from behind him, and Sam snaps out of his stupor—and remembers, with another cold wash of horror, that he isn’t alone. “Play your news.”
Full-body cringe already engaged, Sam turns his head just the slightest bit to assess the damage. Bucky’s still at the kitchen table, facing away, so Sam can’t see his expression—he can’t tell if that’s for the better or for the worse—but the broad stretch of his shoulders is looking awfully stiff, and he’s gone still as a statue.
His spoon is resting silently against the side of his cereal bowl, abandoned. The cornflakes are going to go soggy.
“Just watch your damn video, Sam.”
Sam closes his mouth, helpless. Presses play. Watches his damn video.
The anchor’s voice washes over him, each sentence more damning than the last. He’s horribly aware of Bucky on the other side of the kitchen, silent and almost definitely listening along; the plasticky case of Sam’s phone keeps slipping in his suddenly-sweaty hands. His neck prickles.
“—seen visiting the grocery store together—”
“—Barnes reportedly staying overnight—”
“—looking cozy—Wilson family home—”
Just when Sam thinks that the video is over, the anchor shuffles her papers, delivers a bright smile to the camera, and says, “Now, onto our viewers’ favorite segment! Here’s this week’s photo updates with Captain Wilson and Sergeant Barnes!”
A slideshow of paparazzi photos starts playing.
There are a lot of photos. As the slideshow keeps going, complete with shitty high-school-presentation style dissolve transitions, Sam feels his shoulders hitch up higher and higher around his ears. He doesn’t want to be watching this. It’s humiliating, it’s ridiculous, it’s—
“So,” says Bucky’s voice, closer than expected. Sam jumps, whips his head around to see Bucky peering over his shoulder—he hadn’t realized Bucky had even gotten up from the table. “What’s that all about, huh?”
Sam scrambles backwards, tries to regain his composure. “So,” he says stiffly. “According to the Internet, we’re an item.”
“According to more than just the Internet, I’d think,” says Bucky, nonchalant, and wait, what?
“What’s that supposed to mean,” says Sam, sweat going cold on his skin.
“I’m just saying,” Bucky says with a shrug—but his eyes are sharp. Assessing. It sets Sam on edge. “No one’s been particularly subtle about it, either.”
“Well, first of all—remember Leah?”
Sam gapes. “From Izzy’s? I only met her once!”
Bucky shrugs again, and shifts his weight to lean against the cabinet next to the stove. “Well, that was enough to make an impression, I’m guessing. She thought that I ditched her during our date because I was pining over you.”
Sam stares. “You weren’t even talking to me then.”
Bucky looks away, chagrined. “Yeah, you don’t need to rub it in, I’m sorry, okay?”
“Forget that. Who else?”
“Uhhh.” Bucky makes a face like he’s ticking off a mental list. “Torres. Sharon.”
“Torres?! He hasn’t said a single thing to me! And how do you know Sharon th—”
“I have super hearing, sweetheart. She called you during our last movie night, I was literally in the other room. And as for Torres—” Bucky snorts, a dark look entering his eyes. “Well, he wouldn’t say stuff like that to his childhood crush, would he.”
“Okay, well, none of this means anyth—”
Bucky gives him a long, hard look. “Your sister, too.”
Sam is caught so off-guard that he blurts out, “What? The house is at least a five minute walk away from the dock, how could you have heard that?” before he can stop himself. In the next second, he realizes exactly how incriminating that sounds.
Bucky’s eyes widen to dinner plates. It would be funny if Sam wasn’t currently trying to sink through the floor. “What?”.
“Nothing,” Sam says, wishing he had his wings on so he could just soar out the window and never come back. “Forget it.”
“No, I mean—I texted her—Sam, were you talking to your sister about me?”
“That’s none of your business!” Sam scrambles for an escape from the hole he’s digging, feeling desperate. “Why were you texting her?”
A line forms in between Bucky’s eyebrows. “You were acting off after we visited your sister, that one time, so I just wanted to make sure nothing bad happened.”
“I visited. You gatecrashed.”
“Whatever. But your sister said something to me, you know. Said that you might take a while to come around. But that she knew I’d get through to you eventually.”
“She—why does everyone think you’re trying to date me?”
“Why,” Bucky bursts out, throwing his hands in the air, “do you think that I’m not?”
Sam feels the breath catch in his throat.
Just a few steps away, Bucky runs a hand over his face, chest heaving. “Sam,” he says through gritted teeth, “you’re taking the birdbrain thing too seriously. Are you really this dense?”
Sam opens his mouth. Closes it. Hears his pulse pounding in his ears like a drum.
“Look at us. You’ve said it so many times; I’m practically living in your apartment. I’ve met your family a billion times. You keep fancy shampoos in your shower when I know you don’t use them yourself. You run the coffeemaker for me in the morning, even on the days when you’re just having tea.” Bucky’s really getting agitated now, body practically vibrating, like he really wants to pace back and forth but is holding himself back from doing that.
“I’ve haven’t been hiding it, either. Sam, do you think I flirt with you just for fun?” Bucky slumps a little then, fiddles with his fingers in the way that Sam’s come to associate with nerves. Eventually settles on clenching his flesh hand over his vibranium one, knuckles bleaching white with tension. “If you don’t feel the same way, that’s fine. I just—I really like you. You’re so sharp, Sam, I thought you would’ve caught on by now.”
Sam swallows loudly.
The thing is.
The thing is—
Sam did catch on. Sam did know. Sam knew this whole time, probably; could feel it in his blood, every time Bucky’s blue eyes caught his gaze and sent his heart into a frenzy like he was tumbling from the sky. Could feel every sudden drop, every dizzying lurch when their hands brushed over their cups, when they shared laughter in the sun, when Bucky’s arm settled warm and comforting over his own body. When Bucky stayed up with him, silent, after he woke in the night mid-scream. When Bucky would say his name like that, soft, and smile at him like he couldn’t help it.
It was clear as day, in the end. Sam just didn’t want to look.
Bucky’s still standing there, shuffling. Every second of silence makes him wilt a little further.
Sam sets his jaw.
Thinks about Bucky, and the way he fits into Sam’s life like a puzzle piece.
Decides to let himself have this, just for once.
“I do,” he says, and saying it out loud feels like taking a hammer to the thick ice of a frozen lake. Something deep inside cracks open, and the truth wells out, clear and piercing. It feels—terrifying, he thinks. Terrifying, but good.
Bucky’s head snaps up.
“Come again?” he croaks.
“I do,” Sam says again, heart racing. “I do feel the same.”
Bucky steps forward, tentative. “Sam,” he whispers, voice unsteady. Hopeful. “Why didn’t you ever say something?”
Sam wets his lips. “I didn’t want to risk it,” he admits. “ You weren’t ready, and I was scared. I didn’t wanna put all that on you.”
Another step. Bucky’s hands are shaking. “You gotta let me make that decision for myself.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
They’re just a step apart now.
“Sam,” Bucky gets out. He’s swaying forward on his feet. “I’m gonna—I gotta—will you let me—”
“Okay,” says Sam.
Bucky shudders. “I didn’t even say what I wanted to do. It could be anything.”
“I know,” Sam breathes. “And I’ll say it again: okay.”
Bucky freezes, just for a second—and within the next breath, he’s in Sam’s space, has him up against the kitchen counter.
There isn’t much talking for a long time.
“Wait,” Sam gasps, when Bucky finally lets him breathe and he’s able to use his brain for more than just concentrating on the softness of his lips. “I’m all sweaty—you just showered—”
“Fuck that,” Bucky mutters into his neck. “I’ve been wanting to do this for months. I don’t care if you’re sweaty.”
Bucky nips at the tender spot behind his ear. “Let me have my moment, Sam.”
Sam pulls on the back of Bucky’s shirt collar until he comes away, pouting.
“I was gonna say,” Sam pants, trying to sound stern even as he feels Bucky’s hands creeping back around him, “that you can have your moment somewhere more comfortable.”
Bucky blinks at him, face flushed.
Sam raises a brow. “I have a bedroom.”
“Oh. Oh.” Bucky presses in closer. Puts his hands under Sam’s thighs and lifts, and wow, Sam knew he was strong, but he still feels his stomach flip.
Bucky’s smile is sweet and sharp and almost too much. “Sweetheart,” he says, brilliant, “I thought you’d never ask.”
Of all the bars Sam has entered in his life, this is definitely one of the nicer ones.
The flashing neon lights from the dancefloor could be a little more forgiving, though, so for the sake of his eyesight he keeps his eyes down and focuses on nursing the overpriced martini he has in front of him.
He’s almost finished his drink when the chair next to him screeches against the floor, high and grating above the throbbing bassline of the music.
Sam looks up.
“Hey, there. What’s a looker like you doin’ all alone in a place like this?” Blue eyes twinkle in the dim bar lighting.
Sam fights back a burst of laughter. When he regains some measure of control over his face, he answers, “Not alone, thanks. I’m waiting on someone.”
A wide, white grin. “They’ve kept you waiting an awful long time, I’d think.”
Sam traces his fingers through the condensation on his glass. “What can I say? He’s a busy guy. Worth waiting for, though.”
A raised brow. “Really?”
“Mm-hm. Y’know, he’s kinda sensitive. Don’t think he’ll take too kindly to walking in and seeing you hanging over here. Why don’t you—”
A heavy hand falls between Sam’s shoulder blades. “I dunno,” murmurs the low voice against his ear. “I don’t think I should. Only a fool would flake on a face like yours. How ‘bout you come with me, honey, and I can show you a good evening?”
The hand creeps lower, inching toward the small of Sam’s back—
“Hey, is this guy bothering you?”
Sam jerks, startled. So does the body behind him.
The bartender, who Sam could’ve sworn was just standing all the way at the other end of the bar, has apparently teleported in front of them. She’s glaring, fierce and sharp—not at him, but at Bucky, who’s practically plastered himself to Sam’s back.
“Uh,” says Sam.
“I heard you, asshole,” the bartender says to Bucky. She has one hand under the counter. “You’re getting awfully pushy with someone who isn’t interested. I can have security over here in five seconds with just the press of a button—“
“No, wait,” Sam rushes to explain. “He’s not bothering me—I’m so sorry, you don’t need to call security.”
The bartender narrows her eyes. “You’re sure?”
“Yes!” The security at this bar couldn’t take Bucky anyway, Sam does not say. “I was waiting for him, he just decided to act like an idiot. We’re here for our anniversary. Thank you for checking up on me, though.”
At the word ‘anniversary,’ the bartender’s face lights up. “Oh,” she laughs, “sorry about that! You can never be too safe. Have a good one, you guys.”
As soon as she disappears off to the other end of the bar, Sam buries his face in his hands.
“That was so—you are the worst,” he says, muffled. “You are the most ridiculous person alive. Stop laughing!”
Bucky unearths himself from Sam’s shoulder, face red with mingled amusement and embarrassment.
“I can’t believe that just happened,” he gasps.
Helpless, Sam feels the corners of his mouth twitch up. “Man,” he huffs, “you really tried to be smooth, and look where it got us. That was incredibly humiliating for you, I think. You may never recover.”
“Hey, you played along. It’s been a while since we’ve roleplayed in a place like this, you know,” says Bucky, eyebrow raised. “How about this, you can be the Smiling Tiger, and I can be your stoic bodyguard—“
“I hate you.”
“Oh!” Bucky brings a hand to his chest, looking wounded. “Rebuffed by my sweetheart on the anniversary of our joining—“
“Shut the hell up,” Sam laughs, slapping at him. “What’s gotten into you today? Why are you being so sappy?”
Bucky smiles like a fool, eyes crinkling. “I can’t be sappy,” he says, sliding his hand over Sam’s nape, “when I’ve got Captain America himself waiting for me on our anniversary, looking like a snack?”
Sam almost collapses in laughter again. “What in the—where did you learn that from?”
Bucky blinks. “AJ and Cass.”
“Okay, one: don’t ever say that again. You sound like a pervy old man.” Sam dodges the swat to his cheek and delivers a counterattack in the form of a pinch to Bucky’s side, and then grins when Bucky flinches back and knocks his elbow on the bar top. “Two: you’re damn lucky Captain America is giving you and your wandering hands the time of day when you ate the last yogurt this morning. I was saving that, you asshole.”
“Aww, c’mon, are you really gonna keep holding onto that? I was running late.”
“It was the strawberry mousse, babe. The symmetry of my face has been offset through deprivation.”
“Oh no,” sighs Bucky. “Your perfect face. We can’t have that.”
“Yeah?” Sam leans in, smug. “You think my face is perfect? You think I’m the most beautiful man alive?”
Bucky takes five seconds to scan over his body, looks Sam dead in the face, and then says, “Actually, your forehead could be a little smaller—okay, haha, sorry! It was a joke, darlin’, don’t push me. How about this, I’ll make it up to you when we get home.” He winks, greasily charming. “I wasn’t lying about showing you a good evening.”
“That was awful,” Sam says, but he’s smiling. “I don’t know why I bring you anywhere.”
“‘Cause you love me,” Bucky says. Tips his head down for a kiss, eager as a puppy.
“Yeah,” Sam laughs, and leans in. “I do.”