“Steve represented the best in all of us. Courageous, righteous, hopeful. And he mastered posing stoically.”
Sam paused as the audience chuckled, hoping he didn’t look as nervous as he felt. Speeches were always Steve’s thing, his specialty.
“The world has forever changed.” He kept going with his well practiced speech, proud of himself for not needing to read it. Steve wouldn’t have read it. Steve made them up on the spot. Steve-- was gone. And Sam really needed to stop comparing himself to him, but he couldn’t. Not after the past few months.
“And this thing…” He chuckled. “I don’t know if there’s ever been a greater symbol. But it’s more about the man who propped it up, and he’s gone.”
Rhodes was in the audience; Sam could see him from the stage. It was nice of him to show up. Sam was sure the man was busy and after losing his best friend...well, it was kind of him to show up. Sam had sent an invite to Wakanda, addressed to Bucky, and had never heard back. That was fine, they weren’t friends, and Sam didn’t need him to be there. Not at all.
“So, today we honor Steve’s legacy. But also, we look to the future. So, thank you, Captain America.” Sam raised his eyes from the shield momentarily, almost blanching as he caught sight of the two figures at the back of the room. He caught himself and handed the shield over to the attendees. “But this belongs to you.” He finished, feeling unexpectedly warm.
As the audience applauded and Sam left the stage, he sneaked another look.
Bucky looked...good. Great, even. Then again, the last time Sam had laid eyes on him had been Steve’s funeral and neither of them had looked even remotely okay. The man, after successfully concluding a legal battle Steve had started with the U.S. government during the blip, had returned to Wakanda without so much as a goodbye. Sam knew from his few conversations with King T’Challa that he’d taken residence in the mountains with the Jabari and was surprisingly not drowning in grief. Sue him, Sam had been concerned. Secretly, he wondered if Bucky had been concerned for him.
Bucky’s hair was even longer that last time, held back in a bun, and he wore a muted navy suit that looked more expensive than any clothes Sam had ever owned. Perks of being best friends with the king of the richest nation on Earth, Sam supposed. Behind him was a young woman in a black pantsuit, beautiful jewelry decorating her hands and neck. Right away, Sam knew she was a Dora Milaje.
Bucky caught his gaze, steel blue eyes seemingly expressionless. Without a word, he headed in the direction of the newly renovated exhibit, the Dora following close behind. Oh, so the man finally wanted to talk.
Before he could ponder much on it, the damned smug senator and Rhodey stood in front of him and Sam had to put up his sure and certain front again. Shaking the senator’s hand, he put Bucky Barnes out of his mind.
“I like this one more than the last one.”
Sam jumped as the voice came from behind him, dragging his gaze away from the shield behind the glass. After his talk with Rhodes, he’d almost forgotten about the other person that would be waiting to speak with him.
Barnes stood beside him, hands on his trouser pockets, eyes locked on the uniform in front of them.
Sam cleared his throat, relaxing his body. “The exhibit?” He asked.
He got a simple nod in response.
“I, uh, didn’t expect you to show.” Sam continued, “Considering I never heard back from you.”
Bucky made a face, almost sheepish. “Sorry.” He said, sounding sincere. “I was going to answer, but, well, I forgot.”
Sam huffed. “Where’s your friend?” He said next, not wanting to fall into silence.
A thin smile appeared on the supersoldier’s face. “Enjoying the rest of the exhibit. M’yra’s, uh, not really a bodyguard. She’s mostly here for appearances. T’Challa didn’t want me to come here alone.” And M’Baku had vehemently agreed.
Sam didn’t blame him. Even if Bucky had been declared innocent for the crimes of the Winter Soldier, it wouldn’t be good for him to be alone in an event with so many government officials. “That’s nice of him.” He said out loud. The Dora Milaje were the king’s personal guards, Sam didn’t know he could assign them to other people.
Bucky finally looked at him. “Nice speech. Simple, honest, to the point.”
Sam chuckled. “Thanks.” He muttered, trying not to let his actual gratefulness show. He took a deep breath and looked back at the shield. The shield that, for a brief few months, had been Sam’s. “You’re not mad? At me retiring the shield like this, I mean.” Sam had wondered if the reason why Barnes had decided to ignore his invitation to the event was anger at the occasion and in truth, had been slightly relieved that he wouldn’t have to face any disappointment from Steve’s best friend. Not on top of the rest of the Avengers’. Out of all of them, Rhodey had been the most polite in his expression of it. Even the Spiderkid had been rather blunt in his disagreement.
Perhaps Sam would have cared more, had he been close to any of them. But he’d been the closest with Steve and Natasha, and now they were both dead and gone. So.
Bucky took a deep breath, then spoke. “I was furious when I got your letter.”
Sam closed his eyes.
“ But ,”
Sam opened them.
“After I took some time to think rationally I came to a simple conclusion.”
“Oh? And what’s that?”
Bucky looked at him, “That Steve gave you the shield, therefore it belongs to you and therefore, you can do whatever you want with it. Including donating it to a museum. And , while I might not really understand the why, I can damn well respect your right to do whatever you want with your property.” Buck wondered if Sam would be able to tell he was quoting his therapist almost word by word.
Sam was floored. He truly had not expected that. In a way, he was disappointed. The embarrassingly large part of him that was still unsure about the fate of the shield had hoped that having James Barnes tell him it was stupid to put it on a museum would encourage the rest of him to keep it after all. But instead Bucky was being completely respectful and reasonable. Damn him.
The younger man coughed. “Thanks, man. I appreciate that.” Truthfully, Sam didn’t think he could actually handle another lecture about the damn thing.
They stood in silence for a moment.
“You in the States long?”
Bucky nodded. “We’re heading to New York tonight. It’s M’Baku and M’yra’s first time in the country and I want to show them where I grew up.”
How perfectly lovely. “M’Baku? That’s, eh--”
“The leader of the Jabari Tribe.” Bucky said quickly, looking shy. “...my boyfriend.”
Oh. “Oh.” Sam raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t know you were dating.” He looked at the man’s face and laughed. “Look at you, man. You’re blushing.”
Bucky glared at him, but his cheeks were red and they ruined the intended murderous effect.
“How’d you meet?” Sam could use a distraction.
“T’Challa introduced us.” Bucky said, glare fading into a fond look. “Way before Thanos came. M’Baku wasn’t snapped away like us, but...he waited for me.” He was smiling now. Full blown. He looked properly in love.
Sam smiled too, slightly bittersweet. “I’m happy for you, man.”
Bucky looked at him. “Thanks.”
A series of beeps interrupted them and Bucky took his left hand out of his pocket, revealing a bracelet of what Sam knew to be Kimoyo beads.
“That’ll be him.” Barnes said to him. “I left him back at the hotel, discovering the joys of modern American television. Doubt he was impressed.” The man was never impressed by anything American outside of Bucky. “Maybe we could eat? Sometime? Have dinner, I mean. Before we head back home. I’m sure he’d like you.” How could anyone not like Sam Wilson? Even when Bucky hadn’t liked him...he had liked him.
Sam nodded, “I’d like that.”
M’yra appeared at the entrance of the exhibit section and Sam noticed for the first time that her right hand was made of metal, much like Bucky’s own. She nodded at them.
“I, erm, don’t have a phone.” Bucky said, forehead creased. Then he grabbed the bracelet and gently took out a small bead. “Here,” he offered to Sam, “You can call me with this.”
Sam took it, happy to see that it was Bucky who was offering him a way to make contact. “I’ll do that.” He said. “Thank you again, for coming. You didn’t have to.”
Bucky smiled softly at him. “Sure I did.” And he left the room, leaving Sam standing alone again.
Well, thought Sam, that interaction was nothing like he had expected. It had felt good to get along with the man for once. To have a nice conversation.
Sam was definitely going to dinner with him and his boyfriend, if only to see the Winter Soldier blush again.