Sam might’ve guessed when his husband bought the clothesline and pins to go with it.
Sam might’ve guessed, but he was too busy being quietly perplexed to bring it to the forefront of his mind.
He just indulged Bucky when, towards the end of their grocery shopping trip, he steered their cart into the “home” and “storage and organization” section. Sam had a sense that he could ask what Bucky was looking for when he finally stopped them in front of the shelves sporting laundry essentials. But neither he nor Bucky said a word as Bucky perused the shelves.
And eventually found and bought a clothesline and the pins to go with it.
When they get home and after they put the groceries up, Bucky goes out into their backyard to set up the clothesline. Sam only stands in their sliding glass door and silently watches Bucky assemble it; Bucky doesn’t ask for help, doesn’t say anything at all as he works.
The rest of their day at home goes smoothly, serenely. Routinely. They rib and tease each other while stealing hugs and kisses and ass squeezes. The occasional calls come in from Sam’s mom, from Natasha, from Steve.
In the evening, Sam cooks dinner at the counter island while Bucky walks pasts him, balancing a laundry basket on his hip. Sam chops the tomatoes and browns the hamburger and boils the pasta as he listens to Bucky load their high-end, heavy duty washing machine.
In the morning, after Bucky cooks them a breakfast spread of ham, eggs, pancakes, and coffee, and they’ve eaten well, he gets the laundry out of the washing machine. Sam is nursing his second cup of coffee when he watches his husband take the laundry basket full of wet clothes somewhere other than the dryer.
And out to the backyard.
Sam blinks. He puts his mug on the counter. “Uhh…Bucky, baby?”
Bucky stops right in the sliding glass doors leading to the backyard and turns to smile at him. “Yeah, hon?”
“Well, uhh…” He pauses to clear his throat. “Is the dryer suddenly broken? ‘Cause if not, you know you can…always use that instead, right?”
Bucky’s eyes dart to the floor and his head ducks down. “O-oh, yeah, I know. And the dryer is actually just fine. I just wanted to…y’know…”
Sam suddenly remembers the clothesline out in the backyard.
Oh, yeah. Right.
He rushes to reassure Bucky, coming closer and gently placing his hands on his shoulders and rubbing. “Oh sure, honey! Yeah, if you wanna use that-well, shit, of course you wanted to use that! I mean, we bought it, right?
“Uh huh. I’d…I’d like to use that instead”, Bucky says quietly. He looks back up at Sam through his lashes and smiles.
Sam nods with a smile of his own and lets him go. He picks up his coffee again and Bucky hoists the laundry basket higher on his hip and slips out to the backyard.
Sam swirls his coffee mug around and steps just inside the doors, watching his husband work.
Bucky sets the basket down on the ground just in front of the clothesline so he can pull his hair back in a ponytail. He then bends down and pulls out one of Sam’s light-blue polo shirts, damp and fresh and clean. Carefully, he places the pins on it and then just as carefully places Sam’s newly-pinned shirt on the clothesline. Bucky shakes out parts of Sam’s shirt that have clumped together, like the left sleeve and part of the hem so that every part of it gets equally dry and unwrinkled as possible. When Bucky is satisfied, he bends down to do much the same with a pair of jeans.
And on and on until the laundry basket looks emptier and emptier.
Even when his coffee cup is empty, Sam stays watching quietly in the doorway. His dark brown eyes drift from watching Bucky’s hands at work to watch Bucky’s face. There’s a deep, intense concentration there as he goes about his chore; his eyes are intent on every clasping pin, on every bit of the clothesline as it bounces, on every hem, sleeve, collar, and button. But at the same time, there’s something far, far, far away in Bucky’s face, in Bucky’s eyes.
Sam’s heart initially pounds in his throat as he sees that faraway look. He’s seen it enough times to be braced for what often followed: breakdowns. Flashbacks. Nightmares. Sobbing. Screaming.
But this time…this time there is not a single thing painful in the far, far away look in Bucky’s face, in Bucky’s eyes. And so Sam’s heart slows. He looks carefully to see, instead, something be reminisced in his husband’s eyes, something being brought to fruition there in the clothesline.
Bucky’s eyes briefly lift from a pair of khakis to meet his husband’s. He gives Sam such a soft, soft smile and Sam gives it right back. And then Bucky is intent on his work once more.
Sam really might’ve guessed.
Sam decides to leave the laundry alone for the time being.
The second time Bucky does this he gets done much more quickly.
And when he’s done with the third load, he doesn’t come back into the house with his husband. He doesn’t even take his ponytail down. Instead, he sits outside on one of their lounge chairs, rests his forearms on the armrests, and lies against its back and watches.
Sam watches Bucky watch.
Sam watches Bucky watch the clothesline.
They really do go through a lot of clothes in such a short amount of time-it’s often that the clothesline barely has any space on it for an extra pair of pants or even a dishtowel.
So there is much for Bucky to watch, and so there is much for Sam to watch with Bucky.
Sam walks away from the back sliding glass doors and into the house to go about his own business. The sun soon climbs high, high in the sky in the prime of afternoon and still Sam sees that nothing changes in the backyard. Bucky still sits in the lounge chair; Bucky still wears his hair up in a ponytail. Bucky is still watching the laundry on the clothesline.
The airy laundry on the clothesline.
And now Sam has gotten to the point where he’s straining-straining to see what Bucky is just sitting and lounging in watching in the softly billowing folds of laundry.
In the airy laundry.
The airy, airy laundry.
Sam struggles to hold onto patience as he putters around the house doing his usual things. But he can’t help occasionally going out to the backyard to check on his husband. He’ll bring Bucky some iced tea, something that’s a little snack to eat, and a warm rub to the shoulder and an even warmer smile.
Each and every time he does, Bucky looks to snap out of something, to be pulled away from something. He always meets Sam’s eyes and gives him one of his biggest, brightest smiles ever like he’s seeing him for the first time and he’s the most beautiful sight in the world. He fervently thanks Sam for whatever Sam brings out for him and reminds him to please, please, please take out from the freezer whatever he wants for dinner.
And it is often not until dinner, when the sun is setting, that Bucky will come back inside the house once and for all. It is on the evening when Sam chose steak and fettucine alfredo pasta that he starts to see something as Bucky cooks. It is not yet a something that is found in the airy laundry on the clothesline, but rather something that is found within Bucky himself.
Something within Bucky’s eyes.
Sam glances up from twirling tender, generously-sauced pasta from his plate to see it in those gray-blue depths.
Serenity. Longing. Tranquility. All of it powerfully.
Bucky breaks his concentration in spearing himself a piece of steak. He blinks at his husband. “…What, sweetie? What’s wrong?”
Sam immediately shakes his head, a smile brightening his features. “Oh, nothing. Nothing’s wrong at all-nothing in the whole wide world.”
“You…sure?” But Bucky can’t help but mirror Sam’s smile. “Positive?”
“Absolutely positive, hon. Absolutely.” Sam subtly changes the subject by pretending to suddenly remember something. “By the way, did you finish the grocery list, yet?”
“Oh, shit”, Bucky exclaims. He goes along with Sam’s pretending. “Completely forgot. But I think I went through everythin’ in the house, except for the things in the bathroom. We’re low on bar soap, right…?”
Sam still leaves the laundry alone.
Every Saturday and/or Sunday without fail, Bucky still does the laundry.
He piles the freshly-washed load into the laundry basket, hoists it up onto his hip, and walks right past the dryer and out to the backyard. He sets the basket down in front of the clothesline to tie his hair up in a ponytail, and then bends down once more to pin the first article of clothing onto the clothesline.
And when he’s done, when the clothesline has nary enough room for even one more thing, Bucky, with his hair still in a ponytail, sits in one of the lounge chairs to watch the softly billowing folds of laundry.
Sam watches Bucky watch.
Sam watches Bucky watch the clothesline.
It is a new routine in their home.
And Sam, as usual, stands in their sliding glass door in-between his puttering around the house. He nurses a cup of coffee, a cup of tea, a glass of orange juice; he brings his husband such cups along with snacks. Each and every time, Bucky still thanks him fervently and tells him to please, please, please take out from the freezer whatever he wants for dinner.
One mid-Sunday-morning, Sam still stands in the sliding glass doorway watching Bucky watch. He’s starting to…he’s starting to follow that far, far away look in Bucky’s eyes.
He follows that far, far away look…all the way to the billowing folds of the laundry. Within those billowing folds, Sam sees something winking and hears something whispering. Sam almost feels like he could reach out and touch it at the same time that he’s sure, deep in his heart, that he needn’t reach out because it’s already touching him.
And Sam starts to wonder what a warm, bright sunrise in a tenement in Brooklyn looked like.
The end of the month arrives and so the time for them to wash their linen arrives.
Bucky strips their king-sized bed down to its mattress on Saturday. Sam only just barely remembers not to offer his help.
It’s much the same process from the washing machine to bypassing the dryer to heading straight for the backyard. Sam watches Bucky be extra, extra careful in hanging up their sheets so that not a single corner touches the ground below.
And Bucky, with his ponytail still up, stays in the lounge chair nearly all day and evening, save for lunch and dinner with his husband.
Their linen sheets billow in the wind.
It’s not until that next Sunday morning that Sam finally understands.
That Sam finally sees.
Sees what Bucky sees.
Sam wakes up that Sunday morning before dawn. He wakes up to a cold side of the bed, but it’s just as well. He climbs out of bed, slips into his fuzzy house slippers (an anniversary gift from Natasha), and pads to the sliding glass door.
He’s unsurprised at finding Bucky sitting in the lounge chair, still in his own pajamas and fuzzy slippers and wearing a ponytail.
Sam doesn’t bother with a cup of coffee or tea or a glass of orange juice. He simply opens their sliding glass door all the way, walks down the steps of their patio, and into the backyard. His steps are barely muffled by his slippers and the grass, but he knows that his husband would hear him approaching loud and clear anyway.
Sam finally reaches Bucky and places a warm, tender hand on Bucky’s broad shoulder. Bucky immediately turns his head to look up at him with a big, welcoming smile on his face.
“…May I join you?” Sam asks quietly.
Bucky lifts Sam’s hand from his shoulder and soundly plants a kiss on it. “Yeah, sweetheart. Please do.”
Sam smiles at that and sits down in the other lounge chair beside Bucky.
They sit together in the semi-darkness. Soon the beginning greys of pre-dawn bloom into the awakening pinks and reds and purples of the sunrise.
Sam watches Bucky watch the way the sheets delicately shift and billow in the early morning wind. They can both scent the floral detergent riding the air until it drifts all the way back to the house. Sam sits with Bucky and watches Bucky…just sit and watch…watch forever.
The early morning light grows stronger still, grows brighter still. And within that light, Sam can still see and hear the airy laundry winking and whispering now more than ever.
He scoots until he can sit on the side edge of the lounge chair and rests his elbows on his knees. His voice is as soft and gentle as the laden clothesline before them. “…I bet it was a beautiful sight. I mean, it’s a beautiful sight righ’ now, but it was probably even more so back then.”
Sam watches Bucky’s Adam’s apple bob as he swallows heavily. A light sheen of unshed tears appears over his eyes and his hands grip the armrests of the lounge chair tighter. His voice when he speaks is just as soft, just as gentle in that Brooklyn.
“It was. It really was”, he agrees. He swallows again. “We couldn’ afford a dryer any more than we could afford a fridge back then; we were lucky at all t’be able to use a kind neighbor’s washer every now an’ then.”
“Yeah, it was beautiful. But I guess…I guess you don’ really appreciate that-much less notice it-when it was all you had to begin with. Wasn’ anything close to beautiful when we couldn’ afford no other option. It was jus’ something we had to make do with”, Bucky continues.
Sam nods. His soft brown eyes drift between the clothesline and Bucky. He can understand such as thing. He can. He does.
“But just as it was something you had to put up with…it was also a memory”, Sam supplies.
Bucky’s eyes, warm and wide, snap over to his. A glimmer of a smile appears on his lips and that sheen of unshed tears spills over. “Y-yeah. It was-is-a memory.”
Sam feels not the slightest bit of worry or alarm as those tears slide down Bucky’s face. He knows the difference between tears of pain and tears of healing.
He simply leans even farther out of his lounge chair, closer to Bucky, and gently uses his thumbs to wipe away those spilled tears. Bucky leans into his husband’s careful, tender touch.
When Sam leans back in his own chair, Bucky’s hand comes up to rub at his forehead, as he’s done so many, many times when struggling to remember something.
“I thought…” he starts. “I thought that…HYDRA took that from me, too. I’m recoverin’ every day, but I know there’s so, so many things those bastards stole. I thought this was one of ‘em. But I did this-I wanted to do this an’ now I know…”
He turns a blinding, yet soft, smile onto Sam. “They couldn’t take this from me; I still at least have this. And now I get to share it with the man I love.”
Sam lifts Bucky’s hand to his lips for a kiss. “And I can’t tell you how glad I am that you can, Buck. I really, really can’t.”
Bucky beams. They sit back in their respective lounge chairs and continue to watch for most of the morning. Their time in the backyard is broken only by the need for breakfast. And when they return to watch the clothesline, the comfortable silence between them is broken only by the occasional reminiscence from Bucky.
Sam listens with rapt attention as Bucky recounts to him what kind of soap his parents would use. How his sisters would play in the laundry basket before they’d ever help their parents hang things up on the clothesline. When bright, sunny Sunday mornings were the best times to start the laundry.
Bucky talks to Sam of their clothesline, which was wooden and rickety and always changing pins, per the borrowing of their neighbors and/or the playing of him and his sisters. Sometimes the long wire would fracture in some places, and so they’d have to manually repair it rather than use money they didn’t have to buy a whole new clothesline. And the clothes…the laundry…even when they would weigh down the clothesline, they would always billow in the wind, wink in the sun.
Just as they do now.
It’s nearly lunchtime when they fall back into comfortable silence again.
Bucky is the one to break it yet again.
Bucky blinks, trying and failing to banish the dampness from his eyes. “…Sam?”
“D’you think…” Bucky has to swallow before continuing. “D’you think the sheets are dry, now?”
Sam nods slowly. “Yeah, Buck. I think they should be dry by now; I think we could put them back on the bed.”
“We could, huh?” Bucky gets up and walks over to the clothesline to take down one of their bedsheets. He walks back to his husband, holding the sheet out to him.
Bucky shakes the sheet out, letting it air out and letting some of the wrinkles straighten out. Sam helpfully scoots over to the end of his lounge chair…and Bucky comes around behind him to tightly, warmly wrap the sheet around Sam’s body.
“Ohh”, Sam sighs as he’s encased in fresh, clean, air-dried linen. “That…that feels good. Real damn good, honey…”
It truly does feel good. The sheet is somehow simultaneously cool with the morning air, but warm with the sun.
Bucky beams as he sits down behind his husband and wraps his arms tightly around Sam’s shoulders. He hugs Sam as tight as he dares. “My mom used to do this with me or my sisters; on good days, she’d wrap all four of us up in the bedsheets an’…it’d be one a’the most wonderful things ever. It really was.’”
“Mmm, I can imagine. And I can’t wait for you to tell me even more about it whenever you’re ready. And I…I’m glad that you’re talkin’ about this at all, but I know how much you still must miss it.”
Bucky hugs Sam even closer. “I can’t wait either. And y’know…I do kinda like being able to live in the future and be able to afford a dryer.”
Sam leans back until he can rest his head on Bucky’s shoulder. “Yeah? I bet that’s one a’the best parts, huh?”
“Mmm…no. No, not really”, Bucky disagrees.
“Then what’s the best part, Buck?”
Bucky leans slightly away from his husband, a perplexed smile on his face. “…You really don’ know, hon?”
“Nope. Can’t say I do”, Sam insists.
Bucky leans in to plant a kiss, soft and sweet and sure, on his lips. When he pulls away, soft brown eyes and grey-blue eyes shimmer into each other.
“Being able to share it with you.”
Bucky does eventually go back to using the dryer more often than not; Sam happily goes back to doing his share of the laundry.
The clothesline stays in the backyard-a reminder, a monument, a comfort. And at times, when they still use the clothesline, they still sit out in their backyard to watch the airy laundry.
The airy, airy laundry.