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On Your Way Up to the Light

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It didn't take long for him to run out of logically necessary actions that fell under the heading of evade capture, go to ground. He found some crowds of people congregating just outside the disaster zone and picked a succession of pockets, dropping each pilfered wallet in the place of the next after stripping out cash and cards. He dropped the last on the ground and found a shop that would sell him clothes--a black hooded shirt, a black hat--as a rudimentary disguise. He'd already donned the thin glove and applied the matte paint that camouflaged his arm when necessary.

He found a high, quiet place where he could see all the approaches and from which he could flee when it became necessary. By the time his breathing settled he'd realized that he didn't know what to do next.

He was evading his own handlers as well as all other retribution because he'd believed in the man with the star on his chest. That man had said, You're my friend and Your name is James Buchanan Barnes and Bucky.

He could keep believing that. He could choose his own mission, instead of waiting to have one assigned. He could choose to be Bucky.

He didn't know how to do any of that, but Bucky wasn't going to let that stop him.

In order to be Bucky, he had to learn who Bucky was. His first instinct was to gather intel via surveillance, but that would mean observing himself, which would only be holding a mirror up to an empty mirror. Bucky wasn't supposed to be emptiness all the way down--Bucky had a name and a friend--so he would have to fill in the information some other way.

He started with newspapers--they were easy to find, and he knew how to scan them quickly for relevant information. They told him about the disarray of Hydra, and the even greater disarray of SHIELD.

He found articles about Captain America's role in events, but he himself was not identified at all, not even alluded to, either as Captain America's attempted assassin or as his rescuer. There were sidebars about newly-public information regarding Captain America, aka Steve Rogers. One article mentioned a popular museum exhibit about the Captain's history, and Captain America was Bucky's friend.

If he knew more about Captain America--Steve?--he would know more about Bucky, too. He would go to the museum.

It was strange, seeing his own face there. Stranger still, there was video footage--poor quality, without color, but still clear enough to make out his own features. The audio was certainly good enough for him to recognize a voice almost but not quite like his own when Bucky spoke. He memorized the cadences, the turns of phrase. He watched the fond way Steve--Bucky called him Steve--looked at Bucky. He watched the way Bucky looked back.

You're my friend. I'm with you to the end of the line. The line had begun close to ninety years ago, apparently, and hadn't ended yet.

The biographical information was less important than this, Bucky concluded. Learning the facts of Bucky's former life would help him pass as Bucky, help him convince other people that he was Bucky. But it wouldn't help him be Bucky.

Bucky was Steve's friend. If he wanted to be Bucky, he had to figure out how to do that, too.

Surveillance on Steve was well within his capabilities. It didn't take Bucky long to determine two things: Steve had a friend named Sam Wilson, and Steve and Sam were looking for Bucky.

Bucky recognized Sam. He wasn't in the museum displays, or in the books he'd found in the gift shop about Steve and Bucky. Sam had been there that day, the first of Bucky's continuous memory, on the helicarrier. Before he was Bucky, he had broken Sam's wings to stop him from helping Steve.

It occurred to Bucky, in the way that useful tactics often bloomed without antecedents in his brain, that he might have to apologize to Sam for that. After that he tried to figure out if that meant he should also apologize to Steve for coming so very near to actually killing him, but he didn't think that was required. The idea had never cropped up in relation to Steve, and it didn't fit when he tried to make it. Steve hadn't been angry with him even when Bucky was on the verge of killing him. Steve, Bucky thought, understood about needing to carry out a mission. He understood Bucky.

Sam seemed to understand Steve, though. Sam was Steve's friend, in an effortless-looking way that Bucky found fascinating. Watching them through a scope, he caught looks passing between them that reminded him viscerally of the way he'd seen Steve and Bucky looking at each other on that newsreel.

Sam knew what Bucky needed to know. Not everything--being Bucky wasn't the same as being Sam, and not just because a blind man could tell them apart at a hundred yards--but being Steve's friend was surely the most important thing about being Bucky. Sam knew more about being Steve's friend, about working with Steve, than anyone else alive. Sam was a good place to start.

The easiest time to watch Steve and Sam was in the morning: wherever they were, they went outside and ran, just for the sake of running. Training, Bucky was vaguely aware. It was a downtime activity, between missions. Bucky hadn't been between missions in a very long time.

Steve and Sam were, apparently, or acted as if they were. Bucky watched them run--not together, but along the same route. Steve raced ahead while Sam lagged behind at human speed. Bucky kept his attention on Sam, observing Steve only when he briefly eclipsed Sam's orbit. Sam and Steve spoke each time Steve passed--Bucky never caught Steve's words, but from some angles he could read Sam's lips.

Sam said, yeah, yeah, and you need some new material, man, and, okay, that was original, and, once, you like the view, you know where to be. Bucky guessed that was probably about the water they were running by. People liked looking at water; beaches and bridges were particularly good places to catch people unawares, between the scenery and the sound of moving water to cover footfalls.

Sam would speed up sometimes for a few strides as Steve passed him, but he always fell back to his own steady pace. Bucky watched his face as Steve pulled away from him, but he didn't see frustration or anger or competition there, only fondness and a kind of intent observation as Sam watched Steve's back.

He didn't know anything about Bucky that mapped to this exactly, running laps with Steve, but it seemed to fit a pattern; Bucky and Steve had never been evenly matched. For a long time Bucky had been the faster one, and then Steve. He had some pictures in his head, though he couldn't remember which book or exhibit they'd come from, of the times when Bucky had raced off ahead of Steve. They'd played games in their neighborhood that wound up like that; their lives had been like that. Bucky had gotten a job first, entered the army first. Bucky had died first, so everyone thought.

Bucky had always come back to Steve, and Steve, when it was his turn to go on ahead, always came back to Bucky. He watched as Steve ended his run where Sam was already standing still, stretching his legs. He thought, Steve learned that from Bucky. Steve treats people like Bucky treated him.

He felt proud of Bucky--proud to be Bucky--when he'd figured that out. Bucky had taught Steve something once, a long time ago.

Sam was teaching Steve things now. Today he was lecturing as he stretched, telling a long story that Bucky only caught snatches of when Sam was facing the right way for Bucky to read his lips. Something about a singer named Elvis and where all his music really came from and....

He watched, entranced, while Sam did a hip-thrusting dance and tried to convince Steve to join him. Bucky shook his head, smiling, when Steve finally tackled Sam to the ground to make him stop. Sam really should have seen that coming. Everybody knew Steve didn't dance.

Steve and Sam worked together in a way that reminded Bucky of what he'd read about Steve and the Howling Commandos--Bucky chief among them. They worked covertly, moving around the country, lying low. Sometimes he lost them for a day or two, but he always found them again, and when he realized they were moving in on a Hydra facility he followed them.

He had read that this was Bucky's role, among the Howling Commandos. Steve had gone straight into the heart of the fight while Bucky hung back, supporting Steve as a sniper. That was one of the easier points of commonality he could find with Bucky: he was a sniper too.

This was the easiest way to be Bucky, he realized as he tracked Steve and Sam's search for an entry point to the disguised facility. If he'd only managed to obtain a sniper rifle as easily as the scope and dark clothes, he'd be all ready.

Then he spotted a perimeter guard who'd spotted Steve and Sam, and that took care of that problem. The guard died without ever seeing Bucky, neck neatly broken, and his weapon was in Bucky's hands before his body hit the ground. Bucky raised the rifle, scanning the area through its scope. There ought to be another guard--there.

Now there wasn't anymore.

Bucky shifted his sights, looking for Steve and Sam through the scope. They were both just rising from cover, looking around; clearly they'd heard his shot. Bucky's hands felt strange on the rifle, having Captain America--his mission--in his sights--seeing Steve in the crosshairs, in danger--

Steve and Sam were on the move again. Bucky took his finger away from the trigger and tracked them until they found their point of entry. When they were out of sight he moved in closer, settling in to guard their retreat and listen for any sign that they needed backup.

He was just starting to wonder whether he should enter the facility and check on them when they reappeared, moving without apparent hurry. That meant they'd either found no one inside or left everyone inside dead. Bucky approved, either way. They were each carrying a duffle bag, meaning they'd found something worth taking away--intel or equipment. Bucky had helped them complete their mission.

They stopped outside, looking around again for their sniper. A picture came into Bucky's head of looking at Steve through a scope like this, but in daylight, in a forest that smelled different from this one. In that picture Steve was wearing his Captain America uniform, and Bucky didn't think Sam was there at all; Steve turned and looked straight into Bucky's scope, like he knew exactly where Bucky was, and he raised his hand in something between a salute and wave.

Bucky's hand came off the rifle with the impulse to wave back.

But Steve wasn't looking at him now. Steve didn't know where he was. In a minute Steve and Sam would walk away, still not knowing what that gunshot had been, still with no idea that someone had been watching their backs.

Bucky watched Steve's body language, the set of his shoulders and the way his weight was planted. He took note of the wind and the slope, and when Steve was looking enough in his direction to spot a muzzle flash, Bucky gently squeezed the trigger. The bullet sang past Steve on the opposite side from Sam, close enough to whistle in his ear but far enough that turning his head wouldn't kill him.

Steve tensed but stood his ground. Sam ducked. They both looked straight toward him a second later, pinpointing the source of the shot.

Bucky did what he knew Bucky was supposed to do when Steve looked, as long as the mission was safely over. He broke cover, raised his arm and waved.

He wasn't looking through the scope anymore, but he saw Steve's body language change to relief and delight, and he knew that Steve was smiling as he waved back; he thought he could picture that smile. He thought he was supposed to go in closer now, or wait for Steve and Sam to come to him. That was what Bucky would do at the end of a mission.

He tried to force himself to hold still for it, but other pictures came into his head: Steve frowning, Steve looking surprised, Steve looking disappointed. Steve had told him who he was, but Bucky wasn't yet, not really. Not enough to hold up at close range. Steve approved of him taking his place as sniper, but Bucky didn't really know how to talk to Steve, or to anyone. He didn't know how to be close to someone and look at them the way Bucky looked at Steve. He didn't want Steve to tell him he wasn't getting it right. He didn't want to know what Steve would do when he realized Bucky was getting it wrong.

He couldn't fail at this mission. He had no fallback position to retreat to after this. There was no base to return to. Steve was all he had.

Bucky dropped out of the tree he'd been perched in and ran like his life depended on it.

Bucky got back to his sniper nest near Steve and Sam's current bolt-hole before they returned. He'd run halfway back before he remembered that he'd left his current vehicle in a turnout near the Hydra base, but there was good forest cover all the way back and the car was clean. He could always get another one.

He settled in to wait for Steve and Sam to come back. They hadn't packed up all their gear before leaving, and they would probably take the chance for a few hours' rest, and daylight, before they moved on.

Fatigue caught up with Bucky before they returned. He gave in to the need to rest only in short, unwilling bursts, and only in places like this, high and isolated. He'd slept in a lot of trees since Steve and Sam had left the East Coast. It wasn't bad, as long as he picked a spot where he could put his left arm or hand into lock mode to anchor himself; that way even if he lost his balance his arm wouldn't let him fall.

The little sleeps never lasted long, and were mostly filled with dreams--more cascades of images like the one that had come to him tonight when he was watching Steve through his rifle scope. He thought some of them might be memories, like he thought that one had been, and some were just dreams. Some of them were about the time while he hadn't been Bucky, which was no use to him. Even when he was Bucky in his dreams, he wasn't sure which were true and which weren't. He didn't rely on any of it for intel. He knew for a fact that his own mind was the least reliable source available to him.

He jerked out of sleep at the flash of headlights; Steve and Sam were returning to the motel. Bucky unlocked his arm, ready to move if he had to. It was only then that he realized he still had the rifle slung on his back. He'd lost the other scope back at the Hydra base they'd cracked, but he could go back for it once Steve and Sam were settled for the rest of the night. He could get the car, too, if it was still there.

Steve and Sam got out of their car carrying the duffle bags and went inside. Steve came back out almost immediately, carrying a paper bag that he'd acquired sometime in the last hour. He walked to the darkest corner of the motel's parking lot--not directly between Bucky's perch and their door--and set the paper bag down. Then he jogged back and went inside without looking around. Bucky held his position until the lights went out in the motel room, and a few minutes past that. When he was sure he wouldn't be seen he slipped down to the ground and went to pick up the bag, holding it in his teeth as he climbed back up. His mouth was watering before he got to the top, and he found a tree limb he could straddle and ripped the bag open, balancing it between his legs.

There were a series of little containers inside. He grabbed the big bottle of water first and took a long drink. After that he examined the styrofoam containers. One had french fries inside, another held a sandwich, and the last had a piece of lemon meringue pie. Bucky's mouth watered so hard it hurt almost more than his twisting belly. He ate when he had to, whatever food he could quickly and easily get his hands on--it was a maintenance requirement, like staying clean enough not to be conspicuous--but he was always hungry.

His first bite of the sandwich was such a shock he nearly knocked the rest of the food to the ground; it tasted simultaneously not right and a thousand times closer to being right than anything he'd eaten yet. It was a Reuben, a world away from convenience burgers: rich and tangy and sour all at once between thick toasted slices of rye. He devoured it without pausing to breathe, and then had to drink most of the rest of the water to wash it down. The french fries were limp and nearly cold, but he dutifully ate those, too, because he knew all the savory foods were supposed to go before the sweet.

He couldn't remember ever eating something like the pie before, but it tasted righter than the sandwich. The meringue part of the pie shattered under his teeth with each bite, and he moved automatically to keep the little sweet bits off his shirt, muscle memory just as much as aiming a rifle or climbing a tree. Halfway through eating it he realized that he knew something about himself, about Bucky, and it was something Steve knew too. Lemon meringue pie was his favorite.

Bucky made himself go slowly, savoring each tart-sweet bite as he sat and stared down at the dark window of Steve and Sam's room. They'd gone to a diner, he figured, in between the Hydra base and here. Steve had ordered extra food, things Bucky liked. He'd known Bucky would follow them back here--had believed it, anyway. That meant Bucky was still doing the right thing. He was doing what Steve thought Bucky would do.

If Steve expected Bucky to be here, maybe he expected Bucky to keep watch while he and Sam slept. Bucky had been doing that whenever he knew where they were, but tonight was the first night Steve would know that. It might be easier for Steve to sleep, knowing someone was keeping watch. If he was sleeping hard like that, then Bucky had better stay to guard him. Bucky hadn't checked the Hydra base when they were done; he didn't know if there was a chance they could be tracked back to this location.

Bucky swung the rifle back around and settled in to watch through the rest of the night. He didn't really need to go back there. He hadn't lost anything important.

Bucky took off an hour after sunrise. He'd fallen asleep again a little after dawn, and his dreams had been full of Steve's anger and disappointment, mixed up with dreams of himself not being Bucky and doing things Steve didn't like. He couldn't trust his own mind, but he couldn't ignore that message, either.

He kept his distance after that, though Steve and Sam mostly seemed to be staying holed up in that motel, probably studying the intel they'd gleaned from the base. Bucky circled them warily, going into Cincinnati and Lexington during the day to shop for ammunition and other bits of gear he'd remembered that could be useful. It was a relief when he came back on the third day and found that they'd decamped. He was better at hunting than standing guard.

The next time Steve and Sam moved in on a Hydra base, Bucky was tracking them closely enough to arrive when they did. He'd brought along the rifle from last time, so he was ready to do his part, but when they reached the obvious entry point, Steve and Sam just stopped and waited.

Bucky frowned down at them for several seconds, wondering why they were wasting time, and then, as they looked around, he realized they were waiting for him. Even though Bucky had disappeared for days, they were sure Bucky would be with them for this one. Bucky wouldn't let Steve down and Steve thought that he was Bucky. Now he just had to let Steve know that he was right.

He couldn't fire without potentially alerting hostiles, so he was going to have to break cover to let them know where he was.

He dropped to the ground, landing loudly enough to draw their attention. He'd only taken a few steps toward them when he heard something whizzing through the air toward him. He shot his metal arm out to catch it--delicately, between thumb and finger, when he realized how small it was.

It was an earpiece, tiny and peach-colored. He popped it in, and Steve's voice shook him to his bones when he said, "Bucky? You with us?"

He turned and headed back to his chosen tree as he said under his breath, "Roger that."

His lips moved, almost involuntarily, around the shape of roger, Rogers, a sort of joke-not-joke that Bucky used to make on the radio to Steve. Not funny, exactly, but familiar. It was what Bucky would have said, maybe, though he didn't think Bucky had said it every time. He didn't know how Bucky had chosen whether to say it or not, though, and he didn't think it was something he could check in the books.

There was a little silence that made Bucky wonder if the earpiece was one-way--maybe he was supposed to come closer to signal to Steve that he had it--and then he heard a throat-clearing noise from Steve.

"Good to have you on board, Buck. We're going to need a little more from you on this one."

Bucky kept the earpiece in all the time after that. It only worked when he was within a relatively short range of Steve or Sam, but it seemed that they kept theirs in, too. Almost any time he was within a mile of them, Bucky could hear the two of them when they talked.

He listened in as they combed through Hydra intel, and he thought there were things they said out loud just to include him, describing the layout shown by plans they were both looking at or schematics that were right in front of them. They talked about other things too, though: where to go for a meal, which route to take to their next destination, Sam telling Steve about important events he'd missed.

Steve told Sam about where and when he'd grown up, which sometimes only sounded like a story and sometimes made barrages of pictures appear in Bucky's head, until he couldn't track what Steve was saying anymore. The stories Steve told never matched up exactly with the pictures Bucky saw, and the dissonance was as distracting as the intensity of the images. He knew it was his own memories he had to distrust, but they wouldn't stop intruding when Steve talked about the old days. Bucky had to go out of range sometimes just to be able to see what was actually going on around him instead of the pictures his brain threw out at him, but he always came back to listen again.

Steve and Sam teased each other sometimes, fighting in a playful way that felt even more familiar than stories about Brooklyn. Bucky would talk to Steve like that. That was what it sounded like, being friends.

Bucky came into range one afternoon only to have his earpiece start piping in music. He almost pulled the thing out, but he knew he was in the right place, and he'd never picked up a signal from anything but Steve and Sam's transmitters. Any kind of background noise had to be deafeningly loud to be transmitted through the earpiece, so the logical explanation was that they'd taken their earpieces out and, instead of just letting him hear dead air, had put the receiver in front of a speaker, playing music to let him know the line was still open. That must mean they were talking about something they didn't want Bucky to hear, but it made sense that they didn't want him listening in on everything all the time.

It also meant they couldn't call for him easily if they needed backup and probably weren't paying as much attention to their surroundings as usual. Bucky moved in closer than his normal surveillance perch, settling directly on the roof and scrutinizing every person who entered the parking lot. That was almost no one, though, so Bucky spent nearly an hour lying on the pleasantly warm shingles and listening to the music. It wasn't quite like anything he'd ever listened to before, but he thought he could probably dance to it if he needed to. Sam could, for sure, without even trying. Steve still wouldn't.

The music cut off to be replaced by small fumbling sounds--one of them putting his earpiece back in, Bucky thought. He pushed up slightly from his prone position, ready to move.

"Steve's already asleep," Sam said, and Bucky relaxed at the warm, easy tone of his voice before abruptly realizing that if Steve was asleep then Sam was talking to him, directly, on purpose. Outside of coordinating their strikes against Hydra, neither of them had ever said anything right to Bucky before, and even then it was only orders and status reports.

"This has been Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man soundtrack, 1972. It's the first thing I played for Steve, and he didn't think you should miss out. You wanna continue your musical education, you just say the word."

Bucky blinked, looking out at the parking lot. There wasn't a radio protocol for this, but he knew he ought to say something. "Thanks."

There was a little silence. Bucky thought maybe he should say something more to show he'd paid attention to the music; Steve and Sam both seemed to consider it important. He added, "I liked it."

There was a shorter pause this time, and then Sam said, "That's good to hear, man. I'm gonna crash now, all right?"

"I'll keep watch," Bucky promised, and didn't worry about why Sam and Steve were sleeping in the middle of the day. They'd been keeping odd hours between studying the intel and making their raids. It might be just as well to go nocturnal.

They headed back east after that. A few days later they hit a small Hydra installation in rural Virginia, one with defenders who gave them some work clearing the place out. Bucky secured his assigned sector and listened out for Steve and Sam; he hadn't had any orders in a while. They weren't saying anything now, but when Bucky set his fingers over the earpiece he picked up the sound of ragged breathing--not Sam's, a depth and cadence he knew from Sam's runs.

Steve. The idea that Steve wasn't breathing right tripped something in Bucky, a bad old danger signal. He didn't think twice before heading toward their position. Sam was with Steve, Sam was rescue-trained, but Bucky was--if Steve wasn't breathing right then Bucky ought to be with him. That was Bucky's place.

He came around a corner and stopped cold at the sight of them. Sam was crowding Steve up against a wall, and for a confused instant he thought Sam's helping him breathe and then he felt shamefully stupid for even thinking it. They were kissing, and that was why Steve's breathing was so rough and hitching in Bucky's ear.

It wasn't anything Bucky hadn't seen before; pictures flooded into his head before he could even reach for them. He'd seen guys like that down by the docks, in clubs he'd ventured into, on the dark edges of Army camps. He'd been one of those guys, he thought, though the pictures of it in his head were hazy; he knew how it would feel, a big body against his own, the wet press of a mouth against his. He knew how to do those moves. He could if he needed to.

He watched them and listened to Steve's breathing in his ear. He couldn't help trying to picture himself in Sam's place, being that kind of friend to Steve. His own breath stopped.

That close to Steve--close enough to have Steve's hands on his skin, Steve's mouth open to his, Steve's breath getting all mixed up with his--that close, Steve would know in a second whether he was really Bucky or not. He was doing all right being Bucky-the-sniper, Bucky-the-commando, but if he tried to be Bucky-the-kisser Steve would know in a second that he was only pretending. Steve would know he was only picking up the pieces of Bucky he could find in books and rattling around the kaleidoscopic insides of his skull. He would know that Bucky wasn't really Bucky at all, only a man on a mission he'd made up for himself, unprepared and unsupported.

Steve would know, and he'd pull away and look at Bucky like he was a stranger. He'd say you're not my friend and it would be just as true as when Steve had said he was. Bucky would be no one at all if he let Steve get that close. Steve was still breathing in his ear, like he was already that close to Bucky. There was a little hitching whine to it now, almost a moan when he exhaled, which meant Sam was doing something right.

Sam didn't have to pretend. Sam knew exactly what he was doing. Sam was really Sam, all the way down, the same way Steve was Steve.

Bucky backed away silently, not giving himself away to them. He took his earpiece out and dropped it on the ground before he made his escape.

Bucky hid out for a couple of days. He got his very own motel room, for once. He curled up in the bathtub where no one could see him and no one could touch him and everything was smooth and cool and close around him. He couldn't stop hearing the echo of Steve's breathing, even when he carefully regulated his own breathing down to its quietest, slowest pace.

The dreams came to him over and over--he was naked, or Steve was, or they both were. Or he was naked with someone else, or alone, or someone was there but he couldn't see them; sometimes he was Bucky, sometimes not. He made people feel good when he was Bucky and hurt people when he wasn't, or people hurt him whether he was Bucky or not, or the other way around. It was all tangled up, changing from one to the other before he knew what was going on. Some of it had probably happened, and lots of it probably hadn't.

He couldn't use any of it, but he couldn't stop the pictures from coming into his head. They made his heart beat fast and his dick get hard, and he had to lie flat in the bathtub with his fists clenched at his sides, waiting for that to pass. He had all kinds of pictures in his head of what he could do about it and how it would feel, but he thought most of them were wrong and he didn't want to know what new pictures he would get in his head if he tried it.

Maybe Steve would expect him to do some of those things. The good parts, anyway. He knew Steve wouldn't hurt him like that, and he knew Bucky wouldn't hurt Steve in any way at all. Maybe if he stuck to the good parts he could fool Steve even up close, but only if he got it just right. This was even more specific than talking and looking--touching and kissing and fucking were full of little choices, tiny peculiarities that would give him away as not Bucky, and he didn't dare be anyone but Bucky with Steve.

After a day and a night some other pictures finally started coming to him, not about sex at all. These pictures quieted his body down to a stillness that was better than sleep. He was in a tight little coffin, waking up again and again and again, each time not knowing who or where he was, each time being told he had a mission and how to complete it. He wasn't Bucky. He didn't have to be Bucky. He only had to be what they told him to be--not a person at all, just a thing.

Being a thing was a lot easier than being Bucky. He held those pictures close when he closed his eyes.

He woke up when someone came into the room, and he froze before he could move far. He was still curled up in the bathtub and he could hear the woman outside making little exasperated noises, walking through the room, coming to the bathroom door. Probably she was the housekeeper. Probably he'd slept too long and the room wasn't his anymore. He knew those things.

He didn't know what to do about it.

Bucky could make this choice easily: laugh, smile, charm the woman out of being upset that he was where he wasn't supposed to be. Maybe try to get her to kiss him, or at least make her laugh. Bucky was a charmer.

If he wasn't Bucky he wouldn't even think. He would kill the woman, so no one would have seen him being where he wasn't supposed to be, and then he would get on with what he was doing, carrying out his mission.

He didn't have a mission like that to carry out, though. He didn't think Steve would like it if he killed the woman, but Steve only mattered if he wanted to be Steve's friend, and Steve's friend was Bucky, and--

The woman came through the bathroom door, saw him, and screamed, throwing her arms up in self-defense. It would be useless, if he meant to kill her; he could see just how he would do it, where he would grab, twist, strike. It would be quick and silent and easy.

He sat up, tucked his metal hand down out of sight and put his right hand out, placating. He made his face do a non-threatening almost-smile as he said, "Oh my God, I'm so sorry, I fell asleep! I didn't mean to scare you!"

The woman, who had been retreating through the doorway, stopped, lowering her hands a little. She was still in easy striking distance. She was young, slender--strong for a woman, by the look of her arms, but no match for him. She would slap Bucky if he tried to kiss her.

She gave a nervous laugh and said, "You were supposed to check out yesterday, what are you doing here?"

"I have no idea," Bucky said, with fervent sincerity, borrowing from a story Sam had told Steve last week. "I am never drinking tequila again, though, I can tell you that right now."

She laughed a little less nervously, shaking her head, and said, "Well, get out so I can clean that tub. Did you throw up anywhere?"

"No, ma'am," Bucky said, and he got up and out of the tub. She stepped back from the doorway, waving him out of the bathroom. Bucky waited until she'd gone inside before he grabbed the sniper rifle and little bag of gear from the narrow closet, and he darted out of the room before she saw him holding a weapon and realized he wasn't Bucky at all.

He ran for the nearest stand of trees. He took a sniper perch that gave him a view of the open door of that motel room. One more chance, he thought, because he could take her out from here before she could tell anyone what she'd seen.

He wouldn't have a mission, though. He wouldn't be Bucky and he wouldn't be anyone, and he couldn't go in to base now and expect them to patch him up and put him to sleep until they needed him again. Being Bucky was hard, but Bucky never backed down from anything because it was hard. Even when he wasn't Bucky he had never flinched from a mission, not even if it might kill him. That was something else that was the same all along, whether he was Bucky or not. He didn't quit when the mission was going badly.

So he might as well be Bucky, then. If he was Bucky at least he had Steve, and maybe Sam, and Hydra to fight; if he wasn't he had no one and nothing. The choice was obvious, if not easy. He would be Bucky, whatever that meant. He would find Steve and Sam, and he would keep trying.

Bucky stayed in his perch, watching, until the woman finished cleaning the rest of the rooms and left the motel. Bucky wouldn't have stolen her car, and he didn't know which one it was. He wouldn't want to be rude by mistake.

When Bucky caught up with Steve and Sam again two days later, they were running morning laps around the National Mall. Bucky didn't like the Mall--there was no good cover, and using a scope there was too conspicuous to risk--but he could stay unnoticed by moving around, hands tucked into the pockets of a clean new shirt. He stayed among the changing flocks of pedestrians, switching fluidly from one to another to stay in constant motion without ever leaving the Mall. He kept track of Steve and Sam's paths, though, and when they headed out he was able to follow them back to a quiet residential neighborhood where they let themselves into a house in the middle of a tree-lined block like they owned the place, which one of them probably did.

They weren't lying low at all. They were being pretty obvious, maybe dangerously so. They were waiting for Bucky to find them.

Bucky stood across the street for a while, watching from the cover of a parked truck, and then he slipped away again. He wasn't going to just walk in. Frontal assaults were Steve's style; Bucky would hang back.

He found a sniper perch a few blocks away on top of a taller building. He had a limited view of Steve and Sam's street, enough to see if anything really noisy went down. Anybody trying to make trouble for those two would wind up making a lot of noise.

He'd had to leave the rifle in a stash with most of his other gear, but some things he never let out of his reach: in his pocket he kept a little library of torn pages from the books he'd read about Steve and Bucky, the parts that had seemed most important to hang on to. He couldn't carry whole books around, but he had wrapped the most important parts in plastic so that he could keep them.

He read over the pages now, while he waited for the right time to move in closer. He hadn't looked at them in a week or more, and reading them was starting to feel different, with so many pictures piled up in his head. Everything he read brought up another picture, and most of the time the pictures didn't quite match the words. Sometimes it wasn't even a picture that came up in his head, just a certainty: Dum Dum wouldn't have said it like that, they're paraphrasing if they're not just making it up and that's not what the Commandos were doing on that raid, you didn't talk to anyone who was really there and Steve was making a joke, how do you not get that that was a joke.

When it started getting too dark to read, Bucky folded away the pages carefully, tucking each plastic-wrapped bundle into its own pocket, and then got down to the ground to walk over to Steve and Sam's street in the falling dusk. He took up a position under the bedroom window and listened. He heard the muffled tones of Steve and Sam's voices, falling into familiar rhythms even though he couldn't make out the words.

Well after dark he heard them come into the bedroom, still talking casually as they got ready to bed down--both in one room, together. That day at the Hydra base had been no one-off, but he'd known that already. Sam hadn't gone off comms and played him Trouble Man just for fun.

There was nothing like that tonight, just lengthening silences between low-voiced words that settled into sleeping stillness. When all was quiet, Bucky circled the house again, eyeing the locks, looking for security measures and watching to see if anyone was watching him. When he was satisfied, he went to the back door and picked the lock.

He locked it again behind himself and wiped his feet on the mat. Now that he was inside he looked again for alarms or keypads, but everything stayed quiet. There was no crisis, no urgent timeline. He had no mission to carry out here.

He was standing in a house, comfortable and quiet and dim, where people lived. Real people, people who slept in beds and knew who they were. People who stayed in one place enough to make it worth paying for a place like this, who owned more things than they could carry.

Steve and Sam were asleep behind that door.

Bucky wasn't sure what he was looking for, but he found it when he stepped into the kitchen: his earpiece was on the counter, next to an orange. Bucky stood looking at them for a while, and then picked both up. He slipped the earpiece into his pocket--he didn't need to hear them sleeping--and boosted himself up to sit on the kitchen counter, watching the windows and doors, while he peeled the orange and ate it, one section at a time.

It didn't taste right, but it brought up a picture of Christmas with Steve when they were both small, sharing an orange between them and glorying in every juicy bite. That was real, he thought, picking at the white pith with a ragged thumbnail. That was definitely Bucky, and it was real. An orange at Christmas. Steve had left this for him, just like he'd left the earpiece, because he'd believed that Bucky would come and find them. Steve had figured that Bucky would come in if they just held still and waited for him.

Now that he had the earpiece, he could go back to the way things were before, listening to them at a safe distance, letting Steve call him in when they needed him. That had been all right. But Bucky had never been only a sniper; he'd been Steve's friend first and last and always. Bucky had always come back to Steve. It was time to come closer. Not all the way in, not the way Sam was, but he had to try.

Bucky dropped the orange peel neatly into the trash and retreated to a spot next to the couch in the living room, where he would be hidden in shadow and could see the bedroom door. Steve and Sam had only just gone to sleep. He had time yet to decide how far to take this.

He hadn't made any decisions, and had dozed just enough to dream about Steve trying to finger paint with orange juice, which he didn't think had ever happened at all, when he heard someone get out of bed. He listened to the padding footsteps approach the door and tried to strategize, but he hadn't gotten far when the door opened and Sam stepped out.

Sam's body language was even looser and easier than after running; he was still mostly asleep. He was barefoot, wearing soft pants and a faded t-shirt, and he walked straight into the kitchen, heading for the fridge. Bucky tensed, waiting for him to notice the items missing from the counter, but Sam walked right past, poured himself a glass of water and stood with the refrigerator door open as he drank it down.

Bucky remembered Sam's voice in his ear, warm and relaxed and about to go to sleep beside Steve. He thought he'd like to hear it again. He thought he'd like to talk to Sam. He could learn to be Sam's friend, even if he hadn't figured out yet how to be Steve's. Sam wouldn't know everything he was getting wrong, and even if he did Sam couldn't tell him that he wasn't Bucky, not like Steve could.

Bucky unfolded from the shadow beside the couch and made it nearly all the way into the kitchen before Sam noticed him. Sam reacted instantly, throwing the glass straight at his face and dropping into a fighting stance.

Bucky reacted even faster, catching the glass with his soft right hand and clamping his left hand over Sam's mouth as he forced him back against the smooth steel front of the refrigerator. Sam jerked against his hold, but Bucky had him pinned from his knees to his mouth. After that one testing effort, Sam went still, a waiting tension thrumming through his body.

"Hi, Sam," Bucky said quietly. He'd already been too much of himself to try playing charming Bucky now, so he didn't bother smiling. "I'm Bucky. I don't want to hurt you, I just don't want you to wake Steve up. Okay?"

A little of the tension went out of Sam, and he nodded against Bucky's grip. Bucky eased his hand away from Sam's face gently, setting the glass down and running his flesh fingers over Sam's cheeks and mouth to be sure he hadn't pinched the skin in the joints on his other hand. Sam stayed still and silent under the touch, and relaxed a little more when Bucky lowered his hand without finding any cuts.

"Sorry," Bucky said. "I didn't mean to scare you."

"Nah, man," Sam said. There was still a little shakiness in his voice, but Bucky thought it was the leftover adrenaline from an intruder in his kitchen in the middle of the night, not actual fear of Bucky. His body, held in place by Bucky's, didn't betray that kind of tension.

"You just set me off, you know how it is. You gotta start fighting before you know what's coming at you or it's too late."

Bucky nodded agreeably. Sam was right about that. Bucky remembered that he was supposed to apologize for something else, though.

"I'm sorry about your wings, too," he said, and felt vaguely pleased with himself for remembering to be polite. That was important, when you were making friends.

"Now, that one I considered holding against you," Sam said, but he was smiling a little bit as he said it. "But Steve's got a friend of his working on making me a new set, so I guess that's just water under the bridge. It's nice of you to apologize for that one, though."

"Just seemed like I should," Bucky said. He wasn't sure if Bucky was nice--that didn't seem like quite the right word for him--but Sam seemed to mean it approvingly.

"Good instinct," Sam agreed.

Bucky nodded slightly, filing that away--good instinct, he should keep that, then. He considered asking Sam if he ought to apologize to Steve, too, but then Sam took a breath that Bucky could feel pressing against his own chest.

"Can I ask you a question, Barnes?"

"Bucky," Bucky corrected immediately. Sam looked a little surprised at that, and Bucky thought he was supposed to explain the preference, but that meant knowing why he'd said it in the first place, and--

Sam was already saying, "Sorry--Bucky. Got it. Can I ask you something about that day, though? When you broke my wings?"

Bucky glanced around, checking his paths to the exit--checking that Steve still wasn't making a sound behind the bedroom door-- and then nodded cautiously. It would only be a question. He didn't have to stick around to answer it.

"You pulled me out of the sky, busted my wings," Sam said. "You could have killed me, but you didn't."

Bucky nodded, waiting for the question.

"Why not?" Sam asked, when Bucky had waited through a few breaths.

Bucky frowned and tried to remember what he'd been thinking right then. He'd barely registered Sam at the time. He hadn't been Sam then, just an obstacle on his way to Captain America, who hadn't been Steve yet either.

"I was conserving ammunition," Bucky said, remembering the calculations that had flashed by faster than thought or words. He'd thrown Sam down, and it hadn't mattered much whether or not he survived the fall. "I needed to get to Captain America, and once you were down you weren't in my way anymore. I didn't need to kill you."

Sam nodded slowly. "Makes sense."

Bucky nodded agreement; the logic was inarguable.

"Have you needed to since then?" Sam asked. "I know you've taken out some guys at Hydra bases for us, I don't mean that. But any other times since then?"

Bucky thought of the woman at the motel, but if he'd killed her he wouldn't be here, being asked this question. He'd chosen to be Bucky, and Bucky hadn't needed to do anything like that.

He shook his head.

"It's easy to make mistakes sometimes," Sam said quietly. "You can react before you realize what you're doing. People get in the way, someone can get hurt without you meaning to hurt them."

Bucky shook his head more sharply, though he knew what Sam meant. He never relaxed when he was around other people, never let himself be surprised. He wondered if Sam ever did. He wondered if Steve did.

He hesitated a moment before explaining. He hadn't really thought about this before either; it was just an instinct, like finding high safe places to sleep. But he wanted Sam to know that he wouldn't do anything like that, so he put it into words as best he could. "I stay away from people so I don't make mistakes. I know Bucky wouldn't hurt civilians."

Sam reacted to that a little bit, but his body sagged into relaxation again before Bucky could gauge what the tension meant.

"Good," Sam said. "I'm glad you're being careful. Steve thought you would be."

But Sam had checked anyway; Steve had left out the earpiece with an orange, but Sam would ask what needed asking. Bucky approved of the caution, and the appropriate phrase popped into his head and out of his mouth.

"Trust but verify," Bucky recited.

Sam looked startled at that, and Bucky remembered a beat too late that that proverb came from his other memories, when he hadn't been Bucky; it was Russian, he realized. It sounded better and rhymed in Russian, but he'd heard it said in English, with a mocking intonation he hadn't understood. He'd turned it over and over in his head all through that mission, wondering why his handler had said it that way, in English, when they'd been speaking Russian and it was a Russian proverb.

But he hadn't been Bucky then, so that was a useless thing to remember.

"Yeah," Sam agreed, a little late. "That's right."

Sam shifted his weight, and Bucky wondered if he should move; he didn't really need to hold Sam still anymore. It was clear that he wasn't going to fight or wake Steve up.

It felt... warm, though, being pressed up so close to someone. It was the opposite of the chilly soothing confines of a bathtub, but still good. Bucky would like this more than he liked the bathtub, and he wasn't finding it difficult at all to be Bucky about this, right now.

Sam didn't push him away or try to escape, just relaxed against the fridge again. That had to mean it was all right. Sam had just proved he wouldn't stay silent about Bucky doing things wrong.

Sam said, "You got your orange, huh? Steve complains about every single thing in the produce section tasting wrong, but he can't resist oranges."

"It was good," Bucky assured Sam. "Wrong, but good."

Sam flashed a wide smile that made Bucky's heartbeat jump--that was him, not him being charming Bucky, not him being careful, just him. He'd made Sam smile like that without even trying.

"Yeah, all right," Sam said. "You find one that does taste right, you tell me. Steve's already on a quest for a good banana, apparently ours are terrible. He likes the burgers we got now, though. You found anything you do like to eat?"

Bucky shrugged. "Whatever's around. I liked that pie."

Sam nodded. "They got pie like that in just about every diner you pass, you know that? You could eat pie three meals a day."

Bucky shook his head, hair swinging down in front of his eyes to hide him a little. "I don't--I can't sit there with people watching and all those windows. I just get food to go, or whatever's at the gas station."

Sam nodded again, his expression turning serious but not displeased. "As long as you eat, man, you eat where you want. Steve might start leaving fruit out for you, though--you know the doctors say you're supposed to eat fruit and vegetables five times a day now? Steve still isn't over that one."

Bucky frowned. "Five...?" He didn't eat five of anything in a day.

"I don't think scurvy's going to get either of you, if nothing else has," Sam said. "But yeah. Steve's gonna want you to eat your spinach."

Bucky made a face, even though he would have eaten spinach uncomplainingly if it was what was offered to him. You were supposed to make a face at spinach.

"He worries about you sleeping rough, too," Sam went on. "You getting under cover much?"

Bucky thought of the motel again. Steve probably wouldn't want him to sleep in a bathtub, either.

"I don't need it," Bucky said shortly. The weather didn't bother him, and it had been warm enough, everywhere they went.

"Nice soft beds aren't quite your thing, huh," Sam said, but he didn't make it sound like a bad thing. He sounded like he might understand preferring a sniper's perch.

Bucky nodded cautiously.

"Now, see, that is the first thing I ever talked to Steve about," Sam said. "We met out running, and he was up way too early for anybody who was sleeping well. I figured, he's not comfortable in a bed. Too soft."

Bucky couldn't help glancing back toward the bedroom door; he leaned a little into Sam to compensate as he did it, but Sam didn't take advantage of his briefly divided attention.

"Seems like he's sleeping okay now," Bucky pointed out, not sure whether it was daring or not to point out that he knew they were sharing a bed. His instincts were all over the map on whether it was all right to say it out loud even when you knew the other guy knew you knew.

Sam smiled again and relaxed another tiny increment against the fridge, so apparently Bucky hadn't pushed too far. "He crashed pretty hard tonight. I don't think he's slept since you disappeared on us."

Bucky looked away, turning his chin down, though his attention was entirely undivided this time. Sam still didn't make a move to escape him. It hadn't occurred to Bucky that he could hurt Steve by hiding from him.

Sam still didn't say anything, though the longer the silence stretched the more Bucky could feel him bracing for what was going to break it.

Bucky shook his head a little and admitted, "I saw you. And I could hear how Steve was breathing. I remembered when he had asthma. So I came to see if he was okay, but then I saw you kissing."

"He wasn't sure how much you heard," Sam said gently. "He was pretty mad at himself for maybe forcing you to listen to something that you didn't want any part of."

Bucky shook his head but still didn't look at Sam straight on. "I didn't--You were just kissing when I left, it was just breathing. Nothing I haven't heard before. I just. Couldn't."

Bucky saw Sam lick his lips, and he had to look. It occurred to him that he'd touched Sam's mouth earlier, and that Sam had let him. Touching a guy's mouth like that didn't really fit into any of the rules he knew. Bucky was pressing Sam up against the wall a lot like the way Sam had had Steve pressed up against the wall back at that base. He wondered if it felt the same to Sam.

"I was worried that maybe you wouldn't like the idea of it," Sam said. "Me and Steve together like that. Steve thought it wasn't that."

Bucky shook his head, because Steve was right, Bucky didn't mind the two of them together--they were good together, they belonged together--but his gaze was still on Sam's mouth. He couldn't bear the thought of kissing Steve, but Sam wouldn't know what Bucky did wrong. Bucky was absolutely sure Sam had never kissed Bucky before, so Sam wouldn't know the difference.

"Can I," Bucky said.

Sam's reactions were plenty fast when Sam felt threatened, but all Sam did was tilt his head a little, barely even breathing.

Bucky touched his mouth cautiously to Sam's, parting his lips slightly as he did. Instinct kicked in when Sam's mouth moved against his; Bucky stopped thinking about knowing the moves and just moved, kissing Sam and feeling Sam melt a little further under him. Sam's mouth opened to his and Sam's body was hot against his, and Bucky's body took over. Bucky pushed in tighter, grinding close, and Sam's mouth broke away from his on a gasp.

Bucky took a fast step back--he'd pushed too far, he wasn't--Bucky wouldn't hurt Sam, Bucky wouldn't--

"Hey," Sam said, his hands spread wide, palms toward Bucky. He hadn't moved away from the fridge. His lips were shiny in the faint light. "Bucky, ease up. You taking off again?"

Bucky hesitated. "You stopped. I thought you wanted to stop."

"Just have to breathe more often than you do, man," Sam said gently, beckoning with the fingers of his right hand. "It's cool. You didn't do anything wrong. Come here."

It was only when he offered that Bucky realized how badly he wanted to be there again, pressed up against Sam for the sake of being close instead of just to hold him still. His whole body, not just his stiffening dick, wanted it like he'd wanted good food after the first bite of that sandwich or the ripe orange he could still taste in his mouth. The same way his body dragged him down into sleep sometimes, he felt his body's pull toward Sam, wanting touch and warmth and kisses and friction. It was a hunger that he hadn't even noticed until right now.

It was safe with Sam, though. Sam would tell him if he did the wrong thing, and Sam said he hadn't done anything wrong.

Still, Bucky found himself glancing back toward the bedroom door again. Steve. Bucky wouldn't do this with somebody who'd gotten out of Steve's bed and was planning to go back to it after.

"It's okay," Sam said softly. "You go if you want, that's fine, but I promise you, Bucky, Steve wants you to get what you need. People need to be touched. They need to be close to other people who they feel safe with. If you wanna kiss me, that's okay with me."

"You explain it to him," Bucky muttered, half a joke, because he doubted Sam would admit any of this to Steve unless Steve woke up and caught them at it. If he did, though, Bucky didn't think he could bear to stick around to help Sam explain.

"I will," Sam said, and didn't sound like he was joking at all. He reached out slowly, letting Bucky watch his hand all the way there, and touched Bucky's arm, twitching just his fingertips to urge Bucky closer.

Sam had reached out with his right hand, so it was Bucky's metal arm that he was touching, through the thin cover of a shirtsleeve. Bucky didn't know if Sam knew that, but he had touched Sam with his metal hand and Sam hadn't seemed to mind. The arm was sensitive enough that he could feel how slight the pressure was, just an invitation.

He still hesitated. Bucky wouldn't do this to Steve--but he realized, even as he thought it, that what Bucky wouldn't do was take someone away from Steve. He remembered Bucky being careful about that, careful not to ruin Steve's chances, because Steve deserved to kiss someone, too, and Bucky had been a charmer who got plenty of chances. But he was barely Bucky now, and he certainly wasn't charming Sam.

"You'll tell him?" Bucky said. "You won't--you'll stay with him."

Sam was smiling a little bit, looking intently at Bucky. "Yeah, you're not gonna be a homewrecker if we make out. It's okay."

Bucky thought of that orange again--not the one Steve had left out for him tonight as a gift, but the one they'd shared so long ago. They'd always shared things, never grudged each other a half of whatever they had. Sam wasn't a ripe orange or a blanket or the best stickball stick on the block, but that just meant Sam got to make up his own mind about whether he wanted to be shared. Clearly Sam was in favor.

"Okay," Bucky said, and he took a step in, meaning to take at least as much time to enjoy Sam as he had the orange or the slice of pie or any other good thing he'd ever been offered.

Bucky brought his hands in, letting them land on Sam instead of bracing against the fridge, and Sam allowed the touch without making a sound or a move to object. Bucky's left hand curled carefully over Sam's shoulder, but his right hand returned to Sam's face, touching his lips again and then cupping his cheek as Bucky kissed him.

Sam let out a shuddering breath against Bucky's lips, and Bucky remembered that Sam needed to breathe and went slowly, kissing him lightly and enjoying the drag of their lips together, the way Sam's mouth opened readily to his. Bucky kept pulling back to let Sam catch his breath, until the fifth or sixth time he did it Sam made a sharp, frustrated noise and his hand settled flat on Bucky's ribs, tugging him back into full-body contact at the same time Sam took his mouth in a rough, thorough kiss.

Bucky heard himself make that same breathless whine that Steve had made when Sam kissed him, and he got it now. Sam's hand was warm and steady on his side and Bucky was right back where he'd been before, grinding against Sam's hip, kissing him hungrily. His hand slid down from Sam's cheek to his throat, Sam's pulse thundering against his palm. Sam liked it too, Bucky was doing this right, and it felt good. There weren't any pictures in his head at all. He only saw this, right now, and he knew for sure that this was real and right and safe. He was only himself right now, here with Sam, and he didn't have to try to be anyone else.

His hips hitched frantically, shoving his dick against Sam through the layers of their clothes. It was as much friction as he could bear, and he heard his own breathing, rough and desperate, because his mouth kept breaking away from Sam's as Bucky moved against him. Sam's hand slid down from his side to his hip, encouraging him closer, and Sam's mouth chased his every time Bucky broke the kiss. Sam's tongue teased his, Sam's teeth scraped his lip, and Bucky made a startled noise into Sam's mouth as the pleasure of it all tipped him over into coming, his whole body shaking as his dick spurted inside his pants, still pressed as close to Sam as he could get.

He was aware, distantly, of Sam's other arm coming around his back, holding him close like he might fall down otherwise. It seemed possible that he would. Sam's hand on his hip shifted a little, and Sam's thumb brushed against bare skin between Bucky's pants and shirt. Bucky shivered at the contact, overwhelmed and beyond reacting all at once. Sam's lips pressed against his temple, and Bucky realized that he'd hidden his face against Sam's shoulder.

Bucky stayed there a little while, until the last of the pleasure faded into the awareness that he'd made a mess of himself and Sam was holding him still. Sam dropped his hands as soon as Bucky moved, though, and Bucky managed to step back slowly, not looking too much like he was panicking. He wasn't. He just needed to get back to his stash, get somewhere where he could clean up, somewhere where no one was touching or looking at him.

He was aware of Sam following him at a safe distance as he retreated from the kitchen, but when Bucky turned toward the back door, Sam said, "Hey, Bucky."

Bucky froze without looking back, waiting for what Sam would say.

"There's a bag for you by the front door. Steve wanted you to have it. You can go out that way if you want, I'll lock up behind you."

Bucky nodded and turned the other way without looking directly at Sam. The little duffle bag was there right next to Steve and Sam's shoes and coats. Steve had written BUCKY on a piece of tape on one side. Bucky turned that side toward his body so no one else could read it.

When he was standing on the threshold with the door open before him and Sam waiting behind him, Bucky remembered to say, "Thanks."

He didn't open the bag until he'd picked up his gear, crossed into Maryland, and checked into a motel. He took a shower and made himself get back out instead of curling down into the bathtub. The bed didn't look appealing--certainly not somewhere he could sleep, exposed and on display to anyone who came into the room--but he could stay long enough to check what Steve had wanted him to have.

There was a collection of stuff in the bag: a couple boxes of ammunition, envelopes of cash with nonsequential serial numbers, and an array of passports, IDs, and credit cards with various names and his own face. James Browne was one, and there was a post-it note stuck to that one with Google this so you know why it's hilarious before you use it in handwriting that had to be Sam's. He had Jack Farrow and Jonathan Cohen, too, a whole range of choices, and each one had medical paperwork to explain about the metal in his prosthesis to airport security. He could go anywhere with these. He didn't even have to steal cars; he could probably get on a plane, fly anywhere he wanted to.

He knew where Steve and Sam were for tonight, though, so he didn't have anywhere to go.

The bag held clean socks, too, and a bag of lemon candy and a whole big bar of chocolate, and way down at the bottom there was a smart phone with a note stuck to it. This one was in Steve's handwriting.


Take care of yourself. I'll be in touch.


Bucky stared at the note for a while and then nodded. He dug his earpiece out of his pants pocket and popped it in, and turned on the phone for good measure.

He had orders now. It felt like a promotion, like he'd done well enough so far to be trusted with a new mission. Take care of yourself. It wasn't much to go on, but he'd figure it out as he went.

Sam locked the door behind Bucky and then just stood there with his head against the wood, letting the adrenaline drain away. He was half hard, his lips tingling, but that was no more than his dumb ass deserved for making Bucky Barnes--the fucking Winter Soldier--come in his pants while Steve slept blissfully unaware in the next room.

Sam knocked his forehead gently against the door and then turned away and went back to the bedroom. He half expected Steve to be sitting up waiting for him, but it was true what he'd said to Bucky: Steve hadn't slept since Sperryville, and he was making up for it tonight. He didn't stir as Sam changed into PJs that weren't dripping wet with sweat all down the back.

When Sam got back into bed, though, Steve reached for him. Sam let himself be reeled in, slinging an arm over Steve.

"You were gone," Steve mumbled without opening his eyes. "Bad dream?"

Sam touched his forehead to Steve's and said, "I'm all right. I'll tell you in the morning."

Steve hugged him a little tighter, but he made a sleepy agreeable noise and conked out again, leaving Sam to figure out how the hell he was going to explain this tomorrow.