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“We could go bowling.”

 

Rather than the derision he might have otherwise expected, Sam’s suggestion was met with thoughtful looks from the other two men. The fact that it was pouring rain, the hotel’s internet connection was practically nonexistent, the TV apparently received a grand total of three channels, and the town’s other attractions were limited at best may have had some influence on their current openness.

 

That’s what you get sometimes when you take a “drive until you’ve got to stop” approach to road-tripping across the country. They’d planned to press on to give themselves a little extra time at the Grand Canyon when they got there, but when road conditions got bad enough that they’d conceded it would be foolish to go any further that night they’d found themselves… here, in Middle-of-Nowheresville USA, at six o’clock in the evening with absolutely nothing to do. Sitting around in a cramped hotel room after spending an entire day in a cramped car was a less than appealing prospect.

 

Steve glanced at Bucky, who shrugged.

 

“There’s no way I’ll get to sleep if I don’t get the chance to move around a little first,” Bucky said. “I’m not running in this downpour, and this place doesn’t have a gym.”

 

“Could be fun. Might as well give it a shot,” Steve agreed.

 

Sam paused, struck by the sudden realization. “Wait—have either of you ever been bowling before?”

 

“Never had money for it as kids. Didn’t occur to me to try it later. I don’t suppose…?” Steve raised his eyebrows in inquiry at Bucky.

 

Bucky huffed a laugh. “Nope.”

 

Sam grinned. “This is gonna be awesome.”

 

-0-0-0-

 

The bowling alley was pretty old—no electronic scoring or fancy gadgets—and looked like it had been hit by the same decorators who’d designed every other bowling alley Sam had ever been to. There was a certain comfort in the familiarity of it all, even if it had been years since he’d been to one.

 

A glance around while they shook off the rain just inside the entrance revealed that the place was deserted. Not many people around here desperate enough to go out in this kind of weather, he figured.

 

Just as well. If this got as interesting as he thought it might an audience might draw a little more attention than they’d enjoy. They weren’t exactly hiding, but thus far they’d avoided drawing any paparazzi attention. If they could continue that trend it’d make the break that much more relaxing.

 

Honestly, at this point staying under the radar was easier than he’d expected. His face and Bucky’s hadn’t been in the news much yet—a fact at which he might’ve been more offended if it hadn’t proved so convenient. Steve was a different story, of course. But, while he did plenty of interviews out of uniform, somehow it seemed like the costume had a way of drawing attention the same way his shield drew fire. In civilian clothes, just relaxing and having fun, he didn’t get recognized nearly as often as Sam would’ve expected. 

 

As it turned out, while he braced himself for recognition and explanations as he walked up to the cash register/bar, he needn’t have worried. As far as the guy behind the counter was concerned, they were just three dudes in jeans and sweatshirts (Bucky wearing a leather glove on his left hand, as had become his habit in public places). As he stood, shoving his phone in a pocket, the kid showed nothing more than the vague relief of having something to do.

 

(The sudden realization that the “kid” was probably not actually in his teens, seeing as he was working alone in an establishment that sold alcohol, made Sam feel old. Which really wasn’t fair. You’d think that hanging out with a couple of ninety-something-year-olds would prevent that kind of incident.)

 

“Here for bowling, or getting something to eat?” the not-a-kid—Dave, according to his nametag—asked.

 

“Little of both, but we’ll start with the bowling,” Sam replied.

 

“Sure thing. You wanna pay by the game, or do our ‘two hours of unlimited bowling’ package?”

 

Sam scratched his chin, considering. “Go with the two hours? That’d give you guys a chance to muck around and get the hang of things before we start a real game.”

 

“First-timers, huh?” Dave asked. “You want me to put the bumpers down, then, or leave them up?”

 

“What do you say? Think you two can keep it in the lane, or shall we have the kiddie rails?”

 

The incredulous rise of Steve’s eyebrows only made Sam more pleased with himself.

 

“Oh, you’re gonna go there, are you?” Steve grinned.

 

“What d’you want to bet us first-timers can beat your experienced—“

 

“Uh-uh. No.” Sam pointed a finger at Bucky, cutting him off. “I told you, man, I’m not taking any more of those bets. My paycheck can’t handle it.”

 

Bucky smirked back at him. “Your paycheck, or your pride?”

 

“One of these days, man. One of these days I’m gonna make you eat those words.”

 

Being the better man, Sam elected to ignore Bucky’s muttered “yeah, yeah…” in favor of handing over his credit card and announcing the shoe sizes they’d need.

 

Straightening from tying his own shoes, Sam turned to watch Steve and Bucky finish adjusting theirs. Steve had one foot up on the bench Bucky was sitting on and was tugging at the laces with a frown.

 

“They fit okay?” Sam asked.

 

“These are literally the most uncomfortable shoes I’ve worn in my entire life.”

 

Bucky grunted in agreement. “If you’d seen some of the shoes we wore as kids you’d know just what an accomplishment that is.”

 

“All part of the charm of the game,” he replied airily.

 

“Right. Charm.” Steve took his foot off the bench and put his hands on his hips, looking around. “So, what next?”

 

Standing, Bucky grabbed a hair tie from his pocket to secure his hair, a few shorter strands falling down around his face. How that could fail to be incredibly annoying Sam did not know, but if there was one thing he had learned during the course of their acquaintance it was that you did not question the style choices of former super-assassins. Bucky might’ve reinvented himself pretty thoroughly, but apparently the hair was staying, at least for now.

 

“Now… you pick one.” Sam waved a hand at the racks of bowling balls arrayed along the half-wall between the lane area and the bar.

 

Steve picked one up at random and hefted it experimentally. “What am I looking for?”

 

“Whatever weight feels comfortable—“ Sam paused in his quest to glance back at them “—eh, you guys are probably good just getting the heaviest ones you can find. Basically just check that the holes fit your hand alright, not tight enough to stick, not so loose you’re gonna lose your grip. Pretty self-explanatory.”

 

“Doesn’t look like there’s anything over 16 pounds here,” Bucky said, crouching to check one of the lower shelves.

 

“Yeah, I think that’s the regulation weight limit.” Sam laughed when Bucky grunted his disapproval at that. “C’mon, man, you’re knocking down a bunch of plastic pins, not taking out a wall.”

 

Finding what he was looking for—not a 16-pound ball, because he was secure enough to recognize his limits and not injure himself attempting to keep up with super soldiers, thank you very much—Sam sauntered over to their lane.

 

“If you’re not sure what you want, just grab a couple. You can try a few throws and swap ‘em out whenever you want,” he told the others.

 

Sam stepped up for his first throw, and hey, it might’ve been a few years, but he clearly hadn’t lost his game entirely. Seven pins down, the remaining three in a decent grouping, giving him a good chance at a spare—which he managed on the next throw. Hardly spectacular, but not too shabby.

 

“So, you’ve got two shots at knocking them all down?” Steve asked, stepping up to take the next turn.

 

Bucky was still prowling around, examining his options. He could be very particular about his gear, Sam had found. Figured he’d extend that to this as well.

 

“Yep,” Sam confirmed. “You get a better score if you can get them all down on the first try, of course.”

 

Steve nodded, took a couple quick steps as Sam had done, let his arm swing back in much the same way Sam had seen him do when winding up for a powerful throw of his shield…

 

… and promptly lost his balance, scrambling for a moment before landing hard on his side, the bowling ball thudding against the ground a couple of times before tumbling forlornly into the gutter.

 

“Yeah, um, maybe should’ve warned you, the floor’s a bit slick.” Sam rubbed at the back of his neck, struggling manfully to keep a straight face as Steve shot him a betrayed look.

 

Bucky… Well, Bucky had no compunctions about laughing at a friend’s pain, apparently. What started out as a choking snort ended with him leaning against the wall for support.

 

It wasn’t until he saw Steve’s expression flicker through a rapid series of emotions—from embarrassment to annoyance to dawning wonder and delight—that Sam realized that he’d never seen Buckly laugh like that before. Not with such wholehearted abandon. Sure he’d been doing better, a lot better lately, but apparently it’d been a while since Steve had seen it too.

 

They both of them knew better than to dwell on that pleasant surprise long enough to make him aware of, and self-conscious over, it.

 

Picking himself up, Steve shot Bucky a fair approximation of a dirty look as he walked over to the ball return.

 

“Yeah, laugh it up. You just wait until it’s your turn. Least you’ve got some warning now.” Steve turned the look on Sam at that last comment.

 

“Hey man, don’t look at me.” Sam grinned. “I thought you were supposed to have that whole heightened senses, hyper-aware of your environment thing going on.”

 

Steve was more cautious with his next throw and managed to take down nine of the pins—and stay on his feet. If he was still embarrassed it didn’t show so Sam could tell.

 

Bucky had decided on a 16-pound vivid orange ball with yellow marbling. Because it’s not like snipers were supposed to like being all discrete and low-key or anything.

 

He’d learned from Steve’s misfortune. After staring down the lane for a couple of seconds he stepped forward confidently for a smooth throw.

 

“Nice strike, man,” Sam said as the bar came down to sweep away the fallen pins.

 

Bucky frowned. “I didn’t miss.”

 

“Yeah…” Sam paused and they stared at each other in mutual confusion for a second before realization dawned. “Oh! Sorry, yeah. Opposite of baseball—strike means you took everything down with your first throw. A spare’s when you get them all with two throws.”

 

“What’s it called when you do some sloppy gymnastics and then toss your ball in the ditch?”

 

Sam snorted. “If it winds up on either side it’s a gutter ball. I don’t think a word’s been invented for those gymnastics yet.”

 

“Ha ha.” Steve crossed his arms. “You guys’re hilarious. Don’t quit your day jobs.”

 

Bucky tossed the hair out of his eyes. “Technically I don’t have a day job. The therapist says I should be ‘exploring my skill set and finding out what makes me happy.’”

 

“’S good advice,” Sam agreed reasonably.

 

“Someone’s gotta keep Captain America’s head from getting too big.”

 

Bucky favored Steve with a sweet smile and innocent expression so good Sam almost bought it. Judging by his unyielding expression, Steve found it less convincing.

 

“Like there aren’t enough people lining up for that job,” he muttered.

 

“Yeah, but they don’t know you like I do.”

 

And that… that softened Steve’s entire demeanor like nothing else could. Wasn’t it a statement on the state of things when the brainwashed amnesiac who was still missing big chunks of his past was the one who knew you better than anyone else.

 

Still. Dubious as he might’ve been in response to Steve’s unshakeable faith initially, if there was one thing he’d learned about James Buchannan Barnes it was that he did know Steve, in a way that went beyond conscious memory right down to the bone. And Steve… was a great big sentimental softy. Not that he didn’t have the right to it, after everything he’d lost and everything he’d been through to get Bucky back.

 

“You two gonna start reminiscing about the good old days, or shall we get a game going?”

 

Steve’s eyebrows rose. “What happened to practicing?”

 

“Changed my mind. I’m gonna take my advantages where I can. Unless you’re not up to the challenge, of course….”

 

Steve was, of course, up to the challenge. You might not think it of Captain America, but Steve totally had a competitive streak a mile wide. Barnes certainly wasn’t going to object.

 

Sam held his own well enough, if he did say so himself. He’d been a pretty decent bowler back in the day, and by the end of the first game he had the feel of it back well enough to put a bit of a hook on the ball, which upped his chances of a good strike considerably.

 

By the middle of the second game, though, the question of Sam’s score was pretty much the only thing adding an interesting element of randomness to the equation.

 

Steve had, naturally, done just fine for himself after that first less-than-illustrious frame. Being the observer he was, he’d immediately picked up on and adapted his own version of Sam’s hooking method and had himself a nice, solid technique. Now he was showing the first restless signs of looking for a new way to challenge himself.

 

Barnes, meanwhile, played with the cool, methodical focus of a sniper on the range. Watching him throw strike after identical strike would’ve been boring if it wasn’t so impressive. Sam wasn’t sure exactly what past experience or training had given him the skill set for this (because it wasn’t like having excellent aim with a gun exactly translated into “throwing a heavy object at multiple targets”), but something clearly had.

 

Watching his serious expression, Sam would be worried about whether he was actually having any fun, if it weren’t for the fact that the repetitive precision seemed to bring with it a certain kind of… relaxation? If he wasn’t brimming with enthusiasm, at least the activity seemed to fall about where weightlifting did in terms of “mildly satisfying activities I don’t mind,” so they were probably good.

 

“Hey, Sam, how’s it scored if you use your off hand to throw a strike?” Steve asked out of the blue.

 

Sam shrugged. “No idea. I’ve never seen anyone try it.”

               

And that was enough to break Bucky’s single-minded focus. He gave Steve a speculative look, a half smile tugging at his mouth.

 

Of course Steve was going to try it, and of course the throw had plenty of power behind it, though it was wild enough that he only took out half the pins with the first try.

 

And of course Bucky immediately swapped his own ball to his left hand, hefting it experimentally. He didn’t bother with the finger holes. The leather glove gave him enough grip on the smooth surface, and the metal fingers inside were capable of an unrelenting grasp no flesh-and-blood hand could maintain.

 

“Pretty sure the whole point of using your off hand’s that it’s supposed to be weaker,” Sam pointed out.

 

Bucky shrugged, and threw. And only took out the two leftmost pins. He glared down the lane as if it had personally insulted him.

 

“More strength, less finesse, apparently,” Steve remarked, expression studiously neutral.

 

Bucky turned to level him with that offended look. “My finesse is fine.”     

 

“Mmm, the pins say otherwise.” Steve scratched his chin casually.

 

Grabbing his ball as it thudded into the ball return, Bucky sent it down the lane left-handed again… and took out another three pins, a fourth wobbling briefly before staying mockingly upright. It was all Sam could do not to laugh at his expression, standing there looking as if the entire world had betrayed him. Not so used to missing a stationary target, he’d guess.

 

“You going to try, Sam?” Steve asked with exaggerated brightness.

 

“Nah, I’m not getting in the middle of this.” Sam waved him off. “You guys go ahead, I’ll get us some food.”

 

A moment later the distinctive rumble of a ball being sent down the lane was followed by the crash of pins. Sam rolled his eyes at Steve’s triumphant laugh. He couldn’t help smiling, though.

 

Dave jumped off the stool where he’d been sitting, poking at his phone as Sam approached.

 

“You guys ready to eat?”

 

“Yeah.” Sam looked up at the menu for a minute. “Can we get… two large three-meat pizzas and half a dozen brats?”

 

“Dude, if you guys want to start some kind of eating contest I’ll sell you the food but you’re going to have to take it outside. Last time we had an eating contest here half the contestants threw up and I got stuck cleaning up afterward. That is not happening again.”

 

“Nah, don’t worry, no eating contests—we’re just really hungry, that’s all. No one’s gonna be throwing up.”

 

Dave continued to look dubious.

 

“Look, if by some freak chance someone does throw up, you have my word we’ll clean it up ourselves, okay?”

 

“Okay,” he agreed, mollified. “You guys want anything to drink?”

 

“Yeah… couple pitchers of beer?”

 

It wouldn’t do anything for Steve, of course, and he honestly had no idea if Bucky could get drunk anymore, but both men hadn’t expressed any objections to drinking socially before. He’d just have to remember that he was still just a regular human himself, or he’d be regretting it tomorrow.

 

Dave handed him the pitchers and three stacked glasses. “I’ll have the food out for you soon as it’s ready.”

 

After pouring the first round of drinks, Sam settled into one of the chairs behind their lane, stretching his legs out and crossing them at the ankles. By the time the food arrived both pitchers nearly empty and Steve and Bucky had progressed to throwing backwards.

 

Sam was still nursing his first drink, not wanting to indulge too much on an empty stomach. He had a nagging feeling that someone around here was going to have to be the designated responsible adult—and that, stone-cold sober though he might be, that someone was not going to be Steve.

 

He’d done his reading—more so since he’d signed up to help Steve track Bucky down, what felt like half a lifetime ago. He knew the history here.

 

The two of them had spent most of their lives with Steve struggling to make his body keep up with his impulses and his friend, and Bucky struggling to protect him from everything the world threw at him. Then the Super Soldier Serum had reversed those dynamics overnight, with Steve suddenly the bigger, stronger one and Bucky dead set on keeping up, despite having every right to call it a war and go home for a rest after his ordeal as a prisoner of HYDRA.

 

Reunited in the 21st century… Even once he had started on the road to recovery, at first Bucky had been far too broken and lost (and, alternately, dangerous) for anything but careful handling as he struggled to recover the scattered pieces of himself. But now it was starting to dawn on them both that, whatever the differences in both method and result, Zola and HYDRA’s experimentation had made them as close to physical equals as they were ever likely to get.

 

Turned out, given half a chance, they were about as ridiculously competitive as any other guys in their mid-twenties.

 

Something about Bucky’s laugh caught Sam’s attention. Tilting his head, he studied the man more closely.

 

“Guess that answers the question of whether alcohol affects him,” he murmured, leaning back in the chair and grinning.

 

At least, it clearly affected him when he drank a relatively large amount, in a short length of time, on an empty stomach, after (presumably) having had virtually zero experience with intoxicating beverages in the last 70 years. Bucky wasn’t drunk, but he was definitely loosened up a bit. It was good to see.

 

“You guys want a refill on the drinks?” Dave asked as he dropped off the second tray of their food.

 

“Sure,” Sam agreed. “Why not.”

 

They were on vacation, after all. They could always pick up the car in the morning if they needed to. And… walk back to the hotel. In the rain. Because it’s not like they could get a cab in a little town like this. Eh, they’d survive.

 

Oh. Right—there was Steve. Steve was sober. Kind of easy to forget at the moment, the way he was bent over gasping with hysterical laughter at nothing at all. But then, Bucky did have a surprisingly contagious laugh once he got going.

                                                         

“Time to call a timeout, guys.” He raised his voice to catch their attention over the laughter. “Food’s here.”

 

“Smells good.” Dropping into one of the chairs, Bucky gave him an easy smile. Shoving nearly half a slice in his mouth, he shut his eyes as he chewed.

 

“Going by that expression I’m gonna guess it tastes as good as it smells,” Sam said, amused, as he put mustard on his brat.

 

Bucky had the manners to merely hum in contentment rather than voicing his agreement. He still hadn’t gotten over his delight in the sheer variety of tastes available, after having his choices so restricted for so long.

 

(This had, occasionally, led to some questionable food experiments. Must of which had, admittedly, been aided and abetted by Clint. Sam swore the dill pickles, honey, and sprinkles incident had scarred him for life, and he’d only watched the two of them eat it—Barton having waited to see if Bucky could stomach the concoction before venturing a taste himself. The two of them swore up and down that it was actually quite good, but Sam wasn’t buying it. Some things were just wrong.)

 

Returning with the fresh pitchers, Dave raised his eyebrows at the amount of food that had disappeared already, but didn’t comment. Sam couldn’t blame him. Steve and Bucky eating were a force of nature.

 

Steve had his ridiculously overactive metabolism, which meant the guy was practically always eating, seemed like. Bucky might not have been so much beyond your average athletic guy, if it hadn’t been for the metal arm. Steve had explained to Sam that Tony had explained to him that the arm was designed to run on the body’s own energy, which equated to a whole lot of calories burned, especially when he was active. It was a beautiful and powerful piece of machinery, but it’d never run as efficiently as a natural part of his body. Sure a lot better than, say, needing to plug himself into the wall on a regular basis, though.

 

When there was nothing left of the food but crumbs they leaned back in their chairs, contented, drinks in hand. (Steve and Bucky took the leaning back a little more literally, tipping their chairs back on two legs.) After a few minutes of companionable silence, Sam checked his watch.

 

“Still plenty of time if you guys want to keep going.”

 

“You’re not going to?” Steve frowned. “We can start another game if you want to—“

 

Sam waved him off. “I’m good. You two have at it.”

 

Steve still looked a bit concerned, and Sam had a sudden flash of a skinny, weak, asthmatic kid, always watching from the sidelines because he couldn’t keep up. It might be distant history for the rest of the world, but for Steve that was just a few years ago.

 

The worry might’ve been insulting, except… Steve was so earnest about it, you almost hated to smack him out of it when he took it into his head that you were getting a little too much of the short end of the stick. But really, Sam had always been a fit, athletic guy. And even as wrapped up in their lives as he’d become lately, it wasn’t like the other Avengers were his only social circle. He got enough chances to compete with normal human beings to keep his sense of perspective and alleviate the risk of developing a complex just because he was surrounded by super-humans and geniuses and master spies on a daily basis.

 

“Seriously, I’m fine. You two are way more entertaining than TV. You ever get tired of the saving-the-world business, you could start your own show—travel the world, try different sports, see how long it takes you to go from complete novices to beating the top athletes.”

 

Bucky gave Steve a nudge that would’ve toppled a lesser man, precariously balanced as he was. “Hear that? More entertaining than TV. Looks like your chorus girl days are paying off.”

 

Steve gave him a “friendly” nudge with his foot in return, which did manage to knock Bucky off-balance. He grabbed the edge of the table, only quick reflexes saving him from a fall. The chair’s legs came back to the floor with a thud, and he shot Steve a look so full of mock hurt it was pathetic. Steve grinned back unrepentantly.

 

Seeing he was having no effect, Bucky drained the last of his glass before standing and stalking back to their lane, collecting his ball from the ball return on the way. Steve shared an amused look with Sam before getting up to join him.

 

It suddenly struck him that Natasha would get such a kick out of watching this. (So would Tony, but he’d be more likely to stick it on YouTube and while Steve might not mind one way or the other he figured Bucky should at least be asked first.)

 

Surreptitiously pulling out his cell, he turned on the camera just in time to see Bucky winding up for a particularly, er, dramatic throw. If not particularly accurate. The ball went straight for the gutter.

 

“That’s a little harder than—“ Sam broke off as the ball bounced out of the gutter hard enough to send it all the way across into the far gutter of the adjacent lane—which it also promptly ricocheted out of. He watched in blank silence as it landed in the middle of that lane, rolling smoothly down score a perfect strike. “Okay, that’s just…” he shook his head, laughing helplessly. “You know we only paid to use the one lane, right?”

 

“Oops?” Bucky shrugged. The smirk pulling at his mouth was far from innocent. He turned to call over his shoulder at Dave. “Sorry!”

 

Dave had been sweeping the bar area, but stopped to watch at the sound of the louder-than-usual crash. He shook himself free of his disbelieving stare to wave a dismissive hand at the apology. “You’re good.”

 

Bucky glanced back again to make sure Dave had returned to work before turning back to Steve. “Think you can top that?”

 

And that—that was why Sam needed to stay sober. Because Steve’s expression did not promise anything good, and if you straight-up tell Steve Rogers “you can’t do the thing” it is never going to end well. Reasonable persuasion was the order of the day.

 

“You guys know if you break anything it’s probably going to be really expensive. And if it winds up on the news it might be the end of this trip.”

 

“You are such a killjoy, Wilson,” Bucky growled.

 

“Believe me, you have no idea how much I hate playing the responsible adult. But I’d hate being stuck spending the next couple of weeks answering questions about how you two managed to break a bowling alley even more.”

 

“Yeah, I know. You’re right,” Steve conceded. “We’ll… watch it with the strength.”

 

Sam might’ve felt a whole lot more triumphant about winning, except that sobering Steve up when he was having that much fun actually pretty much just made you feel like an awful human being. Maybe he should’ve just texted and asked Stark to buy the place preemptively. Tony probably would’ve done it, too.

 

But before he could get to feeling too bad, Steve’s expression lit up again. Turning, he set his ball down just in front of the foul line and gave it a push with his foot.

 

It took out nine of the pins. He looked ridiculously pleased with himself.

 

Steve having knocked down the remaining pin with a businesslike throw, Bucky set his ball down to try the same trick. It wasn’t really his style—the push travelled considerably more slowly than his usual powerful throws, and by the time it was halfway down the lane he was already looking impatient.

 

They never got the chance to see what he would have scored. Steve grabbed his ball as it thudded into the ball return and, before Bucky could react, stepped up to throw it down the lane. Its path hooked neatly around the slower-moving ball, connecting with the pins seconds before Bucky’s would have. Strike.

 

Sam couldn’t help it. He snorted into his drink. Bucky’s shout of outrage broke through the remnants of his self-control and made him burst out laughing.

 

He only laughed harder as Bucky’s growled insults and Steve’s raised hands and laughing-way-too-hard-to-even-remotely-resemble-the-earnest-apology-he-was-attempting devolved into a shoving match, Steve’s laughter and the slippery floor severely hampering his attempts to evade Bucky’s attacks. He’d seen them spar often enough to know just how little actual intent there was behind the mock fighting. They reminded him of nothing so much as videos he’d seen of wolf pups—all noise and posturing and wild flails that looked more dramatic than the real thing.

 

…but not everyone watched actual soldiers (and spies, and assassins, and sort-of-gods) train on a regular basis, much less actually participated in that training. And for those who didn’t have the benefit of that experience, their version of a bit of lighthearted letting off steam could be frankly alarming, a fact of which he was reminded when he caught sight of Dave’s expression as he came out of the back room.

 

“Hey, guys—guys!”

 

Sam had to raise his voice a bit to get their attention. Once he had it, though, they caught his drift—and Dave’s expression of growing alarm—remarkably quickly. The instantaneous transformation from young wolves to a matched set of guilty kids anticipating a scolding from Mom, combined with the simultaneous, automatic, shamefaced “sorry” was nearly enough to set him laughing again. He choked back the hysterical urge.

 

“You can’t—um—owner’s policy…” Dave gestured hesitantly at the list of rules posted on the wall, among which NO HORSEPLAY IN LANE AREA was prominent.

 

He’d never had an employee threaten to kick him out in quite such an apologetic way before. But then, he couldn’t really blame the guy. I mean, really, even without knowing that they were supersoldiers, those two were not exactly small. What was the poor guy going to do if they got out of hand, working the late shift alone—try to physically remove them from the premises without even any of the locals around to back him up? Poor kid just wanted to finish his shift without getting involved in some crazy dumb fight.

 

“Sorry. It’s been a really long day. We’re just a bit… wound up, I guess. We’ll cool it, I promise.” His impression of a Responsible Adult was pretty impressive when he put his mind to it, if he did say so himself. Better than the ninety-something-year-old juvenile delinquents he was currently chaperoning, anyway.  

 

“Okay, just…” Dave glanced at the clock, and Sam could see him mentally calculating how much time they had left, whether it’d be worthwhile to actually verbalize the implied threat to kick them out. “… just don’t break anything. Seriously.”

 

“Got it. Sorry we got carried away.” Steve offered him a sheepish smile. And yeah, alright, apparently all that PR work had been good for something, because that face was almost enough to make you forget the evidence of your own eyes and believe he would never ever even dream of starting anything, no sir, best behavior at all times.

 

They had forgiveness, on probation at any rate, though he noted that Dave didn’t offer them any more refills on the beer.

 

Almost before Dave had disappeared into the back room once more, Bucky turned to Sam.

 

“Toss me that towel?”

 

Sam reached out and snagged the towel from beside the spray bottle on the next table over (there in preparation for cleaning their table once they left, presumably) before he finished fully processing the request.

 

“Why?” he asked, warily holding on to the towel, though he had a sneaking suspicion he knew the answer already.

 

“For a blindfold.”

 

“…Are. You. Kidding. Me.”

 

“I’ll be careful!” Bucky said it like any suspicions to the contrary were the most unjust thing in the history of baseless accusations. “Just straight bowling and I won’t throw too hard. I just want to try it.”

 

He didn’t know why he gave in. He really, really didn’t.

 

(Actually, he knew exactly why he did. He wanted to see how the two of them would manage almost as much as they did. Also because for a terrifying emotionless assassin Bucky could look really sad when he wanted something you didn’t want to give him.)

 

He certainly didn’t look sad when he bowled three perfect strikes in a row while blindfolded. He looked just slightly less pleased with himself when Steve managed to do the same. Because apparently everything was always, always going to be a competition with the two of them now.

 

Unfortunately, that competitive urge drove Bucky to step forward just a little faster, throw just a little harder than necessary—which, blindfolded as he was, caused him to misjudge the distance, setting his foot down just a little too far over the foul line. The slicker surface of the lane itself took his foot out from under him faster than he could recover and he went down hard.

 

Bucky pulled off the blindfold and they all went still for a moment, but either the noise hadn’t been loud enough to register as unusual or Dave had decided that he just didn’t want to know.

 

Rising with great dignity, his expression utterly blank, Bucky stalked back to the ball return, very carefully not limping. Steve was the first to start laughing, nearly choking in a halfhearted attempt to smother it. Bucky, still standing on his dignity, didn’t say a word, just turned to give them a look. Which promptly set Sam off too, because of all the times to try out that “I am death, fear me” glare…

 

“Couple more frames before we call it a night?” Steve asked cheerfully.

 

Sam glanced surreptitiously down at his phone. Yep, he’d totally gotten that on video. Natasha was going to love it.

 

 

-0-0-0-

 

 

“I hate you.” Bucky didn’t bother lifting his head from where it was half-buried under one of his pillows. “I hate you both so much.”

 

“Come on, Buck, up and at ‘em. You’re the only one who hasn’t showered and we need to get on the road.”

 

Seeing no movement in response to his urging, Steve grabbed Bucky’s arm and hauled at him, ignoring his protesting groan, until he was sitting more-or-less-upright on the edge of the bed. Bucky promptly sagged forward, elbows resting on his knees and head in his hands.

 

“So much,” he reiterated. “If you open that, I will throw up.”

 

Sam paused, his hand still on the curtain, to look at Bucky. His eyes were still closed. Figured his freakish situational awareness wouldn’t be affected, even if…

 

“Hey man, you need some Tylenol or something? You don’t look so hot.”

 

Bucky’s only response was a surly grunt.

 

“I didn’t know you could even get hangovers anymore.” Steve looked torn between amusement and concern.

 

“Neither did I,” Bucky muttered.

 

“I’m sure you’ll recover quickly once you’ve had a shower and a decent breakfast,” Steve offered, sounding more hopeful than convinced.

 

“I’m sure I want to stay right here until someone puts me out of my misery,” Bucky returned, sounding more petulant than resigned to death.

 

“Well, you’re gonna have to find someone else to volunteer for that, ‘cause we’re heading out in half an hour with or without you.” Sam turned to zip up his suitcase. “This place has a great continental breakfast—you want me to bring something back for you, or you gonna drag yourself down there before we go?”

 

“I’m never gonna eat again.”

 

“Yeah man, that sounds like a great way to recover.” Heading for the door, Sam paused to call back, “You think I’m joking about leaving you here, but I’m totally not.”

 

As the door swung shut behind him, Sam heard Steve say rather uncertainly,

 

“I’m pretty sure he actually does mean that. You want a hand up?”

 

 

-0-0-0-

 

 

Twenty-four minutes later they were in the car.

 

Bucky did, in fact, look considerably healthier, if no more pleased with the world. He was wearing sunglasses, despite the clouds obscuring the morning sunlight.

 

“Feeling better?” Sam asked

 

Bucky’s only response was a growl. He flipped the hood of his jacket up to further block out the light, then leaned back in his seat, folding his arms and hunching his shoulders. It was kinda adorable how well he could impersonate a sulky teenager. Sam didn’t say as much, of course, because he didn’t actually have a death wish.

 

“I take it that’s a no to you being ready for some upbeat music to start the day with, then, shall I?” When Bucky didn’t respond, he added, “Just so you know, I have a standing policy that anyone who vomits in my car gets to clean it up personally.”

 

That, at least, got a reaction, though he couldn’t make out the muttered words. They might have been in Russian.

 

“Hey, tough love, man. It only comes from the ones who really care.” As he pulled out of the parking lot, he nodded toward the glove box in front of Steve. “There’s a bottle of extra strength Tylenol in there.”

 

Steve popped open the compartment and tossed the bottle over his shoulder without turning to look. Leaning over to rummage through the bag at his feet he pulled out bottle of water, which got the same treatment. Bucky caught both effortlessly.

 

“I wonder if we could talk Tony into adding a bowling alley to the Tower,” Steve mused, leaning back in his seat. “I bet Thor would love it.”

 

Sam grinned at the thought. “He might have one tucked away somewhere already. Place’s got like a million floors—I still haven’t figured out how many basements there are. I don’t think he knows half the stuff that’s in that building.”

 

“True. He might want to modify it anyway, though, we were gonna use it. Most places aren’t exactly built for…”

 

“Heavy duty wear and tear?”

 

Steve chuckled. “Yeah, we’ll go with that. What do you think, Bucky? Want to see if you can beat Thor at bowling?”

 

Sam flicked a glance up at the rearview mirror. “I think he’s sleeping.”

 

“M’not asleep,” Bucky mumbled.

 

“So? What do you think?” Steve prodded.

 

“We can beat Thor any day of the week. He’s not used to throwing anything he can’t control with his mind.” Recalling himself a moment later, he hunched his shoulders again and muttered, “Still hate you, though.”

 

Steve smiled placidly. “So you keep saying.”