Sam can hear the fight before he's even stepped off the elevator. He almost wishes he hadn't come, but Steve had asked him to in that offhanded way of his that meant he was desperate. Stop by if you're in the neighborhood. We could catch up. Like it's normal to grab lunch at a noodle joint a few days after completing the most dangerous mission in history: the recovery of the Winter Soldier.
Another crash, this time metal hitting metal. At least Steve ducked, Sam thinks as he sips his Big Gulp and ambles toward the noise. He knows there's no handbook on How to Deal After 70 Years on Ice, but surely there's a better way than this.
But he will not say I Told You So. He will not raise his eyebrow at Captain America and muse aloud, "Didn't someone say we shouldn't bring the traumatized amnesiac to live with you in Midtown? I could've sworn someone said that."
Sam Wilson won't bother. The fact is, the mess is here on their doorstep (or Stark's, to be more accurate), and it needs fixing, not finger-pointing.
A gravelly voice is raised, which means Barnes is speaking today. Interesting. Sam cocks his head to listen outside the door. It's the bedroom Steve had given to his guest, blank and white. Sam won't mention how he warned against that either.
The explosive string of rough foreign syllables is cut off by another frustrated voice: "Damn it, Buck, I told you! My Russian's rusty, you got to stick to English!"
Sam doesn't speak it either, but it seems pretty clear that Barnes' answer translates to something like Fuck your English.
Another slam, this time a meaty one. The walls shake. Sam finishes off his Pepsi, swirls the straw around in the melting ice. No rush, he's got no death wish.
"We can try it in French." Steve is pleading now. Sam imagines that his face would be red, if he could see it. "Remember when you taught me French, Buck? Remember how awful mine is compared to yours?"
More Russian comes in a deluge. Sam's about ready to step inside and get between them now, but before he can open the door, Steve shouts, "I can't understand you like this!" And Barnes responds by putting him through the plaster.
So there's no point to the door anymore, really.
Sam’s hand closes around his shoulder. Steve doesn’t have to look up from his contemplation of the plush carpeting of the living room to know there’s a grimace on his face. He slumps, dejected, his hands clasped between his knees. Plaster dust flakes off him as he breathes.
"Want to take a big step back for just a second?" Sam asks. "Let me give it a shot?"
Steve wants to ask him what exactly it is: Attempting to communicate with his long lost best friend? Fixing the wall they just busted? Forcing Bucky to sit down for three minutes without lashing out in awful, pinpointed rage?
"He’s my—" Steve shakes his head. He’s looking for a word for Bucky that doesn’t exist. "My responsibility," he says, for lack of anything closer.
Sam sits down on the coffee table opposite him. Stark’s weird modern furniture can take the strain, of course.
"Let me tell you something about lizards," he begins.
"Sam." Steve sighs and rubs his fingertips into the sockets of his tired eyes. He doesn’t need another pep talk, if that’s what this is.
"Shut your mouth and listen to me." Sam waits a beat. Stares him down until Steve finally throws his hands up in defeat and leans back into the too-soft sofa, arms crossed on his chest.
"Like I was saying. Lizards," Sam says. He knots his fingers together, a mirror of Steve’s previous posture. “When I was a kid, we’d go visit my Nana down in Florida. You been?”
Steve shakes his head.
"Well, Nana had this little shotgun house down there and on the stone pavers, you know, leading up to the front door there’d be these lizards, right? Dozens of them, all lined up to soak up the sun. ‘Bout this big." He held his thumb and forefinger four inches apart. "Greeny brown. And I loved chasing them."
Steve’s brain tries to make the connection between this story and Bucky’s, while at the same time imagining the scene Sam paints. A hot walkway shimmering in the heat, awash in sunshine, a small Sam Wilson on his hands and knees, chasing lizards.
"Now, they were fast," Sam says. "I was a real mover, even at four years old, but it still took some time for me to catch them. More often than not I’d only grab the tip of their tail and it’d break off. Wriggle there in my hand for a few minutes before it finally stopped, and the lizard would get away." He pulled a face. "Nana said their tails grew back, so I figured, what’s the harm? And I kept chasing them."
Steve’s heart sinks. He doesn’t want to hear the rest, can’t stand to think about animals hurting, even little pesky ones.
Sam gives him a knowing look. “Proud as hell when I finally managed to catch one. Got it all cupped up in my hands.” He shapes his palms around an invisible orb to demonstrate. “Ran to show my Nana and my sister. Shouting, look what I did, look what I did!” His hands open, splaying wide. “Lizard doesn’t move. It’s dead. I squeezed it so tight its little pink tongue is sticking out. And I cry and cry and cry.” Sam shrugs. “Nana says it was an accident. Like when we put our sneakers on her porch at night and didn’t check them in the morning. Stick our feet in, feel something weird. Take off the shoe, dead lizard inside. They crawl in things after dark, trying to find shelter. She says it was like that.”
Steve hears a distant thud and another crash, wonders if Bucky can hear them from down the hall.
"It’s not like that, though," Sam says. "The shoe thing, that was me being ignorant of the situation. The lizard I had in my hand?" He makes a tight fist. "That was me thinking the lizard was mine just because I wanted it to be mine so damn bad, and I wasn’t thinking of anything else."
"You think I might crush him to death?" Steve asks, tired.
Sam doesn’t answer, just looks at him. Steve knows he’s talking sense, but still. The thought of trusting someone else with Bucky—
But this is Sam, the guy who opened up his house to what were essentially two complete strangers covered in blood and bruises. Sam, the guy who strapped in for the world tour to find Bucky—an actual complete stranger—because he knew Steve needed the backup. If anyone deserves to be let in, it's Sam.
Steve ends up nodding, his fist curled to his lips, eyes closed.
"Takes a big man to admit he needs help," Sam says, slapping his shoulder again. "Good thing you’re the biggest."
Bucky doesn’t speak much these days. He figures there’s nothing to say, really. People talk to him, around him, about him. There are a lot of people in this building and they all seem to have an opinion. Steve’s there, his voice trying for gentle but just sounding scared most of the time. Sometimes it’s not enough.
Bucky doesn’t say anything when Sam Wilson comes into his shattered room, picks his way through the wreckage, and says, “Wanna grab your coat? It’s nice out.”
It’s not an order, just a suggestion, but Bucky does it anyway. The fog in his head is lifting, enough for him to feel ashamed about what he'd done to Steve earlier. And it's easier to leave than stay. He gets up off the floor, where he'd been sitting with his back to one of the remaining walls, and follows Sam.
Central Park hasn’t changed much. It’s the chilly start of spring, plants trying their damnedest to force their color from the wet ground. It’s damp out and the sky is grey.
Sam keeps up a patter of niceties, talking about this and that. Bucky doesn't listen, doesn't want to tell him that he heard him talking to Steve after their fight. He just looks at the sky and sniffs the air.
"Liar," Bucky croaks about twenty minutes into their orbit of the pond.
"Oh, we're back to English now?" Sam asks.
"Not nice out at all," Bucky says. "You lied."
Sam shrugs, hands stuffed deep in his jacket pockets. He’s military, Bucky figures. Ex-military. The way his eyes scan the line of rocks above them where children are playing, it’s a dead giveaway.
"Nicer than the pig sty you’re calling a room right now, cowboy," Sam points out, and Bucky can’t argue with that. Though it’s been a long time since anyone who wasn’t holding his proverbial leash has had the balls to say something like that to his face.
"Where did Steve find you?" Bucky asks.
"In DC." Sam reaches for Bucky, doesn’t react to the instinctive flinch. He fishes a mobile device out of the breast pocket of Bucky’s coat, then pulls his own out. Taps them together. The soothing ping of the StarkTech echoes between them. "Now you can find me in Harlem anytime you need me."
Sam replaces Bucky’s phone, pats his chest as he finishes.
"Harlem?" Bucky frowns, his brow furrowing with hazy memories. "Not the Tower?"
"Hey, I love heights," Sam faces forward as they walk, smiling into the distance, "but I already got a home that’s ‘up’ and that’s up at one-twenty-ninth."
A flash in black and white: sharing cigarettes under neon signs. The fog lifting at daybreak, muscles aching from dancing all night long. Shouts and hollers and big brassy notes.
"I used to go up there sometimes," Bucky says slowly, to himself.
Sam just cocks an eyebrow at him. “Yeah?”
"There was—" He can taste the gin on his teeth. "Music."
"You were into the jazz scene?" Sam says with a wide grin. He pats Bucky’s chest again, and this time Bucky doesn’t flinch. "Oh man, you gotta tell me all about it. Who’d you see? What were they playing?"
The picture dissolves. Bucky’s mouth is empty and sour, and he can’t remember any of the tunes or the dance steps. He gropes after the memory, but it’s out of his reach. He grunts in frustration, a headache forming right behind his eyeballs. He's done talking for today, he decides.
"Some other time, man." Sam touches his shoulder, and Bucky leans into it.
Sam personally stops Stark from ordering the repairs to Barnes' room. "You break it, you fix it. That's how it's got to be," he says. Tony, too busy to argue, just rolls his eyes and heads for the elevator, tapping away at his phone.
"Knock yourselves out. I won't interfere in the bureau of Veterans Affairs." He tosses out a salute as the doors close on him.
Sam finds Steve standing ankle-deep in rubble. "It wasn't a one-man operation," he says. "I should help too."
"I like that. Personal responsibility." Sam makes a show of glancing under the ruined bed. "Where's Barnes?"
"In the family room," Steve says. That's what he calls the expanse of the common room. Sam thinks it's kind of sweet, in that old-fashioned way. "He seems to like it there. It's where he's been sleeping."
"I'll get him. And a broom." Sam starts walking backwards, still talking. "I'm just supervising, okay? I wasn't the one picking fights. This is a job for you and him."
"Fair enough," Steve says. He's already piling up junk in one corner.
Barnes is curled up in the small space between the back of the sofa and the floor-to-ceiling window that looks out over the East Side. He's not asleep, though. Just staring, watching the rooftops.
"Want to lend us a hand?" Sam asks him. He didn't mean to make a reference to Barnes' only remaining human appendage, but once the words are out, there's no sense in apologizing for them. No time for eggshells, not after what this guy's been through, he figures.
"You called me a lizard before," Barnes says in answer. His breath mists against the glass, his forehead pressed nearly flush to it.
Sam knee-walks onto the sofa to get a better vantage point. He peers down at Bucky and shrugs. "So you heard that, huh? Never mentioned it."
"Had time to think on it. And I'm not a lizard." His voice isn't angry. Just plain factual. He lifts his left arm, lets it glint in the sun. "Theirs grow back," he says.
"Fair enough." Sam licks his lips. It's a rare event to get Barnes talking of his own free will, and it feels like an opportunity he shouldn't pass up. "What are you, then?" Sam asks.
That dark head tips back. Blank eyes stare up at Sam, contemplative. "I am a dog," he says, "that's slipped its leash."
Sam nods, thinking. "Rabid?" he guesses.
"Yes," he rasps.
Sam contains a sigh inside his chest. "Disagree. Nothing for a rabid dog except to put it down. Can't cure it, can't bring it back. But we brought you back. Didn't we?"
Barnes seems to consider this, but doesn't say anything.
Sam offers his hand. "Besides, I have a soft spot for strays."
"That much is obvious," Barnes says. He grasps Sam's hand and allows himself to be hauled to his feet.
Steve isn't surprised when, even after they get the guest bedroom all squared away, Bucky still prefers the narrow couch in the family room. It took Steve a couple years to get used to the soft beds and softer sheets, so who knows when Bucky will be able to lay down without feeling his skin crawl.
In the middle of the night, if a noise or a dream wakes him, Steve will pad out into the hallway just to make sure Bucky's still there, a lump under the ratty blanket, long hair fanned across the sofa cushion. He'll stand in the shadows and listen to Bucky's soft inhales and exhales, will match them in his own lungs, until he's ready to close his bedroom door with a click. Sometimes he even gets some more sleep before getting up and doing it all over again the next day. In this way, time passes, some days good, some not so good.
"How come the bird doesn't stay here?" Bucky asks one morning around a mouthful of pancakes.
The man in question shovels another stack onto Bucky's plate with a snort. "Sam is in the room, Barnes. You want to ask him?"
Steve hides his smile behind his coffee mug. This part is worth the sleepless nights: the early dawn mornings, when Sam comes over for a quick run around the park before they wake up Buck, get some food in him, talk at the kitchen table like real people. As real as they get, anyway.
Bucky swivels his head around, a smirk playing around his syrupy lips, then turns back. "How come Sam doesn't stay here?" he repeats, speaking only to Steve. "Seems to me he's here every morning. Why not live in the Tower like the others?"
(Bucky's met the others: his easy silence with Nat, his standoffish scowl at Tony, his frown of confusion at Bruce.)
"Do you want Sam to move in with us?" Steve asks. He drinks more coffee to hide his expression. Where does Bucky think Sam would sleep? In the empty guest room, he supposes.
"Does Sam get a vote?" Sam calls from inside the fridge, where he's rummaging around.
"My mistake," Steve says, smiling now. He tips back in his chair and cranes his neck to keep Sam in visual range. "I'll let you handle this."
The carton of orange juice thunks onto the table without ceremony. "Sam has a family, you know. A mom, a sister, nephews. Not to mention his new apartment, which is pretty nice, thanks for asking," he tells Bucky with a wag of his finger. "Sam appreciated the offer when he joined the Avengers, really he did. But Sam believes in maintaining perspective and Sam can't do that in some crazy Hall of Justice bunker scenario. No offense, small ass." He says that last part to Steve.
Steve shrugs. "None taken." He catches Bucky's curious glance, realizes that Sam had made a little inside joke that Bucky wasn't in on. He wants to explain it to him, but it would be impossible to say where the stupid nickname even came from. It was just one of those things that grew between Sam and Steve during their hunt for Bucky. Maybe something of that shows on his face, because Bucky looks away, jaw tight.
Sam finally sits down to his own plate of breakfast, oblivious to the small battle raging without him. "Plus it's nice being my own boss since I left the service. I live here, it'll be Falcon handle this and Falcon take care of that every day," he says, digging in. "Now eat your damn food before it goes cold."
Bucky swirls his fork in a puddle of melted butter. He squints at Sam, then across the table at Steve. "Just realized something," he says.
"What's that?" Steve asks around a mouthful of eggs.
"Thought Sam was the new me. You know, your go-to guy. Was wrong about that." He takes another bite of his breakfast. "He's Peg."
Steve nearly chokes on his eggs. "What?"
"Peg Carter?" Sam's eyes light up. "You think I'm like the founder of SHIELD?"
"Yeah." Bucky shrugs. "You're the only one of us with your feet on the ground." He tilts his head, pauses. "Well, you know what I mean."
"Sam is not Peggy," Steve says, maybe a little too sharply.
"Hey, I don't mind. I can take a compliment," Sam says with an overabundance of cheer, scooping eggs onto his fork.
"Yeah, Steve, let him take a compliment." Bucky licks the tines of his fork clean with a smirk, his eyes darting slyly to the side. Steve's glare goes unnoticed completely.
The face of Sam's phone says 3:24 when the call comes in. He gropes for the green answer button, squinting against the sudden brightness in his dark bedroom. When he finally gets the damn thing up against his ear, the sheets are twisted twice around his legs.
"'ello?" he says. He hopes he doesn't sound asleep. Chances are this is Stark or one of the other night owl Avengers, and Sam would like to maintain the image of the always-on-call hero. Even though he really needs a solid six hours, damn it.
"Bird?" the voice on the other end of the phone asks. It's quiet and gravelly.
Sam sits up. His mattress creaks. "That you, Barnes?"
"Yeah." A beat. "You said I could call if I needed to."
"I did. I did." Sam presses a palm to his eyes, wipes the grainy mess from their corners. "What's going on?"
Bucky is quiet on the other end for a long moment, then says, "I didn't realize how late it was."
"'s fine. Lay it on me."
"I was. Now I'm talking to a pain in my ass," Sam says, "waiting to hear him say why he's calling."
A sigh comes across the line. "I couldn't sleep." It's an admission that Sam's heard plenty of times from lots of different soldiers, but this one makes his heart clench.
Steve's not there, Sam remembers. Cap's in Wakanda with Widow. He's been gone before, but maybe this is the first time he's been gone while Bucky prowled the Tower floor, alone and restless.
"Aw, Buck," he says into the phone.
"It's nothing," Bucky hurries to say. "I shouldn't have—"
"No, you did the right thing." Sam rolls over in bed, untangling himself a little. "You want me to listen, or do you just need to hear someone talk?"
Bucky huffs a dessicated laugh into Sam's ear. "If just any yapping would do, I'd go downstairs and find Stark or Banner." There's a distant clicking sound on the end of the line; Sam imagines metal fingertips on glass, can picture Bucky standing at the big window, looking out over the city. "But you actually talk sense some of the time."
"You flatterer, you." Sam smiles down into the phone. He's almost on the edge of sleep again, laying there in the dark. He shakes his head to clear it. "What should I talk about?"
"Don't know. Fill me in on some of the things I've missed."
It's a fun game, one that Sam plays with Steve too. Trying to explain the last few decades in his own words, railroading the big guy into seeing things his way. Sam remembers when he showed Steve the footage of Jackie Robinson, and how Steve cried real tears.
("I missed that," Steve had said. "God damn it, how could I have missed that?" Every kid in America had learned to love Cap in history class, but that was the moment Sam fell for Steven fucking Rogers.)
"Sam?" Bucky asks. "You still there?"
"Yeah. Just thinking." Sam rubs a hand over his face. "I ever tell you what the Eighties were like?" Bucky hums a no, and Sam smiles up at the ceiling. "Well, first let me explain a little musical act called the Jackson Five…."
Sam's in the middle of a rant about Madonna when he hears soft breathing coming from Bucky's end. "Barnes?" he asks quietly. He pictures the guy passed out on the sofa or on the floor, phone still in hand, mouth parted. "Sleep tight, Buck," he whispers, then hangs up.
Weeks pass, and Bucky sleeps a little better until the night the alarm goes off. It is dark and he is alone and there is a siren calling through the Tower. Bucky is on his feet before he's awake, his eyes open on the first flash of the warning lights.
"Stay here," Steve says as he brushes by. He's already dressed in red, white, and blue. His shield is a huge, unblinking eye on his back. Bucky grinds his teeth at the sight of it.
"What's going on?" he says, taking a step forward.
"Perimeter breach." On goes the helmet, the gloves. "Someone with a grudge against Stark."
"I can help," Bucky says. "Just tell me what to—"
"No, stay here." Steve spins to glare at him. His jaw is set at that old, stubborn angle. Onionskin paper overlaid: a boy who just won't back down. Bucky shakes his head to clear it. Steve is still giving him orders, and he listens despite himself. "Keep the doors locked. If you hear someone coming, tell Jarvis. He'll seal the room and call for backup."
Bucky doesn't want to stay put and talk to the robot. He wants to pull on his boots and go do something. But by the time he opens his mouth again, Steve is gone and he's alone in the flashing lights and alarms.
He does as he's told, sits back on the couch. Listens to the distant sound of helicopter blades and, minutes later, gunfire. His left arm creaks, a metallic whine as he makes a fist.
"Screw this," he finally says.
There's a flak jacket in Steve's closet, burned and worn in places, the red and blue peeling into black. He shrugs it on over his sleeveless shirt. Steve's boots fit him. He looks for a sidearm and finds it in the bedside table under some sketches of Bucky's own face and watercolors of Sam.
"Jarvis?" he asks the air as he checks the gun's magazine. "Where's the fighting?"
"The skirmish has moved to the 92nd floor, Mr. Barnes," the British voice answers.
Fastest way up there is on the outside, Bucky figures. He shoves the gun in his waistband, goes to the window and pulls back his fist, ready to make a hole.
"Allow me, sir." Jarvis, sounding affronted, does something that lowers the plate glass out of the way. A cold highrise wind whips into the room, making Bucky's hair dance.
"Thanks, I guess," he murmurs before swinging himself out onto the face of the Tower.
It feels good to be outside. Feels good to be moving.
It's a full-fledged firefight by the time Bucky climbs to the first level of the flight deck. It's a chaos of fliers in the air and the big green monster blurring by and smoke and sulfur. The Avengers are all over the place but so are the black-masked intruders. One of them, standing close to where Bucky is crouching, shoulders a weapon. Aims it high. Bucky follows its trajectory, sees a big white star in the middle of a familiar body. Steve is poised on the high ground, directing his men, not watching his own back. Typical.
Old training takes over. That feels good, too.
Bucky's fingers are still clutched around a snapped neck when he feels a hand on his shoulder. "Barnes?" Sam asks. His goggles make him look alien. "How'd you get up here?"
"I flew," Bucky hisses. His hands spasm and the body in his arms twitches. He only drops it at Sam's pointed stare.
The fighting gets thicker around them, and Natasha is there in a whirl of red and black, guns blazing. "I'm not going to check the teeth on this horse," she yells to Bucky in Russian. "Get to work!"
Bucky looks to Sam, who frowns but gives him a nod before taking to the air again. He has the tacit permission of Steve's second-in-command, which is enough for him.
The sidearm is well-balanced, well taken care of. It's a comfort in Bucky's hand.
And if most of the targets who fall from Bucky's shots are the ones foolish enough to aim for Steve, well. That's just his original programming coming back online.
And that doesn't just feel good.
That feels miraculous.
It's after midnight by the time Sam finishes up with the dishes. The floor is quiet. Steve was on his feet for about twenty hours straight after the skirmish on the rooftop, alternately coordinating the team and being pissed at Bucky for showing up to the party, and now he's snoring on the couch. Sam can see him from the open kitchen doorway, where he stands with a dishtowel in his hands, drying under his fingernails. Bucky hovers over Steve's prone form, either unconscious or uncaring of Sam's gaze. He seems to hesitate, then grabs hold of an old, worn afghan that's bunched into a lump on the floor and lays it over Steve. Smooths out its lines, tucks it around that big, slumbering body.
"Out like a light," Sam observes quietly.
Bucky doesn't jump, so Sam figures he'd been aware of being watched this whole time. "Always did sleep like the dead," he whispers, and then, like he realizes what he's just said, stares up at Sam with eyes as big as the dinner plates he just washed. "I remember that. About him. I remembered a few things, up there." His chin jerks up in the direction of the rooftop, which will need repairs after the fight it just saw.
"Yeah?" Sam tosses the dish towel onto the counter and pads into the room proper. Bucky watches his approach, then slowly sinks to sit on the edge of the sofa near Steve's bare, twitching feet. "Try and follow that thread," Sam says. "Remember anything else?"
"Bullets, mostly. Explosions on impact." Bucky tilts his head, his hair hanging in his face. His eyes fall on Steve and soften. "You can't imagine what he was like." His voice is small, prayerful. "A little stick of a thing. Just...tiny."
Sam wants to get back to the bullets, not because he's looking forward to it, but because he knows this is a long time coming. Can't go digging for buried Bucky without hitting a vein of Winter Soldier. "I saw pictures in history books," Sam offers instead.
"Nah. Not the same. I could—" Bucky holds his hands up, fingers clawed inward. "I could almost fit my hands all the way around his waist, he was so thin. Could lift him—" His hands rise in the air, carrying an invisible burden. "—light as a feather. Picked him up and put him to bed when he was sick. He never stirred."
Sam rests his forearms on the back of the couch and leans over Steve. He looks younger like this, the lines of his nose and chin softened by long eyelashes and parted lips; it's not impossible to imagine him as the frail boy Barnes describes. "He must've been lucky to have you," Sam whispers.
Bucky's mouth quirks up a little at the corner, and his forehead creases like he's chasing a memory that won't stop running. Finally, he manages, "Now it's your job."
Sam glances up. "Come again?"
"It's simple, this job," Bucky says slowly, warming to the theme. "You keep him safe. You protect him when you can. He's stubborn but," he looks up, clear grey eyes blinking in the dark at Sam, "you already know that."
Sam shakes his head. "Dude needs a world of backup. I can't handle it alone." It's supposed to come out light-hearted. It falls a little flat, if the sharp look Barnes throws him is any indication.
When Bucky speaks, it's a low growl filled with the froth of his spit. "Someone has to take care of him when I'm not here. Better than she—" He cuts himself off with a grunt.
Doesn't take a genius to figure out who the 'she' is, but Sam's not touching that with a mile-long pole. He tries to catch his gaze, but Bucky isn't looking at anything but Steve now. "What do you mean, when you're not here? You planning on checking out soon?"
"No," Bucky grinds out between his teeth. "Nowhere to go."
"So what are you saying?"
Bucky shrugs, eyes still on Steve in the dark. "Not sure," he says. "Not sure where I am." His voice wavers. "Can't be sure," he says, and it breaks.
"Barnes," Sam says slowly, "do you think...that this isn't real, what's happening right now?"
Bucky's head falls forward, hiding his face behind a curtain of hair. "I don't know," he keens.
Disassociation. Disconnect. Sam has spoken with dozens of soldiers who would swear, this isn't me, this isn't my body, this isn't my life. These aren't my memories. This didn't happen. This couldn't happen.
Please, god, tell me this isn't happening.
Yeah. Sam knows.
He's around the sofa in a heartbeat, next to the big, rocking shape that is Bucky. Touch is an anchor, so he wraps around him without pausing to ask for permission. If the guy wants him off, he's got the power to do it, Sam figures. But Bucky doesn't shove him away, just puts his living hand around Sam's arm, locking it in place over his heaving chest. His metal hand stays on Steve's leg, shining silver against the dark blanket.
"You're not imagining this," Sam promises. "This isn't a dream."
"It's got to be," Bucky gasps between breaths. "What are the chances, Steve finding me again? Saving me again? And we keep going around and around and around—"
Sam cuts him off. "Your name is James Barnes. Your friends call you Bucky. The year is 2015 and you're in New York City."
"I used to talk to myself when I was in the ice." Bucky's voice drops to a whisper. "It took hours for my blood to slow, before I fell asleep and dreamed. I used to tell myself, this is just another nightmare. You'll wake up, you nameless kid. But what if I never woke up? What if I'm still in there?"
"Your goddamn name is James Barnes," Sam repeats. "Your friends call you Bucky. The year is 2015 and you're in New York City." Stay steady, he tells himself. Stay the rock, stay upright, because you can't let this one come apart. He realizes it, holding Bucky then: this one's his too. Whatever that might mean.
Bucky shakes his head against Sam's shoulder. "But what if I'm not—"
"Hey." Steve swims into Sam's view, sitting up and rubbing a hand across his sleep-lined face. "Hey, hey, hey." He doesn't ask any questions, just folds right into them both, taking up a position on Bucky's other side. His big arms encompass them, and Sam is relieved instead of ashamed. Backup is backup, no matter how groggy.
Bucky shifts between them, his left arm reaching for Steve while he keeps clutching at Sam with his right. He's cocooned by them, his face pressed into Steve's neck now. "How do I know this isn't all in my head?" he asks, muffled.
Steve looks over the top of Bucky's hair at Sam, eyes wide and pleading. Sam sighs.
"If this is all in your imagination," Sam says, "then you'd think you'd come up with something less shitty for yourself."
Bucky snorts in derision but doesn't move.
"You're just going to have to trust us." Sam rubs his hand up and down Bucky's back. "We say we're real. Don't we?" He nods to Steve.
"Yeah, Buck. We're here," Steve says, pressing closer. His face is creased in confusion; he doesn't know exactly what is going on, but he knows enough to go wherever Sam leads. Good man, that Rogers.
Bucky grunts something, might be "Good."
They end up sleeping like that on the couch, sitting side by side, huddled together. Sam doesn't mind, even when he wakes up with a sore neck. Bucky's still there in the morning, curled between him and Steve, still hanging onto the both of them.
This is going to be trouble, Sam thinks.
Despite Sam's attempts to sneak in a Yankees cap, the thing never makes it over the threshold. Not on Steve's watch. Instead, Bucky's cap proclaims his allegiance to the Cyclones. "Last damn ball team in Brooklyn," Steve says as he jams it onto Bucky's head.
"Minor leagues don't count," Sam argues. Steve resists the urge to sigh.
"It's a hat. Who cares?" is all Bucky contributes to the argument. "Where we going?"
Sam tells them. Steve almost blows a gasket. He pulls Sam aside while Bucky, perplexed but game, goes to find his jacket.
"Times Square? Are you sure that's a good idea?" Steve whispers in the kitchen.
Sam rolls his eyes. "It's not in the middle of the damn intersection. It's just…near it."
"But an arcade? With the crowds and little kids….." Visions of a very public meltdown haunt Steve's imagination.
"Buck's ready for this," Sam assures him. "He's come a long way from the tornado you brought home all those months ago. You did good, now let him keep doing better."
Steve shakes his head. Sam Wilson could convince him to walk through fire, given enough time. Heck, he actually did when they were in Helsinki last week, so there's that. "Any progress he's made is all down to you, and you know it," he says.
Sam half-shrugs, a faux show of humility. "Let's call it a draw." He opens his arms and Steve claps him on the back, returning the hug with clinging vigor.
That's how they end up in the noisiest place Steve has ever experienced in his life, plying Bucky with games and sugary food, a parody of how it used to be down on Coney Island back when they were kids. The skeeball machine lights up with a cheery fanfare as Bucky sinks a ball in the center pocket. He fists both hands and pumps them in the air, then pauses in his celebration to watch a teenage couple walk by, holding hands.
"A sense of accomplishment," Sam whispers to Steve as they watch Buck wander over to the basketball game. "All the endorphins of a job well done, none of the bloodstains." Sam rolls a ball down his own skeeball lane and gets a big fat nothing.
Steve lobs one dead center, gives Sam a little teasing shrug. Bucky wanders back over and whacks him on the back to get his attention.
"Come on," he says. "There's a game here that's got you in it."
Steve's heart sinks, but he follows Bucky anyway. It's been so long since he's seen him interested in anything mundane like this, he can't rain on the parade. Sam is a constant presence behind them in the crowd.
Bucky gestures to the machine with a flourish once they reach it. True to his word, there's Cap emblazoned on the front, shield raised in a patriotic pose.
"I want to try it," Bucky says, digging a handful of tokens from his jeans pocket.
"I call Hawkeye." Sam shoulders his way up and grabs hold of the little pretend bow attached to the game cabinet. Bucky grabs Widow's sidearms.
Steve's stomach churns.
"You joining us?" Bucky asks, turning to look at Steve over his shoulder.
There's a spot for a third player, but Steve just shakes his head. "I'll watch."
The numbers on the game's screen count down, and then there it is, in living color: the attack on New York. It's been a few years, but every detail is lovingly rendered in the virtual simulation. Steve watches the Cap on the screen fall from a highrise window onto a cab while the playable characters of Nat and Clint take potshots at an endless array of aliens.
"Why isn't Falcon in this game?" Bucky asks Sam as he picks off three more enemies from the rooftops.
"He was busy," Sam says, concentrating on his own score, "in Afghanistan."
"Oh." Bucky reloads. "I've been there. Long time ago." This happens more often now: casual asides about Bucky's memory filling itself in. A lot has happened since 1944; Steve knows this better than most. Hard to imagine how Bucky's keeping it all straight in his head.
Steve looks around the crowded arcade, suddenly fearful that they'll be spotted. Not many people recognize him without the uniform—it's mostly kids who are still young enough to look for heroes—but he's been stopped a few times by curious adults. Some of them were there that day near Grand Central.
Some of them cry when they see him. Not in a relieved way.
The simulated gunfire and alien screams become too much, and Steve ducks down a few rows of games, finding a quiet spot near a claw machine to catch his breath. He reminds himself that his team survived that day. Even Tony, who almost got himself killed. They're all alive, here in New York or abroad on a mission. They're all safe.
Not everyone was so lucky, though.
"Hey." The cool leather of Bucky's glove brushes his arm, and Steve jerks out of his thoughts. Bucky is staring at him, face intent and pinched. "You okay?"
"Yeah. Fine. Good," Steve says too quickly. "You get bored?"
Bucky shrugs. "I died."
Steve nearly loses it then. But how can he give into the tears now that Bucky's depending on him to hold it together?
Sam appears at Steve's other elbow, a frown marring his features. "Sorry, man," he says quietly. "I wasn't thinking. Feel the same way when my nephews play Call of Duty."
"It's fine," Steve protests. "If you guys were having fun—"
"Quit acting like you're the only one who doesn't need looking after," Sam hisses, and that shuts him up.
Bucky puts his hand in Steve's and drags him further down the row. "Sam says there's a game where you dance," he says. "We've got to try that one."
"Okay," Steve says, blinking back the wetness in his eyes. "That sounds—yeah."
"I'm going to regret challenging two guys with superhuman reflexes to a DDR battle," Sam says as he follows.
Steve squeezes Bucky's hand in thanks. Bucky doesn't acknowledge it. He just wins the dancing game by a landslide.
Sam lives on the top floor of a six-story walk-up. It's small and lived-in, framed photos of family members on the walls, one of Steve posing with two little boys who must be Sam's nephews. They're outside in the picture, like it's a picnic. The littlest one is staring up at Steve open-mouthed while everyone else smiles for the camera. It reminds Bucky that Steve had time to make a life here in this new world before Bucky joined him. But that's okay. It's a comfort, knowing that.
The city's been cowed by a summer heatwave, and Sam has all the windows open, fans blowing. It's better out on the fire escape. The metal is still sun-hot even in the falling, humid dark. Steve drapes himself along the stairs that lead to the roof; Bucky leans back against the rail; Sam perches on the windowsill and hands them cold beers from a styrofoam cooler that sits just inside his bedroom.
"I don't think I can get drunk anymore," Bucky says after his fifth Coors. He stares into the gaping mouth of the aluminum can, swishes the remaining liquid around. "Yeah. I don't feel it."
Sam, who seems to be feeling it just fine, makes a sympathetic noise at the back of his throat.
Steve stretches, one hand on the step above his head, the other patting Bucky's knee in sympathy. "Same here, pal. Put away a whole bottle of whiskey by myself one time. Didn't feel any different."
Bucky eyes him curiously, glances to Sam for any clues. Why would Steve do such a thing, he wonders. The bird just shrugs and takes another sip from his own can. Good to know he's not the only one in the dark.
"Still," Steve says with a blinding smile, "it's nice to laze around like this, even without the buzz." He picks up his beer from where it's balanced on the metal slats and presses the can, beaded with water, to his forehead.
Bucky watches a drop of condensation travel down Steve's neck. "You—" he begins, then pauses. "You used to be a lightweight," he finally says.
Sam puts down his beer, waggles his hands a little in celebration. "Memories!" he says. "Did a light just go on?" That's how Bucky had explained it to him before: a million dark rooms with the furniture covered in white sheets, and then suddenly a light switch gets flipped or the sheet gets pulled away, and he can finally see the thing that was always there in his mind.
"Yeah," Bucky says slowly. He blinks over at Steve. They had been up here, in Harlem. Or maybe—had Steve been drinking alone? Bucky puts a hand to his face, closing his eyes in concentration. It's almost there, the dark corners of the room nearly illuminated. A mouth that tasted of sharp, clear gin. A door opens, a light goes on.
Oh, that night. Oh, that pivot-bright night.
For the first time, Bucky doesn't just remember the fact of his memory. He recalls the feeling of it, the desperation in his throat as he half-carried Steve home, the stolen kiss in an alley. His heart as wild as Steve's felt under his thin shirt. Fingers digging in, grasping to hold on. It's like getting hit in the chest with a brick.
"You tried to kiss me," he says.
Bucky opens his eyes and looks up to find Steve staring at him, his eyes shiny and brow furrowed. He remembers too, then. Steve drains his beer in one swallow and sets the can down again. "Excuse me, Sam. Need to use your head."
Sam obligingly leaves the windowsill to let Steve by, his gaze following him. Once the bathroom door closes with an audible thud, Sam turns back to Bucky. "You guys need a minute alone?"
Bucky shakes his head, startled. He thinks maybe Sam can see it all on his face, the story of two boys from another century. "Maybe I was the one who kissed him," he says, though it's too late for it to matter.
Sam's frustrated sigh is a heavy thing on the fire escape. He takes Steve's vacant spot on the stairs and pushes his fingertips against his eyes. "I lost a partner, you know. In the war. Took time to get myself back together." He leans over through the window, fishes around in the sloshing ice, cracks open a new can. "You work through all the guilt, all the regrets and second-guessing. Got to wake up every day convinced you're going to be all right, even if that means lying to yourself." He takes a long drink, his throat bobbing. A refreshed sigh, and then he adds, "And you two assholes still manage to make my thing look like squat. You're like the posterboys of unresolved issues."
"Sorry," Bucky says.
Sam waves a hand through the air like it's nothing.
Bucky stares down at the beer can in his hands. "Were you and this partner—?" He looks up pleadingly, not wanting to finish the question.
A shake of Sam's head, another sip. "He knew I was queer back when that could've gotten me dishonorably discharged." Bucky doesn't ask what queer entails because he's pretty sure he already knows, and it doesn't surprise him to hear it about Sam. "But nah, we weren't together, if that's what you mean. He was my best friend." He turns his head, his profile stunning in the fading sunlight. "I think about how it felt to lose that, and then I think about what Cap must be going through with you. You got to cut him some slack, man."
"I'm trying." A thin protest. "It's—it isn't easy, feeling this way." About Steve, about Sam, about everything.
"How do you feel?" Sam asks.
"You know." Bucky splays his hand, the one made of flesh, across the soft neckline of his tee shirt. "I just— The way I used to."
"The way you—? Barnes," Sam squints at him, "have you told Steve about this? Ever?" Bucky looks away, down to the street, and Sam groans. "Hey, Cap, quit lurking and come out here," he calls through the window.
Steve's face appears in the frame, a little pink with chagrin. "It's getting late," he says. "Maybe we should—"
"No. Nuh-uh." Sam pats the windowsill. "Come on. Front row seat."
Bucky's heart starts to race. Steve doesn't look much better.
"It's more private inside," Steve tries again.
Sam makes a loud buzzer sound. "Move your ass," he says. He mutters as Steve maneuvers himself through the window: "Greatest generation? More like the greatest at not talking about your damn feelings. Swear to god— Okay, you comfortable? You good?" Steve nods, pale. "Great. All right, Buck." Sam spreads his arms wide, beer still clutched in one hand. "Let him have it."
Another light goes on: this time, Bucky is laying in bed, young and cold and aching for the boy shivering next to him. He wants to wake him up, tell him exactly what his heart does when they curl up together like this. But the words didn't come then, and they don't come now. His mouth opens, then closes.
"Oh my god." Sam takes another drink, then points at Bucky. "Hey!" His finger wavers over in Steve's direction. "You love this guy?"
"Sam!" Steve's eyes go wide.
"C'mon, if you're in love with this guy, you got to tell him. Taking you a hundred years to let him know. He needs to hear it, one way or another." Sam is standing now, towering over their heads on the metal steps, hand grasping the rungs above him for support. "Sing it, shout it, whisper it if you have to, but just get it out!"
"Sam, he doesn't…." Steve says, then stops, and Bucky's heart breaks again.
"Of course I do," Bucky says with a fierceness he didn't know he still had. He rocks forward on his knees, bridging the small space between them on the fire escape. His metal hand holds the railing to keep him steady, the other goes to Steve, almost brushing his cheek, almost. "God damn it, Steve, I remember how I used to love you, and I kept it inside, something just for myself. It was real, and I remember it."
"No, Buck," Steve chokes out, looks away. He thinks it's just a memory now, Bucky realizes. Something that exists only in the past tense.
Bucky forges ahead. "I still do. I still, still— How could you not know?" Two big, warm hands come up to hold Bucky's face, and Bucky leans into it, hungry for a touch he had nearly forgotten. "I've poured myself out for you a dozen times. Didn't you notice?"
"I didn't want to hope," Steve says, shaky. "We never said— It wasn't something you could talk about back then." This is directed at Sam, who's smiling down at them, all teeth.
"Don't tell me, tell him." Sam tips his chin at Bucky.
Steve does him one better. He shows him. Shows them both. Leans in and fits his mouth to Bucky's, and Bucky closes his eyes and lets him.
All things considered, it's a much better kiss than the drunken back-alley one, even with Sam whooping the entire time.
It's night, neon lights shining in blackness through the big bedroom window. Even in the dark, Steve can see Bucky pulling away. He doesn't grab for him, but it's a near thing. The last time he tried that, it didn't go well.
"Okay," he says. "It's okay."
"No. It's not." Bucky sounds so like his younger self, so frustrated if he wasn't immediately the best at something. Steve remembers how easy most things came to Buck—school, sports, friendship—and how hellish his temper could get when faced with darning a sock.
But Bucky's not a kid anymore. That much is obvious in the way the shadows shade in the dips and valleys of his body when he leaves the bed and paces across the room. Fluid muscles shift as he grabs his shirt off the floor, pulls it back over his head. Steve watches the way the colored lights of the city dance off his metal arm.
"Hey, we waited this long." Steve shifts under the sheets. "A little longer won't kill us."
Bucky's laugh is brittle. "Won't it?" He moves to the window, but must not like the look of it because he turns and stalks to the other side of the room instead. "I'm useless like this," he says.
"I don't accept that." Steve rolls out of bed, bare feet padding across the carpet to Bucky's side. He's nude, but he doesn't care and hopes Bucky doesn't either. His arms go around that familiar neck. He presses close. "I don't care if you can't ever bring yourself to go through with it. It's not important."
A frustrated snarl as Bucky breaks free of his loose hold. "It's important to me," he says. "What's the point of 'getting healthy' if I can't—?" He rakes his hands through his hair, pulling it into a tail before letting it fall free again. "I want to be able to give you the things you deserve," Bucky says, and in that moment he sounds so very young again.
Steve pulls him into the circle of his arms once more, and this time Bucky stays there. "You give me plenty." He kisses him, soft and light.
Bucky gives him a scowl in return. "You saying you don't need to be touched? To be held? That you don't want—?" He rakes his hands through his loose hair. "Jesus, Steve, you're such a liar."
"I—" Steve sighs. He's ignored a lot of needs since he woke up in the future. What's a few more? "I can go without just fine."
"You don't get it. You shouldn't have to!"
This isn't the first time they've gone in circles like this in the middle of the night. It's been a long week, and right now Steve would take a solid hour of shut-eye over just about anything. "Will you stay in here tonight? Just to sleep?" he asks. The standard question when Bucky hits a wall. Steve always offers. And Bucky?
"I better not," he says, glancing distrustfully at the bed.
Bucky never stays. Steve crawls back into bed alone, listening to his oldest friend on the other side of the wall, bunking down on the family room floor.
Sam is busy stretching in the foyer when Bucky slouches in wearing borrowed sweats, his hair pulled back in a messy ponytail. Barnes has never gone on a morning run with him and Steve before, but Sam's heart leaps. This is good, this is healthy.
"You coming with us today?" Sam asks, changing legs as he stretches his quads.
"May as well," Bucky says, and pulls on a pair of leather gloves.
Sam nods at his gloved hands, his sweatshirt. "Sure you won't be too hot?"
"I'll be fine."
Steve comes out of the kitchen carrying a water bottle, sees Bucky, and turns right around. He comes back with two bottles, both tucked under his arm. Other than that, he doesn't acknowledge Bucky's presence in their early morning routine. Sam wonders at that, but bites his tongue. Let the lovebirds hash it out, he figures.
They start out with an easy jog from Grand Central up Fifth, running in place if they need to wait for the lights to change. Bucky keeps pace without a hint of sweat, so Sam figures maybe supersoldiers don't overheat like regular people do.
By the time they reach the main circuit in Central Park, it's clear Steve is itching to sprint. He gets that concerned little furrow in his brow, and his glances at Sam get more frequent. Sam says, "Go on, Cap, get the lead out," and Steve flashes a smile in thanks before taking off at a breakneck pace. Sam expects Bucky to speed up too, but he doesn't, just stays right at Sam's side.
"Not going to show off?" Sam pants as they jog.
Bucky grunts. "Wanted to ask you something." He waits, and Sam looks up ahead, where Steve is just disappearing around the bend.
"Okay." Sam rolls his shoulders, reminds his lungs to keep doing their job. "What's up?"
Bucky stops running, and Sam slows down to join him off to the side of the path in the summer-brown grass. He inspects his face for clues, but it's like looking at a mask.
"Barnes?" he asks.
"I need help," Bucky says.
Sam nods. "That's what I'm here for, man. Talk to me."
"We—me and Steve—need—" he amends. His gaze drops to the ground, face pinched. "God dammit."
"All right. I'm good at charades. You and Steve—how many syllables? Sounds like…?" Sam waggles his eyebrows. Bucky flushes. "Oh," Sam says. "Sounds like that, huh?"
Bucky crosses his arms over his chest, and Sam goes right into counselor mode. "Hey, I know it probably won't make you feel any better, but this is totally normal." Sam reaches out, puts a hand on that tight shoulder. "Out in the field, you get used to thinking of your body as a tool. Just a thing that you use, then ignore. And everyone else around you, their bodies are just variables. Takes time to get that out of your head, trust me."
"No, you don't understand," Bucky says. "It's not just that."
"Then explain it to me."
He looks up, a stubborn fire to his eyes. "He loves you, all right?"
Sam releases Bucky's shoulder. Stares at him for a long second. "No, man—"
"Yes," Bucky says. "He does. You know he does."
Sam remembers how it was when he first met The Steve Rogers, the way it felt to be trusted so easily and freely by someone larger than life. He had to convince himself that the smiles and the teasing touches were just part of that old-fashioned charm, nothing more than friendship.
He wets his lips. "Not the same way he loves you."
Bucky makes a frustrated gesture, aborted before he can throw his hands too high in the air. "Not the exact same, but it's still— Steve is—" He sighs. "Steve's always been like this. I remember. He can love more than one person. I think—I think maybe he has to." Bucky points to the ground like it's at fault. "And you're it and I know that, and I tried to tell myself I can do this alone but I can't. He needs more."
Sam pulls back a little, his eyes going wide. "I'm Carter," he says.
Bucky nods, a relieved sigh escaping his lips. "Yes."
"I'm your third wheel?" Sam asks, voice rising.
"No. Third wheels aren't needed." He smiles slowly, the corner of his mouth tugging upwards. "And we definitely need you."
Sam places his palms on the top of his skull, tips his head back, and proceeds to make a slow orbit of some trees, muttering the whole way about goddamn kinky ninety-year-olds and their fucking mission to make his life as weird as possible. Sam just wants to be a normal superhero, saving the world every other Monday, but no, Cap and Buck got to go and be something special.
"Sam?" A metal hand closes around his forearm, gentle and loose. "Steve would never tell you, he wouldn't want to scare you off. So if you hate the idea, please just forget I said—"
"How would this even work?"
"I don't know!" Bucky gestures feebly again. "I thought maybe…? You're a modern guy, you know about this kind of stuff! More than me, anyway."
"You thought I have some kind of prior experience in this type of situation? How many threesomes with super-strong geriatrics do you think I've had?"
"No! I didn't mean—!"
"Is it like a timeshare? Do I get Steve Mondays through Wednesdays and alternate Sundays?"
"'Course not!" Bucky's hand closes just a touch more, gears whirring away. "It's— It's whatever you want it to be!"
Something about the desperation in his voice makes Sam pause, take a deep breath. Bucky's panting like he's run a marathon, his shirt damp with sweat. So much for cool-as-a-cucumber supersoldiers, Sam thinks.
"And what about me and you?" he asks Bucky, quiet now. "Steve loves us, we love him." Those two facts were never in doubt. "What are we to each other?"
"Don't know about you," Bucky says with pleading eyes, "but I'm awful fond of this jerk who's always around, calls himself the Falcon."
Sam smirks, shakes his head. Is this really happening? This is the kind of thing that isn't supposed to happen, not in real life.
"So?" Bucky asks.
"Man, you know me." Sam leans up into his space, presses a kiss to his jaw. "Always had a soft spot for strays."
They wait there on the edge of the jogging path for another minute or so, until the pounding of superhumanly fast feet announce Steve's arrival. He skids to a stop in front of them, not even breathing hard.
"You guys okay? Why aren't you—?"
"Hold on, big guy." Sam slips his hand into Bucky's and smiles at him in reassurance. "Our boy here's got something else he wants to discuss."
Bucky tells them they can go ahead without him that first night, but Steve says no and Sam says hell no. So Bucky does the next best thing to leaving Steve's room: he stations himself in the chair next to the window.
"Just going to watch?" Sam asks, and Bucky shrugs. He's present; he figures that's enough.
Steve is—there isn't any other way to say it—he's radiant. Just beaming back and forth between Bucky and Sam, gazing dreamily at the one before kissing the other. Then he backs up, tugging Sam with him toward the bed. "How should we…?" he asks against Sam's cheek, and somehow it's clear he's speaking to them both.
Bucky lifts one leg, props his sneakered foot on the chair, rests his chin on his knee. "However you want, I guess." He considers Sam's form, its slow reveal as Steve peels off more layers of his clothing. "Remember, Sam's not—" He bites his lip, searches for a better way to say it. "His ribs won't heal in an hour like yours do."
"You do know that Sam is standing right here? And that he's not made of porcelain?" Sam asks with mock anger.
Steve's smile gets hidden in Sam's neck, though he's still looking over at Bucky. "He's just worried. I was too, once." He shucks off Sam's undershirt, tosses it on the floor to join the growing pile. "You think, lots of things can happen in the heat of the moment. You get nervous, and that just makes it worse."
Sam waves a hand in Bucky's direction. "Thanks for your concern, lunkheads, but I'll take my chances." He's wrapped around Steve now, fingers raking through that blond hair. "Now get on the bed. I've got this."
He really does, Bucky can see that. Sam is already an expert at taking Steve apart, undressing him slowly, laying him out on the unmade white sheets, drawing out little sighs and whimpers with his hands and mouth. Steve's neck looks to be a good bet; Bucky leans a little to the side to get a better view.
Steve splays, legs and arms moving aside to let Sam in. Bucky's thought about this maybe a thousand times (that he can remember), and it warms him to know he was right: Steve is a safe harbor. He wants to take in the people he loves. That's what he was built for.
He's staring, he can't help but stare. They're laid out right in front of him, giving him the perfect view from stem to stern. Sam's eyes gleam at him, a smile plastered on his face as he pins Steve to the mattress, hands on his wrists. "I know," Sam tells Bucky. "Right? Right?"
Bucky nods, watching.
Steve curses softly, complains about Sam going too slow on purpose. Sam just shrugs and keeps doing what he's doing. Bucky finds himself rooting for Sam. His body thrills when Sam's hands find the right spot on Steve's flank that makes him arch and hiss. His lips part when Sam reaches for the bedside table. Steve keeps a bottle of slick there, and Bucky can't even process that right now. It's too much to think that maybe he bought it right after they kissed on Sam's fire escape, too much to think maybe it's been there all along.
"Hey, Buck. You doing okay?" Sam asks. He's multitasking, trailing wet fingers between Steve's thighs, watching Bucky watch them.
Bucky swallows. "Yeah."
Steve tips his head to the side, meeting Bucky's gaze. His mouth is red and open to pant for air. There's a flush creeping from his neck down his chest. It's that pale Irish skin, Bucky thinks, remembering a flash of summer heat.
"He likes it, doesn't he?" Sam's hand twists, and Bucky can't see exactly what he's doing, but it must be clever because Steve jolts, kicks his feet a little, makes a noise that sounds good in Bucky's ears.
"He does," he hears himself say. His eyes follow the bob and twitch of Steve's thick cock. Sam's hard too, a graceful curve to his belly. Bucky wraps his arms around his propped-up leg and tries not to think of his own body, which is traitorous at the best of times.
Sam takes stock of his work, sitting back on his heels between Steve's legs. His fingers keep pushing in and out with an obscene squelch every few moments. "He's sensitive. Responsive. Aren't you, Steve?"
One blue eye cracks open. "Figures," Steve gasps, "you'd be a talker."
Sam grins. His wrist twists up, and Steve shouts, tossing his head back against the sheets. Bucky jumps an inch in the air at the sound, but he remains seated and tells his pounding heart that it's okay, Steve's okay. He's just damn loud.
"Christ, that's good," Steve moans.
Sam shushes at him, but it's playful and tempered with a gentle stroke to his heaving side. Steve reaches down, grabs Sam's wandering hand, tugs it up to his lips. Bucky watches Steve stuff those fingers in his mouth. The groan may come from him, or it may be from someone else in the room.
"Don't keep him waiting," Bucky says to Sam. "He needs it." His voice is urgent, rising as Steve's need rises. Steve looks his way, lips quirked in thanks.
"Quit rushing me," Sam chides, but he's already removing his fingers from Steve's body, getting up on his knees, taking himself in hand. Bucky cranes his neck to watch.
Sam moves slow, of course, but this time Steve doesn't complain as Sam enters him, blankets him. He reaches his arms above his head, fists his hands in the loose folds of the sheets, stares up at Sam with the most perfect look of amazement that Bucky's ever seen.
"Good?" Sam asks.
Steve makes a sound that falls somewhere between encouragement and a plea.
"Okay, good," Sam says, and moves.
Bucky was never one for poetry, but he figures that's got to be the only way to describe the way they look together: Sam lithe and gentle against Steve's shaking bulk. They kiss, thrust, say things to each other that Bucky can't quite hear over the buzzing in his ears. How lucky he is to witness this, he thinks as Steve sucks Sam's thumb into his mouth.
"You need something else to lick?" Sam asks. The rest of his fingers fan against Steve's cheek, cradling his face. Bucky's so busy looking at that, he almost misses the pointed stare Sam is giving him.
Sam jerks his head to indicate the direction Bucky should move. His hips don't stop their slow rocking. "Come over here, Barnes."
Bucky freezes in place. Sam must be joking. He can't move over to the bed; they're perfect on the bed, and he can't touch that, can't ruin it.
Steve's head lolls to the side, displacing Sam's hand, his eyes seeking out Bucky's face. "It's okay, Buck," he says. He stretches one hand out, palm up. "Whenever you're ready."
Sam nods in time to his thrusts, gesturing to the feast of Steve's body laid out beneath him in a way that says Plenty to share.
There's a lump in Bucky's throat and a tremor in his limbs, but he forces himself to leave the chair. For Sam and Steve, he'll at least try. The distance across the room seems insurmountable, but it's one foot in front of the other until he gets there.
The wet sounds of fucking are louder here by the bed. Bucky listens, lets himself drink in the sight of all that bare skin, closer now and beaded with sweat. After he's accustomed himself to that, he realizes Steve and Sam are grinning at him.
"There he is," Steve says. He reaches up and tangles his fingers with Bucky's metallic ones.
"Want to take off a few of those layers?" Sam dips his chin at Bucky's sweatshirt. Bucky unzips it obligingly. He undresses for them with blank efficiency. Sam whistles anyway. "Could have said you were enjoying the view that much. Thought you'd need a minute."
Bucky holds his erection against his stomach, stroking it thoughtfully. He'd been aware of it, but ignored it because there were more interesting things to be concerned with. But if it'll be of use to Steve or Sam—
"Hold on, wait." Steve wriggles around on the bed, hooks his legs around Sam's waist and takes him along for the ride. They end up lengthwise across the mattress, Steve's head hanging over the edge, chin tipped back in invitation, those blue eyes staring up at Bucky. "Can I?" Steve asks. "Will you let me—?"
Can't refuse a face like that, Bucky thinks. He holds the base of his dick, guides the slick head to Steve's lips. Across the expanse of Steve's heaving chest, Sam flashes him a thumbs-up. Bucky ducks his head to hide the bubble of inappropriate laughter that's threatening to spill out of him.
Steve swallows him, sucks him. His eyes flutter closed like he's having some kind of religious experience. Bucky is right behind him, his nerves firing on all cylinders, sweat dripping down his forehead. He pushes forward tentatively, and Steve takes more. Moans around him.
Bucky nearly breaks, but he holds on. He can do this, he wants to do this. He reaches down with his left hand—it's his, he controls it and it does what he needs it to do—and cups the back of Steve's head. Gently, carefully, just giving him enough support so he doesn't strain anything.
"Help me out here," Sam says. Bucky opens his eyes, forgetting when he'd shut them. He blinks up at Sam, who's leaning over Steve, hand wrapped around Steve's cock as he fucks him. Steve's big, and there's plenty of room for Bucky's right hand to join Sam's. Their fingers slide up and down, jerking off Steve together. Bucky leans into it, worried at first about choking Steve, but Steve just sighs in bliss and keeps sucking.
They loom above Steve, their solid base. Bucky looks down at them, moving together, his mouth open in awe. His body is giving and taking; he is given and taken. He's in love, he's in love.
He catches Sam's gaze and holds it. Mouths a silent 'thank you.' Sam shakes his head, and they lean in together to share a deep, lingering kiss. Bucky sighs and enjoys the feel of Sam's facial hair scratching against his skin. Beneath them, in their hands, Steve shudders and comes.
Bucky pulls back to let Steve catch his breath. His cock, still hard and dripping wet, slips from those pink lips. Steve moans at the loss, moves to chase after him, but Sam keeps him still with a firm hand on one narrow hip.
"Getting close," Sam gasps, and Bucky is there on the other side of the bed in the blink of an eye. He coaxes Steve's legs open a little more, slots himself in behind Sam, wraps an arm across his chest to feel the rapidfire heartbeat there.
"Give him what he wants," Bucky says.
Steve is staring down the length of his body at them, pleading for it too. He chants, "Yes, come on, Sam, please."
"Always rushing me," Sam grits out between clenched teeth. Bucky actually laughs then, lets it rumble from his chest. Steve reaches up, frames Sam's face with his hands. When he comes, they kiss. Bucky watches in satisfaction.
He releases his hold on Sam and starts to back away, but two sets of hands grab onto him, pulling him by hips and wrists into their arms.
"We're not finished if you're not finished," Steve says, glancing at Buck's stalwart erection.
"It's fine." Bucky bats their hands away. "I'm all right." He'd felt good for once and that was enough.
"You sure? Because I think Cap can take some more." Sam waggles his eyebrows.
Steve nods, a small, secret grin spreading across his face. He tugs Bucky into the V of his legs, right where Sam had been a moment ago. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to do," he says, "but you're always saying I don't need to go without. So I'm telling you, I don't want to go without this." He nudges Bucky in the small of his back with his heel, penning him in. "You up for it?"
Bucky looks to Sam for guidance, but he doesn't know what he expected. Sam just gives him a lazy, post-fuck shrug and says, "I recommend it. Highly."
Bucky ducks his head, lets his dick nudge up against Steve's hole. "Fine," he says. "But tell me if I—" He rubs at his scarred shoulder where the metal meets flesh. "I don't want to hurt anyone."
"Don't even worry about that," Sam says, slinging an arm around his neck. "You got two top-of-the-line guys here spotting you."
Bucky takes a deep breath, looks to Steve. Steve just smiles, close-lipped and beautiful. His legs squeeze Bucky briefly. "Come on."
It takes a moment to get his bearings. Steve's cock is half-hard, still dribbling fluid. His inner thighs are slick with lube and sweat and Sam's come. Bucky runs his fingers up the damp skin, collecting moisture on his fingertips. "You ready?" he asks. He's stalling, and Steve knows it.
"Whenever you are."
Steve is tight, but still wet and relaxed. His body welcomes Bucky's like it's the easiest thing in the world. Bucky bites down on all the noises fighting to get out of him, and Sam rubs his back in encouragement.
"Open up those eyes, Buck. See how he likes it?"
Bucky does as ordered, and he sees. Steve is thrashing his head from side to side, swallowing lungfuls of air.
"In me, come on," he pants.
Sam stretches out alongside Steve's trembling body, offering him kisses and fingers to suck on. "There you go, you got it. Doing so good."
The words are meant for them both, Bucky can tell, and he loves Sam for it. His chest will burst with everything he's trying to remember of this moment, something he wants to keep inside for himself. But he doesn't have to, not this time, because there are two men here with him who will help him carry it when he tires.
"S—" he stutters. "S-steve. Sam? I can't—"
"We're here, Buck."
"We've got you."
Steve rises up to meet him, and Sam folds in behind him. Their hands are in his hair and touching his face, and their lips meet his again and again. He's the one who should be fucking Steve, but it's Steve who's grinding onto him while Sam holds him steady.
"Oh my god," he says into someone's neck. Steve's, given the angle. "I can't, I can't."
"You are," Sam laughs into his ear.
A desperate sound is torn from his throat, and his body goes somewhere else. The sensation should be familiar and disconcerting, but this time he's allowed to follow it, to feel it. He's held inside Steve, held up by Sam, pulsing out the last of what he has to give.
"Oh," he sighs. The room spins, tilts on its side. "Oh," he repeats as they lower him to the pillows.
Steve's a wet mess, but he seems to revel in it, pressing close and twining his sticky legs with Bucky's. Sam is sweaty against Bucky's side and back, but he's a welcome weight there. Being in the middle of his two—'boyfriends' sounds so childish; lovers, maybe—is all Bucky could have asked for, even though he never would've.
"Was that okay?" Steve asks, and it's funny, because a few minutes ago, he was sprawled on the bed with a cock in his ass and another in his mouth, begging for more. Now he's nervous?
Bucky can't help but laugh.
"Yeah, Steve," Sam answers for them both, "that was definitely okay. Grade-A stuff." He makes a circle with his thumb and forefinger and waves it tiredly in the air above his head.
Steve's hand is still playing with his hair. "Just checking," he says.
They sleep like that, all in a pile. Bucky's left arm is trapped under Sam and his right is pinned against Steve's chest; their combined body heat hovers around 500 degrees, and Steve—as always—snores.
Bucky can barely close his eyes, he's so happy.
"Bird?" he asks in the middle of the night.
"Yeah, Buck?" Sam answers groggily.
"This might actually work, huh?" he says.
"Just might," Sam says. The arm around Bucky's waist squeezes tighter. "It just might."