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maybe you'd better ask CAPTAIN ROGERS why I'm not talking to him

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Sam was half asleep when he walked into the kitchen, but he managed to stop himself before he ran into Steve and Bucky, staring at each other in the middle of the room. He was sort of used to it by this point, and they had thoughtfully left him a clear path to the super-fancy coffee maker that had appeared the day after Tony Stark had found out who Steve was shacking up with -- or rather, the day after Colonel Rhodes had. The note, in Colonel Rhodes' own actual handwriting, had just said, I am so sorry. Sam would deny having slept with it under his pillow with his last breath, but it was on the fridge, held up by the stupid tacky Air Force magnet Riley had bought him.

He poured himself a cup of coffee and settled down to observe super soldiers in their natural habitat. Today the Rogers and Barnes Show seemed to be a dramatic re-enactment of the Cold War, and Sam wasn't sure if Ice Cube or Freezer Burn was winning. They seemed to have reached the stage where blinking would be losing, and Sam wondered how long they'd been at it.

Barnes said, "Plate in the oven," without otherwise acknowledging Sam's existence.

"You know we have a microwave, right," said Sam. He didn't expect to win the argument, but he sort of lived in hope.

"That's disgusting," said Roger and Barnes, in creepy unison. They stared at each other like they were having an entire argument with their eyes. It's some real creepy-ass super-married shit, and Sam's parents were working on forty-five years together. He knew from silent conversations.

Sam took the plate out of the oven and settled down to eat it. Bucky wasn't what you might call a fancy cook, but he was good at it, and Sam gave the omelet the attention it deserved. They'll probably stare for a while more, and Sam needed to be a lot more fed and caffeinated before he started applying artificial tears to supersoldiers.

When he put the plate in the sink and got another cup of coffee, he looked up and saw that Bucky's face hadn't changed, but Steve's jaw was sticking out at a angle best described as 'mulish'.

"Okay," said Sam, taking a fortifying drink of his coffee. "You guys gonna use words any time soon, or do I tattle to Nat?"

"Nat thinks it's funny," said Steve. This was true. Natasha's sense of humor was childish at best and Russian at the worst, and she would probably be sitting on Sam's kitchen table, swinging her feet and eating Sam's granola while she watched the show. Which reminded him, the next time she showed up, Sam needed to block the wildlife channels.

"I think you're twenty-seven, not seven," said Sam.

Steve somehow managed to make a face without breaking eye contact or blinking, which, score one for the serum. "Bucky's forgetting I'm not ninety-five pounds soaking wet any more."

"Captain Rogers is forgetting he's still a target to thirty-eight separate terrorist groups," said Bucky flatly.

Sam winced. Once he had gone with Steve to visit Ms Carter when she'd had a good day. When Steve went to go ask for a vase, he'd asked her if Bucky had ever called Steve Captain Rogers like his mom called his dad "your father" when she was mad at him, and talking to Sam and at his dad. She said, "Good Lord, yes. The others used to run and hide."

"Guys," he said, "Don't make me break out the puppets." Natasha had made the puppets out of Sam's favorite handknit socks from his sister, some pipe cleaners and some shitty yarn she'd fished from a bin at the VA. One had yellow yarn hair and the other had black yarn hair, and they both had ugly blue button eyes. The black haired one had angry felt eyebrows carefully superglued onto it. Steve and Bucky had received them in the spirit Nat had intended -- which was to say, baffled rage. Natasha amused herself quietly for hours with them, a puppet on each hand. "I don't like it when you shoot me four times in the chest," the Steve-puppet would tell the Bucky-puppet gravely. "I feel angry when you let me drop to my death in the Alps and get picked up by HYDRA and used for an assassin for seventy years," the Bucky-puppet would respond. "I feel bad when you try to kill me," the Steve-puppet explained. "I feel sad when you look at me like a wet Golden Retriever," the Bucky-puppet would share. "It makes me want to punch you right in your All-American face." "Nat, I swear to God I will burn those damn things," said Steve, standing over her as Bucky flipped a knife into his hand meaningfully.

"Do you know where she put them?" demanded Steve, still staring at Bucky.

"I'm not telling you," said Sam. "She's meaner than either of you. Seriously, what are you guys fighting about now?"

"I don't know what he's so mad about," said Steve, jutting his chin out more.

"Okay," said Sam. "Guys. Either look at me like civilized human beings or I swear to God I will call Pepper Potts and let her deal with you." Bucky and Steve turned toward him so fast it looked like they were on a pivot. "Thank you."

"It's dangerous," said Bucky, glaring at Steve from the corner of his eye.

"It's less dangerous for me," said Steve.

"Can we maybe start from the beginning?" said Sam.


The beginning, as it turned out was this: One day as Steve was going around trying to find his place in the world (nineties power ballad background music optional) he'd gone past the Planned Parenthood in Brooklyn in time to see a girl and a clinic escort head in. He'd wondered why she was being taken in by a friend, and then he'd seen the protesters. All of the protesters. And their noise, and their pictures.

He'd been watching for about three minutes when one of the protesters had realized who he was and made the tactical error of coming up to him, clearly hoping Captain American Family Values would hold a sign or denounce the girl or something.

Steve had looked at him for a long, thoughtful minute, smiled politely -- and Sam knew that polite smile, the one that meant Sarah Rogers had raised him to believe that courtesy cost nothing -- and walked up to the girl and her escort. "Scuse me, ma'am," he said, all six foot four white male built like a brick shithouse. "Please, may I walk you past these thugs?"

The rest, as they said, was history.

Sam covered his face with his hands. "Get me more coffee," he ordered Steve, pushing his cup toward him.

Steve brought it with a free hangdog expression. "I couldn't just let them harass her," he said.

"How did this not end up all over the news?" said Sam.

Steve rubbed the back of his head. "Well, the people in front of the clinic didn't all recognize me and I think they didn't want to admit I thought they were jackasses," he said. "And the lady at the clinic promised to keep it quiet as long as I wanted it quiet."

"Okay," said Sam. "So that was just the one time, right?"

Bucky turned his head, like an owl, all the way to the side where Steve was standing, and gave him the filthiest look Sam had ever seen one human being give to another one.

"I might have given the lady my phone number," said Steve, avoiding Bucky's death glare.

"I need more coffee," said Sam.

"It's just," said Steve, hunching his shoulders defensively. "It's just that it's not right. My ma had to help so many girls when they got in trouble, and now they can do it safely, and they're just bullying them. And here I am big enough to defend them, and it's just a crying shame not to ---"

Sam held up his hand. "Look, you're not going to get an argument about what assholes that assholes that stand in front of clinics are," he said. "But Bucky has a point, too."

"I'm not going to stop," said Steve, muleheaded, and Bucky surprised them both by saying,

"I don't want you to stop. I don't want you to do it alone."

"But you hate crowds," said Steve.

"I don't care," said Bucky. "I won't let you do it by yourself. And--" he hesitated. Words were still hard for him at times. He could give a mission report or describe a scene but the ability to recognize and express what he felt was still growing. "It's not right. I want to. It would be good, wouldn't it. If I could protect someone instead."

"Yeah, Bucky," said Steve. "Yeah, it would."


Nat watched the footage five times in a row, chin propped on her hands, of Steve and Bucky walking the girl to the clinic. Steve bent close to her, trying to make her laugh and be less nervous. Bucky didn't touch her or seem to even acknowledge her presence, but the way his eyes coldly swept the clinic protestors made them take five sharp steps back toward the invisible line.

"They're good kids," she said finally.

"Yeah," said Sam. "They really are."