Sam 100% moved into the tower with a shitload of cracked-out superheroes because he got a great offer at a VA in the city, not because he wanted to keep an eye on a couple of old-ass self-destructive super soldiers and one stone cold whipcord of a woman who could tase him any day she liked, Tony.
Sam was a professional. And Sam was just crunchy granola enough to think talking about feelings and discussing coping mechanisms was the way out of the abyss for almost any vet on the brink. New York was teeming with vets who couldn’t get housing and employment because of debilitating cases of PTSD and all the satellite diagnoses around it. Sam could be of use in New York, and if he got the bonus of flying around making sure his best guy wasn’t getting into scrapes he couldn’t get out of, well, what was the harm?
That didn’t mean he’d signed up for this.
Barnes held his tablet out to Sam in his right hand while he used his metal hand to point at the screen.
The screen which was currently playing some freaky bisexual pegging porn in one window and an “It Gets Better” video in another. Earnest entreatments to keep going in the face of bigotry and discrimination were just not meant to have a soundtrack of squelches and moans, and, well, earnest entreatments to keep going.
“Um,” Sam said.
“The internet says I can make time with whoever I want and no one can give me electroshock,” Barnes said.
Sam’s heart swooped and he pressed his lips together. He crossed his arms because if he wasn’t careful, one of his hands might make its way to Barnes’s shoulder to give it a squeeze, and he wasn’t sure they were there yet. Being the coming-out point man had never been his professional speciality, but this was personal and he could handle it. Especially if it meant the mutual pining on floor 498 would come to an end.
“That’s right,” Sam said. “The way we think of sexuality is different than it used to be. More open and more accepting, though it’s certainly not a paradise. If you ever want more resources—”
“I have to show Clint,” Barnes said, tapping his tablet off and trundling it up under one arm. “And Pepper Potts.” Barnes, for no reason Sam could figure out, had developed a puppy-like affinity for Ms. Potts, and she’d taken it with the kind of compassion and aplomb that made Sam want to kiss her, but man, she didn’t deserve this.
“Uh, hey, maybe not?”
“Why?” Barnes tilted his head at him, blue eyes wide and clear. He reminded Sam of innocence, but the kind of innocence people talked about when they talked about ravening wolves.
Now, Sam wasn’t into sex negativity or shaming folks for pretty much anything, that was just some bullshit, but there was such a thing as discretion and appropriate venues and social contracts, and Barnes hadn’t really gotten the memo on any of it just yet, even six months after Sam and Steve had coaxed him in from the cold.
“I mean, I’m pretty sure Clint would be into the whole package,” he said, waving his hand around at the tablet. “But Pepper might be less into the, uh, blue movie and more into the one where the girl talks about her life and then shows us her weird ugly dog.”
“He’s a pug/chihuahua, and he’s old.” Barnes hid the tablet and scowled at him. Sam tried not to let out the laugh caught in his gullet.
“Sorry, dude,” Sam said. “It’s a super cute weird ugly dog, and maybe you could send the link to Ms. Potts in an email.”
“I can copy/paste,” Barnes said.
“But there are lots of different blue movies, which one do you think she’d like?”
Of course, Sam said, “Ma’am, yes, ma’am,” and Maria pinned him to the bed, hit him repeatedly in the face with her tiny perfect boobs, the angels sang, and that was that.
“Hold up, hold up, hold up,” Sam said, and Tony Stark and the Colonel paused in their bickering to blink a matching pair of pretty brown eyes at him. “Colonel Rhodes, are you saying you don’t like Beyoncé?”
“I’m just saying she’s no Whitney, is that so wrong?” Colonel Rhodes said.
“Nobody’s Whitney!” Sam cried. “Nobody’s asking her to be Whitney! We get to have both! Life is beautiful!”
“This is what I’m talking about!” Tony Stark crowed, slapping Sam on the back. “Wilson knows what’s up, I always knew it. Now let me make you some new wings, I don’t trust that Wakandan stuff for a minute.” Tony winked, or maybe it was a twitch, but Sam rolled his eyes.
“Man, don’t even,” he said, shrugging out from under Tony’s hand. “Buy Black.”
“Shut up, Tony,” Colonel Rhodes said, but Tony waved his hands around and suddenly Single Ladies drowned out their voices and made the windows shake. A holographic Beyoncé danced around all of them waving her hand and snapping her hips.
There was movement in Sam’s peripheral vision, and when he turned his head, he found Barnes stock-still in the doorway, hair wild and eyes big.
What? he signed in clumsy ASL. Everyone was learning for Clint, who had gone away to cry when he found out. Not that anyone was ever going to talk about it or acknowledge it happened at all, amen.
The Queen reigns, Sam signed back. Barnes just tilted his head and looked off to the side, where Sam finally noticed the Colonel had Tony Stark in a headlock. He contemplated separating them with some kind of stick before turning back to Barnes, but in the doorway now there was only empty space.
“Can’t breathe!” he gasped, and she grumbled and slid off him, their sticky skins peeling off each other in a way that should have been unpleasant but instead was kind of funny the way Sam liked sex and love and all that good stuff to be.
The knock came again, timid and ridiculous. Sam glanced at the clock — 12:51 am. He sighed and hauled his ass up to pull on some boxers and pad over to the door. He made sure Maria was covered before he cracked it open and found Steve on the other side, shoulders hunched in as if he could make himself smaller by sheer force of will, eyes round and sheepish.
“Hey,” he whispered.
“What’s up?” Sam said.
“Sorry,” Steve said. “Just, you know how Bucky feels about e-books?”
Sam rubbed at his head, where phantom pains of the time Barnes had sent a Kindle crashing into his skull still bothered him on occasion. After the Kindle Incident, as everyone called it, Barnes had gutted the thing and made some kind of sculpture with it and displayed it on the mantle in his and Steve’s apartment, presumably as a warning to all other e-books that might cross his path.
“Yeah,” Sam said.
“Well, he just found out there were sequels to The Hobbit, which he’d read until it was in tatters back in the day, and none of the independent bookstores are open right now, and I know you have that box set, so I thought maybe if you were already awake…?”
“Yeah.” Sam cleared his throat. “Yeah sure, just a sec.”
He shut the door to Steve’s big dumb grateful face and tiptoed back to bed, where Maria was lying twisted up in an improbable position right by the bookshelves. He’d just located The Lord of the Rings, which his granddad had given him when he was twelve, when he caught the glint of one blue eye through slitted eyelids.
“My butt is cold,” she whispered.
“I’ll be right back,” he said.
In a few strides he was back at the door, pressing the set into Steve’s hands and eliciting ten thousand promises that his boy wouldn’t fuck it up with ripping or highlighting or throwing or dogearing or whatever it was Barneses did when reading high fantasy World War II allegories.
“Thanks, Sam,” Steve said. “We’ll get it back to you ASAP.”
“In perfect condition!” Sam said. Steve cracked a grin and left, those preposterous shoulders of his once again straight and square. Sam shook his head and turned back around. Maria had kicked the covers off, and moonlight slanted pale over the lines of her body. She smiled at him, slow and deadly, and drew him back to bed.
Barnes, though. Barnes was rapt. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t move a muscle. He didn’t even blink, as far as Sam could tell.
And Steve just watched him.
“What the shit,” he said. “It’s too early.”
When he was showered and dressed for his morning run, he went down to the kitchen and found another ring of power on the toaster. There was one inside a Captain America mug, one on a cake pan, one on a box of Lucky Charms, one on Mjolnir, one in the orange juice, and one just lying on the floor. Sam shook his head, slapped himself a little after his close call with the one ring to rule all the orange juice, and went out for his run.
“Steve,” he said. “You know that’s Isildur’s Bane? Quick, we need the fires of Mount Doom, stat!”
Steve just gave him that shy smile he had, the one where his lips went perfectly curved and his eyelashes swept downward even as he looked up through them at Sam. He held up his hand as if considering. The one ring — good solid platinum, not like the cheap nickel-plated ones Sam had just found all over himself, the tower, and his belongings — shone proudly on Steve’s left ring finger.
“I guess he liked it,” Steve said. “So he put a—”
“Yeah, I got that,” Sam said. Steve grinned at him, and Sam threw himself forward into a bear hug. Steve hugged back, just shy of too tight.
“You know,” Steve said, “I don’t think of it like that. Of course that’s its function in the books, but here, with Bucky, through everything — it’s something else. It’s about….walking through the fire, and coming out alive. A little crisp around the edges, but alive, and okay, and together. It’s about making it to the other side, and finding out that love really can be unconditional.” He shrugged. “I like it.”
He twiddled it so it twisted on his finger. The script said something different than what Sam knew the real one ring said, but he didn’t ask. Barnes came up silent beside him, and Steve looked up at him as if he were the frigging sun in the sky.
“You makin’ time with my husband, Wilson?” Barnes said, his voice gruff.
“Better watch out, Barnes,” Sam said. “You know you got nothing on this ass.” He shook his hips a little, and Steve snorted.
Barnes almost smiled at him. He definitely, certainly, absolutely swatted him on said ass, and as Steve laughed hard enough to shake the building at Sam’s yelp, Sam felt Barnes slip something small, cool, and circular into his palm.