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Subtlety Not Our Strong Point

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James Barnes was a man of relatively few words. Sam didn't mind it. Usually he kind of liked it; Bucky was efficient in everything -- movement, speech, emotion. Sam had dealt with a lot of combat vets since coming to work for the VA, and he'd rarely seen a man treat trauma like Bucky did. He'd stall out on something, crawl around it for a while, chew on the edges, and then bound right over it. It frustrated the hell out of Steve, but Steve -- Buck's best friend since childhood -- had less emotional distance in these things than Sam did. Sam loved Bucky wholeheartedly and passionately, but he was capable of detaching a little more than Steve was.

So when Bucky moved in without asking to move in or saying he was, Sam just kept his peace. Didn't take more than a month for him to settle and start paying his half of the rent. When Bucky started chewing on the idea of going to work for SHIELD (they'd both been asked, multiple times), Sam watched and waited. Couple of months after, they both signed a one-off contract to freelance for Steve.

New Mexico could have gone better, but then again, it could have gone a lot worse.

And after the mission in New Mexico, with Bucky's new arm and all, when he was really seriously considering joining up SHIELD in a permanent kind of way, Sam just smiled and let him wrestle it out. Wasn't any hurrying Bucky Barnes, and Sam had no mind to. He liked his deliberate, efficient, quiet man just as he was.

This, though. This was a surprise.

He woke one Saturday morning to the sound of Bucky in the kitchen, cooking, and he was about to get out of bed and go see what was on offer (food, making out in the kitchen, whatever) when his right hand snagged on the bedsheet. He raised his hand, confused by an unfamiliar pressure on his finger, and --

"What in the hell...?" he asked aloud, staring at the fourth finger of his right hand. It was fitted with a silver ring, a narrow row of red stones inset in the center. That had not been there when he went to bed last night.

He sat up, genuinely alarmed. After New Mexico he didn't actually discount the idea that he might have fallen into an alternate reality while he slept. It seemed possible.

Bucky put his head in the doorway. "You're up," he announced, as if Sam was unaware of this.

"Are you seeing this?" Sam asked, holding up his right hand.

Bucky didn't even blink. "I'll bring breakfast, stay there."

"What the fu -- the hell you'll bring breakfast and I'll stay here!" Sam called after him, but Bucky was already clattering back with a tray piled with pancakes and bacon, a carafe of orange juice and a big cup of coffee. "Please tell me I'm not imagining the ring on my finger."

"Nope, I put it there," Bucky said, setting the tray over his lap, effectively pinning him in place. "Brought you something," he added, offering Sam an envelope. Sam took it, staring at him with narrowed eyes, and slit the envelope open.

Inside was a gilt-edged card printed in red foil.

"You are cordially invited to the wedding of Mr. Samuel Wilson and Mr. James Bar -- I'm sorry, are you inviting me to my own wedding?" Sam asked, looking up at him.

"Yes," Bucky said.

"A wedding I did not plan or agree to?" Sam continued.

"You got the ring on," Bucky said.

"You put this ring on me!"

"Yep."

"While I was asleep!"

Bucky set his jaw. "So now we're engaged and you have to come. Date TBA," he added, pointing to the invitation.

"Bucky, that's not how marriage works," Sam said, rubbing his face with his hand. The ring rubbed his nose the wrong way, and he sneezed.

"Gesundheit."

"You can't just put a ring on someone's hand and declare them your fiance!"

"Didn't want to risk you saying no," Bucky announced. "You like it?"

Sam stared at him, mouth open.

"Cause if you don't, it's too late now," Bucky added, sitting on the bed, on the other side of the tray. He picked up a pancake and began eating it, dipping it in the pot of jam next to the plate.

"You have the manners of a rabid weasel," Sam told him.

"Yeah, but....your rabid weasel," Bucky said, and he looked at Sam under his brows, and Sam realized that Bucky was terrified. He was pale, lips bloodless, eyes dark, and his one hand was shaking. He was watching Sam with genuine fear.

"Sweetheart," Sam said quietly.

"I mean if you don't wanna I didn't book a church or anything," Bucky muttered. Sam reached out and cupped his cheek with his right hand, the ring winking in the morning light.

"I like it a lot," he said. Bucky held very still. "And this is a very funny story I'm sure we'll tell our grandkids someday."

Bucky looked up at him again.

"Yes," Sam said. He picked up the invitation, which had a little spot to RSVP on it, and pointed to the WILL ATTEND line. "I will marry you. But I better not fucking wake up a week from now with a ring on the other hand too. We have to get married in an actual legal ceremony where I am lucid and willingly say yes."

Bucky nodded and looked like he might cry for a second and then he said, in a voice brimming with emotion, "Dibs on Steve as best man."

"Dammit!" Sam yelled. "You don't call dibs on the best man!"

"Too late I already asked him!" Bucky said, ducking the thrown pancake, catching it behind his head and shoving it in his mouth.

"Fine, but I get to pick the venue," Sam replied, feeling as though in saying this he'd probably played into some kind of wedding-planning-related trap. "I'll ask Peggy to be mine."

"Nice, good choice," Bucky told him.

"So what brought this on, huh?" Sam asked, reaching for the bacon. "Usually you have to hem and haw about something for like a month first."

"SHIELD," Bucky said. Sam raised an eyebrow. "I mighta signed my hitch a couple'a days ago. Gotta get you on my good insurance and stuff. And I got a signing bonus."

"Yeah? How much?"

"You're wearin' it."

"Romantic," Sam said.

"Yeah, well, if you were marryin' me for romance you'd probably be making a mistake," Bucky pointed out. Sam grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and tugged him around the tray, pulling him close until he was curled up along Sam's side, head on his shoulder.

"You do fine," Sam said. "You're just fine, Buck."

They sat quietly for a few minutes, Sam picking at breakfast, watching the way the little ruby in the ring caught the light.

"And you're all right with me joining up at SHIELD?" Bucky asked.

"Any reason I shouldn't be?"

"You lost Riley," Bucky said softly. They didn't talk about Riley very often. Bucky didn't seem to like to bring him up, and Sam had laid that ghost to rest, albeit with a lot of struggling. Bucky had made that easier, in a weird way. Riley would have adored Bucky.

"And it taught me what I can survive," Sam said, because it was true. He could lose a man he loved and still go on; he could let Bucky surge into danger the way he had Riley, and treasure the time they had more because of it. He kissed Bucky's forehead. "Don't get killed, won't be any problems. Besides, Steve'll look after you."

"He better, I spent our whole childhood looking after him."

Sam tilted Bucky's chin around and kissed him properly. "Let's stop talking about Steve."

Bucky, leaning into him, picked up the tray with one hand and shifted it aside. "Yeah, let's."

***

They spent the day in, Bucky reading through the reams of prep materials for joining SHIELD, Sam calling his mom and texting his siblings, his nieces and nephews and cousins, making a guest list and crunching some numbers, which were things he secretly enjoyed doing anyway.

"Hey, how many people you want to invite?" he asked Bucky.

"Dunno. Got no real close family. You probably got all my invites on your list already. Steve and Tony, Peggy and Angie, Natasha, Clint -- you got Rhodey on there?"

"Yep."

"That's me covered, then," Bucky said, going back to his reading.

"Okay in that case I'm assigning you half my family," Sam decided. "Because I have ten million aunties and uncles and their kids and two sisters and their men and their kids, and one granny, and some buddies from Para. Don't you have like, Army pals?"

"None I'd invite to my wedding," Bucky shrugged. "I'm not a people person."

Sam threw a wadded-up ball of paper at him. "You're down on yourself today."

"Yeah, used up all my be-positive energy convincing you to commit your life and finances to me legally," Bucky admitted. "And the rest on morning just-got-engaged sex."

"That was worth it," Sam said, with a distant smile.

"Yeah it was. Hey, where do you want to go on the honeymoon?"

"Holy shit, we get a honeymoon."

"We do," Bucky said with a grin.

"Well, I'm planning the wedding," Sam said pointedly. Bucky raised his eyebrows. "That means you plan the honeymoon, punk. And none of this staycation bullshit either."

"Where do you want to go?"

Sam leaned across the table and kissed him high on the cheekbone, nuzzling into his hair. "Somewhere quiet. Warm and quiet. You pick."

"You sure?"

"I trust you," Sam said, and he could tell it was what Bucky had needed to hear, even if neither of them had known it. A certain tension under the skin seemed to ebb away.

"It wasn't really SHIELD," Bucky said.

"I kinda figured."

"I just love you so damn much," Bucky admitted. He turned and caught Sam's mouth with his.

"Yeah but that tax break once we get married is gonna be nice too," Sam said, and Bucky laughed and leaned away, the shadows in his eyes abated for now.

***

Sunday morning, Sam woke to Bucky’s arm around his waist, hand interwoven with his, the nudge of his fingers against Sam’s little ruby ring. He could tell Bucky was awake from his breathing, but he could also tell it had been an easy night – neither of them were tense, nobody had woken up yelling or tumbling to the floor.

Bucky had once said, “God knows what the neighbors think we get up to,” and Sam hadn’t mentioned that at least one of their neighbors had started giving him speculative looks after the rougher nights.

“So,” he said, and felt Bucky’s arm tighten a little in acknowledgement. “Brunch today.”

“I love all breakfast foods,” Bucky declared. “I will eat them all.”

“You do seem obsessed recently,” Sam agreed. “With breakfast.”

“It’s a good distraction when people are already only half-lucid,” Bucky pointed out.

“I’m gonna remember you said that, and hold it against you,” Sam said.

“Do your worst, Wilson,” Bucky retorted, digging his knees up into the backs of Sam’s legs until Sam bent them, allowing Bucky to curl tighter against him.

“Now, I’m gonna wear this ring to brunch, and someone’s gonna ask me what the hell it is,” Sam continued.

“We could skip brunch and continue the sex marathon.”

“Buck.”

“I’m not embarrassed by you, I’m embarrassed by them,” Bucky said. Sam twisted around enough to take in his hooded eyes.

“Say what?”

“When everyone’s all, paying attention and looking and being proud and saying touching things…it’s embarrassing,” Bucky said, burrowing his face into Sam’s neck. “I don’t wanna be praised for being normal.”

“Don’t see why not, Normal’s in short supply in our peer group,” Sam said.

“I don’t want a fuss.”

“Hm, yeah, okay, I get that,” Sam admitted. He didn’t want a fuss either. His family had done a lot of that when he’d called them to tell them; his teenaged cousins had screamed excitedly, but at least only one of them had said “You’re marrying a white boy?” like white boys were an urban legend or something. His mama had cried over the phone until he put Bucky on to talk with her.

And while technically Bucky’s friends were also Sam’s friends, they’d all been Bucky’s friends first (except Tony, who Bucky had relentlessly hated for at least four weeks, just in case). So he guessed it was Bucky’s turn to deal with the screaming and weeping. Hopefully nobody in their circle of friends was going to make a big deal out of a gay interracial marriage, at least.

Their wedding reception, he realized, was going to be fascinating. If they escaped without Steve punching someone, it’d be a miracle. Maybe they could seat Steve next to Uncle Ed, who was a comic book dealer and had enough manners not to express any controversial opinions at a wedding, if he held any.

“So what do we tell ‘em?” Bucky asked.

“Well, we could take my favorite route, which is a forthright announcement of our engagement and a brief, dignified acceptance of their congratulations,” Sam said. Bucky frowned. “Or we could do it your way and not tell anyone and wait for someone to notice the ring on this finger and then stuff his face with pancakes so he can’t object.”

“I like my way,” Bucky ventured.

“You’re damn lucky I like your way too,” Sam said.

***

Tony had, technically, been invited to Sunday Morning Brunch for months. Mind you, for some of that he’d been a hostage in Afghanistan and for some of it he’d been trying to hide the fact that he was dying of heavy metal poisoning, but the point that Steve had made was that, in fact, he HAD been invited, he just had chosen not to attend.

Primarily, Tony generally retorted, because he thought Bucky might stab him with a butter knife.

Bucky would never stab anyone with a butter knife, Steve had informed him solemnly. He liked sharp blades too much.

At any rate, after the New Mexico incident, Tony had agreed to actually attend the next Sunday Morning Brunch. So it was his first brunch, and one of his first outings since blowing up his own expo, really. He had promised himself he would be quiet and well-mannered, and then realized all these people knew him and that would freak them out, but he’d still resolved on a minimum of chaos and loud talking.

They were out at a nice restaurant with an extensive brunch buffet, they had a big table and a carafe of coffee all their own, and the conversation was lively but calm, so he felt he was doing pretty well and was very proud of his discretion.

Which was why, when Sam sat down next to him with his second plate of made-to-order omelette, Tony didn’t shout or start talking loudly or grab Sam’s hand or anything. He just swung his fork around and tapped the tines gently against the side of the ring on Sam's finger.

Sam caught his expression, grinned, and nodded, waggling the ring so that the ruby caught the light. Tony made an impressed face, then went back to his french toast and another refill of coffee. He figured everyone else already knew, given nobody else was remarking on it, and just felt happy to be included, however belatedly.

“Stark,” Natasha called from the other end of the table, and Tony looked up at her. “We have a tradition when someone new joins us for brunch.”

Tony blinked.

“We do?” Steve asked, and Clint elbowed him.

“When a new member joins, they have to make a toast,” Natasha said.

“Since when?” Bucky asked.

“Since now. New tradition. Brand new,” Peggy said.

“That’s not a tradition,” Tony pointed out. “That’s a demand. Possibly hazing.”

“Toast,” Natasha said, and Clint and Peggy chimed in. “Toast, toast!”

“Okay, Jesus, you act like I don’t enjoy public speaking,” Tony said. “Somebody give me a mimosa, I’m not toasting with coffee.”

Clint handed his down to Tony, who took it and held it up. “This is the first brunch I’ve had in probably ten years where nobody was trying to network with me, and which wasn’t held in a hotel conference room, so for this novel experience, I thank you. I’d like to toast in honor of the good agents and various hangers-on assembled around this table.” He lifted his glass. “And congratulations to Sam and Bucky, who are clearly more together and on top of their shit than the rest of us combined.”

He drank, but nobody else did; everyone else was staring at him.

“What?” he asked.

“Why Sam and Bucky?” Steve inquired.

“I mean, I’d toast my own boyfriend first,” Peggy added.

Tony turned to Sam, who was covering his face with one hand. (Not the ring hand.)

“You didn’t tell anybody,” he said.

“No,” Bucky said.

“Because it just happened.”

“Yep,” Sam replied.

“And you were -- "

“Just gonna let people notice on their own time,” Sam finished for him.

“Am I missing something?” Steve asked.

Sam raised his other hand and waved it at them. “For a bunch of super spies y’all suck at situational awareness,” he announced, and the whole table exploded.

Tony looked over Sam’s head and mouthed Sorry at Bucky.

I will kill you after the wedding, Bucky mouthed back, from where Steve was choke-hugging him around his neck.

Seemed fair.