Steve's daring rescue goes a lot like all his other plans: he sneaks up to the door and punches his way through it. Honestly, Sam's pretty impressed he pulled it off. Not that he ever doubted him. He just thought it'd take him a little longer. And that Nat would be involved somehow. She seems to be the brains of all their operations after all.
Before Steve shows up, it's getting pretty bleak. Wanda is stonily silent for the most part, they don't let her out, slide her food in through three layers of glass just in case. Sam gets it, he does. Wanda Maximoff is probably the most terrifying person he's ever met but she's a kid. Just a kid and she definitely doesn't deserve this kind of treatment.
Clint tries with her. Keeps up this long, soothing, one-sided conversation about everything from how his kids are doing to the time he and Nat almost levelled Budapest.
Speaking of pests, Scott is doing a bang up job of making Sam regret inviting him along in the first place (and really. He got his ass handed to him by this guy?) He pesters Clint and Sam and anyone else who'll listen, really, including one bemused guard, about the prison's other inmates, about theoretical escape plans. Sam's really not sure how he made it through his stints in real prisons without being shanked. He tells Scott this twice. Scott makes hurt noises and is quiet for an hour or so afterwards both times.
"So how'd you pull it off, Rogers?" Sam asks, when they're finally in the free and clear.
Steve shrugs, "I had help."
"Nat?" Sam guesses.
"Nat is a fine upstanding citizen who I'm sure had no hand in this very illegal jail break," Clint says.
Steve winks. "I had other help to." This seems to be directed at Scott who stares at Steve blankly before a slow look of horror dawns across his face.
"Oh, oh," he says. "Is she mad? I bet she's mad. Hope, please don't be mad!"
Steve's other help turns out to be the kind of girl Sam would usually go to great length to avoid. Near-permanent scowl, immaculate nails and high-heels the perfect length to be stomped through chest cavities and pierce any and all vital organs they come into contact with.
She materialises in T'Challa's surprisingly spacious and Sam is more than a little surprised. After composing himself, and throwing Steve a filthy look, he glares at Scott, "There are more of you?"
Scott shrugs sheepishly, "Well, she's kind of a secret."
And Clint leans over to say, "Buddy, she's kind of pissed."
Hope pulls off her helmet, "Kind of is an understatement," she bites out.
"You, uh, gonna introduce us to your nice completely not terrifying friend, here, Scott?" Clint asks.
"This is Hope," Scott says with a weak please-don't-let-her-kill-me smile. "She's my - uh - "
"Babysitter, apparently," Hope snaps. "Scott, what the hell were you thinking!?"
Scott scuffs his feet like a kid caught red-handed and says, "Well, I mean, from your tone of voice I think it's pretty obvious I wasn't."
"No shit, Scott. You do realise how serious this is, right? You're a fugitive. Again. And it's not theft this time, Scott. It's treason. You know what that is, right? You know what that means?"
By this point Sam is starting to feel a little intrusive so he backs away, well, as away as he can get in the jet. Clint has apparently fallen asleep, Wanda is humming loudly.
Steve's cheeks are faintly red and he's suddenly become very interested in the leather of the seats. Sam moves to sit next to him, "No Bucky?" he asks. Not because he's interested, really. More because it's the only thing he can think to say. The guy's absence is glaring, not that Sam's clamouring for more time with him.
Honestly, he's kind of starting to wish they'd kept him on ice. And it's not - Look, Sam gets how much the guy means to Steve and hell, if Steve says someone's worth saving than Sam'll try his damnedest but he doesn't like the way Bucky's made Steve. Steve was never happy before but he wasn't like this. Like butter spread too thin, dark bags under his eyes and sheer exhaustion in his gaze.
"He's back in Wakanda," Steve looks down at his hands. "Didn't want to risk coming on long in case something happened."
"Like what? Someone flipping the kill switch? None of those dopes would have the first clue how."
"That's what I said. Didn't seem to matter." Steve sighs. "He's uh - He's thinking of going back under."
It takes Sam a few moments to catch on. "Wait, what? For real?"
Steve has that world-weary look that seems to grace his face more and more these days and he nods, slowly. "Yeah."
"So after all that, he's just giving up?"
"He doesn't see it that way. He thinks he's a liability."
"Well, no shit," Sam says, shaking his head. "But he'll still be a liability if we leave him in some freezer in Wakanda. There'll just be the added risk of you not being around to wake him up with true love's kiss if he goes off the rails."
Steve gives him a wry smile. "Sam," he says gently.
"Hey. Just - At least tell me you tried to talk him out of it."
Steve looks away at that, knits his hands together and sighs, "Only a little bit. I want it to be his choice, you know? I don't want him to feel like I'm forcing him into anything. I don't want him to feel obliged to stick around for my sake."
Sam would roll his eyes if he didn't know Steve meant all that. He puts a hand on Steve's shoulder and squeezes lightly. He could say something like you're a fucking idiot Steve Rogers or I'm sure you did your best, the same old lines he's spewed out at a hundred different meetings to a thousand different soldiers who may come from a completely different world from Steve but bleed the same way. Hurt the same way.
He doesn't say anything though. In the two years or so he's spent in Steve's orbit he's learned to read the man as easy as kid's book. He's got a handle on when Steve needs a minute, when he needs encouraging, when he needs to be told to suck it up, when to fetch Nat to reign him back in. Right now, Steve just needs to know that when the only other man on Earth who could possibly understand what it's like to be wholly out of time puts himself back on ice, he won't be left alone.
Steve's not a kid and Steve's not naive or innocent and he definitely doesn't need Sam fighting his battles for him (which is fine by Sam, really) but this time something feels different.
This time it feels like Steve's giving up and that's not something Sam likes.
He lets his hand slide off Steve's shoulder and Steve smiles at him gratefully. "So, Wakanda, huh?" Sam is about to say but he's stopped by Clint materialising on Steve's other side. He leans across the arm rest of Steve's chair.
"I could talk to him, if you like. I know what it's like to... to be out of control like that," Clint offers.
Steve gives him a pained look, "I know you do," he says softly. "But it's okay. This has to be his choice." He stands. "I'm gonna go check in with Wanda."
When he's gone Sam frowns at Clint. He and Steve were talking quietly; Clint was on the other side of the jet, pretty close to where Hope is currently defining the word moron very loudly and slowly for Scott's benefit. "How did you know what we were talking about?"
Clint smirks, "I lip-read."
Sam rolls his eyes. "Of course you do."
Spies, Sam thinks.
T'Challa sets them up in large spacious room when they land in Wakanda. He says it's both to minimize the chances someone untrustworthy will find out they're staying there and so that they're easy to find if something goes wrong. Sam's not thrilled about it. He's just spent two weeks trapped in a very small room with all these idiots for company but at least they're allowed to walk around here.
Hope has left by this point and Scott is either asleep or pretending to be asleep, sprawled out on his bunk with his back to them all. Clint has vanished, either to call Natasha or his family, Sam suspects and Steve has been whisked away by T'Challa. Sam's left with Wanda who sighs a good few minutes after all Sam's weak attempts at conversation have dried up and says, "Do not feel like you must stay here for my benefit, Sam."
"I'll be back, alright?" He assures and she gives him a weak, if relieved smile. All Wanda wants lately is to be left alone, it's not healthy, Sam knows but one thing at a time.
T'Challa had given them a quick tour of the complex they're staying in after they landed so Sam has a pretty good idea of where to head. He ducks through rooms and rooms of labs and medical bays before he finds Bucky.
He's standing alone in a room, staring up at what Sam assumes is his future home.
"So this is it then?" Sam begins.
Bucky starts and glances back towards him. He narrows his eyes, looking back towards the cryo-pod.
"What? No hello? No thank you, Sam, for risking life and limb to save my dumb ass and spending two weeks in a floating rock of a prison?"
Bucky scowls, "I didn't ask you to do that."
"Nah, but your buddy Steve did."
Bucky glances at him, "Steve ask you to come talk to me?"
Sam crosses his arms, "No. Seems he's the same kind of stupid as you."
"Well, that's polite," Bucky mutters.
"Yeah? You think? Jesus. What the hell is with you old guys and this stubborn, self-sacrificing bullshit?"
Bucky glares. "You don't get it. This is for the best."
"Best for who, man? You? Steve? The world?"
He grits his teeth, his hands curl into fists at his side. "Everyone."
Sam scoffs, "Yeah, whatever, man."
It has the desired effect, Bucky turns to him, acidity in his face, "Whatever what?"
"You know how long he spent looking for you after DC?"
Bucky flinches at the mention of DC and Sam remembers Steve coming awake and asking, Where is he?
He's gone, Steve. Went AWOL.
He pulled me from the river. He must remember me, right?
"Every second he had to spare he spent looking for you, dragged me along with him, you know how he gets when he's like that."
There's a faint smile that tugs on the edges of Bucky's mouth when Sam says that and he counts it as a victory.
"All the while he's filling me with stories of you and him in the good old days of TB and Nazi's and state supported racism and he's telling me how he marched across enemy lines for the slim chance you were still alive because he knew you'd do the same."
The smile has widened now, it's less tentative, more nostalgic, more pained. His fists have uncurled, he's raised his left hand to grip the dog tags around his neck. They weren't the real thing, Sam remembers Steve telling him. Peggy Carter had them made up so Steve'd have something to mourn. When Bucky Barnes died the first time there hadn't been anything to bury, after all. Steve had carried those damn things around with him since Sam met him.
"And then we finally found you, 'bout a year ago holed up in that shitty little apartment in Bucharest and I'm expecting him to drop everything - shield, uniform and all - and, I dunno, run into your arms or something."
The smile vanishes at that. He glares across at Sam warningly, bristling, like a semi-feral animal that's only just remembering people are meant to be the enemy. (There's a faint red-tinge spreading along his cheek bones though and Sam thinks, interesting.)
"But he doesn't. You know why? Because he's all noble and whatever and he says you need space. You need time. He just wanted to make sure you stayed safe. And I'm not gonna lie, I felt a little cheated, instead of a tearful reunion all I got was Steve worrying himself sick every time you left your apartment for longer than a few hours."
"Sorry to disappoint," Bucky growls.
Sam raises his hands in a gesture of peace. "Look, all I'm saying is that man out there would tear the world apart to keep you safe - damn near has in face. And you're just planning on throwing that all away."
Bucky's jaw is set, "Like I said, it's safer." He looks up at Sam and Sam's expecting anger, defiance, what he gets is the same kind of world-weary etched into Steve's face, what he gets is self-loathing, what he gets is sorrow. And Sam's seen that look before, soldiers who come home with shaking hands and nightmares about loud cracks and pink mist.
"You don't know what it's like," Bucky says, quietly. "All it takes is a little string of words and I'm gone, the soldier takes over. You've seen what I can do and I don't want - I can't risk hurting anyone when I'm like that."
Sam takes an experimental step towards him, "We can help you." He says. "We can keep you safe."
"And I can keep all of you safe by going back under," Bucky counters.
Okay, Sam thinks. He can work with this.
"Or," he says, "You can come with us, we can get that shit out of your head and you can help me keep Steve out of trouble for five minutes because honestly, man, it's getting exhausting."
Bucky glances at him sidelong, like he can't quite figure out if Sam's being serious about that last point. He exhales slowly, "You seem to be doing fine."
Sam scoffs, "Really? Because from where I'm standing this - " Sam gestures. "Doesn't look fine. I mean, he's kind of a fugitive now, you know that? That's some pretty serious trouble."
Bucky looks away, Sam hopes it's to hide a smile. "Steve's a big boy."
"Yeah, he is," Sam agrees. "A damn big boy. And how many life or death situations is it that he's gotten himself in the middle of without you to hold him back? Because I don't have the exact figure but I'm guess it's hovering around a fuck-tonne."
Bucky definitely grins then, that crooked, roguish grin that Sam remembers from history books and museum trips when he was a kid. "Come on, Barnes. Together we might be able to keep Steve alive to see forty. Think about it, alright?"
When he gets back to their seemingly-smaller-by-the-minute room, Hope Pym is back, sitting on the edge of Scott's bed looking pensive. Sam pauses in the doorway, "Y'all need a minute?" he asks.
Hope shakes her head, smiling sheepishly, "No, no it's fine. I'm sorry about earlier. Probably wasn't the best first impression to make. I was just - "
Scott sits up, "She's hot headed."
Hope glares at him, "No. I was righteously pissed."
"Of course you were, hun."
"Hey. Just because you're on Captain America's team now doesn't mean I won't still break your nose."
"Hey, hey," Sam says. "Domestic violence is never the answer."
Scott beams at him, "Yes, Hope. Domestic violence is never the answer."
Hope rolls her eyes, "Anyway." She holds out her hand, business-like, professional. Sam takes it. "Hope Van Dyne," she says, prim smile sliding into place.
He's heard of her, mostly from Stark, a little from Nat, mostly from that really weird thing in San Francisco where Pym Tech imploded. A tragic accident, they said, luckily the building was empty except for the CEO. Hope's taken over now, apparently, but Sam's always suspected there was a little more intrigue involved. Too bad Scott's poker face is surprisingly good.
"Sam Wilson," Sam says.
"Nice to finally meet you, Sam," Hope says. "Again, I'm sorry about earlier. I know that Scott was doing the right thing by helping you. I just wish he would have told me so that we could have helped."
"I did tell you," Scott protests.
Hope glances back at him, "A twenty second voice mail telling me you're on your way to prison doesn't count."
Scott looks at Sam pleadingly. Sam holds up his hands, "I am staying out of this."
"Staying out of what?" Steve asks from the doorway. Wanda and T'Challa trail in behind him and Hope smiles as they greet each other and introductions are made. Clint joins them a moment later, "Sorry," he says. "Oh good, Scott's angry friend is back."
"Hope," Hope introduces.
"Pleasure," Clint says, taking her hand. He turns to Steve, "So what's the word, Cap? Are we majorly screwed?"
Steve smiles, "I'd say that's a fair assessment. Hope?"
"Nat and your friends have tried to downplay the worst of it," Hope says, her tone brisk. "You are all officially enemies of the state. All of your secret identities have been leaked; Zemo must have done it before Siberia. And Tony Stark's new government buddies are being pretty quick with the character assassination."
"Fuckin' Starks, right?" Scott says, just as Clint mutters, "No wonder my wife won't talk to me."
"There's a fair amount of push back though," Hope says. "Not everyone's convinced the Winter Soldier is to blame for his crimes. It's a pretty divisive issue. So someday you might be able to go home without sparking a national man hunt."
"Hurray," Scott says weakly and man, does Sam feel rotten for dragging him into this. Sam hasn't really got much back home, there's his mom, sure, but she knows better than to believe the lies they churn out in the press. For the past couple of years, it's just been Steve and Nat and chasing James godamn Barnes across the continents. Scott had a life though. A kid, friends, a shitty job. He's smiling bright but Sam's willing to bet he's dying inside at the thought of leaving his little girl behind again.
Hope gives Scott a tender look.
"So what's the plan, Cap?" Clint asks. "How do we unfuck this?"
"Well, I missed the first part of this little meeting," Bucky says from the doorway. "But I'm guessing his plan is the same as it always is: start throwing punches and hope for the best. Ain't that right, Stevie?"
If this were a movie, Sam thinks, this would be the part where the music would swell and sunlight would stream in and halo Bucky's head. It's not though and all there is is Steve's slow, relieved grin, "Aw, am I that transparent, Buck?"
"Always have been, always will be, pal."
Hope leaves and Clint goes with her, got some loose ends to tie up, he'll be back, he tells them. Cap pats him on the shoulder and tells him he doesn't have to, he's already done enough, he should go home if it's safe.
Clint's mouth is a grim line. "Yeah. We'll see," he says. "Pleasure working with ya, Cap."
Sam grabs Scott by the arm before they all scatter to apologise. "Look, I wouldn't have dragged you into this mess if I knew it'd end like this. I'm sorry, man. I wasn't thinking about your little girl."
Scott smiles, "Yeah, well, neither was I and that probably looks worse on me than it does on you. Besides, it's not like you knew this would happen. If you did it would make you pretty much the worst person ever, though."
"I didn't," Sam assures him with smile. It's a lie, but Scott doesn't need to know that. Sam always knew this would end messily. There was no way Cap'd ever sign away his freedom and there was no way that would ever go down well with everyone.
Throw in a formerly brain washed soviet era assassin and you had yourself a bonafide recipe for disaster.
A little later, Nat calls him. T'Challa's given them all new Wakandan phones, untraceable, for now at least.
"Hear you're out of jail, bird boy," Nat says. This is of course code for: I'm glad you're no longer incarcerated. "A little birdy told me you were holed up somewhere with a lot of cats."
Sam snorts, "As far as I know, there's only one cat here. Aside from the statues out front, anyway. Unless you've got bad news for me?"
Nat laughs. "No. You're fine, Sam. There's only one cat to worry about there. So, how is he?"
"Uh, which he?"
"Take your pick."
"Well, Steve's doing that gruff wartime thing he does where he sighs a lot and stares into space between issuing commands, Barnes has decided not to get re-frozen, Scott - "
She interrupts him, "Who?"
"The little guy," Sam explains even though he knows Nat's probably memorised Scott's social security number, birthday and the name of his fifth grade teacher by now because that's just what she does. She probably knows that he knows to. This is probably some kind of test to see if he'll challenge her on it. "Ant-Man."
"Oh, right," Nat says. "He seemed nice."
"He is," Sam assures her. "Anyway, he's also really annoying. Like, he could give Stark a run for his money. How is he, by the way?"
Sam's never really been a fan of Tony Stark. More because of his arrogance than any of his more recent actions but the dude had issues, glaring issues. Sam's honestly surprised no one had stuck him in therapy yet.
Nat sighs, "Not great. Not that he's willing to listen to me about that. How's Clint?"
"Dunno. He left with Hope."
"Laura's not talking to him," Nat says, in the same tone of voice someone would use to comment on the weather. "I don't blame her, really. He was supposed to be done with all this nonsense after Sakovia, plus he promised to take the kids skiing or something."
Sam frowns, "Isn't he your best friend, Romanov?"
"Best friend? What is this, Sam? Elementary school?"
"Well, with the way Stark and Rogers act sometimes I feel like it just might be," Sam mutters.
"Yeah," Nat agrees. "Look, Barton might be my friend but that doesn't mean I don't think he's a moron for getting himself involved in this whole mess."
There's silence then but it's companionable, not uncomfortable. Sam likes Nat. He thinks Nat likes him but then again, it's hard to tell when you're dealing with an international super spy.
"I gotta go," Nat says eventually. "Try to keep Steve out of trouble, okay?"
Sam chuckles, "Hey, you are at least fifty percent of his impulse control, I don't know what you think I'll be able to do."
Nat sighs, "Well, I'm also at least fifty percent of Stark's impulse control so I'm spread thinly these days. Until he has his inevitable breakdown and finally gets the help he needs I think I'm pretty much grounded. We'll be able to keep them in check between us, right?"
"Sure," Sam says. He's maybe half convinced. There's a good chance that Steve has picked a fight with someone undesirable during this phone call, though.
"Great. Keep an eye on Barton for me to when he makes it back there, okay? I'll do my best from here to keep you from getting arrested. Again. And don't get killed, Sam. It'll be a pain in the ass for me if you do."
"I'll do my best, Nat." Sam says.
The translation of course is: Stay safe, Sam. I care about you and would be devastated if anything happened. Its okay that she doesn't say it out loud, Sam's used to dealing with difficult people.
They leave Wakanda a month or so later when Stark's pestering turns into an honest to God diplomatic envoy with the express purpose of ensuring T'Challa's not currently harbouring a handful of super powered fugitives.
"We should probably give him a courtesy call," Barton says, from the back seat of Steve's ugly ass van. Sam doesn't know what it is with Steve and finding the most hideous cars he can but no one's a fan of it. "Let him know he should stop bothering T'Challa before he starts another war."
Clint, Sam has learnt, gets rather snippy when he's in a bad mood. Wanda, sat between Scott and Sam rolls her eyes. Things didn't go well with Laura but Clint hasn't told them this with words.
"I wouldn't have put it that way but it's not a bad idea," Steve says. He keeps his hands on the wheel, glancing at them through the rear view mirror.
Realising no one else is in any rush to volunteer, Sam pulls out his phone, dialling the number of the crappy old phone Steve sent to Tony as a precaution. Rhodey picks up, "Tony Stank's office, Mr Stank can't come to the phone right now, can I take a message?"
"Rhodes, its Sam."
Rhodey sighs, "You should take this," Rhodey says, presumably to Tony.
"Uh, uh-huh, Rhodey you said that was Mr Tony Stank's phone and I am not he." Tony says, somewhere in the background. There's a very long pause before the phone rustles and Tony says, "I thought we agreed not to talk to each other after the divorce. It wasn't exactly amiable; you did get most of the kids after all."
"It's Sam, Tony," Sam says.
"Well, Samuel, could you put daddy on the phone? I need a word."
"Does that make you mommy?"
"How heteronormative of you, Sam," Tony deadpans. "Just put Rogers on the phone, hm? This game of cat and mouse is getting old."
"That's not going to happen, Tony. This is just a call to ask you to back off of Wakanda. We're not there."
"Oh, so I'm just supposed to take your word that you're not all cosied up with Lion King anymore?" Tony snaps. Tony is also snippy when he's in a bad mood.
Sam sighs, "We're not your enemy, Tony."
"No. But you're doing a damn good job of shielding one," Tony spits. He hangs up before Sam can say anything placating and Scott leans over to say, "You know, as much as I hate Tony Stark I think we should agree from now that it's best not to poke the bear."
"I like this plan," Wanda agrees. "Perhaps you should be in charge, Scott."
"I should be in charge," Scott says.
"No," Sam says flatly.
"I second that motion," Clint adds.
"No one's in charge," Steve says, completely seriously.
Bucky, in the passenger seat, snorts, "Whatever you say, Cap."
Life post the Accords for Sam goes a little like this:
For the most part, they stay on the move. If they do stop, it's for a handful of weeks. They check in with fragments of SHIELD here and there who ferry them about if needed and point out things they need help dealing with. The media calls them the Secret Avengers even if their identities aren't really a secret. They traipse across Africa, across Europe, across South America chasing down illegal arms dealers, the remnants of groups like Hydra and AIM and the lone sickos that make Sam rethink his faith in humanity. They stop human traffickers and drug smugglers and once, save a kitten from a tree.
Clint stops being so moody after the first week, puts on a brave face even though Nat tells him Laura's ended it all. Sam manages to get him to talk about it a little but he figures Clint'll be okay. He's tough. He's probably known this was an inevitability since he got married way back when. We met when I worked in a carnival, he tells Sam one evening, tongue whiskey-loosened. I ever tell you I worked in a carnival? Me and my brother, both.
Sam coaxes things out of him gently, makes sure he's okay and he is, Sam knows that. It's everyone else he's got to worry about.
Wanda drifts. She has good days and bad days, days when Sam'll find her curled up in a scratchy motel blanket, watching news reports that toss around the words monster and abomination liberally. She has the names of the people who died Lagos memorised, she mutters them on bad days. Chants them. She lost her brother, she lost her home, she's just a kid. Clint keeps her grounded mostly but on the bad days she says, Tony was right. I am dangerous. I should be kept inside. I should not be allowed the chance to hurt anyone.
And Sam hates, hates, hates that they're putting her through this. Still, it's better to be free than caged. At least now Wanda has a chance to learn how to better control her abilities.
Scott tries to stay positive but he's homesick, it's plain as day on his face. He misses his friends and his kid and even crotchety old Hank Pym probably. Hope visits every now and again tells him Cassie understands, she knows her dad's off helping people, that's all that matters, right? And Scott is polite enough not to tell Hope - who probably doesn't know the first thing about kids, that it's definitely not all that matters. But Scott contents himself with snapchats and encoded messages and the knowledge that little by little, the tide is turning in the States. They'll be able to go home one day if they want to.
Steve carries on. Carries on like he always has, like Sam's pretty sure he always will. Marches on and saves lives and keeps their ragtag bunch together.
And then there's Bucky.
Bucky who takes a painfully long time to go from definitely not okay to more often than not okay but gets there eventually, even if he, like Wanda, has his bad days. He's cagey at first, he only really talks to Steve, talks to the rest of them only if he really needs to. He doesn't sleep much either and when he does he has nightmares. Twitches and jerks and whimpers and murmurs in Russian or German or Romanian. Sometimes he chants, Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes, 32557038.
Steve doesn't sleep on those nights, Sam's noticed. He sits awake, watches Bucky writhe. He only intervenes if things get loud, if things get violent. Crosses the room or the tent or the campsite and holds Bucky down, Buck, Buck, shh, it's okay, you're okay, he soothes. Hey, calm down.
Sam's noticed that Steve doesn't touch Bucky often and it's weird because Steve's a pretty tactile guy. He's all about gruff shoulder pats and comforting arms around shoulders, hoisting them back up when they get knocked on their asses, patting them down after fire fights for injuries but with Bucky his hands hover just above, never quite touching. And Sam's seen the videos, grainy black and white images of Cap and his Commandos, this no touching thing is new.
At first he thinks maybe it's Bucky's doing. He's jumpy, skittish, like a half-feral cat and Sam loses count of the times they have to haul Bucky off Scott for sneaking up on him from behind or touching him when he's not expecting it. It's like the Soldier takes over in those moments, like Bucky Barnes has slipped, faraway look in his eyes, a barked foreign tongue. Stands to reason Steve would want to give him space. (Except Steve's never got any qualms about hauling Bucky up, holding him against his chest and saying: your name is James Buchanan Barnes, you grew up in Brooklyn, you had a sister called Becky. We met when we were kids.
Bucky melts in those moments. Like, full on melts. Slumps against Steve like he's the only thing holding him together anymore and Steve breathes slow and deep until Bucky croaks, My name is Bucky. We grew up in Brooklyn. You were in art class when you heard about Pearl Harbour, I was at work.
The thing is, Bucky looks at Steve Rogers like he's the fucking sun and Sam has no idea how Steve hasn't noticed that yet. It's maddening. They're only in this mess because of Steve Rogers undying devotion to Bucky Barnes, would it really kill Steve to open his godamned eyes?
As for Sam and Bucky, Sam's not really sure about that until they're bunked together in some tiny French town and for some reason, the pigeons have decided to hold an annual convention or something on the balcony. It's not late or anything but they've been up for thirty or so hours and Sam would really like to get some godamn sleep.
He gives up at ten or so, throws off the covers and stands in front of the glass balcony doors, glaring out at the sea of birds. Bucky sidles up to him, silent like a cat and they've talked about this (well, Sam's talked, Bucky's mostly just smirked) and Bucky nudges him and says, "Hey, do you know them? Can you ask them to shut the fuck up please? Non-birds need to sleep sometimes, you know."
And well, that's that.
He might be a huge pain in the ass but more often than not he's alright. Sam's still not sure he was worth all this trouble though.
"So, Barnes is definitely in love with Rogers," Sam tells Nat during one of their bi-weekly phone calls. They're a mutually beneficial arrangement because Sam can bitch about Steve's stubbornness and Nat can bitch about Tony's and they can both despair over the fact that for some reason, they are the losers stuck with dealing with it. Nat tells Sam they had a guy for this back in the day, name of Phil. Sam's not entirely sure whether Phil is alive or dead because sometimes Nat talks about him in the past tense, sometimes in the present.
Either way what with SHIELD's grand resurgence and new supers popping up left, right and centre, Nat's got her hands full.
She snorts when he says that and Sam can picture her, lounging about in some corner office in one of Stark's fancy buildings, effortlessly gorgeous. "Oh yeah, that. I'm pretty sure that goes both ways."
"You don't?" she shoots back. "Come on, think about it. You know it makes sense."
And it does, kind of. Trust Steve Rogers to be too caught up in doing the right thing to notice a thing like that. "What about Sharon?" he asks. They've seen her once or twice, dropping off intel, running a few missions with them. Sam's avoided bringing her up to Steve but he's not sensed any awkwardness between them.
Nat scoffs, "She said it was like kissing a hunk of marble. No spark."
"You asked her about it?" He's trying not to picture Nat and Sharon gossiping about boys over coffee. He's better than that. He really is.
He can practically hear Nat rolling her eyes. "I questioned her about it."
Sam pauses. "Wait, are you saying you asked her what her intentions were? With Steve? Nat, did you give her the shovel talk?"
This time he can hear the smile, "It didn't get that far."
"But you would have?"
"What? He's my friend, alright? I'm just looking out for him. Maybe I think there are people better suited to him. There are definitely people better suited for Sharon."
Sam chuckles, "Natasha Romanov: super spy, super hero, matchmaker."
"I have to find some way to keep myself amused these days since you guys get all the fun missions."
"Hey, there's always room for you on our side, you know that. It would actually be kind of nice having someone to back me up once in a while."
Nat's quiet for a moment. It says a lot. That's the thing with her, she says much more in silence than she does in words. "I can't leave Tony," she says, eventually.
"Yeah, I know." Sam says, heavily.
"Take care, Sam," she says and it's not until she's hung up that Sam processes what she actually said. Take care. He didn't even have to read between the lines.
Take care, Sam.
Steve and Bucky do this really annoying thing where they constantly have to one up each other and not in a fun, competitive way like Clint and Sam may or may not have going on. (For the record, Sam has more successful take downs than Clint so far, according to him, at least.)
No, Steve and Bucky play an entirely different game called: I'm going to throw myself at the villain of the week so you don't have to. Which is usually followed by: I'm going to save you or die trying.
It's stupid and reckless and in fights, really intense fights, Bucky goes feral, slips in and out of Bucky and the Soldier so Sam really can't blame him. Steve though, Steve should know better.
It's after one of these little games that ends up nearly getting Scott killed that Sam hoists Bucky aside and says, "Alright, soldier boy, we need to talk about that torch you're carrying."
It was a messy fight, lasted almost a week start to finish. It started with a downed alien ship carrying a rampaging alien and ended with Thor appearing in a burst of blue-white light in the eleventh hour. Black Dwarf, Thor had called the alien. A foot soldier heralding something a lot bigger on the way. Not the kind of adversary Bucky Barnes should throw himself at so Steve wouldn't have to.
Bucky's nose is probably broken, steadily dripping blood onto his swollen lip. He raises his un-metal arm to wipe away the blood and ends up smearing it half across his face. His hand is shaking, Sam notices. "Don't know what you're talking about," he says.
Sam sighs. Maybe he should ask Nat if she wants to switch places next time he calls. "Really? Are we really going to play this game?"
"Only one playing a game here is you, birdie." Bucky says. The set of his shoulders reminds Sam of a sullen kid, stroppy and defensive.
"Come on, man. It's plain as day, the only reason no one else has noticed is that they've got their own shit to deal with." This is a lie. Scott, at least, has noticed because Scott is a lot better at reading people than any of them give him credit for. We should lock them in a room together, Scott had said, one evening and Sam's half tempted to try it.
Bucky shifts, "Like I said, I don't know what you - " He stops, twists to look behind and Sam follows his gaze. Steve is striding over to them. In the background Thor has Black Dwarf by the shoulder. He raises a hand in a wave and holds his hammer aloft, vanishing in a beam of light.
"What? He ain't sticking around to help us clean up?" Bucky says.
Steve shakes his head, "Things on Asgard aren't good."
"I don't know if you've noticed, Cap," Sam says. "But things down here aren't that hot either."
"Yeah," Steve says faintly. He looks down at the ground, scuffs at the debris laden floor with the front of his boot. "Yeah, I get that."
Behind them a small team of SHIELD agents are starting in on the clean up. No one was hurt, luckily, but most of the unfortunate town will have to be rebuilt. Tony Stark must be fuming.
"How's Scott?" Bucky asks quietly.
Steve glances up at him, his eyes speak measures but Sam doesn't want to hear it. "He'll be okay. Wanda and Clint are with him now."
Bucky nods. "Good. That's... That's good." He looks to Sam and swallows, looks down at his feet.
"Your hairs getting long," Steve says, absently and he raises his hand in a manner that makes Sam think he'll tug at it, thread his fingers through Buck's greasy locks and twist. By the way Bucky stills, he's probably thinking the same.
Steve doesn't though. His hand comes up to brush through his own so Sam takes it upon himself to yank on Buck's hair himself. "Yeah, if it gets any longer we'll have to ask Wanda to braid it for you. Can't have it getting in those pretty blue eyes of yours."
Bucky jerks away with more force than is necessary, looks back at Sam with venom in his gaze but then he must remember Steve's there or something because he grins, plays it off easy. "Awh, you think I've got pretty eyes? He thinks I've got pretty eyes, Steve. Ain't that something?"
Steve smiles, "Sure is, Buck."
Sam takes a gamble, reaches for Buck's hair again and smoothes it back off his face. "Come on, Cap. You're telling me you don't think he has pretty eyes?"
Steve laughs, "He's got gorgeous eyes, Sam."
"Well," Nat says, from behind Steve. "I'm glad you boys have figured that out."
It's the first time Sam's seen her in almost six months and honestly, he could sing.
"Guess they really are sending in the cavalry, huh?" Steve says. He opens his arms and Nat steps forwards willingly. The hug is brief but tight. Nat nods at them when they break apart, "Barnes."
Bucky nods back, "Romanov."
"Falcon," Nat says, smiles a little.
"Widow," Sam returns.
"I can't stay long," Nat says, looking back to Cap. "I've left Rhodey and Vision to look after Tony and unfortunately, Tony knows exactly how to play them."
"Still no sign of Pepper?" Steve asks.
Nat shakes her head. "So, anyway. Aliens. Catch me up, Cap."
"He's called Thanos," Steve tells them, grimly. They're a few miles away, holed up in one of SHIELD's old Europe bases. "According to Thor he's the one who gave Loki the army he used to invade Earth a few years back."
Clint hums, "Who could forget that barrel of laughs."
"Thor thinks he's looking for something called Infinity Gems. If he has them - "
"No, let me guess," Scott says, his eyes are glassy and he's at least 90% bandages at this point. He's also, as he assured them when Wanda reluctantly helped him in to their temporary meeting room, hopped up on some pretty awesome pain meds. "He'll be unstoppable." He finishes, beaming.
"Story of our lives," Nat says, bleakly.
"Yeah, that's the gist of it anyway," Steve says.
"So I guess our top priority is finding these things, right?" Sam says.
Steve rubs the back of his neck, "Well, that's the thing. Thor had one in the vaults on Asgard, the Tessaract. He knows where two of the others are, ones on some planet called Xandar and one is in Vision."
"Right," Nat says. "The mind gem, yeah?"
Steve nods, "Yeah. There are still three unaccounted for but Thanos sending soldiers to Earth says at least one might be here."
"He didn't think he'd stick around and help us look, though." Sam mutters. He's got nothing against Thor, really it's just. It's kind of hard to trust someone for whom your entire life span would be the blink of an eye. Then again, he thinks, looking at Steve.
"Like I said, things aren't great in Asgard. He's trying to track down one of the gems up there too."
Nat sighs, "Alright. It's nice to have a goal again, I suppose. And Thor will let us know if Thanos is on his way to you know, destroy earth?"
Steve's mouth is a thin line. "I sure hope so."
"Awesome," says Bucky. He looks at Steve. "Don't you miss the days when all we had to worry about were megalomaniacs with red skulls?"
Steve nods wistfully.
"I mean," says Clint, "You also had to worry about dying from easily curable diseases, right? And nuclear weapons and clean water and - was dysentery still a thing? Because that did not sound pleasant."
"And racism," Sam points out.
"And Howard Stark," Scott adds.
"Alright, alright," Bucky concedes. "The forties were terrible, today is terrible, maybe we should just ask your space friend with the hammer to drop us off on a peaceful planet and we can let Iron Man and his friends deal with this mess. We can raise chickens, or something."
Steve raises an eyebrow, "Chickens, Buck?"
Bucky shrugs, "My Ma always wanted chickens."
Later, Natasha picks the lock to his room. It's almost sweet in a vaguely threatening way.
The base is big, far bigger than anywhere they've stopped in a while. Big enough that they've all, at long last, got their own rooms. Usually, he and Steve and Bucky take one room, Scott and Clint share and Wanda gets her own if she can. It's nice to have some privacy again and the bunks might be dusty, but they're surprisingly comfy and, Sam's hoping, lice free.
He'd intended to pick a room at the far end of the complex, away from his team mates for one, blissful night of uninterrupted sleep. Let Nat or Sharon take over for an evening but in the end he'd caved, got a room between Bucky and Scott, opposite Steve.
He's just stepped out of the shower when Nat breaks in.
"You wanna give me a minute?" he asks, dressed only in a towel.
Nat smirks, "No."
Honestly, Sam has no idea what kind of game Nat's playing here, he's just trying to enjoy it while it lasts. He scrubs at his hair with a second towel, "Suit yourself."
Nat grins, perches on the edge of one of the bunks and says, "I brought you a present."
Sam pauses, "Uh. I didn't get you anything, you know."
"Oh, trust me," Nat says, pulling out a surprisingly neatly wrapped box and handing it to him. "Seeing Steve tell Bucky his eyes were gorgeous was present enough."
Sam accepts the box, "Well, I aim to please." He says, with a wink. He tears off the paper and eases the box open cautiously. He thinks Nat likes him too much to hand him a bomb or noxious gas or something but it doesn't hurt to be cautious about these things.
It's not, in fact, a bomb. Or gas. Or anything awful. It's Red Wing, packaged neatly and looking good as new. Sam beams as he pulls it out of the box. In the prison break, Steve only managed to get Sam's wings out. Red Wing had been stored in parts unknown.
"Oh my god," he says and Nat's smiling even though she's trying not to. "You - You are something else."
Nat shrugs, one shouldered. "I had to stop by the Raft to ask someone some questions. Their security is pretty lax. I have no idea how they even have any prisoners left."
"Well," Sam says, booting up the bot. "I hope you were polite with those questions."
"Always," Nat says, an angelic look on her face. She slides back on the bed, stretches her legs out and crosses them neatly. "I got Cap his shield too. I know T'Challa had a new one made for him but I thought he'd want the old one. You know, for nostalgia's sake."
"I'm sure he'll love it," Sam assures her.
"Well, he better. It was a little trickier to steal than your little friend there."
Sam powers Red Wing down; satisfied he's still in good working order. He grabs some sweat pants and a top from the clothes he's tossed onto a spare bed and steps into the bathroom to dress. He keeps the door ajar. "So, you only come by to give us presents or what?"
"Do I need a reason to visit my friends now?" Nat calls. "No, I had to come investigate what Thor was up to. I've got to write a full report when I get back to the States."
"Sounds fun," Sam says, stepping out. He crosses to the bed opposite Nat and takes a seat.
"You have no idea," Nat says.
Nat has sat up again. She's facing him and Sam knows there are a hundred different ways this could go but before he's decided whether to do something the moments gone. Nat looks away, hoists herself onto the bed so that she's lying back and sighs. "So, anything interesting happen since our last chat?" she asks.
Sam isn't sure if he's disappointed or not, he pushes that away for later examination, and catches Nat up on everything she's missed. It's nice, sat on a nice comfy bed, in a safe, hidden facility with running water and ration packs and Nat sitting across from him telling him all about Vision's ongoing quest to act remotely human and Tony's frankly creepy obsession with Spiderman's aunt.
When the conversation peters out and Sam's struggling to swallow back his yawns Nat stands up, "I'm bunking with Clint," she says, unnecessarily. "I'll be flying back to New York pretty early."
"Alright," Sam says sleepily. "I'll see you."
Nat hums and then, alarmingly, she reaches over and cups Sam's cheek. Sam holds his breath.
Nat's touch lingers for a moment and then she's gone.
His cheek is warm and tingly.
When Sam wakes up Nat's gone. He knows this because at some point in the night she picked the lock again and left him a sheet of paper with a new phone number on it and something scribbled out. Sam programs the number into his phone and folds the paper neatly into his pocket.
It's early and Sam really shouldn't squander the chance to sleep in for once but he wouldn't be able to fall asleep again so he gets up. The mess hall is empty except for Bucky who's sat at a table picking at a plate of something.
There's a moment where Sam doesn't recognise him, assumes he's one of the SHIELD agents because the lank, dark hair that usually falls about his face has been cut back. He looks younger. Like the James Barnes from the war footage.
Sam crosses the room to him, "You cut your hair," he says.
Bucky startles, drops his fork and then stills when he sees it's only Sam. He raises a hand to touch at his hair, a little self-consciously. "Yeah, Wanda did it," he supplies.
Sam raises his eyebrows, "Wanda cut your hair?"
"Well, Scott offered too but I like my ears, so."
Sam snorts, "You know he's like, a pretty accomplished thief, right? I'm pretty sure he has the dexterity to cut hair and leave ears intact."
Bucky nods soberly, "I do. I just can't reconcile that Scott Lang with the guy we've ended up with."
Sam laughs, "Yeah, dudes a little weird, huh? That food any good?"
Bucky shrugs. "I've had worse."
Sam nods, eyeing the food on Bucky's plate. It's military grade, he can tell. There's a whole cupboard full of MRE's in the kitchen. "How about the coffee?"
Again, Bucky shrugs. Conversation over, Sam guesses. He turns, meaning to head to the kitchen and make himself some breakfast but Bucky says: "Don't tell Steve."
Bucky's watching him, expression stony. "Don't tell Steve," he repeats. "Please." he adds, like it physically pains him.
Sam is not feeling generous today and, quite frankly, Bucky and Steve are both well into their nineties at this point and really shouldn't be acting like shy kids. Sam crosses his arms, "Don't tell him what?"
Bucky sets his jaw, "You know what." He swallows, "That I... "
Sam's resolve crumbles. "I won't. You know I won't."
"But you should," Sam adds.
Bucky looks up at him slowly, frowning like he can't quite tell if Sam's being serious enough. "No I... No. Steve... Steve likes girls," Bucky says firmly.
"You know those things aren't mutually exclusive right?" Sam asks. In the forties they probably were, Sam thinks. He wonders when Bucky first figured out he was head over heels for his best friend.
Bucky nods though and Sam says, "So you should tell him."
"No," Bucky says resolutely. "It's better if he doesn't know. It'd only ruin things between us. I'm not - He wouldn't - It just wouldn't work." Bucky says flatly.
Sam sighs, "Sure, Barnes. Whatever you say."
Nat calls as usual a few days later and Sam already knows they're not going to talk about what Sam has privately been referring to as 'The Cheek Caressing Incident.'
"How'd Tony take the news about our new big bad?" he asks. They're still in the compound, having a few days off while they figure out their next move.
"He didn't break anything so there's that," Nat says. "He and Vision are trying to find a way to trace them. Cosmic vibrations or radiation signals or something. That's how we found the Tessaract so they're hoping all the gems will have something in common. He's also pissed that 'Thor hasn't paid a dime of child support for Vision.'"
Sam is quiet for a moment. Steve has filled him in on Vision's creation vaguely, all Sam really knows it that it involved Tony's tech and Thor's lightning and that weird glowing stone thing. He decides he doesn't want to push the matter.
"That's nice?" he says, instead.
Nat huffs out a little breathy laugh. "So, how are things on your end? How are our boys? Still dancing around each other?"
"Bucky asked me not to tell Steve today so I'd say that's a fair assumption."
"I hope you told him to man the hell up, Wilson," Nat says.
Sam shakes his head, "I didn't."
"Awh, all those super soldiers have turned you soft, Sam."
"Yeah, maybe," Sam agrees. He's about to say something else when he hears something like a muffled explosion on Nat's end of things. He'd been leaning against the wall in one of the empty rooms of the base but he stands up straight immediately, "Natasha? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, it was Tony," she says, sigh evident in her voice. "I better go. We'll let you know if we find anything."
"Alright, talk to you soon," Sam's saying, but she's already hung up. Sam clicks the phone off and pockets it, leaning back against the wall with a sigh.
"I think someone has a little crush," Scott says, from somewhere in the room.
Sam starts, "What the hell, Scott?"
Scott appears, normal size, a safe distance from Sam, smiling sheepishly. "Hi."
"You were spying on me?" Sam hisses.
Scott holds up his hands, "What? No. No! I swear, I wasn't."
Sam takes a step towards him, Scott takes a step back. "Look, you guys said you wanted me to practise my stealth so that's what I was doing! I was stealthing about in this room and you walked in on the phone and - "
"So you couldn't just announce yourself? Like a normal person? You just lurked around and listened to my phone conversation instead?"
Scott blinks, "Well, when you put it like that..."
"Oh my God," Sam closes his eyes. What did he ever do to deserve these idiots?
"I'm just gonna..." Scott says, edging past him towards the door. "We can just pretend this never happened, right? And I'll just... Wear a bell or something. Though that's probably not going to help with the stealth."
"Scott," Sam says, glaring at him.
"Right, right," Scott says. He pulls open the door and pauses, leaning against it. "You know, for what it's worth she likes you to."
The thing is, Sam knows that. Deep down he does but Nat is not a person for whom romance is an option and Sam might have been once but he probably isn't now. He's not going to tell Scott that, though so he nods, "Thanks, Scott."
Scott beams, "But you know, do whatever makes you happy. Just please don't dance around each other like Steve and Bucky do. There's only so much tension I can take in one small group of people."
Sam laughs, "Well, ours is more long distance pining so you'll be safe, Scott."
Scott grins and clicks the button on his suit, vanishing.
Sam resolves to bring bug spray with him everywhere.
"Scott thinks you like me," Sam says, a few phone calls later. It's been a slow couple of weeks for the both of them.
There's an almost imperceptible sucking in of breath from Nat's end of things but she recovers quickly. "Does he?" she asks. "How sweet." She pauses, and then, "Do you think I like you?"
"Well, you haven't tried to kill me and you brought me Red Wing back so I'd say you do. A little bit, at least."
"You think I like you a little bit?"
"What? You gonna tell me you like me a lot?"
Nat laughs, "I - " she pauses again. A long, considering pause. "Maybe," she says eventually.
Sam smiles, "Maybe will do."
In the end, everything comes very close to ending in tears.
Thanos sends someone else; a human once, Sharon tells them. Had a nasty accident and now he can control people with discs, or something. His code name is, imaginatively, The Controller and of course, it's Bucky that falls victim to his control.
This has almost happened once before, some stupid kid good enough to hack into the security feeds of the day Zemo freed Bucky and memorise the code. He'd tracked them down. His parents had died in Sokovia, he wanted them all to know what he thought about them refusing to sign the Accords.
"Longing," the kid had said. "Rusted, seventeen, daybreak - "
Bucky had gone pale, white as a sheet, "No," he'd whispered. "No, please - "
Wanda had neutralised the kid, knocked him out cold and he'd been bundled away for some therapy and god knows what else. Bucky hadn't stopped shaking for at least a day.
This time is different, the guy doesn't need to say a string of nonsense words, he doesn't even need to hit Bucky with one of his discs. He all but clicks his fingers and Bucky's his.
"Interesting," he laughs.
He's wearing some kind of exo-skeleton, Thanos has sent him to find something called the mind gem. He's adamant it's here on Earth and Sam and Steve and co. just happen to be the unlucky fucks that turn up first to stop him and it is terrifying.
It shouldn't be so hard, Sam thinks, to take down one man but with Bucky to contend with and the Controller sending out waves of energy to keep them at bay; it's hardly a fair fight.
Sam stays high, tries his best to find an opening, watches Bucky knock Sharon out with ease, watches Scott leap in to knock him back before he snaps her neck. Clint is down already, somewhere. Kill them, the Controller had commanded. Kill them all.
Bucky is wide eyed and conscious, not like the dead-eyed gaze of the Soldier. He knows what he's doing, he can see his adamanteum arm move and click and grasp around throats and triggers. He is awake, he is aware.
"Stop me," he's saying, begging, pleading. "Stop me, stop me, stop me."
In the end, it's the simple art of distraction that lets them take him down. Steve provides the distraction, holding Bucky back with one arm, levelling his shield at the Controller's head with the other. The Controller knocks the shield back with ease but he's distracted, Sam knocks him down hard from behind and Wanda takes her shot.
The Controller goes down. Bucky goes limp.
Wanda goes to Sharon's side. Scott goes off to find Clint in the chaos. Sam lands a little way off from Steve and Bucky. Bucky is struggling in Steve's grip, "Fuck," he saying. "Fuck, Steve. This is why - This is why I knew this was a bad idea! I'm not safe, Steve. Fuck, I'm not safe. You should have let me go back under. You should have let me."
Steve is holding Bucky against him, arms tight across his chest, like he used to after nightmares, after slippages. "You're okay, Buck. You're okay." Steve's chanting but Sam suspects it's more for himself than for Bucky.
"No, Steve, I'm not." Bucky says, "I'm not. I never will be. Fuck, Steve, you need to let me go." He sounds wrecked, he sounds miserable.
Sam should probably not be listening.
"Fuck that, Buck," Steve says, mostly into Bucky's hair. "Can't I just be selfish for once, huh?"
"Steve," Bucky says.
"I can't do this without ya, Buck," Steve continues.
"You were doing just fine without me."
"No, I wasn't. I was drifting, Buck. After waking up, after New York, I was drifting. Then you showed up - "
"Wasn't me," Bucky interrupts.
"No, but I knew I could save you. That gave me something to work for, at least. Something to live for. If you went back under all I'd be doing is waiting around for you to wake up."
"No you wouldn't," Bucky says.
"Trust me," Sam interrupts. "He would. Like I said man, he spent almost two years looking for you. Didn't do much else in between."
"You see, Buck?" Steve says, "I'd be lost without you."
Bucky is still at last, considering.
"Cap," Clint says, from somewhere. Sam looks towards his voice, he's leaning heavily on Scott. "Cap, I swear to god if you don't kiss him and get this over with I will go and join Stark's team."
Bucky's cheeks go red.
Steve laughs and does.
"Stark says thanks," Nat says, when she calls him after the battle. "He rather begrudgingly admits that maybe you guys saved the day while his lot were debating whether or not to do anything. He wants me to tell you he's still not talking to you, though."
Sam chuckles, "Noted."
"The Controllers been dumped in the Raft. I've made sure their security is upped personally."
"Good to know."
Nat stops. "What aren't you telling me?" she asks. "You're normally a lot more talky."
Sam grins, "I am so glad you asked..."