He’d been sitting in the deep cocoon of blankets in the darkened living room for longer than he probably should have been. Sleep wouldn’t come and the tears wouldn’t stop. No amount of beating himself up about things would make Sam feel any better about the situation. Just when he thought he might be able to settle into the cushions of the sofa, a blinding shaft of light pierced the darkness. The sound of the front door closing heavily made him cringe and groan, but, Sam thought, at least it shut out the light that had burst through while it was open.
“Sammy?” He heard the careful call from the direction of the offending door. Sam pulled his blanket tighter over his head, intent on hiding from the noise. “Sam, Baby? Bad day?”
Sam remained silent beneath his blanket fortress as he heard his boyfriend’s approach. He sighed when Bucky’s hand closed on his shoulder.
“Hey, did you miss work today, Baby?” The softness of Bucky’s voice helped alleviate some of Sam’s stress. “That does it, I’m taking your group tonight.”
Bucky sat gently next to Sam on the sofa and pulled him close, rubbing his hand up and down Sam’s blanket-wrapped body. “Just nod if that’s okay.”
“You’re a jerk if you think being soft with me will help.” Sam scowled. He felt Bucky’s chuckle rock his body softly.
“I’m not trying to help you.” Bucky’s voice belied the words he spoke, as did his fingers as they idly stroked Sam’s chest, having breached the blanket barrier. “You know I look forward to the nights when I get the apartment to myself. So, are you going to get out, or not?”
“You’d really take my group tonight?” Sam peered out of his blanket cocoon. “You rarely even go to the meetings yourself.”
“Well, I think I could manage, but only for you. And you’ll owe me big time.” Bucky was smart enough to keep from laughing, but Sam could tell it took some doing. “Hey, guess who I saw today in the shop?”
Sam pouted as he shifted to sit upright. He wasn’t in the mood for Bucky’s happy-go-lucky tales from the bakery. “Hundreds of people. You run one of the most ‘Up and Coming Bakeries in the City’.”
“So says the man who is usually first in line at said bakery. The same man who secretly clips magazine mentions, no matter how small.”
“It’s for some side work.” Sam wasn’t proud of his petulance, but he imagined his tone could possibly be interpreted as sarcasm.
“Such as? Hiring a hitman?” Bucky grinned one of his crooked, teasing smiles at Sam before ducking into the warmth of his neck and peppering kisses along his throat. “Come on, if you don’t wanna play along, just ask.”
“That really hot artist, what’s his name? Scott? No, Steve.”
“You come home to me, telling me about how you met a hot guy?” Sam tugged on the blanket in an attempt to pull it back over his head.
“You liked him first.” Bucky blocked the blanket with a gentle hand on Sam’s cheek. “I thought you’d like to know he invited us to a thing next weekend, some art opening or something. He asked about you right off the bat…”
“Hmm.” Sam swiped at Bucky’s hand to stop him from tickling his side. “He is pretty.”
“Agreed. His art’s pretty nice too.” Bucky peppered kisses over Sam’s cheek. “So, are you hungry? What do you need before I go?”
There it was. “I need you not to go --" Sam urgently grasped Bucky’s arm to stop him from leaving the sofa, then dropped his hand just as quickly. “--no, never mind that… just… sit with me until you have to leave.”
“Wanna talk?” Bucky eased back against the couch again, taking Sam’s hand, stroking his thumb across the side of Sam’s palm.
“Not really.” Even though it was true, Sam knew Bucky deserved more than the dismissive reply. “Nightmare set me off. I just…”
“Say no more.” Bucky stroked Sam’s cheek. “If it will help, I can ditch work tomorrow and stand guard while you sleep. God knows you’ve done it enough times for me.”
While it was true enough, Sam didn’t have the energy to nod in agreement, or to argue that they weren’t in competition. They both had the others’ back when PTSD complications got the best of one of them.
Bucky’s voice was soft when he spoke again, “did you eat today? I brought home eclairs.”
When the mention of food made Sam’s stomach grumble, he hoped that just maybe, this time, it was hunger doing the talking and not a rebellious digestive system. “Maybe I could have a little piece.” Sam didn’t care that his voice sounded sulky. Deep down, he knew that Bucky didn’t care either.
“You should really have something more substantial. How ‘bout some soup?” Bucky was getting up. Sam didn’t want Bucky to get up. He grabbed his wrist to stop him. “Come on, I know.” Bucky kissed Sam’s forehead. “What would you tell me?”
“Don’t play that card.” Sam furrowed his brow, “I know I’m being difficult. I’m not even going to apologize.”
“Good. Don’t. But, let me heat up some soup and make sure you’re set up before I go.”
“How hateful would I be if I said I didn’t want you to go?” Sam watched Bucky carefully for any reaction. A miniscule facial expression of muscle movement that would be more telling than any words Bucky would use to try to comfort and placate him.
Seeing no change in posture, catching not even a hint of disapproval on Bucky’s face as he patted Sam’s blanket-bound shoulder, “First, you’re the least hateful man on earth, except when it comes to me. Second, you have a whole list of people who will cover for you. You know that if you need someone to stay with you, I’m your man.”
Huh, there was still no telltale grimace or hurried frown. Maybe, Sam thought, just maybe he wasn’t being too selfish after all.
“All I need to know is who would you prefer? Who should I contact?” Bucky urged. “I’ll take care of everything.”
“Dee. She’s covered this group before. If she’s not available, then try Frank.” Sam wriggled deeper into his blanket burrito as he watched Bucky retreat to the kitchen, already texting probably both of their friends at once.
Bucky had come home with a spring in his step, having had a pretty cool day at the bakery. Not only had the cute artist invited them to an opening, the guy had ordered a shit-ton of baked goods for a pre-showing party and a private brunch for a large gathering. Bucky had already happily kicked the door closed when he’d noticed their normally sun-filled apartment was anything but sunny.
Seeing the place darkened the way he preferred it when he, himself, had a bad episode – all of the blackout curtains were drawn, the house was silent, and though it was typical for Sam to be home before him on Thursdays, the atmosphere should be much different. There should be music and Sam singing along, and on a really good day, maybe even a dancing Sam – Bucky had been immediately concerned.
“Sammy?” When Bucky had peered around the corner, worried and upset with himself for allowing the door to slam, he saw his boyfriend buried in a bundle of blankets. If it weren’t for one bare foot sticking out, he might have dismissed it as just blankets. This was new for Sam. Normally he was possessed of a luminous disposition, so seeing him like this had shot straight to Bucky’s heart. He set the bakery box that he’d carried home, anxious to surprise Sam, and hurried to his side instead.
As soon as Sam had said it was a nightmare that caused his break, Bucky knew it was about Riley. Sam was always so careful when talking about losing Riley. Especially in front of Bucky. He was convinced that it was because Sam didn’t want to make him feel bad. They’d had many talks about Riley and how much Sam loved him, just like Bucky had been open about his past heartthrobs and heartbreaks. Sam was much luckier in that he knew what love was, and Bucky was still figuring it out.
When he realized that Sam wasn’t going to be good on his own, and was able to get Sam to let him take care of him, Bucky was off to the kitchen to reheat some of the soup they’d made together the night before. Bucky was in the middle of stirring the simmering, savory mixture when the blanket-covered strong arms of his boyfriend surrounded his waist. Sam shuddered behind Bucky and Bucky dropped the spoon into the pot, covering Sam’s hands with his. “Your hands are cold.”
“Don’t have to complain about it,” Sam grumbled, pressing his forehead between Bucky’s shoulder blades.
While it did come out sounding like a complaint, that was just to keep from pressuring Sam to talk. The only other thing he’d been about to say was, ‘you sure you don’t wanna talk about it?’ Bucky knew Sam would talk, when he was ready. He didn’t need Bucky dragging things out of him before he was ready.
“I have every right to complain,” Bucky returned with just enough sarcasm in his voice to let Sam know he was trying to be playful. “You’re swaddled in all those blankets and you can’t even warm your hands before sticking them under my shirt?”
Sam’s hands moved higher up Bucky’s shirt, a gentle tease that brought a huge relief to Bucky. Sam was okay enough to tease him a little. He caught Sam’s hands and kissed them through his t-shirt. “Let me see if I can salvage the soup. Sit.”
It came as no surprise to Bucky that Sam just relaxed his arms and draped them loosely across Bucky’s waist while Bucky continued to stir the soup. Sam rested his head gently on Bucky’s bad shoulder and followed as Bucky moved to the cabinet next to the stove, reaching for dishes to serve the soup. With a smile on his face, and Sam’s forehead again pressed between his shoulder blades, Bucky ladled soup into two mugs. He left them on the counter and turned around in Sam’s embrace, pulling him close. “You really are the needy one today. The nightmare? Riley?”
“Started out as Riley,” Sam whispered into Bucky’s neck. “Then it was you.”
Bucky felt Sam’s tear as it dripped onto his neck and trickled down the inside of his shirt. He hooked his chin over Sam’s shoulder and held him as close and as tight as he could with his one arm. “Probably reached for the wrong arm,” he teased gently. “You know you can call me, Sammy. I would have come home early.”
“I know you would.” Sam pulled away, taking a mug in both hands. “But if you had, you wouldn’t’ve gotten us a date with Cute Artist Steve.”
“You do remember him.” Bucky smiled, watching as Sam’s pout softened. He took two spoons from the drawer, dropping one into Sam’s mug and then one into his own. He grabbed his mug, encouraging Sam to sit at their small table. “It’s not a date with him. I’m not sharing you with anybody. Oh, by the way, Dee and frank are gonna work out who covers tonight, but you’re not to worry.”
“Now I know why you’re always so full of shit when the tables are turned.” Sam warmed his hands around his mug, sipping soup slowly. “Am I always that – sunny?”
“Worse.” Bucky’s grin intensified as he idly stirred his own soup. He worried through vague memories of Sam doing things for him when he was in crisis. He tried to figure out what Sam would need without asking. Knowing that asking what he needed once would be okay, but railing on it would just make Sam feel bad for not being able to answer. “So, how do you feel about hanging out on the sofa with a lighthearted movie and a bunch of blankets tonight?”
“We were supposed to go out for drinks after the VA.”
“Yeah, it was mentioned. I can easily tell them to have fun without us and ask for a raincheck. If you don’t feel like going out, that is.”
Sam peered at him over his soup mug, “I really don’t.”
“You had the place pretty dark and quiet, would you prefer music, movies, or more silence??”
“We can try a movie. God, am I this pathetic?”
“Worse than I’ve ever been.” Bucky winked. “Seems to me, you’re coming out of it.”
“Don’t laugh at me.”
“I barely chuckled. Practically a snicker, a titter even.” Bucky stopped when he saw Sam’s cheeks plump up in what was likely a very reluctant smile hiding behind that mug.
“I hate you.”
“I love you, Baby.” Bucky brushed his stockinged toes against Sam’s bare foot, snickering at the raised eyebrow of judgement. “I do.”
They had friends who could only see their bickering, who thought they were either in a doomed or abusive relationship, but there were those who took a deeper look and could see that Sam would die for Bucky and Bucky would kill for Sam. Not that either wanted that, not any more. With them both coming from military backgrounds, they’d seen enough death and destruction.
Bucky slurped his soup a few times, just casually looking over the rim to see if he’d get a reaction. Not wanting to press his luck by pushing the wrong buttons, he thought he could get a bead on Sam’s state of mind if he perpetrated some exaggerated version of the more normal annoyances.
“This ain’t China, and I don’t appreciate soup sound effects.” Sam grumbled.
“Japan.” Bucky winked. “What about a soup dissertation? ‘Carroty goodness, mingled with the bite of celery and onion, sautéed to perfection in a nutty browned butter and mama’s roast chicken all dancing in a hearty, slow-simmered chicken stock.”
“You’ve been reading bakery reviews again.”
“Can’t help it. My boyfriend keeps collectin’ ‘em.” Bucky crinkled his nose at Sam. “By the way, which room are you gonna wallpaper with them along with my schedule and mugshot? Huh?”
“It’s called being proud. I’m proud of you, you idiot.”
“I’m proud of you too, jackass.” Bucky could no longer contain his grin as he shoved his foot against Sam’s ankle. “Breaking in and training the next best Air Force officers.”
Sam tucked his finger into the opening of the bakery box and pulled it across the table. When he flipped the lid open, he screwed up his face. “You didn’t do these. They’re all…”
“Before you say something mean, you’re right. I didn’t do these. They were decorated by Syl’s kid. I told him they were the best in the bunch and that’s why I wanted to bring them home to you.”
“On the one hand, you looked at seconds and thought of me. On the other hand, these were probably this kid’s best shot. How can I hate you and love you at the same time?”
“I think that’s our best dynamic.” Bucky’s laugh tapered off and he knew he looked like a raving, love-struck fool. He watched as Sam stuck his finger in the icing of one éclair and sucked it clean. “Soup first, you big tease.”
Sam looked at Bucky coyly, his tongue darting past the slight gap in his pearly-white teeth to lick the sweet remnants of frosting from his lip. Bucky pushed away from the table to empty the remains of his soup into the disposal. He rinsed his mug and spoon. As he turned to place them into the dishwasher, he caught Sam picking at an icing flower on one of the eclairs. “You ready for me to take your mug?”
“I guess, yeah. Soup really hit the spot. Thanks, Babe.”
“Any time, Baby.” Bucky pressed a kiss to Sam’s pensive temple before taking his mug. Sam had finished more of his soup than Bucky had, alleviating at least some worry. He repeated dish-rinsing steps before returning to the table. He plucked an éclair from the box as he settled into the chair closest to Sam. He scooted closer so that their thighs touched. “So, seconds in looks. Please tell me you don’t think they’re substandard in taste and delicateness.”
Sam rolled his eyes at Bucky’s goofy, nose crinkling smile, and offered him a placating smile of his own before closing the distance between them. He licked éclair filling from Bucky’s lip before taking the kiss further, giving into what became an almost desperate kiss.
Bucky grinned into the kiss, bringing his hand to the back of Sam’s neck. He caressed the smooth, warm skin under his fingers. “I missed you today,” Bucky sighed against Sam’s whiskered cheek.
“You’re such a sap.” Sam brought his hands up, linking his fingers behind Bucky’s neck. “I shoulda called you. It was all I could do to call in a sub.”
“Hey.” Bucky pressed his forehead to Sam’s. “Hey, it’s okay. Next time, one call fixes all. You know I’d rally the troops for you.”
“Yeah. I know. I wasn’t thinking clearly. Tonight, I’m breaking the no food on the sofa rule – and you can’t stop me. Come on, I have blankets to spare.”
Sam had to admit he felt infinitely better. He knew it was mostly because it was the tail end of his terrible, horrible, no good, really bad day, and it was also from being on the receiving end of gentle are and teasing. He wouldn’t admit that to anyone except Bucky. Not even then, until after many hours. Possibly even a few days. The gloating would just give him a headache.
He could pull a few strings, milk it for the rest of the night, just as his insufferable boyfriend had been known to do. Requests for popcorn and a back rub came to mind. As they settled in on their giant sofa under the collection of blankets, Sam eased into a sated comfort nestled against Bucky’s broad chest, wrapped possessively, tightly under his arm. Sam gripped Bucky’s arm with both hands, wriggling into the most comfortable position. A few sighs from Bucky, some of veiled exasperation eventually replaced by sighs of contentment, and they were both ready for some lighthearted movies.
Sam’s opportunity to wheedle extra TLC disappeared when he fell asleep in the warmth of Bucky’s embrace. He woke hours later, warm and hungry. Whatever Bucky had watched after he’d fallen asleep on him had ended and the TV had faded to black.
“Bucky,” Sam whispered, curling into Bucky’s warmth.
“You okay?” Bucky’s sleepy grumble was deceptive, he was likely more awake than he let on.
“Other than your hip bone jabbin’ me in my side, I’m fine. I just… we should go to bed.”
Bucky’s fingers tickled Sam’s side as they slid under his shirt. “K. Guess that means we’re done with movies, huh?”
‘You let the set shut off. You were asleep too, you jackass.”
Bucky joined Sam’s tired giggle. “Not before you. Guess you needed it. Come on, early morning comes too fuckin’ early.”
“It’s a shame you decided to become a baker instead of a nighttime security guard or something useful.” Sam sat up and stretched, before taking Bucky’s hand in his. “It’s an even bigger shame we fell asleep. Some lazy lovin’ would be a really good way to kick-start the Z’s.”
Bucky sat up, nibbling the back of Sam’s neck. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“So would you. Don’t pretend sex is simply for my entertainment.”
“Never meant to imply I wouldn’t get a whole lot outta putting a whole lot into you, Baby.”
“Now you’re overselling yourself.” Sam reached back, getting his fingers tangled into Bucky’s hair as he gripped his neck, eliciting a soft hiss. “You should get that cut. One of these days, someone’s gonna complain, yelling lawsuit because your long-ass hair’s in their little Jimmy’s birthday cake.”
“You know as well as anybody how much care I take with my hair in the bakery. You remember when you shaved yours off? You want me to do that, don’t you? Oh, and overselling myself, huh?” Bucky nipped at Sam’s jaw. “Somebody wants to make waves about how well I treat you in bed, is that it?”
Sam pivoted, straddling Bucky’s thighs. “Thought you had to be up early,” he teased, kissing Bucky’s pout. “Do not shave your head. You don’t have the noggin to be flashing a chrome dome.”
“You think not? I’ll have you know…”
Sam couldn’t help but laugh at Bucky’s outrage, and the idea of Bucky shaving his head was rather amusing as well. “You’re a very pretty man, but no. Just no. See what you made me do? I’m giggling like a six-year-old, all on account of you thinking you could pull off a shaved head. No…” Sam couldn’t stop shaking his head.
“Good.” Bucky pinched Sam’s side, he should never have let go of Bucky’s hand. “At least you’re smiling. I love the way your stupid smile lights up your beautiful face.”
“You’re a damn sap.” Sam wriggled on Bucky’s lap. “If you’re hell bent on wastin’ time, we should definitely fuck.”
“But you said I was overselling myself.” Bucky was really hamming up the pout now.
Sam planted a rough kiss on Bucky’s feigned pout. “Prove me wrong.”
Sam looked serene spread across their bed. Bucky stood next to the bed looking at his angel as he snoozed, ass up, with the top sheet tangled across one leg and obscuring one butt cheek, the soft fabric in contrast with his nakedness. It took everything in him not to lie across Sam and bury his face in his warm neck. He longed to sleep the day away, but the bakery was waiting. Stifling a groan of disappointment, Bucky pressed a soft kiss on Sam’s cheekbone and traced the line of his shoulder blade down along the side of his arm. It made him smile when the tickling motion caused Sam to move his arm to cover the exposed area.
“Love you,” Bucky said as he stepped out the bedroom door. He’d left a note and set a timer to remind him to call Sam a few minutes after his snooze alarm would go off. The least he could do is check in on him. Thankfully, their night had been nightmare free for them both. He hoped the hours after he had to leave would continue to be peaceful for Sam.
Bucky rushed down the stairs of their building and out the door to catch the bus to the bakery. He spent the entire bus ride thinking about their tender lovemaking just before they both collapsed in sleep. The scent of Sam’s skin was still fresh on his mind. Nothing would have been nicer than sleeping in with Sam, waking up slowly and doing it all over again.
Bucky shifted in his seat, forcefully trying to think of anything else. He’d have to draw up a plan to accommodate the two big orders he’d received the day before. He loved teasing Sam about the cute artist, Steve. Yeah, he remembered his name. Sam had pointed him out before and had coveted a particular art piece that Bucky was still trying to figure out how to procure. At first, Bucky had struggled with jealousy, but he had enough confidence in their relationship and he knew Sam.
When he finally admitted his jealousy to Sam, he didn’t pull the ‘I’m not dead’ line. No, Sam waited. Several VA visits and accidental coffee table meetings later, Sam waited until he knew Bucky had overcome the jealousy before he whipped that line out with flair. Bucky smiled, remembering. What a cocky SOB. Bucky used that moment to begin teasing Sam about their eventual threesome. Sometimes the teasing was all in fun and other times it had them both heated up to the point that it was difficult getting home without a lurid display on the street. Back to those thoughts again. Bucky looked around the not-yet crowded bus, most riders were immersed in their phones, papers, or half-asleep state in the pre-dawn hours. He adjusted himself as discreetly as possible and turned his gaze out the window, trying not to think about the cute artist and his blissfully sleeping boyfriend.
Sam woke to the sound of his alarm, feeling rested, if not a little akin to hungover. The previous day was bad and the weight of it was fogging the edges of his mind. They way they’d ended it, with Bucky’s caring for and loving him, filling him and then the after-care. Those helped soften the rough edges. He might even have to consider not sniping at Bucky for at least a full day. Sam smiled tenderly, Bucky had been practically heroic. Not that he’d ever tell him that. Sam would never hear the last of it if he ever used the term hero to describe Bucky.
He sat up, not even bothering to hit snooze. He crawled out of the tangle of sheets, tossing the top sheet across the mattress in an attempt to smooth it. He should make the bed, Sam thought briefly as he stumbled toward the shower.
Once under the hot stream of water, he allowed the flow to pulsate over his skin and pound into his muscles. He stretched his neck, burying his face in the flow, before grabbing the first bottle of product he touched. As the scent and warmth started waking him, Sam fell into the routine of the act of showering.
His phone was ringing as Sam stepped out of the shower, dripping into the soft mat under his feet. He grabbed a towel in one hand and his phone in the other. Seeing Bucky’s ridiculous face on the screen, he shook his head, a goofy smile reflected in the steam-splotched mirror greeted him as he swiped to answer. “That’s how you treat a guy, huh?”
“Hey, I left a note.” Sam heard the amused tone through the line.
“Really? Cos, I never saw one,” Sam countered, drying his skin and holding the phone while trying not to laugh.
“Have you even gotten out of bed?”
“I just got out of the shower. I have things to do.”
“I guess better things than talkin’ to your boyfriend, huh?”
“I dunno. Is this a dirty phone call?” Sam snickered.
“With you, they’re all dirty.” Bucky sounded distracted.
“Um, nothin’. I just wish I’d stayed home so we could wake up together.”
“Sap.” Sam smiled as he headed to the dresser. “Tomorrow, we can do that.”
“Yes!” Bucky cheered. “You coming by for coffee?”
“I might. Or – I could make you wait.”
“Nah, Sammy. I didn’t get my kisses.”
“You can’t wait ‘til lunch? Needy bastard. It’s all about you.”
“I guess I am, but you were the needy bastard last night, so maybe you should pull back on the name calling.”
Sam laughed at the adoration that softened Bucky’s words. “As you wish.”
“Really? It’s been that easy all along?” Bucky teased.
“For today. I have to go, if you want me to stop by before work.”
“You’re naked, aren’t you?”
“Shut up, Barnes,” Sam laughed again. “I’m hanging up.”
“Naked.” Sam heard as he ended the call.
“Crap!” Sam muttered as he sent a hurried text to Bucky: I love you
I was gonna ask -Bucky sent back before adding: I love you more
Sam grinned as he pulled on his clothes. He decided he’d hit the gym after work instead of taking his usual morning run. Maybe he’d even coax Bucky to tag along. The edge was starting to fade and he was actively looking forward to coffee, and to whichever decadent pastry Bucky had in store for the world today.
Bucky sat in his office at the back of the bakery, pulling strips of deli meat from the sandwich he’d made for lunch. He was supposed to be looking over supply orders for the big art-show bakery job, but was distracted from both tasks. Sam had stopped by that morning on the way to the academy, looking sharp in his uniform. It wasn’t just the pressed and dressed, Bucky was almost used to how lethal Sam looked in his uniform. It was the way Sam had walked in, smiling his sunny smile. That smile always knocked Bucky off his feet, even if it was just a bit clouded from Sam’s struggles the day before.
He picked up his phone as he pulled another strip of cheese from his sandwich, and typed a quick text to Sam: Any hot young cadets? Bucky snickered to himself as he added: should I be jealous?
Bucky set the phone down, getting back to the orders, forgetting about the texts until his phone vibrated against his elbow. He laughed aloud when he saw Sam’s reply: just because you’re trying to set your boyfriend up with an artist doesn’t mean I’m gonna set mine up with an airman
Oh, Sammy – Bucky grinned as he typed – how are you today?
It was another two of Sam’s classes and a bakery crisis for Bucky – there were always bakery crises – before Bucky got to see another text from Sam. It’s been ok. He read the text quickly before washing up and tossing his apron in for the laundry pick up. He tucked a fresh loaf of bread and some cannoli into his bag before heading out the door for an afternoon collection of errands.
He made a stop at the grocer for produce and then to the butcher for meat. When Bucky saw a colorful mix of flowers as he turned the corner from picking up Sam’s dry-cleaning, he grabbed them as a last-minute surprise before heading home to fix Sam’s favorite dinner.
All the way home, Bucky worked on creating a playlist of songs to have playing through dinner and into the evening. He imagined Sam’s laughter at some of his questionable choices and how his eyes would go soft when a sentimental tune would kick in. The flowers, the music, these were things that Bucky hadn’t appreciated when he first came home from the war and the hospital, but when he met Sam at the botanical garden and listened as Sam shared all the trivial knowledge he had about flowers, “thanks to my Gran”, flowers would always remind him of Sam. His own (admittedly) terrible taste in music would also remind him of Sam, because Sam professed to love that about him, “as long as you’ll let me teach you about at least a few good songs.”
Sam walked across the campus courtyard nodding or saluting as necessary. He decided the gym on campus was the perfect outlet for the remaining fog from the day before. With a quiet plea that the gym would be empty, Sam pushed the locker-room door open to find his wish had been granted. It wasn’t unusual at this time of day, but it was still appreciated. Sam worked his body hard on the weights before racing against his previous treadmill record. While he’d gotten through the day, teaching his classes had felt unendurable. He was relieved that it was now the weekend.
Wiping sweat from his neck, Sam looked out the window where the treadmill overlooked the campus. It hadn’t been easy relocating after coming back home. That first six months in his new town, this campus, the VA, and the botanical gardens were the only places besides home Sam had spent any time. If he hadn’t met Bucky at the botanical gardens, Bucky might not have talked to him. Sam had seen Bucky at the VA once or twice before that afternoon in the garden. It had been months of friendship before Bucky made regular visits, and he’d been dating Bucky for a month before he ever spoke up at a meeting.
Sam stepped off the treadmill and gave it a good cleaning before pulling his phone from his pocket. No new messages. Bucky knew how to play the game. Not too many check-ins. On a regular day, he’d have a dozen wacky messages by now, but Bucky was doing the low-profile thing, making sure that Sam had time alone with his thoughts. Kid might not know much about music, but he definitely had a good bedside manner.
Before heading into the locker-room, he sent a message of his own: just finishing up at the gym. Off to shower and then I’m headed home.
The water in the shower trickled over Sam’s neck and back as Sam braced one hand against the wall and let the nightmarish images that had jolted him out of his sound sleep the day before dance around in his head. Watching his first serious love plummet to his death with nothing but air between them, not enough speed in the world could propel him close enough to rescue Riley. The dream had been an urgent, bastardized version of reality and when the face on the tumbling body became Bucky’s face, Sam had panicked. Not again! Sam visualized these dream images, imagining them leaving his head, swirling down the drain, and taking the ache they left behind with them. Sam turned his face up under the spray, allowing the stream of water to wash his tears down the drain behind the bad images.
As Sam slowly dressed, he contemplated picking up some food on his way home. He thought it would be a good way to thank Bucky for being there for him. He was certain that at the moment, with no reply to his text, Bucky was home napping after staying up most of the night to give Sam the love and comfort he’d needed and pleaded for and then baking sweets and savories all day. “Should stop, but damn, I just wanna go home.” Sam complained while placing his folded uniform pants into the gym bag. “We can always order pizza.” He continued, zipping the bag closed.
Sam shouldered his bag and nodded a brief greeting to a couple of cadets who came into the gym as he was going out. They reminded him of Bucky’s earlier text asking about hot young cadets and chuckled. He laughed even harder when his phone vibrated in his pocket and he pulled it out to find Bucky’s newest text: you said you were almost done, where are you?
He got a kick out of sending: got hung up with a couple of hot cadets.
And an even bigger kick out of Bucky’s reply: What?!!!!
Sam figured by now, he looked positively crazy, laughing at his phone. He stuffed it back into the pocket of his shorts and closed the distance to his car. Tossing the bag across to the passenger seat, Sam slid behind the wheel and headed for home. He turned the music loud, feeling a thousand times better than he had when he’d left the bakery that morning with a breakfast sandwich and a kiss.
As Sam took the quaint side-streets home, the dry cleaner sign reminded him he’d need his dry-cleaning for the next week. He reluctantly stopped the car and went inside to pick up his order. Once inside the building, he stood tapping his foot anxiously as the clerk looked around in the back. When the young man returned empty-handed, Sam stuffed his fist deep into his shorts pocket. The clerk apologized and flipped through some claim tickets to find that the order had already been picked up.
With a bracing sigh, Sam said “Thank you,” with as much cheer as he could muster before pushing past the door that chimed with its old-fashioned bell as he left. The sight of flowers around the corner as he left lifted his spirits and reminded him that he shouldn’t be mad that his boyfriend had done him a favor. In fact, that thoughtful act deserved more than just flowers. However, maybe he’d quiz Bucky on the blooms just for his trouble. The thought, and the flowers, chased Sam’s anxious frustrations away.
Bucky looked at his phone no less than a dozen times, the What?!!!! Still staring at him in its speech bubble. Not that he thought Sam would be cheating, but because he really was looking forward to Sam’s snarky response and felt disappointed that there didn’t seem to be one coming. Pushing the disappointment aside, he turned his focus to the meal he was preparing.
The music was already playing, keeping the mood all about Sam. Bucky danced around the kitchen as Smokey Robinson sang:
Oh, but if you feel like lovin' me
If you got the notion,
I second that emotion.
So, if you feel like giving me a lifetime of devotion
I second that emotion.
Maybe you'll think that love will tie you down
And you don't have the time to hang around.
Or maybe you'll think that love will make us fools,
And so it makes you wise to break the rules.
Bucky stirred the veggies together with the stock and ruminated on the words as the song played. “Sammy, you know I love you,” Bucky said to the pot of savory spices, “so, if you feel like giving me a lifetime of devotion… come on, marry me, you know that was cute.”
Bucky dropped the wooden spoon into the pot, his heart pounding in his throat. “Sam,” Bucky breathed, unable to turn around.
“Bucky.” Sam sounded closer. He touched Bucky’s left arm where it ended, moving his hand up to Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky turned with the slightest motivation.
“You proposing to a pot of…” Sam sniffed the aromatic steam as he surprised Bucky with the flowers he’d hidden behind his back. “Smells good, I’d propose too.”
Bucky watched Sam’s grin peek through full lips, gap-toothed and brilliant. His eyes flitted to the depths of Sam’s and his heart pounded. As Sam stepped into Bucky’s space, he could feel the thundering in his chest against his own.
“Bucky, I second that emotion.”
“No. Sam, no. You gotta let me do it right. You deserve more than a rehearsed – poorly rehearsed…”
“My very annoying boyfriend just practiced a cheesy proposal that he’d never actually use, you think I’m gonna pass that up?”
Bucky shrugged, dismayed, “I was hoping you’d let it slide, yes.” Bucky’s cheeks burned from the tug of the smile that betrayed him as Sam shook his head purposefully.
“It was cute.” Sam’s brow shot up in challenge.
“Jesus, I love you.” Bucky wrapped his arm tightly around Sam’s waist, forgetting the flowers as some dropped to the floor and others were crushed against Sam’s back. “I hope you really mean it. I hope you really do understand how much I – Samuel Thomas Wilson, will you marry me?”
“Only if you plan on givin’ me a ring” Sam leaned back to give Bucky a once-over. “You are planning on giving me a ring?”
“I’ll get you a ring.” Bucky grinned before setting the remaining flowers on the table and burying his head in Sam’s neck. He couldn’t imagine his future without Sam, and now he didn’t have to. “You can pick any ring you want. I’ll…”
“You’re not going to go overboard.” Sam cradled Bucky’s head before framing his face in his hands and drawing his face up. “Look at me. Don’t go saying something stupid about jeopardizing the bakery for some kind of grand token. The whole thing’s off if you go broke on me.”
“Right.” Bucky nodded, fighting a grin and simultaneous tears. “But the deal’s not off, so how ‘bout a kiss to seal it?”
“You think proposing gives you an excuse to kiss on me any old time?”
“I’ve always felt entitled to kiss on you.” Bucky gripped Sam’s jaw, squeezing his cheeks playfully. “I just figured since it was your special day, I’d ask for once.”
“Some special day. I stopped for my dry-cleaning and somebody had taken it. I brought my man some flowers and he threw ‘em on the floor and danced on them.”
“I…” Bucky looked for the first time at the flowers. “I love them?”
Bucky’s frown dissolved quickly and the flowers were again forgotten as Sam’s thumb pressed against his lips. Sam pressed his lips to Bucky’s, kissing him briefly before chuckling and singing into his mouth:
“So, if you feel like giving me
a lifetime of devotion
I second that emotion.”