Every once in a while, he’ll get a visit. He doesn’t know how Steve’s keeping tabs on them, but he’s not surprised. Sometimes he’ll come with an update - “Finally killed Pierce in this timeline - not as neat as Pegs wanted it to be, but I can’t complain.” - or something will have happened in this timeline, multiverse, whatever, ‘Alpha’ Steve liked to call it, and Steve would be there to help them celebrate the milestones. Or recover from them.
This visit was one of those.
He was middle-aged this time. Somewhere in his sixties, probably, which the serum wore as spider web-fine threads of silver at his temples. Still broad and straight-backed. Still the Captain. He hadn’t had a visit from the old man since the first time the shield was given to him, but no matter what the age, the Steve that visited him was never surprised to see him with it. That’s how Sam knew it was the plan all along.
“How’s your Buck?” Steve asked, his smile open and inviting enough that Sam knew the man knew exactly how his Buck was. He only answered with a shrug and inquired about Steve’s own. The blond gave an understanding nod and proceeded to tell him all about how prickly old Uncle Bucky refuses to let a thirteen year old Tony Stark anywhere near his new arm- accepted to MIT or no. Steve calls this universe ‘One’ and speaking of it never left those blue eyes shuttered like Alpha did. Sam was happy for him, he really was, the man deserved it. He did.
Didn’t mean they couldn’t be jealous.
And Bucky was jealous - his Bucky was jealous. His Bucky hadn’t been found in the mountains. His Bucky didn’t have a Steve in a slick suit who could pop out of time, know exactly where Hydra had him and know exactly when to save him before Hydra could break him. Time doesn’t work that way. It just doesn’t. So his Bucky wakes up to red on his palms that he can’t scrub away and the shouts of pleading families ringing in his ears. So his Bucky knows what it feels like to be a doll, to be trapped inside his own body. It could never be his Bucky. Never. And the more they knew that, the more jealous they’d become.
Sometimes Sam can’t stand the thought that there are endless possibilities of James Buchanan Barnes and his doesn’t get to be the one that can sleep at least two nights in a row.
Hell, sometimes he can’t stand that there’s a version of himself out there who probably still wakes up curled in Riley’s arms or has a Bucky who’s not a flight risk or didn’t cripple Colonel Rhodes or isn’t tired all the damn time because Steve never let him know how damn heavy that shield could be.
“I got one thing he ain’t got,” Bucky told him once. Sam thinks about that a lot. Tries to think of it when some days Bucky doesn’t even recognize him. He doesn’t know if he can even equate to Steve or the forties or inner peace, but Bucky equates him to that. His Bucky thinks the world of him even when they’re petty and little and jealous of the world Steve deservedly fucked off to.
“How’re you?” his Steve asks him this time, same open and inviting smile.
“I miss you,” Sam replies, throat tight. He wants to go to the lab, wants to check on Bucky. Wants to outweigh whatever makes Bucky feel like he can take these risks. Wants this present to be the best one. Wants Steve. He wants Steve so damn much. “We miss you a lot.”