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because love (can burn like a cigarette)

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Home sweet home , Sam thinks as he closes the door behind him. He’s finally back in New York and Sam could not be more elated.

And look- for a guy that just spent two weeks in Prague, Sam knows he’s probably being a little ungrateful. Prague is a lovely city. 

Or at least, Sam assumes it is. It’s a little hard to see the sites when Fury tasks you with taking down a local mob headed by a guy who shoots fucking lasers out his eyes and, conveniently, has ties to Hydra. 

Not to mention, said mission happened to fall on Sam’s birthday, which isn’t usually a huge occasion for Sam, it’s just...

Sam sighs as he shrugs off his jacket. Just would’ve been nice to be with family is all . So yeah, Sam’s tired, maybe even a little bit gloomy but hey- He’s home. Free to sit back, relax...probably call his Mama, catch a movie with Bucky or-

“Surprise!” 

The moment Sam turns on the light, he’s greeted by a chorus of sing-song voices that make him jump. Fortunately, it only takes Sam a few seconds to realize the chorus of people are not super villains with laser eyes back for revenge. 

“Huh,” Sam mutters as he takes in the site of the room. Mama, Sarah and Jody are standing in front of the couch, with arms out reached, grinning ear to ear. The living room is adorned with various decorations, the most vibrant one being a red, white, and blue banner above the TV that says: HAPPY BIRTHDAY CAP. 

Sam sighs. “Y’all know better than to scare me like that!”

Mama, Sarah and little Jody pay no mind to Sam’s chastising as they giggle and make their way towards him to wrap him up in hugs that are way overdue. 

First is Mama, and man is she a sight for sore eyes. Her lips stretch into her signature smile, revealing a gap just like Sam’s, as she opens up her arms wide. 

Sam makes his way over to her. “Missed you, Mama.”

“Missed you too, baby. But I’m glad you’re here now.” She releases Sam, allowing him to meet her eyes. He sees the glimmer in them, signaling how close she is to tears and damn it, if Sam isn’t close to tears as well. 

 Sam knows that while Darlene Wilson has seen a lot in her day and lived to tell the tale, these last five years have especially been hard on her. So when he hears her sniffle, sees her wipe her eyes, he feels a pool of guilt drop deep in his belly. 

A tug on Sam’s thigh makes him turn. Jody grew so much while Sam was gone, he can barely stand it, but Sam still takes some solace in the fact that Jody barely reaches Sam’s waist. 

“Happy Birthday, Uncle Sammy!” She smiles toothily up at him, her two puffs of hair bobbing as she turns her head. Unable to resist, Sam picks her up and gives her a squeeze, quickly followed by a kiss on the cheek. 

“What is going on lil mama?” Sam tickles Jody’s stomach before putting her back down. 

Jody hums as she fiddles with her sleeve.

“Nothing...Oh!” Jody looks up at Sam as if she’s just received some very sensitive information. “Me and Grandma are making dinner, is that okay?”

Sam kneels down to meet Jody’s eyes. “Chef Jody,” he says. “It is more than okay. I am dying to try whatever delicious monstrosity y’all are cooking up in there.”

Jody nods, her eyes wide and her round little face beaming with pride. 

Sarah wraps an arm around Sam before telling Jody to get a move on and help Grandma finish up cooking. 

“Mama, can Bucky help too?”

“I don’t see why not, honey.”

Jody smiles before running to the knock on Bucky’s closed door.  

“Buckyyyy, we neeeeed you!” 

“I’ll be right out there, Jo!” A voice that can only be Bucky’s answers from behind the door, surprising Sam. 

Bucky told Sam yesterday that he wouldn’t be there when Sam got home. Something about running errands. It takes Sam a second to understand that Bucky is in on the surprise. 

“Grandma, we gotta hurryyyy.” Jody grabs Darlene’s hand and drags her into the kitchen, leaving Sam alone with Sarah. 

Sam puts his hands in his pockets before he walks to take a seat at the counter. He puts his realization about Bucky aside-for now- when Sarah plops down in the seat beside him. 

“Well if it isn’t Captain America, finally gracing us with his presence. What an honor,” she teases, a familiar smirk gracing her face.
Sam rolls his eyes. “For someone who hates talking about her brother being a superhero, you sure do bring it up quite a lot. You sure you’re not the least bit proud of your big brother? Not even a little bit?”

Sarah shrugs before moving a stray curl behind her ear. “I’ll admit it- I name dropped you last week to get a reservation at the Wild Mango. Your name has some weight.”

Before Sam can comment on how he feels about that shady ass confession, Sarah moves her hand to gently squeeze Sam’s shoulder. “Besides, big brother, you really do a great job out there. You deserve to be celebrated.” 

“So do you. Being a doctor ain’t an easy job. You’re a hero in your own right, Sar.”

Sarah playfully shoves Sam before she leans in and drops her voice to a whisper. “Alright, alright, enough with the mush. Tell me what’s going on.”

Sarah usually isn’t this enthusiastic about small talk but Sam obliges. 

“Well, this week wasn’t too tough, just had to-”

“No, no. Not with work.” She’s got a sneaky smile on her face that Sam associates with trouble and he’s certain he does not like where this conversation is going. “When did you and Vanilla Ice start going steady?”

Sam chokes on his own spit. “Bucky?” he squeaks. 

“Duh! Who do you think got this whole party together, boy?”

“Bucky Barnes?” Sam squeaks out again. 

And, obviously, the universe is not working in Sam’s favor tonight, because right as his name falls from Sam’s lips, Bucky makes his way out of his room. Clad in a black t shirt and some sweatpants, Bucky puts his hair up in a messy bun as he walks towards Sarah and Sam. Sam’s heart quickens and his throat is definitely dry, but so what? Sam hasn’t seen the guy for two weeks so no one can blame him if he stares a little too hard. 

Bucky sidles up on the other side of Sam before he speaks. “Talking about me behind my back, Wilson?” 

Sam quickly recovers.  “Now why would I do that when I could just talk shit to your face?”

Instead of keeping their usual back and forth going, Bucky just ducks his head and chuckles. Sam chalks it up to the fact that his family is here, and whenever they’re around, Bucky moonlights as a soft spoken gentleman. 

Sarah coughs. “Sam was just wondering where you were, Bucky. You know we aren’t enough for him.” 

“Can’t blame the guy for missing his BFFL, Sarah,” Bucky jokes and then god-Bucky’s voice does that thing where it gets low and rough, even when he’s saying the most mundane shit. This time that shit happens to be, “Happy birthday, Sam.” 

Bucky has a little smile on his face when he says it and that combined with the voice straight up melts Sam like a popsicle in July. 

“Thank you, Buck,” Sam manages. 

“Oooh, Bucky, tell him about the cake!” Sarah gleefully offers, oh so helpfully. 

Sam ignores the flaming ball of loathing burning for Sarah in his throat and focuses on Bucky, whose forehead is wrinkled and lips are pursed in concentration. 

“Well, it’s a three layer cake with milk chocolate ganache frosting...” Bucky goes on and on about what Sam is sure is a perfectly delicious cake, but all he can think about is how Bucky’s saying each ingredient in that same gritty, focused tone and it’s driving Sam crazy. 

Well that, and Sam is struggling to come to terms with the fact that Bucky Barnes spent his whole day with Sam’s family, planning out Sam’s birthday. 

“Thank you,” Sam blurts out, cutting Bucky off. 

Sarah makes a strangled choking noise but Sam pays her no mind.

“No problem, Sam,” Bucky says again with that damn smile.

It’s the same smile Bucky gives him when they’re huddled on the couch watching god-awful movies, the same smile Bucky flashes when he presents his newest food concoction to Sam at dinner, the same smile Bucky offers when they lay on the carpet and let Sam’s records play, not saying a word because they don’t need to. 

It’s the same smile that Sam finds himself dreaming about more and more these days and Sam’s terrified because boy, is he in deep. 

Sam snaps out of it when Jody calls out, “Can the assistant please hurry up! The chicken’s almost done!” 

“Jody, be polite!” Sarah yells back. “We do not talk to our co-workers that way!”

Sam can hear a small “sorry” being uttered in a tone that is definitely not sorry at all. Sam, Sarah and Bucky genuinely try their best to hold in their laughter though because if there’s one thing Jody hates, it’s not being taken seriously. 

Bucky straightens up and puffs out his chest. “On my way, Sous-Chef Jody!” He winks at Sam and Sarah before making his way to the kitchen, finally leaving Sam alone to catch his breath. 

Sarah also seems to be out of breath, but that’s simply because she’s laughing her ass off. 

Sam fixes her with a glare. “Don’t.”

“I won’t, I swear.” Sarah nods dutifully, and for a second, Sam actually believes that she means it. 

That’s before the fidgeting starts. Sarah takes a sip of her drink, taps her nails against the table, clears her throat, and starts humming a Beyoncé song all in the span of 30 seconds.

Sam sighs. Why does he even bother? 

When Sarah’s halfway through the chorus of “I Care”, Sam breaks. “Fine, say it!”

Sarah scoffs, as if she wasn’t literally about to combust from not saying it. “Big brother, you have got it bad !”
Sam just rolls his eyes before getting comfortable in his chair. He might as well. Once you get Sarah started, she doesn’t stop anytime soon. 

“Captain America, defender of freedom, defeated when he discovers the boy he likes made him a birthday cake? Is this really the man the American public should be relying on? Maybe those Fox news anchors were on to something because if Samuel Thomas Wilson is no match for a white boy who’s decent at baking-”

“OKAY, that’s good! Thank you so much, Sarah!”

Sarah stops. Just eyes Sam up and down for a second, before starting right back up again. “You really expect me to believe that there is nothing going on there?”

Sam dutifully ignores Sarah’s eyes. 

“It’s not like that.”

“Oh, I think it’s exactly like that. You dummies just haven’t figured it out yet.” Sarah leans in closer, suddenly deciding that they should whisper now because her words from before were apparently public knowledge. “What’s stopping you, Sam?”

Sam crosses his arms before he meets Sarah’s eyes again.

“I wasn’t expecting a party tonight. But hey- parties are fun. I also wasn’t expecting to have this conversation tonight, either. But this ?” Sam gestures to the space between them, as if that totally sums up what he means. “This is not fun!” 

“I know I’m not a counselor or anything, but I’m pretty sure that when people get defensive, it means they’re denying something…”

Sam groans before putting his face in his hands. 

Sarah turns off her investigative journalist face for a second and gently rubs Sam’s shoulder. “Hey, hey. What’s wrong?”
And isn’t that the question Sam would like to have a straight answer to.
Sam tries to give himself a break- being gone for 5 years and coming back to a world in chaos, all while adjusting to a minor work promotion just might make you feel a little...off your game.
“Look, I’m not that oblivious. There’s something there. It’s just...ever since everything went down, I’ve been feeling like I’m constantly playing catch up. And Bucky...Bucky gets what that’s like. We’ve been helping each other get our feet back on the ground...but if things change, they might not work out. And if they don’t work out...then what?”
Sarah nods, her eyes shining with sympathy. “The last 5 years have been quite a ride, and I’m so happy you have a friend to get you through it. But I also think you’re out of your mind if you honestly believe the man that made you a three-layer-cake with ganache frosting is gonna let a failed romance keep him from being your friend. Sounds like you’re getting in your own way, yeah?”

And okay, Sarah probably has a point. Bucky may keep his distance when you first meet him, but can you blame him? What matters is that the moment Bucky decides he likes you, he’s in it for the long haul. Sam knows Bucky wouldn’t leave him high and dry.

But Sam can’t help but be afraid of losing Bucky, when he’s loved and lost so many before. Losing his dad and losing Riley have become familiar aches, he hates to admit. But losing Nat and watching Steve leave has made Sam even more wary. He knows it’s not completely logical. Hell, it practically goes against everything he preached at the VA for years but..Sam still feels like he’s the teensiest bit justified. So for now, he holds Bucky at arm’s length, no matter how much he wants to pull him close. 

And Sam argues its for the best. Everything is only just now getting back to normal. Why get swept up in something before the dust has even settled? 

“Maybe it could work one day,” he offers. “But I’m just not ready yet.” 

“Don’t wait too long to go for what you want, Sam...Ain’t you the one always talking about ‘facing your problems head on’ anyways?” Sarah puts on a guttural tone and Sam assumes that was her goofy impression of him. 

“First of all, I don’t talk like Morgan Freeman. Second of all, why does everyone assume I actually follow my own advice?”

Sarah just throws her head back and lets out a hearty laugh and eventually Sam joins her. 

Their laugh is cut short when Jody, whose face is smeared with bright blue icing, runs out of the kitchen with Bucky and Mama in tow.

(Sam dutifully ignores the tuft of flour in Bucky’s hair. Not cute at all.)

Jody’s covering her mouth with her little hands, trying and failing to suppress her giggles. 

Sarah wipes away her laughter-tears and asks, “What’s got you cracking up?”

Jody refuses to answer, just keeps on giggling into her hands. Mama picks her up. 

“Miss thang here thought it’d be an excellent idea to sneak a fistful of icing.” 

“Bucky said I could!”

Bucky adamantly shakes his head from behind Mama. 

Nope he mouths, but from the glint in his eyes, Sam has a sneaking suspicion that Bucky is a liar.
“Is Bucky in charge?”

Jody just sighs. “No…”

Sarah tries to be stern, but Sam sees her lips wobble, a ghost of a laugh poking through. “Set the table, y’all. Me and Frosting Face will be back.”

-- 

Sam feels like he just might burst from all the love he’s feeling right now. A scrapbook of memories he missed from his Mama, a rare Marvin Gaye record from Sarah, and a signature Captain America art piece from Jody Wilson herself (medium: crayon).
Sam’s feeling like the luckiest guy in the world, but he can’t help but notice...

“Bucky, don’t tell me you skipped out on my present, man.”
Mama slaps Sam’s shoulder. “Samuel Wilson, you better be happy with that cake!”

“Mama! That hurt.”

“You’re fine, baby. And Bucky?”

“Yes, ma’am?” Bucky responds and god some part of Sam is screaming because Bucky’s known his Mama for almost a year now and he still hasn’t stopped with the “yes, ma’am.” Unbelievable.

“That cake was delightful. Ignore my ill mannered son.”
Bucky just smiles good-naturedly but Sam knows if it was just them, he’d be telling a different story. “Thank you, Mrs. Wilson! I appreciate you coming to my defense, but don’t worry. Your son’s present is in the mail.”
Jody asks to pull out some board games before Sam can investigate the matter further. Sarah just wiggles her eyebrows at Sam as Bucky walks between them to reach the closet with all the games. 

 The rest of the night is like a dream. They play and talk and laugh and Sam face hurts from smiling so much. Prague and it’s goulash be damned. 

They don’t wrap things up until Jody’s fallen asleep with her face smashed up against the Monopoly board. Sam kisses his Mama goodbye and gives Sarah, who has Jody wrapped up in her arms, a side hug. 

“Remember what we talked about,” Sarah whispers before parting. 

Sam knows she means well, but he really could’ve done without that reminder. Her words were helpful but honestly, Sam’s not planning on making a confession anytime soon.

Sam closes the door and goes to help Bucky clean up in the kitchen. Sam gives up halfway through (he did have to work today, he’s allowed to be tired, thank you very much) and opts for splaying himself across the kitchen counter instead to watch Bucky finish up.  

“That was the most fun I’ve had in a minute. Thank you for that. Seriously.” Sam tries his best to put as much meaning in his words as he can. It was probably the best birthday he’s had in all of his adult years, and he wants Bucky to understand how much it meant to him.

“Mission accomplished, then,” Bucky says breezily as he finishes sweeping the floor. He turns to get a corner and the back and forth motions give Sam a lovely view of Bucky’s back muscles and- that line of thinking is the perfect sign that Sam needs to take his ass to bed.

“I think I’m gonna turn it in for the night, Barnes.” He backs off the counter and makes a beeline for the hallway, but he doesn’t get far before Bucky pulls him back by the hand.
“Forgetting something, Wilson?”
Sam’s stomach swoops. “What?”

“You didn’t seriously think your present was in the mail, right?”

Oh. Shit. 

Sam tries his best to backpedal. “Honestly, I’m so satisfied right now, you could regift me that pack of Captain America underwear Steve got you for Christmas and I wouldn’t even be mad.”
Bucky raises his eyebrows in disbelief.  “Wilson, you would’ve given me so much shit.”
Sam laughs, because yeah, Bucky’s right. 

“Anyways,” Bucky continues. “Follow me.” 

Sam doesn’t even realize that Bucky’s still got Sam’s hand in his until Bucky’s already pulling them towards Bucky’s door. 

“What, did you put it at the bottom of your closet? Couldn’t even be bothered to…”

Sam trails off and his jaw drops once Bucky opens the door. 

Inside, Bucky’s bedroom is almost unrecognizable. His bed remains in the same corner, but all the other furniture’s been arranged into the fort of Baby Sam’s dreams. Bucky’s set up a string of old christmas lights around the various sheets and blankets that criss cross across the room. The lights dispense a warm glow and the sight makes Sam’s chest feel tight.

To top it all off, Bucky has a movie being projected onto the blank wall in front of the fort. Sam recognizes the costumes and faces from Star Trek. 

 “Bucky…how did you even…” Sam turns to see Bucky, standing with his hands behind his back, swaying side to side. 

Bucky shrugs. “Sarah said you guys used to make pillow forts when you were little. Next day, I’m on Pinterest, I see ‘how to make an adult pillow fort’. What are the odds?”

“It’s beautiful. It’s really really beautiful, Buck.”

Bucky smiles before pulling Sam further into the room. “Come on.” He crouches down before leading Sam into the fort.

“I’ve been meaning to watch this,” is all Sam  can think to say and he immediately feels stupid once it comes out of his mouth. 

Bucky just laughs. “I know. That’s why I put it on. ” 

Bucky’s still chewing on his lip, signaling to Sam that he’s nervous.

This pushes Sam to be a bit more articulate, ‘cus he can’t have Bucky thinking for a single second that Sam does not absolutely love this present. 

“You gotta stop.”

Bucky goes still.
“What’s wrong?”
“It’s perfect! Everything is perfect!” 

“Are you...mad at me?”

“Yes!”  Bucky’s face falls. “No! I just...can’t handle this.”

“Oh.” Bucky murmurs before a smirk makes it way onto his face.  “So I’m just that fuckin’ good, huh?”

Ugh, Sam should’ve known. You give Bucky an inch, he takes a long ass mile. 

“You’re good at being a show off.”
Bucky leans in closer to Sam, his arm brushing Sam’s thigh, setting his skin ablaze. “You like it.”

“Shut up...it’s too much.” Sam thanks the universe this time for blessing him with a complexion that hides his blush, because his face is hot as a furnace right now. It only gets worse when Bucky looks Sam right in the eyes, considers him for a moment, and finally says,  “You deserve nice things, Sam.” 

That knocks the air right out of Sam’s lungs. 

“I’m trying to get myself to believe that,” Sam admits. “I think I’m getting there.” 

Sam toys with the corner of the blanket near him, praying to god Bucky doesn’t make the connection. 

All Bucky does is nod meaningfully before laying back and putting his arms above his head. He presses his lips together, like he’s mulling over something he wants to say. 

“You ready to watch?” is all he ends up asking. Sam nods in response and moves to join Bucky. 

Space: the final frontier...These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise… ” the voice from the speakers blares.

Sam tries to focus on the words, tries to lose himself in this gift but his mind can’t help but ruminate over the words he’s heard tonight. 

“You deserve nice things, Sam.”

“Don’t wait too long to go for what you want, Sam.” 

But what’s the point, he thinks, of letting himself have what he wants, if it can all be taken away?

Sam looks over at Bucky’s face, his sharp jaw made soft in the glow of the lights. He’s so casually captivating, fully enthralled in the movie, or at least pretending to be. 

Sam steers his eyes back to the screen as he thinks to himself, Bucky is not making this “keep my feelings for my best friend on lock” thing any easier.

The disembodied voice continues, “To seek out new life and new civilizations...to boldly go where no man has gone before.”