It was Sam’s fault because, really, most things were Sam’s fault.
Bucky’s lease was up, Steve had re-upped again because of fucking course he had, and Sam wouldn’t shut up about how great it was to live near the beach. So, Bucky rented a U-Haul, packed up his very few possessions, coaxed Alpine into her carrier after two hours of negotiations, and drove six hundred miles to his new life in a sleepy little North Carolina beach town.
He bought a house, because sure, one bad decision naturally led to another, and what else was he doing with the stupidly exorbitant salary Stark was paying Bucky to code?
It was a sad, weird little place right off the Intercoastal Waterway. It looked like the top of a barn, the bottom lopped off, and Bucky loved it immediately. From the aged and curling cedar shake shingles to the exposed interior rafters to the pine trees that were so thick Bucky almost felt like he didn’t even have neighbors.
His first morning there, Bucky brewed himself a fresh pot of coffee, dumped a liberal amount of cinnamon into his mug along with the coffee, and sat on his little dock and watched the sun rise.
He’d never admit it to Sam, because Sam was an asshole, but it was probably the most peaceful Bucky had ever felt.
So. Maybe uprooting his entire life to live in a place where people spoke a dialect of English so different from his own that Bucky’s more than a little fucked-up brain sometimes had trouble processing it wasn’t the worst idea ever.
In fact… in fact, maybe it was okay.
Bucky spent his first three months there developing a new routine: coffee with the sunrise, work out for an hour, shower, code until lunch, lunch on the porch with Alpine, code in the afternoon, dinner on the porch with Alpine, five mile run at dusk, code until he fell asleep.
It wasn’t exciting - as both Sam in person and Steve via email pointed out repeatedly - but it was fine and Bucky was fine . He was maybe even almost good, and that was such a novel concept, so tenuous and close, that Bucky didn’t want to dwell too much on how much better life was now than it had been just a few months ago when he was living out of his shoebox apartment and startling at every sudden noise from the street below.
Which wasn’t to say that things were perfect here. People seemed keen to launch fireworks for no goddamn reason, and the thunderstorms were massive and world-ending. But, well, that’s what headphones and Xanax were for, as Sam had said.
Because Sam said a lot of things.
Things like ‘hey, you should come out to the bar with me tonight’. Or ‘you should swing by the VA in Wilmington with me’. Or ‘there’s this guy I know that you’d like’. Or ‘there’s this girl I know that you’d like’. Or ‘we’re having a barbeque this weekend, and you should come’.
Things that Bucky could mostly ignore.
Things that Bucky did ignore.
Except Sam didn’t stop. He was just as much of an asshole as Steve, and just as much - if not more - determined.
He kept inviting Bucky out, no matter how many times Bucky turned him down. He kept trying to set Bucky up with people, no matter how many times Bucky said he wasn’t ready for that.
And then he pulled out the big guns, the nuclear option.
Becca thinks you’re lonely .
It was a given that Sam talked to Becca. They had hit it off immediately, when Bucky was still drugged out of his mind in a hospital bed in Germany, half-convinced he was still being held by terrorists and half-convinced he was finally, blessedly dead. They kept in touch, too, all through Bucky’s arduous recovery and his attempts to pretend to be a functioning human, and even now, three years after he had been rescued by Steve - the idiot - from his six months with the Taliban.
So when Sam pulled that out, Bucky knew that the logical follow-up was so she’s going to come down and stay with you for a while .
Bucky loved his sister. He did. More than he loved anyone else in the whole world, more even than he loved Steve and Sam. But she had an entire life - an important life half a world away in London - and she had already spent more time trying to fix him than anyone else should ever invest in such a losing prospect. He couldn’t let her do it again.
So Bucky finally gave in and said he would go on a date with whatever guy Sam had been talking up for months. Some former Marine sniper named Clint who ran an archery center down in Myrtle Beach, and who was, according to Sam, Bucky’s kind of stupid.
He wasn’t really sure what that meant, but he was pretty sure it was at least fifty percent insult. All of Sam’s best compliments always were.
Bucky shaved for the first time in a month, and… okay. That probably wasn’t great.
He maybe overcompensated after that realization, ironed his slightly wrinkled blue button-up shirt and then just… went ahead and ironed his jeans too, and what the fuck was wrong with him? He even contemplated ironing his fucking socks, and that…
Sam had set the whole thing up, probably because he knew Bucky would back out if he could, and the date was scheduled for seven, at some dive pizza place near the beach, halfway between Myrtle and Oak Island, and Bucky was already running late. Even before the ironing frenzy.
He was running late and there was traffic. Even though it was deep in the off-season, and who the fuck visited the beach in November anyway, there was traffic. There was always traffic. Sam had warned him about that, before he moved, and Bucky had rolled his eyes and reminded Sam that he hadn’t been in the Air Force, that he had been on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he knew what traffic was. He had grown up in Brooklyn, had spent the last three years traveling from Brooklyn to Manhattan for check-ins with Stark for his prosthetic arm and for work. He knew what traffic was.
Except beach traffic was irritating as all hell. Because it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the parking lot of midtown during the day, and it wasn’t the incessant shouting and honking and dust and barely-functioning cars and zero traffic laws of Iraq. It was just stop lights. So many damn stop lights. So. Many.
And Bucky was low on gas, and Bucky was an anxious mess, so of course he stopped to fill up the battered Jeep he had purchased when he made the move, and of course… of course that’s when shit went from bad to worse.
At the gas pump across from his, a giant black truck was parked, decorated with all sorts of paraphernalia that did a damn good job of broadcasting just what kind of asshole owned the truck.
Trump stickers. A confederate flag. Stainless steel balls dangling from the license plate. A male stick figure getting a blowjob from a female stick figure with a child stick figure beside them.
Steve would have probably slashed the guys tires, if he had been there.
But Steve wasn’t there, and Bucky was… not Steve. So he drew in a deep breath, pointedly turned away, and watched the numbers scroll by as his tank filled.
Until the shouting started.
Because the asshole who owned the truck was, of course, an actual asshole. And he was shouting at the girl in the passenger seat of his truck.
Bucky tried to tune them out. Because he wasn’t Steve. He wasn’t Steve and-
The asshole called her awful names. Said something about how easy she was and how much she wasn’t worth his time, and she started shouting back, just as loudly, just as viciously.
It continued through the asshole shoving the gas pump back into the holster and slamming his way back into the truck cab. Continued even above the cranked-up music as they drove off, and Bucky was left standing by his battered Jeep, heart racing, head down, bile churning in his stomach.
Steve would have intervened.
Sam would have, too.
Steve would have shoved his way into the camo-wearing asshole’s face and called him on the decor of his truck and the way he spoke to the girl, and Steve would have made a difference.
Sam would have been more subtle, would have pointedly ignored the confederate flag and probably made mention of the asshole teaching kids about fellatio via bumper sticker, and would have asked the girl if she didn’t want to maybe date a less questionable guy.
Bucky didn’t do any of that.
Bucky pumped his gas and tried not to crawl back into his Jeep, and forced back the burning, prickling sensation of fucking tears and- Fuck.
He made it to the bathroom before he threw up, and then he rinsed out his mouth and he glared at his reflection in the smudged mirror under the too-bright lights, and he wondered what the fuck he thought he was doing.
Bucky got back into his Jeep and made a U-turn as soon as he was able, and he drove back to his sad, lopped-off barn top house and Alpine greeted him with a judgemental flick of her tail, and Bucky went right to bed.
Becca was terrible at knitting, but apparently she had been glared at by too many nurses and doctors for typing away on her computer when she visited Bucky in the hospital that she decided to take it up.
Sam, because he was Sam, knew how to knit. Darlene Wilson hadn’t believed in raising a boy who couldn’t take care of himself, and that meant Sam knew how to cook and sew and clean and knit just as well as he knew how to change a tire or oil or assemble a gun with a blindfold on, and Bucky was still waiting for the details of how and why Darlene had taught him that one.
So Sam taught Becca how to knit, and Bucky was stuck holding the skein of yarn, and then, after PT and prosthesis fittings and more PT, Sam challenged Bucky to knit him a better sweater than Becca had. And, well, there wasn’t much of Bucky left from before he had been blown up and taken captive, but his sibling competitiveness was at least partially intact. So Bucky made Sam a sweater. And then he made Steve one. And then Becca. And, because maybe some of the asshole around him had rubbed off, he made one for Stark.
And then Sam took him to a Brooklyn knitting circle, once he deemed Bucky worthy, and once a month Bucky went and sat with a bunch of knitters and listened to them talk and laugh and work and, if it didn’t so much put him at ease, it at least gave him the chance to check off his ‘socialized’ box before meeting with his therapist again.
When Bucky had moved down to the beach, Sam had given him the address and meeting time of a Stitch and Bitch knitting group in Wilmington. Bucky had yet to go, but, after the disaster of his not-date, he decided it was time to start checking off that socialized box again.
Two days later, he drove to Wilmington with a few skeins of purple yarn, some needles, and a few vague plans to make Steve a sweater vest because Steve was the kind of dumb asshole who would wear it.
Brooklyn being Brooklyn, there had always been a handful of men at the mostly female-populated knitting group. Bucky had expected, however, that Wilmington would be different. This was the South, after all, and Wilmington was a vaguely military town and… it was the South.
So he was surprised to walk in and see, among the dozen women setting up their projects, a broad-shouldered, tow-headed man with a bruise on his jaw and a cut across his nose and bandaids on nimble fingers that were already looping black yarn onto a needle.
Everyone looked up when Bucky entered.
“Hi,” he said, red-faced and awkward, and he was not going to run away from this too.
“Hey,” a red-haired woman with bright eyes and dark lipstick greeted him. “Join us.”
Bucky took a seat across from the other man in the group, and settled in while the woman - Wanda - introduced herself.
“James. Well, Bucky,” he introduced himself when Wanda looked at him expectantly.
The guy looked up from his work then, blue eyes flicking over Bucky before returning to his yarn.
“Welcome, Bucky,” Wanda was grinning, a wry little expression that spoke of humor and sadness and empathy. It made Bucky simultaneously want to leave and never leave.
“Okay, now that we know who the hot new guy is - hi, I’m Bobbi,” a blonde-haired woman said, “can we please hear about your date because I am dying to know.”
Attention switched from Bucky to the other man, and Bucky felt a lot more relief than sympathy, even when the other man grimaced.
“There’s nothing to hear,” he sighed.
“Bullshit,” Bobbi nudged him with her foot. “You wouldn’t stop talking about how awesome this guy was, and now you’re just going to leave us all in suspense? You haven’t shut up about him for a month .”
Bucky frowned as he started counting off loops on the chain.
“Come on . We’ve had to listen to you talk him up for forever, and now that you finally got to go out with him, you won’t even give us a tiny detail about-”
“There wasn’t a date,” the man interrupted Bobbi. “He stood me up.”
Bucky winced, and around the circle the women, even Bobbi, made sympathetic noises.
“Did he call to reschedule? I’m sure he had a good reason.” That was Wanda, reinforcing Bucky’s first estimation that she was kind and empathetic.
“No,” the man sighed. “No call. I…” he trailed off and shrugged. “Guess it wasn’t really meant to be? I dunno.”
“You can’t give up that easily,” Bobbi scoffed. “Seriously, you haven’t shut up about him ever since Sam told you about his hot sniper friend who moved to town. You need to call him.”
Bucky’s hands froze.
Sam told you about his hot sniper friend who moved to town.
How many Sams who knew snipers who had just moved to town were there, realistically, who had set said sniper up on a date and-
“Clint?” Bucky blurted out the name, because, because-
The man looked over at him, lips quirking upwards.
“Yep,” he drawled, exaggerating the p.
It felt like all of the air had been sucked out of the room.
Bucky shoved all of his knitting back into his backpack.
“I’m sorry,” he managed to say, even though his throat felt like it was full of glass and gravel and-
He stumbled out of the room, out of the building, and out into the sunlight and humidity, and he tried to breathe, tried to tell himself he could breathe and-
“Hey, hey, look at me, okay?”
It was him. It was Clint.
He had followed Bucky outside, and he was standing in front of him, frowning slightly and looking at Bucky with concern in his blue eyes, and Bucky didn’t-
“Bucky, it’s okay. Everything is okay. It’s- it’s just you and me and the five-thousand percent humidity, okay? It’s okay. Let’s just breathe. Or, like, drown our lungs in moisture, okay?”
Bucky choked on a laugh, coughed and struggled to breathe for a minute, and then, with Clint’s crooked smile to focus on, managed to get himself under control.
“Sorry,” he said again.
Clint rolled his shoulders in an easy shrug.
“It’s okay. Not the first time I’ve been stood up. Won’t be the last. I, uh, didn’t expect to see you at my knitting circle the same weekend though,” Clint added with another lopsided twist of his lips.
He had such pretty lips, Bucky thought, out of nowhere, with absolutely no right.
“I- I’m a mess,” Bucky stated the obvious.
“Welcome to the club,” Clint said. “Pretty sure that the whole ‘being a mess’ thing was what Sam figured we had in common. That, and exceptional eyesight and steady hands.”
Bucky’s gaze was drawn down to Clint’s fingers, to the bandages wrapped over them.
Clint waved his hands.
“Just, uh, had an accident with some oysters.”
Bucky didn’t even… He had no idea what that meant or if he even wanted to know.
“I didn’t want to stand you up,” Bucky’s mouth pushed the words out before he could stop himself. “I ironed my jeans.”
Clint’s lips twitched.
“You stood me up because you ironed your jeans?”
“No. No, I- I’m… You don’t want to get involved with me.”
Clint arched one eyebrow.
“I don’t? You got some kind of telepathic ability to know what I want?”
“I know no one should be involved with me. I’m a disaster. I-”
“I’m a disaster,” Clint said. “I cut myself shaving three times before our date. I fell down the stairs,” Clint gestured to the bruise on his face, “and I didn’t even iron my jeans. I spent the whole night before sitting up going through all the ways I was going to fuck it up within the first thirty seconds. I’m a disaster.”
“So did I,” Bucky admitted. “The ‘staying up and thinking of how I was gonna fuck it up’ thing. Not the other things.”
Clint grinned again.
“Maybe,” Clint licked his lips, looking down at Bucky with his bright eyes, “maybe we could be disasters together?”
Bucky thought about it.