The music swells as the newlyweds step on to the dancefloor, hand in hand. Etta James’ voice croons over the speakers as they embrace, and the collection of aunties sigh wistfully. Steve echos them. He’s never seen Sarah look so happy. She hasn’t stopped grinning since she walked down the aisle.
“I’m surprised Sarah didn’t pick Beyoncé’s cover,” he mutters to Sam.
“Nah. She’s the Queen, but she ain’t Etta,” Sam replies, sipping his whiskey.
Steve nods, closing his eyes for a moment and taking in the power of a voice captured almost sixty years ago. He loves the way some music is timeless. Ms. James recorded this song only a decade after he went into the ice and yet here she was, crooning about love half a century later. Sometimes it's hard to believe in permanence, but then he remembers how Sam and Bucky bonded over big band music or the time he and Pepper cried at the Louvre. Art has a way of sticking around. He looks over at Sam and knows that love is the same.
Sam shifts closer, and Steve leans into him and steals a sip of his drink. “You made a great bridesman,” he whispers.
“Thanks, babe.” Sam smiles ruefully, He finishes his whiskey and sets the glass on the nearest table. “It’s all really hitting Ma, isn’t it?”
Steve spots Darlene, crying on the other side of the dancefloor with an amused and exasperated Gideon’s arm over her shoulder. Iyanna, Gideon’s teenage daughter, is at Darlene’s other side; she’s fiddling with a little silver point and shoot camera. She takes a few pictures with it before switching to her smartphone. Each time, she compares the photos on the two devices, adjusts some settings and repeats the process. Behind her, Cousin Zeke is distracting some of the younger children with a magic trick to keep them quiet.
Back on the dance floor, Sarah and Will’s eyes are closed, their heads bent together. Steve recognizes it. He’s only ever felt that kind of peace in Sam’s arms. Just as he thinks it, Sam’s fingers brush the back of his own. They’ve been together for two years now and Steve still blushes like a teenager at the smallest things. Sam glances at him and winks, pulling Steve into his arms. He loves how easily ruffled Steve is when it comes to affection.
Sarah whispers something in Will’s ear that makes him throw his head back and laugh.
Sam doesn’t look away from his sister and her new husband. “It is.” He holds Steve just a little closer as Etta’s song comes to a close.
On the other side of the room, Aunt Gigi leans over and nudges her sister. “Bet they’ll be next.”
Steve, used to pretending that he can’t hear across the room, just smiles and rests his head against Sam’s. “Ready for your speech?” he asks.
“I’m gonna need another drink,” Sam groans.
It’s hours later when they finally return to their hotel room. Steve is carrying more of Sam’s weight than not, hushing his loud boasts about his kickass bridesman speech. Once their door is closed behind them, Sam stumbles through the suite and faceplants onto the large bed. “I love our family but fuck are they exhausting.”
Steve follows him into the bedroom, loosening his tie at the neck. He laughs at Sam attempting to flop over onto his back. “Is every wedding like this?”
“Not exactly. Sarah’s just extra.” He’s made it onto his back but can’t quite figure out how to kick off his dress shoes. Steve chuckles and kneels to untie the rough laces and remove his shoes. Sam moans his thanks, stretching his sore feet, and rubbing one of his socked insoles against the top of Steve’s thigh.
“Mmhmm.” Steve doesn’t comment on Sam’s own penchant for a little drama. He rolls up Sam’s trousers and unhooks the sock garters Sam likes to pretend he doesn’t use. “I’m sure you would plan a low-key wedding with no decorations and five guests. A couple of suits and a courthouse for you, huh?”
Sam huffs sleepily. “Nah hun. Our wedding will be the perfect mix of both. Easy and intimate and packed with our goofy family telling embarrassing stories. And birds, Stevie! We’ll have lots of pretty birds…” Sam’s words drift off into a light snore. One that will no doubt be as loud as a freight train within the hour.
Steve doesn’t budge, his brain is still stuck on Sam’s words. Our wedding. He’s a little shocked. They’ve never talked about getting married before. He knows marriage isn’t assumed the way it used to be, and it’s not like they’ve ever been traditional. Still he can’t deny that he’s delighted as well. Sam’s family loves him. Aunt Gigi just alluded to it herself. More importantly, he and Sam love each other. He’s not going anywhere and, apparently neither is Sam. Of course they’re going to get married.
Steve grins, pulling Sam’s other sock of and balling them together. It doesn’t take long for the idea of marrying Sam to settle in Steve’s heart. It feels right. He thinks it over while he showers and redresses. By the time he’s closed the heavy blackout curtains and crawling into bed behind Sam, he’s wondering if they’ll need both engagement and wedding bands.
They don’t talk about it for a couple months. That’s fine with Steve; he’s not in any rush. Just knowing that it’ll happen one day is enough. It's not that he’s had doubts about their relationship. But the surety that they intend to spend the rest of their lives together is grounding.
Steve can’t help but think of it whenever marriage and weddings come up. And, for the first time, Steve realizes that they’re everywhere! He can’t go for a run through the park without spotting yet another engagement or wedding photoshoot. The first time he spots two brides, wearing wide smiles and pristine white jumpsuits, he has to stop and watch, a little misty eyed.
The onslaught isn’t limited to strangers on the street either. Every movie, television show, magazine and commercial break is screaming about weddings. There’s so much more to them than Steve ever imagined. Venues and flowers and seating arrangements. Open bar or cash? Band or DJ? Why would they need a cocktail hour if everyone is about to eat dinner? What would they even register for? These are all things he should probably discuss with Sam, but he hasn't brought up getting married since Sarah’s wedding. Though Steve doesn’t think it’s happening anytime soon, maybe they should get an idea of what the other wants. All the books say they’ll need at least a year to plan.
Eventually, Steve mentions it on accident during a quiet Thursday night at home when it. He’s in his favorite place: head pillowed on Sam’s thighs and a thick blanket thrown over his legs. They’re watching yet another Fast and Furious movie, a series neither of them will admit to liking but will always watch when it’s playing on tv. One would think that the dying friends and back-from-the-dead lovers would hit a little too close to home for them, but something about the levity of it all made it weirdly soothing. They’ve seen this one before so Steve is more amused than emotional when Letty admits that she remembers marrying Dom.
“Why are there so many jokes about men forgetting anniversaries?” Steve wonders aloud.
“Antiquated ideas about gender and commitment. Women are obsessed with symbols. Men can’t be bothered to care about what’s important to their wives. The usual hetero-binary bs,” Sam answers, combing his hand through Steve’s hair.
“Well, I promise to never forget our anniversary,” Steve vows, looking up at him.
“Do we even have an anniversary?” Sam squints, trying to remember when their first date was.
“Not yet,” Steve scoffs. “We’ll have to set a date first, won’t we?”
The hand in Steve’s hair freezes.
“Uh, when did we decided to get married?” Both amusement and confusion are clear in Sam’s voice. Steve deflates; his plans come crashing around him.
He feels like an idiot. Sam has no plans to marry him, he has no idea what he’s talking about. Steve turns his head to hide his flaming cheeks from Sam. Was he really ready to plan a whole life based on a drunken comment? Jesus, Mary and Joseph. He’s ridiculous.
“Nothing,” he mutters, hoping Sam will pretend it never happened. “Just a joke.”
Sam, as always, knows him too well for that. “No, hun. I don’t think it was.” He nudges Steve to sit up and turns to face him. “I’m sorry, Steve. I’m a little confused here.”
Steve sighs, staring down at his hands in his lap. He doesn’t really want to say it out loud, knowing that once it’s in the air, it can’t be taken back.
“You said ‘our’ wedding,” he mutters.
Steve looks upwards and steels himself against the embarrassment. “After Sarah’s wedding, you made a comment about what our wedding would be like. And I-I just assumed you meant it.”
Sam snorts, then frowns at Steve’s flinch. “Oh shit Steve, that’s not-”
“It was dumb. I know. Let’s just watch the movie,” Steve interrupts, turning back to the tv. He’ll get over it. All he needs some time to wallow in his feelings and mourn his plans. Sam’s not leaving him. They love each other. So what if they don’t get married. He’ll be fine.
Sam won’t let it go, though.“Vin Diesel can wait. You can’t.” Steve watches him turn off the tv and shift to give Steve his undivided attention.
“I’m sorry I hurt you. I didn’t mean to imply that I’m not committed to you. You mean everything to me, Stevie.”
Steve ducks his head, embarrassed by his need for reassurance. He unfurls from his blanket cocoon enough for Sam to hold his hands between his own.
“I wasn’t laughing at the idea of marrying you,” Sam continues. “Just at the idea that my proposal would be a drunk side comment. You deserve so much more than that.” He presses a kiss to Steve’s knuckles like a promise.
“I forgive you. I’m sorry for assuming that an errant comment was a promise of commitment,” he says quietly, dreading what will come next.
“I accept,” Sam smiles, gently caressing Steve’s knuckles. “Though I don’t think that came out of nowhere. Care to explain?”
Steve nods, trying to figure out how to answer. Sam waits patiently brushing the calluses on his fingers against Steve’s palm.
Closing his hand around Sam’s, Steve steadying himself. “When I was coming up, proposals weren’t what they are now. People asked but it was rarely a huge spectacle. Hopefully, it would come after the families’ approval. It wasn’t about being spontaneous or overly romantic, though I guess that happened. Once a couple got serious, it was a given, an expectation, that they would get hitched soon. Getting down on one knee was a formality. At least, that’s how it seemed to me.
“I rarely saw married couples together. Pa was gone and Bucky’s dad was too busy working or drinking to pay Aunt Winnie any attention. I watched our friends pair off. I wanted it, but I didn’t really consider it possible until Peggy. Even then, both of us surviving the war felt like a pipe dream.
“And then,there was you. You and your laughter and your music and your wings. And you love me, Sam. Our family would approve, which, yeah, it’s a little old-fashioned. Then, you said ‘our’ wedding that night and, I don’t know, it felt like a given.” Steve stops to take a deep breath. “I got excited and eager and skipped a few steps. Like talking to my groom,” he laughs.
“I’d follow you anywhere, Sam.” Steve looks up at him from under his absurdly long eyelashes. “Now, following you down the aisle is the dream. But I’ll follow your lead on that too. It's a pretty nice view.”
Sam is clearly a little overwhelmed. His eyes are bright and shining. Steve can feel his pulse hammering in his wrists. He opens and closes his mouth, at a loss for words until he seems to give up, pulling Steve in to kiss him. It isn’t gentle; there are tears and teeth and Sam’s grip on his thigh brings more than one shiver down Steve’s spine.
When Sam pulls away, he looks as wrecked as Steve feels. “You love so wholly, Steve.” He cups Steve’s cheeks and smiles. “I am honored to spend my life with you. But babe?”
“Yes, Sam?” he asks, still a little starry eyed.
“I’m gonna need some time to adjust. It’s not something I was, er, consciously considering. So not immediately. But…”
“But?” nods Steve, encouraging.
“I want the formality,” Sam says like a confession.
“Yeah?” Steve whispers.
“I’m not pressed about the legal stuff. But I do wanna see you on one knee.”
“Done.” Steve grins.
They kiss again, this time with a little less teeth but no less emotion.
The first thing Steve is aware of is the warm sunlight on his face. The blackout curtains are drawn and the room smells of dark roast. Sam must be up. Steve blinks into the light and rolls until his face lands against the familiar swell of a thigh. Sam’s sleepy laugh rouses him further. He looks up at Sam in his USAF sweatshirt, sipping from his Howard Alumni mug and smiles.
“Good morning,” he kisses Sam’s hip, resting his head on his thigh. Sam runs his hand through Steve’s hair, tugging lightly, but only hums in response.
Steve’s brain may be still booting up, but he can still sense something is off. He starts to ask what's wrong before quickly realizing that Sam doesn’t look upset. Just thoughtful
“Babe?” he prompts. It’s all the push Sam needs.
“It’s my parents’ anniversary,” he says, voice steady but marked with decades old grief. The kind that sits in your bones and eventually becomes comfortable, a dull ache you can’t imagine your life without. Sometimes, when it rains, it flares up like a new wound. Neither of them are new to rainy days.
“Ah.” Steve knows how Sam prefers to be comforted. He wraps a heavy hand across Sam’s thigh, thumb brushing over the thin hair there. Present, but not crowding. A soft place to land when he wants to give his parachute a break.
“Yeah,” Sam rasps. He runs his coffee warmed fingers across Steve’s knuckles.
“We going to church?” Steve asks, sitting up slightly, ready to hop out of bed and find his good pants. Rainy days usually mean a visit to Paul’s church or Arlington. Steve is still honored that Sam asks him to come along.
Sam shakes his head. “No, not today. We’ll take Ma some flowers after lunch though. Just thinking about their marriage today.”
Steve’s heart skips a beat. They’ve had a few more conversations about eventually getting married, but none have been very in depth. He forces himself to take a breath and an emotional step back. Sam didn’t make this about them. It’s about Darlene and Paul. He eases back into Sam’s side, excited as ever to hear more about Sam’s family and childhood.
“What were they like together?”
Sam sighs wistfully. “They were….” he pauses. There’s a beat, and then he suddenly grins and sets his coffee on his bedside table, turning to Steve.
“Okay, it's like this. Ma always knew where Pop was. It was like a sixth sense; like she could feel him in her bones. He was a quiet man, but he could never sneak up on him. She knew when he entered a room, when he’d left the house, when he needed her.
“And Dad? He was never not thinking about her. He brought something home for her, everyday. Gifts, books, trinkets, a flower from a neighbor’s garden, anything. He would say he couldn’t see the beauty in the world without thinking of her.” Sam goes quiet for a moment before his face lights up as if he’s just remembered something precious.
When he speaks again, it's in the rough timber he uses whenever he’s imitating his father. “‘Sammy,’ He used to say, ‘Sammy, God made me. He made all of us and the sun and the stars, the mountains and the rivers. But He crafted your mother.’”
Something in Steve’s chest settles at that. He looks up at his Sam. Follows the arch of Sam’s eyelashes, from where unshed tears rest at their base to where the tips brush the curve of his cheek. Crafted. Yeah, he gets it.
Sam pushes on, lost in the memories of his father. “If he didn’t have anything, he would make her these tiny origami figures. Cranes, and frogs and giraffes. She would pretend to think they were dumb, but she kept them all. They’re in a box in her closet. Must be hundreds of them. He tried to teach us, but Gid and I never had the patience. Sarah did though. They’d sit at our dining room table and work at them for hours.” Sam shakes his head. “For years, she would give us little paper elephants for every birthday and Christmas. He was so proud.”
Steve wonders if he still has the hand eye coordination for something as delicate as paper folding.
“Everything they did was for us or each other. They were inseparable. A unit.” Sam’s eyes are twenty years and about five miles away. “Their marriage was sacred, palpable. It was alive. They breathed together.” He sighs and visibly steadies himself, coming back to the present. Their eyes meet. “It was everything I wanted.”
Steve is confused. “Do you not want that anymore?” he asks, trying to conceal the disappointment in his voice. That sounded pretty perfect to him. Had Sam’s feelings changed? Was it Steve’s fault?
Sam shakes his head slightly, reaching for his coffee. “Not exactly. I had something close once. And it never would have worked.”
“Rio?” Steve guesses, stealing the mug and taking a sip. The caffeine won’t help calm his nerves, but it gives him something to do with his hands. Something to hold on to.
Sam looks up surprised. “Yeah. How’d you know?”
“Ma has mentioned ‘That Morales Girl’ once or twice.”
Sam rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I bet she has. They were not fans of each other.”
“Why?” Suddenly Steve has to know what Rio did wrong. He can’t run the risk of falling out of Darlene’s good graces.
“A lot of reasons. Mostly because it was so soon after Dad died and Ma thought I was trying to build a new family. She wasn’t wrong… We were about to graduate from Howard and I was ready to enlist. I was scared, and I wanted the peace Ma and Pop gave each other. I wanted a home to come back to. Rio and I had been together for a couple years and it just felt like the thing to do. We lived in each other’s pockets. I thought that was enough.” Sam huffs a laugh. “Mom was not having it. Took it out on Rio because she didn’t know what else to do. But Rio was wonderful. She knew what was wrong long before I did and broke it off. Mom still takes credit for it, but I’ve just learned to let it go. She moved back up here, went to nursing school, and married a cop. Which is all I really need to know that we weren't right for each other. They live in Brooklyn with their son now.”
“Should I be concerned that you know so much about your ex?” Steve jokes, unconcerned.
“Ha! No. We’re just friends on Facebook.”
Steve goes wide eyed and innocent. “What’s Facebook?”
“ Steven .”
He giggles, leans over and presses his nose behind Sam’s ear. “So you don’t want me to be your peace?”
“Oh, Steve, that’s not what I meant. I’m not explaining this right.” Sam brings his hand to the back of Steve’s head, holding him close. “You’re my peace, my home, my family. You’ll never give me peace, but that's something totally different.”
Steve snorts into Sam’s neck but doesn’t move. Waits.
“Rio and I didn’t work because I was trying to model us after my parents’ codependency. I wanted her to be the dutiful military wife, waiting for me on the homefront, the ideal other half to the career soldier I fully intended to be. Which was absurd to expect from the ambitious nursing student-slash-class president I loved.
“My parents were rarely apart. They had few hobbies outside of each other. All her friends were married to his friends. Everything they did was for each other. It worked for them, but that life would never have worked for Rio. And it would have eventually driven me up and over the wall.”
Steve sits back and nods. “We’re not like that,” he says confidently.
Sam grins. “No, baby, we’re not. We’re kind of obsessed with each other, but we have lives. We have our equilibrium.” He smacks a kiss on the side of Steve’s head.
“Ooooo, SAT words on a Sunday morning?”
Sam snorts and elbows Steve as he rises from the bed. “You poke fun, but I know that you only know what the SAT is because of those corny ass PSAs you did before you had me to tell you better. Keep it up and I’ll send them to Gideon.”
Steve’s indignant squawking follows him into the bathroom.
Sam isn’t exactly quiet as he pushes his way into the apartment he shares with Steve. It wasn’t a long mission, but his joints still ache from that death ray last week, and he just wants a meal, his man and a shower. In any order or combination. He accidentally knocks over the wooden giraffe statue Sarah gave them as a housewarming present with a bag of groceries.
Sam sneers at the inanimate animal. He still hasn’t forgiven Sarah for telling Steve that all Black people have decorative wooden safari animals. Steve is far smarter than that, thank God, but he’s also a little shit who thinks its funny to go along with Sarah’s jokes. Everytime Sam tries to throw it away, Steve waxes poetic about not wanting to disrespect Sam’s family by rejecting their gifts. Sam pretends to hate it.
“I’m home!” he announces as he drops the shield into its stand by the front door. “And your llama is, by no fault of mine, dead.” Sam chuckles as he puts the bags on the kitchen island and begins to unpack them. There’s a mysterious rustling from the dining room they never use, but no other response.
“Steve?” Sam calls, turning to put a couple boxes of cornbread mix to the side when Steve’s arms wrap around him from behind. Sam leaves the boxes on the counter and turns in the circle of Steve’s arms.
“Hi.” He smiles.
“Welcome home,” Steve says quietly as he shuffles in for a quick kiss and slouches into his favorite spot under Sam’s chin. “I missed you.”
Sam hugs him back, dropping a kiss atop his head.“I missed you too,” he says into Steve’s hair. “It’s good to be home. How was your meeting with the board?”
“Mmmm. Fine.” Steve clings to Sam’s torso a little harder.
“Uh huh,” he says, pulling back. He looks Steve in the eyes, searching for a clue of some kind. “What happened?”
He’s momentarily distracted by the frankly adorable way Steve’s brow furrows when he’s been caught out.
“Nothing?” Steve lies terribly, his voice slipping up half an octave.
“Nope. You’re being weird. Something’s wrong,” Sam squints, looking at his boyfriend up and down. “Is it Bucky?”
“Huh? No! Buck is fine. I’m fine. You’re the one being weird,” Steve deflects.
“Riiight.” Sam doesn’t believe him for a second, but Steve doesn’t seem upset so he lets it go. Steve’ll tell him eventually. “Okay. But you know I’m here.” He tilts his head to catch Steve’s eye. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” Steve sighs, relieved. He kisses the tip of Sam’s nose and says, “How can I help with dinner?” He doesn’t bother offering to cook himself. Sam cooks to unwind and stopped eating Steve’s food years ago anyway.
This is a diversion, but Sam will allow it. “It’s chilli and corncakes tonight, so you can go ahead and start the Jiffy,” he suggests and hands over the boxes. “You’ve gotten pretty good at mixing those three ingredients.”
Steve rolls his eyes and flounces over to the kitchen island, grabbing the milk and eggs from the fridge on the way. “You keep mocking me, but Nana C likes my cornbread. Your opinion on the matter is irrelevant.”
Sam chuckles and turns to reach for the instant pot on a high shelf. Nana would be horrified that they’re not slow cooking her precious chilli recipe, but what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. Steve lets out a low whistle when’ve Sam’s shirt rides up as he reaches. Sam laughs and throws a little wiggle in his hips when he flicks the radio on as he passes it on his way to the stove. He grins as the familiar beat drops, always glad to catch a classic. He hip checks a drawer closed, humming under his breath and one-two stepping from one cabinet to another. He takes the batter from Steve and gives him a pile of vegetables and the good knife.
“Am I chopping or dicing?”
“Do you know the difference?” Sam snickers.
Steve opens his mouth but closes it quickly, obviously thinking quite hard, before looking defeated. Sam laughs loudly, head thrown back and a hand on his chest. When he straightens, he realizes that Steve has put his knife down and is disappearing into the hallway
“Aw babe! I was kidding!” he calls after him, still snickering. He continues cooking, keeping an ear out for whatever retaliation is being planned.
When he hears footsteps behind him, he spins around, ready to defend himself from whatever corny clapback Steve has come up with. Instead, Steve is hovering just to his right, hands fidgeting behind his back.
Sam reaches out and turns the radio down. “Aw, I’m sorry Steve. I didn’t mean anything by i--”
Steve cuts him off with a quick shake of his head. He bites his lip and the words spill out like the dam has been broken.
“I want you to make fun of my cooking for the rest of our lives. I want to watch you dance around our kitchen to songs I’ll never really understand.” Sam snorts at this but quiets when Steve meets his eyes, misty and hesitant and joyful. “I want to help you build our home and save the world and love our children. I want to live at your side, at your back, on your left.
“Sam. You changed my life. Breathed it into me and told me I could go find it for myself. You’ve given me more love and family and peace than I ever thought I’d get in this life or any other. I like to think that I’ve brought something to this relationship as well, but I don’t think anyone has any doubt who’s getting the better deal here.
“I had all these big plans for this moment, but I just couldn’t go another day without asking for this.” Steve eases down onto one knee and beams up at Sam. He opens his left hand to reveal a bright red piece of paper clumsily folded into the shape of a bird. “I can’t promise you a marriage like your parents. But I can promise that I will do everything super humanly possible to show you how much I love you. Every day for the rest of our lives.
“Samuel Thomas Wilson, will you marry me?”
Sam’s voice is soft, raspy with emotion when he answers, “Yeah, baby. I’ll marry you.” He cradles Steve’s warm face in his shaking hands and presses kisses to his forehead, each damp cheek, and his nose before gently brushing their lips.
Steve hums into his mouth, standing without breaking their kiss. He only pulls away to nudge the little bird over, exposing the ring below. Steve slips the ring onto Sam’s hand and wraps his arms around his fiancé’s waist. Sam admires the glint of the warm rose gold under the fluorescent lights and the pressure of Steve’s forehead pressed against his. He can barely contain his giggles when he reaches past Steve’s peaceful face and into the cabinet behind him. Steve jumps when the door slips and slams just behind his head. He looks up and is momentarily dazed by the joy in Sam’s eyes.
Sam steps back, pulling his arm from Steve’s shoulder, and revealing the velvet box in his palm. Steve gasps and ducks his head, lips trembling.
“I love you Steve.” Sam removes the heavy gold ring and tosses the box over his shoulder. He slides it onto Steve’s trembling finger and says “To the rest of our lives.”
“To the rest of our lives,” Steve grins, pulling him in for another kiss, this one hotter than the rest. He’s sliding his hand into the back of Sam’s yoga pants when he freezes up.“Were you hiding my ring in the spice cabinet?” he splutters, pulling away.
Sam cackles. “It’s the one place I knew you would never look.”
Sam hasn’t lived in his mother’s house since the year or so after he was discharged, but the smell of coconut oil and the sound of Darlene’s off-key humming will always be home to him. He watches his sister, hands tugging at the back of her head and a pile of synthetic, burgundy hair in a bag at her feet.
“How’s it coming?” he asks distantly, preoccupied with the clock and wondering when Steve will arrive. He and Bucky should have finished sparring an hour ago. His knee begins to bounce
“I’m going to be here for hours,” Sarah whines. She pulls the remnants of another braid from her hair and drops the lock into the bag. “And calm down. Your boy isn’t going to miss movie night. He loves Ma too much,” Sarah scolds. “Focus on picking a movie.”
They’ve been doing weekly movie nights since Sarah and Darlene realized how one-sided Steve’s media education had been. Any Sunday Sam and Steve aren’t on a mission, they’re here: on Darelene’s couch watching another classic movie from Sam’s childhood. Sam will keep the memory of Steve’s wonder over The Wiz forever.
Sam snatches up the remote and tries to brace himself as the stereo shakes with the familiar THUMPthump . Sarah snorts when she catches him jumping anyway.
“Alien hordes, magical creatures, oodles of Nazis. Not a flinch. But the Netflix intro scares you every time.”
“Don’t question me.”
Sam picks one of the spare combs off the coffee table and flings it across the sectional at her chest.
“Um? Ow!” she growls, reaching for a throw pillow.
Sam reaches for his own when they both freeze, halted by some sibling instinct.
“I know y’all ain’t in there fighting on my good couch!” Darlene’s voice rings through the doorway to the kitchen.
Both drop their projectiles.
“No, Ma’am!” they chorus, glaring at each other.
“Good. ‘Cause I know I didn’t wait forty years until my kids were good and gone out of my house to buy a nice suede, only for my adult children to come back and ruin it.”
Sam sticks his tongue out at Sarah and settles back into the Good Suede Couch. Sarah follows suit, going back to taking down her hair. There’s an occasional, playful kick or swat at the arm but they’re mostly adults about it.
Sam is flipping through movies when he stumbles upon Coming to America . “How about this one?”
“You wanna make Steve bark like a dog?”
Sam snorts, “A big dog!”
“WOOF!” they bellow together, snickering and pulling exaggerated faces.
“McDowells and Soul Glo it is.” Sam grins, putting down the remote. “Gid’ll be thrilled.” Beside him, Sarah drops another braid, groans, and stretches. “My poor shoulders,” she moans, looking up at Sam pleadingly. At Sam’s resigned “fine,” she cheers and throws herself at his side.
Sam tosses a spare cushion onto the floor between his feet and takes the rat tail comb from her hands. “Well, saddown then,” he says. He doesn’t say that he would have done this anyway, that he’d never mind doing this with her. He thinks she knows.S
“Thank you, Sammy!” she laughs as she settles onto the pillow.
So begins the repetitive, though meditative if he’s being honest, rhythm of taking out one of Sarah’s many tiny braids. Sarah picks up another comb and gets to work on the braids along her forehead.
He’s a few braids in when Darlene strolls into the room. “Y'all sure you don’t want anything to eat?”
“Yes, Momma,” they mutter, neither looking up from the braids in their hands.
“Alright then.” She sounds doubtful. “I’ve got a roast in the oven for Steve, but if one of you get hungry I can pull something else together.”
“Yes, Momma” they repeat.
Darlene settles into her favorite armchair and picks through the mail Sarah has left on her side table. She pauses at a thin package and gasps.
“Oh Sarah! It’s your wedding album! It's finally here! I’m glad you got that boogie photographer after all, but did she have to take so long getting this together? It's been months!” Darlene rips open the padded envelope and runs her hands over the cover.
Sarah tilts her head to one side so Sam can see her roll her eyes. Their mother refused digital copies again and demanded a printed album only a few weeks ago. Sam’s had pictures from the wedding for months. His favorite, a shot of him, Steve, Sarah and Will, is hanging in his office.
Darlene sighs dreamily from her armchair. “It really was a beautiful ceremony, Sarah.”
“Thanks, Ma. We couldn’t have done it without you.”
“You got that right,” Darlene laughs, not unkindly. “For an accountant and a teacher, the two of you are terrifyingly unorganized.” Sam snorts. “Oh, don’t you start. You and Steven are going to need just as much help when your time comes.”
Sam isn't thinking when he answers, too focused on a particularly tight braid. “Don’t worry about it, Ma. Steve’s got it covered. And Pepper will help with logistics.”
The room around him freezes. It doesn’t register until he frees the frustrating tendril of hair and looks up to his mother’s eyes boring into his forehead. He gulps.
“I know that my son wouldn’t keep important details about his life from his mother. Especially not something like proposing to the love of his life. Certainly not if things were so far along that a wedding was being planned without my knowledge .” Her casual tone is belied by her expectant expression.
“Uh… well, Ma, you see um…” Sam stutters.
Sarah turns her head slowly and squints up at him. “Sammy?” There’s a beat of silence before she screams. “Oh my GOD!!!”
Sam throws his hands up in surrender and the words tumble his mouth. “It only just happened the other day and I was supposed to wait until Steve got here so we could tell you together and it wasn’t planned. Well it was planned, seeing as we both had rings ready, but it wasn’t how either of us intended it and we wanted to wait until we were all together but we’re so thrilled Ma, I love him so much.” Sam stops and gasps for breath.
There’s more silence and then, Darlene and Sarah are laughing joyfully, with and at him. Suddenly, he’s wrapped in their arms and he can feel Darelne’s tears seeping into his shirt. She pulls back and holds tight to both sides of his face.
“I’m so happy for you, baby. I’m glad you found each other,” she sniffs and pulls him into another hug.
Sam’s feeling a little wobbly over it all, when the front door opens and they hear Steve, Will, and Gideon pile into the foyer. Sam tries to pull himself together before they fully enter the room.
When they do, Gideon is telling Steve about the last minute concert tickets Iyanna and her friends scored.
“Of all the movie nights to miss,” Steve chuckles as he looks up and around the room. Sam watches his eyes track across Sarah’s grin and Darlene’s tear streaked cheeks. When they reach Sam, they’re bright with amusement. “And here you were saying that I would be the one to break,” he laughs.
Sam blushes and steps forward to kiss his fiance in apology. “I’m sorry, babe. But you know what she’s like. The eyebrow was strong and I was weak.”
Darlene snorts and Sarah laughs. “Yeah, you were. Barely put up a fight.”
“I think we missed something,” Gideon mutters to Will.
Will shrugs and settles into his usual spot on the couch. “I’m always missing something in this family. Someone will explain it eventually.”
Sarah rolls her eyes at his husband and runs a hand across his beard in greeting.
“Well??” Darlene urges. “ Show us!” She’s beaming at them, practically vibrating in her small frame.
Sam reaches under his shirt and pulls the chain with his dog tags from around his neck. He slips his ring off the end and stuffs the chain and tags back in his pocket. Steve takes his ring from the breast pocket of his polo, the nerd. They glance at each other as they slip them on their own fingers, knowing smiles on their faces.
“Oh!” Gideon breathes. Sam watches him take it in. He seems neither excited nor displeased. Mostly curious. He turns to Sarah. “Who had this week?”
True to form, Sarah is doing some kind of touchdown victory dance behind the couch. “I did,” she sings in her loudest falsetto. Sarah’s an untrained alto. It's not a pleasant sound. “I won the pot.”
“What pot?” Steve asks, though Sam just shakes his head. He shouldn’t be surprised.
“Bucky’s gonna be pissed !” Sarah cackles.
Steve stands in front of the control pad, staring blankly at the frankly absurd number shower options. He just wants hot water, damnit. He presses one that looks promising and steps back as it boots up. As much as he and Sam love the hotel’s rooftop, he would have preferred to get ready at home. He closes the glass door behind him and turns to choose from Sam’s collection of body oils. As he picks through the labels and scents, the bathroom door opens, and Sam ducks his head inside. His grin goes a little dirty when he sees that Steve in but his underwear.
“I’m gonna go get dressed.” He leans in the doorway, a distracting silhouette in Steve’s favorite pair of yoga pants and a Black Widow t-shirt.
“Ugh, do we really have to do this part?” Steve groans. “I’ve been assured that separating before the ceremony is outdated.”
Sam rolls his eyes. “Ma insisted on a little tradition. Think you can stand to be without me for a few hours?”
Steve doesn’t admit that he isn't so sure. It’s not codependent if he’s just a little clingy today. Today is special. Instead he just smirks. “I’ll do my best.”
“Uh huh. Sure you will.” Sam drops a kiss on Steve’s lips and a smack on his ass, dancing out of Steve’s reach. “Love you!” Sam calls as he darts through the suite. Steve can still hear him chuckling as the door closes behind him
“God, do I love you too.” He whistles aimlessly while he uncaps the almond oil, does a quick rub down the way Sam taught him, and hops in the shower. He almost slips on the slick tiles, too eager for the day and losing some of his hard fought coordination. Sam would laugh at him for oiling the bottom of his feet. He forces himself to breathe, slow down and get ready. They’ve got all the time in the world.
Later, Steve is buttoning his shirt when there’s a fuss at the door. It swings open just as he pulls the shield from under their bed, only to drop it when he spots the intruder.
Natasha saunters in with a smirk, laughing out loud when she sees the shield in the middle of the floor. “Really Steve. You brought the shield to your wedding?”
Bucky sidles up behind her, just as eager to rib his friend. “Bet there’s a gun in the bedside table, too. Lemme guess, the wings are in the mini fridge.””
“Sorry we thought we might need to defend ourselves while naked in our own room,” Steve snarks. He goes back to the mirror and continues fixing his shirt.
“Yeah, why are you naked? Are you Winnie the Poohing it? Nat, if he’s not wearing pants then neither am I.”
It’s surprisingly easy for both Steve and Natasha to ignore him.
She perches on the edge of the bed, crosses her legs, watching Steve pull his pants on. “Hello to you, too.”
Steve rolls his eyes but smiles. “Thank you for coming.”
Bucky slaps Steve on the shoulder before collapsing into the nearest armchair. “Like we’d ever miss this,” he grins. “Besides, Ms. Darlene said she was making those mac and cheese bites. Worth the trip for those alone
Steve snorts, “Thanks Buck. Glad to know where we stand among appetizers.”
Natasha stands to help Steve with his cufflinks. “I like the bling. These new?” she asks, nodding to his earrings and fingering the engraved cufflinks. “SGW” is inscribed across the face of each one.
“Sam gave them to me last night,” he smiles shyly.
Natasha shakes her head, smirk melting into a soft smile. “Of course he did, you sappy fucks. So this is your Something New, where’s the rest?
“Well, Buck’s my Something Old.”
“Borrowed and blue come later.”
“Hmm,” she muses. “They have anything to do with all those paper cuts you had last week?”
Steve snatches his hands away and stuffs them in his pockets. “N-no!” His face is aflame and he won’t meet her eyes.
“You’re still a horrible liar, Steven. Have my espionage lessons taught you nothing?” He huffs and she laughs as she adjusts his collar and smoothes his shirt over his shoulders. “Fine, keep your secrets. For now.” Her hands rest on his pecs and she meets his eyes. “We’re so happy for you, Steve. Both of you.”
Steve grips her wrists gently. “Thank you, Natasha. We couldn’t have gotten here without you.”
Her eyes are misty as she pulls away. “Champagne! I’ll get the glasses!” Then she’s out the door and off to who knows where.
Steve watches her go, touched as ever to be one of her few, then turns to check himself in the mirror. He looks nice. For once, there’s no tension in his shoulders or furrow on his brow. He’ ready.
Buck comes up behind him and holds open his suit jacket, dusting off his shoulders and resting his hands on his friend’s shoulders. Their eyes meet in the mirror. Bucky’s brazen amusement has taken a back seat to hopeful sincerity.
“I’m proud of you, Stevie.”
Steve continues to straighten his jacket, wary of making eye contact and starting the water works. “I know, I can’t believe I conned him into this,” he jokes, hoping Bucky will let it pass.
“No, really.” He nudges Steve’s shoulder until Steve looks up again. “You put your life on hold for me, the team, the world, over and over again. We’re thankful, but we were worried. Now you’ve built this wonderful life with Sam. I know it wasn’t easy. We’re proud of you. Even gives the rest of us hope, I think.”
Steve blushes and ducks his head. He doesn't say that loving Sam, making this life with him, is the easiest thing he’s ever done because that’s not Bucky’s point and he’d probably laugh at him if he did. Instead he smiles and says, “Thanks, Buck.”
Bucky pats his shoulders and steps away. “Alright, that’s all the spoons I can give you if you want me to make it through a wedding and reception with the Wilsons.”
Steve laughs, “Oh shut up, you love how much Ma loves you.”
Bucky hums wistfully, “Oh, if I was 40 years younger …”
“Oh my god. Please stop.”
“Can you imagine me and Darlene in the 70s? All free love and freedom fighters.”
Steve chucks a pillow at his face. “I will kill you,” he promises. Bucky laughs him off and begins to make another highly upsetting comment about Steve’s mother-in-law, when the door opens.
Steve grins and calls “You’re boyfriend is hitting on my mother-in-law!” over his shoulder.
The response is swift and unexpected.
“You being nasty about my Momma, James Buchanan?”
Both men spin around are surprised to see Sarah standing in the doorway, somehow looking both amused and ticked off.
Bucky stutters for a moment before he takes the boutonniere container from her hand and kissing her knuckles. “Not nasty, never! Appreciative! How could I ignore such a gorgeous family? Steve got his Wilson, I’m just trying to catch up.” He smirks.
Sarah scoffs and snatches her hand away. “You’re full of shit, Barnes.”
He winks, and she suppresses a giggle, snatching the flower back and brushing past him to get to Steve.
“And how’s my dear brother on this beautiful afternoon?” she asks.
Steve shrugs. “He was fine when he left but that was about an hour ago. I thought he was with you.”
“I meant you, goofball.” Sarah rolls her eyes. “He’s got Gid and Rhodey. And Iyanna to keep them on schedule. Ma’s already had her cry and is probably scolding some poor manager upstairs. And you, new brother, get me. Well, me, Red and this bozo.”
“I’m honored,” Steve promises, his tone carrying the full sincerity of freedom and justice. It’s a bit much but this day has been a bit much so he figures it’s okay.
Sarah smiles and pulls the buttonire from the box, tossing the container at Bucky who snatches it out of the air. As she pins the flower to his lapel, Natasha returns with two bottles of champagne and four flutes. Sarah smooths Steve’s jacket just as Bucky had before. “I feel like we’re going to prom.”
“What’s a prom?” Steve asks with wide eyed curiosity.
“I’m not falling for that a second time, Steven.”
“You fell for it the first time?” Natasha snorts.
“I was young,” Sarah shrugs and takes one of the full flutes Nat holds out.
Natasha smirks and raises her glass, prompting others to do the same. “To Steve finally locking Sam down.”
“To no more wedding talk-- Ow! Always with the elbows, Nat.”
“To my new brother”
Steve shakes his head, “To Sam.”
“To Sam,” they chorus.
Sam admires the glint of his reflection in the elevator doors. His clothes were the only thing he was pushy about. His slim cut suit does wonders for his shoulders and his gold jewelry will glow in the sunlight. Sam grins at himself in the doors. He looks good .
He’s readjusting the fall of his body chain when he catches Rhodey watching him fiddle.
“I’m fine,” he blurts, dropping the jewelry to drape across his chest and looks away. Rhodey chuckles but says nothing.
Sam, searching for a new distraction, turns to his niece. “You really don’t have to do this, Yanna.”
Iyanna doesn’t even look up from the lense she’s screwing onto her new camera. “I’m not continuing this discussion just so you can distract yourself from your nerves, Uncle Sam. I’m taking your ceremony pictures. The ‘real’ photographer will be here for the reception and I’ll be a regular guest.” She glances up and grins mischievously. “More importantly, I’ll be meeting Spider-Man. Both of them. Spider- Men. ”
Gideon sighs. Rhodey coughs to hide his laughter. It doesn’t work. Sam is just grateful for the tangent this will send them on.
“I’m still not sure how I’m supposed to feel about your obsession with people who named themselves after bugs.” Gideon shakes his head.
“Is it the puberty or the arachnids that bothers you?” Iyanna smirks.
The elevator comes to a smooth stop and the doors slide open.
“Aw, Dad. It’s cute that you think how you feel matters.” Iyanna snorts and walks away.
The three men move into the hallway, watching her stalk through the empty restaurant and onto the patio. Sam and Rhodey snicker together before Gideon whirls on them.
“This is all cute and funny until you have teenagers--”
“I did have a teenager,” Rhodey interrupts.
Gideon ignores him, turning all his attention to Sam. “I hope you and Steve have kids just like you.” It's clearly a joke but Sam is momentarily stunned. Gideon laughs at the look on his face and spins on his heel to follow his daughter through the venue.
Rhodey waits a moment while Sam processes. “So you ready to confront whatever that is now?” he asks, motioning to the shock on Sam’s face.
“I’m… I’m nervous?” Sam stutters.
“Mmhmm. I think the 15 year old saw that. But that’s normal, Sam. I was terrified when I married Maria.”
Sam huffs a laugh. “Yeah, but that was because you were terrified her all powerful wife would show up and smite you.” he jokes. “This is Steve . I’ve never been afraid of us. I shouldn’t be phased by this.”
“Well yes, but Carol was only part of it. I was terrified of everything. That I would be a terrible husband, that Monica would grow up to hate me, that we were making a mistake and would ruin what we had. What if I wasn’t finished sowing my wild oats? Stop laughing!” he swats at Sam.
“You never had wild oats, Rhodes.”
“Not the point, Wilson. Question me again and I’ll roll over your toes,” he scolds to another of Sam’s snickers. “The point is that nerves are normal, Sam. You’re getting married. You’re allowed to freak out a little. It’s a little thing we call cold feet.”
Sam sighs, “Well, I know that in theory. But what did you do about it?”
“Tony was... unhelpful. Offered to provide a distraction while I got away in the limo.” he laughs and shakes his head. “He was trying. But I didn’t want to run. Is that what you want Sam? You want to run?”
“God, no.” Sam jerks back, affronted.
“Then what do you want? What would make you happy?”
Sam smiles slightly, remembering asking Steve a similar question. “I want to marry Steve.” His voice is steady and confident. He thinks of Steve, waiting for him at the altar and suddenly can’t get to him fast enough.
“Then let’s get out there,” Rhodey claps him on the back and heads around the corner.
Sam takes a deep breath and straightens his shoulders. It’s time.
When he steps out onto the outdoor patio, Sam is struck again by their surroundings. When they toured the hotel just last month, Sam joked about a pre-war venue for his pre-war husband. The hotel itself may be disgustingly modern, but the building is beautiful. Here on the thirtieth floor roof, the walls are a dusky red brick, built in sweeping arches that reveal the shining Midtown skyline. Off to one side, the sun is just beginning to set on the Husdon river. As the wind picks up, Sam is struck by the reason they picked this place. A fresh breeze brushes through the open room. The wind runs over Sam, ruffling his suit, and another part of him relaxes as a reflex. It’s hard to stay tense with the wind in his hair.
Sam looks around at the friends and family who have come. They didn’t invite many, prefering to keep their ceremony as intimate as possible, but everyone they need is here. Sam watches them interact for a moment, hugging, laughing and drinking toasting. Right there in the middle of the room, surrounded by Sam’s favorite people and wearing his adorable “I’m confused but used to it at this point” face, is Steve. He’s a cutting silhouette in his deep purple suit. His slightly unbuttoned dress shirt is more than a bit distracting. Sam has to touch him. Now.
He’s admiring his man from afar when Darlene catches sight of him “Oh, Sammy!”
The rest of the guests turn to look at him, some applauding at his entrance. Sam smiles and nods, hugging some, accepting kisses from others, as he makes his way to his fiance.
When he finally reaches Steve, they slide into each other’s arms and press their foreheads together. Their guests fade into the background as they breathe together for a moment. Sam leans for a kiss but is startled by an olive plunking off the side of Steve’s forehead.
“You’re supposed to wait until the end, dumbasses.” It’s Bucky. Of course it is.
Steve rolls his eyes. “Not really that kind of wedding, Buck”
“You better be glad that missed the suit.” Sam snorts, wiping off Steve’s temple.
All of them jump when Darlene’s voice echoes from the other side of the patio. “James Buchannah Barnes. I know I didn’t just see you throw food at my boys on their special day,” she demands as she stalks towards them.
“Oh no, ma’am. I would never!” Bucky promises, shaking his head with wide eyes.
Darlene eyes him as she passes, affectionately patting his cheek.
“Boys!” she beams, arms outstretched. Sam and Steve lean in and hold on to her.
“Hi Ma.” Sam presses a kiss in her hair.
“Okay let me get a look at you,” she pushes them back and holds them at arm’s length. She looks them up and down before nodding her approval. “I could do without the green, but I like it. And your earrings are a nice touch, Steven.”
Steve ducks his head, “Thank you Ma.” Sam reaches up and tugs one of the small gold hoops in Steve’s ears.
Darlene pinches Steve’s cheek and and kisses Sam’s, stepping back and pushing them towards each other again. As she moves away, something shifts in the room. The sun dips a little lower into the horizon, and the sky the deep orange of the sky begins to fade into blue.
Sam looks to Steve, “You ready?”
Steve doesn’t answer, just takes Sam’s hand and moves toward the cleared space in front of the largest arch. The sun continues to set behind them just as they take their place under the altar. Their gathered guests sense their que, sitting in the small semicircle of chairs around them. No one speaks, the only sounds are the light breeze whistling through the arches and the quiet shutter of Iyanna’s camera. They decided against an officiant. The legalities will come. This is for them, and everything they need is right here.
Sam and Steve turn to each other, hold hands and look into each other’s eyes. For a second, Sam’s nerves return and his heart lodges itself in his throat. He opens his mouth and nothing comes out. Suddenly he can’t remember his vows and the panic is rising in his stomach when he gets distracted by a fluttering above them. He looks up to find a flock origami birds hanging from the rafters. Sam recognizes the once crisp folds and fading colors of his dad’s pieces, mixed in with lopsided but determined work of his fiance.
“I can’t believe you,” he whispers, unable to look away. The little birds flutter against each other as another gentle breeze sweeps across the room.
“You’re all I believe in,” Steve promises, pressing a kiss to Sam’s knuckles and drawing him back into the moment.
Sam squeezes his hands.