Sam and Bucky hooking up was supposed to be a one time thing. Bucky made that very clear when it happened, a year after the altercation over the Accords. Sam was on the run with Steve, visiting Wakanda to get in contact with his family back in the States. Usually Steve came with him, but this time he was delayed. So it was just Sam in Wakanda.
Bucky was free of the Winter Soldier. Had been for several months. He liked his quiet life in Wakanda, with his goats. He liked having time to himself, liked getting back in touch with who he was as a person. But all that time alone did exactly what you might expect it to- it made him lonely.
So when Sam came to visit, unexpectedly… well, it was an opportunity. Because Sam was lonely too.
But it was a one time thing. Two… acquaintances, blowing off steam. They weren’t close enough to call each other friends. But Sam didn’t treat him like he was fragile, the way that Steve and some of the others did. And the way he fucked him definitely wasn’t the way you fucked someone fragile.
It was good.
It was a one time thing. Until it happened a second time. This time, it happened in Madripoole. Bucky was upset, triggered, from his stint pretending to be the Winter Soldier. He could feel Zemo’s hands on him, feel Selby’s hungry gaze taking him in, and he needed to get that off. The way Sam looked at him was hungry, but it was different- he wanted Sam to look at him like that.
“I thought this was supposed to be a one time thing,” Sam said, voice rough and deep, after Bucky trapped him in a corner, kissing him senseless.
“Who’s counting?” Bucky asked. Sam chuckled.
“You sure you’re good? You wanna do this?” he asked then, concern evident in his eyes. Bucky stopped for a moment, quieting, checking in with himself. And the answer was the same. He absolutely did want to do this.
“I’m good,” he said, and that was good enough for Sam.
But it was still just fucking. Just a couple of guys blowing off steam. They weren’t acquaintances anymore. Bucky was hesitant to call them friends- he hadn’t had a friend in a long time, but he was pretty sure you didn’t sleep with your friends. But Sam checked in with him, and Bucky tried his best to keep Sam safe, keep him whole. So they were definitely outside of the realm of acquaintances. Maybe it didn’t need a label.
It wasn’t until he saw Sam pinned underneath Walker, saw his wings ripped off, saw Walker raise the shield, that he realized just how deep that desire to protect Sam ran. He threw himself at the other man, knocking him off, keeping him off of Sam. And when Walker was down, it was all he could do to keep himself from grabbing Sam’s face, examining him to make sure he was ok. Instead, he threw the shield down at Sam’s side, and walked off. It was always two extremes with him, hot or cold. That was something he should work on with his therapist- if he was able to keep seeing her.
He left, to pursue Zemo. He tracked him down, handed him over to the Dora Milaje. It wasn’t his place to kill Zemo. Not his jurisdiction.
The idea of Sam without his wings, though, kept flashing into his mind. It was like seeing a bird with a broken wing, fluttering desperately, trying to get back in the air. He tried to shake it off. Sam could fix his wings, or get a new pair. Or he could fight without them. Sam was a very capable man.
Or Bucky could do something nice for him for a change. So he asked Ayo for a favor.
Sam was in Louisiana, Torres told him, back home with his family. Bucky went there without a second thought. He found him on the docks, and froze in his tracks.
Sam looked different here. Bucky was used to seeing the man when the weight of the world was on his shoulders, when he was expected to carry burdens far above his paygrade. Even when Sam wasn’t in charge, when he was following Steve, Steve put a lot on the other man. And Sam Wilson was the sort of person to take on battles that weren’t even his own.
Here, though, he was almost glowing. His shirt sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, forearms flexing as he lifted what looked like a box of spare parts. His face was relaxed, a hint of a smile turning into a full blown one when he saw a truck drive up, carrying yet more spare parts.
Stop staring, dumbass, he chided himself. He came here to drop off the wings, not ogle Sam when he wasn’t even aware of his presence. So he started walking over.
“How are we gonna get this thing off?” he heard Sam ask. That was his cue. He reached over and lifted the parts, tossing them on his shoulder and taking them towards the other box that Sam had been carrying. When he turned around, he was met with Sam’s familiar half grin.
“I’m just here to deliver a package,” Bucky said drily, hefting the box with the wings. “Just sign for it and I’ll be on my way.”
Sam’s face dropped, and Bucky frowned. Had he done something wrong? Were the wings insensitive somehow?
“Called in a favor from the Wakandans,” he said, trying to explain. “I thought you might… need a new set.”
Sam’s eyes flicked up to his face, warm brown enveloping Bucky.
“Thank you,” he said, and though he still looked troubled, it was sincere.
“Sam!” A woman called from their left. Sam looked up and swore quietly under his breath, making his way to a burst pipe on a boat. The boat, Bucky realized, the one Sam had been talking about.
“No, you gotta go up,” he said, moving to take the wrench from Sam. With a few turns, he had it.
“Why didn't you grab it with the metal arm?” Sam asked, a familiar twinkle in his eye.
“I don’t always think of it,” Bucky said with a sigh. “I’m right handed.”
That got a laugh out of Sam, an honest to goodness laugh, and something in Bucky’s chest seemed to glow.
“So, this is the boat, huh?” he asked, looking around. Sam nodded.
“It’s nice.” That was a bit of a lie- the boat was clearly old, and run down, but Bucky knew how much it meant to Sam.
“You want some help?”
Sam did, in fact, want some help.
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to have someone with super strength around,” he said, rolling his eyes. So Bucky helped.
There was something soothing about the work. Bucky always liked working with his hands. His mom used to say that he could be a mechanic, if he wanted, like his uncle. He joined the army before he got a chance to try that, though. But now, with the sun blaring down on his shoulders, pulling apart bits of the broken boat and putting it back together- well, he liked it. Liked it a hell of a lot better than fighting.
Sam’s presence was a help with that, of course.
The sun was going down when Sam handed him a beer. Bucky took a swig of it, pointedly ignoring the way that Sam’s eyes darkened at the sight.
“I guess I better find a hotel,” Bucky said nonchalantly. Sam gave him a look.
“Really? That’s the play?”
“I don’t want to make things weird for your family,” Bucky said. It was the truth, at least in part. He didn't want to make things weird for Sam’s family, but he also didn’t want to make things weird for Sam. And honestly, Bucky was feeling in over his head. He went from hooking up with Sam twice to meeting his sister, his nephews, and apparently the entire extended community that Sam belonged to. Things were beginning to get complicated.
“Come on man, just stay with us. I can tell you like it here, you know. You gotta admit, the people are nice.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Bucky said, a grin playing at the corner of his mouth. “The people are… nice.”
Sam laughed, then his face turned serious. “But you better not flirt with my sister. That’s too weird. Carlos will chop you up and feed you to the fish.”
“No, no,” Bucky said automatically. He turned to walk away, then stopped. He wasn’t sure if it was the beer, or the way the sun shone on Sam’s face that gave him the courage, but even he wasn’t expecting what he said next.
“It’s not your sister I want to flirt with, anyway.”
The way Sam spat out his drink made the whole thing worth it.
Bucky didn't know much about kids. And Sam’s nephews… well, meeting them was a whole other thing, and he was tense when he was introduced. AJ and Cass, Sarah said. The kids were too shy to tell him their names, but not too shy to ask him about the arm. Bucky could almost feel Sam tense from his place beside him.
“That’s not polite to ask,” he said, voice stern.
Bucky shrugged. “I don’t mind. I lost my arm in an accident. Got it replaced with this.”
That was the dulled down, kid friendly version, of course, but it was probably too soon to be scarring Sam’s nephews.
The younger one, Cass, was staring at the arm with round eyes. Normally, Bucky would flinch under that kind of attention, but the kid didn’t look mean. Just interested.
Bucky knelt down, getting on Cass’s level. “It's just metal. You can touch it if you want.”
A grin broke out over Cass’s face, and he reached out with enthusiasm.
“It’s cold!” he exclaimed. AJ looked like he wanted to, as well, so Bucky gave him a nod.
“Yeah, kid, its metal,” Sarah said fondly.
“Yeah, but it's attached to his body. It could be warm,” AJ protested.
“Could be,” Bucky agreed. “I didn’t buy the upgrade yet.”
Cass opened his mouth, obviously about to ask more questions, but Sam shooed them away.
“It's time for school, you two. You’re gonna miss the bus, and I ain’t driving you.”
“If you’d fly us to school we could get there so much faster, though!” AJ complained. Bucky saw a shadow cross Sam’s face, before clearing.
“I’ll fly you when you deserve to get flown. For now, you take the bus.”
“I’ll get 'em ready,” Sarah said, following them out with a brush of Sam’s arm. Sam turned to Bucky with a raised eyebrow.
“Now where the hell did that come from? You’ve never been that friendly in your life,” he said.
“Did I do ok?” Bucky asked. “I don’t really know any kids.”
Sam chuckled. “Yeah man, you did great. You just opened the floodgates to ten thousand questions, though.”
Bucky winced. “I’m not sure how to answer all of them.”
“Honestly, I don’t think any of them will be about your past stuff. If I had to guess, AJ already knows that. He’s old enough to google things, and he’s crazy curious. It’ll probably just be about how it works. And if they ask anything weird I’ll send ‘em outside.”
Bucky nodded slowly. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” Sam sat down next to him on the couch. There was a gleam in his eye, and Bucky groaned.
“What’s that look for?” he complained.
“You were scared of the kids, weren’t you?” Sam said. “I saw you avoiding them yesterday.”
The other man seemed to take joy in that statement. “Big bad super soldier, scared of a couple little kids.”
“I’m not scared of kids,” Bucky protested.
“Ah, you can’t fool me,” Sam said. “You were shaking in those dumb combat boots.”
“Yeah, because they’re your kids.” The words were out before Bucky could stop them, and he could have screamed. The teasing look dropped from Sam’s face.
“Just forget it, please,” Bucky said, avoiding Sam’s gaze.
“Nah, I don’t think so.”
And god dammit, Bucky had dug himself into a hole with this one.
“I….. ugh, look, it's not a big deal, just… I know they look up to you. You’re basically their dad, from what I can tell. I don’t know what happened to Sarah’s husband, but it's clear you’re the only one in the picture. And I know you care about them. I didn’t want them to hate me.”
There was a beat of silence, before Bucky could bring himself to look up. Sam was staring at him, mouth slightly parted, brown eyes dark and intense, and if Bucky didn’t change the subject in the next two seconds he was going to ask Sam to bend him over this couch.
“You look at the wings yet?” he asked, the first thing he could think of. Sam blinked, and Bucky saw him swallow, bringing himself back to the moment. Bucky tried to ignore how hard his own heart was beating, how his blood seemed to sing in his veins.
“Uh, no,” Sam admitted, looking down at his hands.
“I don’t know. I’m sidelined right now.”
“So you haven’t looked at the shield, either?”
“Not since I took it to Isaiah.”
“When did that happen?” Bucky asked steadily. That was what had Sam so shaken, so avoidant. It was why he hadn’t told him about Isaiah in the first place, besides protecting the older man.
“Couple days before you got here. The day I decided to come home.”
“You want to talk about it?” Bucky asked.
And with that, Sam was up and moving, walking out into the morning air. Bucky could have kicked himself.
Bucky stayed away from Sam that day, trying to give him space. He walked through the town, trying out a lunch place Sarah recommended, picking the kids up from the bus stop so that she could stay with the boat. When Sarah came back that evening, obviously exhausted, Sam was still absent.
“He’s still on the boat,” Sarah said, rolling her eyes when Bucky asked. “Maybe you can talk some sense into him. I’ve never been good at that, clearly.”
So Bucky went to the dock, hesitating before he stepped on. He could hear Sam clear as day, muttering to himself while he was working. The sound brought a fond smile to Bucky’s face before he could stop himself. He was really, really getting in too deep.
Sam looked up as he entered, a light sheen of sweat on his brow. A nod was his only greeting.
“Sarah sent me to talk some sense into you,” Bucky said, leaning against the wall. Sam just grunted.
“Clearly she doesn’t know me that well yet. You need some help?”
“Yeah, hold this for me,” Sam said, gesturing to the tool in his hand. Bucky made his way around, doing as he was told. He was very aware of Sam’s proximity, of the warmth of his body only centimeters away from Bucky’s.”
“Isaiah said something to me,” Sam said slowly, concentrating on his task. “Something that got to me.”
“Yeah? What was it?” Bucky asked cautiously. He didn’t want to scare Sam off, not when he was opening up. Sam was an open man, for the most part, but he mostly opened up to make other people feel more comfortable. He relayed his own traumas not to work through them, but to let others know they weren’t alone. This was a first.
“He said that no self respecting black man would take the shield. And I think he was right.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You know his story. You know what they did to him. And he may be the first black supersoldier, but he sure as hell isn’t the first black person to go through experiences like that. At the hands of people who look a lot like Steve Rogers and John Walker. Why would I want to carry a symbol that stands for that?”
Sam had stopped working at this point, though his hands remained where they were. Bucky stayed, holding the tools, afraid to move even an inch in case he spooked Sam.
“You know,” he said slowly. “When Steve first got the shield, I told him I wasn’t following Captain America. I was following him. I think what I didn’t realize at the time was that it was the same thing.”
Sam looked at him then, a line appearing between his brows.
“That shield… the symbol of it isn’t independent of the person who carries it. The person who carries it shapes its legacy. If Steve had been a different person, the shield would stand for something different, right?”
Sam nodded wordlessly.
“If you took the shield- and you don’t have to, I’d get it if you didn’t- just doing that would change something about the symbol. Start to change what it stood for. You’d get to shape that legacy.”
Bucky didn't know that he felt that way until he said it. For him, the shield and Steve’s legacy had been inseparable, tied together in an unbreakable knot. But seeing Sam with it… well, it wasn’t Steve’s shield then. It was Sam’s.
“You really think that?” Sam asked, voice low.
“I do.” Bucky took a deep breath. “And I think if anyone can change that legacy, it’s you.”
Sam let out a short huff of air, as though he’d been punched in the chest. He closed his eyes, and Bucky allowed his own eyes to scan over the other man.
“I still don’t know what I’m going to do,” Sam said, eyes still closed.
“I know,” Bucky replied, fixated on how Sam’s jaw moved as he spoke. Then the other man’s eyes opened, and he had to snap his gaze away.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Sam said, in a voice so quiet Bucky almost missed it.
“Me too,” Bucky said. Sam moved then, gently brushing Bucky's hand with his own, there and gone so fast it was almost like a breeze passing through.
“”How long you staying?”
“Long as you want me.”
Sam’s gaze, boring into Bucky’s eyes, was almost unreadable.
“You might be here a while, then.”
Then Sam was gone, out on the deck. Bucky closed his eyes, trying to control the pounding of his heart, trying to ignore the feeling rising in his chest, nearly overwhelming him.
The kids met them halfway back to the house, and the moment was swept under the rug. But that night, Bucky lay on the couch, staring at the ceiling in the dark. What the hell was he doing here? He was just supposed to drop off the wings and leave. He didn't sign up for this, for Sam’s family, who seemed to accept, even like him. He didn't sign up for Sam’s community, who embraced him with open arms because of his relation to Sam. And he definitely didn’t sign up for Sam, Sam being domestic, Sam being kind, Sam being a father to his nephews- for the feelings that made him shake whenever he looked at the other man.
There were a lot of reasons that Bucky chose to be alone. There were reasons why he never went on more than one date with someone, why he lived alone, why he only had one person he saw regularly. Bucky was damaged. He was getting better, but he was damaged. He’d done too much bad shit to deserve… this. To be part of a family again, to deserve affection from anyone, let alone someone as incredible as Sam. Even when the other man drove him up the wall, he always knew that Sam was, to his core, a good man.
And Bucky, in his heart, knew that he wasn’t. And that the longer he stayed, the more entrenched he would get, and the more danger Sam and his family would be in.
So Bucky did what he did best. He vanished.
It didn’t take Sam long to find him. To be fair, he wasn’t trying all that hard to hide. He went back to his apartment, which seemed that much lonelier and dingier in comparison to the house in Louisiana. Even though it was smaller than the house, it felt… emptier. Without the kids, without Sarah, without Sam.
Sam called him the morning he left. Multiple times. Bucky ignored them, pushing down the guilt that bubbled in his stomach.
The calls continued into the afternoon, into the evening. Texts followed them, texts that Bucky didn’t read. Sarah even called him once. That one especially hurt to decline. Eventually, he just turned his phone off.
Two days after he left, there was a knock on his door. Bucky had a feeling he knew who it was. He could hope that it wasn’t him, that Sam would let him go, realize that it was for the best- but of course, Sam was never a man who gave up easily. Of course, he was standing at Bucky’s door, looking angrier than the super soldier had ever seen him.
Sam didn’t wait for an invitation. He brushed past Bucky, shoving him with his shoulder. Bucky let his eyes drag along Sam’ form, knowing that this was probably the last time he would see him. A clean break would be best, he thought, best for Sam and best for himself. Of course Sam would look damn good, make it as difficult as possible for Bucky to make this decision, in those dark jeans and t-shirt.
“Explain,” Sam said, standing in the middle of Bucky’s living room. His jaw was clenched, nostrils flaring as he obviously tried to keep himself under control. Bucky shrugged.
“I don’t know what there is to explain,” he said quietly. That was the wrong answer.
“What, you need a place to start? Fine. I’ll give you one. Why the hell did you leave?”
“I don’t know how to answer that.”
“The truth would be a start,” Sam said. When Bucky was silent, Sam started talking again.
“I don’t fuckin get you, man. You come to my home, offer to help me, meet my goddamn family-” Sam broke off with a choked half laugh. Bucky’s head whipped up at the sound, really looking at Sam’s face for the first time. The other man wasn’t just angry. His eyes were red rimmed, like he’d been… crying. Crying over him.
“And then the second we have a moment, have some kind of connection, you what? Up and run? We’ve had sex, Barnes, but I get honest with you once and you leave? What kind of sense does that make?”
Bucky just stood there, eyes wide.
“I didn’t think-”
Sam snorted. “Clearly.”
“I mean I didn’t think it would... Matter. To you.”
“That what would matter? You leaving? Of course it matters.”
Bucky swallowed, and the guilt in his stomach started to take over. At his silence, Sam sat down on the couch, putting his head in his hands.
“I don’t get it,” he said, emotion bleeding through with a raw desperation. “Did I do something to freak you out?”
That spurred Bucky into motion, dropping to his knees in front of Sam, prying his hands away from his face. Sam’s fingers clutched at his, and Bucky realized that his hands were shaking.
“Fuck, Sam, no, no, you didn’t do anything,” Bucky said in a hoarse voice.
“Then what happened?” Sam asked. Bucky desperately wanted to look away, desperately wanted to go back to his original plan of standing in silence until Sam left, but he was trapped in Sam’s eyes, frozen to the spot.
“It’s- I- shit,” Bucky said, swallowing. “I did get freaked. Not by you.”
Sam frowned. “Then by what?”
“By me?” It came out more as a question than a statement.
“You freaked yourself out,”Sam said skeptically.
“Yeah. I thought…” he trailed off, blinking rapidly. He didn’t want to cry in front of Sam, but he’d been holding back these emotions for such a goddamn long time. And Sam’s proximity was getting to him. There was something about Sam that cracked him open, leaving him vulnerable.
In his hand, Sam’s hand moved, reaching out to touch Bucky’s face. Bucky inhaled sharply.
“Talk to me. Please.”
Bucky’s face turned, leaning into Sam’s touch, without his instruction. And then he was talking.
“I got in too deep,” he admitted, voice nearly a whisper. “I thought I was just gonna go and give you the wings, but then your family was… good to me. Sarah reminds me of my sister. And the kids are incredible. And you were different with them, and I started to-”
He broke off again.
“Started to what?” Sam prompted. When Bucky looked at him, some of that desperation was gone, replaced with what looked like hesitant hope.
“I started to want more,” he said, staring at Sam reverently. “And I don’t think I deserve it. And that’s not what you signed up for. You signed up for a one time thing.”
The look on Sam’s face when the realization sank in was one Bucky would never forget.
“Well, it was a two time thing,” Sam said, still staring. Bucky had to resist rolling his eyes, and that fondness that swept over him whenever he was around Sam increased.
“Buck, I-” Sam stopped, taking a deep breath. His hand was still on Bucky’s face, his thumb sweeping over his cheekbone.
“I never wanted it to be a one time thing.”
Sam’s words shook Bucky to his core. If it wasn’t for Sam’s hand in his, he might have simply floated off of the earth.
“What?” he breathed.
“I never wanted it to be a one time thing,” Sam repeated, shrugging slightly. His gaze never left Bucky’s. “But you made it clear that was what you wanted, and I was ok with that. I knew you weren’t ready for anything else. I didn’t want to pressure you just because I liked you.”
“Liked?” Bucky asked, the question passing his lips before he could stop it.
Sam’s grin lit his face like a sunbeam. “Like. Present tense.”
Sam rolled his eyes fondly. “Why not?”
When Bucky opened his mouth, Sam held up his hand. “Rhetorical question. I like you because I like you. You’ve obviously got a past, but you’re a good man. You’ve put your life on the line time and time again. And you’re kind of funny sometimes, and damn good in bed.”
That finally brought a grin to Bucky’s face, a glimmer of the cocky man he’d been in a previous life.
“Yeah,” Sam confirmed. “And Sarah told me if I don’t get my act together with you she’ll kick my ass. I think that threat extends to you, so you should be scared.”
That feeling of belonging, of family, burst in Bucky’s chest again. He could have laughed with the joy of it, but he was too focused on Sam. They’d drifted close together, closer than they’d already been. Bucky’s arms rested on Sam’s legs, their noses nearly touching. Bucky’s heart rate picked up again, pounding so hard in his chest that he was sure Sam could hear it too.
“Fuck, Sam, I want to kiss you,” Bucky said, voice ragged.
“Then do it,” Sam replied, equally wrecked. So Bucky did, wrapping his hand around the back of Sam’s neck, pulling him down even as he himself surged upwards. It wasn’t the first time they’d kissed, but something felt different, something felt… right. It was heated at first, intense, as Sam’s hands came up to clutch Bucky’s hair, the other resting on the side of his neck. Bucky nearly whimpered, and he felt Sam smirk against his lips.
Then it slowed, and that was just as good. Sam’s lips were soft against his own, fingers shaking as he traced Bucky’s jaw. Bucky’s own hands clutched at Sam, drawing him close.
“Don’t you run off on me again,” Sam murmured between kisses, making Bucky shiver.
“I won’t,” Bucky swore, both to Sam and to himself.
“I’ll hunt you down again.”
Somehow, Bucky had made his way to Sam’s lap, straddling the other man’s hips. He rolled his hips instinctively, and the groan he coaxed from Sam sent a shock through him.
“I think we’ve got some catching up to do,” Sam said, staring up at Bucky with those brown eyes that he loved so much.
“Yeah,” Bucky whispered, nodding in agreement.
“But some of it's gonna have to wait. Tomorrow we gotta fly back and finish the boat. Or we’ll get that asskicking from Sarah anyway.”
Bucky laughed, and once he started he couldn’t stop, leaning his head on Sam’s shoulder.
“I’ll build you a whole goddam boat from scratch,” Bucky said. “If we can stay here another day. I’m not ready to share you just yet.”
Sam’s white teeth flashed, and Bucky felt something in his chest settle.
“I’m holding you to that,” he said, and then he was kissing Bucky again.
Bucky would have held to his promise, would have built Sam a thousand boats if he wanted them. But the day after the next found them back in Louisiana, fixing the boat. And looking at the result of their work, Sam’s calloused hand in his, Bucky thought there was some beauty in fixing broken things. There was some beauty in a fresh start.
And now he had his.