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it's hell on earth and the city's on fire

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There’s a charming peace in all the chaos of Delacroix. Whenever Sam is feeling out of place he always knows there’s a niche waiting for him in his childhood home where his nephews and sister now reside. Not that there’s an empty space when he leaves; Sarah is more than enough to take care of everything. Better than he could, anyway. The town welcomes him home with open arms every time he comes back bleeding and bruised. They clean him up with gentle hands and a smile. 

 

Bucky is here now. The fresh air of the docks feels suffocating when the other man is around. It’s like Sam can’t take a deep breath without his lungs burning. Sure, Bucky is helpful. Lifts everything Sam can’t and doesn’t even complain about the chill of working near the water. They work in comfortable silences most of the time. It’s not like they have much to talk about. It’s smothering. 

 

There’s an abundance of dead air- so much that his sister notices. He’s working alone, peeling away at old metal hinges when she corners him. 

 

“What’s the deal?” 

 

Sam wipes his forehead with the back of his hand and turns to look up at her. “Deal with what?” 

 

Sarah rolls her eyes at him, as if he has the audacity for not knowing exactly what she’s talking about at all times. “With you and that white man.” 

 

The corners of his lips twitch up before he can stop it. “Bucky?” 

 

“Bucky.” She repeats, drawing it out slowly in her mouth. “You guys friends?” 

 

“He’s more of a stray.” Sam answered. “Like those cats you feed once then they don’t ever stop coming back.” 

 

Before Sarah could answer, the man in question stalked over. “I heard that.” Bucky muttered, stepping back onto the boat with a grunt. “Hi Sarah.” 

 

Sam glared as Sarah smiled at the man brightly. “Ah. Hey.” 

 

Before Sam could pry at the two, Sarah shook her head at him before walking back down the dock. He looked at Bucky, expecting him to be staring after Sarah, but the man’s eyes were locked on him. His face was emotionless as they held the contact. There was a sparkle in Bucky’s pale blue eyes from the setting of the sun in front of them. 

 

“You staying another night?” Sam asks, making himself busy with the hinges once more. He can tell Bucky is still staring, wishes he wouldn’t.  He sees the man shrug from the corner of his eye. 

 

“Probably shouldn’t.” Bucky grumbles, back to his cantankerous attitude of the last few days. 

 

“You can.” Sam tells him. “The people here already love you. It’s like having a portable crane. And Sarah doesn’t mind. She’s definitely gonna make us watch Hell’s Kitchen with her though.” 

 

“Then maybe I should go home tonight.” 

 

That gets a chuckle out of Sam. “It’s not so bad.” He rips the last hinge from the board and sighs. “I think I’d rather have Ramsey yelling at me over Sarah.” 

 

“What about you?” Bucky asks quietly.

 

Sam looks up at him. Bucky is sitting across from him, knees almost touching like they had in the forced therapy session from Dr. Raynor. It puts a bitter taste in his mouth. Sam must make a face because Bucky tilts his head to look him in the eyes. 

 

“There something on my face, or what?” 

 

Sam opens his mouth to answer, but nothing comes out. He opts for shaking his head and wiping his dirty hands against the fabric of his pants. 

 

“I know something is wrong.” Bucky says with an annoyed tone. “You’ve barely talked to me this whole time.” 

 

“For how many times a day you tell me to keep my mouth shut, I would think you’d be alright with that.” 

 

“Look-” 

 

Sam rolls his eyes and cuts the man’s sentence off. “C’mon, man. Sarah’s gonna whoop my ass if I stay out here all night. It’s getting late.” 

 

Bucky just nods. 

 

They walk back to Sam’s house in silence. Sam is thankful for the natural sounds because he’s starting to go stir crazy listening to Bucky’s quiet puffs of exhalation. Their arms brush together every once in a while and Sam ignores the looks Bucky shoots him. 

 

Sarah notices his uncharacteristic hush. Usually he’s riling up his nephews, making life just a little harder for Sarah. When it’s time to clean up he does so fast, hand washing the dishes while Buckys dries them. He insisted on helping with something around the house since Sarah cooked. When they’re done Sam pulls his sneakers on and heads out the back door after a quick goodnight to his nephews. 

 

The waves from the pond in his backyard give Sam the tranquility his head desperately needs. His thoughts have been constantly clouded with grief and the sorrow of almost losing everything again. The small fish apparent in the waves are like beacons of hope. He sits and lets the bottom of his shoes skim the top of the water.

 

Sam doesn’t turn around when he hears footsteps approaching. He just looks straight ahead. The sky is dark now, the light at the end of the wooden walkway is the only dull source of light out here now. 

 

“Sarah said you’d be out here.” Bucky takes a seat next to him, scooting back when his shoes get soaked.  

 

Sometimes Bucky is too hard of a man to get along with. He pushes every single one of Sam’s buttons all at once. He pulls and prods until he gets a reaction, pulling them right out of Sam’s spine it feels like. He’s not gentle with the people around him. Sam understands. If he went through everything Bucky did he might not be either. Bucky stifles the people around him despite his shiness. Where Sam bleeds magnanimity, Bucky bruises with cynicism. 

 

“Smart woman.” Sam says, void of any tone. Bucky might just be trying to get a rise out of him, and Sam is too tired to take the bait. He doesn’t want to argue. 

 

Their whole mission, Bucky pestered him about the shield without ever asking Sam to explain why he didn’t take it. Not once did Bucky check on him without the double-side of a selfish response. He supposed helping to fix the boat was an apology, but somehow it isn’t good enough for him. Bucky is someone he has to tolerate, not like. Nothing says they have to be friends. The other man made that clear when he refused Sam’s calls for six months and then suddenly showed up to plague him with the guilt of donating the shield. 

 

“You okay?” Bucky asks again. This time, there’s no snark. Pure questioning. 

 

Sam finally turns his head to look at him. Like always, Bucky was already watching as if calculating Sam’s next move. It took some getting used to, constantly having eyes on him. It made his nerves flutter. 

 

“I think that’s my line.” 

 

“Not tonight, pal.” 

 

Sam purses his lips. “Don’t you have that flight to catch?” He means it as a joke, but there’s no humor behind the words. 

 

Bucky must not be on the mood to joke either because all he does his squint. “You said I could stay.” 

 

Sam sighs and shakes his head in defeat. “Why did you come?” He asks with more bite than he intended. Too late to take it back now. 

 

“To drop the case off.” Bucky answers quickly, sitting very still.

 

Sam nods. Its not untrue, there's nothing to argue about it. He doesn’t mention that the Wakandan case was delivered to him hours ago and that Bucky offered to fix the boat rather than leave. Bucky looked like a kicked puppy when he mentioned leaving, who is Sam to kick him out when he starts to fit in? Everyone wants to be needed. If Bucky finds solace in Delacroix Sam won’t take it away from him. The city is big enough for the two of them. 

 

“Lets go before Sarah locks us out.” Sam says quietly. 

 

Bucky doesn’t answer, just follows him on the small path back to the house. Inside, the living room is illuminated by the glowing light of the television. It’s quietly playing a different chef show that Sarah must like, as she’s sprawled across the couch. He gives a small smile to her snoring figure. Even as kids she’s always fallen asleep watching whatever their dad would play to knock them out like lights. His heart aches when he throws a blanket over her, tucking her in like she always did for him when their parents would work late. 

 

Sam signals with a finger against his lips for Bucky to be quiet as they go up the stairs to Sam’s room. He opens the door to his bedroom for the other man. 

 

“You can crash in here.” Sam whispers. They’re practically nose to nose in the cramped hallway, chests brushing together when Bucky turns to scowl. 

 

“I’m not putting you out of a bed, Wilson.” 

 

Sam rolls his eyes. “Shut up and get in. I’d never hear the end of it if I let you lay on the floor,” Bucky opens his mouth to speak, but closes it after Sam shoves a knitted quilt in his arms. “Sweet dreams.” Before Bucky can argue more, Sam pushes him into the room and shut the bedroom door. 

 

They has ended up staying out there pretty late, or rather early in the morning. Sam hadn’t realized how long they were sitting outside for. He doesn’t want to think about why time always goes by quicker when Bucky is near. 

 

Sam heads back to the boat to work on the engine. His brain is a little foggy from sleepiness as he pushes the stopper to no avail. He can’t help but think about what Sarah told him the catastrophe that was the bank appointment. How he ran as far away as possible when things got tough. Sam tells himself the distance will make everything hurt less. Keeping to himself is the simplistic version of self-preservation but to her face, he blatantly denies it. He doesn’t need Sarah’s worry, doesn’t want to take anything else away from her. The guilt sits on his chest with so much weight he thinks his ribs might snap from the pressure. He wonders when his heart might give out from the burden. 

 

That’s what he does, right? Carry the load. Sam will take the deadweight with a string made of twine that only fits between his fingers. 

 

“Penny for your thoughts?” 

 

For the record he does not scream. Sam tries to tell himself that as the tools clatter to the floor and he jumps so much he hits his head on the ceiling of the boat. “Jesus fucking Christ, man!” He yelps. "You really need to stop sneaking up on me like that before I have a goddamn heartattack." 

 

Holding back his laughter, Bucky picks up the tools and places them back on the table next to the engine. “I thought you’d hear me come down.”

 

Sam glares at the man and rubs the back of his. That’ll definitely leave a lovely bruise for later. “How did you know where I was? Sarah’s never up this early.” 

 

Bucky just shrugs. “Lucky guess.” He looks around, then lets his eyes fall on Sam. “I thought I was bad at hitting the sack.” 

 

“Hitting the sack? What is this, nineteen-” 

 

“Stop deflecting.” Bucky says, sternly but not unkindly. “Talk to me, Sam.” 

 

“Oh, so we’re on a first name basis now, huh?” 

 

The other man doesn’t respond. Their eye contact doesn’t break as Bucky slides down the wall and into the floor, crossing his legs like he’ll be there for a while. Bucky is staring at Sam like he’s searching for something and hasn’t found it yet. 

 

Sam sighs and takes a seat next to Bucky. The space is so cramped they’re forced to press their arms together, legs overlapping. “Sorry for snapping, I'm just… tired, I guess.” 

 

“Tired.” Bucky repeats, nodding his head in understanding. “Of what?” 

 

Sam shrugs. Falls quiet but not compliant upon being questioned. He doesn't owe Bucky a sob story about why he can't just lay down with everything that's happened. He thinks his saddness would fall upon deaf ears. 

 

“You’re doing it again.” Bucky prods. 

 

Sam thinks of the last time Bucky asked if he was okay. It was after Madripoor, after finding safety in Sharon’s house only to get jumped by a bunch of bounty hunters. Bucky had asked if Sam was okay, and he gave an honest answer. Then Bucky had completely shut him down. Invalidated everything he’d expressed. He knows he should tell Bucky that he hurt him. It's the least Bucky deserves. 

 

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Sam tells him quietly. 

 

They can’t go on like this. Sam can’t keep letting people in and loving them only to become the doormat underneath their feet. The empathy he feels overpowers him sometimes. He shakes with the grief for other people’s losses that have nothing to do with him. 

 

The world ends everyday just for different people. The pain of losing sometimes just isn’t enough for the brevity of loving. Sam has yet to learn that lesson. 

 

At night, occasionally, he hears Riley’s voice in his ears. His voice cracks against Sam’s skull like he’s right next to him again. He doesn’t move a muscle when Riley spirals to the ground behind his closed eyes at night. If he moves, the scene is too real. If he breathes, it keeps going and going and Sam isn’t sure how many more times he can watch it happen. Riley knew everything about him- a constant presence beside Sam’s side- until he wasn’t. Sam had lost everything in a matter of seconds. It all collapsed in front of him. Sam didn’t mind being alone until Riley came along. When they were together he couldn’t imagine a night without him until he had to live it every morning after that

 

When Sam sees Riley in his dreams, he wakes up into the nightmare that is another day without him. It’s another hundred pounds upon Sam’s chest. It may become easier to lift over time but that doesn’t make it lighter. 

 

“Okay.” Bucky replies gently. “Do you want to be alone?” 

 

Sam looks to Bucky for something that even he isn’t sure of yet. Since the man had arrived, he’d been nothing but careful. Bucky has been walking on eggshells; never intruding on purpose and keeping mind of his retorts. There’s something sprouting from the oddity of their antagonism. There’s a warmth where there once was nothing at all. Not empty space exactly. The piece didn't exist yet. 

 

Sam shakes his head. “No.” 

 

They sit in an effortlessly comfortable silence this time. If Bucky notices Sam leaning his way more than just friends probably would, he doesn’t mention it. The boat rocks below them. 

 

“Are you going to leave?” Sam pries softly. 

 

Bucky leans his head against the wall behind his head. He’s looking at Sam from the corner of his eye. Tentatively, he slips his hand into Sams. Cool metal against cordial skin. “Not this time.” 

 

Sam closes his eyes.