"bad news, boys," sam sighed, returning his phone to his jacket pocket, "looks like jason isn't going to make it either."
aj pouted. "so, no one's coming?"
"probably has something to do with that damn storm,” sam said. outside there was a downpour of rain falling in thick sheets, completely obscuring their view past the glass front door. "this is my fault. i should've checked the weather before we left the house."
"we can still play, though. right? we have the passes."
"yeah, but it's a team package," cass reminded his brother. "we can't play two against one and there’s no one else here."
sam crossed his arms and inspected the lobby. they were indeed the only people there, not including the few staff members seated at a table near a magenta-tinted arcade area with their noses buried in their phones.
"i think i can help with that," a voice said from behind sam.
sam turned and found himself face to face with the clerk they'd bought their tickets from earlier, the scruffy-looking man that seemed a little out of place amongst the younger staff. sam gave him a quick scan, his eyes catching the name plastered to his chest via a paper name tag, scribbled by hand using a marker.
"and what exactly can you do for us... bucky?" sam frowned. what kind of name was ‘bucky’?
"i can be your extra," he said, removing a hairband from his wrist and swiftly tying up his hair into a tidy bun. with more of him now visible, sam could get a better view of his face, all hard lines and soft eyes. "and it's a nickname," bucky added, smirking and moving past a puzzled sam towards the game room. "c'mon, let's suit up."
at the entrance to the course, bucky grabbed a few target vests and helped the boys slide into them before making his way to sam and doing the same.
"we'll be on the same team and go up against your nephews." he tugged on a strap and adjusted the tightness of the vest, loosening it across his chest. "you ever played before?"
"yeah," sam replied idly, focused on bucky’s fingers. "i mean, no. it’s my first time playing but i figure i can handle..." he trailed off when bucky finished and removed his staff shirt to reveal a simple black one underneath, the clingy fabric offering sam a visual feast he had a difficult time tearing his eyes away from.
"there's nothing to it really." bucky secured his own vest and handed sam a laser gun, snapping him out of his shameless ogling. "just stick close to me and follow my lead, okay?"
sam nodded then shook his head once bucky turned his back. he was there to spend time with his nephews, not thirst over some stranger like a damn teenager. but there was something about bucky—something sam felt in every little touch and expression and whisper shared between them. something he felt growing as they hunkered down behind a massive half-wall and discussed best battle strategies against his nephews as if they’d done it countless times before.
“look, you need me,” sam murmured. “you can’t cross that aisle without me covering for you.”
bucky shook his head. “too risky. remember last time?”
“what do you suggest then, huh?”
“go around the back. then we can—”
“you do know that’s what they’re expecting us to do, right? i’m starting to think you’re not as good at this as you think you are.”
“and i’m starting to think you’re being difficult on purpose,” bucky shot back, earning him a glare from sam. “it’s cute though.”
sam lost himself for a moment and echoed bucky’s words. “‘cute’?”
cass and aj fired at the targets on their chests from overhead before bucky could get in another word.
“new game!” both boys shouted, descending the wall and launching themselves at bucky and sam.
even given their endless chatter and short attention spans, bucky was good at humoring his nephews. like, really good. his overly theatrical deaths whenever they nailed a shot, the playful trash-talking from across the room. after offering his shoulders to aj and cass for multiple victory laps around the course following their first win, sam realized that it was bucky’s warmth that had charmed him so easily—although he couldn’t deny the pull of the physical attraction as well.
“you know,” bucky whispered to sam as they sat crouched behind a barrier at the start of a new round, “i hope this isn’t too forward, but— shit , hang on.” he grabbed sam’s hand, leading him further down the length of the wall and away from the boys until they reached a little nook tucked away in a corner.
sam peered down at their hands, his palm and face growing hot. “what—”
“what are you doing after this?”
“i mean,” bucky hesitated, creases forming between his eyes, “could i—could we—”
“got you!” cass yelled, aiming his gun at bucky’s chest and hitting his target before swiftly doing the same with sam’s.
“you got us!” bucky exclaimed, falling onto his back and putting his hands up in defeat. “we surrender.”
“and it’s our final surrender.” sam checked his phone and glanced back up the path they’d come from where a group of new players were putting on their gear. “time for us to go, boys. the storm’s let up and i can hear both your stomachs growling.”
“sure it isn’t your stomach?” bucky quipped.
sam swatted bucky’s arm.
“uncle sam,” cass began as bucky lifted him onto his back and they walked towards the exit, “can bucky come with us to get lunch?”
“yeah, can bucky come too?” aj asked.
bucky and sam exchanged a look, neither of them able to hold each other’s gazes for too long before turning away with matching grins.
“you like pizza?” sam stole a peek at bucky’s face. “there’s a place near here. we go all the time—”
“antonio’s?” bucky cut in.
sam nodded slowly, his smile growing. “yeah. you know it?”
“do you need to clear things with your boss before you head out?”
they all returned their vests and guns to their rightful places and lingered in the entryway afterward.
“oh, no. i don’t work here,” bucky said, and then quickly continued after sam tilted his head. “i mean, i was filling in for someone but i was on my way out when you guys came in. a buddy of mine owns the place and i help them out sometimes when i can. i own a bookstore,” he said, sheepishly.
sam cocked an eyebrow. “a bookstore?”
“not as cool as this place but it pays the bills. and you know,” bucky shrugged, “books are fun.”
“can we go visit sometime?” cass looked up at bucky then over at sam. “please?”
sam herded aj and cass out the front door, a yellowish post-storm haze cast over the parking lot as bucky followed them out. “let’s take it one day at a time. don’t wanna overwhelm our new friend.”
“it’s actually not far from antonio’s,” bucky said, “ i could give you all a tour after we’re done. i mean, if you have the time. you don’t have—”
“i’m game,” sam said. “how about you, boys?”
both of his nephews enthusiastically agreed, piling into sam’s truck as he swapped contact information with bucky, just in case the two of them somehow got separated on the straight shot, ten-minute drive to their destination. they said their goodbyes and sam patted bucky on the back, almost immediately regretting the thoughtless action when bucky gave him one as well and his body nearly melted into his touch.
“see you in a few.” bucky flashed a grin and gave him a small salute, undoing his bun and letting his hair fall past his shoulders. he made his way to what sam thought was his car, but ended up being someone else’s vehicle blocking the motorcycle parked next to it.
“what in the hell have i gotten myself into?” sam muttered to himself, returning bucky’s wave with one of his own as he sped out of the lot, hair whipping behind him.