Sam was getting used to there being a white boy on his sister's couch. Seemed like there'd been one parked on there more often than not since James Buchanan Barnes followed him home like a lost puppy.
Well, that might not be fair.
The first time, Bucky had actually shown up with an apology and a gift. Sam's mama had taught him not to turn away either if they were brought in good faith. And the second time he'd had an invitation. Not a lost puppy at all. Still, though, something about the third time, the fourth time, the…what were they on now, seventh?
Bucky'd been looking for something for a long time, and Sam was beginning to think he'd found a piece of it in the Wilson family home.
Sam stepped softly from the hallway over to the kitchen, careful to avoid the squeaky floorboard. Bucky had the hearing of a cat and woke up way too easily. The man's heritage (Italian? Sam'd never asked) had already given him dark circles under his eyes. If he got any more sleep deprived he'd look like he was back in the Winter Soldier's eye black.
Sam had started a game—he won if he managed to get a full cup of coffee before Bucky woke up, and Bucky won if heard Sam. Sam hadn't done anything like inform Bucky they were playing. As soon as he did that Bucky would give himself insomnia out of spite. It might be funny to watch, but even Sam wasn't that cruel.
Sam was in the middle of pouring a cup when he heard Bucky stir. Close enough. Point, Sam. "Coffee?" he asked softly, trusting that Bucky would hear him in the quiet house.
"Sure," Bucky called back, just a little louder, making sure Sam's non-enhanced hearing would pick it up.
Sam came back with two cups, his own basic mix of milk and a little bit of sugar, and Bucky's pitch black and tooth-rottingly sweet brew. Bucky took it, his eyes fluttered closed as he sipped, then he smiled over at Sam in real pleasure.
Heat prickled along Sam's skin as he looked at that smile. Excited little butterflies flapped to life in his stomach, and then died when Sam ruthlessly shoved them back down again. They had just found their pace together. Sam had just settled into the shield; Bucky had just started to grow beyond the man Steve had known. They weren't ready for anything else.
"What's the plan for the day?" Sam asked. It was lazy morning conversation, banal to the point of drivel. But considering their early days full of spit and fire, every easy morning was it's own sort of miracle.
"Mrs. Cooper's Buick is acting up. She says it's, uh, possessed." A sheepish expression flashed across Bucky's face before he took another sip of coffee. "I told her it was probably the starter, and she said I could have a look before she called the reverend."
"You know she's messing with you, right?" Sam asked with a laugh. "Mrs. Cooper's daughter's a mechanic up in Birmingham. She probably knows more about cars than you do."
Bucky shrugged. "Something's still wrong with her starter. I can help. You taking the boat out?"
Sam nodded. "My turn. Give Sarah a break. Gonna take AJ out too, get some uncle-nephew bonding in."
Bucky finished his coffee, and stretched, his shirt riding up to expose a thin strip of stomach.
Sam tried not to look. He mostly succeeded.
"I don't want to do this," AJ said, but he wasn't whining. He was poking a fish with his index finger, looking contemplative. He had been good company out at sea, laughing and making jokes, helping Sam get the catch in. Now, though, he looked grave, more like the teenager he was about to be than the child he still was.
"We're almost going in," Sam replied, but he was pretty sure that wasn't what AJ meant.
"No, not like that. I mean—maybe Cass will want to do it. But I don't think I do." He shot Sam a worried look. "I know it's a family business and all but—you left."
Sam winced. "I came back." He hoped it was reassuring. His five years away were still something he struggled to talk about.
"No, not—" AJ made a face. "Not like that. I mean before. You were in the Air Force, and then you were the Falcon. You didn't stay here and help run the fishing boat."
Sam paused. He thought about what his nephew was saying. "And you think you might want to do the same?"
"Not the same, the same," AJ said quickly. "Your job seems cool and all, but I don't think I want to be Captain America."
Sam was hit by a swell of confused pride. Not so much for the dismissive, 'cool and all.' But the way AJ talked—for him, being Captain America was a possibility to be considered and dismissed, just like running the family boat. It made Sam proud of what he was doing.
This conversation wasn't about Sam, though. "You can do what you want. And it's not a one-or-the-other sort of thing. I realized I wanted both—doing okay at having it so far."
"Maybe," AJ said dubiously.
"Do you have any idea what you do want?" Sam asked.
"No," AJ said with a world-weary slump that was utterly out of place on his normally cheerful frame. "But I don't think it's fish."
"You've got a lot of time to figure it out." Sam reached out a hand and gave AJ a side-hug. "I've got your back, and so will your mom."
"Don't tell her," AJ said quickly, looking up at him. Big worried eyes peered out from behind his glasses. "I don't want to make her sad."
Sam squeezed AJ tight again. "Your mama wants you happy. More than anything else in the world. If being on this boat isn't going to do it, then she's going to want you to find something that does. I promise." Sam paused. "Why are you worrying about this now?"
AJ hummed and snuggled into the hug. "Heard Mac Kitchens talking the other day. He was telling Mom that she was lucky to have her boys. Now that the boat was all fixed up and business was picking up, she'd have a legacy to leave us. I dunno. Got me thinking."
"You keep thinking," Sam said, dropping a kiss against the top of AJ's head. Whatever else he did with his life, he was proud of this, that his nephews felt safe sharing with him. "And when you're ready to share, I know your mom is going to be ready to hear it."
"Thanks," AJ said quietly. "I'm glad you decided to do both. I like having you around more. Mr. Barnes, too."
Sam's heart was so warm and full it was going to explode. "I like being around. And I guess Bucky's alright." Sam made a face.
AJ laughed. Then he schooled his expression, and pushed back away from Sam's side with a serious little nod. "Let's bring the haul home," he said, with a decent attempt at professionalism.
"Aye aye," Sam said indulgently, and went to go steer back to shore.
"How was your day?" Sam asked, as he unloaded the day's catch into the back of the refrigerated truck Sarah had managed to buy cheap off someone a couple towns over.
"Quiet," Sarah said with relish, as she maneuvered a tub full of fish into position. "I don't think I've had the house to myself since before Cass was born. Thanks for keeping the gremlin busy."
"Hey!" AJ called, from where he was moving tubs to make them easier to grab. "I heard that."
"Good!" Sarah called back.
So, if Sam had taken AJ… "Where was Cass?"
Sarah rolled her eyes. "Where do you think?" She jerked her thumb over her shoulder to the house's front yard, where Cass was screaming and spraying Bucky with a watergun. Bucky was down on his knees, crying dramatically for mercy, each loud moan causing Cass to giggle-scream even louder. "He left in the morning on Bucky's shoulders and they just got back an hour ago."
From behind Sam, AJ gave a faint sigh, and Sam glanced over his shoulder to see him staring wistfully at the scene. "Go on then," Sam said, slapping AJ on the shoulder. "Good work today."
AJ brightened up, and he once again looked more like a kid than a teenager, and he tore down the dock toward the yard. He crashed into the scene with a dramatic yell, taking all of five seconds to find his own watergun and turn it on Bucky too.
"He's good with 'em," Sarah said softly, watching her boys play. "Cass'd already been gone two hours before I realized I wasn't worried. I worry when Tití Antoine takes them out, and she's raised at least twenty kids in one way or another."
"He's tricky like that. Worms past your defenses," Sam nodded knowingly. "Gotta keep your guard up."
Sarah smacked his arm. "Sam," she scolded. "I'm trying to say something nice about your friend."
"Don't." Sam cut his hand across his neck in a slicing motion. "It'll go straight to his head."
"I was talking with Liz today," Sarah said. "She asked me if I was fixin' to marry the boy. 'He's a little pale, but we don't judge,' she said. Seems folks are starting to talk, with how much he's around."
Sam's skin went cold, and prickles raced up his arms. Bucky was his and Sam—
Sam wanted his sister happy.
"Are you interested?" he asked, proud of the way he kept his cool. "I mean, I think you can do way better, but he'd be lucky to have you."
Sarah sighed, and gave him a look. She had learned it from their mother, and could wield it with startling accuracy.
"What?" Sam asked. "Is he bothering you? Seriously, tell me and I'll make sure it stops."
"Sam," Sarah said firmly.
"What?" Sam spread his hands, baffled.
"How long are you going to make that boy sleep on the couch?" Sarah asked.
Sam froze, the world slipped sideways, and all the things he had been ignoring came roaring into view. He turned and grabbed another tub.
"Thought so," Sarah said, sounding smug. "I don't go for guys my big brother's got his eye on."
"It's not," Sam tried to recover, but he still couldn't meet Sarah's eyes. "We're not—"
"Why not?" Sarah shot back, cutting him off.
"There's a lot of baggage there, don't know if you've noticed," Sam said, flattening his lips.
"You ain't exactly flying with just a carryon yourself, sir," Sarah said.
Sam held up his hands. "Wait. What is happening here? Are you really trying to set me up with a hundred-something-year-old assassin?"
"I'm trying to get you to realize you're already gone on a hundred-something-year-old assassin. Look at him," Sarah pointed aggressively down the dock.
Bucky had rallied, and now had Cass on his shoulders, running around the yard at breakneck speed as Cass held his arms out like wings. AJ chased after them, squirting the gun and making jet fighter noises. They all looked so happy. There was something right about the picture, kids feeling free to be kids, Bucky getting the chance to drop the serious act and cut loose.
There was a snap of a camera, and Sarah smirked from behind her cell phone. She turned the screen around, showing Sam the shot. "Oh yeah, I'm seeing a real lack of interest there."
Sam looked down at the screen and sighed. He had the stupidest smile on his face, even the corners of his eyes were crinkled up in affection. "Would you buy it if I said I was smiling because of the boys?"
"Nope," Sarah said, because she was nobody's fool. "Look, I get it if it's too much. But, I'm just saying, when you leave the room, he looks over at you the same way. Maybe, just maybe, the two of you could consider sorting your shit out."
Sam looked down at the photo, then nudged the phone back toward Sarah with his index finger. "Yeah, sure. Get a picture of him looking like that, then we'll talk."
Sarah snorted. "A'ight. I see how it is. You just go on being emotionally repressed. See how that works out for you."
Sam crept downstairs, and there was still a white boy asleep on Sarah's couch. The morning sun was slipping over him, it already covered him up to his knees. Bucky had about forty minutes before the sun would find his face, bathing his pale skin and silky hair in warm amber light. Bucky was always beautiful in the morning sun, sleep rumpled and touchable.
Touchable. Damn Sarah for making it awkward anyway.
She hadn't really said anything Sam didn't already know, at some level. Yeah, Sam thought Bucky was hot. Yeah, that had deepened into something else while Bucky's strength was slotted next to Sam's as they were off trying to stop Karli and Walker and all the madness of the broken world. Yeah, having those same strong arms help fix his family's boat had added another level to even that.
Sam wanted him.
He shook his head and picked his way to the kitchen. He took a step wrong and a floorboard creaked. Across the room, Bucky's eyes shot open. Damn. Point for Bucky in the game he still didn't know he was playing. He was stiff for half a second, before he saw Sam, and relaxed with a tired smile.
"Coffee?" Sam asked.
"Sure," Bucky answered.
He and Bucky could probably have something casual with each other and not break what they had. They had a whole dynamic, they bickered, they harassed each other. Sam could pretty easily see slotting mutual blowjobs into their thing and then going on their way, a couple orgasms richer for their trouble.
But Sam's stupid heart didn't want that. It got all wounded just at the idea of it. There was an ache in Sam's chest and it was the same part of him that wanted a home and a family and stable ground to land on. Bucky had apparently managed to slide past the stage where being fuckbuddies was possible, and into something a lot more essential. If Sam put himself out there, and Bucky didn't want the same things, if he got uncomfortable enough that he stopped coming around—it'd be devastating.
Not that he was ever going to let Bucky know how important he'd become. That was power he did not need.
Sam brought a too-sweet cup of coffee over to Bucky and settled into the chair next to him for their morning routine, chatting about their plans for the day.
They had a morning routine. Sam was so fucked.
"Was thinking maybe in the afternoon we could go to the beach and play frisbee," Bucky said, with a significant nod over to the circular carrying bag. "Give you the chance to practice against something a little more unpredictable than a tree."
Sam snorted. "That's you all over, isn't it. Slightly less predictable than a tree."
"It's a skill," Bucky said, winking at him. "Anyway, Reverend Brown said that since I did such a good job with the 'exorcism of the Buick' that I should come over and help fix the church roof."
"They are all taking advantage of you and your Protestant work ethic," Sam informed him.
"It's actually the Irish Catholic guilt," Bucky informed him seriously. Then he shrugged. "The roof needs to be fixed. It's the neighborly thing to do."
Sam tried very hard not to think about the word neighborly, and what that might imply about Bucky's long-term plans. He deflected. "You're Irish?"
Bucky looked a little wistful as he said, "Irish-Italian. Long time ago."
"Pretty sure you're still Irish-Italian."
Bucky gave a wry chuckle. "Just mean…world's changed. Feels like it means something different these days." He stretched, shaking his head. "Nevermind, I'm not making sense. Gonna hop in the shower." He clapped Sam on the shoulder as he stood up and started walking away.
Sam watched him go, fighting the urge to flip over into Group Counselor Mode. He'd talked with enough guys to pay attention to their defensive spots, learned to gently press and listen as they shared their hurt. There was something there, about the passing of time, passing of family.
But Sam wasn't Bucky's counselor. He'd decided that a long time ago. Probably when he'd taken the wings up and chased after Steve. He had decided to be Steve's friend, his partner, not his therapist. Which meant that when Bucky showed up Sam would fight him, would fight next to him, but he was never going to be the one to put the guy back together. There was too much between them for that.
Probably for the best, Sam thought as he watched Bucky go. Sam's heart had decided to get involved, and it was nice that he didn't have to worry about an ethical violation on top of all the other complicated things between them.
Not that he was going to do anything about it.
The sound of the downstairs bathroom started. Sam got up and started rinsing off the coffee cups, instead of thinking about anything involving warm water and Bucky's current state of undress.