The minute they walked through the door, Bucky muttered, "This is a bad idea."
Sam was having second thoughts as well. Zemo, on the other hand, seemed fully in his element.
It was the sort of high-end boutique where nothing had prices and it was clear that most of the display items were custom. Sam had never been inside a place like this in real life; in fact, although he had sort of a general idea that such places existed, he had only ever seen this on TV.
It got even more TV-like when a group of tailors descended on Zemo, who was soon giving cheerful directions and having Sam and Bucky measured for ... whatever it was that he was planning to put them in this time.
"This better not be another pimp suit," Sam muttered in between fittings.
"We could've just bought something in a department store," Bucky said. "I assume the future still has department stores."
It was clear that this was pitched for Zemo to hear, and Zemo didn't fail to react. "One does not walk into one of the Viscountess's parties wearing off the rack clothing, are you mad?"
"Says the felon on a tracking anklet."
Zemo's playful look flickered a little. "All the more reason why our cover must be impeccable."
Sam didn't want to admit it—but Zemo had good taste in clothes. It was an interesting contrast to Madripoor, where Zemo had gone in with a plan that was, it had seemed, almost designed to mess with them. This time, though, Sam got the feeling that Zemo was picking out things he thought they'd like.
At least that seemed to be true of Bucky. Rather than the Winter Soldier getup, this time it was a tailored black leather coat that hugged his body, emphasized his shoulders and chest, and left Sam's throat dry.
Sam wasn't sure that he was the most accurate judge of how his outfit looked, but he liked it, a dark blue suit with a little flare around the lapels and cuffs that hinted faintly at "classic" without going all the way to "zoot suit."
"This would look good on you, Sam," Zemo said.
He turned with a slender gold chain in his fingers, and held it up to Sam's throat. His warm fingertips brushed across Sam's skin.
Sam was suddenly, intensely aware of how close Zemo was, of the fine slant of his eyelashes as he cast down his eyes. When Zemo flicked his eyes up, his gaze was warm.
"Yes," Zemo murmured. "Perfect."
Sam swallowed. "What did I say about making me look like a pimp?"
"You look beautiful," Zemo said.
What caught Sam off guard wasn't the compliment so much—it was par for the course with Zemo's strange mix of flirtiness and trolling—but rather, the longing wistfulness in Zemo's voice. That sounded genuine. But Zemo was already turning away to accessorize Bucky's suit with a silver watch that he fastened around Bucky's wrist with careful, delicate fingers.
Sam found himself watching the glide of those fingers in the hollow of Bucky's wrist. Bucky seemed mesmerized, and Sam wondered what the hell they'd gotten themselves into.
The party was as excruciating as Sam had expected, a lot of rich people standing around making idle conversation while he and Bucky tried not to give themselves away by using the wrong fork or exhibiting inappropriate political opinions.
If he needed something to draw his attention away from the glitterati crowd, Bucky was all the distraction he needed. Sam had never really believed in the "clothes make the man" adage until seeing what a difference custom-tailored clothes actually did make. Bucky was stunning.
As for Zemo, there was never a time when he wasn't impeccably tailored, but there was something especially striking about him tonight. Rather than his usual slightly military stylings, tonight he wore a suit in a shade of purple so dark that it shimmered nearly to black, with his signature coat swept over the top.
He smiled when he noticed Sam looking at him, but that earlier wistfulness, that intensity, was still there, peeking out in flashes in between his smooth, urbane efforts to extract information from the party guests.
There was an energy between all of them tonight. It was the charged nature of any undercover op; by now Sam had begun to recognize it. But it was honed to a heightened sharpness, almost vibrating in the air. It had started in the boutique and continued in the limo afterwards, all of them intense and on. And now, in public, when there was nothing he could do about it, he found that it was driving him crazy.
He didn't even have to look to find either of the other two. It was as if he knew exactly where they were, as if lines of charged force connected all three of them tonight.
Still, he wasn't expecting Zemo to glide up to him at the buffet. On the whole, they had been trying to avoid spending too much time talking to each other. Now, half hidden behind a large ornament plant and a chocolate fountain, Zemo brushed Sam's shoulder with his own.
"Find out anything?" Sam asked quietly.
"Oh, I'll have plenty to share afterwards." Zemo leaned forward and started to reach for something on the buffet table, but he turned it into a casual turn toward Sam. "You know, I was right," he murmured, and raised a hand to run his fingertips across the gold necklace. "This does look beautiful on you."
And then he was gone, swanning off into the swirling, glittering crowd.
Sam touched the delicate links and blew out a breath.
He looked up and saw Bucky watching from across the room, eyes dark and wanting.
Jesus, Sam thought. They were playing with fire tonight, and he had a hard time remembering why he was supposed to care.
He made his way through the crowd to Bucky. "You look as ready to get out of here as I am."
Bucky smiled, and Sam found his hands itching to run his fingertips down the scruffy line of Bucky's jaw. "What are we doin' here?" Bucky asked quietly. "We don't belong here."
Sam turned to look for Zemo. The swish of the coat was hard to miss. "He does."
"Does he, though?" Bucky murmured.
Sam started to answer, and then he just watched. At first glance, Zemo navigated the treacherous waters of the party's social currents with the grace of someone who was literally born to it. But when you watched him, really watched him, other patterns emerged. Like the way he never stayed for long in any specific social group—an outsider, not a native. Or the way that his gaze kept drifting toward Sam and Bucky, as if magnetized. Sam thought of his earlier fancy that they were all connected by invisible lines of force, stretching apart but not breaking.
"No, you're right," he said quietly. "He doesn't."
"Are we really getting anything useful at this damn party?" Bucky said under his breath, looking down on the pretext of checking his watch. He kept his hand there, Sam noticed, metal fingers lightly resting against the silver band.
"I think it's time to blow this place."
"At least this time we're doing it without actual explosions."
"Don't say that; we're not out yet."
They angled to collect Zemo. To Sam's surprise, it didn't take words. Zemo just fell in quietly with them.
They left separately, spaced out by a few minutes each. Sam went to get the limo, driven (naturally) by Oeznik, who was in the driver's seat, reading a magazine in the mansion's parking area.
When they pulled in to pick the others up, Bucky and Zemo were standing together next to an ornamental hedge a little ways removed from the main entrance.
Darkness had fallen while they were inside, and the lights outside the entrance cast long shadows, picking up subtle gold strands in Zemo's neatly swept-back hair and gilding the stubble along Bucky's cheek. It was an oddly private moment for them, making Sam realize that he didn't really just watch them interact much. Zemo leaned in to say something to Bucky, touching off one of Bucky's rare, warm smiles.
Sam took a moment to watch them, and then leaned over to open the limo door. "C'mon, get in here."
They climbed in, Zemo gathering his coat after him. Bucky sat with Sam, Zemo across from them, a subtle reestablishing of the barriers between them. As the limo pulled away, Zemo extracted a bottle of champagne from a tiny minifridge tucked beside the seat, along with three glasses. Sam laughed, he couldn't help it. It was all just so surreal, especially with the heightened energy thrumming between all three of them in the back of the limo. It put a warm gloss on the world.
Zemo smiled and poured for them. He flicked a glance over his shoulder. There was a smoked privacy shield separating them from Oeznik. "To the success of our endeavor," Zemo said, holding up his glass.
Sam dutifully clinked his glass with theirs. Bucky's shoulder was warm against his. "Do we really have any success to report?"
"Speak for yourself," Zemo said. "I've obtained the names of several highly placed Hydra plants that we can go after next."
He looked flushed and smug, Zemo half drunk on victory. Sam refused to admit how damned attractive it was. There was a strand of hair that had slipped off Zemo's forehead, and before he could stop himself he reached across to push it back into place.
Zemo went very still when Sam's fingers stroked along his forehead, his skin warm to the touch.
"Yeah, that's been bugging me all evening," Sam said. It came out gentler than he meant it to.
He drew his hand back carefully, but he was still startled when Zemo tossed back his champagne, put his glass aside, and then, on the floor of the limo—coat, boots, and all—went down to one knee and took one of Sam's hands in his.
Bucky looked equally surprised when Zemo wrapped his hand around Bucky's wrist, fingers running up the inside of Bucky's wrist under the wide silver band of the watch.
"You know what it was doing to me, watching you both all night?" Zemo murmured. His thumb stroked across the back of Sam's hand.
Zemo on his knees in front of them was certainly doing things to Sam.
"Oh, fuck it, if no one else will," Bucky said under his breath. He leaned forward and wrapped his metal hand around the back of Zemo's head and pulled him forward into a kiss.
It started hard and combative, but Sam felt the moment when it softened—felt it in the abrupt relaxation of Zemo's hand on his. Zemo's eyes half closed; his mouth opened against Bucky's.
The softening in Bucky was more subtle and harder to recognize, but Sam felt the tension in Bucky uncoiling slowly in the pressure of Bucky's body against him. He felt the gentle forward incline of Bucky's posture, as if he was leaning into Zemo with everything in him.
Sam was captivated, watching them. Their lips parted, and Bucky gave Sam one of those warm, gentle smiles. "You want a go?"
Playing with fire. But he had never played it safe in his life. He wasn't going to start now.
"Hell yeah," Sam said.
Unexpectedly, Bucky didn't let go. His metal fingers were still sunk in the fine strands of Zemo's hair, curled around the back of his head, and it was Bucky who turned Zemo's head—carefully, gently—for Sam's lips to close over Zemo's.
Zemo tasted like champagne and—Sam didn't think it was his imagination—like Bucky too, smoke and leather and gunmetal. His mouth was mobile and receptive; his tongue flicked across Sam's lips.
When Sam drew back, he was breathless, not just from the kiss but from the softness in Zemo's eyes.
"How much of this did you plan, exactly?" Sam breathed out.
Zemo smiled a little. His eyes were half-closed; Bucky's hand was still cupped around the back of his head, fingertips stroking lightly across his temple. "What can I say," he murmured. "I appreciate a sharp-dressed man."
They were already tearing each other's clothes off as they stumbled through the door of the hotel room, ripping off items at random, leaving half of them on because they couldn't be bothered to properly strip. Bucky shed his neatly tailored black slacks, but kept the leather coat; it pooled around Sam as Bucky crouched above him on the bed.
Sam had never had a threesome before. It was a hot chaotic mess of bodies sliding against each other, Bucky's hands in his hair, Zemo's mouth on his cock. The energy that had been mounting all evening between them—and longer than that, maybe since they had met in a parking garage in Berlin—exploded in heated, tense, yet unexpectedly tender sex. It wasn't how he would have thought it would go; he would've expected more combativeness, not the gentle scrape of Bucky's stubble against his cheek, the hands catching him and the way that Zemo shuddered when he came with his face against Sam's chest and Bucky buried balls-deep in him.
Afterwards, they lay tangled in a sweaty heap on the bed, Sam's head resting on Bucky's shoulder and Zemo's arm draped limply across his rib cage. They were still only half undressed, and the clothes they'd shed lay in a heap trailing back to the door. Sam was pretty sure that supersoldier strength had torn his nice tailored jacket in half as Bucky had ripped it off him. It had been hot at the time; now he regretted it a little.
Zemo raised his head, noticing the direction of Sam's gaze. "I'll buy you more."
"You just like dressing us," Bucky said from Sam's other side.
"And undressing you."
"Walked right into that one," Bucky muttered. He was running his hand lightly up and down Sam's arm.
Sam reluctantly peeled himself out of bed long enough to go get a washcloth to clean up. He noticed in the process that it was Bucky's bed they had tumbled into. That made sense; Bucky had, as was his habit, taken the bedroom nearest the door, and so it was the logical one to fall into when they came in. He hadn't been registering details at the time.
He returned to find the other two still tangled in the remainder of their wrecked clothes. Bucky had rolled over when Sam left so that his face was now tucked against Zemo's neck. It gave Sam a twisted-up muddle of tender feelings. He shed his shirt and socks—the few things he'd kept on—and sat on the edge of the bed with the cloth.
"My turn," Bucky said, sitting up. He took the washcloth.
Zemo submitted to being wiped down with the lazy pleasure of a satisfied cat. Sam snorted and rolled onto the edge of the bed, pulling the blanket over them.
"You're still wearing it," Zemo said. He propped himself up on an elbow. Bucky was no longer between them; he'd climbed out of bed to return the washcloth to the bathroom and strip off the rest of his clothes.
It took Sam a moment to realize what Zemo was referring to. He'd taken off everything—oh. He self-consciously touched his neck, where the slim gold chain was warm to his skin.
"Yeah," he said. He wasn't used to wearing jewelry; it slithered across his skin in an unfamiliar way when he moved.
"And it still looks beautiful there," Zemo murmured. He reached over to brush his fingertips lightly across Sam's collarbone.
"Bucky's right, you like dressing us up."
Zemo smiled and collapsed lazily back into the bed. "If it gets me this, I'll buy you anything you want."
That landed wrong. "That's not why," Sam said.
It must have come out offended enough to make an impression. Zemo rolled onto his elbow again. "I ... know," he said, not quite meeting Sam's eyes. "That's not why. I like the illusion of—tenderness, perhaps. Money can buy anything except that."
"It's not an illusion, you idiot."
Zemo was still looking at him with a soft, strange gaze when Bucky came back. "Am I missing the heavy emotional conversations? Too bad," he said, and shoved Zemo over. "Make room."
Sam found himself with an armful of Zemo, who seemed to be uncharacteristically warm and cuddly in his post-coital state. "Oh, he gets to be in the middle?" Sam said.
"Gotta make sure he doesn't go anywhere," Bucky said. He reached over to turn out the light.
"Don't worry," Zemo said softly. He curled into Sam, and Sam felt Bucky reach over him, fingers brushing across Sam's hip. Zemo pressed his lips against Sam's neck, just below the necklace. "I'm not planning on going anywhere."