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The first time Sam Wilson saw the Winter Soldier again, after the Soviet assassin sent him freewheeling out into the air with a wing torn off, was not at all where he expected to. He and Steve had spent the better part of three months tracing back through the Asset’s history, finding out all they could about him, his handlers, his arm, anything they could get their hands on. They’d used as much of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s dwindling resources as could be spared, and more from Stark besides, but had come no closer to finding Steve’s missing friend. Sam had started to believe that he just didn’t want to be found, though he refrained from voicing his thoughts. Finally, though, they had decided to take a break; Sam needed time off, for a start, he’d been out of action for a while and it was easy for Steve to forget sometimes that regular humans didn’t have the same kind of stamina he had. Reluctantly, Sam had returned to his house in DC while Steve swung by Stark - now Avengers - Tower to capitalize on Stark and Banner’s skills while his new friend had some hard-earned R&R.

After a few days bumming around his small house and straightening things up, amazed at how dusty and out-of-sorts an empty home could get, Sam finally decided he needed to get outdoors again, and for more than his daily jog. He was still technically on sabbatical from his job at the VA and he wasn’t quite ready to go and show his face there again yet; there was something about the look people gave him now, once they found out he’d been involved in the whole S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA situation… he just wasn’t quite sure how to deal with that right now. It would come to him in time, he was sure, but it would have to wait until he could work out how he was processing it, let alone dealing with others’ reactions. He decided to start small, just heading to his favorite pizza place down the block from his home so that he could bolt if he needed to. It was unlike him to feel so ill at ease, but God knew it would be stranger for him to just accept it like there was nothing out of the ordinary about hurtling through the air propelled by man-made wings and fighting alongside one super-soldier against another super-soldier… yeah, even in his head that sounded incredible, he would have had a hard time believing it if he hadn’t lived through it.

He shoved his hands in the pockets of his coat and headed out towards the restaurant at an easy pace, glad to be out in the cool night air and enveloped in the relative darkness like a disguising cloak. In the early evening twilight he was just another guy, nobody special, nobody to look at twice. He was just like the blonde woman who walked past him going the other way, who didn’t spare him a moment’s glance. Just like the homeless dude curled up in the mouth of an alley, lank hair dripping out of his hood like molasses and one palm out on his knee, wordlessly begging for change. Sam dug in his pocket for a bill and pressed it into the guy’s hand as he passed, forcing himself to look at the man even though his instincts screamed at him not to; he was determined not to let his donation be his way of ‘seeing’ this man down on his luck, he didn’t want to let the man fall back into invisibility the second he was past the wall where he leaned, so he stopped himself before he released the bill and crouched down, still half-holding the other man’s hand.

“Hey buddy, when was the last time you had a good meal?” He tried to keep his voice even, his tone level as he spoke to the stranger, unsure if he would be angry or afraid. He knew from his work at the VA that sometimes these guys got stuck in their fight-or-flight instinct, and that they didn’t always react rationally when they felt threatened.

The man’s fingers twitched, like he was afraid Sam would pull away the bill if he answered wrongly. Sam released the note and the stranger quickly squirrelled it away in the pocket of his hoodie, not lifting his head for a second.

“I mean it, man. Let me buy you a meal. Keep the money, too, you look like you need it more than I do.”

The vagrant seemed to mull it over for a moment, his head moving strangely like he was trying to process this random act of kindness, before he gave a sharp nod and rose, unfolding from the wall with the grace of a marionette whose strings had been slowly pulled up and tightened. When he lifted his head, Sam felt his whole body break out in a cold sweat, his warm smile freezing on his face and his breath being punched from his lungs as if he’d been plunged into an icy bath. The man before him showed no recognition, but Sam Wilson didn’t need to see the metal left arm to recognize the Winter Soldier standing before him. It took him a moment to get his words back, while the other man stared at him oddly, but he decided he couldn’t go back on his offer now - as much as every muscle in his body was screaming at him to run, to get as far away from this man as possible and to call Steve right fucking now, he didn’t. He took a step back and placed his left hand on the Winter Soldier’s human right shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze of camaraderie.

“My name’s Sam, Sam Wilson,” he introduced himself, “what’s yours?”

The stranger squinted in confusion as if he had never been asked that question before, or at least as though he wasn’t exactly sure of the answer. Eventually he gave a sort of half shrug with one shoulder and looked away.

“Buddy.”

The voice was nothing like what Sam had expected.

Half of him, the half that woke up in the night soaked through with sweat dreaming of falling from that helicarrier with one wing spiralling out into nothingness beside him, had expected a deep, gravelly voice, perhaps thick with a Soviet accent or even just monosyllabic grunts, unable to formulate full words or sentences due to how long he had been under HYDRA’s mind control, how long he’d gone without anyone asking him a question.

The other half, the one that listened to Steve recite countless stories of his friendship with James Buchanan Barnes from boyhood right through to their time in the army, expected something warm, welcoming, like coming home to a well-lit family home with a roaring fire in the middle of a blizzard at Christmas. That half had believed that if he met ‘Bucky,’ he would like him right away just because of the way he spoke.

In no scenario had he expected what he got: a man broken, lost, and utterly hopeless. With one word Sam Wilson had heard years of pain, torture, and loneliness. His heart broke a little to hear the anguish in that single word, and the way the man clung to the first friend-like word he had probably heard from anyone who wasn’t his childhood friend in years, no, decades.

“Alright Buddy, let’s go,” he smiled more warmly this time, trying to express through that single look alone a sense of warmth, safety, and companionship to begin to thaw the former Soviet assassin’s heart.

Unsurprisingly, the walk went quietly with Sam trying not to fill the silence with inane chatter. The Soldier’s metal arm was covered by his hoodie and a thick leather glove, but it seemed he still didn’t want anyone to see it, didn’t want to be reminded of the part of him that gave him away as not normal, and he kept it in his lap once they had been seated. He managed a weak smile for the waitress, and despite his dishevelled appearance she flushed and giggled before turning away, returning to bring their order with a smile and a cheeky wink at the bewildered man. Buddy looked completely out of his depth, and managed to mutter a thank you before he stared intently at his food, perhaps hoping to consume it through sight and smell alone. He made no move to eat until Sam picked up his own slice and folded it in half, shoving the first inch into his mouth and biting off a chunk of cheesy, meaty heaven and chewing it quickly before diving in for another mouthful. The other man followed suit, though more slowly, and between them they began to devour the pizza.

They ate in companionable silence at first, Sam not knowing where he might start in engaging the man before him in conversation, and said man seemingly content to eat in silence anyway. Sam watched the othereat and quickly noticed that Buddy was mirroring everything he did, just more slowly and thoughtfully. Each bite he took had an air of exploration about it and if Sam shook some chilli flakes on his slice, Buddy would do the same with his next mouthful, sampling the morsel and considering it thoughtfully as he chewed. A flash of mischievousness took hold of Sam and he picked up the balsamic dressing bottle left on the table for diners to put on their salad, dashing a hefty amount on his own pizza and taking a big bite. He hated balsamic, but kept his face carefully neutral as he chewed and swallowed then pretended not to watch the other man mimic the action and bite into his own pizza.

He couldn't help breaking into laughter at the look of pure disgust that crossed the former Soviet assassin's face as the strong taste of the dressing overtook the meaty, cheesy goodness of the pizza, and he dropped the rest of the ruined slice on his plate uneaten before glaring at Sam for the trick. Sam laughed quietly and shook his head, sliding over his own last slice by way of apology.

“Sorry, man," he chuckled and Buddy snorted around his mouthful of pizza, shaking his head to show there were no hard feelings.

It was strangely surreal for Sam to be sitting here, in his favorite pizzeria, eating with the man who had almost killed him just a few months ago. Sharing a meal together like they were old friends instead of near-strangers and former enemies. He kept expecting Bucky to calmly dab at his lips and then flip the table with his inhuman strength and strangle him with that metal arm of his, yet somehow that never happened. Instead, they continued to eat, slowly and quietly, Sam occasionally stealing glances when he thought he could get away with it, while Buddy stared blankly down at his plate. It must have been taking all of his self control to eat so slowly, Sam thought, given how malnourished he looked now in the warm light of the restaurant. Where he had seemed the picture of perfect health before, at the Triskelion, he now looked small, skinny and frightened.

Sam realized with a jolt that Buddy reminded him of pictures he'd seen of Steve, back before the serum had given him height and bulk. Of course, it was only a trick of the light - Buddy was so hunched over and withdrawn he only appeared that way. Sam knew that beneath the layers of clothing the former assassin still retained muscle, he'd felt as much when he grasped the other’s shoulder in the street earlier, but seeing the broken man before him now he felt a wave of sympathy wash over him. How could this be the Soviet super-soldier who even the legendary Black Widow spoke of with awe and no small amount of fear?

His heart almost jumped out of his chest as the other man suddenly rose to his feet with the same fluid grace that he had in the alley; was he finally going to attack? Had all of this been an act? He forced himself to stay calm and keep breathing as his heart fluttered against his ribcage, but Buddy just gave him a small nod, barely even looking at him.

"Thanks."

With that he was gone, out of the door and out into the darkness of the street. Sam relaxed visibly, but felt a little regretful that he'd only managed to get two words out of the man he had spent so much time searching for with Steve. Steve. He would want to know that Sam had found Bucky. He dug in his pocket for his cellphone and had typed half of Steve's name into his contacts list before the waitress interrupted him.

"Aw, has your friend had to go?" She sounded genuinely put out, and looked hopefully towards the door.

"Yeah, sorry," Sam answered insincerely, a flash of irritation at this waitress' attention towards the other man surprising him. Throwing a few bills down on the table to cover the pizza and the tip, he nodded to the waitress and left, jamming his phone back into his pocket again. He had no idea where Bucky had gone, no way of tracking him, and it wasn't fair to get Steve's hopes up like that if they ended up losing the guy again. No, he would have to wait and see if he could get some more information together before he let his friend know what he had found. It wasn't that he wanted to keep his discovery to himself, he was just looking out for Steve's feelings. Plus he needed to make sure Bucky was in a state of mind where he could see Steve again, given how Steve said they left it. Yeah, that made sense.

He walked home slowly, peering into every alley as he went, and wondered if the tightness in his chest was relief or regret.

 

~

 

It was almost a week later before he saw the man again, and he had almost put the experience out of his mind as a weird dream born of months of fruitless searching followed by sudden solitude. But there he was, watching Sam run from beneath the very tree where he had stopped to rest after being overtaken by Steve the first time they met. He slowed as he approached the tree then jogged on the spot a little bit to stop his muscles tightening up in case he needed to run again.

"Hey... Buddy, right?" he called and the other man nodded.

Sam finally stopped moving when the Winter Soldier didn't move any further, and looked him over quickly now they were in daylight. He still looked gaunt, almost haunted, but he looked less malnourished and fearful. Perhaps being out during the day made him bold, or maybe he was just a very good actor, but either way it was a good look on him.

It was strange for Sam to see in this vagrant the stone cold killer he had met so many months ago. That man had been a blank slate, devoid of emotional attachments, seemingly unaffected by the events around him and always calculating his next move regardless of anything else. This man seemed afflicted by too many emotions, weighed down by the lives he had taken and the change in time, the world he had once known as lost to him as it was to Captain America. Seeing him now, in dirty jeans and a well worn hoodie, he seemed completely removed from everything Sam knew about the man - both the Soviet Asset who had threatened their lives, and the James Buchanan Barnes that Steve had talked so fondly about during their search. Had he bumped into Sergeant Barnes, Sam felt that he would know the man if only by association, but this guy was completely unknown to anyone, and Sam hoped he could help him find himself.

"I'm just about done," Sam said tentatively, "then I was gonna go grab a bite at a diner up the street." This was a lie, he had plans to eat a bowl of cereal and check the sports pages of the newspaper, but there was no way Buddy would know that. "Wanna come with?"

A moment of consideration and an evaluating look later; in which Sam felt like he was being stripped bare, and wished impotently that he wasn't sweaty and tired from jogging; and he was graced with one of Buddy's sharp nods, and the man pushed away from the tree to fall easily into step beside Sam as they walked the short distance back to his home.

Unlocking the door, Sam held it open for Buddy as an invitation, but the other man shook his head and looked positively terrified, so Sam just smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring way.

"No sweat man, I've just gotta change and take a quick shower, I'll be back in five, okay?"

Another nod.

Sam wondered as he closed the door behind himself and hurried through to the bathroom, throwing his sweaty clothes in the laundry hamper as he passed, if he would get another word or two from Bucky this time. He was clearly capable of speech, and didn't seem to have any trouble understanding Sam, but something was holding his tongue. As he washed his body clean of the satisfying coating of sweat that came after a good run, Sam let his mind wander to the people he helped at the VA, wondering if Bucky was suffering from some kind of PTSD or something else. It would be surprising if he wasn't, given all that had happened to him, and Sam was determined to give the man a safe space - or person - to help him grow past whatever troubled his mind. Shutting off the shower, his skin suddenly prickled with a cold not caused by the sudden lack of heated water, and he silently cursed himself as he wrapped himself in a towel and hurried into the bedroom to redress in more appropriate day clothing.

Had he lost his mind? How could he be so stupid as to lead a man he barely knew, but who had tried to kill him on at least two occasions that he knew of, back to the place where he lived, without even telling a single soul that he was in contact with said attempted murderer? Thumping his head against the door of his wardrobe after shutting it, he grabbed his cell phone from the nightstand and quickly dialed the number of the one person he thought he could trust not to give away the secret.

"Hey Sam, wasn't expecting to hear from you for a while," the familiar voice warmed him, the safety he had come to associate with his new friend - despite the dangerous situations he had ended up in as a result of said friendship - soothing his jangling nerves at the thought of the idiotic thing he had done without even thinking. "So what's up, buttercup?"

"Hey Nat, got something to tell you that I don't want you repeating to anyone - and I mean anyone, okay?" Sam tried to keep the urgency from his voice.

"Sure," Natasha Romanov's friendly tone took on a more serious edge and he could almost see her steeling herself for some terrible news. Damn, the girl needed to catch some breaks on the good news front.

"I found Bucky." Sam didn't get a chance to finish as she gasped and he heard the sound of boots on metal; clearly she was extracting herself from somewhere she might be overheard.

"Where?"

"Right here in DC, he's kind of... drifting. But I've met him twice now, and he doesn't seem dangerous..." He drifted off, expecting some kind of admonishment from the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.

"Go on." Apparently Natasha wasn't in the mood to mince words.

"Well, he just seems kind of lonely. So I've been trying to get to know him - as he is now, rather than how Steve remembers him - in the hope that I can get to the bottom of whatever it is. But at the moment I don't think he'd react well to seeing Steve again, so I don't wanna tell him until I'm sure it won't do Bucky or Steve any harm."

"That makes sense. So basically you're letting me know in case you go off the grid that you've been hanging out with a brainwashed super-soldier? What else is new?" Her tone had lightened considerably; clearly she was satisfied that Sam knew what he was doing, although how he had earned that trust he wasn't exactly sure.

"There's one more thing... I met him this morning on my jog, and he came back to my place with me..."

"Oh for the love of... Sam, tell me you didn't sleep with him or something equally irresponsible-" Natasha began.

"No! No, nothing like that, I just... he's outside my house. So he knows where I live. You know? I mean, I keep the place locked up, but he can probably punch a hole in the wall like it was cardboard. I figured I'd better tell you."

"Well, alright. Keep me updated now and again, and call the second you think something's up. I think you're probably the best person to deal with him right now, but don't take any chances, okay?"

With that declaration of confidence she hung up, and Sam couldn't help but feel a small puff of pride that the Black Widow herself thought he was the best person to do this. Sliding his feet into a pair of loafers, Sam grabbed his jacket and keys and dashed out of the door to where his patient guest was waiting just to the left of the building with his head down and his hands jammed deep into the pockets of his hoodie.

"Sorry that took so long," Sam apologized, patting the other man on the shoulder. Bucky visibly flinched as Sam's hand came down on his right shoulder - where his metal arm met his human skin. "Ah – sorry, Buddy," Sam apologized again, dropping his hand quickly to his side so as to prevent any further discomfort. "Shall we get going?"

He didn't wait for a reply, but passed Bucky with a smile and walked off in the direction of the local diner where he knew they would be able to get a decent breakfast, even though it was still early morning for most people, especially for a Saturday. They walked in silence, Sam resisting the urge to look over his shoulder to make sure that his companion was still there. How could a guy that big with a great hunk of metal attached to his body be so quiet? If it weren't for his instincts telling him there was definitely a person just behind and to the right of him, he might have thought he left the other man back at his house.

When he reached the diner he finally looked back from the door, holding it open to allow Bucky to slip past him and into the lightly air-conditioned room where the other man stopped as if unsure of what to do next. Sam led him to a booth with a familiar wave to the cute girl behind the counter, far too young for him, but he could appreciate the brunette's good looks nonetheless. He gave the menu a cursory glance, more to give Bucky an opportunity to read it than to choose his own food since he already knew that this place did the fluffiest pancakes and crispiest bacon in a six block area, while the waitress brought over the coffee jug to fill their cups.

"Morning, Sam! How's it going today? Haven't seen you in a while, have you been on vacation?" The girl chattered as she poured the coffee, easily accepting Sam's short, evasive, answers. They quickly ordered their food - Bucky choosing the same as Sam but also requesting a hot black tea to go with his. It took all of Sam's self control not to question it - for all he knew Bucky had always liked tea and it was completely normal, so there was no reason to question it save his personal curiosity, but he'd be lying if he said he didn't want to know for sure. Almost as quick as she'd come the waitress departed and they were left awkwardly alone.

At first, Sam decided to let the silence go on, maybe coax a few words from Bucky in the process, but he soon realised that the former soldier was a far more patient man and he wouldn't get anything from him by waiting him out.

"So," he began tentatively, almost jumping as Buddy's wandering gaze snapped back to complete focus on him the moment the word left his mouth, "how have you been, Buddy?"

The other man frowned and picked at his napkin with his fingernails, using his glove-covered hand to lift his coffee mug to his lips and taking a sip of the dark, bitter liquid. Okay, so personal questions weren'tgoing to work, time to change tactics.

"I used to be a soldier," Sam said, surprising even him, "an airman actually. I was retired when my wingman got shot down and ended up back here working with other vets at the VA." He trailed off, wondering if Buddy was even remotely interested. A quick glance showed his companion looking at him with quiet intensity, focused almost solely on Sam with only the smallest of tension showing in his body - clearly ready for trouble, even though they were just having a quiet breakfast.

"Mostly I counsel people with PTSD and other post-combat illnesses, but some people just come along to share experiences, and to know that they weren't alone out there and that they're not alone now they're home too. It's not exactly what I expected I'd be doing with my life," he chuckled almost ruefully, "but it's plenty fulfilling and it keeps me from going stir crazy at home.”

Sam fell silent as the waitress brought their orders over, then set to fixing his food the way he liked it. Buddy, he noticed, didn't copy him this time, but immediately dropped the teabag in the cup of hot water the waitress brought and set it aside after a couple of cursory stirs with the teaspoon. He looked almost offended, Sam thought, as if he was expecting something different, and again Sam wondered if this was a Winter Soldier thing, or a Bucky Barnes thing. He couldn't even ask Steve, for fear of revealing to his friend that he was having breakfast with his long lost best friend.

"I was a solder once," Buddy said quietly, and Sam almost choked on his coffee in surprise, clearing his throat quietly and trying not to spit-take his drink across the table. He made a questioning noise and carefully averted his eyes, as if this wasn't the most interesting thing he'd heard all week, as if he wasn't burning to know the rest of this man's story.

"I was drafted. Didn't want to go but..." A pained expression crossed his face and he shook his head quickly, shoving away a painful memory. "Americans don't know how to make tea."

Sam blinked a couple of times at the sudden change of subject but decided to roll with it, if it kept Buddy talking.

"Yeah, I think we took that whole independence from England a bit too seriously," he laughed, stirring his coffee and enjoying the smell that drifted up in the steam.

Buddy said something under his breath that sounded vaguely Russian, and Sam's heart skipped a beat as his body broke out in goosebumps, but he forced himself to relax. "Back home we have the best tea. Breakfast is better, too."

It both worried and frightened Sam a little to hear the man say 'back home' and clearly not mean Brooklyn, where Sam knew Steve and Bucky had grown up together. He opened his mouth to ask more, but decided against it when he saw the haunted look that crossed the other man's face. They were rapidly running out of 'safe' topics to talk about, and Sam was wary of saying anything that might trigger a violent outburst, so they ate in silence for a few minutes, the only sounds coming from their table the clinking of cutlery on plates.

"Thank you," Buddy said suddenly, so quietly Sam wasn't sure he had heard correctly.

"For breakfast? Hey man, it's no trouble. I'd prefer not to eat alone anyway." Sam gave him a warm smile. Buddy frowned and looked down at his food, picking at it for a second before shaking his head slowly.

"No. For…” His frown deepened and he looked troubled, like he wasn’t sure exactly what to say next. “за доверие,” (for trusting) he muttered, and an odd look crossed his face before he sighed and shook his head. “Sometimes it’s easier to think in Russian,” he confessed quietly.

“Don’t sweat it, man,” Sam leaned across the table and patted his hand in a gesture he hoped correctly came across as friendly. “For whatever it is, you’re welcome.”

Buddy gave him such a look of gratitude Sam felt his heart jump and he pulled back quickly, covering his embarrassment by taking a sip of his coffee.

“So, uh… How are you liking DC?” Sam wasn’t sure if Buddy had ever been to Washington before, but it seemed like a relatively safe subject to start with, and hopefully wouldn’t drag up any unpleasant memories.

“It’s alright.” Buddy had lapsed back into awkward quietness, and Sam sensed that there wouldn’t be much more from this encounter. As if to prove him right, Buddy finished up the last of his food and leaned back, folding his hands together on the table in front of him politely, the leather of his glove a start contrast against the pale skin of his other hand.

“You want anything else?” Sam tilted his head towards the menu displayed above the counter, but Buddy shook his head mutely. He sat with the air of discomfort of someone trained not to fidget, but who desperately wanted to; Sam saw it all the time in the vets at the VA when something was bothering them.

“You don’t have to hang around, Buddy,” he said, trying not to make if obvious that he had noticed his companion’s desire to leave. “I usually sit awhile and read the paper, but if you wanna take off that’s cool - I’ll want a few more cups of joe before I’m ready to head home.” He smiled again and a look of relief flashed across Buddy’s face before he quickly schooled his features again.

“I’ll leave you to your paper,” he murmured, rising gracefully from the table.“Thank you for the food.”

“Any time,” Sam nodded, leaning over and pulling the day’s newspaper from the rack on the wall. “See you around, Buddy.”

The other man left, quiet as ever, with only the cheery sound of the bell over the door signalling his exit from the diner. Sam waved the waitress over for another cup of coffee and unfolded the newspaper, intending to hang around at least long enough to give Bucky time to leave the area, so he didn’t look like a liar.

 

~

 

Almost a month passed this time before their paths crossed again, and Sam was starting to think he should get back into the field with Steve and start up the hunt once more. At least he had a better idea of what they could expect to find if they managed to locate Steve’s childhood friend. He had even called Avengers tower with the intention of suggesting the idea, only to receive news that the Avengers had gone off on a mission to raid a HYDRA base and were out of communication range for a while. He was disappointed that he hadn’t been invited along, but since his affiliation with what was left of S.H.I.E.L.D. was tentative at best he couldn’t really blame them for overlooking him. As it was, it was fortunate that he was home, one rainy day about a week after he had called for Steve, when a frantic knocking had him running for the door, almost afraid of what he would find on the other side. He would be lying if he said he wasn’t relieved when a sodden and very dejected looking Bucky was revealed, leaning heavily on his doorframe.

“Woah, hey, come in,” he said quickly, standing aside and grabbing Bucky’s arm when the other man practically fell through the doorway. “Shit, are you hurt?”

Bucky shook his head, but didn’t try to stand on his own. He leaned heavily on Sam’s arm as the smaller man helped him through to the sofa in the lounge and sagged into it with relief, closing his eyes and leaning back. The total lack of observation of his surroundings instilled in Sam an enormous sense of trust, but also made a chill of fear run through him; he had only met the former Soviet Assassin on two previous occasions, but at no point had the man been anything but hyper vigilant of their surroundings, always looking for an attack or an escape route. For him to relax so completely indicated he was either totally at ease with Sam, or he simply didn’t care any more if he was discovered or attacked.

“Buddy,” Sam said, reaching out to touch the other man’s shoulder tentatively, not sure if he would bolt or attack.

“Я попал в драку, я не хотел причинить им боль. Они побили меня, но не сильно. Со мной все будет в порядке. Я не знал, куда еще пойти.” (I got in a fight, I didn't want to hurt them. They beat me but not badly. I'll be fine. I didn't know where else to go.)

"Alright man, I'm not sure what that means, but just... hang on there for a sec." Sam patted Bucky's knee and made as if to stand, but the other man's hand shot out and grabbed him. It was the first time Bucky had done more than hold his prosthetic arm close to his body, and a beat of fear chilled Sam to the bone at the thought of how easily that arm could crush him. Instead of squeezing him tightly enough to hurt, though, Bucky simply held on, his other arm curled around his own waist to protect his injuries. The look in his eyes was full of fear and something incomprehensible, as if he thought Sam was going to call someone or abandon him.

"Relax," Sam soothed, crouching back down and covering the gloved hand holding his arm with his own dark skinned hand. "I'm not going far. Just through to the kitchen," he pointed with his free hand, "and you can watch me the whole time. I just wanna get the first aid kit."

Bucky gulped heavily, Sam's words taking a long moment to sink through the fog of Russian he was currently stuck in, and his eyes didn't lose that haunted, fearful look, but he nodded and released Sam, allowing him to stand. Bucky twisted in his seat, grimacing at the pain the movement caused, and watched Sam disappear through the small door to the kitchen, reappearing moments later with a large green bag. Sam quickly knelt once more at Bucky's feet and pulled out a few rolls of bandage and some other things from the bag. He looked up once more, meeting Bucky's wild blue eyes with his soft brown ones and trying to convey his empathy and concern in that look.

"Buddy, I'm gonna need you to take off your shirt so I can take a look at your injuries," he said slowly and in a neutral tone, his heart hammering in his chest with a healthy amount of fear at the thought of the metal arm underneath the other man's clothing, and not a small amount of heady anticipation. Seeing it in action was one thing, but seeing it up close like this would be a completely different story; if Bucky was willing to trust him to see it.

He wasn't, it seemed, because once the words had sunk in Bucky began to violently shake his head and babble again in Russian, making a move to stand up in the small space between him and Sam.

"Hold up," Sam said carefully, pressing Bucky back into the couch with a gentle push of one hand, and he was surprised by how quickly the super-soldier fell back. "I won't make you, you don't have to, we can work out another way." His concern far outweighed his curiosity, and if it made Bucky that uncomfortable he wasn't going to force the issue. "Can you lift it up so I can see, at least?"

Another few moments of silence passed as Bucky absorbed Sam's question and then he nodded once before lifting up his shirt. On the right side he pulled it up as far as it would go, high up on his pectoral, and on the left where the prosthetic attached to his skin he lifted up to just above the bottom of his ribs. Sam wasn't going to push for any more, even though he could clearly see an angry, dark bruise disappearing further under the dark fabric.

"Okay, that's good, good, Buddy," Sam praised quietly, "I'm just gonna feel to see if anything's broken." He held up his hands for Bucky to see before he made any move to touch, giving Bucky the chance to refuse or shy away, but the other man just regarded him with a steady gaze, patiently waiting.

Sam rubbed his hands together, knowing the tips of his fingers were a little cold and hoping it wouldn't be a problem, before leaning in to run his hands gently over Bucky's ribs and the hard planes of his muscular stomach, a combination of Zola’s serum and hard work he assumed. His fingers warmed as he worked, and Bucky gave a hiss of pain once or twice, breathing out through his gritted teeth.

"Sorry," Sam mumbled as he continued to work, knowing the pain was necessary to ensure he gave the proper treatment; it was no good bandaging him up for bruises if he'd broken a rib or something. He focused hard on his steady movements, only looking up to Bucky's face when he gave a sharp inhale of breath that was different to the pained noises he'd made before. To his surprise, Bucky's eyes were closed and his face looked... relaxed almost, even if his brow was a little furrowed. Sam moved his hand again in a gentle stroke against Bucky's warm, bruised skin and again the other man's breath hitched slightly.

It made sense, Sam thought, Bucky had been a tool for so long, it had probably been before the war when he was last touched like this, like a human. It was nice to see him look so at ease for the first time since they had met, and Sam was filled with a sudden urge to make Bucky feel comfortable and safe more often. Now wasn't the time though, and with reluctance he pulled his hands away, his gentle probing done with. He'd come across a couple of ribs that felt cracked but not broken, and the small lesions on Bucky's body looked like they were already beginning to heal, so overall he wasn't in bad shape. Bucky's eyes snapped open at the sudden removal of touch, but Sam just smiled and held up a bandage and some antiseptic wipes.

"You're not too badly hurt, I'm just gonna disinfect the cuts and bandage up your ribs, okay?"

Bucky snorted quietly and rolled his eyes, which Sam took to mean he didn't think all that was necessary, but allowed Sam to do what he needed to. When he was done and Bucky had pulled down his shirt again Sam moved on to cleaning up Bucky's face. Whoever had beaten him had really done a number on him, his lip was split and his nose was bloodied among other small cuts and bruises, but like his torso the injuries were already beginning to heal. Bucky hissed as Sam wiped the cuts with an antiseptic wipe and gently cleaned off the blood that had dried on his face.

When his ministrations were finally done, he gathered up the refuse to put in the trash and took the first aid kit back to where it belonged, conscious all the time of Bucky's eyes following his every movement. He stopped by the hall closet on his way back and grabbed a couple of blankets and some spare pillows, not sure if Bucky would prefer to bunk down on the couch or in the spare room.

"Are you hungry?" Sam asked as he returned, carefully putting down the bedding on the other end of the couch. Bucky nodded, and his mind must have been clearing because he seemed to understand Sam much better now. The haze of pain and fear had probably scrambled his damaged mind and now he was safe and comfortable he could come back to himself. "Awesome, I'll be right back."

Sam disappeared back into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with a couple of bowls of soup and some thick slabs of bread balanced carefully on a tray that was only just big enough for everything. He guessed Bucky would feel awkward eating alone, so even though he'd already eaten he made himself a bowl as well, though he made sure to fill Bucky's bowl higher and with much more meat and veggies than his own. He wasn't sure what had possessed him to make soup that day, but he was glad that he had so he would have something warm and filling to offer his guest without having to take the time to cook.

He knelt at Bucky's feet again, sliding the tray onto the coffee table with care before passing the other man his bowl and placing the plate of bread in his reach.

"Careful, the bowl's pretty hot," Sam warned, and Bucky snorted, his mouth twisting in a half smile as he transferred the bowl to his prosthetic arm, his hand curved around the base to keep it steady. "Or that works too," Sam chuckled, breaking off a piece of bread and dipping it into the thick broth.

They ate in a comfortable, companionable silence; this was familiar ground for them now, eating together, and it settled the atmosphere from before into something like camaraderie. By the time they were done and Bucky sat back with a satisfied sigh, letting Sam take the bowl from him with a sleepy look, things felt almost normal again - or at least as normal as they could be when you're sitting on your living room floor eating soup with a man who tried to kill you within the last six months.

"Feel better?" Sam stacked the bowls carefully and leaned back against the table to face his guest.

"Yes, thank you," Buddy answered, his mind seemingly clear of the fog that had clouded it when he showed up.

"Any time man, you can always come here if you need something." The words slipped out of Sam's mouth before he had properly thought about them, but the tiny grateful smile he was blessed with stopped him regretting or worrying about them. "Do you want to bunk down on the couch, or upstairs in the spare room?" Sam asked, nodding towards the blankets.

"I can... stay?" Buddy asked, tilting his head in a birdlike way. His face had lost all of the hard edges of anxiety that Sam was used to seeing and the soft, almost innocent look caused a warmth to bloom in his chest. He wanted to see this side of Bucky more often, wanted to help him feel safe.

"I'm not gonna kick you out on the street in the rain again," Sam chuckled, shaking his head, "I'm not that kind of asshole." He bit his tongue before he had a chance to make a quip about not throttling him in his sleep, figuring that a joke like that wouldn't be met with humor.

"Here is fine."

Sam nodded and stood up, stretching knots out of his back and seeing an odd look cross Buddy’s face – was it envy? He filed it away for later analysis. "I'll grab you some sweats, hang on," he said, trotting off to his room to pick up some sleepwear. It wasn't exactly comfortable sleeping in jeans, after all. Buddy watched him the whole way, and when he came back down the stairs he was surprised to see the other man still staring at the place where he had left him.

Handing the clothing over, Sam smiled and turned to leave with a quiet goodnight, but a tight grip on the back of his shirt halted his exit. He turned back to see that fearful look on Buddy's face again, and he frowned in confusion.

"You're leaving?" Buddy's voice was almost a whisper, and Sam's heart ached at the pleading tone.

"Not if you don't want me to," he answered quietly, freeing himself from Buddy's hand and moving back around the couch to push the coffee table back and give himself some space to settle down. He'd slept in far worse places while on tour, and with a pillow and a blanket he was reasonably comfortable. He quickly went back to the hall closet to grab some more spare bedding, then got to making himself a bunk. Buddy watched him set up his own little sleeping space, his expression slowly relaxing bit by bit as he did.

"I'm just gonna go change and stuff," Sam said when he was done, "you can change too. If I'm not back in five minutes you can come up the stairs and find me, okay?" He assumed Buddy wouldn't want to change with him in the room anyway, and vanished back upstairs to change quickly. He was down in less than five minutes, just catching a glimpse of a scarred back as Buddy pulled on the long sleeved shirt Sam had managed to find for him. It was a little small, but that was only flattering on the well-toned man in front of him, and Sam swallowed thickly before he hurried back to his floor-cot after flicking off all but the stairway light, not sure if Buddy would like to be in complete darkness, but feeling like he wanted the added comfort of a little light tonight.

"The bathroom's down the hall upstairs if you need anything," he said quietly, sliding under his blanket and curling up with his face towards the couch. Buddy didn't leave, only folded his clothing neatly and placed it on the table at the end of the couch. Sam made a mental note to wash those for him tomorrow, and maybe see if there was anything in his closet that would fit the other man. He listened as Buddy shuffled into place and for a few moments all was quiet as their breathing slipped into the synchronism of well trained soldiers used to being in close quarters with others.

"Don't leave." Sam almost missed the whispered words, so quietly had he spoken, but in the silence of the house his keen ears picked them up.

"Not goin' anywhere," he answered sleepily, and snaked a hand up under Buddy's blanket to take hold of his forearm with a gentle squeeze. It wasn't the most comfortable position to be in, but if that would help the man get a halfway decent night's sleep... well, that would be worth it.

 

Sam woke the next morning with a cramp in his shoulder and a brief moment of confusion when he opened his eyes to stare at his couch before he remembered he'd slept on the floor last night. He stirred quietly and sat up, not wanting to wake his guest, but his quiet movements were unnecessary; Bucky was gone.

The blanket and nightclothes were neatly folded in the middle of the couch and Sam leapt up, lunging for the front door and pulling it open wildly, somehow feeling like he was just moments too late and he would see Bucky rounding the corner at the end of the street. But the former Winter Soldier was long gone, the items on the couch the only indication he had ever been there.

 

~

 

Sam went through the motions of the next few days in a sort of daze, the surreal knowledge of Bucky's visit sitting in his mind like a simmering pot, bubbling over occasionally into his consciousness. He found himself reorganizing things to make it easier should he have another unexpected guest, and had picked up three CDs of 40's music before he realized he was choosing music Bucky might enjoy on his next visit. He put them in the back of a drawer and tried to forget about them.

Somehow the Winter Soldier had moved from 'enemy' to 'acquaintance' to 'tentative friend' in just a short period of time, and the memory of warm skin and hitched breathing hinted at more in his subconscious. He shoved those thoughts aside, though, when they arose, unwilling or unable to let them dominate the way he felt about the super-soldier.Bucky was like a wild animal, fearful and mistrusting of others, and it was Sam's responsibility to help coax him into a comfort zone, to help tame the wildness until he could function properly again. Anything but the wary friendship they had forged could make the skittish man bolt, and he found himself decidedly not in favor of that eventuality.

He was beginning to wonder when he would next see Bucky again, and whether it would be days or months in the future, when a light knock on his door one warm afternoon about ten days since Bucky had vanished on him in the middle of the night had his pulse speeding with anticipation.

Sure enough, a sheepish looking Bucky stood on his doorstep, evidently halfway between staying and going. Sam's face lit up in a genuine smile and he invited the man in without hesitation. Bucky hovered in the doorway for a moment, seemingly unsure if he would or should enter, but finally it seemed he decided to come along in.

"Hey, Buddy, how are you?" Sam asked him, leading him into the kitchen where he opened the fridge and pulled out a soda. He offered one to the other man, and it was accepted with a grateful nod. "All healed up after that scuffle?"

"Yes, thank you," Buddy's voice was gentle, and the words were such a far cry from the first that Sam had heard him utter, not all that long ago in the pizzeria, that they seemed to fill the room with a warm glow that felt almost tangible.

They went back through to the lounge and sat down on the couch, Sam immediately relaxing while Buddy perched straight-backed closer to the edge, looking nervous but not entirely like he was about to jump up and run out of the door. There were a few moments of awkward silence while Sam tried to work out how to ask if there was a reason for the other man's visit, without making it sound like he was unwelcome, before Buddy began to speak again.

"I wanted to thank you for that, properly." He quickly took a big gulp from the can of soda in his hand, as if to cover embarrassment. Sam smiled at him and shook his head with a soft chuckle.

"No need, Buddy, you're always welcome here, especially if you're in trouble, okay?"

Buddy was a steady warmth beside him, and a flash of them sitting together like this in a more... relaxed setting popped into Sam's head before he pushed it away with a stern internal admonishment. Bucky needed his help, and not because Sam was beginning to harbor a serious crush for the guy, but because it was the right thing to do, and because he was Steve's childhood friend, and because he was - deep down - a decent guy, and for a hundred other reasons.

"Even still. I am a stranger, and you let me into your home without a second question."

Sam couldn't help but laugh at that, as he thought of Steve and Nat showing up on his doorstep with the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. out for their blood. Buddy cocked his head at him with a confused expression, but Sam waved away any potential question with a shake of his head.

"Not laughing at you, man, just how often that seems to happen to me, is all. I'm happy you knew you could come to me, I swear."

"It can't have been easy, especially while I was... confused..." Buddy referred to his babbling Russian with an uneasy, fidgeting shift of his body, and Sam could see the fist of his artificial limb clench tightly in its thick leather glove.

"One of my best friends is Russian," Sam answered, trying for easy good humor to draw the other man out of the state of anxiety he appeared to be working himself up into. "If people talking to me in a language I didn't understand bothered me my circle of friends would be pretty small, thinking about it. Nat likes to chew me out in Russian when she's particularly mad, it's all good."

Buddy seemed unsure, and almost determined to make the whole situation into a bigger issue than it was, so Sam leaned forward slowly and touched Buddy on his forearm, squeezing gently in what he hoped was a reassuring way. They were much closer now, and Buddy's eyes flicked down before he took in a halting breath and licked his lips nervously.

"Thank you, anyway," he said quietly, covering Sam's hand with his prosthetic one, "it's been... a really long time since anyone did something like that for me."

They stayed still like that for a while,caught up in some moment, entranced by the potential energy that charged the room, before realising they were still basically holding hands and pulling away at the same time. Sam felt the blood rush to his cheeks and hoped Buddy wouldn't notice. He looked away and grabbed his soda again to cover the swiftness with which he had moved backwards, and felt guilty at the flush that bloomed on Bucky’s face – of course he was uncomfortable by that, Sam was pushing his boundaries too far. The awkward silence stretched between them until Buddy broke it with a sudden intake of breath.

"Could I... use your shower?" heasked tentatively, looking ready for a refusal from Sam.

"Of course, Buddy, you're welcome to it!" Sam answered, a little too loudly as he leapt up from the couch. "I'll show you where the towels and stuff are, and you can take as long as you like, there's plenty of hot water," Sam realised he was babbling and cut himself off quickly, nodding in the direction of the stairs and padding off, hearing his guest rise and follow behind him. It occurred to him that Buddy must have been making noise deliberately, because he knew full well that the man could move eerily silently when he wanted to. It was a gesture he appreciated, and he couldn't help the fond smile that he flashed at the other man as he pulled him out a couple of large, fluffy towels and showed him to the bathroom.

“Is there anything else you need?” Sam asked, and he couldn’t stop himself from glancing at Buddy’s left arm, wondering internally if he’d need to cover it to stop the water damaging it, or if he needed to oil it or anything. He cursed himself silently as he forced his eyes back to Buddy’s face, and felt shame course through him as he saw the haunted look on the other man’s face at the silent acknowledgement of the prosthesis that his clothing hid. “Uh, I mean, there’s soap and shower gel and shampoo and stuff in the shower, I think Nat left some conditioner here last time she visited so… I’ll just… leave you to it,” Sam babbled again, before fleeing the room like a coward.

He was still sitting on the couch muttering admonishments to himself when Buddy came back into the room, a damp towel draped around his shoulders and his long hair done up in a messy bun that Sam refused to call adorable, even in his own head. He had the towel covering most of his left shoulder and arm, with a glint of silver peeking through in places, and his shirt and hoodie in the other hand.

“Um.” Buddy didn’t seem to know how to articulate what he wanted, but Sam got it right away and leapt up to take the clothing from him.

“I’ll grab you some spare clothes and throw these in the laundry,” he said quickly, taking the stairs two at a time and trying not to think about the bare skin barely hidden by the towel. He pulled out some clothing he had picked up that were too big for him - not in case Buddy dropped by again, he just wasn’t paying attention and picked up the wrong size in jeans and long sleeved t-shirts, honestly - and grabbed a few similarly colored items from his own laundry to put in with the other items. He handed them over to Buddy with a quick smile, and then went through to the laundry room. Buddy followed a couple of moments later and handed over his ratty and torn jeans with a grimace of apology, which Sam waved off with another smile.

It was amazing how well they could communicate without the need for extraneous words, and Buddy followed him back to the lounge once the wash cycle was beginning to fill the machine with hot, soapy water. Sam hung the towel over the back of a chair and flopped down on the couch again, forcing himself to calm the fuck down because he hadn’t been freaking out at all until today and for Christ’s sake Wilson he’s your friend stop being an asshole.

Buddy sat down on the couch beside him and a tense silence filled the air. Sam tried hard to find a topic to discuss, something, anything to break this awkwardness, but his traitorous brain was too busy making him watch a bead of water make its way from Buddy’s hairline down the back of his neck until it disappeared into his shirt collar. That only made Sam feel more awkward, and he was starting to wonder if this wasn’t a terrible nightmare where he’d been transported into a romantic comedy that was determined to make him die of embarrassment. Then Buddy shifted and rolled his shoulders, straightening his left arm out and twisting it this way and that as if he had a kink in muscles that didn’t exist that he was trying to stretch out. Sam noticed that he’d left the leather glove off, and opened his mouth to make a remark about it when he decided that it was probably best not to draw attention to something his guest was clearly still uncomfortable about, and shut it again with a clack of teeth. Buddy looked at him and raised an eyebrow but Sam only smiled weakly and shook his head. Buddy shrugged and shifted a little, settling himself into a comfortable position until he looked almost relaxed. Sam couldn’t help but smile again as he watched Buddy trying to melt away his hyper-aware habits into something he guessed the man thought was ‘normal.’ He felt a little touched that this was where his new friend felt safe enough to do this, and he hoped that he would be able to help Buddy more - especially if that meant returning him to his best friend in a marginally better state of mind than the man was currently.

“Wanna watch some TV?” Sam asked eventually, once Buddy seemed to be settled comfortably. Buddy’s eyes lit up at the prospect, and Sam realized that the man probably hadn’t watched a lot of television in the last seventy-or-so years, so he held out the remote for the other man to take.

“Flick through until you find something you like,” he offered, “I don’t mind what we watch as long as it’s not the news.” He’d had more than enough of the news in the last few months, and seeing the faces of his friends on it almost every day - and his own face more than once - was unnerving at best.

“I don’t know what I like…” Buddy said quietly, sadly even, and Sam reached over without thinking to touch the man’s arm again.

“Then you can take all the time you need to find out,” Sam answered just as quietly, pouring sincerity into his words and hoping Buddy would realize that this truly was a safe place he could relax in.

“What do you like?” Buddy’s face had taken on that haunted expression again, and Sam fought down a sudden urge to hug him, to give him some positive human contact that wasn’t going to result in him being brainwashed, or sent off to kill someone, but he resisted and smiled instead.

“Lots of things, but it’s okay if you don’t like the same things, Buddy. How about we start with some sports?” He figured sports was a fairly safe bet, as long as they didn’t find a channel with some UFC or boxing match on, and suddenly remembered a conversation he’d had with Steve. “How about baseball?”

Buddy nodded and handed over the remote, and Sam turned it on to a sports channel that he knew was covering some of the minor league baseball games thatweek. They sat and watched baseball for most of the rest of the day, Sam getting up to throw the wet clothing in the dryer when the washer beeped and to pick up some snacks and drinks for them to eat. As it went dark, he got up again to put together some dinner for the two of them, and Buddy thanked him quietly for the consideration.

“Wanna take the couch again, or the spare bed?” Sam asked eventually, when it looked like Buddy was about to fall asleep where he sat. Buddy looked surprised at the offer and gave Sam a rare smile of gratitude.

“I guess the bed,” he answered, and Sam happily showed him to the spare room.

“My room is just down the hall.” He pointed at the door. “If you need anything at all just come find me, okay? And there’s spare bathroom stuff in the cabinet under the sink.”

“Thank you,” Buddy grabbed Sam’s arm and squeezed it gently to emphasize the sincerity of his words. Sam nodded and smiled before heading off down the hall to his own room.

And that’s how the former Winter Soldier ended up living with Sam Wilson.

 

~

 

Well, it wasn’t quite that easy.

There were days when ‘Buddy’ would disappear without so much as a note and come back looking fearful, tapping gently on the door as if afraid he was no longer welcome. Sam simply smiled, genuinely pleased to see the other man back and seemingly unharmed, and stepped back to let him in. He gave Buddy a key in the end, and told him he could come and go as he pleased, but to try not to make too much noise if he came back late at night when Sam was asleep.

Sam called Nat as soon as he knew their mission was over, filling her in as cryptically as he could and letting her know that their ‘wayward friend’ was staying with him for a little while. Or permanently. He was never quite sure with Bucky. The former Soviet assassin told him to be careful, and reiterated her faith in Sam that he could handle the situation before hanging up. Each day Sam hoped they would fall into an easy routine, live around each other like it was No Big Deal™ but the real world doesn’t always work out like the movies.

Some mornings he’d wake up to an empty house, unsure if Buddy would return that day - or ever. Other mornings he’d find the man hunched over or even, on one particularly distressing occasion, hiding underneath the kitchen table, opening and closing his metal hand and watching the metal plates slide together smoothly with a quiet whirring. He’d dispensed with the glove altogether when he was in the house, to Sam’s relief, but still would never wear short sleeved shirts, and preferred to wear as many layers as he could, as if the very presence of his prosthesis would cause Sam to kick him out. More than once Sam woke to screaming or yelling from the room down the hall, and ran full tilt to burst into the other man’s room, afraid of what he might find but unable to prevent himself from checking. Inevitably it was always some night terror that had caused the other man to flail and cry out, and Sam spent the rest of those nights comforting his friend, regularly falling asleep sitting up on the bed with Bucky’s head in his lap, gently stroking his hair until his shaking and sobbing was quelled and he, too, fell into a restless sleep.

It wasn’t always like that, though, and as the days wore on he found the good began to outweigh the bad. Waking up to the smell of coffee or bacon sizzling was wonderful, and Sam was always glad to see Buddy standing over the stove, his right arm stirring something that smelled incredible while his left held the metal handle of the frying pan Sam had squirrelled away in the back of a cupboard because he kept burning himself on it. It was such a gloriously domestic sight that Sam caught himself more than once moving to embrace the other man before he remembered that was not what their relationship was like, and had to hide the awkwardly aborted movement. Buddy never seemed to notice. They ate together and hung out, sometimes they would even jog together when Buddy was feeling up to going outside. He often didn’t, and Sam never pressed the issue. They watched movies and TV shows, and Sam played some of his favorite music for the other man, and finally dug out those CDs of 40’s music he had bought so Buddy would have something to listen to when Sam wasn’t around if he didn’t feel like anything newer. It wasn’t often that he wallowed in this nostalgia though, and the first few times Sam played the music for him Buddy’s face screwed up and he fled to his room, shutting himself inside and refusing to come out for hours.

Slowly, things got better.

They were watching TV one evening, a marathon of some crime drama Buddy had seemed really fascinated by, when one of the characters made a terrible joke. Sam damn near jumped out of his skin when Buddy laughed loudly and slapped his knee, finding the bad joke somehow terrifically funny. Sam beamed at him, glad he was enjoying himself, and when Buddy calmed he smiled back shyly, as if showing this side of himself was embarrassing.

A few weeks later Sam was sitting on the floor in front of his washer trying to lever it up to find something he’d dropped underneath it - a coin or something that had fallen out of one of his pockets as he checked them before he put them in the machine - when Buddy came in calling his name. Sam had looked up at the other man and Buddy had rolled his eyes - actually rolled them, right back into his head, and leaned down to lift the machine with ease with his prosthetic arm. Sam retrieved several coins and some other things, including a sock he was sure he had lost a year ago, and Buddy just chuckled and shook his head, leaving Sam to finish the laundry in peace. Steve had mentioned Bucky had had a sarcastic sense of humor, and it was rewarding, no, it was nice to see some of that in the former vagrant who now occupied his home.

It wasn’t all good, though - Sam wasn’t exactly a picture of perfect mental health himself, and even less so after the recent events before he had met Buddy on that street corner so many months before. He still dreamed about watching Riley get shot down, felt the rising panic as he feared his own fate now flying alone in a danger zone. He had one particularly vivid and terrifying nightmare that combined that horrific memory with his own experiences with the Winter Soldier on the helicarrier, and woke screaming after seeing Riley’s wings torn off and him booted over the edge by his former enemy. Buddy stood close by, softly calling his name and looking fearful and concerned at his friend’s distress, and for a moment Sam felt calmed, until Buddy reached out and the moonlight glinted off his metal arm. Sam’s reaction was instinctive and he flinched backwards so fast he fell off the other side of the bed. “Bucky, no!” He screeched, before his rational mind took over and he stood up, ready to apologize, but Buddy was already backing away, a haunted look on his face.

Sam knew he’d pushed a button, and stepped towards him, but Buddy disappeared from the room and fled the house, moving too fast for Sam to chase him down. He was gone for almost ten days, and Sam was ready to call Nat and ask her help in tracking him down, when he showed up again on the doorstep, soaked to the bone from a torrential downpour that had come on suddenly that afternoon, and tapping tentatively once more as if he hadn’t been fucking living here for months.

Sam was too relieved to care about anything else, and he dragged the former Winter Soldier in through the door and out of the rain before wrapping his arms around him and hugging him tight.

“You stupid bastard, I was worried about you,” he mumbled into Buddy’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,Sam.” Buddy’s words came out almost in a whisper, but he hugged Sam back like he needed the comfort as much as Sam did.

“I’m sorry, it was a stupid nightmare, I didn’t mean to scare you…” he stepped back and placed his hands on the other man’s shoulders, looking him in the face to show his words were genuine. “I trust you, Buddy, I promise. I know you’ll never hurt me, I’m just a bit… damaged. You don’t have to be afraid of me, man, and you need to trust yourself as well. You know I’m always here, right?” He smiled and was pleased to see a glimmer of a smile reflected on Buddy’s face.

“I’m sorry I overreacted,” Buddy answered quietly, making an aborted motion with his hands like he wanted to touch Sam but wasn’t sure if he could. “I just… don’t remember much, and that hit a… sore nerve.” Sam was overwhelmed with an urge to pull Buddy close again, to hug him and never let him go, but instead he stepped back and patted him on the arm.

“C’mon, let’s get you some dry clothes.”

They wandered back to Buddy’s room - it wasn’t really the spare room anymore, since all Buddy’s stuff was in it - and Sam immediately grabbed him some dry clothes from the closet. He turned back to see Buddy pulling off his sweater and t-shirt, leaving his upper body exposed completely, metal arm and all. Sam’s mouth went dry and he faltered, the clothes hanging from his hand as he tried to make sure his jaw wasn’t hanging open. Buddy grabbed a towel from a hook on the back of the door and looked sheepishly at Sam.

“Would you help dry off…” he trailed off and made an abortive movement with his prosthetic arm. Sam swallowed thickly, unsure of how to proceed. He didn’t want to seem too eager, even though the chance to examine Buddy’s arm had been an itch he hadn’t been able to scratch for months, and he was afraid of scaring the skittish man off again. “I can do it myself,” Buddy said in a shy tone, “but it’s easier to get into all the joints with help.”

“Sure!” Sam’s voice came out too high, too loud, and he cleared his throat before continuing. “Of course,man, sit down,” he motioned towards the bed since it would be easier there instead of in the high backed chair on the other side of the room.

Buddy obeyed quickly, passing Sam the towel and taking the folded clothing from him wordlessly. Sam sat next to him, not too close, and let Buddy get comfortable and hold out his arm. He wiped the moisture off the surface with a clinical air, but couldn’t help the gasp that escaped him as the metal plates by Buddy’s shoulder suddenly shifted, giving him access to a little of the underside and parts of it that had been previously hidden. Sam frowned; the arm looked in perfect condition at first glance, but underneath he could see spots of damage and dirt that had likely been caused by Buddy’s long stint on the street without access to the correct tools to properly maintain his prosthesis.

“Man, a towel isn’t gonna cut it,” he murmured, drying off as best he could as Buddy made each section of the arm shift under his ministrations. “I’m gonna need to get some stuff, wait here, okay?” He handed over the towel so Buddy could use it to dry his hair and the rest of his body. He returned a few minutes later with a small toolkit, and Buddy was waiting patiently, still shirtless but at least changed into the dry sweats Sam had given him.

It took longer than Sam had anticipated to fully clean and oil every part of Buddy’s arm, and by the end of it he felt tired and dirty from the buildup of grime, but the look on Buddy’s face when he moved around and found everything working seamlessly made it all worthwhile.

They ordered pizza and watched a movie, too tired and emotionally drained to deal with anything else that evening, and when Buddy fell asleep with his head in Sam’s lap Sam just stroked his hair gently until he dozed off himself, the credits of the movie still rolling.

Sam woke hours later with a jolt, Buddy writhing and whimpering as a night terror gripped him - Sam was glad he hadn’t started screaming yet, and quickly ran his fingers through Buddy’s tangled, sweat soaked hair, murmuring soothing noises until Buddy woke enough to sit up. His face was tear streaked and his eyes were haunted, and he lunged forward to wrap his arms around Sam tightly, taking comfort in the human contact openly given by the man beside him. Sam held him until his sobs calmed, stroking his back with gentle fingers until his breathing began to slow and the panic and fear was dissipating.

“I see them all…” Buddy mumbled quietly into Sam’s shoulder, and Sam’s heart ached for the gentle, damaged man who had spent the first part of his life caring for and protecting the people he cared about, before being forced into a life of murder and mind control. “They cry, or shout, most of them tell me I’m a murderer, that they hate me, that I’m worthless…” It was the first time Buddy had really opened up to him about his nightmares, and Sam pulled away gently - hoping Buddy would understand this wasn’t a rejection as he held the other man’s face and looked him square in the eyes.

“You are none of those things, Buddy. Not one. What happened in the past, it isn’t your fault. It’s the fault of those HYDRA bastards, and we’re gonna make sure they pay for what they did to you, I promise.” He poured his heart into every word, wanting desperately for Buddy to believe him, to know that he believed in him.

Buddy stared at him for a moment, searching his face for any sign of insincerity, and Sam’s heart beat hard in his chest with worry and fear of what the other man might do next.

Buddy kissed him.

For a second, Sam thought he was dreaming, that the concern he’d had for his friend while he was gone and the relief he felt when he returned safely had bled through into his dreams and dragged the feelings he was trying so hard to conceal up from his subconscious to mess with his mind. But there was no mistaking the warm body beneath his hands, the slightly chapped lips against his own, and he closed his eyes and gave in to the moment.

Buddy pulled away with his eyes lowered and a flush on his cheeks, as if he couldn’t believe he’d just done that. His hands were still on Sam’s waist and Sam’s were on Buddy’s, and he squeezed gently in a way he hoped was reassuring.

“I’m sorry,” Buddy began, but Sam shushed him.

“Whatever you need,man, I’m right here.” Sam knew as soon as the words left his mouth that they were the wrong thing to say. This wasn’t a kiss of desperation, a desperate need to be close to someone, anyone, and his pulse raced as he moved his hands up to Buddy’s face. “But just so you know, I would be pretty stoked if there was more of that in our future.” As if to drive his point home, he leaned in and brushed his lips against the other man’s, gently, to give him chance to pull away but with enough emphasis that he hoped Buddy would get the message.

Like a flood gate had been opened, Buddy leaned in to the kiss and brought one hand up to stroke Sam’s face with a gentleness that was almost reverent, and Sam couldn’t hold in the happy sigh that he breathed into the other man’s mouth. He had never dared to hope they might come to this, that their relationship might ever progress beyond friendship and support, and he kissed back with equal enthusiasm. They kissed until the sun began to peer through the curtains, and fell asleep curled together on the couch as though now they were allowed to touch one another they couldn’t bear to be apart anymore.

 

~

 

Bucky woke around noon and carefully rolled off the couch, using all of his years of training to move as silently as possible. He pulled a blanket out of the hall closet and draped it over Sam, standing to stare at his sleeping face with a fond smile. He leaned down and pressed a kiss to Sam’s forehead before slinking off silently to the bathroom to shower. He was feeling… really good today. He even sang a little in the shower, though quietly so as not to wake Sam, and stood with his face up to the warm spray with a faint smile on his face and an unusual feeling of lightness in his heart. Today was going to be a good day.

 

~

 

When Sam finally drifted out of sleep, the first thing he noticed was that he was alone. His heart began to race and his eyes flew open, but as his consciousness returned fully he felt the soft warmth of the blanket over him and heard the faint noise of the shower and - was Bucky singing? He lay back and closed his eyes, smiling happily at whatever had made Bucky feel comfortable enough to sing in the shower, not daring to hope it was because of what had happened the night before. The water shut off and a few moments later Bucky came downstairs, shirtless, and drying his still damp hair with one of the towels Sam had given him in the first week he had stayed. They shared a nervous smile and Bucky walked over to the couch with a cocky smirk on his face, and Sam thought this was the closest Bucky had ever seemed to how he had been growing up with Steve. There was still a hint of nervousness in his eyes as he leaned down over Sam, so to reassure him Sam met him halfway and captured those damp, pink lips in a gentle kiss. They kissed for a few moments before drawing back reluctantly when Sam’s stomach grumbled.

“Morning,” Bucky said quietly.

“Morning to you,” Sam grinned, getting up off the couch and stretching languidly, feeling the bones in his spine crack from the unusual sleeping position. “I’m gonna grab a shower, you reckon you can rustle up some breakfast?”

Bucky rolled his eyes and smirked. “Yes, Sam, I can be trusted to make food - believe it or not I have cooked before; who d’you think took care of Steve when he was sick?” He stopped and blinked, looking surprised at himself. This was the first time he had mentioned events prior to what he’d become under the Russians’ brainwashing, at least the first time he had managed to mention it in a casual way. Sam found it impossible not to smile, even though Bucky had been cooking breakfast for the two of them regularly for a while now, and gave Bucky’s arm a gentle squeeze as he passed, heading off to the shower without making a big deal out of it.

“Alright, try not to burn the place down while I’m gone,” he said over his shoulder, and disappeared up the stairs.

Sam took his time in the shower, letting the hot water beat down on him and soothe his muscles from the unusual sleeping position. By the time he turned the water off he was starting to feel more human again, and a hell of a lot more relaxed. He entered the kitchen once he’d dressed and smiled to see Bucky standing over the stove.

“What’s cookin’,good lookin’?” He said with a chuckle, and Bucky turned to fix him with an unimpressed look.

“Did it take your whole shower to come up with that one?” he answered back, a hint of a smile on his face before turning back to the pan of sizzling bacon. Bucky gripped the edge of the meat carefully between the thumb and forefinger of his prosthetic hand and deftly flipped them, ensuring they were crisped equally on both sides.

“Hey man, I just cleaned your arm up, don’t get it all greasy,” Sam chided him gently and flicked on the coffee machine, even though usually he felt that past noon was too late in the day to start drinking coffee if he wanted to sleep that night.

“Yeah, but if I use the tongs I can’t do this,” Bucky turned to face Sam again and lifted his hand to his mouth, sucking the bacon grease from his fingers with a flirtatious smirk that made Sam’s mouth go dry.

“Um…” His brain short-circuited as Bucky darted his tongue out to lick at a fingertip, then turned back to his cooking like nothing had happened. “You’re an asshole,” Sam chuckled dryly.

They ate at the table, sitting at a corner rather than across from each other like usual, Sam’s socked feet and Bucky’s bare ones brushing together underneath. They talked in hushed tones, as if speaking at a normal volume would break the spell and they would go back to being ‘just friends’ again. They shared quiet, shy smiles and low chuckles until finally the food was all gone and the coffee cups were drained, and they couldn’t put off moving any longer. Fortunately, a sharp rap at the door forced them to pull out of their happy haze and back into the here and now, and Bucky took the dirty cups and plates to the kitchen while Sam went to answer the door.

“Hey, Sam,” Steve beamed as Sam opened the front door. Sam looked startled, and then glanced back into the house to check Bucky wasn’t in sight before stepping out and closing the door almost fully behind him.

“Hi,Steve, what’s up?” he asked, trying not to sound too cagey.

“What’s up with you?” Steve countered, not fooled in the least and trying to peer past Sam into the house.“You’re normally happier to have company.”

Sam cursed inwardly and gave Steve an apologetic look. “I, uh… already have some… company,” he hedged, hoping Steve would get the hint.

Steve frowned for a second before his eyes widened in understanding.

“Ohhhh, sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt!” He glanced through the window and glimpsed long, messy brown hair pulled up into a vague bun as Sam’s ‘company’ passed. “I just wanted to talk to you about starting up the search for our, um… missing person.”

“Yeah… Steve, I dunno,man, I mean… He’s like a ghost, he was practically a myth for seventy years and he knows how to hide his tracks. Maybe he just… doesn’t want to be found right now?” Sam’s palms were sweating and he hoped like hell that Steve couldn’t hear how his heart was hammering in his chest.

“I know, I know, but I just… I don’t want him to feel like I’ve abandoned him. I told him I was with him ‘till the end of the line, and then I just… let him slip away. That’s kind of a contradiction, don’t you think?” Steve looked so concerned that Sam almost opened the door, let him in, let his secret out, but he knew Bucky wasn’t ready for that yet, and as much as it pained him to lie to his friend, he just couldn’t bring himself to reveal what he knew - not yet.

“Alright, man, I understand, I’ll keep digging. Can you get Stark in on it maybe, some kind of facial recognition software that might help?” It was a risky suggestion, but since Bucky didn’t exactly go out often, and when he did he usually pulled his hood up or wore a baseball cap to hide his face, Sam hoped that might throw off facial rec enough to give them some more time for Bucky to recover enough to be ‘found’.

“I didn’t even think of that, great idea! Thanks,Sam, I’ll talk to you soon,” Steve beamed, and Sam felt terrible at the look of hope on his face as he turned and jogged down the path, the sound of his motorcycle starting up and roaring away almost enough to give him a sense of relief.

He let himself back in to the house where Bucky was waiting for him with a sheepish expression.

“Thanks, Sam, I know it must’ve been hard lying to him like that.”

“Hey,Buddy, it’s okay, I know you’re not ready to see him yet, and that’s fine,” Sam crossed the room and cupped Bucky’s face in his hands. “When you are, I’ll make sure to let him know, but until then there’s no rush.” He grinned flirtatiously and leaned a little closer. “Besides, I know it’s selfish of me, but I kind of want to keep you to myself a little longer, you know?”

Bucky leaned forward and brushed their lips together with a smile. “Then I guess it’s selfish of me to say I want the same thing,” he murmured back.

 

“Hey, Sam?” Bucky said later as they lay together on the couch, watching something innocuous on Netflix.

“Mhm?” Sam burrowed his face deeper into Bucky’s hair and tightened his arms gently around the other man.

“You… can call me Bucky now, if you like…” Sam pulled back, and Bucky sat up, looking at Sam with a worried expression.

“Th-that’s… great, Bud- Bucky, that’s really great,” Sam said, leaning forward and capturing the other man’s mouth in a searing kiss. “That’s wonderful,” he mumbled, pressing their foreheads together and tangling his fingers in Bucky’s hair.

 

~

 

The first night Sam spent in Bucky’s bed was not exactly what he had envisioned when their relationship took its unexpected but not unwelcome turn into more than friends. Although, saying that, he really should have seen it coming.

Bucky woke screaming from another nightmare, babbling in Russian until Sam rushed in to soothe him with quiet words and gentle hands through sweat-slick hair.

“Bucky, Bucky, it was just a dream, it’s not real,Bucky,” he murmured soothingly while Bucky sobbed into his chest. It was almost terrifying for Sam, having this incredibly strong man crying like a child because the events of his nightmares were real, they were memories - ones anyone would find it hard to stomach, let alone for the man who had committed such terrible acts, even under HYDRA’s mind control.

“It is real, Sam,” Bucky sobbed, “I killed so many people, hurt so many… How can I ever come back from that?”

“Hey, look at me, look at me,” Sam cupped Bucky’s face in his hands and wiped his tears away with his thumbs. “You didn’t do those things. The Winter Soldier did those things. HYDRA’s Asset did those things. Not you, Bucky. Not you. Listen, before all that happened, you were a good guy, and you cared for your friends and you fought for your country - even if you didn’t want to,” he cut off Bucky’s protest. “And now… Listen man, if you were any of the things I know you think you are because of the things they made you do, I’d be dead right now. You’d have killed me in my sleep that first night I let you stay, or even before then. You wouldn’t be here right now, feeling guilty over things you had no control over, you wouldn’t be with me, you’d be out there somewhere doing more terrible things. You’re a good man, Bucky, you are. I know you don’t feel like it, and I know it’s gonna take time for you to believe me but… I trust you, Bucky, I trust you.”

Those words seemed to do more for Bucky than anything else could - if Sam could trust him, even after he had nearly killed him, then Bucky’s eyes said maybe he could hope.

Sam stayed, sitting by Bucky’s side, until the other man had calmed enough to lie back down in bed, and then got up to leave. A hand shot out and grabbed his wrist - gently enough for him to pull away in an instant if he wanted to.

“Would you stay?” Bucky asked him in a small voice. Sam smiled in the darkness and slid into bed beside Bucky, drawing the larger man into his arms and kissing the top of his head.

“Of course, always,” he answered quietly, stroking Bucky’s back as he settled his head on his chest. “Go to sleep, Buck, I’ll be here when you wake up.”

~

As promised, when Bucky woke when the first rays of light were beginning to appear over the horizon, Sam was still there beside him, sleeping soundly and looking completely peaceful. The feeling of his breath on his shoulder warmed Bucky, and it was reassuring to know that Sam was comfortable and, above all, alive. Nothing had happened. He hadn’t left. He just lay there with one arm slung over Bucky’s waist and his head buried in Bucky’s pillow like it was the most natural thing in the world. He was… beautiful.

~

“Morning sunshine,” Sam mumbled when Bucky leaned over to kiss his cheek gently, “you always wake up with the birds?”

Bucky hummed in assent and continued his soft exploration of Sam’s face with his lips.

“Good job I’m used to that,” Sam chuckled and turned into the next kiss, his arm tightening over Bucky’s waist and drawing him closer so he could feel the warmth radiate between them.

They kissed lazily for a while, simply enjoying being together and having no urgency to go anywhere or do anything, and letting the melancholy of the previous night melt away with the darkness and the space between their lips.

“You know,” Bucky said, lying back and tangling his human hand with one of Sam’s, lifting it up into the light that peered into the room through the curtains, “I’m glad I didn’t meet you in the forties, or this would have been at least two kinds of illegal.”

Sam began to laugh, a bright cheerful sound that he made with his whole body, and before long Bucky began to laugh too - at the absurdity of it, as well as what an abstract comment it was after a lazy make-out session.

“I’m glad I didn’t meet you in the forties too,” Sam confessed, “cause it sounds like I wouldn’t have stood a chance anyway, the way you went at the ladies,” he nudged Bucky with his shoulder teasingly and Bucky laughed again.

“Well, we didn’t really have such a thing as bisexuality back then, ya know, and besides,” he shifted quickly, earning him a noise of surprise from Sam, until he was leaning over the other man, “I am really, really attractive.” Bucky looked into Sam’s eyes, daring him to argue, but Sam only chuckled and shook his head.

“Man, don’t I know it,” he ran his hands over Bucky’s biceps, deliberately flicking his fingers over the joints of Bucky’s metal arm to irritate the man, “I am really, really lucky,” he smiled.

“Hmpf,” Bucky looked unconvinced, but Sam only laughed and pulled him down for another kiss.

 

Each day was another step forward, even though some contained a step or two backwards, and Bucky gradually began talking about the things that had happened to him, and the things that he did. Every time he opened up Sam could see that he was waiting for the other shoe to drop, for this to be the horror that pushed him away, but instead it had the opposite effect. For every story shared only made Sam care more for this deeply broken man, wanting desperately for him to be happy, and to be the instrument of his happiness.

“I remember… There was this old woman. She was… I don’t know, I don’t remember, but she cried. God Sam, she cried so much. She begged me, begged me not to kill her, to think of her grandkids, they were sleeping just down the hall. She was a tiny little Russian grandmother, Sam, and she just wept and wept. I let her cry, let her think I might spare her, even though I just shot her daughter and son-in-law right in front of her face. She was all those kids had left - and I’d have killed them too, if they’d told me to or if they’d been unlucky enough like she was to walk in on me - and right when she looked like she believed I wasn’t going to kill her… I shot her, right in the face. For no reason other than she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. You can’t tell me that’s forgivable? That that’s okay?” Bucky looked at Sam with his big blue eyes, searching his face for some kind of admonishment, some condemnation from the man he was baring his soul to.

“No, Bucky, it’s not okay. But it’s also not for you to pay for. It’s not your debt, Bucky.” Sam pulled him in, as he had so many times before, and kissed his forehead like a blessing. “If man bashes his wife’s head in with a hammer, do you blame the hammer? When a black kid gets shot down in the street, do you throw the gun in jail? Your hands pulled the trigger, sure, but they made you do it. They kept you on ice for decades, and they brainwashed you until you didn’t even know your own name. You think you can be held accountable for that? You can’t. You were a tool to them, nothing more than a hammer. They didn’t think of you as a human being, someone with his own mind and his own right to make his own decisions, you were just an Asset to them. An instrument through which they committed murder. You can’t blame yourself for what they made you do. And I don’t blame you. I can forgive you till I run out of breath to say it, and I do, but you have to start forgiving yourself, Bucky.”

They remained silent for a long time, sitting together on the couch with Sam’s hands on Bucky’s hips and Bucky’s on Sam’s, his head on Bucky’s shoulder. Sam wasn’t sure if Bucky would ever be able to fully forgive himself, but he hoped that with time he would be able to at least agree that it wasn’t all his fault.

 

One day, Bucky surprised him again - and it was a testament to how hard Bucky was trying, how much effort he was putting into his recovery, that even when Sam was letting things coast along, he was still moving forward, wading against the tide of memories and hurt to try and reach a place where he could be… not necessarily better, but something.

“I’d like to meet someone,” Bucky announced as he washed the dirty pots from dinner. He preferred to do them by hand rather than put them in the dishwasher with the dishes, and Sam secretly thought this was because inevitably the dirt and grease would build up in his prosthetic arm and Sam would have to clean it, and for some reason Bucky really enjoyed Sam cleaning his arm. Possibly it was because it had so many negative memories for him, that it was nice for him to build up positive ones with someone he cared about - that or he just liked having Sam’s hands all over him. Probably both.

“Anyone you have in mind?” Sam asked as casually as he could, taking a clean pot from the drying rack and swiping it with a dry towel.

“Natalia Alianovna Romanoff…” He paused his scrubbing for a moment and stared hard at the murky water. “I have something I need to apologize to her for, anyway.”

 

The conversation with Nat went better than Sam expected, and she was not only willing but actually keen to meet Bucky, and they arranged for her to visit soon, since the longer they left it the more likely it would be that Steve might find out. They agreed that it was awful to have to keep this secret from him, but they hoped he would understand.

The day Nat arrived Bucky got up earlier than usual - to Sam’s annoyance, since they had taken to sharing a bed and Bucky’s ability to get up silently apparently extended only as far as the couch - and showered, tying his hair back with an elastic band since he had refused Sam’s offer to buy him some hair ties. He dressed in a brand new pair of dark jeans and a black long-sleeved shirt. Sam’s heart ached to see the return of the long sleeves and the leather glove that covered his prosthetic hand, but he also felt a small sense of possessive pride that he was the only one Bucky was willing to reveal his prosthesis to.

Natasha was on time, unsurprisingly, and her businesslike rap at the door had both Sam and Bucky out of their seats in an instant.

“Want me to answer it?” Sam offered, but Bucky shook his head and strode quickly across to the door, which he opened with the care of a gentleman used to opening doors for ladies.

“Привет, Баки." (Hi, Bucky.) Nat stood in the doorway looking surprisingly casual in skinny jeans and a figure hugging t-shirt, though Sam was sure she must have a concealed weapon or two somewhere about her person. She walked in past Bucky as he stepped aside for her, and took a seat on the couch.

“Привет, спасибо, что пришла" (Hello, thank you for coming.) Bucky seemed nervous, and Sam had to resist the urge to go to him and take his hand or just touch him somehow. This was something he needed, that he wanted to do on his own.

“Не за что, я все равно хотела с тобой встретиться. Сэм хорошо с тобой обращается” (It’s cool, I wanted to meet you anyway. Sam treating you right?) Nat had a mischievous look in her eye, and Sam suspected she knew more about their relationship than she was letting on. He had no idea what they were saying, but that look she was giving him insinuated all sorts of things that he really wasn’t sure he was ready to talk about with her.

"Он добрый и очень мне помогает” (He's kind and very helpful) Bucky nodded and gave him a sweet smile, and while his heart became a sunburst in his chest, he also knew that that look would have cleared up any doubts Nat was having, no matter what exactly was being said. As much as he thought he should probably have talked to Bucky about that ahead of time, he also didn’t ever want to discourage him from looking at him in that way.

I am so fucking screwed, he thought, knowing that he was completely gone on this man.

“Хорошо. Я думала, он смог бы тебе помочь. Видит Бог, остальные бы точно хреново справились.” (Good. I thought he might be able to help you, God knows the rest of us would do a shitty job of it.) Nat was laughing now, and Sam really hoped it wasn’t something about him, but Bucky nodded his head and chuckled too, so maybe he was in the clear. He was failing miserably at not getting paranoid about what they were saying and not for the first time he wished he’d asked Bucky or Natasha to teach him some Russian sometime. But it had never seemed like something Bucky might be willing or able to do, despite his apparent ability to have a completely normal conversation in the language of his captors.

“Мне очень повезло, что он захотел меня взять. Я знаю, это должно быть было тяжело для него, особенно после того, что я ему сделал” (I feel very fortunate that he was willing to take me in, I know it must have been hard for him, especially after what I did to him.) Bucky looked sad now, and wouldn’t meet his eyes, so Sam excused himself and came back with sodas for them all.

“Сэм умный парень с отличным чутьем. Он бы этого не сделал, если бы не думал, что ты стоишь того или если бы не доверял тебе. Я рада, что его доверие не было подорвано.” (Sam is a smart guy with great instinct, he wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t think you were worth it, or if he thought you couldn’t be trusted. I’m glad his trust wasn’t misplaced.) Nat accepted the soda with a grateful smile, cracking it open and taking a long drink, as if to give the conversation some breathing space.

“Наталья” (Natalia) Bucky started, haltingly, his face suddenly full of worry.

“Пожалуйста, просто Нат.” (Please, just Nat is fine.)

“Нат, я хотел извиниться. За инженера, мне жаль” (Nat I wanted to apologize. For the engineer, I’m sorry.) Bucky’s voice cracked and he wrung his hands in a way Sam had never seen him do before, he hoped whatever was going on was nothing bad. Nat smiled and shook her head, reaching out to pat Bucky on the arm.

“Тебе не за что извиняться. Ладно, мне кажется, мы уже достали Сэма нашим русским. Я бы не прочь его подколоть, но это будет немного несправедливо, не думаешь?” (You have nothing to apologize for. Now, I think Sam’s getting a bit over his head with all the Russian. I like to needle him, but this is a bit unfair, don’t you think?)

Да.. да. Извини.” (Yeah.. yeah. Sorry.) He turned to smile weakly at Sam, who shrugged and smiled back, trying to act like he was unconcerned about the conversation going on around him.

“So, Sam, what’s new?” Natasha had that glint in her eyes again, and Sam knew it was going to be a long day.

 

“Hey, Bucky?” Sam said later as they lay in bed, Bucky half draped across his body and just barely dozing.

“Да?”

“D’you think you’re up to talk about anything that happened, y’know, around the time we met? The first time I mean.”

Bucky rolled to one side and propped his head up with his hand, trailing warm pale fingers over Sam’s chest. “With you, yeah.”

Sam couldn’t quite see him in the darkness, but his voice gave away his nerves and Sam hoped he would still be welcome after what he was about to say. “While we’re talking honestly. Before we went to the Triskelion, me and Steve, we had a… talk. And I told him…” Sam took a deep breath and let it out slowly, his heart thundering in his ears. “I told him I didn’t think you were the kind of guy you save, you were the kind you stop. And. I was wrong. I’m sorry, Bucky. I’m so sorry.”

Bucky’s trailing fingers stilled as he took Sam’s words in, and then disappeared altogether. Sam braced himself for the rejection, to be banished from Bucky’s room, his bed, his heart, as Bucky shifted around for a moment. Then warm lips pressed against his as Bucky lowered himself on top of Sam, pressing their bodies together as close as he could.

“No,” he said eventually, after he had kissed Sam’s lips, his cheeks, his forehead, every part of Sam’s face until Sam was breathless from the attention and starting to feel decidedly uncomfortable in certain areas. “You were right. He didn’t save me. He had to stop me. But I’m glad he did. Because he stopped me, you were able to save me. You saved me, Sam. Thank you. Thank you.”

Sam held him close and breathed him in, his unique smell of metal and flesh, the combination of the oil Sam used on his arm and the citrus scent of his shampoo mingling, and he knew it was a fragrance he would forever associate with this man. He was content with that, for a while, until Bucky intentionally ground his hips down on top of Sam’s and gave him a grin even Sam could see in the pale light streaming through a gap in the curtains.

“Gonna help a guy out, Falcon? Or am I gonna have to take care of this business myself?” Bucky’s voice was low and suggestive, and hit all the right buttons for Sam.

It wasn’t like they were strangers to this; they’d shared showers and a few lazy morning hand jobs, but this was still pretty new. Bucky rarely outright instigated anything sexual, and Sam suspected it was because he was afraid to hurt him, but was happy to let their slow makeout sessions become heated if that was where the feeling went. It was time to test some boundaries, Sam thought, since he’d been so tentative and wary of Bucky, not wanting to trigger him into a violent outburst. But he couldn’t walk on eggshells forever, and it would only help Bucky in the long run for him to find himself challenged. At least, that was how he was going to rationalize it to himself.

He flipped Bucky, knowing that the other man was letting him do so, since Bucky had proven more than once that he could pin Sam down with ease if he wanted to, and straddled his hips, grinding down in revenge for Bucky’s move and kissing him deeply, licking into his mouth to taste the spearmint toothpaste they shared. Bucky kissed back with equal enthusiasm, pushing his hips up to meet Sam’s and moaning softly into his mouth. Sam ran his hands gently over the skin of Bucky’s back, tracing the scars and wondering what could cause a permanent injury on a man who healed so quickly, wondering if these came from before Zola got his hands on Bucky or from after. His attention was brought back to the man beneath him when Bucky bit his lip gently and he drew back to look at the mischievous grin on the other man’s face. He didn’t need Bucky to say anything to tell him he’d been losing focus, and he moved to nibble and suck at Bucky’s jaw, savoring the feel of Bucky’s day-old stubble beneath his own and the sharp hiss of breath when he lapped at a sensitive spot.

“Mmm… more,” Bucky growled, rocking his hips gently. Sam nodded and reached over to the nightstand to grab the items he’d put there around the time they started this, whatever-it-was. Just in case.

He didn’t want their first time together to be too new for Bucky, and he wasn’t sure the man had spent all that much time with other men back in the 40’s, so he opened himself up with care, letting Bucky grind against him and nibble at his dark skin eagerly. When Bucky slid home with a blissful moan, Sam echoed the sound against Bucky’s skin, tonguing the sensitive scar tissue where his prosthetic arm met his skin and kissing the warm metal, wondering absently if Bucky had any feeling there at all. They moved together awkwardly at first, before finding a natural rhythm that had them both panting, pleasure zinging across their nerves and bursting like stars behind their eyes. Bucky’s strong hands on his hips gave Sam a feeling of safety he’d never had before, and he kissed Bucky with an almost desperate enthusiasm as he began to reach his peak.

When Bucky finally came inside him Sam cried out, and Bucky grasped his cock, quickly stroking him to completion too, and he felt strangely rude for spilling all over the shiny metal hand while feeling wonderment at how gentle said hand could be. For a tool that had been designed to cause death and destruction, it was tremendously precise and sensitive to Bucky’s will, and Sam decided next time he wanted to feel those fingers inside him.

“Holy shit, man, that was…” Sam panted, rolling off Bucky and lying beside him, tangling their fingers together.

“Incredible,” Bucky finished, grabbing his shirt and wiping his hand and stomach clean before disposing of the used condom Sam had so sensibly stashed in his nightstand.

You’re incredible,” Sam said quietly, rolling over to press feather-light kisses to Bucky’s shoulder, nosing at the skin and taking in deep breaths of his post-sex musk.

They kissed for a while longer before settling in, Sam’s yawning finally overcoming his desire to kiss Bucky forever and ever. As he began to doze, he heard Bucky murmur something in Russian, “я… люблю тебя.(I love you)

Sam patted his hand lightly and mumbled “me too, buddy, me too,” before falling into a deep, satiated sleep.

“I think you guys need to tell Steve,” Nat said one day a few weeks later. She had started visiting regularly, whenever she could easily get away without anyone asking any questions. Slowly, she had managed to wheedle the nature of their relationship out of them and far from being judgemental about it she had been completely supportive. She said, when pressed, that she thought a romantic connection - though surprising - was definitely helping bring Bucky out of his shell more easily. His nightmares had finally started to subside, and they were starting to see more and more of the happy, cheeky, flirtatious Bucky that Steve talked about so fondly.

“I know you’re enjoying your time together, and I’m keeping him as busy as I can to let you have that, but he’s losing his mind with worry, especially since every new thing we manage to convince him to try short of taking off again is coming up with nothing. And that’s… well it’s our fault, guys, we’re keeping this from him deliberately. I think it’s time, if you can cope,” she addressed this last part to Bucky, who was leaning against Sam’s shoulder with his legs up on the couch.

“I…” He sighed heavily and hung his head, his hair falling around his face in wisps where it had escaped from the tie keeping it back. “You’re right, Nat, I’ve been here - what, about eight months now? Or at least, that’s how long it’s been since Sam and I first met, uh… the second time, that is. Anyway, it’s not fair on Steve. I have… a lot of things I need to explain, I guess, and apologies to make. And if we wait until I’m fully…” he made a vague movement with his metal hand - which he had recently given up covering around Natasha, “then we might never tell him."

There was a long silence while the three of them thought about Bucky’s words carefully.

“I’ll give him a call,” Sam said, getting up off the couch and pressing a light kiss to Bucky’s hair. Nat nodded and rose as well.

“And I’ll go –”she started, but Bucky interrupted her.

“No, would you stay?”

Nat looked at him in surprise. “I thought you’d probably want to…”

Bucky shook his head quickly. “No, I think it might be better if you were here. Stevie… he might be angry that Sam kept this from him for so long. If you’re here, it might help defuse the situation, or at least give him a secondary target. I feel bad for asking this of you, when I have no right to ask you anything, but would you stay, at least for Sam?”

Nat smiled and walked across the room to envelop Bucky in a hug, the first piece of real contact they’d had aside from the occasional handshake.

“You’re my friend too, Buck, of course I’ll stay.”

“Hey,Sam!” Steve said brightly when Sam opened the door, but his cheerful smile faltered on his lips when he saw Sam’s grave expression. “What’s happened?”

“I… you better come in.” Sam let Steve inside, and they went to the lounge to sit down. Sam wiped his face with his hand, his heart in his throat and beating so fast he thought it was going to burst.

“What’s up, Sam? Just tell me,” Steve said gently, and a wave of guilt washed over Sam as he thought of how he had deceived his friend.

“I found Bucky.”

Steve’s face lit up in surprise and delight, and he leapt up from his seat with a whoop of joy.

“That’s wonderful,Sam! Where is he?! I can’t wait to see him again, can we go right now?” His excitement only served to make Sam feel worse, and he hung his head in shame.

“I’m right here, Stevie,” Bucky said quietly, stepping in to the room from where he and Nat had been hiding in the kitchen. Nat followed, standing close by for support.

“Bucky!” Steve whirled around and stepped forward, arms open as if he was going to hug the other man, but Bucky’s eyes widened and he took a startled step back, bumping into Nat, who put her hand on his arm in reassurance.

“Steve,” Sam said, getting up and mirroring Natasha’s move with Steve, “he’s… been living here. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner,” he added quietly.

Steve turned to look at him with a frown, pulling out of his grasp and stepping back a little.

“How long?”

Sam hung his head, ashamed beyond reason by his lies and selfishness.

Sam, how long?” Steve insisted.

“About eight months,” Nat answered for him, patting Bucky on the arm and stepping forward. “Give or take a few weeks.”

“Eight months?” A look of realization dawned on Steve’s face. “That’s why you didn’t invite me in that time, because he was already here? And you didn’t tell me?” He looked hurt, and a little angry. “Why, Sam?”

“He was… he wasn’t himself when I came across him. He’s got major PTSD, Steve, sometimes he couldn’t remember where or who he was. Just being around me was stressful for him, I thought… being around you might be, well, traumatic for him. Not to mention, he was so completely different to the friend you remember, the one you were trying to find again, I didn’t want to you be disappointed. It’s taken him this long to reach a point where even the thought of seeing you doesn’t bring on a panic attack.” He fell silent, searching Steve’s face for any sign of forgiveness. “I wanted to tell you, man, I really did.”

Steve looked torn, halfway between feeling betrayed by his friend’s deception and feeling relieved that Bucky was here and safe.

“If it helps, I told him I thought this was the right thing to do,” Nat chipped in, and Bucky moved forward too.

“Stevie, don’t blame Sam,” he said quietly, tentatively. “He couldn’t even call me by my name until about a month ago. The one time he accidentally did I panicked and ran off for ten days,” he snorted softly, “but he’s looked after me even still.”

Sam and Bucky shared a fond look, and Steve looked between them for a moment before his jaw fell open and he threw his hands up in the air.

“I don’t believe this!” he exclaimed loudly, then rubbed his face with both hands, breathing deeply to calm himself down. “Okay. Okay. That is… it’s weird. Surprising. But…” he turned to Bucky, and a soft, genuine smile spread across his face. “I really am glad to see you, Buck, I’ve been worried sick.”

“I didn’t mean to worry you,” Bucky confessed, smiling back at Steve, “and I’m glad to see you too.”

“Can I hug you?”

Bucky considered it for a moment, one arm crossing his body self-consciously to grasp his prosthetic arm tightly. It was well covered with a long sleeved shirt and his leather glove, but Sam knew he was still overly aware of it.

“Okay.” Bucky surprised them all with his quiet, fearful answer.

Steve crossed the room slowly and, with all the self-control he could muster, gently wrapped his arms around Bucky. He held on tight, pressing his chin to the other man’s shoulder and heaving a huge, deep breath. Bucky’s arms instinctively came up around him, and they stood there for a long moment, each holding on tightly to the other for the first time in over seventy years.

Damn I missed you,” Steve said, his voice thick with emotion.

“I missed you too,” Bucky answered, obviously equally moved and surprised by the strength of his feelings for Steve, his best friend since childhood, lost for so many years. “Steve,” he said, grabbing him just that little bit tighter and pressing his face to Steve’s shoulder.

Sam and Nat smiled at each other, glad to see the two of them together at last, and relieved beyond measure that Bucky hadn’t had an anxiety attack or something worse.

“Bucky, do you think you’ll be okay if Nat and I head out to give you guys some time to catch up? Or would you prefer us to stay?” Sam asked, when the two men finally broke apart.

“Yeah, I think… I think we’ll be okay,” Bucky smiled his sweet smile, the one he reserved for when he was looking at Sam, and Steve shook his head in bewilderment again.

“Not that I have any problem with it, but that is gonna take some getting used to,” he laughed.

“What?” Sam raised his eyebrows, heart thrumming with concern.

“You two. Together. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate a good looking guy with the best of them, but I never would have pegged Bucky for that kinda thing. He’s always been too…” he shrugged with a chuckle, “you know what I mean. I’m happy though, really,” he leaned over and patted Sam on the arm, “and at least he’s got good taste,” he added with a wink.

Sam looked surprised for a moment before all four of them broke into laughter, laughter of love, friendship, relief, and joy, and Sam knew that everything was - eventually - going to be all right.

Nat and Sam left Steve and Bucky to talk, impressing upon them that they both had their cell phones and to call if they needed anything at all, but they needn’t have worried. When they returned three hours later, finally bored of wandering around DC after watching a whole movie on the other side of town, they found the two of them sitting on the couch, one of Bucky’s 40’s compilation CD’s playing, laughing their asses off at something neither of them could even begin to guess at.

“I’m glad you’re getting along,” Sam said, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed and a smirk on his face, “please tell me I don’t have competition because honestly; who can compete with that?” He motioned to Steve, and both guys grinned.

“Never,” Bucky shook his head, “Steve’s like the annoying kid brother I never had, and never wanted. You’re safe,” he winked.

For Sam, this made every nightmare, every fearful moment where he wasn’t sure if Bucky was going to snap and kill him, every time he had jumped at the tiniest noise, all worth it. Seeing Bucky and Steve laughing together on the couch… it was all he had wanted in the start, and now he had Bucky as well. They really needed to figure out what kind of relationship they had, one day, but putting a label on it seemed so… unnecessary, that he never bothered to bring it up.

The four of them ate dinner together in front of the TV, and while there were times that Bucky lapsed into an awkward silence as if he wasn’t sure how to cope with so much social activity, there were also times when he and Steve made inside jokes that left the other two bewildered, or Nat and Bucky got into heated debates in Russian until Steve or Sam had to intervene, and overall… it was good. Sam knew Steve would be visiting much more often now, and he made a mental note to ask him to keep the visits reasonably infrequent to give Bucky time to recharge between them. It was a lot for him to process, and he didn’t want to lose all the progress they had made.

By the time Nat and Steve were saying their goodbyes, giving them both tight hugs and promising to keep in touch, both Sam and Bucky were feeling exhausted and emotionally wiped out. They watched Nat climb onto the back of Steve’s motorcycle and waved them off before returning inside to clear up and fall into bed.

“I’m so proud of you, Buck,” Sam murmured as they settled down, and Bucky made a noncommittal grunt in response.

“Hey, Sam?” Bucky said quietly after a while, stroking the back of Sam’s neck with gentle fingers.

“Yeah?” Sam kissed Bucky’s collarbone lightly.

“What are we?” He sounded nervous again, so Sam sat up, leaning down over Bucky to kiss his full lips before answering.

“What do you want us to be?”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure how these things… really work.”

“You know, we don’t really need to put a name to it. Let’s just say… we’re exclusive,” Sam kissed him a few more times, “and that I don’t have any interest in anyone but you.”

“Me neither,” Bucky agreed, returning Sam’s kisses for a while. “Hey, Sam?” He pushed Sam back, halting the stream of kisses momentarily.

“Yeah, Bucky?”

“I love you,” he said, a slight tremor in his voice. Sam chuckled and kissed him again then rubbed their noses together.

“я тоже тебя люблю.” (I love you too.)