Basically, if you die in the United States without a will or next of kin, the state decides how your belongings are distributed. Even if it turns out that you're not actually dead, and you are a try-hard superhero that decides he just has to have his vintage uniform in order to stop his old war buddy from killing him and everyone else within shooting distance.
The Smithsonian is pissed.
"Okay, but," Sam bargains, holding the battered Captain America uniform out for inspection. "He's giving it back."
The curator gives him a look like, this piece of red white and blue shit is in shreds and we have a naked mannequin on display and the children are asking why Captain America isn't anatomically correct. If that can all be conveyed in a look, anyway.
Sam offers a charming smile. "I washed it."
Hand-washed, line dried. He should have mentioned that.
The curator grabs the suit and huffs away without so much as a thank you, and really, how the hell did this become Sam Wilson's life? Doing Steve Rogers' bloody laundry and giving his apologies for him while he recovers from knife and gunshot wounds?
Fucking pretty boys, with their pretty eyes and big muscles and sad smiles and "if you wanna call that running" or "that big ol butt of yours might mess with your center of gravity while flying" smartass remarks. They will always be the life and death of him.
He should really learn how to say no, but that's not who he is. He always does what he thinks is right, and if it bites him in the ass, oh well. Put a bandaid on it, start over.
As it stands, Sam isn't even trying to say no to Steve Rogers, because you don't just say no to Captain fucking America when he blindly trusts you with his life. And the guy is borderline suicidal and it's kinda scary as hell; he honestly needs someone watching his reckless ass. At all times. That's Sam's plan, anyway.
First though, he needs to go take a picture of this naked beacon of American justice so he can go ahead and start reminding someone what a good friend -
"Naw," Sam groans quietly as he stops dead in his tracks. He's not even sure how he recognizes the scraggly man in a crowd of people, in normal street clothes and notably lacking any visible grenade launchers, but he does. Maybe it's because just being in this guy's presence makes his skin crawl and his body want to sprout wings so he can fly as far away from this disturbed fucker as physically possible.
The Winter Soldier is standing with his hands shoved in his pockets, staring at a massive display image of Bucky Barnes. Of himself, Sam guesses he should say. It's true - the face is the same. Not that he didn't believe Steve when he told him so, but seeing it for himself is a whole other level of fucked up.
Sam can't get away with staring for long. The soldier - Bucky , his brain tries to tell him - tilts his head in Sam's direction, staring him down like he should know him but he doesn't. And obviously, yes, this guy should know him - he ripped Sam's wing off and kicked him off a helicarrier and fucking destroyed his car and probably did some other shit like roll his eyes or flip him off because Sam knows he did those last two things more than once to this asshole. This guy just looks like a little shit, brainwashed or not.
Despite his rather strong feelings of contempt, Sam knows he can't just stand here and watch Bucky Barnes slip away. He thinks of Steve, the giant dumbass who tried to kill himself just to prove to the Winter Soldier that he was more than just a weapon. Think of Steve, think of Steve...
But as Sam takes a cautious step forward, Bucky breaks eye contact and casually walks away, strolling through the crowd towards the exit. SHIELD/Hydra/whatever is in shambles, and their prized assassin is on the loose. He's not going to make a scene, and Sam sure as hell isn't going to risk any civilian lives in this confrontation. So, he follows quietly, taking a detour through another exhibit to cut him off at the entrance.
It kinda pisses Sam off that this guy doesn't even look surprised to see him there.
"Excuse me," Bucky says quietly, avoiding eye contact. Maybe he doesn't actually remember the hell he's put everyone through this past week? A damaged mind can be impossible to understand.
Sam lets him pass, giving him space yet keeping pace with him at the same time. Not one living soul knows the amount of trauma James Buchanan Barnes has been through in the last, what, sixty-nine years? He's confused and dangerous and most likely unstable. The last thing Sam wants to do is trigger some sort of violent reaction. "Where ya going?" he asks, because he's a nice person, the kind who would make casual conversation with a stranger he's walking with.
"I don't know," Bucky answers stiffly.
Sam tries another question. "Do you remember me?"
Bucky's jaw visibly clenches. "I don't know."
"What do you know, then?" They round the street corner, away from the crowd of people, towards a parking garage. Sam had to ride the Metro today though cause, well... yeah . His car.
Now that they're in a more secluded area, Bucky plants his feet to the pavement and waits for Sam to reverse his tracks. Bucky meets his eyes again and for a second Sam is pretty sure he's about to die, alone in the streets of DC and smelling of Tide detergent.
"I'm sorry," the world's deadliest assassin says, and all Sam can do is go, "huh?" before a metal fist slams into his face.
What's one more bruise to add to the collection, right?
Sam crumples in the most dignified way possible, cursing himself as he tries not to black out, because God , he makes some terrible life choices. He should have seen this shit coming, but no, he had to do the right thing and follow that motherfucker.
"You're sorry," Sam grumbles, pushing himself to his feet. The Winter Soldier is nowhere to be seen, and Sam can honestly say he's not at all upset about that. "Yeah, you're a real sorry piece of shit."
Sam decides then and there to make a wise fucking decision - he probably should, but he is never going to tell Steve about this.
There are some absolute requirements for a family reunion - it has to be in the country, in summertime, and there must be fried chicken. Preferably Sam's mama's fried chicken, because it is the absolute best and it doesn't matter that the gathering is at his aunt's house, the chicken has to be fried by Darlene Wilson.
The chicken is really the only saving grace to this shit awful day. Sam sorta hates his aunt for living in Jasper, Georgia, where it is fucking one hundred degrees in the shade and no amount of way-too-sweet tea can cool him down. But the heat isn't the worst part. No, Sam wanted to spend this weekend chilling out with his cousins and listening to the stories his uncle with Alzheimer’s had to tell before he couldn't piece them together anymore.
But instead, Sam is walking in downtown Atlanta holding a tupperware container of chicken. Because he'd be damned if Natasha Romanoff and Steve Rogers were gonna take this deep fried slice of heaven away from him. Natasha's CIA contact apparently gets an alert every time someone reports a suspicious person matching the Winter Soldier's description, and of course some long-haired asshole had to pop up an hour away from Sam's weekend plans.
These calls are never actually Bucky Barnes. Most of the time it's a homeless veteran, which does nothing but upset Sam even more than if it were actually the man they're looking for. One time it was a Luke Skywalker cosplayer, but Steve was the one who tracked down that guy and it blew his fucking mind, so...that call was worth it.
Sam wipes the sweat off his brow with the hem of his shirt and inspects the exterior of the building that the "scary squatter" has been living in for a couple of days. The office is small, not connected to any of the surrounding buildings, and still bears the sign of a law firm. It's well-kept and in a great location. If Sam didn't know better he would think the office was still up and running.
He can't see anything past a clerical desk through the windows so he pushes the door open slowly, listening for anything like a grenade or some other explosive contraption. Being in the military made him a little paranoid - being the best friend of an Avenger made him ridiculously paranoid.
Better to make his presence known than to sneak up on somebody. "Helloooo?"
Silence. Not shocking. All the main office doors are open so he pokes his head in one room at a time. None of them are empty, still fully furnished actually, which throws him off a little bit. An abandoned building should seem way more, you know, abandoned than this.
The big office at the end of the hall catches his eye, and for some reason he just senses that a knife wielding jerkoff is waiting for him on the other side of that wall. Sam sighs. He really just wants to eat his chicken. "Hey! I'm about to walk through this door. You better not fucking stab me."
Sam really hates that he had to take a commercial flight down here because normally he'd have his own knife on him. No protection today, though. He keeps talking. "My name's Sam. I've got fried chicken." He pops open the tupperware and pulls a leg out, taking a bite of it. Fuck, it's even good lukewarm. "My mom made it. It's the best fried chicken you'll ever put in your mouth. And since I'm such a nice guy, I'll even share with you. Gotta show your face first, though."
He waits, and eats. Grabs a thigh and starts chomping on it, too. He's licking his fingers when a godawful rat's nest of greasy brown hair peaks around the wall. The disappointment in Bucky's eyes at seeing Sam's face is beyond evident. Fuck this guy.
"It's good," Sam encourages him to come out, like Bucky's a damn cat hiding under the bed or something. "One piece left. A breast. Probably been a long time since you've seen one of those, ha haaaa."
What the fuck, Wilson, what the fuck ? You are a counselor , he mentally chides himself, why are you talking to the world's longest POW like he's your bro ?! Nerves, obviously. He'd be sweating bullets even in the dead of winter because he has no idea what this guy is going to try to do or how he'll react, and he's over here making boob jokes like some lame ass guy at a bachelor's party.
The quiet slide of a knife being sheathed surprises Sam. Okay, so maybe an unconventional approach is the way to handle this particular brand of messed up. Bucky steps out into the hall and licks his lips anxiously. He's wearing long sleeves and pants despite the heat. His face is thin and his body looks leaner without all the leather and pistols. Sam wonders if he's been eating enough. "Thanks for not trying to murder me. This time."
Bucky nods, looking at the tupperware. "I'm uh, surprised you eat bird."
"Why?" Sam asks.
Bucky points to Sam and links his thumbs together, lazily flapping his fingers like wings. "Caw caw."
This fucker. Guess his memory is better than last time, then. "Oh, you got jokes now?"
Bucky shrugs and tentatively picks up the piece of chicken.
"Great communicator." Sam rolls his eyes.
"I speak twelve languages," Bucky grunts, sniffing the chicken. He takes a small bite of it and his eyes almost roll back in his head. "Fuck."
Who the fuck is this guy?
"When was the last time you ate?" Sam asks lightly. Bucky shrugs again, devouring the chicken like, well, like it deserved to be eaten. Like someone who is starving. Every inch of breaded skin, meat, fat - he eats everything, even breaking the bone to suck the marrow out of it. Sam wrinkles his nose at that. "This is how I know you're old, man. My grandma used to do that."
Bucky drops the bones into the tupperware with a frown. "I don't remember chicken tasting like this." He licks the grease off his fingers - the flesh ones and the metal ones.
Sam is still a little afraid of the fully functioning metal arm of death, to be honest. He clears his throat and thinks of Steve. This is Steve's friend, the guy who used to put up with his sass and reckless behavior and probably shitty cooking... "It's not boiled," he says.
"Everything doesn't have to be boiled, ya know," Bucky drawls, a deep, lazy Brooklyn drawl. His face curls in confusion, then turns green, and goddammit he's about to vomit. Luckily he runs into one of the other open rooms before he blows because Sam'll puke if he sees it, and the last thing they need is a chain of puking in this place.
It's hard to hate someone that clearly has a lot of issues going on, but Sam is trying to keep the hate alive inside of him. Car. Wings. Hurling through the air. A punch to the face. He straightens his back, doing his best Captain America impersonation. "Do you know why I'm here?"
Bucky wipes his mouth on his sleeve, pushing past Sam to re-enter the office he'd been holed up in before. "Guess it's not to kill me?"
"Don't tempt me," Sam idly threatens. "Maybe the better question is, what are you doing here?"
"Looking for something." Stacks of books line the baseboards, with loose papers scattered around the floor. Bucky pulls a file from a desk drawer, quickly sifting through it before tossing it on the ground. "Why are you here?"
Instead of somebody else, Sam understands the question to mean. Because he has the shittiest timing in the world? Because his dumb ass volunteered to help Steve, because not only is the man the leader of the Avengers but he also walks on fucking water and Sam really just wants Steve to be happy? Sam doesn't really know why. "You're disappointed. You wanted Steve to find you?"
Bucky flinches at Steve's name and shakes his head, pulling out a box from the desk. "No. I'm glad he didn't. Please don't tell him about this. I'm not the person he thinks I am."
What, like he and the Winter Soldier are buds now, keeping secrets or something? No. "Steve's the entire reason I'm here at all, man. I'm here to try to bring you back to him, to...help you. I guess."
"You can't help me." A few rolls of cash fall out of the box when Bucky empties it onto the floor. He promptly picks those up and shoves them in his pockets, then pulls another box out to dump.
Sam stares at him, dumbfounded. "Are you just robbing people?"
"Consider it backpay," Bucky grumbles, drop-kicking the now empty box. "You wanna know why I'm here? Will you stop staring at me and leave if I tell you?"
"Not answering that question yet. And I'm not staring, it's called being alert when in the presence of someone who punched me in the face last time I saw him." Sam can hear Steve's stubborn ass in his head, chiding him for even entertaining the possibility of leaving Bucky here. But Sam's the one that found him, not Steve. Sam thinks clearly. Well, clearer than Steve, anyway.
Bucky rolls his eyes and stomps to a closet door across the room. If he's this fucking sassy when he's recovering from God knows how many years of torture, Sam doesn't wanna know what he was like before all the damage. Or, maybe he does. The guy seems to respond better to snark than kindness. Must be from all the years of putting up with Steve Rogers the sasshole.
"Okay, but don't put me in the closet," Sam jokes, because joking calms him. "It was hard enough to come out the first time."
Bucky doesn't get it. He furrows his brow and cocks his head, giving Sam a "what the fuck are you talking about" look. He shakes his head, pushing the door open. "DC. Atlanta. Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago."
Now Sam is confused, so he goes against his better judgment and steps into the doorway. It's not a fucking closet, that's for damn sure. What he sees is almost enough for him to lose his own investment in his mother's chicken as well. "The hell?"
There's a large cylindrical device in the corner of the room. Sam only knows it's a human cryo-chamber because of the files Natasha gave Steve. Against another wall is a mangled black chair with busted pieces of metal surrounding it on the floor. Sam tries to look Bucky in the eye but he avoids it. "Hydra?"
"They have their hands in everything. Even now when it seems like they've disappeared. They haven't. Never will."
"So, what, you're getting payback? Gonna kill em all?"
"I don't wanna kill them. Well. Maybe a few." Bucky backs away from the room so Sam follows, stepping out of the way so Bucky can close the door again. "I told you the cities where I've been kept in the states. There's more. Madrid, Copenhagen, Warsaw, Bucharest, Saint Petersburg, the middle of fucking nowhere Siberia."
"You know this, remember this. Does this mean you remember...you?" Sam asks.
"No," Bucky states matter-of-factly. "Only bits and pieces of me and him."
"No." Bucky points to his left arm then places a hand over his face, like a mask. " Him ."
Head in hands, Sam drops to a squat to think. Yeah, he gets why Bucky wouldn't willingly come with him even if he weren't actively "looking for something”. He's a fugitive basically, and if what's left of SHIELD gets ahold of him, he'll never see the light of day again. And he's struggling, mentally, even if he's not voicing it. Sam just knows, can tell. Even if Steve were able to keep him safe, there's no guarantee that Steve would actually be safe from him.
"Just," Sam sighs. "Don't fucking kill anybody. And for shit's sake, disguise yourself better. I'm guessing you're going to all those cities you listed? I'ma let you go but if I get another call about you, I'm coming for your ass."
Bucky nods his acceptance.
"And it won't be pretty, either," Sam adds.
"Okay," Bucky remarks sarcastically.
Before Sam can get even more irritated, he stands up and huffs out of the law firm. But damn, why is he such a good person? He really should stop that. Starting tomorrow. After walking a few blocks, he finds a Planet Smoothie, scribbles his number on his order, and returns to where he left a known goddamn fugitive.
Bucky is sitting on the floor reading, obviously not expecting Sam to come back. "Uhhh."
"You need to eat," Sam orders, passing down the drink in his hand. "Start with smoothies until you can handle the real stuff a little better, okay?"
"Okay..." Bucky points to the number. "This?"
"Call if you're willing to accept help or find your way back from Bumfuck, Siberia, alright? For Steve. He just wants his friend back."
Bucky inspects his drink a little too curiously. "Lucky that he has you."
Sam's already almost out the door and sending a 'false alarm' text to Natasha when he hears a barely audible "thank you" behind him. "Yeah. Yeah, he fucking is."
Six Bucky-free months pass. In a way, Sam is relieved. But also, he's worried.
Not that he cares about him really, but Steve . With every day that passes without a Winter Soldier sighting, a little bit of the fire in Steve dies. He's not giving up. He never will. But Sam wonders if he thinks he should.
Then Nat calls him one morning right after New Year's, stating she's got a metal arm alert. He's pretty sure it's another false alarm until she says it's in Chicago - one of the cities on Barnes' hit list. Fuck. He packs a bag to check on the plane with his Gerber knife and a single stack Glock .45 caliber. Hey, Bucky didn't try to kill him last time, but could he ever be really sure?
Luckily Steve is off Avenging and not around to ask five million questions about where Sam is going and why and is it Bucky and don't forget to bring back some of that Chicago Mix popcorn cause it's the best . Later that night Sam is freezing his ass off walking up Lakeshore Avenue, cursing the day he ever met Captain America. It's cold as fuck.
He enters the Navy Pier and walks first through the covered shop area and then the beer garden and further on. There are very few people outside. No one in their right mind would willingly stroll the Navy Pier on a night as cold as this one, so of course Sam easily finds Bucky's ass standing by the closed ferris wheel, just staring at it in fascination.
"You know, if you'd come here first instead of Hotlanta, you could have actually ridden this thing," Sam says, stepping into Bucky's line of view. "Thought you'd be averse to the cold, all things considered."
"It's not that cold," Bucky responds. He drops his eyes to a white bag in his metal hand - Chicago Mix popcorn from Garrett's. Sam's heart twinges a little, thinking of Steve. "Though birds do like to fly south for the winter, right?"
Sam scowls. "Again with the bird - okay, you know I still haven't gotten my new wings yet, since you fucked up the last set."
"What do they call you?" Bucky carefully pulls out an equal amount of caramel and cheese kernels of popcorn and pops them into his mouth. "Birdman?"
"The Winged Avenger?"
" Falcon , dammit, and I am not an Avenger," Sam snaps, and now he's kinda pissed because yes, it's a bird name. He didn't sign up for this kind of ridicule from an amnesiac assassin.
Bucky eats some more popcorn, not bothering to finish chewing before he speaks. At least he is eating, though. "Why aren't you an Avenger?"
So many questions tonight. Sam gets to thinking - Bucky went six months without being seen, then pops up now without trying to hide at all, asking a bunch of silly questions just to pass the time on this frigid night. He wanted to be found. For now, Sam will humor him. "I'm not an Avenger because I don't want to be. I have a job, one other than trying to track you down."
More popcorn. "What is your job?"
"You publishing this interview online somewhere?"
Bucky's eyes light up, excited that he understood that bit of snark. Then he sort of smiles, like he's out of practice and maybe it even hurts a little bit. Sam takes pity on him, again, and answers the question. He's gonna have a few of his own in a minute. "I'm a counselor. Veteran's Affairs."
"Oh." Bucky frowns. "Is that why they sent you after me?"
Sam shakes his head. "Nah. I'm not qualified for your degree of trauma."
The popcorn rises to Bucky's lips but he pauses, meeting Sam's eyes. "No one is."
Okay, time to flip the roles. "Have you seen anybody? About this?"
"What do you think?"
Sam mutters a curse for stubborn geriatric idiots. He tries not to recognize that look of defeat in Bucky's eyes. He's seen it in his own reflection from time to time. "You're eating, that's good."
"I eat," Bucky agrees.
"Nightmares?" Sam prods.
"I don't dream," Bucky answers. "Memories are bad enough when they come. Don't even know for sure if they're real sometimes."
Sam waits, expecting Bucky to elaborate but he doesn't. "It might help to write them down. Read the good ones again when you're dealing with the bad."
"Maybe." A cloud of air puffs out of Bucky's mouth when he sighs.
"You wanted to be found," Sam changes the subject. "Does that mean you got what you were looking for?"
"Here, yes. In the U.S." Bucky glances back towards the shops. "Last stop. Dippin' Dots. How ironic."
Sam hides a smile by scratching his jaw. Suppresses the urge to call him a Dippin' Dot, or ask if they have a Winter Soldier flavor just for him. Instead, he sticks to business. "You're headed to Europe?"
Bucky nods. "Tell him you saw me, but I got away or something? Just to give him some peace. Maybe I kicked your ass and ran away, that would be believable."
"Or I kicked your ass," Sam grumbles. Bucky side-eyes him as if to say, yeah right . "Yeah okay, whatever."
"You're a good friend. To Steve."
The way Bucky says that name sounds so pained. Sam wants to ask why, but it's possible Bucky doesn't know the answer. A piece of paper in his jacket pocket crinkles against Sam's hand every time he shifts. He'd picked it up before leaving home, maybe as a reminder in case Bucky had regressed. Or maybe as a gift, though that idea just feels ridiculous. Sam pulls the pamphlet from the Captain America exhibit out of his pocket, setting it on top of the bag of popcorn. "So were you, once."
Bucky's face crumples. He folds the paper to hide his own picture and the bag of popcorn drops. Sam just barely catches it, scowling at Bucky because apparently he still needs to learn a lesson about littering. "I grew up hearing stories bout you guys and the Howling Commandos. Gabe Jones was my hero," Sam shares. "Imagine my disappointment when I found out you'd turned into an asshole."
"Was always an asshole." Bucky forces a thin smile. "Not as big of one as Steve, though."
"Now that I believe." With a cold shiver Sam takes a step away, anxious to get back to O'Hare and swap his return home for an earlier flight. "Still got my number, right?"
Bucky taps his temple with a nod.
Sam walks away before telling him not get himself killed, or kill anybody else on his trip. The odd secret "friendship" between him and the Winter - Bucky - is confusing enough already. Any more conversation will just lead to more internal conflict on his part. It's pretty obvious to him that he shouldn't just step aside and let Bucky leave the country, and yet he's doing it anyway. He waits until he's a safe enough distance away before turning to look one more time at his best friend's best friend.
Bucky is definitely cleaner and healthier than last time. His hair is still long but combed neatly, and he didn't smell like anything other than man and the popcorn Sam's still holding. Under the moon and the pier's lights he is almost -
Goddamn pretty boys. Again. Emotionally damaged pretty fuckers are the absolute worst of the worst.
He doesn't call Steve or Natasha in Chicago. After he settles in back at home, Sam sends a text to Steve asking him to call. If he'd called him in that moment Sam might have come clean and dealt with Steve's disappointment. They'd pack up and quinjet across the ocean, busting down doors until Steve finds his precious Buck.
But Steve's busy. Sam has time to change his mind again.
Sam is tired.
Between jet lag, idiots with bombs, and a week of fucked up dreams, he's ready to quietly retire to his hotel room for the night. Why do Avengers have to travel so much? Can't each continent find their own superheroes? And how the hell did he actually end up being a superhero?
But with Steve in charge and with Rhodey in the air with him, it's not so bad. Less stressful than his years in the Air Force for sure. Rhodey isn't Riley. He doesn't want him to be.
He's tearing apart his bag, looking for the extra comfy pajama pants he packed, when his cell phone falls out. It's not really necessary to carry one on missions when almost everyone that needs to get in touch with him can just talk right in his ear. His mama might have called to check in, though.
Instead of his mother, there's a text message from an unknown number - *nice wings*
With a fucking baby chicken emoji next to it.
"Shit." Sam sighs, voicing his response aloud as he types. "Bulletproof for protection against metal-armed bitches."
Then he realizes he just called the Winter Soldier a metal-armed bitch. Well, technically, he called Bucky Barnes a metal-armed bitch.
Not much better.
His phone tweets. *good to know*
*r u following me?* Sam replies.
*was going to ask you the same thing*
Where is he right now? Sam has to think about it for a second. Brussels. Not on Bucky's hit list.
*brussels wasnt on your list*
*just passing through*
That should be the end of the conversation right there. It's been eight months since Sam found Bucky in Chicago. He's just checking in. But does he let it go? No.
*where r u*
And that's how Sam trades the comfort and luxury of Le Chatelain for some shit hole motel without even a sign out in front of it. Bucky didn't tell him which room, but Sam figures it out - far corner room closest to the intersection.
"Alright, let's go," Sam says before Bucky even gets the door open.
Bucky raises an eyebrow, stepping away from the door to give Sam room to walk in. He's gonna ignore what Sam just said, it seems. "Nice to see you, too?"
"Look, Steve is here, I'm taking you to see him."
"And why the hell not?"
Bucky grabs Sam by the elbow and drags him into the room, slamming the door shut behind him. "Do you even know Steve Rogers?"
Sam glares. "What the hell kinda question is that?"
"Not Captain America. Steve. He's an idiot." Bucky crosses his arms over his chest, and Sam gets a good look at him. His hair is a lot shorter and choppy, like he tried to cut it himself. And clearly, he's been eating well. The boy is thick, but in a good way. He's also staring pointedly at Sam with clear eyes that usually look grey but seem bluish green in the light of this room.
"An idiot," Bucky says again. "He wanted to join the Army so badly that he let them turn him into a science experiment. He took on Hydra by himself because he thought there was a one percent chance I was still alive. If he finds me, he'll do even stupider things than that to try to keep me safe and I am not worth it."
Ignoring the obvious lack of self-worth, he does have a point about Steve. And that's probably the most words Sam has ever heard him speak at once.
"I'll find him when I'm better, when they have no control over me anymore. I swear."
Sam sighs, thinks that Bucky looks fine to him but knows he can't see what's going on inside of his head. Is he really going to do the wrong thing again, for this guy that was trying to kill him a year ago? Or is it actually the wrong thing to do at all? He's so confused. "Okay, so why did you contact me, then?"
Bucky looks as confused by the question as Sam feels at the moment. "I...don't know."
Oh God, Sam is just... "That answer worked before, but not now. Is there something wrong?"
"No, I..." He's wringing his hands together nervously. "I'm sorry, you have things to do -"
"What name do you prefer to go by?" Sam interrupts.
He pauses a moment before answering, "Bucky."
" Goddammit Bucky, it has been a long-ass day and you're a terrible liar, so either say what's actually going on or shut the hell up."
"That!" Bucky points to Sam like he just discovered the key to the mind that is Bucky Barnes. "You talk to me like that, and act like the bird jokes are annoying but I see you smile at them, and remind me of the shit that I did to you every time I see you. Sorry about that, by the way. The wings, I mean."
"Don't forget about my car."
Bucky frowns. "What happened to your car?"
"Fuck me," Sam mutters, pinching the bridge of his nose. This man is a victim, he reminds himself. "Don't worry about it. It's in the past."
Bucky takes a step toward him. "I did what you said. I've been writing. A lot. Not just memories. Everything. I don't have a friend I can talk to about this stuff, so it helps. Kind of like I'm talking to you."
Something deep in the pit of Sam's stomach aches. That's great , he should say. Hope it's going well for you, I'm sure you have beautiful prose. Instead he asks, "What do we talk about?"
Because it's been a long time since anyone has looked at him the way Bucky is looking at him right now and he is obviously not thinking straight. Because it makes perfect sense that at some point Bucky might rediscover some of his more primal urges, Sam just didn't expect them to be directed at him.
The question flusters Bucky. "I don't think I can tell you that."
Sam knows he needs to leave and probably get his mental faculties evaluated, but let's be real here - he has literally been unable to say no to this man for over a year and that was before he could even carry on a conversation or had life in his bluish greenish greyish eyes and fucking hell, Sam Wilson does not take advantage of people who are going through a difficult time. Fuck, Bucky's entire life has been difficult.
Maybe he can just talk to him. Talking is good. "Bucky. Are you having some confusing feelings?"
Bucky's Adam's apple bobs up and down. "That's one way to put it."
"Does this have anything to do with Steve and why you've been avoiding him like the plague?"
"Steve's not gay, he's just," Bucky rubs his hand over his face with a sigh, "really patriotic."
Sam can't help but laugh, even if that statement does spoil any hope of him getting in that star-spangled ass one day. "Okay, but that doesn't answer my question."
The flimsy bed creaks in protest when Bucky plops down on it. "I might have had feelings for him? I mean, I loved him more than anyone else in the world but that just wasn't a thing back then. It wasn't until he joined us in the war that I started making an ass of myself. Kinda like right now. At least he didn't notice."
"I'm gonna go on record saying this is the least assy you've been in the entire time I've known you." Sam pulls his wallet from his jeans and crouches in front of the bed. He thumbs over the leather, working up the courage to tell the story at the forefront of his mind this week. It hurts, but it might make him feel better to talk about it. He slips a wrinkled photo out of the folds, handing it to Bucky.
"The reason I was dumb enough to agree to help Steve find you." Sam chuckles. He doesn't know why. "That's me and Riley, my wingman. He used to call me Falcon Big Butt. Pararescue, 58th Squadron. He was hit by an RPG on a simple rescue mission. Hardest year of my life. But my point is, I could relate to Steve. I watched Riley die, I know there's nothing of him left, but if he showed up one day with no memory and trying to kill me, you can bet your ass I'd try to save him."
Bucky nods, reading between the lines. Sam doesn't have to explain why that was the hardest year of his life, not the hardest day or week or month. "Thanks. For sharing. Gives me a different perspective, I guess. Riley was a lucky guy."
God, Sam wants to grab him and scream, but he doesn't know , not for real, how right he is. Yeah, Riley is the lucky one, because he doesn't have to live with watching his best friend or more than best friend die, or fall to his death only to be brought back as a homicidal machine. He has peace, the one thing they're all looking for and can't seem to find.
It's just been one of those weeks. It will pass.
"You don't look so good, Big Butt," Bucky says, slipping the photo back into Sam's wallet.
Sam smiles and blinks. "I'm just...so tired."
"You're welcome to take a nap." Bucky's kinda looking at him again in that funny way that shouldn't make Sam's stomach do somersaults. His words are much more innocent, though. "I promise I'm not gonna do anything weird to you. I wouldn't even know what to do, anyway."
Oh. Okay. Right. Raised in the 20s and 30s. Oh God. This poor guy knows how to filet him but not anything that would actually make him feel good and alive. It just keeps getting more and more depressing, honestly.
"I shouldn't. Early morning of Avengering, ya know."
"I'm about to do something stupid," Bucky warns, and Sam really should have known this was about to happen. He just closes his eyes and says "okay," bracing himself for the stupidness that's coming and really isn't so stupid at all. Because no one would believe that the man inside the Winter Soldier is actually timid and chaste and has surprisingly soft lips and touch. It's fucking brilliant in its folly.
Sam blinks. Poor Bucky is red-faced but pleased with himself. "Get your confirmation?" Sam asks.
"Yep." Bucky licks his lips. "Thanks. Sorry. Thanks."
His knees creak and pop when he stands up, but Sam forces himself towards the door. "Don't forget. You're coming home after Siberia."
Sam opens the door. "Don't do anything Steve would do."
"Obviously," Bucky snorts.
The sound of a body falling dramatically into an old ass spring mattress is unmistakable as soon as he shuts the motel door. Sam shakes his head, muttering, "Same, man. Same," as he walks away.
Surprisingly, Sam actually sleeps pretty well that night.
Kick. Knee. Kick.
"Can you move your seat up?"
This motherfucker. "No."
Out of the corner of his eye, Sam sees Bucky slide over in the backseat, stretching his thick ass and long legs along the bench seat. "You're pissed."
Sam huffs, not responding.
"Did the big cat guy try to eat you?"
Don't laugh, Wilson, this is not fucking funny.
"Look, I'm sorry, okay? Whatever happened-"
"How about you start by apologizing for not mentioning that this thing you've been looking for are some fucking code words that turn you back into the Winter Soldier like it's nothing?" Sam snaps.
"You didn't ask," Bucky replies way too matter-of-factly.
"Or that there's more of you motherfuckers in Siberia. Siberia , ya know, your last stop? You never planned on making it back, did you? Asshole."
"Don't ' Sam ' me!"
What the fuck is going on in his head? Why is he so upset about this? Oh wait, yeah, Bucky just went fucking apeshit and threw him across a room. By his face. He's feeling some kind of way about Bucky right now, but it goes a lot deeper than this fucked up trip to Bucharest/Berlin/wherever the hell they're headed now.
Even when Steve questioned whether Bucky had been behind the bombing in Vienna, Sam knew it wasn't him. That's the difference in their dynamic with this piece of work now - Steve would rescue Bucky whether he was guilty or innocent. Sam wants to save him because he knows him well enough to understand the human that everyone, even Steve, fears.
And now, here they are. Sam Wilson: fugitive. His life just keeps getting better and better.
"Steve's looking at us, shit, smile or something so he doesn't think we're arguing," Bucky mutters.
Sam forces a smile, nodding his head like yeah, everything is super duper in this tiny Volkswagen. Nothing to see here, Steve, just a couple of guys that don't know each other.
Bucky asks, "What is that face, why is he looking at us like that?"
"Fuck if I know," Sam shrugs. Then sighs. Ugh. "I could have helped you. Would have, probably, if you'd just asked."
"No. You're in my Steve box."
"Are you having another moment? Because that sentence made no sense."
Bucky glares at him, shooting ice daggers from his eyes. They melt pretty quickly. "You didn't have a special box or drawer or something when you were little, where you kept your favorite toys so your siblings or friends wouldn't play with them and mess them up?" He shakes his head. "Instead of friends I have enemies. Concept's still the same."
He gets it, he does. The problem is that Sam thinks of Bucky the same way now. He's so fucked. He'll never make it back to the States. Might as well embrace this shit. "I'm one of your favorite toys?"
Bucky kicks the back of his seat again. "And I didn't even get to play with you."
Lord Jesus. "Are you flirting with me? You're literally on everyone's 'shoot on sight' list and you're flirting."
"You started it."
"My bad, I must have temporarily forgotten that you just threw me across a room by my face."
"You prefer a more gentle approach, then?"
Sam laughs. "I hate you." Even though he doesn't.
And then Steve is back, and there's fighting and running and Sam sends Steve and Bucky away and doesn't hesitate for a second because they're in his "box."
Rhodey is falling and he can't catch him, either.
Sam's in prison. Sam's in Wakanda.
What happened, what the fuck happened?
Sam's depressed again.
And then. Ice.
Coming out of cryostasis has never been a...good thing.
It's certainly never been approached like a goddamn surprise party.
For some reason, when Bucky finally wakes from his extended sleep, he's in a bed. Not just any bed, the softest damn bed he's ever slept on in his life, with fluffy blankets and a pillow that contours to his neck perfectly and linens that might actually be made from linen. If it weren't for the...Bucky blinks, counting the people in the room...ten eyes on him, he'd probably go back to sleep.
Being brought back whenever the time is right was supposed to be low key, off the radar, need to know. For someone so quiet and dignified, T'Challa kinda has a big mouth.
There's Twitchy Fingers, Tiny Man, Arrow Guy, Sam, and Steve. The Cat is absent. Before he can open his mouth, Sam squeezes his foot through the twenty-five layers of covers and says, "They've got a plan. Welcome back."
And then Sam's gone, and the rest of them are catching him up on everything and getting him something to drink because, oh yeah, he is thirsty. People are being nice to him. What the hell?
"Where's Sam?" His head is still a little fuzzy and he falls back asleep before he hears the answer.
The note next to his bed when he wakes says "Sam isn't much for company today," and it's not Steve's handwriting because he remembers that. So many papers, drawings, SGR. Bucky wonders who left the note.
Therapy isn't fun, but that's not a surprise. He doesn't want to talk about it with anyone but Sam, because he might understand it. But...
No one talks about his missing arm other than T'Challa, who wants to replace it. Maybe. Maybe not. Bucky doesn’t know if he wants to replace it.
His routines are consistent - run, breakfast, therapy, lunch, Steve time (yeah, they have a lot to catch up on), a different therapy, dinner, bed.
He cuts his hair. Not himself, but one of the stylists for the palace. She leaves it long enough that he can push a few strands behind his ear when he gets anxious, and gives him shampoo and conditioner and some sort of product that makes it silky and smell good. He gives her a big tip - on Steve's account. He won't be mad.
The food in Wakanda is great. Steve calls him a chubby dumpling and Bucky tells him he needs to invest in a sports bra. It's fun, it's nice, he missed him so fucking much, and it's a good distraction.
But where's Sam?
Steve says Sam took it hard when he ended up in prison, and that Bucky might not understand why. He says Sam took it hard when Rhodey fell. He took it hard when Bucky...
The U.S. citizens are being pardoned, they soon find out. They can go home. Well, most of them. Wanda is in limbo and Bucky is in therapy. He doesn't have a home anyway. Not really. He doesn't even own a pair of socks anymore.
Finally, Bucky gives in and goes looking through the guest quarters for Sam's room one day. If his dumbass won't come talk to him then he'll just have to fucking do it himself. Technically he's still being monitored full time in the medical wing, but somebody's just gonna have to fight him if they catch him.
He hears a song coming from one of the rooms. Remembers New York, the 70s, dancing, smack, bang, bloody feet, running, hiding, cold. Decides he'll come back tomorrow.
The next day is better. He knocks on the door even though it's open. Sam is packing, and that stresses Bucky out just a little bit. "Hey. Need a hand?"
Sam freezes, sitting on his bed with a pair of half rolled socks in his hand, and just stares at him like he's looking at a ghost. Shit, he was frozen, not dead. A small smile quirks his lips. "Wouldn't want to put you out. Seeing as you just have the one."
Bucky grins. This is... yes , good, great. He definitely wants to tackle Sam onto the bed and to be honest, he still doesn't quite understand that. His mother used tease his sister for having "crushes" on boys. Sorry Ma, but it turns out boys can have crushes on boys, too. "You've been avoiding me?" he asks. Accuses. Whatever.
"Giving you space," Sam clarifies.
"Maybe I don't want space." For once.
"Okay, giving you and Steve space."
Bucky nods. "I call bullshit."
"You're not allowed to call bullshit." Sam throws the socks at him, which he easily catches. "Look, before there was Sam and Steve, there was Bucky and Steve. You guys got a lot of catching up to do."
"Sam and Steve is different from Bucky and Steve is different from Sam and Bucky."
"As far as Steve knows, there's no such thing as Sam and Bucky," Sam points out.
Bucky laughs, and laughs, and Sam glares. "Are you serious? Steve has a message for you - he's not as oblivious as he seems."
"Oh." Poor guy, he looks guilty.
Bucky should make him feel better.
"It's fine. He forgives you ‘cause he knows you don't do anything without a good reason. And ‘cause you're hot."
"What?" Sam sputters.
"Okay, I added the last part," he says with a shrug and a smile.
Sam sighs and drops his head in his hands. No, this is bad. How did they go from good to bad so quickly? Okay, yeah, he's still not proficient with his social skills but he is a lot better than he used to be and this is Sam , the whole reason he was able to find that snarky, sarcastic part of himself buried beneath shit upon shit upon shit...
"I'm not very good at this," Bucky blurts out. His voice sounds tired but it's not. He's wide awake and silently begging Sam not to dismiss him because he really doesn't think this is all in his head.
"Actually, no. I'm not." Sam pats the bed beside him and Bucky sits, leaving a healthy amount of space between them. "I'm gonna preface this by saying, I get mine. Okay? I'm not lacking in skills or access. But for years it's been, for lack of a better word, on autopilot."
"Like if you do something in the morning before you've had your coffee?"
Sam makes a confused face. "Your analogies are...I don't know what the hell they are, but yes. Like that. Emotionless. Not that I dislike emotion, it's good. I just direct it in different areas. I don't know if you've noticed, but I kinda like to take care of people."
"You bought me a smoothie and told me to eat. Gave me a picture of Steve. Talked to me like a person, not a thing." Bucky smiles. "I noticed."
"Exactly. So, see, I have that emotional connection to you. And I haven't had that on this level in a long time. I know you're dealing with a lot and don't want to impede progress because," Sam laughs, "I'm kinda fucked up too, man. And even so, I come off as the level-headed one in this merry band of misfits. I just carry my baggage close to my body so no one else has to see what's in it."
Bucky frowns. "My analogies are much better than yours. I get it, you've got bad shit too. Your eyes give it away. And your face. You always gotta do the right thing, huh? Can't I be the right thing for once?"
"Are you literally asking me to do you?" Sam asks, giving him that goofy judgmental face he likes to make way too much.
"No, just say you want to."
"Okay," Sam chuckles. "I want to. A lot."
"Yes!" Bucky goes for the high five, ‘cause obviously this moment is worth it.
Sam gives him five but shakes his head. "Easy now, 100 year old virgin. After you finish with the doctors. Impeding progress, remember?"
"You're impeding progress by not doing me right the fuck now," Bucky jokes. Sam is right, though. Isn’t that why he asked to go back into cryo in the first place? Because he couldn’t live with himself if he hurt them again. He’s getting help. He’ll be safe soon.
The socks on the bed catch his eye, and the stacks of clothes, and the bag. Right. "You're going home."
Oh shit, Sam's face. "Yeah. Haven't seen my mom in a while. She just moved to West Hartford, Connecticut. I'm gonna help her settle in. Figure out what to do from there."
Be cool, Barnes. "That's great. Tell her I liked the chicken."
"Tell her yourself. It's about time you had to track me down for once."
Deal. Fucking deal. "I'm about to-"
"Yeah, I know." Sam places his hand on Bucky's left hip and for a second he's self-conscious about his arm. But then Sam is kissing him - really kissing him - and he doesn't give a fuck about the arm. At all.
He remembers how to kiss. He doesn't even remember how he knows, but he does.
"We should probably tell Steve about this," Bucky thinks aloud when he stops to catch his breath.
Sam rolls his eyes and falls flat against the mattress. "He thinks he's so fucking observant, let him figure it out."
"This could be fun." Both the hiding from Steve and the way Sam is lying on the bed. "I should probably let you get some rest, though. You've got a long flight."
He knows he's smirking ‘cause Sam narrows his eyes like don't say it, don't you fucking say it . But Bucky's gonna say it. "Don't want your wings to get tired."
Sam kicks his leg, knocking him backwards and for some reason he remembers flying in the air, and Sam saying "oh shit!" and a steering wheel. Oops.
"You alright?" Sam asks.
Bucky winces. His face must have reflected the memory. "Sorry bout your car."
He's pretty sure the words mumbled against his lips are, "finally."