The first time he watches Sam fall asleep, they’re in the stupid tiny car on the autobahn. The heat is cranked up and the radio’s going to cover the awkward silences. It’s soft, just whispers of music Bucky doesn’t recognize. (He doesn't recognize any music, these days. Couldn't sing along with anything if he tried.)
The light fades from afternoon to twilight to dusk, the anonymous German countryside whipping by, and Steve just keeps driving, jaw set. He glances at Bucky every few minutes, eyes darting quickly to the rear-view mirror. Bucky never meets his gaze. Just stares at the back of Sam’s head, ignores how cramped his legs are. Watches Sam’s head slowly sink back and sideways until it’s slumped into the gap between the seat and the window. If he triangulates between the wing and rear-view mirrors, Bucky can see Sam’s face, slack with sleep, mouth soft. He wants to look and he doesn’t. He doesn’t know Sam Wilson at all, knows only that he doesn’t trust Bucky - an accurate assessment of Bucky’s threat level, Bucky thinks - and that he does trust Steve (also accurate, although probably stupid). Sam looks vulnerable, like this. From where Bucky's sitting he can see the exposed line of Sam’s neck where his head is tilted sideways.
“Steve,” Bucky mutters, almost under his breath. Knowing Steve will hear. Steve looks back at him immediately, eyes hopeful. Bucky makes a face, chews his lip a little.
“What-” Steve starts, and Bucky flicks his gaze at Sam. Hopes Steve gets the message. Keep your voice down.
“He’s gonna hurt his neck, he sleeps like that,” Bucky tells Steve, still carefully quiet, and Steve frowns a little like it’s not what he expected Bucky to say. Takes one hand off the wheel, reaches out and cradles the back of Sam’s neck, pulls him upright so his head is resting against the back of the seat. Sam doesn’t stir, just sighs and settles back into sleep; he must be exhausted. Only human, Bucky thinks, and wishes he could sleep so easily.
“You could have,” Steve says after, looking at Bucky again in the mirror. Their eyes meet, and Bucky blinks away.
“Nah,” he says. “I couldn’t.”
Sam doesn’t know him the way he knows Steve. If he’d woken up, with Bucky’s hand on his neck, it’d be weird. Maybe Bucky just doesn’t trust himself to touch someone so tenderly. Steve loves Sam, that much is clear, and Bucky doesn't know in what way but it hardly matters. He ignores how Steve is still watching him. Closes his eyes, tilts his own head back. Lets go of the pain in his knees, and tries to sleep, matching his breaths to Sam’s slow and steady inhale.
When Steve goes to the Raft, Bucky goes with him.
“It’s not safe,” Steve says, “you can’t- if they see you, you know they’ll shoot to kill.”
“I won’t come inside,” Bucky tells him, “I’m no good to you anyway, not like this. I’ll stay on the chopper, if it goes wrong I’ll leave without you, Steve, come on,” and the way Steve stares at him makes it clear Steve knows he’s lying about leaving, but after a minute or two of silence he nods, and Bucky thinks maybe Steve understands.
He stays on the chopper, just like he promised. Waits, ignoring his own unsettled impatience, for ten minutes and then twenty, and then the team are appearing, shooting their way out like Bucky knew they’d have to. He gets the chopper in the air just in time, pushes it up into the sky, and Steve has to jump to clear the door.
“I’ve got it from here,” Steve says, and Bucky just nods, relinquishes the controls over to Steve, steps back into the main bay and sits down near but not quite next to Sam. Looks at him in little glances, assessing the situation without being overt. Bruise on his face that looks more like interrogation than battle. Darker shadows under his eyes. Shoulders slumped in exhaustion.
“Thanks,” Sam mutters, “for- I mean, I know Steve. I knew he would. But, thanks.”
“It,” Bucky starts, and has to clear his throat. “It’s okay. I’m sorry you had to.”
“Yeah,” Sam agrees. Rolls his shoulders out, winces a little. “Yeah, me too, man.”
“You should,” Bucky tells him, hesitates, keeps going. “You should get some rest. You don’t look much like you’ve been-”
“Oh, like you can talk,” Sam mutters, but he leans back in his seat, looks more squarely at Bucky. Eyes flicking from Bucky's face to his shoulder, the sheared-off metal, back to his face. “You gonna tell me what happened in Siberia, or I gotta pry it out of Steve?”
“I will,” Bucky agrees. Knowing Steve won’t, or knowing he will but it’ll hurt him, the telling. Sam deserves to know. “When you got time.”
“Okay,” Sam yawns, “yeah, cool,” and then Bucky sees the exhaustion crash over him, the adrenaline of capture and escape bleeding out and leaving behind only the kind of bone-heavy tiredness Bucky recognizes. Sam sleeps sitting up like he’s used to it, but the helicopter isn’t warm, and Bucky worries, just a little. Shrugs off his jacket, drapes it over Sam’s shoulders. Sam just makes a soft noise, sighs in his sleep, and Bucky tucks the jacket in closer, sits still and quiet and watchful the rest of the journey back to somewhere safe that’s not home at all.
It takes a few days before they get a chance to talk. Bucky almost thinks Steve will have beaten him to it, will have told Sam the whole story. He’s sitting in the gardens, back up against the base of a fountain and face tilted up to the sun, when Sam settles down beside him.
“Nice day,” he says conversationally. Bucky glances at him. The bruises are fading, slow but sure, and Sam looks less exhausted than he did. Still tired, like maybe he’s laid down and rested but it’s not enough. Like maybe there are nightmares in the dark of the night. Bucky knows nightmares.
“It is,” he agrees, after too long a pause. “Nice. The sunshine.”
“You’ll get burned, you sit out here too long,” Sam tells him, and Bucky shrugs, one-shouldered.
“Fades in like an hour,” he says. “Doesn’t even peel. Just feels good to be warm.”
“Yeah,” Sam murmurs. “It does.” He leans back on his elbows, eyes closed, and it turns out that makes it easier for Bucky to run through everything that happened in Siberia. He gets to the end, and Sam’s quiet for a long time. Cracks open one eye and squints up at Bucky.
“It hurt, when Tony…?”
“I don’t feel,” Bucky says, has to pause for a minute to consider. “There are no pain sensors,” he says in the end. “But. The neurological feedback. Shock. It. Yes. Yes, it hurt.” Sam blinks at him, slow, and Bucky feels his breath hitch a little. “They hurt you, too,” he says, and Sam closes his eyes again.
“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, they did.”
“I’m sorry,” Bucky says, and it feels inadequate. I’m sorry and thank you and my fault all blur in his head, bitter on the edge of his tongue. He watches Sam slide down until he’s flat on his back, shoulders relaxed in a way that can only be deliberate.
“Not on you,” he says with finality, and Bucky tries to let it be true. Not on you. It is, but that’s okay, maybe. “Ugh,” Sam adds, “I didn’t hardly sleep at all in that fucking place, I swear.”
“Not the most relaxing,” Bucky agrees, mouth twisted into something that could almost be a smile. Sam huffs a laugh.
“You got that right,” he mutters. Throws one arm up over his face. “Not a great place for a vacation. ‘s nice here, though. Peaceful.”
“Yeah,” Bucky whispers. Looks at the lines of Sam’s arms and chest and thighs, how he’s stretched out in the grass. “It is.” They’re not saying it, but it still exists. Sam’s not sleeping because of extra-judicial imprisonment and government-sanctioned interrogation and probably nightmares, and Bucky’s not sleeping because someone blew his goddamn arm off for the second fucking time, and lying in the sun in a patch of lush soft grass won’t change that. But it is - peaceful - and Sam drifts. Bucky watches it happen. The sound of water in the background mixes with Sam’s slow breathing, and the sun beats down warm and gentle, and Bucky leans back, keeps watch.
They don’t stay in Wakanda - can’t stay in Wakanda, it’s not a place for them - but it’s not like they can go home either. Instead it’s a series of fake IDs and safe houses and cheap motels, some shittier than others.
“This place is a dump,” Sam grumbles, dropping his duffel bag onto the floor, and he’s not wrong. It smells of old dust, maybe a little mildew, and Bucky can feel himself itching to throw open the windows already. But his eyes are gritty with how long they’ve been on the road, and all he can really think about is throwing himself down onto the couch, letting himself stretch out his legs properly for the first time in hours.
“It’s not as bad as Florida,” he points out, and Sam shudders, because nothing is as bad as Florida. Bucky’s kind of surprised they didn’t all catch bedbugs, frankly.
He collapses down into a heap of long limbs, rolls his shoulder where the new arm is leaving him with knots in the muscle. It’s not as heavy as the old one, lightweight nanoplastic polymer that Hope Van Dyne designed to be stronger than steel, but it sits wrong, like his body hasn’t adjusted to it yet. A splinter itching under his skin, something he just has to get used to. Sam flops down beside him on the stupid tiny couch, his thigh warm and solid and not quite touching Bucky. Reaches for the remote, flicks on the television and cycles aimlessly through the channels.
“Perimeter’s clear,” Steve says, coming in from outside. “I'm gonna take a nap. Dinner in a couple hours?”
“Yeah,” Sam agrees, as if they don't all know that take a nap means call Carter, and then he settles on some movie that Bucky doesn't know or care to follow. Sam's quiet, head lolling back, slipping slow and easy into sleep. Bucky sits still, wonders if he can slide the remote out from under Sam's fingers.
Sam slumps sideways, and his head lands on Bucky's shoulder. Bucky holds himself even more still, waits for Sam to wake up and pull away. He doesn't, just sighs, settles deeper into sleep. Bucky waits, and waits. It can't be comfortable. It's his right shoulder, but it's still hard, unyielding. He considers his options. Stretches his arm out along the back of the couch, and Sam slides in, the crown of his head pressed into the side of Bucky's neck, Sam's cheek pillowed against his chest.
Bucky can reach the remote now. He changes the channel to some Spanish kid's cartoon, thumbs down the volume, stretches out his legs and puts his feet up on the rickety coffee table. Listens to Sam breathe. He can feel the heat of him radiating all the way down his side.
Steve comes back out while Sam's still asleep. Looks at Bucky with an expression Bucky's not sure about, and Bucky can't shrug without waking Sam up, so he does it with his eyebrows instead. Don't ask. There's nothing to tell, anyway. His right arm is dead with how heavy Sam's leaning on him, lack of circulation turning it cold and useless. He tries to ignore it, flexes his plastic fingers as if that'll reassure him. Sam stirs, and Steve turns away as if to give him privacy in this slow unfolding of waking from a nap. Bucky can feel Sam's confusion, the way he blinks, the moment he freezes tight and cautious.
“Sorry,” he mutters, pulls away, and Bucky shrugs.
“It's fine,” he says, and means it. Rolls both shoulders. His right arm prickles, pins and needles all the way down to his fingertips as the blood rushes back in, and Sam touches his shirt just below the collar.
“I drooled on you,” he says, sounding embarrassed. “Seriously, sorry. Didn't realize I was so tired.”
“It's fine,” Bucky says again, and means, you're warm, and means, you make me want to be gentle, and means, touch me again like I'm a person. Like you can take comfort from me.
Doesn't say it. It's too much to put on Sam, but at least Sam had been able to sleep, for a half-hour stretch of soft kids’ Spanish and a dusty motel couch.
There are still missions, of course there are. They can't stop just because they're hiding. This one, Bucky doesn't go into the field, has to play technical support from base, and the waiting is worse than anything else. He listens to their breathing on the comm units. The crackle of dead air. Fidgets, and finds himself fidgeting, and is almost breathless with thankfulness because fidgeting is something a real person would do. The Winter Soldier was never nervous.
Sam and Steve finally drag themselves in around two, dead on their feet but uninjured, and Bucky puts food in front of them, hears Steve's mission report.
“Don't forget the, you know, the thing about their guns,” Sam contributes through a mouthful of microwaved pasta, and Steve nods, adds details he'd missed. He grimaces when he's done, goes to shower, and Bucky is abruptly reminded of how Steve’d washed off every mission, soon as he could, in rivers or snowmelt or handfuls of stale water from his canteen. Shivering at the cold, and still scrubbing until he was clean.
Sam's still sitting at the table, fork in his hand, and when Bucky glances back at him he's asleep, just like that. He can’t sleep in a chair all night, not slumped over onto the table. Bad for his spine, he’ll wake up with a crick in his neck or worse. Bucky sighs and frowns simultaneously, touches Sam’s shoulder. Sam just mumbles something, rests his head more firmly on his arms.
“Sam,” he whispers, “hey, Wilson. You gotta go to bed, pal.” No response. Sam’s deep asleep, dead to it. Long mission, adrenaline crash, the comfort of warm food sending him over the edge. It makes sense.
It’s maybe too easy to scoop him up, to arrange him so Sam’s got one arm flung sleep-heavy over Bucky’s shoulder, his face pressed in against the curve of Bucky’s neck. Not a bridal carry; they’re inefficient, a bad distribution of weight. Not a fireman’s hold, either. Bucky doesn’t want to wake Sam up, and throwing him over one shoulder makes it statistically probable that waking up will occur. Instead they’re chest-to-chest, Bucky’s hands under Sam’s thighs, like a piggy-back carry except that Sam is curled in close against Bucky, breath warm on his throat. He’s heavy but manageable. Bucky adjusts a little, hoists him higher, carries him into his room. Lowers him, carefully, onto the bed, leans forward to lay him down.
Sam grabs Bucky’s shirt, and doesn’t let go. Bucky frowns at the fist he’s making, and shifts Sam over so he can lie down, wait Sam out. From there, it’s simple.
Later, he doesn’t remember falling asleep. Just wakes, slowly, to the warmth of another body beside him. Sam’s arm is draped over his hip, solid and reassuring, his breath slow and even the way it always is.
“You're in my bed,” he murmurs, sleepy, and Bucky shrugs.
“You fell asleep at the table,” he tells Sam. “Sorry, I must have just-”
“Right,” Sam mutters, “okay, yeah, thanks.” He says it like it's simple. Pushes at Bucky's shoulder, his hip, and at first he thinks Sam's trying to shove him out of bed, but after a couple seconds he cottons on. Lifts himself up so Sam can tug the blanket out from under him, tuck it down over the both of them. Sam rolls over, grabs Bucky's arm, drags him in, and Bucky presses his nose up against the nape of Sam's neck, closes his eyes again. Exhales, and feels Sam shiver in the circle of his arms.
The next morning, he gets up early. Stands in the shower for a long time, thinking about the heat of Sam against him. His breathing, and his skin, and how much Bucky wants to touch. What it means that Sam trusts him this much, despite everything between them.
It hurts, Bucky thinks, the wanting, and abruptly he's terrified. Avoids Sam for days, goes to bed early and doesn't sleep. They're used to each other's space, used to late nights getting heavy-eyed next to each other on the couch until Bucky drops his book and Sam's fingers fumble the remote. Used to early mornings, quiet and not-quite-awake, the kitchen filling with the smell of coffee brewing. Used to sleepy warm afternoons, sitting in the sun in the park and ignoring all their bruises, pretending like they're human. Bucky avoids all of it, and avoids Sam's gaze, and avoids his own thoughts as if he can keep running.
Three days later, midnight, there's a knock at his bedroom door. He opens it to Sam, looking exhausted, and Bucky doesn't know what his face does before Sam's pushing inside.
“I can't sleep,” he says, “I can't, I can't sleep, I don't know what- I dunno, it turns out I can't sleep when you're not around, I just, Bucky, please-” He sounds desperate, tired and shaky and unhappy, and Bucky makes a very small noise, touches Sam's cheek.
“I can't sleep either,” Bucky admits, “I was afraid-” and then Sam is kissing him, kissing him, reaching up and grabbing Bucky's hair and biting into Bucky's mouth as if he'll somehow back away again.
“You're still afraid?” Sam asks, and Bucky laughs, low.
“I'm fucking terrified,” he says, “but god, Sam, sweetheart, I-” He wants Sam, loves Sam, in all the ways that matter. It came on sudden. It's been there for a long time. He thinks it probably shows, the way Sam looks at him, and kisses him again, and touches him like he's human and beautiful.
They don't sleep. They fall down into Bucky's bed, into the press of skin on warm skin, and Bucky doesn't know what he expects but when Sam lets him in and lets him in, eyes wide and hands clutching at Bucky's shoulders, his thighs, anywhere Sam can reach, Bucky has to swallow back the tenderness threatening to overwhelm him.
“You…” he whispers, and doesn't know how to finish. You trust me this much. He knows Sam does. Bucky's watched him sleep, seen him soft and vulnerable and open, over and over again, and all of those times were a gift Sam was letting him have. A choice, deliberate, about letting Bucky in.
“Come on,” Sam gasps, “please, come on,” and arches up, pulls Bucky in harder, and from there it's simple. Their bodies know what to do with each other, know how to move until both of them are moaning loud, breath and sweat and long hot kisses.
“Oh,” Bucky says, “oh, Sam, oh,” and Sam's so fucking beautiful Bucky feels ripped open with it, flayed and joyful.
“Baby,” Sam says, soft and sweet and so goddamn easy Bucky wants to cry, and oh god, sweetheart, Bucky mouths, and they're coming one after the other, fingers locked tight together. Bucky never knew, never knew he could feel this tender.
(They do sleep, after, and the next night, and the next. Tangled in each other, Sam's mouth pressed to the flat of Bucky's shoulder. Bucky’s thigh flung up over Sam's hip. They slide in against each other in the car, propping each other up in the backseat every long drive until Steve looks at them with amused joy. Fall asleep on the couch, and Sam drools on Bucky's shirt again. Spend afternoons dozing in gentle sunlight until everything is soft and prickling hot, orange behind Bucky's eyelids.
They sleep, and they sleep, fitting together in every bed for months, breath mingling and heartbeats blurring together until Bucky thinks Sam must carry Bucky's heart in his own chest. And it still terrifies him, some nights, but he opens himself to it, eases through it, and falls asleep night on night to the sound of Sam's long and slow breath, and is content.)