It’s Steve who finally tells Sam what Bucky is.
Steve’s been strange, since the Winter Soldier surfaced. Sam sees it in his eyes, the fear and hope and unease all blurring together. Sam doesn’t know what it means. He sees Steve at night, sitting at the table in the base under the dam, rolling a bullet thoughtfully over the surface. Once, twice, ten times. Over and over, slow and quiet, nothing but a pool of lamplight on the steel of the table. He doesn’t know Sam can see him, and his face is conflicted, even when he stands, puts the bullet back in his pocket, moves away into shadow.
But after. After. Steve turns to him, then, in the sunlight of the graveyard, the Hydra file in his hands, and that crease is still between his eyes.
“Sam,” he says. Swallows. Looks down at the closed file. “I know- I know you’d come with me if I asked, I know I’m looking for him, but, Sam, if he shows up on your doorstep, don’t let him in.”
“Because he’s dangerous?” Sam asks, confused. “Come on, man, I can handle it. He’s not- you said yourself, he saved you.”
“He’s not dangerous,” Steve says, and then clenches the muscle in his jaw. “No, he is dangerous. He’s- Sam, you gotta-”
“He’s what,” Sam says, frustrated, and Steve goes quiet for a long, long moment before he puts his hand in his pocket, pulls it out, hands the bullet to Sam.
It’s wooden. It’s very hard, and very smooth, and Sam wonders how long Steve’s been carrying it, touching it like a charm for luck, wrapping his fingers around it and holding on so tight he bruises his own palm.
“After Azzano,” Steve says, quiet. “Before we went back to the front. Peggy gave it to me. Told me, just in case. To carry it with me everywhere. It went into the ice with me.”
“What are you saying,” Sam asks, because what Steve’s not saying isn’t true, can’t be true. Steve opens the file, then, so that Sam can see the photo. A coffin, very plain, lid pulled back, and inside it Bucky. Too pale to be alive, but something tells Sam he's not dead. There's a chain and padlock visible just at the edge of the picture.
“Five years after he fell,” Steve whispers, and reaches back into his pocket, pulls something else out. A string of rosary beads. No, two of them, Sam sees. They’re wound together, worn with time and liturgy. Sam’s seen Steve praying the rosary before. Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto, Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Hands moving, even without beads to count out the prayers. He’d done it in the back of the truck, lips moving and eyes blank, until- he didn’t even know me, he’d said, and Sam’s willing to bet it’s the first time he’d ever interrupted a Hail Mary partway through.
“This one was mine,” Steve says, and untangles it, with effort. Touches the beads like they’re precious, and drops it into Sam’s waiting palm. It’s heavy, silver blackened with tarnish in the crevices, a traditional crucifix wrought finely at one end. Sam frowns.
“You know I’m not Catholic,” he tells Steve, and Steve looks up, eyes so blue Sam’s startled again by it.
“I know,” he agrees. “Just, for me, okay? Just wear it.”
“If this was yours,” Sam asks, “then whose…” and knows the answer before he finishes the question. Steve rubs his thumb over one of the beads, the Celtic cross. Bites his lip. Lowers his lashes until Sam can’t see his expression.
“Bucky’s,” he says. “It was Bucky’s. I thought he’d lost faith, when he stopped wearing it, but he just-” and Sam still doesn’t, can’t, believe, but he understands. He understands everything. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
It’s months before Steve tells him more. Long months of chasing a black ghost across the world, trails that have gone cold long before they get there. Sam wears Steve’s rosary, tucked underneath the collar of his shirt. Warm against his skin, like some tiny benediction. Steve keeping him safe with his own silver. It’s probably blasphemous to think of it that way, but Sam’s not Catholic, after all, and nothing could have prepared him for this.
He's given up waiting for Steve to talk about it. Steve looks at Sam sometimes like he's seeing something else, like he wants something else, but this ghost hangs between them, and Sam's not gonna make the first move. They sleep in the same room, breath rising and falling. Sam knows what Steve looks like, waking. His hair, sleep-flattened and messy. The curve of his mouth when he doesn't know he's being watched. He prays more than he used to, as the days get longer between without a sighting, a trail to follow.
“I knew before he fell,” Steve says, sudden and shocking, in the dark of a motel night. “I knew, Sam.”
“Tell me,” Sam says, and listens to the sound of Steve’s silence until he thinks Steve’s fallen asleep after all.
“I thought, at first, it was just the capture,” Steve says, eventually, a story unfolding, and Sam closes his eyes and listens. “After Azzano, you know, I knew they’d been torturing him, you didn’t see- nobody saw, but- He was so pale, Sam, and so strange, I thought perhaps that was what war does. What war did.”
Was it war? Steve says, in a voice like it’s a terrible dream he’s woken from, or a terrible dream he’s still in. Was this what war means? Bucky was always in the shadows, eyes dark, he did what I can’t, blood on his hands and teeth sharp in a smile I didn’t remember. We found German soldiers bled out, and Bucky never seemed to eat as much as he should, gave me his rations half the time and said I didn’t have enough, it was wartime and it was never enough for any of us, but he never looked hungry and always looked hungry all at the same time. Sharp teeth, and a smile bitter as wormwood, too wrong to be true.
“He fell,” Steve says, a catch in his voice like a sob, and then he admits it, it was almost a relief but it wasn’t, I’d have opened veins to keep him alive, and Sam thinks about the ghost reappearing, wrapped in black like sunlight can’t touch his skin.
“Did you never,” Sam asks, and doesn’t know how to finish his sentence. Did you never think of using it. A bullet carved from ironwood, carried like a prayer bead and touched almost as often.
“Peggy never said,” Steve whispers. “She never. She saw and she knew, she must have known, the way she looked at him, but. Steve, she said, your friend… and she didn’t finish. Just tucked it into my hand, and kissed me quick, and Bucky startled when he saw me like he'd seen a ghost. Told me her lipstick looked like blood on my mouth.”
“Would you, still?” Sam says. Would you, still? Open veins for him? Hold your fire, and carry your bullet outside his heart?
“Yeah,” Steve murmurs in the end. “If it was just me on the line. But it's not, Sam, it's-”
“I’ll be okay,” Sam tells him, more confident than he feels. “Let me worry about myself, okay. I’ll be fine.” Tucks the crucifix into the crease of his palm, warm from his own body heat, and turns on his side in the narrow motel bed. Hears Steve whispering to himself in the dark, and Sam touches his own rosary like he’s about to join in.
Domine Iesu, dimitte nobis debita nostra, libera nos ab igne inferiori, perduc in caelum omnes animas, praesertim eas, quae misericordiae tuae maxime indigent.
They find Bucky in Europe. Bucky finds them in Louisiana.
It’s Sam’s turn to take detail; they’re pretty sure they’ve narrowed him down to a neighborhood in Bucharest, and he leans against a wall in the market, tries to look both inconspicuous and like the tourist he’s pretending to be. Evaluating his guide book, one eye on the evening crowd, waiting for a dark figure to appear.
“Hey, sweetheart,” someone murmurs behind him, close, “you lost?” and when Sam turns, he finds himself looking straight into Bucky Barnes’ cool grey eyes.
“Oh,” Sam says, slipping into a Maryland drawl, “yeah, I- yeah, thank you, I'm so lost. Didn't think anyone here would actually speak English.” Laughs, rueful, ducks his head. When he looks back up, Bucky is regarding him with amused interest, utterly unconvinced by his cover.
“I think we got a mutual friend,” he says, “you wanna call him or what?”
“I don't know what you mean,” Sam shrugs. Squints at his map. “You wanna tell me where my hotel is?”
“Two blocks east,” Bucky says, without looking at the address Sam’d scribbled down in the front leaf of his guidebook, and Sam prickles with knowing Bucky's doing it on purpose. I know where you're sleeping. I been watching you, pal. “But I think you knew that, huh.”
“Well,” Sam says. Folds up his map and tucks it into his book, shoves them both into his backpack. Slings it over one shoulder, pushes off the wall. Bucky doesn't move, and this close Sam can smell the clean cotton of his shirt, a faint but not unattractive hint of cigarette smoke. Under that, coldness, like the smell of snow as it's falling. He's still looking at Sam, unblinking. Smirking, just a little, like he's curious about Sam's next move. “Thanks,” Sam tells him, “you've been real helpful.”
“Glad I could assist,” Bucky murmurs. Holds out his hand to shake, and when Sam takes it, Bucky leans in closer until his mouth is close to Sam's ear.
“Tell Steve, back the fuck off,” he says, low. Breath gusting over Sam's ear. His hand, in Sam's, is cool like he's been out in the snow without mittens. “I'll come to you when I'm ready. Not before.” And then he's brushing the tip of his nose down Sam's neck, the tender skin just below his ear. Mouth barely touching Sam's skin, right over the pulse-point, and Sam has to put everything he has into holding himself still. Bucky pulls away, and hums under his breath, looking thoughtful, and Sam takes a ragged breath, blinks a couple of times.
“I'll pass on your message,” he manages, and Bucky grins at him.
“Yeah,” he says lazily, “you do that, Sam Wilson,” and in another blink he's gone, melting away just like snow falling, like the black ghost they've been chasing.
When Sam tells Steve about the encounter, he can see Steve's upset, and under that, maybe jealousy, simmering. He doesn't know whether it's because Sam saw Bucky and Steve didn't, or the other way around, Steve wanting to step in between Bucky and Sam and snarl at Bucky, mine, how dare you, stay away.
“He- friendly, you said,” Steve says, with effort.
“Yeah,” Sam agrees. “Smiling. Easy. Nobody in that market gave him a second look.” He smelled of cigarettes and maybe fresh snow, he doesn't say. Like ice in winter air. Leaned in close enough I could feel his breath on my throat. He let his mouth touch my skin, deliberate, and it made me want-
“And he told you to back off,” Steve says. Sam shakes his head.
“Told me to tell you, man. I'm saying, he knows where we are. Who I am. I think we should listen. Give him the space to come to us.”
“I don't like it,” Steve mutters, and of course he doesn't, he's never been good at being still or waiting or not trying to take on the whole damn world with the force of his gaze. But they do it anyway, leave Bucharest and Europe behind, fly home to the States and settle into a sprawling old house just outside Baton Rouge. Sam's grandma's, empty for almost a year, and his mom doesn't understand why they can't stay in DC or come back to New York already but gives them the keys anyway, touches Sam's cheek and tells him, sharp, to make sure he calls her some.
Steve complains about the heat, flushed and sweat-damp and so pretty Sam can't hardly stand it. Steve runs hot anyway, he knows, and every time they brush up against each other Steve is searing, so warm he's burning up. Sam loves it. Basks in it and sweats and lets it sink right into his bones until he can almost forget that fresh snowfall chill. And then, three months later, there's a knock at the door and when Sam answers it's to find Bucky Barnes standing on his porch, head tilted, mouth curved in a smile.
“Steve,” Sam calls, but Steve's already there, squaring up all broad-shouldered like he's gotta protect Sam from a threat.
“Hey, Stevie,” Bucky says, and Sam'd forgotten that low drag of his voice, the husky drawl of his consonants slow as smoke. “I was in the neighborhood. Thought I'd drop by.”
“Romania,” Steve says, voice full of weary, dry humor. “Seriously, you were in fucking Romania.”
“I like it there,” Bucky shrugs, and Sam snorts.
“It's a little cliché, wouldn't you say?”
“Archetypal,” Steve agrees. “Playing to the stereotypes.”
“Oh, fuck you, Rogers,” Bucky sighs, and his eyes flick to the rosary wrapped around Steve's wrist. “You still on the Sorrowful Mysteries, pal?”
“I mean,” Steve says, “seemed out of place to pray the Glorious,” and Sam can’t help but roll his eyes. Take the boys out of New York but they’re still Brooklyn Catholics, that’s clear enough. Bucky catches the gesture, smirks hard enough Sam can see his eye teeth. It should be dangerous but he’s beautiful, pale and charming and recklessly easy.
“You wanna come in?” Sam asks, ignoring the noise Steve makes, and Bucky’s smile gets wider.
“Yeah,” he says. Steps up close to Sam. “I do.”
“What are you doing,” Steve asks later, low and furious, “what are you- I told you, Jesus Christ, and you just invited him right in.”
“You want him close,” Sam says. “You’d never have asked.”
“I wouldn’t,” Steve whispers, “not with you on the line,” and Sam nods. Looks Steve in the eye.
“Yeah,” he says, “I know, so I did it for you. It's fine, Steve, it'll be fine. Look, I'm wearing it just like you asked,” and he pulls the rosary out from under his shirt, holds it up. Steve grabs it tight in his fist, pulls Sam in by it, and for a shivering moment Sam thinks Steve is finally going to kiss him. He doesn't. Just squares his jaw, breathing hard. Frowning until the crease between his eyes deepens and deepens, sharp.
“Okay,” he says. “I- thank you. Sam, Jesus, thank you.”
“Lord's name,” Sam mutters, “don't take it in vain,” and Steve flushes and laughs, watery. Drops the rosary, watches Sam tuck it back into his collar. It's warm from Steve's hand, strangely intimate. More so when Sam makes eye contact again, holds Steve's gaze. Bites his lip, and watches how Steve looks at his mouth and his eyes again. Sam's tired of this, is the thing. Tired of waiting on Steve, tired of his flagellation, tired of his darkly unspoken fears. He'd push, but he wants Steve to want him, to act on wanting him, and Steve's not built that way. Has spent too long shoving down everything he wants, maybe, letting the weight of the world push down Steve and lift up Captain America shining bright and gold and radiant.
“So,” he says instead, “which room are we gonna put the coffin in, huh?” and watches Steve laugh again, watches him visibly push whatever it is he's feeling down, down, down.
Sam doesn't know what he expected, but Bucky's sharper and darker and quieter than all of his half-imagining, and more beautiful too. Cracks jokes when Steve's not there, his smile bright and his eyes blue, and Sam tries to remember that he's powerful, too, that he'd take Sam's throat out as easily as tearing paper, that he pulled Sam out of the sky with nothing but inhuman strength. That he's the force behind so much death it still makes Sam's head spin, some days. But it's hard to keep in mind, when Bucky is soft and easy and graceful, eternally and preternaturally youthful, sleeves of his sweater pulled down over his thumbs like maybe he's cold. (He's always cold, he's never cold, Sam doesn't know whether it's both or neither. Bucky hasn't felt anything like humanly warm in almost a century, is all Sam knows.)
Bucky smokes cigarettes, out on the back stoop, and Sam can never figure out whether it's an affectation or old habit or something he actually enjoys, but he gets in the habit, himself, of sitting out on the stoop with him, their shoulders never quite touching.
“You want one?” Bucky asks one night, tapping one out of the packet, and Sam shakes his head, waits until Bucky’s lit it and taken a drag. Takes it from his fingers, brings it to his mouth, inhales until his lungs burn. “Bad for you,” Bucky tells him, looking amused, and Sam shrugs, blows out the smoke into the warm night air.
“Gotta go some kind of way,” he says as if it’s really that simple, and Bucky laughs, grabs the cigarette back off him.
“You do,” he says, eyes distant, and Sam leans back on his hands, looks at Bucky properly. His face is half in shadow, half lit up by the warm light pouring out from their open back door, and with his hair scraped back into a bun the planes of his cheekbones fall into impossibly knife-sharp contrast. His eyes catch the reflection of the glow of his cigarette, and Sam thinks this is what Steve must see, all the time. Someone he doesn't know at all, eyes burning. Fixed forever at twenty-six. Steve looks young, Sam knows, younger than he is thanks to the blessings of Dr Erskine, but Bucky is beautiful in a way Steve isn't. Sharp-boned and messy and smirking, death hiding behind every smile.
“Yeah,” Sam agrees, “yeah, I do. Only mortal, that's me. Living in this house, it's enough to give a guy a complex.”
“I like it,” Bucky says absently, and then catches himself, bites his lip. “I mean-”
“You like me,” Sam teases, “you can't take that back,” and even shoves Bucky's shoulder, ignoring the chill.
“Hmm,” Bucky says, darkly, “I can't imagine why Steve ever thought you were a nice person, Sam Wilson.”
“Steve,” Sam starts, and doesn't finish. Steve loves me. Steve loves you. Steve loves the both of us, and hates that he does. Hates that he can't protect either one no matter how many times he prays on it. “Whatever,” he says instead, dismissive. “I'm a very nice person. You wouldn't be living here if I wasn't.”
“That is true,” Bucky agrees, grave, taking him seriously. “I take it back. Thank you.”
“Well I mean, it's hardly like you come with a big grocery bill,” Sam shrugs, and Bucky's mouth twists like he shouldn't find it funny but does anyway. “Hey, anyway, you drink coffee?”
“I don't,” Bucky says, “but I can. Why?”
“You want to go for coffee with me?” Sam asks, bored, blood fizzing. “I feel like getting out of here for a bit.” Bucky considers him for a moment. Smokes the last of his cigarette.
“Sure,” he says, after another beat. Grinds the butt under his heel. “God bless the twenty-first century, huh. Coffee shops open all night.”
“Great for night owls,” Sam says, solemn, and watches the blue of Bucky's eyes soften warm with the joke. “I'd have to take you to a bar, otherwise,” and that has Bucky's face surprised, minute, eyes widening.
“Probably not advisable,” he says, dry, “given my condition, and all. Large groups of people. Inhibitions lowered. Sweat. Blood beating fast. But coffee, I can do.”
Blood beating fast, Sam thinks as he drives them through the dark of the night, and knows Bucky knows every time Sam’s heart pounds in his throat.
He falls into a pattern of staying up too late, napping through the heat of the afternoon. Gets up early just to cover things with Steve, their morning run, but he can’t help yawning more than he used to, and Steve gives him sharp looks like he’s worried. Doesn’t say anything, just slides a mug of scalding coffee along the bench, and Sam sips it, lets it burn his mouth. Presses his shoulder against Steve's like it'll reassure him.
“What do you do,” Sam asks in the quiet of the next night. “When we’re asleep, I mean. When everyone is asleep. What do you do.”
“I read,” Bucky shrugs. “History, political theory. Dostoyevsky, practice my Russian. Just finished White Teeth. Turns out the internet is a good time. Been thinking of taking up the piano again, but it seems rude, making that much noise at night. Might disturb my gracious hosts.” He pulls his sleeves down, puts a cigarette in his mouth and lets it hang unlit between his lips. Gazes into the distance, eyes narrowed. “What do you do? When I'm asleep?”
“Sit in the sun,” Sam says. “I run. Missions, sometimes, with Steve. Not so much nowadays, but maybe we'll get back to it. Used to work at the VA, but I guess that's on hold for now.” He thinks about it. Laughs a little. “I catch up on sleep.”
“Oh,” Bucky drawls, stretching out the vowel. Lights his cigarette. “You losing sleep over me, pal?”
“Yeah, you've got me awake later than I should be,” Sam agrees, and Bucky laughs, soft. “Seriously, though, don't you get bored?” he asks, and bumps his shoulder against Bucky's just like he did to Steve in the kitchen that morning.
“I been alive a hundred years,” Bucky says, “and I've only lived the last couple, boredom is not something I'm familiar with, sweetheart. But what would you suggest, huh? What do you do, when you're bored?”
Sam thinks about it. Laughs again. “I cook,” he says, wry. “My mom's recipes. Fried chicken, buttermilk pancakes. Collards. Steve's tried to get me making chipped beef.”
“You're kidding,” Bucky says, flat. “Chipped beef. That fucking guy, he's got the worst taste in the world. So, cooking, huh? You recommend it as a way to pass the hours?”
“Sure,” Sam says, and yawns, can't stop yawning. It's gone two and the night is quiet like it's holding its breath. Bucky looks at him very soft.
“Sam,” he says, “go to fuckin’ bed, darling,” and Sam does, stumbles to the bathroom to brush his teeth and then drags himself under the covers, asleep on his feet and aching like a little kid to stay up just a little longer.
When he gets up the next morning, there's a pot of coffee just brewed, a stack of buttermilk pancakes still warm on the counter. Sam's sitting at the table, finishing his first pancake, when Steve shows up, and his look of confusion is beautiful.
“What's this?” Steve asks, “you made breakfast?”
“Nah,” Sam says. Puts another pancake on his plate. “Bucky.”
“He doesn't even eat,” Steve says, confused, “why's he-”
“Long story,” Sam says easily, and hides his smile. Eats his pancakes. They're sweet, perfectly fluffy, coffee brewed just right, and he knows deep and true that this is a gift meant for him.
“Sam,” Steve says, hesitant, one summer afternoon. They're sitting on the back porch, a pitcher of iced tea between them, and Sam is shirtless, stretched out and soaking up the heat.
“Hmm?” he asks, sleepy and content, and Steve is silent for a long time before he speaks again.
“You'll… be careful, won't you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Bucky's always been charming when he wants to be,” Steve says, and it sounds quiet and resigned and grieving, still.
“Yeah, he's a funny guy alright,” Sam agrees, “you never told me that, Rogers,” and Steve sighs. Touches Sam's shoulder, and pulls his hand away, and Sam twists around to see him.
“I mean,” Steve says, “you gotta remember, Sam, because he's not-” He cuts himself short before he can say it, but Sam knows what it'd be. He's not Bucky anymore. Not like he used to be. They hollowed him out and filled him with inglorious purpose. He's something wearing the face of my friend, and I love him, still, but I worry, Sam, be careful, be careful.
“He tracked you, in Bucharest,” Steve says instead, after another silence. Careful, like he's considering his words. “You, not me. He must have known where I was, my apartment in DC, but he didn't come here until it was the both of us. Like he came in for you, maybe. I see how he looks at you. Like he's fascinated, like he wants- I dunno, Sam, it's dangerous, it's just, it's dangerous. I'm putting you in danger.”
“I'll be fine,” Sam says, sharp, because he doesn't know what Steve's getting at. Or does know, and it's ridiculous. Charming. That jealousy rising again, Steve loving and burning right up. He wonders if Steve's expecting it, resigned to it, just waiting to see the bite marks on Sam's neck like it's inevitable. It's stupid.
Bucky's up, when Sam gets inside that night. The sun’s dropped low, and Bucky looks sleepy, rumpled in a way that Sam finds endearing for how human it is. He had no idea it was possible to get bedhead in a coffin.
“You smell like sunshine,” Bucky murmurs, low, and Sam all of a sudden feels reckless in the face of Steve's concern.
“It was nice out,” he agrees easily, steps in closer and watches Bucky's expressions, the creases at the corners of his eyes. Sam's still shirtless, can feel the shiver of sweat drying on his chest and shoulders. The prickle of heat where he's caught just the edge of sunburn. Bucky looks and looks, drags his gaze down over Sam like a physical touch, and Sam shivers again, just a little. Caught in it, like he's daring Bucky. Playing chicken with himself on the line. Come on, he thinks. Do it. Prove Steve right. Bucky's gaze sharpens, blue eyes so fucking bright in the shadow of the hallway, and he tilts his head, looks at the rosary hanging around Sam's neck.
“This was Steve's,” Bucky says, reaching out and not touching and not touching, fingers closer to Sam's skin than the silver of the crucifix. “He must love you, to give you that. All he had left of his ma's, and he's always been devout.”
“Still is,” Sam says. Thinking of Steve's thumb on the worn Irish cross, his whispered prayers into the quiet of the night, and Bucky looks at him, hard.
“You think I don't know?” he demands, “you think I don’t recognize my own fucking- it was all I had of my ma, too. She sent it to me while they had me on a table. Waiting for me in the letters back at camp, and I couldn't even touch it. A goddamn spiritual comfort, and I couldn't even touch it, just dropped it on Steve's bed until he took it up himself. I watched him, a hundred times. A thousand. In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, Amen. He started saying the rosary twice, make up for my transgressions. He thought I'd lost my faith, did you know that? My fucking faith. It was less than that. More. Near the end, I couldn't even look at him. They made him out of sunlight, built him gold and shining, and I couldn't even stand in the light of day without it burning. I'd fallen long before I fell.”
It was almost a relief, Sam hears Steve say, and fights to keep his face still.
“How'd you survive in the Commandos?” Sam asks, “how did you hide what-” What you were, he thinks, what you are, and Bucky's mouth twists until he's laughing soft and bitter.
“Oh sweetheart,” he sighs, “there are far worse monsters than me in a war,” and he's so pale, lips so red and full, he's terribly beautiful. Sam shivers over and over, sways in a little until he can feel the chill of Bucky's body, what would be body heat from anyone else. Sweetheart, he thinks, and loves how it sounds on Bucky's lips. Wonders if this is Bucky pulling him in, or something else, something burning darker between them.
“He must love you,” Bucky says again, “to keep you that safe from me,” and then he presses his fingers to the cross, winces in pain. Pulls them away, and Sam sees that they're blistered red and raw. Healing over already.
Something Sam never gets used to is how quiet Bucky can be. Light on his feet, and Sam's pretty sure he treats breathing as optional. Every time Sam startles out of his skin at Bucky standing still and quiet in the shadow, Bucky smiles like it's satisfying to see Sam jump. He's in the bathroom one morning, early, still half-asleep as he brushes his teeth and shaves. Turns to grab a washcloth, the blade still held near his face, and Bucky is standing behind him like he's waiting patiently for his turn at the washbasin. Sam doesn't yell, but it's a near goddamn thing. Has to take a deep breath, drops the razor.
“Jesus, you nearly gave me a heart attack,” he complains. Bucky smiles, sharp.
“Sorry,” he says, not sounding particularly sorry, and Sam rolls his eyes.
“Do I need to put a damn bell on you, or something?”
“I'd like to see you try,” Bucky says, arrogant, tilting his head. Sam looks at him longer than he means to, because goddamn, the man has bone structure. Touches his own cheek, the wetness of the soap lather.
“I think you made me cut myself,” he says, and Bucky shakes his head.
“You're fine,” he says. “I'd know.” And he would, of course he would, so Sam picks back up the razor, finishes his shave. Glances in the mirror to look at Bucky, except nobody's there in the reflection.
“You're up late today,” he mutters, “can't sleep?”
“You're just up early,” Bucky says. “I'm on my way to bed. Just wanted to brush my teeth first.”
“Oh,” Sam realizes, “right, sorry,” and shifts over to make room at the vanity. Bucky slides in, begins to brush his teeth very matter-of-fact, and Sam notices Bucky's stealing little glances at Sam in the mirror. He tries to ignore it. Keeps his hands carefully steady, because cutting himself right now is not a good option. Rubs his fingertips over his jaw and cheeks, checking for anything he's missed, and rinses his face clean under warm water, splashes on a little aftershave. Bucky leans forward and spits, puts his toothbrush back. Wipes the toothpaste off his mouth, and turns to leave.
“You never shave, huh,” Sam says, like maybe he doesn't want Bucky to go just yet. Bucky blinks in surprise.
“Not really,” he agrees. Touches the light layer of stubble on his jaw. “It grows real slow. A shave lasts me a month, maybe, but it's still a pain, when I can't see what I'm doing. Not really worth it.”
“Hmm,” Sam says. Gives him an up-and-down glance. “I can see how that'd be a problem. You never get a hot shave at a barber, man?”
“The mirror thing tends to put people off,” Bucky says, dry. Leans back against the vanity. “Why? You offended by me looking scruffy?”
“Yeah, you're really hurting my eyes,” Sam tells him, “I can't even look at you, it's so terrible.” He lifts his fingertips to Bucky's jaw, traces the rough stubble. Feels it rasp against his touch. “Hey, you want…”
“I want a lot of things, Sam Wilson,” Bucky murmurs, looking suddenly sleepy, languorous. “But if you're offering to give me a shave, I wouldn't say no.”
Sam should say no. He should let Bucky go to bed, should go for his morning run, should make coffee and wake himself up and stop getting himself closer and closer to the flame.
“Okay,” he says instead. “Yeah, why not. Hold still, okay.”
“One thing I'm pretty good at,” Bucky says, and he is, he is, he's so still he's not even breathing as Sam leans in, runs the hot faucet and gets the washcloth wet, drags it over Bucky's cheeks. Lathers up the shave gel and applies it with his fingertips, trying to ignore the heat of his skin against the chill of Bucky’s jaw.
Bucky's watching him, intent, as Sam begins to slide the razor down over his cheek. Lets Sam touch his jaw, push his face this way and that, tilting up into the blade. Sam reaches forward to turn back on the faucet, rinse the soap from the razor, and Bucky does move. Lifts his hand from where he's holding the edge of the vanity, puts it very deliberate on Sam's hip.
“Keep going,” Bucky whispers, quiet, and Sam nods. He's still in the sweatpants he sleeps in, and Bucky brushes his thumb over the bare skin just above the waistband. Touches Sam's hipbone like a caress, and it makes Sam slide in closer until there's barely any space between them. Keeps shaving, in long, smooth strokes. Rinses the blade again. Presses his fingers to Bucky's lower lip so he can get the razor in underneath, traces the divot in Bucky's chin. When he pulls his fingers away, Bucky licks his lip. Sucks it into his mouth and then releases it, quick, and Sam touches it again, can't help it. Runs his fingers down Bucky's chin to his jaw, the bump of his Adam’s apple. The hollow at the base of his throat, where anyone else's pulse would flutter.
“You're touching me,” Bucky breathes. “My mouth, Sam.”
“Yeah,” Sam agrees. “Yeah.” He's done shaving; he should grab the washcloth, rinse away the lather. Let him go to bed already.
“Do you have any idea what you're doing?” Bucky asks, and Sam doesn't. He's got no fucking idea, but Christ does he know what he wants.
“You're done,” he says instead, “let me wash off the soap, huh.”
“Do you have any idea,” Bucky says again, darkly, “what you're doing to me?” and his pupils stay dilated dark as Sam wipes his face clean. Sam drops the washcloth in the sink, and Bucky just strokes Sam's hip a little more, almost absent.
“You gotta go to bed,” Sam tells him, “sun's up.” But he's got both hands planted on the vanity, bracketing Bucky in, and he doesn't step back the way he should.
“I can feel it,” Bucky acknowledges. Slides his hand up just a little, until it's resting on Sam's waist. Cold on his skin. Sam shivers, and Bucky lets him go. Waits for Sam to back off, and he doesn't, and doesn't. “No wonder you're giving Steve a stress ulcer,” Bucky says, smirking sideways like it's funny. “You got no sense of fuckin’ self-protection, Wilson.”
“Maybe I just don't feel the need,” Sam suggests, and steps away, slow and deliberate.
“Maybe,” Bucky agrees. “I seen baby rabbits like that. Eyes so wide, they don't run even when they're right in the wolf's goddamn jaws.” Yawns, and Sam sees his teeth, straight and very white. “God, I'm tired.”
“Sleep well,” Sam says. Cups Bucky's smooth cheek with his palm like he has a right to, and watches how Bucky's eyes slide closed at the touch. “I'll see you tonight.”
When he gets back from his run, gets out of the shower, he looks at the rosary sitting on his dresser. Pulls on an undershirt, and looks at it, and buttons his shirt, and looks at it, and doesn't put it on.
You got no sense of self-protection, he thinks of Bucky saying, and it's true, it's always been true, it went out the window when Riley fell from the sky.
It doesn't take long for Steve to figure it out. Days, not weeks. Sam gets back from a trip to town, runs upstairs to grab his book. His door is open, room shadowy in the late afternoon light. Sam’s seen paintings of saints, and the way the light hits Steve’s face, it’s just the same. Caravaggio, all light and shadow, the line of his nose and his cheekbones and his chin in sharp chiaroscuro contrast. He’s standing in Sam’s room, eyes downcast, like he’s waiting.
There's a rosary in his hands. Sam recognizes it.
“You stopped wearing it,” Steve says. Sounds hollowed out. Sam goes still in the doorway.
He could say it was a mistake. He just forgot, is all, took it off before he showered and missed putting it back on.
He didn't. He knows he didn't, and Steve knows he didn't, and Sam loves him too much to lie.
“Yeah,” he says instead. “I did.”
“I'm not fucking around,” Steve bites out. “He looks human. He's not.”
“You're the one who was desperate to find him,” Sam points out, “Steve, come on, if you really thought he was a threat you'd have used that bullet already,” and Steve goes white.
“Okay,” he says eventually. Sits down on Sam's bed, shoulders bowed in. “Okay. Yeah. That- I can't, Sam, I can't. But if he hurts you, I will.”
“I'm not some stupid moth drawn to a flame,” Sam tells Steve, knowing even as he says it that it’s not true. “I'm not- do you think I'm gonna get burned up? Come on, Steve, you know I'm smarter than that.”
“I know you're smart,” Steve agrees. “I know what it looks like to love the risk, Sam. To walk right along an edge just so your body can feel the fall. You and me, we're the same that way. And I know what he's done, is the thing. Can't forget.”
“I trust him,” Sam says, throat tight, “I have to, Steve, he lives with us, I trust him,” and Steve looks up, smiles tiredly.
“I'm glad one of us does,” he says, and Sam thinks this isn't about what Bucky is at all but about who he is, the stranger he is to Steve. Do you remember- he's said to Bucky, ten times or a hundred, and Bucky doesn't, Bucky never remembers, Bucky's not the guy Steve so terribly wants him to be. If he remembered, Sam thinks, it wouldn't matter how sharp his teeth are.
“Steve thinks I should be afraid of you,” Sam says, out on the stoop late that night and no patience left for the way they all talk around it. Bucky smokes his cigarette, and looks thoughtful.
“Steve's right,” he says eventually. “You should be.”
“Because, what, you'll take me to pieces if I let my guard down?” Sam asks. “Come on, I know you.”
“Do you?” Bucky says. Tilts his head to the side. “Do you know what I am? What I've done? What they made me do?”
“I read the file-” Sam starts, and Bucky makes a hard noise.
“The file,” he says. “They didn't put everything in the file, darling. You read about the experiments, probably. The missions.”
“They tested you,” Sam says, aching. “Sunlight and silver and holy water.” Doesn't mention the missions. What's there to say? You sowed terror for half a century. The thing mothers warn their children about. “They wanted to know what you could withstand.”
“Still got the scars,” Bucky says, and he's calm, so calm. “Bet they didn't say anything about the kids.”
“Children?” Sam asks, because no, there was nothing about children. Thinks, briefly, of Hydra making an army, tiny blonde girls innocent and wide-eyed and full of sharp teeth. It fits with what he knows of Natasha, after all. Built in fire and blood, and he still sees it in her eyes when she's tired.
“Thought not,” Bucky murmurs. “See, I had too much control for what they wanted. Still human in my own mind. They had to break me, Sam, they had to- three months, they starved me, the hunger, it was all I could think about. I was crazy for it. Three months, and then they unleashed me in a room full of children.”
“Holy Christ almighty,” Sam whispers, and Bucky nods.
“They filmed it,” he says dispassionately. “That was worse. Not the hunger, not the blood. Such little kids, it was barely enough to take the edge off, I'd been hungry for so long. I ate until I was sick. They filmed it, and then they played the footage into my cell until it was all I could see. What I was. What I am. I accepted it after that. Compliant just like they wanted. There was none of me left to fight. I ain't been human in so long, sweetheart, and Steve's right, you should be scared, you should stay away.”
The rosary is still on Sam's dresser when he goes to bed that night. He looks at it for a long time, and doesn't put it on. Another choice, and maybe it's a bad one, maybe Steve's right. He's been strapping on wings made of wax, flying too close to the sun just to feel the burn of adrenaline, ever since Riley fell. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad, letting something burn him up.
Sam’s cooking dinner a couple nights later, cutting vegetables and singing under his breath, when the knife slips. He swears, drops the knife, checks the damage, and when he looks back up Bucky is in the kitchen doorway, eyes wide.
“You cut yourself,” he says, low, and Sam is suddenly aware of the blood on the blade of the knife, the drops of it on the chopping board.
“Yeah,” he says, “just a nick. I’ll be fine, man.”
“Let me see,” Bucky says, and Sam holds his hand out for Bucky to inspect. He leans in slowly, very deliberately like he’s signalling every move, and Sam wonders how much control he’s exerting right now, the way he’s very carefully not breathing.
“See?” Sam says, when Bucky’s looked at his finger, “barely a scratch, I think I’ll live,” and Bucky smiles, touches his fingertips to Sam’s wrist.
“Hold on,” he tells Sam, “I’ll be back in a second,” and it really is not much longer than thirty seconds before he’s back, carrying antiseptic and cotton balls.
“You don’t have to,” Sam protests, “seriously, it’s not-” and Bucky bites his lip.
“Just let me, okay?”
“Okay,” Sam agrees. “Fine, sure, whatever.” He watches Bucky clean the blood off the cut, the Dettol-soaked cotton ball stinging enough that he hisses a little. It’s not really just a scratch; it’s pretty deep, blood welling up again once it’s clean, and Sam can’t help but look at Bucky’s face. He’s deep in concentration, the tip of his tongue sticking a little out of the corner of his mouth, and Sam laughs, soft and involuntary. Bucky glances up under his lashes, makes a face that Sam recognizes as blushing, or what would be blushing in someone with enough blood to color his cheeks.
“What?” he says, ducking his head and looking up again, and Sam grins.
“Nothing,” he replies, “it’s nothing. You’re cute when you’re playing doctor, is all,” and it’s right then that Steve appears, taking in the blood and Bucky’s hands on Sam at a glance, going still and watchful and deeply, uneasily wary. “Steve,” Sam acknowledges him, and Steve hardly even looks at him. Just keeps looking hard at Bucky, how he’s touching Sam, his fingers wrapped around Sam’s wrist so he can tilt Sam’s finger up to the light.
“Buck,” he says, low and warning, and Bucky turns like he didn’t know Steve was there. He’s faking, of course he’s faking, he’d have known the second Steve showed up. Steve’s heartbeat is loud enough Sam can almost hear it.
“Hey, Steve,” Bucky says. Grins, tilts his head to the side. “You hear that? Sam thinks I’m cute.”
“I think you need to take a step back,” Steve says, still quiet, and Bucky’s fingers tighten momentarily on Sam’s wrist.
“I’m just putting a band-aid on,” he says mildly. “It’s Cap America themed.” And it is, it is, the band-aid Bucky’s tearing open and wrapping around Sam’s finger is red and blue, a star in the middle, and Sam’s gotta smile because that’s just fucking ridiculous.
“Dangerous, Buck,” Steve says, and turns away, his shoulders tense. Bucky squeezes Sam’s wrist one final time, strokes his thumb over Sam’s pulse-point. Licks his lips, and looks like he’s about to say something, and then glances at the chopping board, the bright scarlet blood. Dips the tip of his little finger in one of the drops, and brings it to his mouth. Licks. Smiles, secretive, at Sam, and all Sam can think is Jesus fucking Christ he wants Bucky’s mouth on his.
Dangerous, he hears Steve say, and it just makes his heart beat faster, wanting it.
Sam and Steve haven't been taking missions, off-duty for months while they tracked Bucky across Europe and then while they adjusted to his presence in their house, but it can't last forever.
“You in?” Steve asks one morning, sliding the file over the table to him, and damn right, damn right, Sam is in if it means he gets his goddamn wings back.
“Sure,” he agrees, casual. He’s been back in ever since Steve first asked.
The first rush and thrill of it is so fucking incredible that Sam’s light-headed for the next half-hour. It’s a simple mission but it still takes all day, and at the end of it Steve winces and turns to Sam and Sam can see what he’s about to say.
“You need to debrief,” he says, preemptive, and Steve nods.
“Sorry,” he says, “I really do, it’s been-”
“Too long, yeah, I get it. You stay here at the Tower, I’ll go check on our house guest, no worries.” He catches a lift home in the quinjet with Clint, gets them to drop him off half an hour or so out of town just so he’s got an excuse to fly a bit longer in the cool twilight of the evening. Lands in the yard, and blushes hard when he sees Bucky’s already out on the stoop.
“Missed you when I got up,” Bucky says, flicking ash off his cigarette. “Steve’s back on the side of righteousness, huh?”
“You know, I really don’t think he ever left,” Sam says, and folds his wings in, takes Bucky’s cigarette for a drag just because he can. Bucky swats at him, grabs it back.
“Mission go okay?”
“It was fine,” Sam agrees, “it was-” and something of the giddy joy of it must show on his face, still, because Bucky grins.
“Look at you,” Bucky says, “Jesus, sweetheart, look at you, you goddamn angel,” and Sam laughs, spreads his wings wide, pushes up into the air. When he lands again, Bucky’s watching him, thoughtful. Smoking another cigarette. “I destroyed one of those,” he says. Quiet and matter-of-fact, like he's not dark with guilt underneath it all. “Didn’t I?”
“Yeah,” Sam agrees, “you did.” He never quite knows what Bucky remembers from back then. From what Bucky’s said, it’s like a fever dream, painfully bright and hard to follow. Flashes of memory, sharp color, heat and pain and always, always, thirst, burning low and searing.
“Glad you got em back,” Bucky says, and stubs out his cigarette, heads inside. Sam follows, peels off his exo-suit and then his shirt, gets in the shower before he can let the exertion of the day catch up with him enough that he just falls down. Pulls on sweats and a clean t-shirt, gets back downstairs and finds a bowl of soup steaming hot on the table for him.
“You cooked,” he says, stupid with fading adrenaline, and Bucky nods. Watches him eat, and Sam feels his exhaustion fade as the warmth of the food hits him. When he’s done, he just feels good. Relaxed, like he hasn’t been in months. Picks up his bowl and puts it in the sink, and moves to the living room, turns on the tv. He’s about to sit but Bucky’s still trailing him, frowning a little, and Sam raises his eyebrows.
“What’s up, man?”
“I got your number,” Bucky says. “You act like you're smarter than Steve. You're just as much of a danger junkie. Wings, huh.”
“I like the burn,” Sam shrugs, and then something about Bucky's expressions makes him want to be honest in a way he's usually not. “When I'm flying, it's the closest I can get to falling. Cold wind on my face, and the fear of it, you never… We're not built to have wings. We cling to the earth, our bodies remember. You push past that and your body holds on to the terror of it even as you're going up and up and up. Cold sweat prickling down your spine, and nothing but adrenaline until you're dizzy with it, fucking giddy, Riley and I, we'd fuck so hard we couldn't breathe, after.”
“Yeah,” Bucky says, low. “Just like I said. A goddamn fucking danger junkie, Wilson, you wanna kiss death and burn your mouth on it,” and that makes Sam look at Bucky's mouth, and then he can't look away. Bucky lets his mouth fall open, soft and winsome. Tongues the points of his eye teeth like he knows what Sam's thinking, and catches his lower lip under his front teeth, smiles small and crooked.
“Cat got your tongue?” he asks, and Sam blinks.
“Would it hurt?”
“No, sweetheart,” Bucky says, a twist of his mouth like he's smiling. “I'd be so gentle, you'd never even know.”
“And you wouldn't…” Sam starts, swallows, looks at Bucky's eyes and back at his mouth. “You wouldn't kill me.”
“I don't do that anymore,” Bucky says, and he's soft, everything is so soft and still and breathless, and Sam reaches a decision like it's easy.
It is. It always has been. Sam's been falling into this since Bucky cornered him in that market, held him fast in that snow-cold gaze.
“Show me,” he says, and holds out his hand, and Bucky looks at him for a long moment before taking it. His skin is cool, fingers long and delicate, and he touches Sam very carefully. “Show me,” Sam says again, heart beating fast, and Bucky must be able to hear it, the thrum of hot blood under the surface, because he looks up and his pupils are blown dark against the pale blue of his irises.
“Yes,” he agrees, and lifts Sam's hand to his mouth. Doesn't bite. Presses a kiss, gentle, to the center of Sam's palm. His lips are full and soft, tongue tracing hot over Sam's lifeline, and Sam shivers full-body.
“Oh,” he manages, “that-” and Bucky trails kisses down over the heel of Sam's hand, drags his teeth on the flesh at the base of his thumb and nips just a little. Not a bite, not sinking his teeth in, just a sharp little graze of pain that's more about teasing Sam than anything else. A lovebite, Sam thinks, lightheaded. Bucky's mouth is so good, so fucking good, and he can hear his own breath loud and raggedly uneven. “Come on,” he says, raw, “do it, do it, Bucky,” and Bucky looks up at him again from under long, long lashes. Sets his mouth on the inside of Sam's wrist, the delicately thin skin. Kisses, and licks, and kisses again, and Sam thinks he's never been so turned on in his life, and then he catches the flash of teeth as Bucky sharpens his mouth and bites.
Bucky was right. It doesn't hurt a bit. He's had blood drawn at the doctor that stung more than this. But Bucky's mouth, holy shit, Sam can feel every bit of it, his tongue and the heat of his lips. He moans, gasps for breath, wants more more more. Wants Bucky pressed up against him, the weight of him pushing Sam down. Wants the friction and heat of a body to grind up against. Wants Bucky’s mouth on his throat.
“Oh fuck fuck please, I- please, god, fuck,” he says, all thought patterns shot to absolute shit, and Bucky pulls away, licks his lower lip. His mouth is wet with blood, with Sam's blood, and Sam has never wanted anything more in his life than to let Bucky get him undone and shuddering under him.
“You want it,” Bucky says like it's shocking, and Sam can't help himself, sways in closer.
“I want-” he says, and has to take a deep breath to even get the words out. “You. I want you.”
“Oh, sweetheart,” Bucky murmurs, fond, and strokes Sam's cheek. “They all say that.”
“No,” Bucky tells him. “Just you. Just- god, Sam, just you, why are you-” and Sam blinks, blinks again, and Bucky is on him, whip-quick and holding him down, the tip of his nose brushing Sam's throat. “I'm trying,” he whispers, quiet, plaintive, “fuck, Sam, I'm trying so hard to be more than this, and you-”
“You are,” Sam says, “you always were, you always have been, goddamnit, Bucky, I want you,” and Bucky stares at him, eyes wide and pale and fringed with such dark, dark lashes, and then, finally, finally, their mouths are together, kissing so hard Sam feels his lips bruise.
“Hell,” Bucky says, “hell, I'd burst into flames I step foot into church anyway, may as well be a sinner twice over,” and his hands are up under Sam's shirt, nails scraping his skin, fingers catching at Sam's hips.
Sam comes embarrassingly quickly with Bucky's weight on him, his knee shoved between Sam's thighs for leverage. His teeth sunk into Sam's throat. Sam rubs up against his thigh, and shivers, and comes in a hot rush. He's still wearing his fucking pants, for fucks sake.
“Oh god,” Bucky pants into the crook of Sam's neck, “oh god, I can taste it,” and he sounds wrecked, on the edge, hard and needing. Sam fists his hand in Bucky's hair, drags his face up, kisses him so rough he feels his teeth break the skin of Bucky's lip. “Fuck,” Bucky hisses, pulls back, “don't-” and Sam watches as the split heals over in an instant. “Okay, we're good, kiss me again,” Bucky gets out, and he still tastes of metal, the hot-copper of Sam's blood, but he's gasping into Sam's mouth, little short puffs of breath, and when Sam strokes the nape of his neck and slides his fingers back into Bucky's hair and yanks, that's it, Bucky is coming and coming, breathing like he wants to cry, like he's dying with how good he feels.
“Steve's gonna kill me,” Bucky murmurs, later. They're both naked, finally, stretched out in Sam's bed, and Sam can't stop touching and touching, stroking his fingers down the winter-pale stretch of Bucky's ribs. Pinching his nipples, idly, just to watch how he gasps and shudders. He hasn't been touched like this in a long time, Sam thinks, and doesn't stop. “He - oh god - he's gonna finally shoot me in the heart with that bullet he thinks I don't know he's got, I fucking know it in my bones.”
“Nah,” Sam says, lazy and happy all the way down to his heart. “He likes to think he's okay with letting me make my own terrible decisions. All the times I've supported him through his, see.”
“Oh, I'm a terrible decision,” Bucky teases. Kisses Sam biting-sharp. “You got that right, sweetheart, I'm terrible for you. A real fucking bad idea.” Sam just gets his hands in Bucky's hair, pulls again the way he's wanted to for a long time. Listens to the noise Bucky makes, a punched-out groan like nothing’s ever been so good for him, and suddenly Sam is wanting again, rolling his hips up against Bucky, rocking in against him.
“Come on,” he says. “Come on, Barnes. You gonna fuck me or what?”
“Sweetheart,” Bucky groans, “Jesus fuckin’ Christ, sweetheart, you'd kill me if I wasn't dead already,” but he's cupping Sam's ass, squeezing, and Sam grins almost as sharp as Bucky can make it. Reaches for the bottle in his bedside drawer.
Bucky fingers him open slow, eyes dark like it's burning him up, and Sam breathes through it, holds back the demand that Bucky just fuck him already. By the time Bucky is ready, Sam's dick is hard and wet against his belly, and he feels too small for his skin.
“Yeah,” he gasps, “yes, yeah, oh fuck get in me,” and Bucky tangles his fingers in Sam’s, leans into him, slides in and in and in.
“Sam,” he says, prayerful. Holds tight. Moves his hips minutely, shallow little thrusts that work him deeper and deeper until they’re pressed so tight together there’s no space between them. “Jesus fuckin’ god. You feel. Oh shit you feel so good. I’m not gonna last, baby, I’m not gonna hold on for long, you’re too goddamn good is what you are. You’re so hot, Jesus Christ.” It’s like he can’t stop, like his filter is gone, and Sam loves it. Loves it, god, he wants to hear this forever.
“Fuck me,” he says, “come on, do it,” and Bucky pushes harder, his dick filling Sam up, the burn of the first stretch giving way to liquid heat pooling low in Sam’s stomach. “Yes,” he moans, "oh, yes,” and Bucky kisses him soft, rests his forehead against Sam’s. “I want,” Sam says, “I want, I want your teeth in me when I come, bite me again, come on,” and it makes Bucky shudder full-body, Sam tilting his head back so Bucky can get his mouth on Sam’s throat.
“Oh, I should never have…” Bucky murmurs, lips brushing Sam’s skin, and Sam laughs, giddy, rushing with it.
“I’m never gonna stop wanting, now that you have,” he agrees, “goddamn never, Bucky, you feel so good,” and that’s it, Bucky’s biting again, Sam’s heart pounding so hard in his ears it’s deafening. He comes hard enough his vision goes gray at the edges and then whites out, his whole body tightening with it, and Bucky must be able to taste it in his blood again, the chemical rush of it, because he’s coming too, gasping Sam’s name like a blessing or a prayer, and Sam never, ever wants to give this up.
He drifts asleep, after, to Bucky tracing his fingertips across his skin. When he wakes up, Bucky’s watching him, looking soft and fond, and it should be weird, maybe, but Sam’s in so deep with it all that he just sighs, pulls Bucky in closer.
“Hey,” he says. Lays his palm on Bucky's chest. Ignores how he can't feel a heartbeat. “You're not as cold as usual.”
“I haven't been this warm in seventy years,” Bucky yawns. “Hot blood, the heat of your skin, Jesus Christ, Sam, you're good for me.”
“When I split your lip,” Sam asks, curious, “is that how…”
“Yeah,” Bucky says, easy and relaxed. “Don't get my blood in your mouth if you can help it, sugar, nothing good comes of it.” Yawns again, and nuzzles Sam's forehead, brushes little kisses along his hairline. Sam feels drunk on how good this is. Like he could stay like this for the next hundred years.
“Can you stay awake past sunrise?”
“A bit,” Bucky says. Drags his fingertips up Sam's spine. “Test me. Try and keep me up.” Sam can tell, when it happens. Bucky's eyes go half-lidded, mouth slack. He slurs in the middle of his sentence.
“You don’t usually get hit this bad,” Sam says, thoughtful, and Bucky struggles to focus on him. Eyes glazed.
“I don’t usually get this worn out,” he manages, and Sam laughs.
“You're sun-drunk,” he teases. “Look at you, you're gone on it,” and he does try to keep Bucky awake. Pinches his nipples again, leans down and sets his teeth on one and nips hard. Bucky's eyes roll back in his head and he arches up into it, hands clenching in the sheets.
“Oh,” he says, “oh, oh, sweetheart, oh god,” and Sam keeps going. Bucky dazed and gasping, struggling against sleep, biting at his lip to stop himself making noise, it’s so fucking good Sam wants to swallow up every moan he makes. When Bucky comes again, he can’t even form words. Just presses his face against Sam’s shoulder like he’s overwhelmed.
“Go to sleep, baby,” Sam murmurs, soft, and pulls the covers up over them, strokes Bucky’s hair. He drifts into sleep himself, not for long. Just enough that when he gets up it’s closer to eight than six. Bucky’s settled into that stillness that Sam associates with him now, chest unmoving, face pale, and it should be unnerving but Sam doesn’t mind it. Just kisses his cheek and slides out of bed, makes sure the curtains stay tightly closed.
Steve’s in the kitchen, when Sam gets in there, and he looks tired like maybe he hasn’t slept yet.
“Long debrief, huh,” Sam says conversationally, and Steve stares at him for one second, two, ten.
“Sam,” he says, “Sam,” and Sam stares back. Watches Steve’s gaze go to Sam’s throat.
“Don’t-” he starts, and Steve stands up, pushes his chair in so hard it clatters to the floor.
“You got a death wish or what?” Steve asks, breathing hard, “Sam, Jesus, why?” and Sam knows he's just terrified but the thing is, he's had one cheek pressed up to death ever since Riley fell. Up there just to watch, and Sam's worked so fucking hard at happiness, and the way he feels when Bucky touches his cheek, whispers sweetheart so quiet, it's the closest he's come to something uncomplicated and soft and true.
“It's fine,” Sam says, ignoring the painful twist of his heart. “Steve, come on, it's fine,” and Steve stares at him for a couple seconds, takes another breath.
“It's fucking not,” he snaps, loud. “It's- he's-” and then Bucky is in the doorway looking tired, dark shadows under his eyes.
“Jesus Christ, Steve, pipe down, you could wake a guy from the dead,” he says, and twists his mouth up into a sideways smile that's so sweetly self-deprecating Sam can't help but laugh.
“You bastard,” Steve says, “you opportunistic- you goddamn son of a bitch, Barnes,” and Bucky tilts his head, makes a complicated expression.
“Take that back, Steven Grant, you knew my ma,” he says, mild and even and carefully non-confrontational, and it's that, nothing else, that's what finally brings Steve down.
“Sorry,” he mutters. Blushes in embarrassed shame. “Sorry, shit, sorry.”
“Stevie,” Bucky sighs. “You jerk, you really think I'd do any of this just for the opportunity of it? You know me, aren't you always saying you've known me for a hundred goddamn years?” Steve's mouth works, soundlessly, and his shoulders heave.
“You're dead,” Steve says, “you're dead, Buck, you just don't know it yet,” and he sounds despairing, thick with grief.
“You'd think so,” Bucky agrees. “You'd think so. Dead and still walking and talking like your best childhood pal, huh.”
“I loved you,” Steve chokes, “I loved-” and then he covers his face, walks away, and Bucky leans back against the doorframe looking suddenly, terribly old.
“He’s right,” he says. “He’s fucking right. I died so long ago it’s like my body forgot and just kept living anyway.”
“You’re not,” Sam says, “you’re…” and doesn’t know how to finish. You’re just different now, that’s all. They filled you with dark blood, built him out of sunlight, two sides of a coin.
“Just a little ill, huh,” Bucky says, wry. “I’m just a little ill, that’s all. That’s what I said, back in ‘44. Don’t worry, Steve, I’m just a little sick, I’ll be fine. Just feeling the cold. My eyes can’t take the bright light. I work better in the dark, always have. He should have shot me when he had the chance.”
“Oh,” Sam says, “oh-” and Bucky pushes off the doorframe, shakes his head. Touches Sam’s cheek.
“Don’t worry about it,” he murmurs. “Don’t worry about it, darling, I’m just black-hearted is all. Tired and melancholy. Distract me with something, we’ll be fine. We’ll be just fine.”
“Yeah,” Sam agrees, “okay,” and wraps his arm around Bucky’s waist, lets Bucky kiss his cheek. “You were out cold,” he says, “Steve really woke you?” and Bucky looks vaguely embarrassed.
“No,” he admits, “I… I probably should have told you, but.” Touches the bite marks on Sam's throat, fingers gentle. “I can feel your emotions, after. Only a bit, only when they're strong, it doesn't last forever.”
“I was upset,” Sam whispers, and Bucky nods.
“Enough to wake the dead, sweetheart,” he says, and yawns, rubs his eyes. “Come lie down with me a bit, huh? I need…”
“Yeah,” Sam says, “yeah, of course,” and he's lying curled in against Bucky when Bucky makes a quiet noise.
“We don't have to,” he murmurs, uncertain. “Again, I mean. We don't have to. I should have told you it was a thing.”
“No,” Sam says, “I don't mind,” and realizes it's true, he doesn't. Likes it, even, Bucky having this ribbon thread straight back to him.
Steve doesn’t give them his blessing, exactly. Just ignores it resolutely, like maybe Sam will come to his senses and quit tempting death already. And that’s fucking stupid, isn’t it, because now that they’re back in active missions, it’s Steve who chases death at every goddamn opportunity. Sam’s given up trying to fight it; that’s Steve, daring the world to try him, and Sam loves him despite and because of it.
“You wanna join us, or what?” Sam asks Bucky one evening, since he’s keeping them company at the table while Sam and Steve go over the files, and Bucky leans back until his chair is balancing on two legs, gives Sam a cheeky grin, kicks at the table leg.
“Nah,” he says, casual. “I don’t do that anymore. Probably for the best,” but he makes eye contact with Steve as he says it, holds it so intense that it feels like it’s a whole conversation in a glance. Steve nods, minute, and Sam knows he’s missed something, but if they’re looking at each other like that and not yelling about being dead and heartbroken, Sam’s not gonna argue.
He gets back in the night and Bucky always kisses the sweat off him, licks it off his skin.
“You taste like adrenaline,” he says, tongue tracing the line of Sam’s throat. “Like sweat in sunshine, like the heat of battle, fuck you taste good,” and Sam laughs but lets Bucky push him down into the bed.
I don’t actually sleep in a coffin, Bucky had said, rolling his eyes and pretending offence, Jesus Christ, Wilson, you're something, but he’s in Sam’s bed, most days. “It smells like you,” he says, simply, blinking, and Sam can’t help but smile and curl back in against him, sleeping through the heat of the day until the sun is low and red in the sky.
“Good morning,” Steve says when Sam stumbles awake into the kitchen, and Sam yawns, pats Steve on the shoulder.
“Morning,” he agrees, “want pancakes?” and knows Steve is trying. If he prays for Sam, still, it’s quiet enough Sam can’t hear it, and he knows it’s Steve trying to keep him safe, trying and trying. O Lord, open my lips. They eat in silence, the twilight like an opening dawn, and when Bucky appears, Steve smiles.
“Morning,” he says again, and Bucky blinks, and runs a hand through his hair, and smiles back wide and beautiful.
“Morning, Stevie,” he says, and the syrup is sweet in Sam’s mouth, and he thinks, maybe, this will last.
He should have known, tempting fate.
“They got armor-piercing rounds,” Steve says over comms, “stay alert,” and Sam is, he does, but it doesn’t make a difference. Flying too close to the sun, he knew it’d happen sooner or later. Just waiting for it. It doesn’t make it hurt any less.
The first bullet goes through Sam's wings. The next, through his gut.
“Fuck,” Sam says, “fuck, fuck,” and he’s falling. Wind on his face, and breathing hard. It hurts, fuck it hurts, and the whole time he's falling, all he can think is Riley. Was this what it was like? Did he fall just like this? Did it hurt this much?
The crumple when he hits the ground is bad. Something’s broken, wrong inside, and when he comes to there’s a high noise that he only realizes later is him.
“I’m down,” he gets out, maybe unnecessarily. His throat hurts like he’s been screaming.
“Sam,” Steve says, sounding like he’s pushing everything down harder than he ever has before, and it’s not the first time he’s seen his best friend fall, Sam thinks distantly through the red haze of pain. So far away Steve couldn’t have caught him no matter how hard he’d stretched out his hand. “Sam. Are you bleeding?”
“Yeah,” Sam manages, and Steve makes a terrible noise.
“Bucky-” he says, and Bucky comes on the line.
“Got it,” he agrees, voice dark in Sam's ear. “Hold on, sweetheart.”
“Thought you didn't join us on missions,” Sam says, coughs. Blood in his mouth.
“I lied,” Bucky says, and things go dark briefly. Sam's vision fading out and back in. Bucky's tracking him, blood in the air. In the water. In Bucky's own mouth, Sam's blood sending out distress signals so hard it must be flaring bright and hot in Bucky's mind. It's hard to follow his own thoughts.
“Sam,” Bucky says, suddenly in Sam’s space, his body there and solid and real. Pulling off his goggles, his mask, flinging them aside and ignoring how the sunlight reddens his skin. “Sweetheart, Sam, stay with me, stay with me,” and he sounds flayed open. Sam swallows. Tastes metal. Bucky touches him and his hands come away dark with blood, Bucky's palm on his cheek, the slick crimson slide of it. Sam can't feel his legs.
“Bucky,” he tries, and it comes out a whisper. “You-”
“No,” Bucky tells him, “No, that's not, that's not an option, sweetheart, you're gonna live, I swear to god I'll kill you myself if you go and die on me now.”
“Not much choice,” Sam grinds out, “I'm running out of options, here.” He's cold, he's cold, and nothing hurts but he knows it should hurt. Bucky looks grey in the corners of his vision. A shadow, a ghost, slipping away from him already, except that it's Sam who's slipping away.
“Bucky,” Steve says, and it takes Sam a minute to realize his voice is coming in over comms. “He's not… he's not doing good, huh.”
“I ain't a doctor,” Bucky says, rough. “It's bad, Steve.” Sam isn't a doctor either. But he's pararescue, he's fucking seen enough to know he's not making it out of this except one way. Steve'd heal from this, maybe. Serum knitting him back together. Sam is only, brokenly, human.
“Sam?” Steve asks, voice shattered hollow.
“Yeah,” Sam agrees. Coughs. “It's bad.” Pain lurking just below his breastbone, waiting to hit.
“Do it,” Steve says. “Bucky, do it.”
“Sam-” Bucky starts. His voice snaps in two. Touches Sam's face again, presses his forehead against Sam's. “Jesus, sweetheart, don't do this.”
“Please,” Sam whispers. Pants for breath, hears it catch. It's getting harder to stay awake. “I don't- I don’t wanna die, Bucky, please,” and Bucky pulls back. Nods.
“Yeah,” he agrees. “It's not gonna be nice.”
“I don't know if you noticed,” Sam points out, “but none of this is nice, baby,” and watches Bucky laugh just like they're on the back stoop sharing a cigarette. Then he's lifting his wrist to his mouth, biting, opening himself for Sam. Leans down and kisses him, black blood on his lips, and Sam licks into it, tastes rust and iron and ash burned dark.
“You gotta-” Bucky says, and pulls Sam in against his chest, holds his wrist at Sam's mouth. “Close your eyes, darling, just don't think about it.”
Sam doesn't close his eyes. Just drinks, and drinks, and stares up at the sky. The sun's gone down, the sky such a softly pale shade of lavender it almost hurts Sam to see. He ate oatmeal for breakfast. Pinch of salt, a little syrup, nothing amazing. He would have cooked himself something special, if he'd known it was the last thing he'd ever eat. Would have gone to the beach, would have thrown himself into the surf, laid in the sun and let the salt dry until it rimed his skin. Would have burned himself up in the heat, one last time.
He is burning up. It hurts, god it hurts. He didn't know how much nothing hurt until everything hurt. Bucky touches him like he knows, like he can feel it, and Sam shakes. Shivers cold and then hot again. Everything in his body feels so terribly, terribly wrong.
He slides in and out of consciousness, the next couple of hours. Pulls himself up to wakeful long enough to know they’re moving, and then everything swims in his vision again and he’s gone, down into the black. Nothing hurts, this deep.
I can’t carry him inside, he hears Bucky say, Steve, you gotta invite- and Steve’s making another noise, small and wounded.
Sam, he whispers, Sam, come on in, come home, come home, and it’s shivery like a hallucination, like being burned up sick, but when he stumbles inside, it’s on his own two feet and home settles within him like something that’s been missing until now.
He’s still covered in his own blood, skin tacky with it where it’s drying. Clothes soaked in it, and he’s horrified to realize it smells good. Copper in the back of his throat and a burn like he’s thirsty, mouth dry.
You asked for this, he thinks to himself, and he did, he did. The alternative was worse.
The alternative was no alternative at all.
You asked for this, he thinks, over and over, and slides blessed down, down, down.
When he wakes it’s later. He’s clean, lying in white sheets in his own bed, everything so soft against his skin it feels like he’s just waking from a terrible dream. When he touches fingers to his gut, there are no scars. Steve’s asleep in the chair beside his bed, and Sam gets a vivid memory of those days when this was reversed, when he sat watch over Steve as his body healed itself magical and shining clean. It's just the same now. Completely different. Sam's healed, in death and life again.
“You’re awake,” Bucky says, soft, from the door. “Good.”
“Am I-” Sam starts, and can’t finish. Bucky’s holding a mug and he knows what’s in it, knows it clean to his bones, he’s never been so desperately thirsty in his whole fucking life.
“I know, sweetheart,” Bucky says, smiling sweet and resigned and tired. Comes in, sits down on the bed, holds the mug to Sam’s mouth and helps him drink. “I know. I’m so sorry.”
It’s not Bucky’s fault. He didn’t shoot the gun, send the bullets through Sam’s wings and his body. It’s nobody’s fault, and Sam is still here, and his body knows how to live even as everything is strange and new and unfamiliar.
He stays inside for days. Nights, he corrects himself; suddenly he and Bucky are on the same sleep schedule, not catching moments here and there with each other but sharing whole long nights, curling up into artificial dark when the sun rises. You’re warm, Sam says in surprise the first time Bucky touches him, and then realizes. No, he’s just cold, is all. A cold he can’t feel, and he understands suddenly how Bucky’s soft sweaters are a trick, something to make him seem human when he’s so deeply, fundamentally not. The adjustment, it’s weird. He went down into death, and pressed his cheek up to it, and pulled himself back out with everything changed down to his smallest fragments.
“I’m not as pale as your white ass, am I?” he asks, covering horror with a laugh, and Bucky smiles again. It almost reaches his eyes.
“No,” he says, “no, Sam, you’re-” beautiful, his mouth shapes, and Sam doesn’t know whether to believe it. Can’t look at himself. He’s alive, and he’s not, and the conflict of it, the duality, it’s tough to get used to.
If Bucky’s eyes are resigned, Steve’s are worse. Sam can’t even look at him, at first. They made him out of sunlight, he hears Bucky say again, shining and gold, and understands it deep. Steve's too bright, and it stings and stings.
“I couldn’t save you,” Steve says after a week of silence, “I couldn’t-” and Sam can practically taste the regret, the grief. His throat is thick with it.
“Hey,” he says instead. “I’m still here, man. Just a little different, that’s all,” and Steve understands different, Steve understands what it is to give up your body to a transformation not entirely wished for.
“Yeah,” Steve agrees, “yeah. Just a little different. I was wrong, I was so- I was just fucking afraid, that’s all. I didn’t understand, I didn’t try to understand, I carried the bullet like he was a threat,” and then he falls silent, bites his lip. “He saved you,” he murmurs. “He loves you, Sam. I didn’t want to see it.”
Sam doesn’t reply. Do you think he’ll still love me? he doesn’t ask. I’m not human anymore. He loved my warm blood and the taste of my sweat and the scent of sunshine hot on my skin, do you think he’ll still- and it chokes him, and maybe Steve can see it, because he touches Sam on the shoulder, gentle, and Sam lets him. Ignores how it burns. There’s a handprint like wings on his shoulderblade for hours, after.
A month after- a month after, Sam wakes up just as the sun sets. Their room glows apricot-dark, and Sam’s thirsty like he used to get after a day in the sun. He drinks, and leaves Bucky asleep - he’s never been a morning person, Steve says, wry - and opens the front door, steps out. Walks out into the world.
It’s been raining; the sidewalk is still wet with it, shining, and the air smells washed clean. It’s like Sam has never seen the world before. On the other side of the street, a woman in a white dress comes to the window of an apartment, stands still for a long moment before she reaches out, drags it closed. She’s lit up aglow with the fading light of the sky, and Sam’s heart aches with seeing her.
When he gets back in the back gate, Bucky’s there on the stoop smoking cigarettes just like always. The glow of the tip, and Sam’s got good night vision now, can see Bucky’s sharp cheekbones and jaw, the deep shadows under his eyes. He sits down next to him, and breathes him in, clean cotton and cigarette smoke and blood, a smudge of it at the corner of his mouth. Sam kisses him and finds the blood, licks his mouth clean. Lets Bucky breathe smoke into lungs that don’t need air anymore.
“Will it always be like this?” he asks, quiet, whispering into the dark. The night air is warm, heady with the jasmine growing in the corner of the garden, and Sam is overwhelmed. Bucky sighs.
“Yeah,” he says, rough. Swallows, convulsive. “Pretty much. Give it time, and enough blood, you’ll be stronger. Able to go out when it’s still light out. Early evening, just before sunset. Early morning. Soft and breathless moments, and it’s almost like you got sun on your skin.”
“But not like I used to,” Sam says, and Bucky shakes his head.
“No,” he agrees, grief-dark. “Not like you used to.”
“You don’t have to-” Sam starts, and touches Bucky’s fingers, traces delicate up to his wrist. “If you don’t want me, now that I’m… I’m not who you came for, I know.” Bucky jerks back, eyes wide and shocked, and shakes his head again.
“No,” he snaps, fierce. “Jesus Christ, Sam, no. How- oh, sweetheart, I’m just mad at myself, is all. Furious I didn’t catch you. Furious I didn’t stop it before it happened. I made you like this, and if I’d been faster, you’d still be alive. But you’re mine, sweetheart, blood and bone, you’re mine, and I ain’t going anywhere unless you tell me to.”
“Don’t,” Sam says, “don’t go anywhere, you’re fucking mine, you made me,” and kisses Bucky again, possessive and dark and wanting.
When they get inside, Steve’s cooking dinner, and Sam lifts the lid of the pot to see what’s going on, rolls his eyes.
“I see how it is,” he teases, “I’m still gonna have to cook for you if you want any good meals,” and Steve blushes soft and pretty. It’s enough that Sam kisses him on the mouth just because he’s joyful. His lips blister and he doesn’t care; Steve’s flustered, blushing harder, and Bucky is laughing out loud and showing all of his teeth, and Sam might have tempted fate but he fell down into death and rose up victorious.
There are flowers that bloom in the dark, and Steve’s going to live forever, and Bucky and Sam, they’re never gonna die. There are worse ways to live, Sam thinks, and counts his blessings.