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There hasn’t been a dull moment in Sam’s life since Captain America came barging into it in that ridiculously tight T-shirt of his. By now Sam has learned to roll with the punches, the literal as well as the figurative ones. Very little surprises him these days.

So he doesn’t bat an eye when Steve comes to break him and the rest of the team out of superhero jail, or when he discovers that Tony Stark of all people is the one flying the getaway quinjet. Or when they briefly touch down in Wakanda to pick up Bucky Barnes—in a cryotank. Or when their final destination turns out to be some futuristic research complex in an undisclosed country, where Sam sits by the pool and sips mojitos while Steve mopes around and Stark and Dr. Helen Cho put together the raddest fucking bionic arm ever for Steve’s BFF from the thirties (Stark’s words).

Honestly, it’s just another week in Team Cap.

The impromptu vacation is a nice change of pace. Sam experiments with cocktails. He watches Steve mope and listens to Stark and Dr. Cho argue about the arm. He sits in on some of Rhodes’s PT sessions, keeping up a 50:50 ratio of sympathetic to smart-ass remarks. In the evenings they all watch TV together, try to beat Clint and Natasha at Charades and discuss whether or not they’re fugitives now.

And then, after about a week, the arm is done, and Bucky’s going to be woken up, and Sam is surprised to find his heart starts beating a little faster at the news.

 

 


 

 

About two-thirds of the arguments between Stark and Dr. Cho focused on the design of the arm. Stark, fully committed to the idea of putting together the raddest fucking bionic arm ever, drew up dozens of sketches, each more extravagant than the last. Cho insisted that the new prosthetic should look and feel as familiar as possible to Bucky, and that any aesthetic adjustments could be made later, at his request.

(“How’d you like it if someone messed with your body without your consent again,” Steve had said crankily at some point—he’d be less cranky once he had Bucky back, Sam was pretty sure—and Stark had tilted his head to the side and said, “Excellent point you got there, Cap.”

He’d left the sketches on the coffee table, though.)

Bucky’s new arm looks identical to the old one except for a single detail: The star is white against a navy blue background.

Sam doesn’t know why that takes his breath away, but it does.

“Hey,” he says, leaning against the doorjamb of Bucky’s room. Rhodey’s PT session just ended; Sam had been on his way back to the residential quarters, but wound up in this corner of the hospital wing instead. Bucky’s alone, no doctors milling around. Even Steve isn’t by his side, which is somewhat unexpected. “How you feeling?”

Bucky has bulked up since the Winter Soldier kicked Sam off a helicarrier two years ago, and the prosthetic only adds to the breadth of his shoulders. It’s both impressive and alarming that he seems almost small now. He’s conscious, sitting up, but he’s drawn in on himself, his clean-shaven face about as white as the bandages wrapped around his chest and the curve of his shoulder.

He looks weak, and exhausted, and a hell of a lot better than anyone has any business looking after days of cryo and hours of surgery involving the spinal cord and artificial tissue and damaged nerve ends and god knows what else.

Bucky glances up from the tablet in his lap. He shrugs his flesh shoulder, winces.

“Out of cryo straight into surgery,” Sam says. “Gotta be rough.”

“I’ve had worse,” Bucky says with a smile Sam recognizes from the museum, and ain’t that just weird. “But there’s something to be said for doing it the other way around. Kinda sucks having to stick around for the recovery part.”

“At least you heal fast,” Sam says, because Bucky’s physical recovery won’t be nearly as grueling as Rhodey’s. “Right?”

Another smile, a milder one this time. “Yeah, there’s that,” Bucky says. “I guess that’s one thing I’ve got going for me.”

Something in his voice reminds Sam, just a little, of his first conversation with Steve. The way they’d fallen into semi-flirtatious banter right away, simple as breathing. Things between him and Bucky had been different before the Raft. This Bucky’s too easy a target, though—bare-chested in his nest of pillows and sheets, defenses down. It wouldn’t feel right to rip on him now, joke or not.

There’s a silence. Sam wonders if maybe he should leave. He wonders how Bucky would react if he went into the room, sat on the edge of the bed. If this were anybody else Sam would probably be in there already.

But then, Bucky’s not really like anybody else, is he.

Bucky tilts his head back against the pillow and looks Sam up and down, slowly. He says, “How are you feeling?”

Sam blinks a few times. “I’m fine,” he says. Which is a lousy answer, really, but he’s struggling to come up with a better one on the spot. He adds, “I’ve been experimenting with cocktails.”

“Yeah? Any success?”

“Oh, you bet,” Sam says. “Better heal up quick, Barnes, ’cause you don’t want to miss out on these babies. Hell, even Steve was impressed.”

Bucky laughs quietly in a way that makes his shoulders shake. “Really,” he says. It sounds like Tell me more, I wanna hear what you guys have been up to, but at the same time he’s sagging back into the pillows, his chest moving up and down rapidly under the dressing. He’s got his flesh hand fisted into the bedsheets, the new arm lying motionless across his stomach like a broken wing.

Not broken, Sam corrects himself. On the mend.

“Yeah, really,” he says, and makes the decision.

It only takes him a few steps to cross the room. He settles on the foot of the bed, tucks one ankle under himself. Bucky watches. His breathing is slowing down again, but his cheeks are blotched now. His eyes look a little glassy from up close.

“They give you enough painkillers, man?” Sam asks.

Bucky sluggishly rolls his head from side to side against the pillow. “Not much that works on me, apparently. It’s either this or stuff that knocks me the fuck out.”

Sam huffs. “And let me guess, you’ve just about had it with getting knocked the fuck out for the time being.”

The corners of Bucky’s mouth twitch, but the smile doesn’t reach his tired eyes.

“I like the star, by the way,” Sam says, nodding at Bucky’s arm.

“Thanks,” Bucky says. “I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.” Sam looks at him, and Bucky says, “I mentioned it to T’Challa, before. He must’ve passed it on to someone.”

Interesting. “What else did you two talk about?” Sam can’t help but ask.

Bucky lifts an eyebrow at him.

“Hey, I don’t mean to pry,” Sam says, raising his hands. “Just curious, that’s all.” And a little jealous, maybe; he hadn’t gotten to spend much time with the guy himself. It’s not every day you meet someone like T’Challa.

“He knew it was never really about the trigger words,” Bucky says after a pause. “I told Steve…” His gaze drops to his lap, like the black tablet screen might be able to tell him what to say. It makes him look—bashful, almost, his hair falling into his face. “But I just,” he says, and stops talking again.

“Wanted some peace and quiet,” Sam says.

Bucky glances up at him through his eyelashes. “Yeah,” he says. “I guess. Yes.”

This is not a look Sam recognizes from the museum. This look is soft and a little wistful, and it abruptly explains everything from the past two years. Steve’s relentless search, his refusal—his inability—to give up, to give in. Simmering just below the surface of this look is the reason why someone like Steve would drop the shield for Bucky not once but twice, and would make that same decision over and over again if he had to.

It’s not like Sam didn’t get it before. He did. Of course he did. He’d have given everything up for Riley, would still give all of this up in a heartbeat if it meant having Riley back in his life, now more than ever. He got it before, all right.

It’s just that now he understands.

“I’ve got to say that’s a much better excuse than the trigger words,” Sam says to lighten the mood. “’Cause seriously, they’re ten random words that have to be spoken in a specific order, in a specific way, within a specific time frame. Burning the only damn notebook in which they can be found seems like a slightly more practical solution than going back into hibernation.”

Bucky’s smiling again. God.

“And you made a good call, because peace and quiet is definitely not a thing that’s been happening around here,” Sam says. “Nat gets very competitive about Charades and Steve Rogers is the sorest fucking loser I ever met in my life.”

Bucky barks out a laugh. Then he flinches, and his breath catches in his throat. He hunches up with his palm pressed to the center of his chest, wheezing.

“Hey, easy,” Sam says. He reaches for the bump of Bucky’s foot under the covers, squeezes it.

Bucky gives him a wry, pained smile. “Tell me how you and Steve met?” he says, quietly, and Sam does.

 

 


 

 

That night, Sam watches Rhodey fall again. He dives after him but doesn’t make it in time and Rhodey hits the ground with a sickening crash. Sam kneels next to him and rips off his visor, and it’s Riley in the suit, bleeding from his nose and his ears and the corners of his mouth but he’s not dead. He’s lying on a bed with pristine white sheets. His eyes were shut but now they’re open and Sam can’t breathe because Riley’s hands are made of metal and they’re wrapped around his throat, squeezing.

He gets thrown across the room, into a dark cell. “On your left,” Steve’s voice says in his ear, but when Sam looks over his shoulder Steve is not there. Bucky is there, huddled in on himself, telling Sam, “I just wanted some peace and quiet,” and he smiles sadly and closes his eyes and the cracked glass of the cryotank fogs up.

The glass is cracked because there’s a small bullet hole in it, and there’s blood trickling from a small bullet hole in Bucky’s forehead, and Sam’s the one holding the gun.

A row of cryotanks stretches out before him. Riley. Rhodey. Steve. Natasha. His mom. His sister. His little nephew. Their eyes are shut. Peace and quiet. Sam raises the gun, aims.

It’s a shitty dream. As always, he wakes up from it slowly, slogging back to consciousness in stages. He checks the time, his phone screen offensively bright. 4:52 AM. He groans and rolls onto his back and waits to fall asleep again.

 

 


 

 

Sam suspects that even if he knew the name of the country they’re in, he still wouldn’t be able to find it on a map. If this country can even be found on a map. He keeps half-expecting this to make him feel anxious, trapped. He keeps being vaguely pleased with himself when it doesn’t.

He’s got his wings in his room to remind himself that flight is a possibility. That he’s technically a guest here, not a prisoner. He took them for a spin once, but the higher up he got—the more lakes and grasslands and distant mountain ridges he saw—the more he was itching to feel solid ground under his feet again. Soak up the sun, swim a few laps, maybe wheedle Cho into giving him a tour of her lab. Explore the sprawling grounds of the complex on foot.

The wings, it’s turned out, are a reminder he doesn’t need. (This makes him feel vaguely pleased with himself as well.)

He exercises every day, out of habit more than anything else. The day after Bucky’s surgery, Sam emerges from the locker room showers to spot Steve in the gym, trying to beat a punching bag to a pulp. It looks like it’s about to burst at the seams. Sam feels sorry for it.

“Tony wants me to come with him,” Steve tells Sam without looking at him when he comes in. Uppercut, uppercut, cross. “Damage control. No one knows what happened behind the scenes, so there’s still a chance we might be able to fix this whole Sokovia Accords mess after all. Unlikely as it seems. Might even get our fucking passports back and the charges against us dropped.”

A particularly vicious left hook makes the bag shudder and creak. Steve straightens up—thank fuck; Sam really doesn’t want to be here when something breaks, he’s tired of collateral damage—and turns to face Sam, arms falling down to his sides. His chest is heaving. He’s dripping with sweat, but he’s Captain America, so he makes it looks good.

“Okay,” Sam says. “And what do you want?”

Steve crosses his arms. A muscle twitches in his cheek. “I’m not leaving him,” he says. “Not now. Not yet. I won’t.” Make me, his voice and posture say, and Sam doesn’t know whether he wants to pull the guy in for a hug or grab him by the shoulders and violently shake him back and forth. It’s a familiar feeling when it comes to Steve. The answer is usually both.

“I know,” Sam says. He doesn’t mean for his voice to sound soothing, but it does.

Steve deflates a little. He says, with a sigh, “The doctors in this place are unreasonably strict about visiting hours.”

Doctors prescribing rest after major surgery is hardly the most unreasonable thing Sam has ever heard of, but it figures that Steve Rogers would disagree. “Hey, you’re the one who brought us here, big guy,” Sam says.

“We were invited,” Steve says plaintively. “It would’ve been impolite to say no.”

“Like that’s ever stopped you from saying no before.”

Steve huffs and looks down. “I did it for Bucky,” he says then, which is hilariously predictable. Sam almost laughs.

He doesn’t, because Steve’s hurting, isn’t he. All of them are. Rhodey’s pain is right there on the surface, skin scraped and bruised from him falling and getting back up again and again. Wanda rarely leaves her room and Stark pretends not to have nightmares and Clint and Natasha slink off to be alone most of the time. And Sam, Sam doesn’t see as much as feel Riley around every corner, in every empty moment, and toward the end of each day his jaw and shoulders ache with the tension of being constantly on guard.

And Steve—

Steve doesn’t wake up screaming. Even when he bruises it doesn’t show for long. All his pain is neatly folded up inside, layer upon layer upon layer of hurt tucked away deep down. He had to mourn Peggy when she was still alive and he never got a real chance to mourn her after she died. He gave up everything for Bucky only to have to let him go again almost right away. Shit, how often can life yank a guy’s chain like this?

“I think you need a hug, man,” Sam says. “Or a cocktail.”

Steve exhales loudly. It might be a laugh. Sam isn’t sure. Maybe Steve isn’t sure either. “I’m,” Steve says, gesturing at his soaked shirt.

Sam gives him an unimpressed look and says, “Come here.”

“Very sweaty,” Steve says, “I’m very sweaty,” but he steps forward and accepts Sam’s arms around him, touching his own hands to Sam’s back for a long moment.

“Time for drinks?” Sam says after letting go and bumping their shoulders together, and Steve smiles, nods.

 

 


 

 

That night Sam dreams about an underground gym. It’s small and it’s dark and it’s empty save for a single punching bag in the middle of the room. There’s a man standing in front of it with his back to Sam, landing methodical kicks and punches.

It’s Riley. Sam can’t see the man’s face but he knows it’s Riley. It’s Riley and all Sam wants is to make him turn around, to walk up to him and touch his shoulder, say his name. He wants to, desperately, but dream logic tells him that if he tried Riley would disappear, vanish back into the Underworld like a latter-day Eurydice.

So for hours Sam stays where he is, and watches, and wants.

 

It’s still early when he makes his way to the kitchen in the morning. He’s yawning and scratching his cheek and trying not to stub his toe on the door frame all at the same time, still caught in the tendrils of last night’s dream. His brain can be forgiven—later—for receiving the visual input of a blond guy sitting at the kitchen table and thinking, Riley?

Steve glances over his shoulder. “Morning,” he says, and for a second Sam can’t speak because where the hell did Steve fucking Rogers manage to find a sweatshirt that’s too big for him and hides the bulk of his muscles when he’s hunched over like this, and what right does he think he has to sit here hunched over the kitchen table with his blond hair and his back to the doorway.

“Morning,” Sam says after taking a breath. “Coffee?”

Steve nods in the direction of the kitchen counter. Sam goes to pour himself a cup. The sound of the spoon rattling against the inside sets his teeth on edge, so he drops it in the sink. No sugar for him today. Probably better, too.

“Wanda not up yet?” he asks, leaning back against the counter with the cup cradled between his hands. They’ve got these same cups at the Avengers facility, although in a different color. It’s good to know that wherever in the world they are, at least there’s an IKEA right around the corner. Maybe he should strap on his wings, go look for it. Buy the most difficult piece of furniture he can find and assemble it to keep his mind off things. Hell, they could all work on it together. Group therapy.

Steve manages to pull a face that looks both deeply troubled and eerily blank at the same time. It’s impressive, really, where years of practice with emotional repression can get you. “I think Wanda might be staying in bed today.”

“Right,” Sam says. And then, “I can think of better things for you to break than silverware, you know.”

“Fuck,” Steve says under his breath, relaxing his grip on his fork. It’s slightly bent.

Furniture assembly therapy might not be such a good idea after all. What if they end up bashing each other’s skulls in? Even earth’s mightiest heroes wouldn’t pass the IKEA rage test, probably.

“Morning losers,” Stark says as he walks in. Steve clenches his jaw, knuckles turning white again, and Sam adjusts his opinion. Especially earth’s mightiest heroes wouldn’t pass the IKEA rage test.

 

 


 

 

Bucky does heal fast. The second time Sam stops by the hospital room Bucky is asleep, curled up under the covers with his back to the door. He gets discharged and unexpectedly shows up in their living room before Sam even gets a chance to consider trying to visit him again.

“The fuck is this?” Bucky asks by way of greeting, frowning at a sheet of paper he’s picked up from the coffee table.

“Um,” Sam says. “Those are Stark’s old sketches for your arm.”

“This one’s got feathers.” Bucky picks up another one. “Retractable pinchers? What the hell.”

“Yeah,” Sam says, “I’m pretty sure he actually went as far as to build a prototype for that one. It’s a good thing he was just a glorified consultant, really. Cho was in charge of the whole process.”

Bucky looks at Sam. His face is doing a complicated thing.

“That design was tabled when Steve got upset about it, by the way,” Sam adds.

The thing Bucky’s face is doing is being amused, Sam realizes a split second before Bucky smiles in a way that shows off his teeth and makes his eyes crinkle up at the corners. “Bet he was real insufferable for a while there, huh,” Bucky says.

“Oh, you don’t even know the half of it,” Sam says. “Fuckin’ pain in the ass, that guy.”

He still hasn’t seen the full repertoire of Bucky’s smiles, it seems. The one Bucky’s giving him now is softer, but fonder. It’s a nice smile.

Then the smile melts away, and Bucky’s folding in on himself.

Sam is by Bucky’s side before he can think twice. Bucky weighs a fucking ton, and he’s not trying to carry any of his own weight. He sinks into Sam’s arms like a boulder, eyes shut. Sam might grumble about it later, but right now he’s breathless with the effort of keeping Bucky from crumpling to the floor.

“Hey, you’re all right,” he’s saying, “I’ve got you, big guy, let’s just get you—”

He eases Bucky into a horizontal position on the nearest couch. The prosthetic is whirring, clicking; bracing itself, Sam thinks, Bucky is bracing himself for something.

“Hey,” Sam says again, making his voice as low and calm as possible. “Bucky. It’s me.”

The plates of Bucky’s arm continue shifting. The white star splits open, becomes whole again.

Sam says, “Bucky. It’s just me.”

“Jesus Christ, man, would you relax,” Bucky says without opening his eyes. “I know it’s you. My short-term memory’s fine, y’know.”

His speech is a little slurred, his upper lip beaded with sweat. Sam wonders if he passed out for a second there. Maybe the arm’s just recalibrating.

Sam’s hand is still curled around the back of Bucky’s neck. He tries to gently pull it away, but Bucky’s head lolls to the side anyway, and their skin touches.

“Shit, man,” Sam says, stomach twisting with worry, “you’re burning up.”

He presses the back of his hand to Bucky’s cheek. There sure is a lot of touching going on here, but Bucky doesn’t seem to mind much. He’s just blinking at Sam, suspiciously indifferent.

“Your doctors know about this, right?” Sam asks. Former Hydra guinea pig or not, the spinal cord is a delicate part of the body. If—

Bucky squints at him. “It’s all right,” he says. He sounds a little puzzled. “It’s no big deal.”

“Yeah? Have you met Colonel Rhodes? Seen how not all right he is? Because—”

“This has got nothing to do with the surgery,” Bucky says, somewhat surly now. “It was like this before. The past two years, I mean. I remember them saying something about me being out of cryo too long, maybe that’s why. Fucked if I know, really. All I know is I’m always either too hot or too cold.”

“There’s a difference between being too hot and running a fever.”

“Aw, Wilson,” Bucky says. “You think I’m too hot?”

“I think you’re running a fever,” Sam says, pulling his hand back.

“Like I said, it’s not that big a deal. It’s just annoying is all.”

“Right.”

Bucky heaves a dramatic sigh. “You don’t believe me,” he says. “Go get me Steve, Steve always believes me.”

“Hey, just because I picked your sorry ass up off the floor just now doesn’t make me your personal assistant, Barnes.”

“God, you’re mean,” Bucky says. “Have some goddamn compassion, man. I want Steve, Steve’s always very nice to me.” He throws his arm over his eyes.

“I’m nice to you too,” Sam says, “asshole.”

Bucky huffs out a laugh.

 

 


 

 

In addition to the body temperature regulation issues, Bucky appears to sleep a lot, and eat very little.

It’s not that Sam’s keeping an eye on Bucky, exactly; it’s just that he’s gradually running out of ways to keep busy. He’s tried pretty much all possible combinations of the ingredients at his disposal for his cocktail experiments, with varying success rates. Spending too much time reading or watching Netflix or sitting in the sun doing nothing makes him feel lethargic or worse. He needs to keep busy. It’s much easier when there are other people around, but with Rhodey still recovering, Steve now off on mess-fixing duty with Stark, and Clint gone back to the farm with Wanda—well.

He’s been putting in more and more gym time. Natasha is teaching him her signature move. She doesn’t slink off as much anymore, but she’s quieter without her trusty Charades partner around. She seems to get along with Bucky, though, who undoubtedly has the potential to be a fine replacement for Clint once he’s allowed to lift his new arm above his head and once he stops sleeping eighteen hours a day.

Eighteen hours is an estimation, but not necessarily an exaggeration. Bucky spends most of his days asleep in the room he shares with Steve. The rest of the time he’s usually curled up on a couch or in an armchair in the living room, wearing the pajamas Sam bought Steve for his birthday two years ago. One afternoon Sam finds Bucky slumped over the kitchen table, face buried in the crook of his elbow.

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty,” Sam says, carefully touching Bucky’s shoulder. “You’re gonna hurt your neck.”

He’s not even kidding about the Sleeping Beauty part. Bucky was always handsome underneath, and he no longer looks like he could keel over any minute. He recently had his hair cut; it’s still long, but it falls about his face in neat, healthy layers now. There’s no point in denying that he’s exactly the kind of guy Sam would’ve picked up from a bar and taken home to ride off into the sunset, so to speak, back before Steve Rogers started following him around the park like a lost puppy and sweet-talked him into becoming a superhero with very little free time.

“Fuck off,” Bucky mumbles, which is uncalled for.

“Suit yourself,” Sam says, and goes to put on water for tea. Herbal tea, the kind that soothes the nerves. He got into the habit of drinking it a long time ago.

“Sorry.” Bucky sits up, scrubs his hand down his face. “Thought you were Steve.”

“Aw, you can’t talk to Steve that way,” Sam says. “He’s very fragile. He’d probably cry.”

“Steve’s not fragile,” Bucky says, bristling. “He survived the Second World War, and seventy years under the ice. And an alien invasion, which, what the fuck.”

God, they’re all a bunch of loyal dumbasses, aren’t they. “I meant emotionally,” Sam says. He grabs a box of cereal and turns around, leans back against the counter to watch Bucky watching him.

“What are emotions,” Bucky says flatly.

Sam stuffs a handful of cereal into his mouth. Got all weepy about it, he remembers Rumlow saying to Steve. It’s difficult to have a comeback to Bucky’s self-deprecating jokes—even the unfunny ones—when they remind Sam of leafing through a file that made him feel sick to his stomach, and almost throw up for real when it occurred to him that said file probably mentioned only a fraction of the abuse Bucky had suffered as the Winter Soldier.

Sam stuffs another handful of cereal into his mouth.

Bucky yawns, stretches out like a sleepy cat. He freezes and goes pale around the same time as Sam finds himself wondering if Bucky should really be moving his new arm like that.

“Ow,” Bucky says, wincing.

“God,” Sam says. “You’re just like Steve. No sense of self-preservation whatsoever.”

“Says the guy who’s been following Captain America into the jaws of death the past couple years.”

“Nah,” Sam says. “I’m covering Steve Rogers’s dumb ass. There’s a difference.”

Bucky blinks. He looks in pain, for a second. Then he winces again and rubs the side of his neck. “Ow,” he says, again.

“Why you sleeping on the table anyway?” Sam asks. “Got bored of hogging the furniture?”

“I was trying to decide what to eat,” Bucky says. “It took a while. But the change of scene’s nice too, I guess.”

Sam holds out his box of cereal to Bucky. Bucky eyes it warily.

“Dude,” Sam says. “You gotta eat.”

“Dude,” Bucky says. “Don’t coddle me.”

“If you think me telling you not to drool on the kitchen table and offering to share my dry cereal with you equals coddling,” Sam says, “that’s a depressingly low standard you got there, Barnes.”

“Yeah, well, Hydra wasn’t very big on coddling, for some reason,” Bucky says. “Especially compared to our man Steve.”

Sam snorts, because Bucky’s got a point there for sure. “I made the mistake of getting a cold once,” he tells Bucky. “When we were in Russia, in the winter. I wasn’t sure I’d survive—at some point I was convinced I was either gonna choke on chicken soup, suffocate under the crushing weight of his concern or just straight up die of hyperthermia. Steve takes aggressive cuddling to a whole new level.”

Bucky’s smiling a little. “Used to be he was the one getting sick.”

“Yeah,” Sam says. “I read his biography. I spent the past few years hanging around with the guy. I know a little something about Steve Rogers, all right.”

“You’re his best friend,” Bucky says softly. It’s not exactly a statement and not exactly a question. He’s looking at Sam, head tilted in a way that reminds Sam of the chocolate lab that lives next door to his mom. It’s vaguely distressing. Sam already has the human equivalent of a Golden Retriever with an unusually gloomy disposition in his life; he should know better than to adopt another sad stray.

“Yeah,” he says. “I am.”

“Good,” Bucky says. “He’s lucky to have someone like you.”

Sam waits for a quip to follow, but Bucky yawns again, pushes to his feet.

“You’re moving to the living room, aren’t you?” Sam says.

“Get off my back, man,” Bucky says lazily, no heat behind his words. “I just had surgery. I’m allowed to get a couple extra hours of sleep in.”

“As long as you don’t take the couch in front of the TV,” Sam says. He can actually hear Bucky’s stomach growl from where he’s standing, so he adds, “And for fuck’s sake, eat something.”

“I don’t know what,” Bucky says. “Everything’s too…” He waves his hand around.

Sam lifts an eyebrow.

“Too much,” Bucky says, resigned.

“Too much what?”

“I don’t know. Too much flavor. I don’t know,” Bucky says, again.

Sam pulls open the fridge door to have a look. “Have you tried yogurt?”

“Mostly I’ve tried standing here and opening and closing various doors and drawers,” Bucky says. “But yeah, I guess I could try yogurt.”

Sam hands over the tub—some sort of organic shit—and a spoon. “Not the couch in front of the television,” he says warningly.

“Got it, boss,” Bucky says, saluting him and then smiling in a way that makes Sam feel hot to the core.

He takes his time preparing his tea, lingers in the kitchen until it’s cool enough to drink. When he gets to the living room, he’s treated to the by now familiar sight of Bucky stretched out on one of the smaller couches, his hair fanned across a throw pillow. He’s breathing deeply and evenly, doesn’t stir when Sam comes in. The tub of yogurt is on the coffee table, half empty.

Sam smiles to himself.

 

 


 

 

Natasha disappears on them for several days, unannounced. (It stings, a little. Sam was really starting to get the hang of that thigh hold.) Just when they’ve tentatively concluded that she won’t be coming back, she materializes in Sam’s room while he’s sorting out his laundry and drops a package in his lap. “I come bearing gifts,” she says, leaning back against Sam’s nightstand in a calculatedly nonchalant way.

Sam strokes the wrapping paper. “What’s this for?” he asks.

“This is my way of apologizing to you,” Natasha tells him. “We can’t all have denial and repression as our go-to coping mechanisms. Too predictable. It’d get boring.”

“Aw,” Sam says. “Don’t be so hard on Steve. He’s trying.”

“Right,” Natasha says, and reaches out to pat his arm.

“You getting him anything?” Sam asks.

“Steve? I haven’t decided what yet. Therapy sessions, maybe.”

Sam snorts. “New pair of legs for Rhodes while you’re at it?”

“Would if I could,” she says in a soft, wry voice. And then: “Technically I don’t owe Rhodes an apology, though. He and I were fighting on the same side.”

“Not really,” Sam says. “Not when it came down to it.”

“Well, don’t go telling anyone else that,” Natasha says, with a wink.

 

He waits until she’s gone to open the package. It’s—it’s from back home. There’s a card from his mom, a small basket of cookies his sister baked for him. A bracelet braided by his nephew, accompanied by a note that earnestly explains why he picked these specific colors and patterns. Pictures of them all, old favorites as well as more recent-looking ones that Sam has never seen before.

“How the hell, Nat,” he mumbles to himself, and he draws a deep, wet, painful breath.

 

 


 

 

That night he dreams about his mother, and land that turns to water under his feet. He’s not drowning, not yet, but there’s no shore in sight and it’s starting to get dark. He thinks he used to have wings, maybe, but if he did they’re long gone now.

He wakes up excruciatingly slowly, as always. It’s only 1:27 AM and he feels too fucking wired to go back to sleep. His neck and shoulder muscles hurt. He jerks off, which sometimes helps. This time it doesn’t. He goes to get himself a glass of water and wanders aimlessly around the dark, quiet apartment for a while.

He ends up spending a couple of hours on their living room balcony. It’s nice. Warm, but there’s a cool breeze that clears his mind. When he goes back to bed he sleeps dreamlessly.

 

The next morning Sam gets up much later than usual. He shuffles into the bathroom, still bleary with sleep.

There are people in the shower. Steve and Bucky are in the shower. Steve is standing behind Bucky, lathering up his hair. Bucky is scowling. They’re both very naked.

Sam doesn’t even know where to look. There are gleaming muscles everywhere.

“Is this a dream,” he says, stifling a yawn.

Bucky scowls at him.

“It’s the new arm,” Steve explains patiently while continuing to massage Bucky’s scalp like it’s his goddamn day job. Neither Bucky nor Steve is making an effort to cover himself up, which Sam appreciates a lot. “Bucky can’t, he’s not supposed to—”

“Hold up,” Bucky cuts in. “You been dreamin’ about me, Wilson?”

Sam gives him a look. “Well, not you specifically,” he says, which is true. “Shit, Captain America gently and sensually washing someone else’s hair, though…”

“It’s not sensual,” Steve protests, “I’m helping—”

“Gentle, my ass,” Bucky says. “I must’ve lost at least two handfuls of hair already. It took me seven decades to grow that hair, Rogers. Have some respect.”

“Bucky, there are tangles—”

“All right, fine,” Sam says. “Whatever. Pick your own descriptive words.” He adds, “I’ve gotta say I never thought I’d ever see a guy look that cranky while a wet and naked Steve Rogers had his hands all over him.”

“What?” Bucky says, confused. “Wait, have you two…”

“No,” Steve says. His chest was already a pretty shade of pink from the hot water raining down on it; now the flush is deepening, spreading up his throat and reaching all the way to the tips of his ears. “We haven’t, Sam’s just trying to—”

“Steve Rogers,” Bucky says, “you kinky fuck.”

“I—Sam! Tell him—”

“I’m not awake enough for this,” Sam says. “But thanks for the spank bank material. I appreciate it.” He grabs his towel and toothbrush and gets the hell out of there.

“Anytime, pal,” Bucky yells after him.

 

 


 

 

The next time Sam’s on the balcony, soaking up the evening sun, Rhodey joins him. He’s in his wheelchair. The current version of the exoskeleton, he says, is this close to making even the paralyzed part of his body hurt. Which, if you ask Stark, is almost an achievement in itself, and also: “It hurts me in the feelings when you say that.”

(“Yeah, well,” Rhodey said, “imagine how I feel.”)

Rhodey doesn’t say anything at first. Sits with his eyes closed and his face turned toward the sky, breathing slowly. After a while, he says, offhandedly, without looking at Sam, “So I’ve been thinking maybe I should get them to chop off my legs and replace ’em with some Bucky Barnes shit.”

Despite his tone of voice and choice of words, Sam can tell that he’s not kidding. Not entirely. “Yeah?” Sam says, carefully matching his tone to Rhodey’s.

Rhodey sighs, pulls a face. “I don’t know. Maybe. They’re still running tests to be sure, but if the damage to my spinal cord really is permanent… It’s all just dead weight. I spend most of my time flying around in that tin can anyway. I’ve got to consider it at least.”

“It’ll hurt,” Bucky’s voice says from somewhere behind Sam. He looks over his shoulder. Bucky is standing in the doorway, with his arms folded across his chest and his hands tucked into his underarms like he’s cold. He might be, Sam thinks with a pang. Despite the warm evening, and despite the sweatshirt he’s wearing; one of Steve’s, Sam is pretty sure. Bucky’s thieving ways shouldn’t be as endearing as they are. “At first. It takes a while to get used to it. Not just the weight. Brain needs to catch up with the body.”

Rhodey nods. “Phantom limb pain. I know.”

“It feels like getting electrocuted,” Bucky says. He’s shivering. “But not like normal, I mean, it feels like localized electrocution. Localized bursts, instead of…”

Sam doesn’t know what Bucky was like before Hydra happened to him. Brave, according to Steve. Cocky. Protective. Popular. Strong. Smart as a whip. But a list of adjectives gleaned from stories and museum labels doesn’t tell Sam much about what Bucky was really like. What kind of vibe he gave off, what kind of mannerisms he had. What kind of person he was.

The Bucky Sam knows—the only Bucky Sam has ever known—is a pretty quiet guy. Dry-humored and good-natured. He mostly keeps to himself, and Steve. Until now, Sam hadn’t really noticed that he’s been spending a considerable amount of time around Bucky as well. Rhodey hasn’t. He’s never heard Bucky talk like this, and it’s painful, watching the realization dawn on his face: first, the realization that Bucky knows what it’s like to get electrocuted; then, the realization that Bucky’s familiar enough with getting electrocuted to differentiate between localized electrocution and ‘normal’ electrocution.

“But, hey, I mean,” Bucky says, “least you’ll look swell.”

Rhodey laughs. Bucky smiles softly and looks down, curls his arms tighter around himself.

“You cold?” Sam asks. Bucky shrugs, then nods. Sam tilts his head in a ‘come here’ gesture, patting the empty space on the bench next to him.

Bucky moves fluidly and soundlessly. He doesn’t lean against Sam the way Steve or Natasha would, the way he would with Steve, but leaves a few inches of space between their bodies, sits twisted toward Sam like he’s trying to absorb as much of his body heat as possible without touching him. It’s awkward, unnecessarily so.

“I assume Stark’s got an opinion on this,” Sam says to Rhodey, casually, and he casts an arm around Bucky’s shoulders even more casually, doesn’t pull him closer.

“Tony’s got an opinion on everything,” Rhodey says. “I’m just trying to figure out my own thoughts before I ask for his input.”

Sam huffs. “Yeah, good strategy.”

Bucky huffs as well, very quietly. The hard line of his body loses some of its tension. Sam shifts a little until their thighs are touching.

Bucky incrementally relaxes against Sam’s side. He doesn’t contribute anything else to the conversation, just sits and listens. Sam realizes after a while that he’s been stroking his thumb back and forth across Bucky’s arm. He stops, abruptly and with a vague sense of embarrassment, but Bucky wriggles restlessly against him until he continues.

 

 


 

 

It’s been a while since Sam was in therapy. He knows a thing or two about psychology, though. He knows what his therapist would say if she were sitting across from him right now. You’re focusing on other people’s problems to avoid thinking about your own, she’d say. What problems, Sam used to scoff, and she’d throw terms like minimization and externalization and intellectualization at him, and Sam would think it over after their session and come back the next week admitting that maybe she had a point.

But that was after Riley, and long before preventing global catastrophes became kind of what Sam does for a living. Before he hung out with people like Steve Rogers and Bucky fucking Barnes on a daily basis. He’s playing in a whole different league now, and cognitive habits are hard to change. And if Sam wants to spend his time focusing on other people, people who have very solid reasons for being more than a little messed up—well, that’s his business, isn’t it.

Bucky seems to be doing all right. He still gets chills and hot flashes alternately, and he still sleeps longer than any of them, and he still can’t eat many different foods. But he has full range of motion in his metal arm, and he makes suggestive remarks and self-deprecating jokes, and he smiles. He spars with Steve, and he tolerates Natasha’s (so far fruitless) attempts to get him to help her defend her Charades title, and he picks up the books Sam finishes as well as the habit of following Sam out to the pool or the balcony to comment on some plot twist or just to nod off in the sun.

He’s doing well, all things considered, and Sam is not at all surprised when one day, out of the blue, Bucky relapses.

He knows a thing or two about psychology, after all.

One moment Bucky is reading his books and smiling his smiles; the next, he’s locking himself in the room he shares with Steve and refusing to open the door for anyone. It takes Sam three days to convince Steve to crash with him instead of sleeping on the couch. Bucky doesn’t show his face at all during those three days. He accepts the plates of food they leave on the floor outside his room, but he doesn’t let Steve in, doesn’t let Sam or Natasha or Cho in, doesn’t answer any of their knocks or questions through the door.

“How worried should we be?” Steve asks Cho on the fourth day.

“You’ve been asking me that every day since you brought him here, Cap,” Cho says gently but firmly. “Do you think you could let me finish my drink in peace?”

Next to her, Natasha snorts. “Back it up, Steve,” she says. “Let the woman enjoy her goddamn cocktail. She’s off the clock.”

“You might want to rephrase that,” Sam says. “Off the clock is a foreign concept to Steve. I’m not sure he knows what it means.”

“You guys are ganging up on me,” Steve says, sitting down heavily.

Sam pats his arm.

 

Steve takes up about as much space in bed as a skinny 5’0 guy. He rolls up into a ball approximately the size of his shield, all the way on the other end of the mattress, and then falls asleep like that and doesn’t move for hours. It’s impressive, and a little amusing, and—to be honest—more than a little heartbreaking.

Sam wishes he could ask Bucky if this is what Steve was always like. Before the serum, during the war, in the last couple of weeks. He imagines it: the two of them in a rickety old bed in the late thirties, Bucky wrapped around a sickly Steve to keep him warm; the two of them all but passed out on adjacent army cots, close enough to touch; the two of them in their room here, sleeping in single beds on opposite sides of the room but still facing each other.

It’s a trivial question, of course, but it annoys Sam that he can’t ask Bucky. It annoys him that it feels like something’s off—like something is missing—when Bucky’s not in the same room with him, asleep or spooning out a tub of yogurt or curled up in a chair with a book, the soft humming and clicking of his arm as he rhythmically clenches and unclenches his fingers a soothing background noise. It annoys Sam that he has to do without Bucky’s smile, and Bucky’s jokes, and Bucky’s quiet presence.

Bucky will be fine, Sam tells Steve. Just because he was doing better than expected before doesn’t mean it was always going to be easy, and just because he’s not doing well now doesn’t mean he won’t be all right again later. Steve shouldn’t expect him to just…

“I know, I know,” Steve says, “I know,” but he’s hurting and there’s nothing Sam can do about it, and he hates it. Hates how much he hates it. Hates how powerless it makes him feel, hates how feeling powerless makes him feel.

“I wish we could,” he says, not finishing the sentence. He knows they can’t go home. Not yet. They’re suspended in limbo, birds with clipped wings that are growing back at a leisurely pace that felt fine until it no longer did. Incoming blood feathers itching and throbbing under a paper-thin layer of translucent skin, the bumps standing out like nerves, vulnerable and sickeningly sensitive to the touch.

“We’re almost there,” Steve tells him softly. “We’ll get there, Sam. We will. Tony and I are closer to fixing this mess than you think. It won’t be long now.” He presses their shoulders together for a long moment, a caress rather than a shoulder bump. “We’ll be saving the world together again in no time, promise.”

“Hell, right now I feel like I’d settle for getting my passport back,” Sam says, but they both know he doesn’t mean it. He misses avenging. Fuck, he misses it so bad. He adds, “Together, huh.”

Steve tilts his head to the side. “With a little help from our friends.”

Sam sighs. “I can’t wait to be up in the air again,” he says.

“You can,” Steve says. “You could.”

He could. He could go and strap on his wings right now. Lakes and grasslands and mountain ridges. Land that turns to water under his feet, no shore in sight. Blood feathers itching, throbbing.

“I know,” Sam says. “But it’s not the same.”

 

 


 

 

The reason for Bucky’s relapse turns out to be—not at all what Sam was expecting it to be.

He doesn’t mean to interrupt Bucky’s self-imposed social isolation. It’s late, past midnight, and he’s just finished making himself a cup of tea before bed. He decides to leave a cup in front of Bucky’s room as well. The door is cracked open when he gets there. As he’s putting the cup down Sam hears a thud, and Bucky swearing under his breath. Sam, still crouched down, unthinkingly pushes the door open further to make sure everything’s okay.

Something small and black is launched at his face.

No; something small and black launches itself at his face. Something small and black and fluffy, Sam finds out when he catches it in mid-air, his heart pounding.

It’s a kitten. Scrawny and big-eyed, with a tear in its ear and a small scar on its nose. It’s adorable.

The kitten says, “Meow,” and swats at Sam’s cheek.

Sam straightens up with the kitten in his hands. “Seriously?” he says, because what the hell, Barnes. “Is this seriously the reason why you’ve been hiding away in here?”

He’s about to laugh when he looks up and sees Bucky.

Bucky is standing in the middle of the room. He’s paler than Sam has seen him since the day of his surgery. His hands are balled to fists by his sides. He’s breathing shallowly, gaze darting around, face twisted in… It almost looks like he’s in pain, but that’s not it, Sam realizes.

Bucky is scared.

“Bucky,” Sam says. By now his heart is beating fast enough to make him feel light-headed. “I’m not—you don’t think I would hurt it, right?”

Bucky looks down, clenches his jaw.

Sam feels himself flood with rage for a few long seconds, because who, who in their right fucking mind could possibly think that he’d, that Sam would—but the anxiety is coming off Bucky in waves, and his partly resigned, partly panicked expression twists in Sam’s chest like a knife. It’s obvious that Bucky is not in his right mind. Whatever he’s thinking right now, it’s irrational. This has got nothing to do with Sam. Maybe it doesn’t even have anything to do with the kitten, not really.

Bucky’s making no attempt to get the kitten back from Sam. He’s not doing anything, just standing there, eyes wide and averted, hair falling in front of his face. The plates of his metal arm are shifting back and forth restlessly; apart from that, he seems paralyzed with fear.

“Bucky,” Sam says, voice low, calm. “Hey.”

The plates continue to shift.

Sam says, “Buck,” and Bucky flinches, hard, and briefly looks up at that. Sam holds the kitten out to him. Bucky doesn’t move. He’s not even looking at it, or at Sam.

The kitten lets out a high-pitched noise and starts squirming. Sam puts it down on the floor again. It canters over to Bucky and skids to a stop at his feet, mews up at him.

Bucky doesn’t react to that, either.

Sam is just about to give up and go get Steve, or Natasha, or anyone, really, when the kitten begins to climb its way up Bucky’s leg and Bucky finally snaps out of it. He reaches for the kitten and carefully cradles it in his hands, brings it up to his face. It head-butts his chin. Bucky is trembling all over, eyes closed.

It feels like there’s a fist inside Sam’s throat, trying to crush his windpipe to dust. He feels like he should say something, wants to say something, but he has no idea what. Bucky’s shoulders are hunched forward like he wants nothing more than to protect the kitten, shield it from harm with his body, but his back is ramrod straight like he physically can’t.

“Are you—” Sam says, and Bucky’s eyes shoot open to meet his. Bucky doesn’t blink, doesn’t look away even though it seems like he’s terrified of what Sam might say to him. Of what I might tell him what to do, Sam thinks, and it’s that thought that makes him back out of the room without another word.

 

 


 

 

When he’s finally been released from the claws of that night’s dream—at 3:46AM, his phone tells him, goddamnit, what ever happened to sleeping through the fucking night—Sam makes his way to the bathroom and kneels down in front of the toilet on autopilot. “Fuck,” he mumbles once he can think clearly again, resting his forehead against the cool tiles of the wall. It’s been years since the dreams were so bad they made him throw up.

He rinses his mouth and splashes some water in his face, but it doesn’t help much. The images linger. His skin feels clammy. He gets in the shower, runs the water as hot as he can stand it. He stays in there long enough to wake someone else up, apparently, because it’s a soft knock on the door that jolts him out of his second trance.

Steve is leaning patiently against the wall next to the bathroom door, wearing frayed sweatpants and a Captain America shirt Natasha once got him as a joke gift. He’s holding two glasses of milk.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Steve says as he thrusts one of the glasses at Sam.

Sam doesn’t know whether it’s a question or a statement or both. “Yeah,” he says, taking the glass with both hands. The milk is warm, the hot glass burning his palms. He doesn’t change his grip. “I haven’t had this in ages.”

“Me neither,” Steve says. “My mom used to make it for me and Bucky sometimes, when we were little.”

He puts a gentle hand on Sam’s lower back and steers him into the living room, toward the couch. Sam obediently sits down and watches Steve go through the process of looking for the remote, finding it between the couch cushions, turning on the TV with the sound low.

“You wanna try,” Steve says after what may have been ten minutes or an hour, Sam can’t tell, and Sam says, “Hell no.”

There’s a blanket lying on his lap. He doesn’t know whether he or Steve put it there. He can’t remember moving, but he can’t remember Steve getting up either. He sets down his now empty glass—when did that happen—and pulls the blanket up around his body.

“But you can go back to bed if you want,” he adds belatedly. “I’m good here.”

“Me too,” Steve says, and they watch stupid cartoons till the sun comes up.

 

 


 

 

What happened last night appears to have broken Bucky out of the confused state of mind he was in just as suddenly as he’d been triggered into it. He lets Steve in again, stops hiding in their room. He doesn’t come anywhere near Sam all day, though, which is unusual and suspicious. It’s not like Sam has been particularly hard to find; he’s been lying by the pool for hours, too exhausted to move and too keyed up to doze off. The splitting headache isn’t helping either.

Bucky never shows up, but Natasha eventually does. “Hey, hotshot,” she says. “What’s a handsome guy like you doing out here all by himself?”

Sam squints at her through one eye from behind his sunglasses. “I’m working on my tan,” he tells her.

Natasha raises an eyebrow. “You doing all right? I heard you and Steve had a cozy night together. You must be all worn out.”

“Oh, I’m just peachy,” Sam says. “I’ve decided sleep is overrated anyway.”

The corners of Natasha’s mouth twitch. “Feel like sparring?” she asks.

“I don’t know.” He lifts his sunglasses. The sky is overcast, but the light makes his head throb harder anyway. “I’m not having the best day. I might accidentally beat you up.”

Her smile widens, turns a little predatory. “Well, I’d love to see you try.”

 

He does try. Gets in a few good hits, too. Then Natasha says, oh so casually, “So I hear you met Bucky’s pet yesterday,” and Sam immediately understands what this is really about.

“You’re the one who gave it to him,” he says. “And don’t pull that innocent face with me, I know you did.”

She makes the face anyway.

“Shit, Nat,” he says, swinging at her.

Natasha blocks his punch with frustrating ease. “Well, I couldn’t just leave it where I found it. And I had no idea he’d get all weird and rabidly protective about it,” she says. “I thought he’d like it. Thought maybe it’d be good for him.”

“Really?” Sam says. He takes another swing at her. “What exactly is it about tiny baby animals that screams ‘great gift for traumatized people with metal limbs’ to you?”

Natasha narrows her eyes at him.

“I’m sorry.” Sam moves a step back, scrubs a hand down his face. “I really didn’t sleep well.”

“Sam,” Natasha says in a soft voice. “You can’t possibly think that Bucky would—”

“I don’t,” Sam says. “Not consciously, I mean. Shit, I even don’t know.”

Natasha sniffs out the implications of his words like a goddamn bloodhound. She’s a little scary like that sometimes. “You didn’t sleep well,” she says. “Why.”

Sam laughs bitterly. “Fucking dreams,” he says, catching her in the side with a well-aimed kick. “I dream about shooting you, shooting Steve. I dream about Rhodey and Riley falling, I dream about drowning, I dream about the Winter Soldier cru—”

He’s distracted, and she gets the drop on him. Before he knows it he’s flat on his back on the mat with her thighs around his neck, the wind knocked out of him.

“Jesus Christ, woman,” Sam says once he can breathe again. He pushes her away and sits up. “I’m baring my soul to you here! A little respect would be nice.”

“I thought we were sparring,” Natasha says sweetly.

“I thought we were having a meaningful heart-to-heart,” Sam says. He feels the back of his head. “Ow.”

“We were multitasking. And as much as I enjoy our conversations, I don’t think I’m the one you should be having a meaningful heart-to-heart with about this,” she adds, jumping up and holding out her hand to him.

He lets her pull him back to his feet. “Yeah, well, looks like Bucky’s avoiding me for the time being, so.”

“Oh, he’s just embarrassed,” Natasha says. “He’ll get over it. I thought it’d be fun to smoke pot with Clint and Laura not too long ago. Woke up on their couch the next morning completely convinced that she was some sort of double agent and he had been assigned to kill me again. It was awkward. Among other things.”

“Told you you’re a little bit paranoid.”

“Very funny.” She dodges Sam’s fist. “Anyway, I avoided their place for a little while after that, but then I got my head out of my ass. Barnes will come around soon enough, you’ll see.”

 

‘Soon enough’ turns out to be that evening, when there’s a soft knock at Sam’s bedroom door.

“Yeah,” he says, pausing his episode.

The door creaks open, slowly. “Hey,” Bucky says from the doorway. “Can we come in?”

He’s wearing Steve’s pajama pants and Steve’s magically oversized sweatshirt, which is too big on his slimmed-down frame as well. His hair is pulled back into a bun and the kitten is balanced precariously on his shoulder. He’s referring to himself and his kitten in the first person plural.

Sam takes a deep breath and closes his laptop.

“Of course you can,” he says, because there really is no point in denying that he’s fucking weak for Bucky Barnes.

Bucky enters the room, moving quietly and smoothly as ever, and settles cross-legged on the foot of Sam’s bed. The kitten hops down onto his thigh. Bucky cups it in his hands and says, “I’m sorry for getting all weird on you.”

Sam snorts. “Natasha tell you to say that?”

“Not the I’m sorry part,” Bucky says with a faint smile. “I mean it, though. I don’t—”

The kitten jumps out of his hands and attacks the bump of Sam’s foot under the covers.

“Summer, no,” Bucky hisses. “Bad girl.” He reaches for her. She does a somersault and latches onto his wrist, tiny claws scrabbling against metal.

“You named her Summer?” Sam says, trying and failing not to sound ridiculously charmed.

“Yeah,” Bucky says. He ducks his head. “I know.”

“No, I like it.” The kitten bounces over to Sam. He picks her up. She sinks her needle-sharp teeth into the space between his thumb and index finger. “Wow, you’re a real handful, aren’t you?” he asks her, and she begins to purr.

Bucky is watching them. He looks tired, lines around his mouth and bags under his eyes. Probably didn’t sleep well either. Sam wonders if Bucky has nightmares, but this doesn’t feel like the right time to ask. Bucky might not even want to talk about it. Hell, Sam might not even want to know what kind of nightmares Bucky has.

“So you got her from Nat, huh,” Sam says.

Bucky’s chewing on the inside of his cheek. “Yeah, apparently,” he says. “She—Summer, I mean—just showed up in my room a couple of days ago. She’s an interesting one, isn’t she? Natasha.”

“She got me a gift as well,” Sam says, snapping the bracelet against his wrist. Summer pricks up her ears at the sound. “From my family.”

Bucky smiles, looks down.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Bucky says. “I was wondering.”

“About the bracelet?”

Bucky nods. “You only started wearing it a while ago.”

“You noticed that?” Sam says, amused. “Why didn’t you just ask if you wanted to know?”

Bucky looks a little sheepish.

“My nephew made it for me. It’s supposed to be a good luck charm. The different colors represent me, and him, and my mom, and my sister—his mom. He wrote me this whole explanation to go with it.”

“That’s cute,” Bucky says. He’s silent for a while. Then, he asks, “You miss them? Your family?”

The question catches Sam off guard. “Well, I don’t see them very often,” he says. “Away from home a lot, you know how it is.”

Bucky winces almost imperceptibly.

“But yeah. Yeah, I guess I do.” Sam pauses. “Although it’s not like I spend a lot of time with them when I’m home either.”

“Yeah, but you could,” Bucky says. “Knowing you can’t just go see them makes it different. The choice has been taken away from you.”

He’s tracing patterns on the bedsheets, Summer skittering after his hand.

“I’m sorry for that, too,” Bucky adds.

It takes Sam a second to understand what Bucky is getting at. “Don’t put that on yourself, man,” he says, gently. “You’re not the one who took that choice away from me.”

“I’m the reason the choice was taken away from you.”

“I made the decision to oppose the Accords,” Sam says. “And then I made the decision to stand with Steve. I knew what that could mean. It’s not your fault. You didn’t ask for any of this.”

Bucky looks skeptical.

Sam sighs. “Anything else you were planning on apologizing to me for?” he asks. “Might as well get it all out of the way, now that you’re at it.”

He’s kidding, but Bucky’s brow furrows and his eyes crinkle up at the corners as he thinks. “Breaking one of your wings and throwing you across a room by your face, maybe,” Bucky says. “Although I can’t remember either of those things very well.”

“You know, the whole steering wheel thing was pretty traumatic as well,” Sam says helpfully. “Just saying.”

Bucky’s frown deepens. “What?”

“Never mind. How’s that work with you anyway? Remembering?”

Summer has crawled into Bucky’s lap and curled up into a little ball there. Bucky scratches her behind her ear. “You ever feel like there are gaps in your memory?” he says after a long moment. “Like there are things you remember clearly, mostly in flashes, but other things are just a blur, and some parts—months or even years—are all compressed. And there’s no real logic to it. Some of the most vivid flashes are of random things that happened ages ago, and something that lasted weeks might seem like it only took minutes or the other way around. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah, that’s,” Sam says. “That’s a symptom of depression, man. Yeah, I know.”

“As well as a side effect of long-term brainwashing and torture, apparently,” Bucky says with a glint in his eyes. “It’s like that, sort of. I’m starting to get flashes of what happened when Zemo got to me, and I do remember fighting you in D.C., but the memory’s vague, distant. It doesn’t feel like it was me even though I know I was there and I know that it was me.”

“It wasn’t you,” Sam says.

Bucky exhales heavily through his nose, lightly runs his fingers down Summer’s side. She’s purring loud enough for Sam to hear from where he’s sitting. “Yeah, that’s what Steve keeps saying. But it was. It was and it wasn’t.”

“The choice was taken away from you,” Sam says.

Bucky smiles at him, softly. His smile really is a thing of beauty. Sam really did miss it a lot.

“Anyway,” Bucky says. “Got any new books for me to read?”

 

 


 

 

That night Sam dreams he’s looking for Riley in an abandoned maze of a warehouse. After hours of searching he finds Rhodey, strapped to an operating table with dozens of electrodes attached to his body, and in the dream Sam knows that Rhodey and Riley are the same person. The two of them escape across a long narrow bridge over a sea of flames. Steve is waiting for them on the other side, but when they finally get there Sam realizes—

“You’re not Steve,” he says.

Steve bares his teeth in a smile. “Hail Hydra,” he says, and then he’s peeling off his face, revealing a red skull.

“Run,” Sam says, but Rhodey-Riley is no longer by his side. He’s being dangled over the edge of the bridge, a metal hand wrapped around his throat.

“Bucky,” Sam says, “no, don’t,” and the Winter Soldier says, “This is your fault,” and Rhodey-Riley says, “Sam,” and the Winter Soldier lets go and all Sam can do is stand there and watch.

For the first time since the dreams came back—the first time since Rhodey’s fall—Sam wakes with a start. His heart is beating so fast he feels sick with it. He reflexively checks his phone; 3:09 AM. His shirt is soaked through, sticking to his body. He sits up and pulls it off, all but flings it away.

There’s a knock on the door.

Sam flicks on the light. Before he can catch his breath enough to speak, the door is already creaking open.

“Hey,” Bucky says from where he’s hovering in the doorway, catless and shirtless.

“What the hell,” Sam says, bewildered and still struggling for air. “Did I wake you up? How?” He knows he didn’t scream, doesn’t scream. Never screams.

“I,” Bucky says. “Have enhanced hearing.”

Sam draws in a deep breath. It hurts. “You can pick up the sound of other people’s heartbeats and breathing through the walls.” He’s glad to hear he sounds about as incredulous as he feels.

“No, it’s not like that, it’s different,” Bucky says. Sam waits for him to explain, but Bucky just tilts his head to the side and says, “Are you all right?”

Sam looks at him. Bucky looks back.

Screw the Steve Rogers School for People Who Can’t Emote Good and Want to Learn How to Repress Other Feelings Good Too.

“No,” Sam says, harsher than he means to. He bites down on the Not really that wants to follow, because no. No mitigations. No, he’s not all right. His head’s a fucking mess. He’s been through some rough patches over the years, but rarely like this.

“Okay,” Bucky says easily. Soothingly. “What can I do?”

Sam runs a hand over his hair, then down his face. It comes away wet. “Steve brought me a glass of warm milk,” he says with a short, mirthless laugh. “The other night.”

“Do you want me to get you a glass of warm milk?”

Sam thinks about it. “No thanks,” he says, wiping his forehead again. His body is aching all over. “Fucking hell, I feel like I’m a hundred years old.”

“Aw,” Bucky says. “Well, you don’t look too bad for your age.”

“Compared to you, maybe.”

Bucky makes an amused sound. “Can I, uh,” he says, gesturing vaguely in Sam’s direction.

Sam shrugs and nods.

It’s not until Bucky cautiously sits down on the edge of Sam’s bed that it hits Sam just how big the difference is between this Bucky and the Winter Soldier of his dream. The Winter Soldier’s face had been a blank mask, void of any emotion. There’s so much warmth in Bucky’s expression that it seems almost absurd for Sam to have called the Winter Soldier ‘Bucky’ in his dream. They might share the same appearance, but they’re sure as hell not the same person.

“It’s PTSD, right?” Bucky says.

Sam’s surprise must show on his face, because Bucky says, dryly, “Yes, I know what PTSD is. I read.”

“I know that,” Sam says. “I just didn’t know you knew. Steve tell you?”

Bucky shakes his head. “It’s the way you hold yourself sometimes,” he says, hand hovering over Sam’s shoulder like he wants to touch. He doesn’t. “A lot of the time. Tense, on edge. And now this.”

Sam breathes out shakily. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s PTSD, all right.”

“Do you wanna talk about it?”

“Shit.” Sam massages his jaw. “I don’t know. Maybe. It’s three in the fucking morning, what I want is to be able to sleep through the night without having to watch my partner die over and over and over again.”

“Sounds reasonable to me,” Bucky says. He’s tracing patterns on the bedsheets again. His head is ducked, eyelashes casting shadows on his cheeks. His jawline could rival Steve’s, Sam thinks, especially with that stubble beard of his.

“What do you dream about?” Sam asks him.

Bucky’s mouth twists into a bitter smile. “Nothing,” he says. “Just darkness. I think they burned the ability to dream out of me.”

“That’s unlikely,” Sam says, which makes Bucky look up at him again. “Your brain needs to dream in order to function. Just because you can’t remember any of your dreams doesn’t mean you don’t have them.”

Bucky blinks. “That’s,” he says. “A strangely comforting thought.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Damn you, Wilson, I came here to comfort you,” Bucky says with a frown. “You sure I can’t get you anything? Hot chocolate, maybe? I gotta one-up Steve somehow.”

Sam laughs. It sounds weird. Fuck, he’s exhausted. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

“Do you want me to leave you alone?”

Sam considers it.

“Not necessarily,” he says truthfully.

Bucky narrows his eyes at Sam like he’s contemplating something. “Can I, uh,” he says. “There’s this—Steve used to get sick a lot, you know.”

“Really,” Sam deadpans.

Bucky sighs and rolls his eyes. “Okay, fine. Whatever. Just lie down on your side and let me…”

“You know we have a word for this nowadays, right,” Sam says once they’ve settled down. “We call it spooning.”

“Neat,” Bucky says. “That’s a good word.”

He pulls Sam closer. It feels like being cuddled by a space heater, which should be uncomfortable but isn’t. Bucky’s right arm is diagonally across Sam’s chest, and he’s applying more pressure than would be appropriate in any other spooning situation. It’s. Grounding. Sam’s chest has to struggle against the weight of Bucky’s arm with every exhale, which forces him to focus on it; breathe in deeper, breathe out longer.

“Okay,” he says after fifty long, deep breaths. “I think this is actually helping.”

“Good,” Bucky says sleepily, relaxing his grip a little. “’m glad.”

“You falling asleep back there, Barnes?”

“Can’t help it,” Bucky says. His jaw cracks with a yawn. “You’re very…”

“Yeah?” Sam says.

“Comfy,” Bucky mumbles. “Warm.”

“Yeah,” Sam says. “Yeah, so are you.”

Bucky sighs against the back of Sam’s neck and nuzzles even closer.

 

 


 

 

Sam wakes up with Bucky in his arms. It’s dark in the room, which means he can’t have been asleep for long, and that Bucky must’ve turned off the lights at some point. They’re lying face to face, close to each other; Bucky’s got his arms wrapped loosely around his own waist and his head pillowed on Sam’s biceps. Sam’s arm is curved protectively around Bucky’s neck, his nose buried in Bucky’s hair, and it’s.

It’s nice.

Things are probably going to be awkward the next time he wakes up. But for now, Sam thinks, brushing Bucky’s hair back from his cheek, breathing in the calming scent of his shampoo, this is nice.

 

The next time Sam wakes up, very early in the morning, Bucky is still in his bed, and still asleep. He’s shivering now, curled in on himself and turned away from Sam.

Sam shifts, touches Bucky’s side. His skin is warmer than Sam would expect it to be. He reaches for the covers and pulls them up to tuck them around Bucky’s shoulder. It feels natural to mold himself against Bucky’s back the same way Bucky had done for him, to wrap his arms around Bucky and pull him close.

“M’ning,” Bucky mumbles.

“Morning,” Sam says quietly. He rubs his hand up and down Bucky’s arm to try and get some warmth into him. It’s only when Bucky snorts that he realizes it’s the metal arm he’s touching.

“Oh, shut up,” he grumbles.

“Thought that counts, right,” Bucky says, and the arm vibrates under Sam’s palm like the purr of a cat.

Sam drifts off again. His bladder wakes him up a few hours later. When he comes back from the bathroom Bucky is awake again as well, lying on his back in the middle of the bed with his arms flung out to both sides and the sheets kicked down. He’s panting, sweat beading on his forehead and upper lip. His cheeks are flushed.

“Never a dull morning with you, huh?” Sam says, pushing Bucky’s arm out of the way so that he can lie back down.

Bucky throws him a sideways glance. “Never,” he says, with a suggestive smile that makes Sam want to shove him.

Instead, he groans and rolls over onto his stomach to face away from Bucky. “Aren’t you worried Summer’s missing you?” he asks.

“Oh, she’s a big fan of Steve,” Bucky tells him. “He makes for a great pillow. All warm and tender-hearted. You can just crawl on top of him and give him sad eyes and he’ll be putty in your hands for as long as you want him to be.”

Sam lifts his head. “Really,” he says. “Your cat told you all that.”

“Summer has a very distinguished taste,” Bucky says placidly. “She’s very vocal about it.”

“Yeah?” Sam says, teasing. “What does she think of me?”

Bucky tips his head to the side. There’s something in the way he looks at Sam that makes Sam’s heart rate picks up a little. “I think she’d love you if you let her,” Bucky says, softly, and.

Well.

Then, Bucky says, “Hey, do you think T’Challa can talk to cats?”

Sam groans again and lets his face fall into his hands. It feels hot. “Do you think I can talk to birds?”

“I’m sure you have many talents, Sam Wilson,” Bucky says, and this time Sam does shove him. Bucky grunts, catches Sam’s arm before he can pull it away. Sam pulls, and Bucky pulls back. They struggle for a moment, and they end up like in every clichéd book and movie scene ever, with Bucky hovering over Sam on all fours, pinning his wrists down against the pillow on both sides of his head.

If this were a scene in a book or a movie, Bucky’s gaze would flicker from Sam’s eyes to Sam’s mouth and then back to Sam’s eyes again. His lips would part slightly. Maybe he’d lick his bottom lip, or sink his teeth into it, slowly, unconsciously, before he would finally, finally lean down to press their mouths together. Lightly at first, but then he would let go of one of Sam’s wrists and cup his cheek instead, and Sam’s hand would move to the back of Bucky’s neck. One of them would let out a noise, a quiet moan or a cut-off gasp, and the other would smile and deepen the kiss.

But Bucky, Sam realizes as the moment stretches on, probably hasn’t read those books, or seen those movies. The Romanian versions, if any—do they dub or subtitle in Romania? It doesn’t matter, really; stuff gets lost in translation either way. Some things get lost and other things get found. That’s the way it works.

A small frown has appeared on Bucky’s face. His grip on Sam’s wrists loosens, and Sam strikes, flipping their positions so he’s straddling Bucky instead of the other way around.

There’s a beat of silence.

“Well, you got me,” Bucky says. His voice is flat, but his chest is rising and falling faster than it was a moment ago.

“Yeah,” Sam says, “I got you, all right,” and he leans down to press their mouths together.

Bucky’s body tenses up under Sam’s, his mouth an unyielding line. Sam pulls back. They look at each other, both breathing hard.

“Again,” Bucky whispers. “Kiss me again.”

His palms are turned up; Sam can feel the pulse racing in Bucky’s right wrist, the faint vibration of plates in the left. He slides his hands up until their palms are touching, fingers entwined. Bucky watches him, hair fanned out, lips parted. He’s beautiful, and Sam does, does kiss him again, and this time Bucky kisses him back, cautiously, his eyes slipping shut and his hands flexing against Sam’s.

Bucky tastes like salt. His lips are soft and his stubble scrapes pleasantly against Sam’s skin. He makes a noise in the back of his throat, and Sam lets go of his metal hand, touches his face instead. Thumbs at his jawline, the corner of his mouth. Bucky makes another noise at that, inhales sharply through his nose, and Sam takes his face between both hands, kisses him harder.

He doesn’t notice Bucky’s arms slotting around his waist. Before he knows it they’re lying on their sides, facing each other. It probably shouldn’t be as hot to him as it is, the way Bucky can move him around with no effort whatsoever.

Bucky can tell what Sam is thinking, apparently. “Could hold you up against a wall with one arm while fucking you, if you want,” he murmurs against Sam’s mouth, and it’s such an overwhelming mental image that Sam needs to take a break from the kiss.

“Easy, tiger,” he manages. “We’re only on our first kiss here.”

Bucky smiles a sharp smile. “First, huh,” he says. “Can I take that to mean there’s gonna be more of ’em?”

“Not if you keep running that pretty mouth of yours there’s not,” Sam says, pushing down on Bucky’s bottom lip with his thumb. Bucky lifts an eyebrow at him and lets his jaw go slack, sucks Sam’s thumb into his mouth. His tongue rubs against the underside, slowly circles around it.

“Holy shit,” Sam says under his breath.

Bucky lets his eyes go half lidded and hollows his cheeks, sucks harder. He moans.

“You fucking tease,” Sam says breathlessly. “If you want my dick down your throat so bad all you gotta do is ask, you know. I might even say yes if you ask nicely enough.”

Bucky sinks his teeth into the pad of Sam’s thumb, gently, and then releases it, thank god. “Easy, tiger,” he says. “We’re only on our first kiss here.”

“Oh, you’re—” Sam threads his fingers into the hair at the back of Bucky’s head and tugs. Bucky doesn’t resist. He lets Sam align their mouths again, lets Sam twist his fingers tighter into his hair. Lets Sam lean over him and deepen the kiss, supporting himself on his forearm.

Bucky puts a hand on Sam’s hip and pulls him closer until their bodies are touching. They’re both still wearing their sleep pants; they should get rid of them, probably, Sam thinks hazily, but Bucky’s tongue is sliding so nicely against his and Bucky’s hand is so nice and heavy on the nape of his neck and Bucky’s thighs feel so nice and strong on either side of his thigh and Bucky’s hips are pushing up so nicely against his, making slow, rolling movements, and. Well. It’s not that important anyway. They’ll be able to work around it.

“Sam,” Bucky whispers, his breath brushing against Sam’s wet mouth. “God, Sam.”

His voice sounds a little strangled. This might be the first time in a long time that Bucky is having sex with someone, Sam realizes. Unless he and Steve have been helping each other out in that little room of theirs, giving each other a hand.

God, what a thought—Steve finally letting himself go for once, coming undone under Bucky’s touch, stifling desperate moans in his pillow. What if they’d been at it that time when Sam walked in on them in the shower, Steve down on his knees with his lips stretched around Bucky’s dick, eyes closed, water raining down on his flushed face. Bucky making the same noises he’s making now, his open mouth pressed to Sam’s collarbone.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Sam murmurs into Bucky’s sweat-damp hair, running a hand through it. He can feel the hot hard line of Bucky’s dick against his inner thigh, sparks of pleasure shooting up his spine every time it slides a little closer to his groin. Bucky’s pretty much humping his leg now, and it’s. Fuck, it’s hot.

Sam could work his hand down Bucky’s pants, let Bucky rub himself off in the tight circle of his hand. He could push their pants down and jerk them both off at the same time, or shift until their dicks are actually touching with every roll of Bucky’s hips. Get them both off that way. But there’s something very appealing about the way Bucky is clinging to him, pressing up so close to him, hiding his face against Sam’s chest and letting out all these quiet half-choked-back moans like he just can’t help it.

It’s sweet, is what it is, and Sam ends up just nosing at Bucky’s hairline and kissing his temple and murmuring in his ear until Bucky goes still and comes, shuddering against Sam, his fingers scrabbling against the underside of Sam’s ribcage. His breath is coming in harsh bursts.

Bucky doesn’t pull back from Sam’s embrace, so Sam doesn’t move away either. He combs his fingers through Bucky’s hair again, presses another kiss to the side of his face. Breathes him in.

The room is starting to smell like come and sweat, like sex. It’s a heady smell. Sam barely notices Bucky’s hand slipping under the waistband of his pants. When it curls around his dick he gasps, hips jerking.

Bucky snorts softly.

“Shut up,” Sam says, roughly, voice catching in his throat, because Bucky is thumbing the wet head of his dick and he’s hard, fuck, he’s so hard. It usually doesn’t take much for him to come in the morning, when he’s still sleep-warm and not entirely awake yet, and now Bucky is here, touching him, stroking him. He’s so beautiful, and so close, and he smells so good.

“Kiss me,” Sam says, orders, and Bucky kisses him hard and filthy. Sam’s mouth is still tingling when Bucky breaks away from the kiss, pulls Sam down by his neck.

“You gonna come for me, baby?” he murmurs into Sam’s ear, lips grazing Sam’s skin, and Sam says, “Oh, fuck, fuck,” and comes all over Bucky’s hand.

His whole body feels like a live wire. He rolls off of Bucky, onto his back. As he lies there catching his breath, something occurs to him.

“You could hear me through the wall last night,” he says once he’s come back to himself a little. “Does that mean you’ve been listening to me jerk off all this time?”

He doesn’t expect Bucky to blush at the question. It’s cute. “No,” Bucky says, tucking his hair behind his ear. “I mean, I would’ve, if you’d…”

“If I’d what?”

“If you’d jerked off last night,” Bucky says, face still flushed. “Or. In the past couple of days.”

“Okay,” Sam says slowly. “Just so you know, this isn’t making it any less weird.” The opposite, if anything.

“I get,” Bucky says, “attuned. To people. I’d be able to hear Steve’s heartbeat in the next room if I wanted to. If I focused on it. And yours woke me up last night.”

“But it wouldn’t have woken you up the night before that,” Sam says.

Bucky looks down and chews on the inside of his cheek as he thinks. “It wouldn’t have woken me up three weeks ago,” he says. “Or even two weeks, maybe. I’m not sure.”

“So when’d it change?”

“That night on the balcony.” Bucky glances over at him. “With Colonel Rhodes.”

Sam’s stomach actually flutters, what the hell. “You saying you imprint on everybody who puts a friendly arm around your shoulder, or what?” he says teasingly.

“I don’t know, pal,” Bucky says in that familiar dry, self-deprecating voice of his. “There ain’t been all that many people who’ve tried to put a friendly arm around my shoulder since 1943.”

Well, fuck.

“Shit, man,” Sam says, slinging his arm around Bucky’s waist and pulling him close.

Bucky wriggles out of his grip. “Don’t,” he says, voice tight, “don’t do that, don’t feel sorry for me,” but Sam doesn’t get a chance to worry about having fucked up the moment, because Bucky is already leaning in to kiss him again. He stifles a yawn against the curve of Sam’s shoulder after.

“Tired again already?” Sam asks.

“You wore me out all right,” Bucky says, fingers brushing against the side of Sam’s neck. “Come on, let’s go get some breakfast.”

“Might be a good idea to change our pants first,” Sam says, and Bucky smiles at him, radiantly.

 

 


 

 

Bucky’s always been handsome. Now that Sam knows what he smells like in the early morning, what he sounds like when he comes, it seems impossible to look away from him. He’s in good spirits, his hair falling into his eyes as he feeds tiny pieces of bacon to Summer, who’s sitting in his lap. He’s talking to her under his breath. Steve—at the stove—might be able to hear what he’s saying, but Sam isn’t. It doesn’t matter; it’s adorable anyway.

Bucky glances up from Summer. He catches Sam’s eye, grins.

Sam’s stomach floods with heat. He grins back, grateful that the blush won’t show on his face.

“Blueberry pancake,” Steve announces, dumping it on Sam’s plate.

“Feed him first,” Sam says with a nod in Bucky’s direction. “He doesn’t eat.”

“I eat,” Bucky says, unperturbed.

“You feed him, Sam,” Steve says. He turns back to the stove. “I’ve got pancakes to make.”

“Yeah, Sam,” Bucky says, giving the bottle of syrup a push so that it slides across the table. His eyes are bright. “You feed me.”

Sam raises an eyebrow at him. He pours syrup onto his pancake, takes a bite. When he looks up again, Bucky and Summer are watching him intently from the other side of the table.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Sam mumbles around his mouthful of pancake, and he cuts off another piece.

“More syrup,” Bucky demands. “No, not that much. Yeah, that’s good. Perfect.”

Sam reaches across the table, holding out his fork.

“I can’t lean over,” Bucky says. “Summer’s in my lap, you’re gonna have to—”

“Summer is about two inches tall,” Sam says, but he gets up anyway, because he’s weak, so weak.

Bucky tips his head back, shakes his hair out of his eyes. Sam glances over his shoulder at Steve, who’s still facing the stove. “You’re a little shit,” he tells Bucky, and pecks him on the lips before feeding him the piece of pancake.

The blush does show on Bucky’s cheeks, Sam notes with satisfaction when he’s sitting down again.

 

They shower together after breakfast. Sam washes Bucky’s hair and Bucky sucks Sam’s dick. Afterward Sam feels sated and heavy-limbed, like he could go for a nap.

“I’m too old for this,” he tells Bucky, who’s reading, spread out across the couch with his socked feet in Sam’s lap and Summer curled up on his stomach. They appear to have reached next-level domesticity in the span of a single night. Sam shudders to think what they’ll be like tomorrow if this growth rate continues. Fingers crossed it’s not exponential, or they’ll have 2.3 children and a suburban house with a white picket fence in no time.

Bucky lowers his book and raises his eyebrows.

“Two orgasms in as many hours,” Sam clarifies. “Too old.” He yawns for emphasis.

“Really?” Bucky says, unimpressed. “I could go all night, probably. So could Steve. I think.”

Sam’s dick twitches valiantly.

“Oh, you like the idea of that, don’t you,” Bucky says, a slow smile spreading across his face. “You dirty old man.”

Sam shrugs. “Hey, c’mon. You’ve seen the guy, and you’re pretty easy on the eyes as well. You can’t blame me for ever having thought about it.”

Bucky throws his head back as he laughs, the line of his throat long and alluring. It’s a strikingly unfamiliar sight. Sam has seen Bucky smile a thousand different smiles, but he hasn’t seen him laugh much, and never really like this. He curls his hand around Bucky’s foot, squeezes.

“Well I’m sorry to disappoint you, pal, but your dick’s the only dick I’ve sucked in the recent past,” Bucky says, giving Summer an apologetic chin rub. “Where do you figure Steve’s run off to anyway?”

 

Sam finds Steve in the gym, trying to beat a punching bag to a pulp. It’s good to know that some things never do change, or at least not as fast as Sam’s relationship with Bucky has changed.

“Hey,” Sam says when Steve doesn’t look up. “Steve.”

Steve still doesn’t look up. “I don’t feel like sparring,” he says. Left jab, right cross, left hook. “Maybe Nat does. She’s around somewhere.”

“I just wanted to let you know there’s fresh coffee upstairs,” Sam says. “I’m not here to work out.”

Steve glances over his shoulder. “You’re not?”

“Rest days are important,” Sam says with a shrug.

Steve exhales through his nose, loudly. “So what are you gonna do instead?” he asks. Jab. Jab. Cross. “Fuck Bucky?” Uppercut.

Sam takes a breath. He’s not even surprised, he realizes, which surprises him a little. “Was thinking about letting him fuck me instead, actually,” he says, crossing his arms. “But that’s a good suggestion. I’ll take it up with him.”

The punching bag creaks and whines.

“Come on, man,” Sam says in a mild voice. “You’re not seriously pissed off about this, right?”

Steve’s next punch makes the bag split right down the middle, filling pouring out onto the floor. Steve’s shoulders sag, and Sam can feel anger expanding viciously in his chest, billowing out until he feels like he might burst with it.

“Fucking hell, Steve,” he says, loudly.

Steve turns to him, chest heaving. “I’m not,” he says a little desperately. “I’m not pissed off about it, god, Sam, of course I’m not. But he wasn’t even talking to us a couple of days ago. And now he’s, now you’re…”

“Fucking?” Sam says. “Yeah, we sure are. Bucky’s a real person with real problems. Hell, all of us are. If you think real people with real problems shouldn’t be having sex and the like, maybe you should’ve thought of that before you made a move on Sharon Carter in Germany.”

“That’s not the same,” Steve says in a tight voice. “And you know that—you know that’s not what I meant.”

“It’s not the same,” Sam agrees. “But I do have a point, and I know you know it too.”

Steve wipes his forehead on his arm. He’s still breathing shallowly.

“You gotta tell me what this is really about, man,” Sam says, because whatever Steve’s problem is, he can tell that it’s not this. Not really. “Bucky and I aren’t running off to Bucharest together, if that’s what you’re thinking.” If that’s what you’re afraid of, he doesn’t say. “At least I wasn’t planning on it.”

Steve’s throat works as he swallows. It looks like he’s trying to say something—wants to say something—but can’t figure out what, or how. Sam wants to shake him back and forth until all his feelings fall out of him one by one.

“You and I are still gonna be saving the world together,” he adds, when Steve doesn’t say anything.

Steve looks away. He’s probably clenching his hands to fists inside his boxing gloves. God, Steve.

“I just,” Steve says, “I don’t…”

He falls silent again. Sam waits.

“I need you,” Steve finally says, with a heavy sigh. “I can’t lose you, Sam. I can’t.”

Sam takes a step closer to him. Steve defensively sets his jaw and squares his shoulders, and the sight of it—the sight of him folding up and tucking away all his pain again—makes frustration pulse hot and low in Sam’s gut. Just fucking let go, he wants to say, let it all out, man, come on, why can’t you just but it’s not like he’s one to talk, really, and it probably wouldn’t make a difference anyway.

Maybe Steve needs more time, Sam thinks suddenly. Maybe Steve doesn’t feel like a bird with clipped wings. Maybe he’s… relieved. Maybe he feels at peace here, forcibly separated from the country whose colors he wears.

Maybe this is the only way Steve will ever be able to stop carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders for a little while. Sometimes I wish I could, he’d said, but he doesn’t, does he. Not really. Not when it comes down to it. They can take the shield from him, the uniform, the official title, but he’ll be Captain America till the day he dies.

Sam waits some more, but Steve doesn’t say anything else.

“So you want coffee or not?” Sam ends up asking.

“You go on ahead,” Steve says. He clears his throat, gestures at the floor. “I gotta clean up this mess.”

“Yeah,” Sam says, “yeah, I guess you do,” and he gets out of there.

 

“Your coffee’s gone cold, dumbass,” Bucky says when Sam gets back to the living room. He looks up from his book, sees Sam’s face. “Hey,” he says, lifting Summer off his lap and getting to his feet. “What’s going on in there?”

“Nothing,” Sam says. “Fuck.”

He feels like throwing things. Breaking things. For the first time since they arrived here, he feels so anxious he can barely breathe. Trapped in fucking limbo is what they are, even if Steve doesn’t see it that way. It’s been too long since the last time Sam fought, since the last time he did something that mattered. It’s been too long since the last time he was out there, flying.

“Hey,” Bucky says again, softer. There’s a deep crease between his eyebrows. “Come here.” He steps in closer, hesitantly reaches for Sam.

Sam feels a sudden biting urge to slap Bucky’s hands away. Punch him in the chest, struggle against him. Bucky could handle it, could hold him down, could crush Sam’s skull and grind his bones to powder with that metal hand of his if he needed to. Bucky could hurt him without breaking a sweat, and for a wild moment that’s all Sam wants, wants it so bad his teeth hurt with it.

Bucky pulls him in. He only has an inch or two on Sam, but the height difference is enough for him to be able to tuck Sam’s head under his chin. He’s cupping the back of Sam’s head with his big warm hand, gently pressing Sam’s face to his throat. Sam inhales sharply. Bucky’s other arm is wrapped around his ribs just tightly enough to make him focus on his breathing, like last night. The arm is whirring faintly, steadily, and it’s the sound of it that makes Sam deflate after a few deep breaths.

“It’s okay,” Bucky says. “I got you.”

He’s stroking the back of Sam’s head. It’s not even awkward.

There’s a dull thud, followed by the soft, plaintive cry of a kitten coming from somewhere around their feet. Bucky snorts.

“You’re ruining the moment, Summer,” Sam tells her, pushing away from Bucky’s broad, comfortable—comforting—chest.

Summer looks up at him and says, “Meow.”

Sam crouches down to pick her up. She purrs at him.

“Sure, Sam, you can borrow my therapy animal,” Bucky deadpans. “No, seriously, feel free.”

“Summer’s too young to hold a job,” Sam says, bouncing her a little. “Right, Summer?”

“She’s precocious,” Bucky says.

Summer’s claws dig into Sam’s skin when she begins to struggle. “Ow,” Sam says, wincing. Summer complains loudly. “What the—”

“I think she wants to sit on your shoulder.” Bucky bites his bottom lip, like he’s trying to hold back a laugh. “It’s a nice vantage point. Good sightlines.”

“Oh my god, you’re training her to be a feline baby assassin,” Sam says. “I’m going to call cat protective services on you.” He lets Summer climb onto his shoulder. Her paws leave a trail of pinpricks of pain behind. “There are going to be tiny holes in all my clothes from now on, aren’t there?”

“Yup,” Bucky says cheerfully. “She’s accepted you as part of her in-group. You’re stuck with her now, pal. Better get used to it.”

That smile of his, god. Better get used to it indeed.

 

 


 

 

Steve and Tony go off on mess-fixing duty again. Steve leaves Sam a note on the kitchen counter in which he more or less apologizes while somehow managing to avoid the phrase ‘I’m sorry’ as well as any and all variants thereof. He probably didn’t even do it on purpose. Sam quietly seethes over the note for a while and then feeds it to the garbage disposal.

“Fuckin’ pain in the ass, that guy, huh,” Bucky says sympathetically. He presses his lips to the curve of Sam’s shoulder, right above the collar of his T-shirt. The feeling of his stubble makes the hair at the back of Sam’s neck stand up and a shiver run down his spine.

“Sometimes, yeah.” Sam leans back against Bucky and closes his eyes for a second. Revels in it, this simple moment of standing at the kitchen sink with a warm body pressed to his back and strong arms wrapped around his waist. It’s a peaceful moment. It’s a moment that makes it difficult to be pessimistic, despite his frustration over the note. It’s a moment that makes him think they’ll be okay, all of them. Despite everything. They’re real people with real problems, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be okay.

“Wanna talk about it?” Bucky asks.

Sam sighs. “Not really, I think.”

Bucky makes a noise of understanding and noses at the spot behind Sam’s ear.

Sam tilts his head to the side to give Bucky more access. Bucky kisses his neck, metal hand sliding under his shirt and ghosting over the skin above the waistband of his boxers. Sam shivers again. He reaches up to thread his fingers into the hair at the back of Bucky’s head and says, his voice already going a little rough around the edges, “But you did just give me a very good idea.”

 

Bucky works him open slowly and carefully, constantly checking in with him via questions and gentle touches. It’s nice, and sweet, and intimate to a point where it’s almost too much. Sam is glad he’s lying on his stomach with Bucky kneeling between his legs, because he’s not sure he would be able to stand the look of earnest concentration on Bucky’s face.

Just when he thinks he genuinely can’t take it any longer, wants to raise his head from his hands and tell Bucky to hurry the fuck up, please, Bucky slides his fingers—three, four, Sam can’t even tell anymore, all he knows is that he’s wet and loose and almost painfully turned on—in and out of Sam one last time and then pauses. “How you feeling?” he asks, touching the small of Sam’s back.

Sam swallows, clears his throat. His mouth is dry. He licks his lips. Like I might combust if you don’t put your dick in me right now, he thinks. Too many syllables. Too much effort. Not very romantic, either. “Ready,” he says, voice hoarse.

Bucky snorts softly. “You sure?” he says, and he strokes two fingers down Sam’s crack.

Sam’s whole body jerks as the tip of Bucky’s thumb pushes into him. “Oh fuck,” he says under his breath. “Yeah, I’m sure, all right. Jesus Christ.”

“Look, pal, I’m just being thorough,” Bucky says. “Considerate.”

“You’re just being a goddamn tease,” Sam says, glaring at Bucky over his shoulder.

“Well, yeah,” Bucky says. He grins. “That, too.” He flattens his hands against the backs of Sam’s thighs, squeezing. “Turn over?” he says quietly. “I wanna see your face when…”

Sam shifts onto his back. He’s hard, so hard he’s leaking, his dick sliding through the wet spot on his stomach. He circles his fingers around the base and grips it tight.

Bucky is sitting back on his heels, watching Sam with dark eyes. Sam gives himself a few good strokes, throwing his head back and letting his mouth fall open for good measure—two can play the teasing game, after all. He stops when his stomach twist hotly and his hips twitch up from the bed.

“C’mon,” he says roughly, spreading his legs again and prodding Bucky with his toes until Bucky gets the hint and moves closer. His knees slip under Sam’s thighs, lifting his ass up from the bed. Sam’s hips twitch again when Bucky’s metal hand strokes his inner thigh, the fingers of Bucky’s other hand trailing over his dick, his balls.

Sam groans. “Bucky, I swear to god—”

“I just wanna make sure it’s good for you, baby,” Bucky says in a low voice, jokingly with an undercurrent of seriousness. He leans over Sam to kiss his chest, which makes Sam’s legs part further. Sam swallows a moan when the tip of Bucky’s dick nudges his balls. Bucky presses even closer, fits his mouth over one of Sam’s nipples, and this time Sam can’t choke back the noise that wells up in his throat. His body feels coiled tight, heat pulsing through him with every move Bucky makes.

He digs a heel into Bucky’s back. “Sometime this century would be nice,” he says.

Bucky nips at his chest, but sits up again and reaches for the condoms. He rolls one down his dick, steadies Sam with a hand on his hip. “Yeah?” he says.

Sam gives him a pointed stare.

Bucky winks at Sam and lines himself up. The blunt pressure of his dickhead is different from the feeling of his fingers; Sam can’t help but gasp at it.

“God, you feel,” Bucky whispers. His eyes are closed.

Sam says, “I’m gonna have to call bullshit if you say ‘so tight’.”

Bucky lets out a shaky laugh. “I was gonna say good,” he says. “So good, fuck, Sam—”

He lets go of Sam’s hip and leans over Sam, supporting his weight on his hand. The angle changes, and he sinks deeper into Sam, until he’s finally all the way inside. Sam draws a breath and holds it. He’d almost forgotten what it was like, to feel this full, to feel this impossibly close to someone else.

“You okay?” Bucky asks again. He’s trembling with the effort of holding himself still.

Sam nods. “Get down here,” he says. “Kiss me.”

Bucky obeys, touching his fingertips to Sam’s cheek and kissing him. His stomach presses against the underside of Sam’s dick. Sam inhales sharply through his nose, grinds down. Bucky makes a noise in the back of his throat. His hair’s brushing against Sam’s face; Sam runs his hand through it to get it out of the way. His fingers catch on a tangle, and Bucky’s head jerks back like he’s been stung.

“Oh,” Bucky breathes. He bites down on his bottom lip, which is red and swollen, glistening. “Do—do that again. Please.”

Sam twists his fingers into Bucky’s hair and gently tugs at it. Bucky’s eyes fall shut. He moans, thrusts shallowly into Sam.

“You like that, huh,” Sam says, curling his hand around the back of Bucky’s neck to pull him down for another kiss.

“Apparently I do,” Bucky murmurs against Sam’s mouth. His free hand touches down on Sam’s cheek again, and Sam impulsively turns his head to kiss his palm.

Bucky starts moving faster, Sam grinding down to meet the rolls of his hips halfway. Some of Bucky’s sharper thrusts make sparks of pleasure crackle through him, all the way to the tips of his fingers and toes. The next time Bucky pulls back and drives into him again, the feeling is intense enough to make Sam’s back arch up from the mattress.

“Fuck,” he gasps, grabbing hold of Bucky’s shoulders and digging his fingers in.

Bucky raises his head to look at Sam. His hair is hanging in his face in damp strands, his cheeks flushed. He’s gleaming with sweat, the skin of his shoulders slippery with it. He’s—

“You’re really beautiful, you know that?” Sam tells him, clenching down around Bucky to watch his eyes go half lidded and his teeth sink into his bottom lip again.

“Yeah, you’re not so bad yourself,” Bucky says. He’s starting to sound out of breath, his voice a little strained. His shoulder muscles ripple under Sam’s hands with each movement of his hips.

Sam lifts his leg higher up Bucky’s side, but it slides down again. “Little help here,” he says, and Bucky hooks his arm under Sam’s knee and hikes it up higher. It makes Sam feel open, exposed, but Bucky’s next thrust is even better than the previous ones, makes his back arch up from the mattress again and his eyes slide shut.

“Shit, you feel really good,” Bucky says, and so does he, but Sam’s starting to feel like talking is taking up too much valuable energy. He shoves his hand into Bucky’s hair and pulls him down into an open-mouthed kiss, hoping to convey the thought that way.

Bucky moans into his mouth. He hikes Sam’s leg up even higher, until it’s hooked over his shoulder, and then reaches down between their bodies, wrapping his hand around Sam’s dick. Sam’s breath catches in his throat. He feels even more exposed this way, almost uncomfortably so, but Bucky’s dick is so hard and hot inside him, every thrust making all his nerves light up, and.

“Fuck,” he moans, twisting his head away and pushing his cheek into the pillow. The pad of Bucky’s thumb sweeps over the head of his dick, and he gasps, overwhelmed. “Oh, fuck, I can’t—”

“It’s okay,” Bucky says, thumbing the underside of his dick. “It’s okay, I’m close too, god, Sam, you feel so fucking good,” and Sam closes his eyes again, lets his mouth fall open, stops holding back, lets go.

Bucky moves as if to pull out of him. “No,” Sam says hoarsely, “no, keep going, I can take it, it’s fine, I want you to,” and he goes pliant as Bucky continues to fuck him until he comes as well, shuddering with it.

Sam’s body feels weird when Bucky slips out of him—empty and vulnerable. It’s almost a relief when, after a brief interlude during which Bucky takes off the condom, two of Bucky’s fingers touch him there again, rubbing around the rim.

“You okay?” Bucky asks, kissing Sam’s shoulder.

Sam nods. He’s still trembling, his thighs most of all. Bucky is trembling as well, he realizes. They’re both sticky and filthy with sweat and come. “You?” he asks.

Bucky flops down onto the bed, closes his eyes. Sam looks at his face. Long dark eyelashes, perfect bone structure, those beautiful lips. He would lean in to kiss Bucky again if he weren’t too sore and tired out to move.

“Yeah,” Bucky says after a moment. His voice sounds wrecked. The corner of his mouth twitches up. “More than okay.”

 

Later, Sam is lying on his back with Bucky’s head on his chest. He’s playing idly with Bucky’s hair. Bucky is quiet. He’s usually quiet, but this is thoughtful quiet, not his default quiet.

“What’s going on in there?” Sam asks, tapping Bucky’s temple.

Bucky shakes his head like he’s trying to get rid of a fly. “Using my own words against me, Wilson?” he says.

Sam unapologetically shrugs one shoulder.

“Nothing, really,” Bucky says. He props his chin on Sam’s chest. “I was just wondering if this is what it’s always like for you.”

“Depends what you mean when you say ‘this’,” Sam says. He’s not about to ask Bucky what he means with ‘it’; whatever is going on between them is still too new and fragile to be defined.

“I don’t know,” Bucky says, running his fingers down Sam’s stomach. “Easy, I guess.”

“You calling me easy?” Sam says. “You’ve been buttering me up since the day you got out of cryo, man. Don’t even try to deny it. It’s a miracle I managed to hold you off for as long as I did.”

Bucky smiles. He doesn’t try to deny it.

“But yeah,” Sam says. “Yeah, sometimes it is. Easy, I mean. Not always, but sometimes.”

“It’s nice,” Bucky says quietly.

“Yeah,” Sam says, reaching out to tuck a strand of Bucky’s hair behind his ear. “Yeah, it really is.”

 

 


 

 

 

“Sam,” Steve’s voice says. “Sam. Bucky. Wake up.”

Sam cracks an eye open, flings out one hand. It’s 6:51 AM, according to his phone screen. “Jesus motherfucking Christ, Steve,” he says. “First time in ages that I’m sleeping through the goddamn night, and you—”

Something lands on his pillow, right next to his face. He pushes up onto his elbow and glares at it.

It’s a passport.

“You’re kidding,” he says.

He sits up, opens the passport. That’s his face, all right. His name. His date of birth.

His heart is beating in his throat.

A chin touches down on his shoulder. “Your full first name’s Samuel?” Bucky says in his ear. “Your middle name is Thomas?”

“Seriously,” Sam says, fitting his hand over Bucky’s face and pushing it away. “Seriously. You are commenting on someone’s middle name. You, James Buchanan Barnes.”

“Which reminds me,” Steve says, as Bucky goes, indignant, “I wasn’t commenting on it, I was just ask—”

Another passport lands on the bed, between them.

Bucky stares at it. He doesn’t move.

Sam picks up the passport, folds it open. It’s a nice picture. He wonders if Bucky ever looks bad in pictures. Probably not. This is one of the few passport photos Sam has ever seen in which the person in question does not look like a serial killer, which is hilariously ironic. “You look so young for your age,” he says, dropping the passport in Bucky’s lap.

Bucky doesn’t respond. His eyes are glistening. He swallows.

Sam’s heart sinks.

“Oh, Buck,” Steve says, voice full of feeling, and he kneels on the bed and goes in for a hug.

Don’t, Sam thinks, instinctively reaching for Steve’s arm.

“Don’t,” Bucky says, jerking away. Steve, taken aback, loses his balance and lands on Sam. He makes a wounded noise.

Bucky’s jaw is clenched. He’s staring off into the middle distance, breathing hard. He looks so much like Steve when he’s upset that it’d be funny if he weren’t so upset. Maybe it’s about time to admit that all three of them are graduates from the Steve Rogers School of Repression and Denial, Sam thinks.

“I’m sorry,” Steve says, sitting up again. He looks it, too; forehead creased, eyes pleading. Oh, Steve. “I’m sorry, Buck, I keep forgetting. You used to—”

“—put my arm around your shoulders all the goddamn time, yes, pal, we know,” Bucky says. He scrubs his hands down his face, takes a deep breath. “You don’t have to apologize.” After a meaningful pause, he adds, “Not to me, anyway.”

Steve looks from Bucky to Sam and back to Bucky. “I did apologize to Sam,” he says, perplexed. He looks at Sam again. “Right?”

“You scribbled a nonpology on a napkin,” Sam says. “And your handwriting’s terrible. I could barely read it.”

“Pretty hurtful, isn’t it?” Stark says from where he’s leaning against the doorway. “You’re welcome, by the way.”

Steve makes a face. “Tony might’ve pulled a few strings to get the details sorted out.”

“More like delivered a whole puppet show performance,” Stark says. “Like I said, you’re welcome.”

“Thanks,” Sam says. He looks at Steve. “You, too.”

“We’re not there yet,” Steve tells him. “The Accords… We still need to…”

“We’ll figure it out,” Sam says, because all this—sex, a relatively good night’s sleep, getting his fucking passport back, home, we can go home, we’re going home—has him feeling magnanimous. “Together.”

Steve smiles at him, still frowning. “I really am sorry,” he says.

“I know you are,” Sam says. He presses their shoulders together.

“Are the three of you going to get it on or what?” Stark says from the doorway. “’Cause if not, I’m gonna go see if Rhodey’s up. He had something he wanted to talk to me about.”

Steve’s cheeks have gone pink. “No,” he says, emphatically, at the same time as Sam says, “Well,” and Bucky says, “Not today, pal.”

“Shame,” Stark says, and then yelps when Summer pounces on his leg and embeds all four of her claws in his Achilles tendon.

 

“You don’t have to fight my battles for me, you know,” Sam says when they’re alone again.

Bucky yawns. “I’ve got a metal arm. It only makes sense.”

“Not in this context,” Sam says. “And really? You’re gonna pull the metal arm card?”

“Well,” Bucky says. “I mean, I do have a metal arm. Ain’t no denying that.”

“You little shit,” Sam says, but he’s in too good a mood to be able to pretend he’s annoyed. Home, they can go home. “So why don’t you try putting that arm of yours to good use, huh? I seem to remember you saying something about holding me up against a wall once.”

“I did, didn’t I?” Bucky pushes himself up onto his elbow. “Want me to make good on my promise?”

Sam thinks about it. “I don’t know,” he says. “It sounds hot, but not very comfortable.”

Bucky shrugs. “No pain, no gain, right?”

“I’m not sure that’s the best attitude to have when it comes to your sex life,” Sam says, because what the hell, Barnes.

Bucky pulls a face.

“I’m still sore,” Sam tells him. “Old man, remember?”

“I’m literally a hundred years old,” Bucky says. “I even have the documents to prove it now.”

“All the more reason to come up with a less strenuous activity.”

Bucky sighs, lies down on his back with his hands folded over his stomach. “We could nap,” he says. “Fuckin’ Steve. He knows I like to sleep in.”

“We all know you like to sleep in,” Sam says.

Bucky shoves him, then kisses him.

“An activity that’s a little more strenuous than napping,” Sam says. “One that ends in orgasms. We should have victory sex.” Home, he thinks. We’re going home.

“I could blow you again,” Bucky suggests.

“You could,” Sam says, absently trailing his fingers down Bucky’s side. A tremor runs through Bucky when Sam’s hand reaches the jut of his hip, so Sam does it again, trails his fingers up Bucky’s side, then down his stomach. It contracts under Sam’s fingertips, and Bucky inhales sharply.

“Sensitive, huh?” Sam says, shifting onto his side and doing it again.

Bucky squirms under his touch. “A little,” he says.

Sam strokes Bucky’s hipbone, the crease of his thigh, the outline of his hardening dick in his boxers. “How about you show me just how sensitive you are,” he says, reaching for Bucky’s hands. “Show me how you touch yourself.”

Bucky lets Sam guide one of his hands down to the waistband of his boxers, lifts his hips so they can shove his underwear down together. He lets Sam wrap his hand around his half-hard dick.

“You been thinking about me while jerking off?” Sam asks, watches Bucky’s dick twitch in his hand.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, his breath catching in his throat when he starts stroking himself. “Yeah, I have.”

“Really?” Sam says, interested. His own dick is stirring as well, but he doesn’t feel like touching himself just yet—feels like watching Bucky, riling him up some more. “What’d you think about?”

“I don’t know,” Bucky says roughly. “Kissing you. Touching you.” He bites the inside of his cheek, his eyes fluttering shut.

“Go on,” Sam says, pressing his fingertips to Bucky’s jaw to make his head tip to the side.

“Riding you,” Bucky murmurs. He glances at Sam through his eyelashes. “By the pool—or on a couch in the living room—” He lets out a small moan. “Sucking you off.”

“You like that, huh,” Sam says. He starts palming his own dick.

“Yeah,” Bucky gasps. “I like watching you as you… Oh, fuck. I like watching your face.”

“Tell me more.”

“God, I don’t know,” Bucky says, his hand moving faster. “You work out so much, I bet you’re real strong.”

“Not as strong as you, with that arm.”

“But strong enough to hold me down,” Bucky breathes. “Hold me down with your hands on my shoulders, fuck me from behind.”

That’s—yeah, that’s hot. Fuck. “Where,” Sam says. He wraps his hand around his dick, matches Bucky’s pace.

Bucky huffs out an amused sound. “I don’t know,” he says, “I don’t care, anywhere, in this bed, over the kitchen table, the back of the couch…”

“Jesus Christ.” Sam suppresses a shudder. “Where else?”

“That not enough for you?” Bucky says. “Um, the locker room showers. Me on all fours, you taking me from behind, and anyone could walk in any moment.”

“Shit,” Sam says, almost coming right there and then.

“Oh, you like that, huh,” Bucky says. He bites down on his bottom lip. His dick is hard and leaking, hand moving up and down it fast. He must be so close as well, and Sam needs to touch him, suddenly can’t stand the fact that they’re not touching.

“Come here,” he says, “fuck, come—”

Bucky just blinks at him, eyes hazy, so Sam moves instead, gets on top of Bucky. Their dicks slide against each other, slick with precome. They grind together, and when they come it’s almost at the same time, Sam first and Bucky following right after, his head thrown back into the pillow and his mouth slack. The noises he’s making are noises Sam wants to hear for the rest of his life.

“That was some good victory sex,” Bucky says once he’s caught his breath.

Sam makes a noise of agreement. “We can go home,” he says, because he’d forgotten about it for a second, and he still can’t really believe it.

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “You can.”

There’s a strained edge to his voice that wasn’t there before. It makes Sam want to wrap himself around Bucky and hold him tight, but he remembers Bucky shrugging him off, slapping Steve’s arm away. Don’t. Don’t feel sorry for me. He raises a hand, slowly, puts it on Bucky’s chest. Bucky lets him.

Sam has seen pictures of Bucky’s arm, from before. The angry-looking mass of scar tissue that lined the seam where the metal had been attached to his body. The tissue Cho created for him is different; smooth, flawless.

“So can you,” Sam tells Bucky, stroking his warm and unmarred skin.

“I don’t have a home,” Bucky says. “I used to have an apartment in Bucharest, but I’m pretty late on rent and we sort of destroyed the place.” He smiles a little sadly.

“Your home’s where Steve is,” Sam says. “Where I am. It can be, I mean. If you want it to be. It doesn’t have to be.”

He imagines it, Bucky going back to Bucharest. Wonders if he could let Bucky go. He probably could, probably would, if it’s what Bucky wanted, but that doesn’t mean he’d want to. Bucky… Bucky is something else, all right.

“Yeah,” Bucky says softly, touching his metal fingertips to Sam’s wrist. “I think maybe I want it to be.”

 

 


 

 

That night, Sam dreams about flying.