Sam had just finished wiping down the counter when the bell over the door rang. He looked up to tell whoever it was that they were just about to close up, but changed his mind when he saw the guy.
The man looked exhausted, strands of his long hair sticking to his neck with sweat, dust covering his black boots and the bottoms of his black jeans. He was wearing long sleeves despite the warm weather, and he looked like he might be about to fall over. The fluorescent lights of the diner washed him out, his skin taking on a sickly pallor despite the fading tan.
“Come on in and take a load off,” Sam invited. The man scanned the empty room and decided on one of the stools at the end of the counter. He turned so that his back was towards the wall and rested his right arm on the counter. He took his backpack off and slid it under the counter by his feet.
Sam brought over a glass of water and a menu. “Looks like you could use this. We’ve just about closed up the kitchen, but we can put something together for you if you’re hungry. And I think we might have a slice or two of apple pie left, if that’s your kind of thing.”
“Thanks.” The man’s voice was warmer than Sam had expected. He spoke softly, almost as if he was afraid of being overheard. He cleared his throat and when he spoke again, it had more strength behind it. “Um, a coffee? And whatever kind of sandwich isn’t too much trouble? I don’t want to put you out.”
“It’s no problem. You like corned beef? Steve makes an excellent reuben.”
“Yeah, sure. But really, anything’s fine. I’m not picky.”
“Anything’s better than an MRE, right?” The man’s head snapped up at that. Sam gave him a smile he hoped was reassuring. “We always recognize our own. I’ll go get that sandwich started for you.”
He went back to the kitchen where Steve was cleaning up and making sure everything was set for the morning.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m just about done and then we can head home.”
Sam hugged him from behind and kissed the back of his neck. “Actually, we’ve got one more, if you don’t mind. Looks like he’s had a rough day. Think you can put together a reuben for him real quick?”
Steve placed his hand over Sam’s where it rested on his stomach. “Yeah, no problem. But I thought you were gonna start kicking out the people who walked in at closing time from now on.”
Sam could hear the smirk in his voice. “Yeah, well, I’ll start that tomorrow.”
Steve turned in his arms and gave him a kiss. “You’re such a softie.”
“It’s why you love me.”
Steve’s smile was soft and tender. “Yeah, it is.” He leaned down to kiss him again.
“Alright, alright, make the man his sandwich. I’m gonna take him a coffee.” Sam pulled away and went over to the coffeepot. Thankfully Miles had stayed late studying, so they’d brewed a fresh pot not that long ago.
“And try to weasel his life story out of him.”
Sam scoffed in mock offense. “What? I would never!”
“Uh huh. Go. Fill him up with caffeine and kindness before we send him on his way.”
“Hey, don’t knock the power of caffeine and kindness.” Sam gave him a grin and turned to head back to the front.
The man’s eyes snapped toward him at the sound of the door opening. Sam set the coffee mug down on the counter, then pulled out the container of sugar packets. “You need any cream?”
“Nah, just sugar’s fine.”
Sam started wrapping silverware to have something to do with his hands. “Steve’ll have that sandwich up in just a minute. I’m Sam, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Bucky. What brings you to Henning?”
“I was trying to make it to Memphis tonight, but my car broke down a few miles back on 69. I’m usually pretty good at fixing it myself, but apparently I’m gonna need a part this time. Your place was the first one I saw with the lights on.”
Before Sam could ask any more questions, Steve came out from the back with a giant sandwich and a couple bags of chips.
“Here you go!” He set the plate on the counter in front of Bucky. “I would have done some fries for you, but we already turned the fryer off for the night, and I don’t think you’d want what’s left from earlier.”
“Oh, no, don’t worry. This looks great. You really didn’t have to do this.”
Steve gave him one of his megawatt smiles. “It was no problem. And we were still open when you came in.”
Bucky just nodded in response, took a bite of his sandwich, and groaned. “Oh my god. I haven’t had a reuben like this since I left Brooklyn.”
Steve laughed. “Well, that’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten. You a Brooklyn boy, too?”
“Yeah, grew up in Bed-Stuy. Before the gentrification. You?”
“Ridgewood.” Steve extended his hand. “Steve Rogers.”
“Bucky Barnes. So how did you end up way the fuck out here in the middle of nowhere?” Sam and Steve both laughed, and Bucky looked a little sheepish. “Sorry. I mean, I’m sure it’s great, it’s just - not exactly Brooklyn.”
“No, it’s not. That was part of the appeal, actually. I love New York, but I needed a change of pace after getting out of the service. Turns out the middle of nowhere suits me just fine now.”
“If you say so.”
Bucky went back to his sandwich, and Steve slipped an arm around Sam’s waist. “I’m gonna go finish cleaning up and then I’ll be ready to head home.”
“Sounds good.” Sam turned to give him a quick kiss, and saw Bucky startle out of the corner of his eye. Sam raised an eyebrow at him as Steve left, wondering if there was going to be a problem. He wasn’t worried — he and Steve could handle themselves — but he’d rather avoid the mess.
Thankfully, Bucky just ducked his head and gave him a small half-smile before taking another bite of his sandwich.
“So, since you weren’t exactly planning to stop in our lovely little town, you need a place to stay tonight?”
Bucky swallowed. “Uh, yeah, I guess. I hadn’t really thought that far ahead, to be honest.”
“Well, we’ve got a guest room, if you’d like to stay with us.”
“I wouldn’t want to put you out any more than I already have.”
“You wouldn’t be. My ma comes up to visit often enough that we keep it all set up. We even added a bathroom when we fixed up that part of the house. We could drive you to the hotel back in Ripley if you’d rather, but it might make it hard for you to get back to your car tomorrow.”
“Don’t you need to check with Steve first?”
“Nah, he’s probably already expected me to offer.”
“You do this a lot?”
Sam shrugged. “Occasionally. Mostly Steve knows I got a soft spot for people who look like they might need a hand.”
Bucky blushed at that. The color in his cheeks looked good on him, healthy. “Well, thank you. Hopefully I’ll be able to get my car fixed up tomorrow and get out of your hair.”
“No hurry.” Sam gestured toward the now empty plate. “If you’re done with that, I’ll take it to the back and we can be on our way.”
Bucky hung out at the counter while Sam and Steve finished closing up. He wasn’t sure why he had agreed to stay with them. His car wasn’t really that far away - he’d certainly walked a lot farther than a couple of miles in much worse conditions before. The weather was finally starting to cool off; it wasn’t so hot that sleeping in the back seat would be unbearable.
But Sam had smiled at him and offered up his guest room so easily. Almost like Bucky was doing him a favor by staying. It probably wasn’t the best decision he’d ever made, but Sam and Steve didn’t seem like the type to lure him home and then hack him to pieces with a chainsaw.
Then again, sometimes it was the nice ones you had to watch out for.
His morbid thoughts were interrupted by Sam and Steve coming out from the back of the diner. They led the way out of the diner and to an old pick-up truck in the parking lot.
“It’s gonna be a tight squeeze, but thankfully the ride’s not too long,” Steve said, climbing in the driver’s seat.
Sam slid into the middle, insisting that Bucky was taller and needed the leg room more. Bucky was pretty sure they were the same height and Sam was just too nice for his own good. He climbed in after him and pulled the door closed behind him. The bench seat was definitely not made to accommodate three large men, and Bucky accidentally elbowed Sam in the side while trying to get his seat belt buckled, sending shooting pains up and down his left arm.
“Sorry.” He said through gritted teeth, shifting as close to the door as possible, adjusting his backpack on his lap.
Sam gave him another one of his bright smiles. “No worries. I’m used to Steve’s pointy elbows, so I barely even noticed that.”
“Hey! My elbows are not that pointy!”
Sam patted Steve’s hand where it rested on the steering wheel. “Sure they’re not, honey. You keep telling yourself that.”
Bucky watched Sam out of the corner of his eye in the glow of the passing street lights. He was beautiful, singing along with the radio and laughing at Steve when he tried to join in. It was obvious that he and Steve had something good together, but Bucky couldn’t help but admire his high cheekbones, his full lips, his skin that looked so soft Bucky’s fingers itched to touch.
Eventually they were on the outskirts of town and the street lights were gone, leaving only the glow of the dashboard lights in the truck. He turned his attention out the window, watching as the houses passed by. They grew fewer and farther between until Steve turned onto a gravel drive and headed up a hill.
At the top of the hill was an old farmhouse, larger than Bucky was expecting. The windows were dark, but the porch light was on and welcoming.
“Do you guys actually farm out here?” Bucky couldn’t imagine it would be possible to run a farm and a diner with just the two of them.
“Nah,” Sam answered, clambering out of the truck behind him. “We’ve got a bit of land, but we’re not doing anything with it yet.”
“I’ve been thinking about starting a vegetable garden,” Steve added.
Sam turned to him, “Oh you have, have you?”
Steve rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, and Bucky guessed that if there was enough light, he’d be able to see that his face was bright red. “Well, I mean, not until we’ve finished the house, of course.”
“Uh huh. That’s what I thought.” They walked up the porch steps and Sam turned to Bucky while Steve unlocked the door. “We’ve been renovating the place ourselves. We got a great deal on it, but we kinda thought we’d be better at home repair than we are.”
Bucky laughed. “Well, I’m pretty good at fixing things. I worked as a super in my apartment building for a while before I left the city. If I end up having to stick around for a bit maybe I could do a little work, pay you back a bit.”
Sam clapped him on the shoulder. “Thanks, Bucky. That’s not necessary, but I’m not gonna turn down help from someone who knows what they’re doing.”
Steve led them through the house and into the kitchen, turning on lights as they went. The kitchen looked functional, but unfinished. Some of the cabinets were missing doors and the backsplash was only partly tiled. Bucky could see the tiles and what he assumed were mortar and grout stacked in one of the corners.
“Obviously we haven’t quite found the time to finish the kitchen,” Sam said, pulling a few glasses down from one of the open cabinets and filling them with water. “But the guest room’s all set, like I said, and should be pretty comfortable.”
“I’m sure it’ll be great.” Bucky accepted one of the glasses from Sam. “Beats sleeping in the back seat of my car, at least.”
Steve laughed. “I think it’ll definitely be more comfortable than that.” He turned to Sam. “I’ve got the morning shift tomorrow, so I’m gonna go ahead and turn in. You good to get Bucky settled in?”
Sam leaned up to give him a kiss. “Yeah, I’ve got it. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Alright.” Steve gave him another kiss and turned down the hallway to what Bucky figured must be the master suite.
Sam finished his water and set the glass in the sink, and Bucky followed suit. “You must be beat. Follow me and I’ll show you where everything is.”
Sam led him down the opposite hallway and into a guest room that might have been bigger than Bucky’s whole apartment back in Brooklyn. There was a queen sized bed at one end of the room, an antique-looking dresser nearby, and a couple of mismatched night stands. At the other end, near the door, there was a loveseat, chair, and coffee table facing a TV on an entertainment center. Bucky let out a low whistle.
“Yeah, military pensions go a lot further out here than back in New York.”
“Looks like it.”
“Plus I wasn’t about to make my mom stay in some half-finished glorified hotel room when she came to visit. This was actually two rooms when we moved in, but we were able to knock down a wall and open up the space.” Sam gestured towards the other door in the room. “Bathroom’s through there, and we had a professional come out to fix those up. Even Steve isn’t stubborn enough to attempt to do plumbing on his own.”
“Smart man. My dad always said to leave the plumbing and electrical to the professionals.”
“Well, there should be plenty of towels in there and a toothbrush in the drawer, but if you need anything else, just let me know.”
“Will do. And thanks again, Sam. You really didn’t have to do this.”
Another gap-toothed grin, as if smiling as bright as the sun was easy and natural. “I know, but we’re happy to. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Sam left and Bucky just stood there for a moment, shaking his head. These two were something else. He couldn’t remember the last time he had met someone so immediately open and trusting, and yet here were two of them, willing to let a stranger into their house without even batting an eye.
He took a quick shower and got into bed, the tension he’d been carrying all day beginning to slip away. He was sound asleep within minutes.
On the other side of the house, Sam had almost drifted off when Steve spoke.
“What do you think happened to his arm?”
“You didn’t notice? He kept his left arm under the counter the whole time.”
Sam thought back, and realized Steve was right. Bucky had even managed to somehow eat that giant reuben with just the one hand.
“I don’t know. Not really our business, though.”
“No, I guess not.”
Steve’s breathing evened out, and Sam slipped off to sleep just a few minutes behind him.