It's midnight in Denmark when Steve gets the call.
Steve’s in the bathroom, trying to be quiet; he thinks Sam is sleeping. From the way he’s talking it has to be Natasha on the other end. He doesn't talk to Stark like that, Sam’s noticed, and he doesn't really think any of the rest of them would know how to get ahold of Steve, even. So it’s Natasha, it’s the middle of the night, and it’s not about what (who) they’re in Denmark for, or he wouldn’t be hiding in the bathroom, and that means: it’s probably bad.
Sam knocks on the door, very gently. It's not closed all the way. Steve stops talking mid-sentence and Sam hears porcelain creak as Steve shifts, perched on the side of the tub, and when Sam pushes the door open Steve says, “I’ll call you from the airport,” and hangs up.
Sam stands there, one hand on the doorknob. In the false, weak light from the halogen bulbs over the mirror, too yellow and casting dark shadows under his cheekbones, Steve looks sick, for a second. Then it passes, and he just looks angry.
“I have to go,” he says quietly, jaw clenching.
“It’s okay, man,” Sam says. He knows that what they're doing, it's the most important thing, to Steve, but he knows -- whatever the Avengers need him for is probably more immediately pressing.
Steve says, “It really isn't,” and pushes himself up. Sam slides against the door sideways to let him through and Steve brushes against his chest as he passes by.
“We’re close,” Steve says, and rubs his hands through his hair. “We’re so, so close, I know it, and--”
He cuts himself off, and swallows. He wants to punch something, Sam can tell, but there isn't really anything to punch, and it’s midnight and they have neighbors anyway. He wouldn't.
They are close. Natasha had gotten a tip from one of her sources and passed it along and now they’ve been on this trail for two weeks and this is the closest they've gotten since DC, and if anyone asked Sam, he’d say it’s the closest they’re ever going to get. They aren't going to find him unless he wants them to. They know that—Sam’s not stupid and neither is Steve.
“I’ll stay, then,” Sam says matter-of-factly.
Steve looks at him, mouth pressed into a thin line, and starts to shake his head. Sam can hear him arguing before he even starts. It's too dangerous. They don't really know who else is on this trail. Maybe most importantly: they don't actually have a game plan for what happens if they do find him.
“Look, you said it,” Sam says, before Steve can protest. “We’re close, and we’re not getting any closer if we both leave now. Besides, I’m guessing the Avengers don't really have, like, bring a friend to work day.”
The hard line of Steve’s mouth softens, a little.
“He’s not gonna come out unless he wants to, Steve,” Sam says softly, “but at least I can keep an eye on him until he does.”
Steve hesitates, scratching the back of his neck, staring at the wall over Sam’s left shoulder. Sam doesn’t expect him to back down, because he isn’t stupid, except for the part where he just offered to stay in a seedy hotel in Copenhagen alone and wait for a ninety-year-old robot-armed super assassin to show up on his doorstep.
“It’ll be fine,” he says, and Steve looks him dead in the eye.
“I would say no,” Steve says, very slowly, and breathes out in a rush. The but hangs there, unnecessary. Sam already knows.
Steve reaches out and touches his shoulder and Sam wraps one arm around his back, pulls him in and says, into the fabric of Steve’s shirt, “Don’t worry. I got this.”
Steve laughs in his ear, squeezes him, and steps back.
The girl in the cafe across the street hasn’t seen Bucky in three days. She was their best lead, actually, even though Sam is sure there’s no way Bucky doesn't know she's spying on him for them. Her name is Maika. She has soft curls, bleached almost white, and a gold nose ring, and she’s always drinking black coffee at the register. Sam gave her fifty kroner the first day they met her to just keep an eye out for them, just tell them if she’d seen him.
“Where’s your friend?” she asks Sam, while she’s making him an espresso. “The big guy?”
“Emergency at home,” Sam says. She hands him the tiny cup and he drops his change in her tip jar. “Hey, you see my other friend, you let me know, all right?”
“Sure,” says Maika, and Sam sits at the bar with his coffee and checks the news on his phone.
So: Sam waits.
He goes for walks, alone, lurks in the coffee shop alone. He visits a castle and takes an architecture tour. He doesn’t speak Danish but he camps out on a park bench, when it’s nice out, pocket dictionary in hand, and tries to learn. Three days in, his neighbors at the hotel, a handful of college girls with Midwestern accents who are clearly living out of their backpacks, ask him if he wants to come over for a beer. He laughs, and says, “Sorry, ladies, I’m too old for y’all,” and the girls giggle.
Steve texts him, a few times a day. Sam can’t give him any news because nothing is happening and Steve can’t really give him any details but whatever they needed him for seems relatively serious. Most of his texts are mild, brief. Sam can tell he’s bored. Steve texts him Guess we do have bring a friend to work day. Stark wants to make you new wings, and Think im starting to hate airplanes, and Sam texts him a picture of the Grand Teatret and himself, looking confused, trying to read a Danish street sign. Steve’s language skills aren’t much better than his, but it was nice to have him around. A comfort. Sam realizes, with a pang, that he misses him.
Five days in, Steve finally sends him, at three in the morning New York time, two messages: one that says Got a lead for hydraulic base eastern Europe -- Sam tried to teach him how to turn off his autocorrect but apparently he wasn’t listening -- and one that says Natasha says hi, and then there is nothing but radio silence.
So: Sam is alone, for the foreseeable future. And he waits.
One week in, he runs into Barnes at the farmer’s market.
Sam is minding his own business and picking out a grapefruit; he’s got a bag of raw almonds in his pocket and a cup of green tea. It’s warm enough to go without a jacket. It’s Sunday. He’s not looking for anything, he just got bored, and Maika suggested the market.
He’s squeezing his grapefruit gently when someone reaches across him, into the box of peaches to his left. The person is wearing long sleeves and gloves, and Sam almost doesn’t react, but the sun glints off of the sliver of visible wrist as it crosses his field of vision, and Sam stops breathing.
His eyes follow the wrist, and then flick up, and Bucky Barnes says, “Stop following me.”
He looks different. Sam wasn’t exactly expecting him to show up in all his murder-straitjacketed glory, with fourteen different guns strapped to his body and his big fuck-off robot arm out for everyone to see, but in civilian clothes, he’s--normal. Average. His hair is shorter, cleaner, tucked behind his ears, tied back neatly at the base of his neck. He’s wearing glasses, the cheap, fake horn-rimmed kind. His sweater is too warm for the weather but Sam knows the reason for that. Sam would never have recognized him, he realizes, if he’d seen him across a room.
He looks pretty good, Sam thinks, and blinks at him.
“Hey--” he starts to say, but Barnes frowns and drops the peach in with the grapefruits and slips away, off to his right, through the middle of a group of moms with strollers.
Sam says, “Shit,” and lurches after him.
The fruit vendor says, “Hey, are you going to pay for that?”
“Shit,” Sam says again, “sorry,” and he puts the grapefruit back and whirls around, but Barnes is gone.
He doesn’t see Barnes for the next two days. He goes back to the market, knowing he won’t be there. He posts up in a booth in the back of the cafe and reads for hours, but nothing happens. Maika comes around and brings him fresh coffee, waves him off when he tries to pull out his wallet.
“Your friend was here yesterday,” she says, pushing her curls back off her forehead. “He didn’t look happy.”
“Yeah,” Sam sighs. “We ran into each other.”
She looks around the cafe, then rests her elbow on the back of the booth and tilts her head. “Can I sit down for a second?”
Sam gestures at the bench across from him. Maika sits down, pulling her phone out of her back pocket. She sets it on the table between them, so Sam can see, and unlocks the screen, pulls up some trashy tabloid website in German. She scrolls for a while until she finds what she wants, and turns the phone towards Sam.
It’s a picture of Steve, of course. Recent, in uniform, with his helmet off, his hair ruffled and dirt smeared across his face. The headline under it reads AVENGERS AUF DEN JOB ZURÜCK. Sam huffs out a laugh and looks up at Maika. She’s staring at him, head still tilted, expectant.
“I thought he looked familiar,” she starts, hesitantly. “But you know all those white boys look the same.”
“You’re telling me,” Sam says, with a small smile. He takes a sip of his coffee. It’s very hot. He sets it back down.
“So,” Maika says. “What’s going on? Why is Captain America looking for ponytail guy?” She pauses. “Are you one of them, too? An Avenger?”
“Is this about that SHIELD thing from last year?” Maika asks, lowering her voice. “The other guy, did he do something? Is he one of those, like, Hydra guys?”
“No, it’s... not like that. He’s,” Sam starts, and doesn’t know how to finish. He stirs sugar into his coffee. He clears his throat. “It’s complicated, and I don’t think you would even believe me if I told you, but it’s not that.”
Maika doesn’t look satisfied. She chews on her lip, slides her phone back across the table.
“I told him you guys were looking for him,” she says finally. She won’t meet Sam’s eyes. “I didn’t know what was going on. I just thought — he’s a nice guy. He is. I don’t know what he did. I don’t even know his name. But he’s — I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Sam says. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Maika’s head tilts again. Her earrings jingle.
“Okay,” she says softly, and gets up. “I gotta go back to work.”
That night he wakes up unexpectedly. Someone is in his room.
It’s Barnes, of course. Sam can’t see shit but he can only assume, and something in him knows he's right. He rolls over, blanket clutched up under his chin, and Barnes takes a step towards the bed, and Sam hears a sound like the hammer sliding back on a gun.
“Oh,” he says, and his heart starts pounding, panic mode activated. “I’m awake now.”
“What do you want,” Barnes says, without inflection.
“What do I — nothing, man,” Sam says. “What time is it? You’re the one who broke into my hotel room. What do you—”
“Stop it,” Barnes says. His voice is low, dangerous. Sam can’t think of anything but his wings, snapping apart, coming detached. Steve, in that hospital bed, the bones of his face cracked and bruised.
“Okay,” Sam says. “Okay.”
“I told you to stop following me,” Barnes says. “Steve left. What do you want?”
Sam licks his lips and says, “I don’t want anything. I wanted to — we just wanted to know you were safe. Steve wanted to find you.”
Barnes doesn’t respond. Sam’s eyes are adjusting to the dark and he can see the curtains over the open window moving in the breeze, Barnes at the foot of his bed, in a cap and a dark jacket, pointing a gun at him. He doesn’t look angry, but there is the gun.
“Why did you wait until he left?” Sam says. He knows he’s rambling and he should definitely stop talking but he just can’t now. He’s in it, the floodgates are down. The questions just keep pouring out. “You knew we were here, you knew we were looking for you, why didn’t you—”
“Stop it,” Barnes hisses. “What do you want. I’m not asking again.”
“Okay, look, come on,” Sam pleads. “Put the gun down. I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m in my pajamas.” Barnes doesn’t move. Sam says, “Please,” and Barnes flinches, and uncocks the gun. He tosses it onto the bed between them. Sam kicks it to the floor.
“Okay,” Sam says. “Thank you.”
Barnes doesn’t say anything, right away. He stands very still. The only indication he’s still there is a very faint electric hum. A car goes by outside, and the light slants through the blinds. Barnes looks up at it, and then back at Sam.
“What do you want from me?” he says quietly. His tone is different now. Sam sits up, heart still thumping in his throat, and rests his arms on his knees.
“Nothing,” Sam repeats, and when Barnes starts to bristle again, he holds up both hands. “No no no, I mean it. Listen, man, you’ve been through a lot, and I — I don’t know if I can help. I don’t even know if you need help—”
“I don’t,” Barnes says.
“That’s fine.” Sam picks at the blanket, scratches the back of his head. “I don’t know if you remember anything, either.”
Barnes breathes out through his nose and says, “I do.”
“Okay, good, that’s good,” Sam says, nodding. “But I’m probably not the person you should be talking to, and I think you know that.”
Barnes shifts, fabric rustling. Sam waits.
“Did you tell him?” Barnes says.
“Do you want me to?”
“No,” Barnes says hastily, and looks at the floor. “Not yet.”
Sam says, “Okay, I won’t,” and pulls his blanket off, swings both legs over the side of the bed, watching Barnes the whole time. He doesn’t react. Another car goes by and lights up the room. Barnes is staring at the gun, where it hit the carpet. Sam swallows.
“I’m Sam,” he says, since he just realized he and Barnes haven’t ever actually met, aside from shooting at each other. Barnes looks up at him, then, eyes wide, and his mouth falls open, a little.
“I,” Barnes says slowly, and his mouth twists up to one side, unsure. “Bucky. I’m Bucky.”
Bucky. Sam smiles, a little, without thinking, then remembers he’s not allowed to tell Steve.
Ah, well. He’ll make it work.
“Nice to finally meet you, Bucky,” Sam says. “I think.”
Barnes—Bucky—breathes out, and nods once, hands clenching at his sides.
“What happens now?” he says.
“I don’t know. We didn’t actually have a plan for that.” Sam rubs his hands over his face again. He yawns. He’s too tired to take this as seriously as he thinks he should and he thinks the adrenaline from, you know, having a gun pointed at his face is already wearing off. “Sorry, man, but — if you’re satisfied I’m not trying to kill you or whatever, can I go back to bed?”
Bucky raises his eyebrows and says, “Uh — sure.”
Sam says, “Great,” and lays back down and pulls the blanket up over his head.
He throws the blankets off twenty minutes later and groans. Bucky is still there.
He’s taken over the second bed on the other side of the room, pushed up against the headboard, on top of the covers, surrounded by a little nest of pillows, and he’s writing in a tiny pocket-size moleskine journal propped on his knee. He still has his boots on. Sam doesn’t really know how he can see what he’s writing. It’s dark as shit in here.
Sam looks over at the digital clock on the bedside table, finally. It’s 3:47 in the morning. He takes a deep breath, sits up, and turns on the light.
“Uh, hey,” Sam croaks. “Hey, buddy. What’s, uh. Hey. Didn’t know you were, uh, planning on staying.”
Bucky glances up at him, briefly. He digs his boots into the sheets.
“Steve left a week ago,” he says, “right?”
Sam flops back onto his pillow and digs the tips of his fingers into his eyes until specks show up behind his eyelids. “Is there a reason we couldn’t do this in the daytime?”
“You’ve had a tail for the last four days,” Bucky tells him. “You know that?”
Sam blinks. “Uh,” he says, stretching it out. “No.”
“Well, you do now,” Bucky says, and turns the page.
“Wait, I thought I was following you,” Sam says. “Were you following me?”
“Yeah, of course I was,” Bucky says, looking at him like he’s slow on the uptake.
“Cool,” Sam says. “Whatever. Anyway. What’s going on with my tail, then.”
“I don’t know yet,” Bucky says thoughtfully, “but you didn’t notice and you’re still here, so I’m guessing they don’t actually want you.”
“Thank you for the vote of confidence,” Sam says. Bucky does something with his mouth that can only be described as showing Sam his teeth.
“They weren’t looking for Steve either, since they waited until he was gone. So I’m gonna say they’re probably after me, but I don’t think they know that you actually found me, or that I’m here right now.”
“Who are they?”
“Hydra, probably. Haven’t seen them before.”
Sam hums in the back of his throat. “All right, so what’s the plan?”
“I’ll think of something,” Bucky says, and clicks his pen against his leg.
Bucky nods, and goes back to his journal. Sam sighs and reaches for the remote and turns on the TV. He flips through the channels for a while with the volume turned way down; the TV has the closed captioning on and Sam can’t figure out how to turn it off, but it’s all in Danish. He settles on reruns of a cheesy German soap opera, clearly from the mid-to-late-90s if the hair and wardrobe have anything to say about it. Sam turns it up a little bit, settles back against the pillows.
“Verbotene Liebe?” Bucky says skeptically.
“I’m up now,” Sam says. “Man, Danish TV is bullshit. You speak German?”
“Good. You can stay and translate for me.”
Bucky snorts. He wrinkles his nose and scribbles something out in his notebook and keeps writing, and Sam watches terrible TV that he doesn’t understand, listening to the soft, regular scratch of Bucky’s pen, and every so often when something particularly dramatic happens Bucky will tell him what’s going on, without ever even looking up.
At some point he must fall back asleep because he wakes up and the sun is shining. He looks at the clock again; 8:14. Bucky is gone. On the desk on the other side of the room there is a paper cup of coffee from Maika’s cafe with a brochure for the Rundetaarn trapped underneath it, a phone number Sam assumes is Bucky’s scrawled across the top, and a gun lying next to it.
Sam picks up the coffee. It’s still hot and it is, to his surprise, made exactly the way he likes it. He takes it into the bathroom with him and shaves and showers and gets dressed. He puts Bucky’s number into his phone, shrugs on his jacket, thinks twice about the gun, and then tucks it under the waistband of his jeans, just in case, and walks out the door.
He spots Bucky right away, this time. He’s leaning against the outside of the library hall a ways down from the entrance to the tower. He’s wearing a knit cap and the glasses again, drinking a coffee and pretending to check his phone--a flip phone, Sam notices incredulously, and shakes his head--and when Sam starts to walk towards him his phone goes off in his pocket.
DONT COME TOWARDS ME, the message says, go inside. Sam stops abruptly and swivels on his heel.
A flip phone? Really, old timer? Sam texts back. He ducks inside the tower and stops at the ticket booth, slips his wallet out of his pocket. The girl in the booth smiles and takes his money and he thanks her, clumsy, in Danish. His phone pings again.
im left handed, Bucky answers, cant use a touch screen. Sam feels like a dick.
Sorry. What now?
up is all that the reply says, so Sam goes up.
You gonna tell me who’s following me? Sam asks, and gets nothing for his trouble. He puts his phone back in his pocket and keeps climbing. The ramp is practically endless, from what Sam saw in the brochure, and what he can see now. There’s hardly anyone else in here today, just a handful of teenagers, a couple—probably Sam’s age—leading a little boy by the hand, a few groups of old people. No one conspicuous, no one Sam remembers seeing anywhere since he’s been here.
He doesn’t want to, but he feels--skeptical. The only people here are, as far as he can tell, innocent and harmless, and if whatever Bucky is planning is dangerous enough for him to think Sam needs a gun—
And the fact that technically the last time he saw Bucky Barnes they were kind of trying to kill each other. He imagines that would have put a damper on the part of his brain that lets him trust people, regardless, but he’s trying to be reasonable about it. It’s not exactly Bucky’s fault.
His text alert goes off again, and the message says observation deck, so he walks faster.
“Jesus Christ, this ramp is ridiculous,” Sam mutters to himself. “Couldn’t have picked somewhere with stairs, maybe an elevator--”
He finally makes it up to the platform, and it’s empty, except for one man, looking through the viewfinder at the skyline. He’s tall, white, bald, and bad at hiding the gun he has strapped under his jacket. Sam walks past him. He goes over to where the railing is only waist-high and leans on it with his elbows. He waits, for a second, pretending to stare out over the city, until he hears footsteps coming up behind him.
When he turns around, the guy is right there, and his hand is inside his jacket on his gun. The guy stops, and Sam says, “Oh, hey, buddy. Something you need?”
Tall, Bald, and Ugly pulls his gun out and points it at Sam and says, “Where’s Barnes?”
Sam opens his mouth, and then from somewhere off to Sam’s left, Bucky says, “Hi,” and when the guy whips around Bucky slaps the gun right out of his grip and slams the heel of his metal hand into the guy’s nose.
The guy drops to his knees immediately, both hands pressed to his face. Blood drips from between his fingers. Bucky pushes at his shoulder with one foot and he tips over backwards, groaning, until he’s lying on the ground with Bucky’s boot digging into his collarbone.
“Oh, shit,” Sam says, and then notices the other guy, coming up behind Bucky. “Oh, shit— ”
Bucky elbows the second guy in the face without looking. The crack of metal breaking cartilage makes Sam wince. This guy hits the floor too, solid, out like a light.
Sam says, “Why did you even give me a gun?”
Bucky ignores him. He presses the toe of his boot into the first guy’s neck. He says something in what Sam assumes is Danish and the guy squints at him, confused, and Bucky rolls his eyes.
“Anybody else coming?” he says in English.
The guy pulls his hands away from his face and shakes his head, moaning weakly. Bucky says, “Good,” and lifts his foot up. Nosebleed closes his eyes and sucks in a wet breath, and Bucky reaches down with his left hand and grabs the front of his shirt and yanks him up, in one smooth motion, all the way to his feet. He backs the guy into the railing and then a foot farther, so he’s dangling halfway out over the side of the platform, toes just skimming the floor.
“Do not drop him,” Sam hisses. “I didn’t bring my wings.”
Bucky shoots him a look over his shoulder, and gives Nosebleed a little shake. The guy yelps, wraps both hands around Bucky’s wrist and starts pawing at it, to absolutely no effect whatsoever besides leaving bloodstains on the cuff of his shirt.
“Who sent you?” Bucky growls.
“Jesus, is your brain that fried? Did you really think we wouldn’t find you?” Nosebleed pants, through the blood on his teeth.
“No,” Bucky says, “but I was thinking maybe you wouldn’t be so stupid I’d have to let you.”
He pushes the guy out a few inches further, so no part of him is touching the ground. Sam takes one step towards them, then reconsiders, and stays put.
“Where is it?” Bucky says.
“Where is what?” Nosebleed slurs.
“Whatever hole you crawled out of.” Bucky shakes him again. The guy’s teeth rattle in his head.
Behind them, the other guy is conscious again, covered in his own blood from his own broken nose, and trying to sit up. He looks over at his buddy’s gun where it landed a few feet away, and then at Sam. Sam lifts up the hem of his jacket to show where Bucky’s gun is still tucked in his jeans, and says, “I wouldn’t,” and the guy flops back down with a hoarse sigh.
“I’m losing patience here, pal,” Bucky says. Sam can hear his arm whirring, even over the wind and the traffic below them, like a car changing gears. Bucky lets go of Nosebleed’s shirt and grabs him, lightning-fast, by the fucking neck, and the guy starts gasping. He’s dangling over nothing, now. Feet scrabbling against the railing and getting nowhere. Robot hand cutting off his air supply.
“Fine,” he chokes eventually, after he’s started to turn blue. “Fine. It’s — it’s an old ferry station. On the Baltic. North of Barsmark.”
Bucky says nothing. He pulls the dude back over the railing, sets him on his feet, and decks him in the face with his other hand as hard as he can, and Nosebleed passes out.
“Nice,” Sam says, as Bucky lets the guy slump to the floor, then tugs at the ends of his sleeves, straightens his absurd fake glasses.
Bucky bends to pick up the now-abandoned gun, then Nosebleed, by the back of his shirt. “Come on. You get that one.” He nods to where the other guy is still laying on the floor near Sam’s feet, making wet whimpering noises.
Sam frowns, and says, “What do you want me to do with him,” but Bucky is heading back towards the door to the ramp, dragging the unconscious guy behind him.
Sam looks down at lucky man number two. He groans, and walks over to him, pulls the guy up about a foot off the ground by his collar, says, “Sorry,” and slams him back down hard. He passes out again. Sam grimaces, and grabs him underneath both arms, and follows Bucky.
They shove both guys in a tiny, very old, wooden-toileted bathroom on the top floor of the tower. Bucky goes through their pockets and takes their phones out, pulls out the batteries and drops all the pieces into the toilet, puts Nosebleed Number One’s gun back in the holster under his jacket, and then breaks the door handle off on the inside and shuts the door. He rubs at the blood on his sleeve, and then says, as if he’s just remembered, “We gotta go. You have a car?”
Sam stares at him. Bucky waits, patiently.
“Yes,” Sam says finally. “At the hotel. Are we really just gonna—”
“I’ll meet you there,” Bucky says. He’s already walking away, sliding his gloved hands into the pockets of his jeans.
Sam frowns at his back, then takes a sharp breath, and says, “Wait, wait, wait. No. No way. No fucking way.”
Bucky stops dead in his tracks and spins back around, startled.
“No way,” Sam repeats. “I’ve done way more than my fair share of diving right into the shit and putting my ass on the line for some crazy white boy already. You and me? We need to have a talk. A very serious talk.”
Bucky tilts his head, eyebrows raised. He opens his mouth and Sam lifts a hand to cut him off.
“Nope,” Sam says. “I’m hungry. We’re gonna go get some food and you are going to explain some things to me and then I will decide if I’m gonna help you or not. Got it?”
“Okay,” he says finally.
“Okay?” Sam parrots.
“Yeah,” Bucky says. He peeks over his own shoulder, where Sam can hear someone else coming up the ramp--sounds like the couple with the kid. “We should get out of here before somebody calls the cops. There’s a good restaurant down the street.”
“Fine,” Sam says. “You’re paying.”
Sam orders eggs and bacon. Bucky gets coffee and white toast.
“That’s it?” Sam says, as the waitress is pouring more coffee into Bucky’s mug. “You better eat something. Get him, like, a pancake, or something.”
“No.” Bucky picks up the cup and glares at Sam over the top of his glasses, then says to the waitress, “Tak.”
He runs his hand through his hair. He’d taken his hat off when they came inside, set it on the table next to him when they sat down. It’s something Sam’s grandpa used to do, when they went out for breakfast after church on Sundays. Adorably old-fashioned.
Sam shakes his head and puts a very large forkful of eggs in his mouth. “Okay,” he says, with his mouth still full. “You can start talking now.”
Bucky sets his coffee down and crosses his arms over his chest. “What do you want me to say?”
“Well, I for one am very interested in where you’ve been for the last year. What you been up to. How you managed to get to ‘old man who sets his hat on the table’ from ‘terrifying brainwashed murder machine.’”
Bucky shushes him, and eyes the people at the table across from them. They’re definitely not paying attention, and Sam’s pretty sure they don’t speak English anyway, but Bucky still says, “Keep your voice down.”
“Okay, man,” Sam says. “Sure.”
“You wanna know what I’ve been doing?” Bucky says.
“Yeah, I do.”
“Nothing,” Bucky replies, and takes a bite of his toast.
Sam wrinkles his eyebrows, freezes with a piece of bacon halfway to his face. “Nothing?” he repeats, and Bucky nods. “Literally nothing? What are you, just backpacking across Europe like a college kid? Trying to find yourself? Oh my god. That’s exactly what you’re doing, isn’t it.”
“‘Backpacking’ is a little strong,” Bucky says. “I have a place. That I live in.”
“Congratulations,” Sam says, as sarcastically as he can manage.
Bucky shrugs. “Laying low is the best way not to get found.”
Sam sets his fork down, reaches for his orange juice. “You said you let those guys find you,” he says. “I’m gonna assume that means you let us find you too. How come? Why now?”
Bucky stares at him for a second, strangely. Then he looks away, licks his lips.
“I don’t know,” he says, narrowing his eyes at something outside the window.
“I don’t believe you,” Sam says.
Bucky shrugs again, and doesn’t say anything else. Sam resists the urge to throw food at him.
“All right, fine. How about you tell me why I should trust you to not try to kill me anymore?”
“You fell asleep with me in the room,” Bucky says. “You trust me.”
Sam honestly doesn’t know what to say to that. His mouth drops open; he snaps it shut again. He decides that Bucky Barnes has officially ousted Steve Rogers as the most frustrating human being he’s ever had the pleasure of meeting.
Bucky looks faintly satisfied with himself, and shoves the rest of his slice of toast into his mouth. “I’m not gonna hurt you. I don’t... hurt people anymore.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong but there are two guys with broken noses down the street who would probably love to argue that point with you, when they wake up from having been punched unconscious. By you.”
“They came after me first,” Bucky protests. “Look, I’m — sorry about what happened, before. But that — that wasn’t — I didn’t want to do any of that. I’m not—” He shifts in his seat, looks down where his metal hand is resting in his lap. “I don’t know how to apologize for that.”
Sam gives him a long look, considering, then says, “You don’t have to. Never mind. I know.”
Bucky glances up at him through his eyelashes. “Nobody is controlling me anymore,” he says, hesitant but determined, like he has to make himself believe it. “Nobody is making me do anything. If I don’t want to hurt you, then I won’t. And I don’t want to. I swear.”
His eyes are very blue, and as honest as Sam’s seen them, since he met him. Sam lifts an eyebrow, and lets out a sigh, scraping eggs around on his plate.
“All right,” he says, and Bucky just keeps looking at him, frowning. “I said all right. Relax.”
Bucky breathes out through his nose and crams another piece of toast in his mouth.
“Just out of curiosity, how much do you remember?” Sam says eventually, after the waitress has been back to top up Bucky’s coffee and take Sam’s empty plate.
“Enough,” Bucky says, and Sam watches his face close off, the shutters go down behind his eyes, until there isn’t any expression left at all.
Sam wants to press, he really does. He wants to keep asking questions until Bucky breaks and tells him the truth, but — he shouldn’t, and anyway, that enough sounds so much like everything that Sam doesn’t really think he should dig too deep.
“Okay,” Sam says, finally. “What’s your plan?”
“My plan?” Bucky says, snapping out of it. “My — oh. With the—”
“Yeah, you just gonna sit around drinking coffee all day or are we gonna do something?”
Bucky chews on it for a moment, thinking, then says, slowly, “You really don’t have to. I shouldn’t have—”
“Do you need my help?” Sam interrupts. He’s not letting Bucky waffle his way out of this. “I know last night you said you didn’t. But I’m starting to think you do.”
“I do,” Bucky says, like it pains him to admit it. “This isn’t the first time they've come after me. I — they’re not gonna stop. They know where I am now and they won’t stop, even if I run. I have to do something about it but I don’t know how much I can do on my own.”
“Well, fortunately for you, that sounds like just the kind of life-threatening I’m starting to get used to,” Sam says. He puts his napkin on the table and waves their waitress over. “Come on, let’s go. We’ll brainstorm on the way.”
Bucky meets him in the underground garage at the hotel an hour later. He’s wearing a soft black hoodie and leather gloves and his awful glasses are gone, and he has a map tucked under his arm that looks like it’s from 1985. Sam feels his eyebrows go up without thinking about it.
“You know that maps are on the internet now, right?” he says.
Bucky glares at him. Sam tries not to gloat. It’s not polite.
“You have that gun I gave you?” Bucky asks, and Sam shows him where it’s still resting in the waistband of his jeans. Bucky nods once and says, “Don’t lose it. It’s the only one I have.”
“We have one gun,” Sam says, disbelief rising in his throat. “I don’t have any other weapons, buddy. You wanna go take out a Hydra base with one gun between the two of us?”
“I don’t need a gun,” Bucky says. He waves his left hand.
Sam narrows his eyes at him. “What about me? I am a normal human being. I’m not invincible. I don’t have a bulletproof robot arm.”
“You’ll be fine,” Bucky says. “I got your six.”
“Oh, great. Then if I die, it’s on you.” Sam digs in his pocket and pulls out his keys. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” Bucky says, and taps softly on the car window. Sam unlocks the doors. Bucky opens the passenger side and looks at Sam sidelong, over the top of the car, and something in Sam’s brain clicks. He’s been trying to place it all day, and it hits him, finally, forces a laugh out of his lungs.
Bucky says, “What.”
“You ever see Lethal Weapon?” Sam asks.
Bucky blinks at him. “What?”
“Lethal Weapon,” Sam repeats. “Danny Glover, Mel Gibson. It’s from the eighties.”
“I have literally no idea what you’re talking about,” Bucky says, slowly, like maybe Sam doesn’t understand him.
“I figured. That sucks for you. This would be more fun if you did.”
Bucky stares at him for a second, one eyebrow raised. He opens his mouth like he’s going to say something and then changes his mind, shakes his head, and says, “Get in the car.”