Chapter 1: in oceans
After the dust settles and everyone seems to be getting themselves back on track, Sam and Bucky move into the Stark Tower. It's a logical move, a hefty one, but sensible given Sam's new role.
They share a floor, one wide open lounge area, and nifty kitchen with a lot of cool gadgets that Sam is just as interested in even if he calls Bucky a geek. The best part is the sunroom. Bucky can see himself splay out on the floor like a starfish and soak up some much needed Vitamin D.
Their rooms are comfy, and there are endless shelves of books, movies, and games to keep them occupied. It's all pretty exciting except the unpacking and rearranging.
There are so many boxes, so many items scattered all over the floor that Bucky has stopped trying to discern what belongs to him and what belongs to Sam. When they packed up Sam's old place, they'd just thrown it all in together, which was a shit idea in hindsight.
He's sitting flat on his ass in his room and starts unpacking one of the last bags. Inside he finds a shoebox. It's dusty, tattered and used up.
He doesn't think about opening it, he just does, and regrets it instantly.
There's a worn-out piece of paper on top of a bunch of others. It's folded once down the middle; the writing looks almost faded. Could have been torn out of a notebook, Bucky thinks, and it's a little dirty around the edges, the way something gets when you handle it too much.
When he opens it, he finds a short list of items. Not just any list, he realizes. It's a wishlist, a bucket list he thinks he's heard people say.
And that's Sam's handwriting, he's seen it before on the many sticky notes Sam leaves about groceries and hygiene, but two items are written in a messy, rigid font that he doesn't recognize.
Sam & Riley To-Do List. Summer of 2010.
Watch an opera
Ride a bull
Fall in love maybe
The first three letters of "Watch an opera" has been crossed out as if Sam decided halfway through, he wasn't quite done with that one.
Bucky swallows and lifts the next paper from the box. It's a copy of Riley's condolence letter, which is also dated 2010.
A cold shiver wraps around his heart when he compares the dates… They never got to complete the list. Riley died that summer.
Scattered all over the pages are blotches, dried droplets that smear the faint blue lines, and he imagines Sam hunched over this piece of memory crying. Bucky wipes his own eyes when he hears Sam come down the hall.
He shuts the lid and shoves it back in the box as if it had never seen the light of day. He wonders in secret how long it has been stored away for it to get this dusty and worn.
Sam peers into the room, "How's it going in here?"
"Mostly done," Bucky says, wondering if Sam can hear his voice isn't quite right.
"Well, I'm done in the kitchen. Made lunch too, if you're hungry."
"Be right there." He says and waits until Sam is out in the hallway to take another look at the list. He had one of these lists a long time ago, too, before the war. Bucky knows what it feels like to have it unfulfilled. It leaves a hollow and bitter gap inside you.
There's not much he can do about his own list anymore—god, he only remembers the one thing that was on it anyway, which is a dream long gone—but he can still help Sam, so the gap in his heart is at least narrowed the tiniest fraction.
During lunch, Bucky Googles waterparks in the area and two show up just outside of town. It's got slides and a pier and some sweet looking food spots. It's perfect.
Sam comes around the table to sit down, and Bucky snaps the laptop shut, tries to make it look like nothing. Sam, of course, gives him an arched up eyebrow, "Can you watch porn in your own room? We eat here." There's a teasing intonation to Sam's voice that Bucky's grown overly fond of since it is always accompanied by a Sam Wilson smile.
Bucky doesn't answer that, only smiles a little. "Thought we could get out of the house for a while. If you want?"
Sam takes a bite of his grilled cheese. "And do what?"
"Not sit cooped up in here. Go swimming." Bucky gauges Sam's reaction, wonders if he'll cotton on to what Bucky is doing. But if Sam's thinking anything of it, he's not letting it show.
There's a string of cheese hanging down Sam's chin. It's cute.
"Yeah. Okay, fine." He says.
Bucky wills his face not to just split into a smile right away. He throws a napkin at Sam to wipe up the cheese.
Sam gets up to lob some more salad onto his plate. He looks like a school kid about to set off a row of firecrackers.
"You got swim trunks?"
And no. Bucky does not, in fact, have swim trunks. Fuck him sideways. But Sam already knew that.
"Yeah," Sam says, smiling. "Ladies gonna love you swimming in your tighty whities."
Don't be ridiculous, Sam, he thinks, I only wear black . Bucky rolls his eyes. "Just lend me a pair of yours, asshole."
"Hm." Sam looks like he's contemplating it, "You like flowers?"
"I do," Bucky says, not sure why. But, yeah. He loves flowers.
Sam smiles, it reminds Bucky of a rainbow gleaming out behind silver clouds. Many people have smiles like the sun, bright and warm, but Sam's smile is a little bit more magical, more beautiful. And there is only one thing better than the sunrise or sunset, and that's a rainbow.
He doesn't stop to ponder when he began thinking that in-depth about Sam's smile, only thinks about how nice it is to see.
It turns out the smile was because Sam knew just how ridiculous Bucky would look in a pair of pink and green floral print swim shorts. Fuck his rainbow smile. And also, short feels a little understated. This thing is a few fibers away from being lingerie.
He glares at Sam in equally short trunks, except his are a plain deep blue. His legs look like tree trunks in it. Like beautiful, lotion covered tree trunks. Holy...
"What!?" Sam says after a quick glance from Bucky's feet to his hair.
"This is—I'm sure if I spread my legs, my dick's gonna pop out Sam."
Sam sputters. His eyes narrow when he laughs. "Keep 'em together then."
"Why don't you shut up and let me do your back."
Bucky grabs the sunscreen from Sam, squirts a blob out into his palm and slaps it down on Sam's back. It makes a really gross sound, and Sam cackles at the obscenity of it. That is a great sound, though.
It's not gross, however, to rub the lotion in. Bucky realizes belatedly that perhaps this was a bad idea. He's… Sam's fucking built . His shoulders are solid and broad, and his skin's so smooth, Bucky wonders if he spends his free time bathing in baby oil and doing pull-ups. Good lord.
But he's halfway done already and can't exactly leave Sam with a sticky back because he is… feeling some type of way about touching his roommate like this.
Sam reaches for the sunscreen once Bucky finishes, "Here. Let me—" and he motions for Bucky to turn around.
"No!" The only thing worse for these tiny swim trunks than Bucky touching Sam would be Sam touching Bucky. His body has re-learned several awesome things since his recovery. Unfortunately, enthusiastic and ill-timed boners are one of them.
Sam stares at him then pulls a face, "It's ass degrees in the sun, Barnes."
"Hm. I heal quickly," he says very fast and scrambles to get the photostatic sleeve from his duffle bag.
"I swear if you end up on my couch crying like a little baby..." Sam says.
"You will rub cooling gel on my back like the good friend you are."
"Probably. But I'll sing my 'told you so' song while I do it."
Bucky shakes his head, and Sam pulls a face at him.
Sam helps him to get the disguise on his metal arm to avoid gawkers and unnecessary attention. Although with someone like Sam running along beside him, he's not sure they'll exactly be avoiding attention. Sam is hard not to look at.
Sam nods his approval, "Alright, magic man. Let's go."
"Hey look," Bucky says as they stroll toward the slides, "A water fountain! Wanna go sit with your friends?" he points to a row of doves lined up on the edge of the fountain tier.
Sam shoves him to the side but laughs, "Gonna drown you." And, as if he knows Bucky is about to counter with some horrid Hydra story about drowning, Sam grabs Bucky around the neck. "Don't even think about it. Spare me the Hydra details today."
"Aw, but this one's good!" Bucky teases. His voice sounds a little off-center since Sam's arm is around his neck and he's not removing it. It is
out today. Funny how he hadn't noticed that before. Has it been this hot the whole time?
They're standing in front of this massive, colorful tube of death. Literally, it's probably 30 feet high and at the top people climb into a tiny chamber which deposits them down this goddamn slide that may as well be a direct 90-degree drop.
Bucky's mouth goes dry. He has dropped like that one too many times in his life.
"I take it you're not going anywhere near that thing, huh?" says Sam while he stares up at it. His tongue wets the corner of his mouth, "Mind if I try?"
"Try? To do what? Die?"
Sam thinks that's funny.
"Okay, look. I'll enter the chamber there. See?" he points to the very top of it and his finger swoops down along with the slide, "Then I'll land in the pool at the bottom. Sides are high and rounded; I won't fall out. Yeah?"
Bucky gives a reluctant nod, "I'll wait at the pool." This is insane. Totally insane. Jesus Christ. What is it with Captain America and the danger gene. Part of the package pal , he tells himself, you love 'em in spite of it .
Okay, woah. What??
Store that away for later. Gotta watch Sam.
It's actually pretty thrilling to watch. Sam is in his element, free in the sky, sailing with the wind. He's still basically falling without wings, and that is terrifying, but he makes a loud 'whoop' sound when he finally skids into the water below, which is also a very happy sound. Happy is in line with Bucky's mission.
Bucky's heart only stops for one beat during the seconds Sam spends under the water.
When he emerges, it's all smiles and teeth and a really wet Sam Wilson. Good god. Sam shakes himself off, purposely getting Bucky wet.
"Fun?" Bucky asks. They start walking.
"You got no idea, man!"
The real fun starts, though, when they head further into the park and find a floating obstacle course. They only have to look at each other for the answer to that wordless question.
And yeah, perhaps Bucky shares a little bit of that innate adrenaline chaser like the Captains. Just… in safer proportions.
And this—dominating an obstacle course, letting Sam push him to his physical limits, pushing Sam back just as hard—Bucky can do this and do it well.
Sam somehow stays matched with him; Bucky's so used to Sam in the air that when he actually overtakes a goddamn super-soldier, Bucky just sort of stops and stares after him.
"The fuck did you take??" he calls out to Sam who is now sailing up an incline. "What did you take, Wilson!?"
Sam gets to the top and throws his hands up in victory, before flipping himself over the side and into the water.
Bucky gets to the finish line a moment later and finds Sam floating on his back in the water below. His chest rises and falls quickly from the exertion. He smiles wide with his eyes shut.
"Get in dude. It's fucking hot." Sam says out of breath.
And Bucky does. He dives right in beside Sam, and they spend a few moments just floating along with the current.
Perhaps their fingers brush a time or two, and perhaps neither of them move their hands.
Later, when the sun drops low behind the hills and everything is soft orange all around, they take a walk down the pier.
Sam bought them each a soft-serve cone. Despite the light breeze it's still too hot, and the ice cream makes a mess of their fingers and forearms, so they spend the short walk laughing at each other while trying to lick it off as best they can.
Bucky doesn't tell Sam he's got a smudge of it in his mustache, which is fair he thinks since he's sure his beard is full of it, and Sam hasn't said a thing. He chuckles every time he looks over, so Bucky knows he's right.
At the end of the pier, they stand for a little while, just watching the water ripple against the wind, a couple of birds flying off toward the sunset. It's quite a sight; it makes Bucky calm on the inside.
Sam, not so much.
There's a deep frown between his eyes when Bucky next dares to look at him. He's staring out into the fading light in absence, and that sad, lost look settles on his face.
Bucky nudges Sam with his shoulder, "You alright?"
Sam nods, "Knew someone who would have loved this." He says and gives a sad smile. Nostalgia, Bucky realizes, for something long, long gone.
"Riley?" Bucky tries.
But Sam never talks about Riley.
Sam exhales. His lips purse into a thin line before he shuffles past Bucky, back to the car.
The ride back home is quiet at first, not as filled with tension as Bucky thought it'd be. The car baked all day in the lot, so they drive with the windows down, and the wind dries Bucky's damp hair.
Sam's got his sunglasses on, and his arm is extended out in the open air when he glances sideways. "You think you look cute with your hair blowing all over like that, huh?" His mouth's slanted in a smirk and the sun catches him just so. It's devastating; he's beautiful.
"Cuter than you," Bucky says and slides down in his seat, puts his feet up on the dash.
"Oh! Okay! Alright." Sam pokes him in the ribs, "Get out!" he laughs and keeps pushing Bucky toward the door, but he's hitting a funny spot that makes Bucky erupt with laughter he hasn't heard from himself in seventy-odd years.
"Bucky!" Sam chirps in this high, mocking voice. He's ridiculous.
When he finally quits it, they're both giggly, and that somber look has vanished from Sam's face. In its place is a gentle, content smile. (With ice cream in his mouth corner, because Bucky still hasn't said shit about it.)
At home, he extracts the list from the shoe box and ticks "Waterpark" off with a faint grey pencil.
Bucky lies awake in his bed that night. He attempts to distinguish between the way he loves Steve and the way he loves Sam and tries for a dull and stupid few seconds to convince himself it's the same thing.
The tingly, swoopy mess of butterflies in his stomach when he thinks of Sam lets him know it is for sure not the same fucking thing.
Chapter 2: on the rolling winds
Opera. It's one of the items on the list. Bucky can't for the life of him imagine the appeal, but it is obviously something Sam found interesting and worthwhile if he placed it on his list. And so, it is important to Bucky too.
It's early one Sunday morning and Bucky's sitting out on the patio watching opera music on YouTube to see what the fuss is about. And look, it's beautiful, but goddamn his ears. These dames sure make one hell of a noise.
Sam comes out a little while later, holds his own steaming mug between his hands. He's wearing a soft-looking gray hoodie, his boxers, and dolphin flip flops. His face is still puffy from sleep, yet Bucky still thinks he's handsome as hell and has trouble looking away at first.
Sam sits down on one of the loungers beside Bucky, "What you doing?" he asks in this gruff, sleep-addled voice.
"Opera music." He shows Sam the video, "Apparently a 'must-do' in the 21st century. So I thought I'd give it a go." He feels about 75% bad for the non-truth. This mission requires certain moral compromises.
Sam gives him that pointed, 'you're a dumbass' look. "Nah man. This isn't opera." He says, "Opera you gotta watch live in action, you gotta be there, feel the music, feel the emotion, feel the story. You gotta live it, you know?"
Bucky thinks: how the fuck , but he shuts up and doesn't say that. Sam is real passionate about the subject; he just woke up, and his eyes twinkle when he talks about it.
"Oh yeah?" Bucky says, amused, "Where does one do this?"
It's easier than he thought it would be to position the subject.
"Yeah dude, you go to the Metropolitan. That place is… god, it's beautiful. The acoustics…"
First, Bucky smirks and starts teasing Sam, "How do you know so much abou—" Oh. Oh shit. Bucky, goddamnit.
Riley. Bucky realizes. Riley must have been a fan, must have introduced Sam to it.
But Sam never talks about Riley.
Sam rubs the back of his neck and stares at the bottom of his cup. To Bucky's relief, Sam says, "Wanna go? To the uhm. The opera? We could go. I've only been... once before."
Could totally be Bucky's imagination but he swears Sam's voice dips and wavers on that last word. A quiet and concealed tremor, one that's been silenced so often it's become second nature.
"Yes," Bucky says way too eager. He covers up by adding, "I mean if just talking about it gets you hard, then—"
Sam's hand flies to cover his dick, which isn't hard at all Bucky is sure, he's just an asshole like that.
Bucky snorts, and Sam goes a little pink high up on his cheeks. It's great. Bucky laughs so hard he snorts.
"The fuck is wrong with you, huh?" Sam says and flicks a bit of coffee at Bucky.
Bucky laughs and settles back in the chair; they're just in time for sunrise. He casually shrugs and says, "Brainwashing. It's a bitch."
Sam laughs, too, but horrified.
Pepper helps them acquire tickets for that same night. Bucky doesn't ask questions about how she managed it at such short notice. The tickets arrive via messenger a few hours later, along with the schedule, dress code, and VIP access to a lounge or something.
He guesses they're wearing suits then. God.
Bucky's still got a royal blue one from when he visited the palace in Wakanda, it's a bit shiny if he's honest, but damn does he look fine in it. He's got his hair slicked back and tied low in his neck in a neat bun, and he shaved clean for a change. Feels weird. Looks good. He can work with that.
And that's all fine and well until Sam steps out of his room in a deep maroon suit and black shirt, polished and primed and smelling insane and knocks Bucky off his axis. He's even wearing a thick gold watch around his wrist and matching ring on his middle finger. What the fuck.
Sam fiddles with the tie that he's yet to fold and hasn't looked up. Which is a very good thing since Bucky has a hard time adjusting to the sight of Sam in this suit. He might as well stare directly into the sun; his cheeks flare up, he starts fiddling with the lapels of his jacket, smooths his hair back like a real dope.
"You think ties are too fancy? Don't wanna show up looking like—"
Sam looks up, and Bucky blinks a few times fast. They regard one another in dumb silence for a couple of moments. They are two goddamn gorgeous guys, Bucky thinks. Made for each other basically, looking like this, they could take on the world and win.
"Huh. You look better in that when you ain't at a funeral." Bucky says, just to cover up the way he was in a daze staring at Sam just now.
Sam whips the tie off and flicks it at Bucky's arm, "And you look better when you ain't all greasy."
But his eyes stay lingering on Bucky a little longer before he turns away to pour them each a drink.
Bucky wonders what he was thinking just then, what that look on his face was, and why he's shaking his head now and letting out a deep breath.
Sam hands Bucky a glass filled to the quarter mark with a golden liquid. Bucky finds himself wondering what this stuff will taste like on Sam's lips. What it'll feel like to lick whiskey off Sam's pretty mouth, wonders if Sam will let him.
"Drinking and driving?" He asks as a distraction from thinking about all of that: enthusiastic boners and all.
"Bitch. I'm Captain America. I got us a ride, baby!" Sam says and grins, cocky, would almost be annoying if it wasn't so sexy.
The Opera house is something else. Bucky can't remember ever seeing something so structurally beautiful in his life before. The carpets, the marble, the lights that hang down like frail crystal shards. He's beyond amazed.
Sam greets a few people at the door, senators, generals. Bucky doesn't know them nor does he care to engage. Instead, he keeps an icy glare ready just in case someone gets handsy with Wilson the way they did with Steve. Only one lady attempts it. Her hand freezes halfway to Sam's pec, and upon seeing Bucky murder-glowering over at them, she stops and redirects herself. Good girl.
They take up their seats in the dress circle. Bucky's not fucking sure what that means.
"This spot has the best acoustics, best view. Pepper knows her shit." Sam whispers as if he knows that Bucky has been wondering about it.
Sam looks happy; he seems so pleased and excited. Bucky takes it as a win. Something he never expected but has come to embrace is just how happy Sam being happy makes him. It has become vital to his own wellbeing, he realizes, it gives him some kind of purpose. It's something to work toward and look forward to, maybe even a way to say thanks for everything Sam has done for him. It's a little bit of light to nurture amongst all the darkness that floats around in his head still.
Another thing he doesn't expect is the sheer emotion that getting invested in an opera play brings. He's swooped up, overwhelmed with the story the woman tells, the amount of conviction she carries in her voice. He feels her anger and rage and sorrow in a downpour of emotion that rattles him to the bone. He feels just as raw and tender, turned inside out.
He knows the moment her voice pitches long and high and comes back down abruptly, that her heart shatters on the stage. Bucky gasps, feels his eyes sting with tears.
It's then that Sam turns to him and says, very quietly, reverently, "Get it?"
Bucky nods fast, "I get it." he whispers back and shudders out a breath.
He's not even embarrassed that Sam hands him a tissue. Sam's eyes are wet too.
It takes a while for them to get out of there after the show since everyone wants a picture with the Captain. Sam smiles for the cameras and Bucky knows it's a shitty, fake smile because his eyes catch Bucky's from time to time and his face brightens up into a proper Sam Wilson grin.
Bucky spends the car ride home recalling everything about the play. Runs it over and over in his head, tries to relive all the emotions he experienced. It's not every day that he feels so much at once, in such a positive fashion.
Sam is quiet too. His head is leaned back against the seat, eyes closed, so Bucky steals a second to stare. The streetlights flick across Sam's face—shadow and light, shadow and light, over and over—as they drive. He really is handsome, his jaw, his neck. His lips slightly parted, broad shoulders.
Bucky wants to reach out and touch, but he doesn't. It's kind of perfect this way because he figures it out just then. Thinking of Sam, the way he looked tonight, the way he smiled at Bucky and how all of Bucky ignited at the sight of it. The way he's quietly dozing now. How Sam's been his anchor to reality since he came in from the cold…
He does love Sam the way he loves Steve in that there's very little he won't do for the guy. He loves him fiercely enough to protect at any cost, to go against the law for him, to take a bullet for him if it ever came down to it.
But. He loves Sam totally different too. He loves him sweet and soft. He wants to be wrapped up in Sam. He wants to bury his mouth in Sam's neck, wants to wrap his legs around Sam's waist and cling on for dear life. Bucky wants to know Sam's dark places, he wants to drown in misery with him then drag them both back to shore. Mostly he wants to make him happy, endlessly fucking ecstatic so that Sam never experiences another ounce of sadness for the rest of his life.
He wants to put romantic old school music on--the kind of shit Parker would tease him for--and spin Sam around their living room like he did those dames in another life. He wants to feed Sam pancakes in bed, wash his back, hold his hand, and put movies on that they'll never watch because each other's mouths are far too interesting.
That's how he loves Sam Wilson. It is terrifying and freeing all at once.
Back home, Bucky goes to his room, digs out the shoebox, and ticks off "Watch an opera" with a stupid smile on his face.
"So, I got this Henny!" Sam calls out to Bucky from the kitchen while Bucky's putting the box away.
"Can't get drunk!" he shouts back because he's a little shit.
He hears Sam laugh, "Well then come watch me do it!"
And so that's how Bucky ends up sitting barefoot on the kitchen counter and Sam also barefoot in his fancy slacks and shirt unbuttoned halfway down, talking about all kinds of bullshit in the low light.
Sam tells him about the time he fought Ant-Man at the compound in very animated and exaggerated detail, and Bucky laughs for three minutes straight. He laughs so hard he slides off the counter as if he's a slippery fish and disappears behind it.
"Jesus," Sam says, cackling just as much, and comes around to check on Bucky. They're giggling hysterically, making wheezing noises. Bucky's not sure what's so funny anymore but shit it's hilarious.
Bucky is breathless from laughing eventually, and he lets Sam help him up from his heap of hysterics on the floor.
And then they're standing awfully close. Bucky smells the wet smear of Hennessy on Sam's bottom lip. Why is that so enticing, goddamnit. He forces himself not to look at Sam's mouth and miserably fails at that because Sam is looking too.
"You're an idiot," Sam says, suddenly very serious.
Bucky swallows and brings his hand up to trace along the hem of Sam's untucked shirt.
They're looking each other dead in the eye. So so close.
Sam's eyes flick up to Bucky's, and he says, "I haven't laughed like that since… Since he—"
"Since what, Sam," Bucky pleads. He wants to know this. He wants Sam to be okay again, to be able to talk about Riley.
But Sam never talks about Riley.
Sam spins around, says, "Uhm. It's getting late, Buck." and rinses his glass out before he shuffles off to his room.
Bucky goes to his room too, showers and drifts off into a fitful sleep. He wakes up time and time again wondering if Sam's sleeping or if he's crying into his pillow alone like he's heard him do when he's supposed to be far away in dreamland. He wonders if Riley haunts Sam's dreams right now.
Bucky wakes a little while later from the sound of ice and glass clinking together, the light suction of the fridge as it seals, and the click of the corner lamp in the lounge.
Not normal nighttime activity.
Bucky's got a knife in one hand just in case and tiptoes down the short hallway. He sets down the knife the moment he sees Sam.
He's sitting with a whiskey tumbler balanced on his knee, old polaroids spread in his lap: Riley's smiling face, the two of them in an embrace, a candid they were so obviously unaware of that it didn't occur to them to look anywhere else but at each other.
Sam just stares at it. Then he speaks. His voice is twisted velvet, a little wet.
"He always flew at my six." Sam flips the edge of a photo in quiet reverie, "It's why he got hit.
Sam never talks about Riley, but sometimes the heartache brims over, and there's not a lot he can do to contain it.
He lifts a hand to silence Bucky, gestures for him to sit down.
"Riley said seein' me fly woke him up inside. Said when the sun hit from the front I looked... He said—"
His voice cuts off then, he makes an aborted attempt to clear his throat, but the tears are already bubbling from the corners of his eyes. They tumble down his cheeks like they've been waiting to do just that for ages.
Bucky reaches over and wraps his left hand around Sam's. There ain't a lot of words he can say, and his metal hand is cold and hard, but this way, Sam at least knows he's there. He's listening. He cares.
"For years after he—for years after that, everyone looked like him. Everywhere I went I'd see Riley, and sometimes I'd go chasin' after him down an alley. Especially after—"
Sam snaps his head to Bucky as if he just realized that he's divulging too much, opening up too wide, and none of this was ever meant for Bucky's ears.
Bucky thinks: Please don't. Don't shut down now, sweetheart. Please please please.
"After what?" he asks.
There's a deep inhale, shaky, but sure, and then Sam says, "After Steve got you back."
And that's it, ain't it? It is hope. That's what he sees flash across Sam's face sometimes. That's the sounds he makes in his dreams. That is what Sam is partly made of. Figures since he's been living like this for so long. Sam still hopes for a miracle.
"Figured, if that's possible, what ain't, huh?" says Bucky and lets his hand squeeze a little.
Sam snorts then shakes his head. The tears still fall down. "Yeah. I know he won't—I saw him when,"
"I know," Bucky says. He knows everything about hope. "And that's okay. If that's what you hold onto to make it through, then that's alright."
Sam looks at Bucky, he frowns helplessly, and Bucky wonders if anyone ever told him that. That sometimes it's easier just to hope than it is to accept. "It's okay, Sam."
Sam's face crumples up, and he starts shaking. It's a deep, despairing kind of thing that makes a hollow pit in Bucky's stomach. How can he just sit there and watch? No. He pulls Sam against him and puts both arms around him. He lets Sam break down but keeps him near so that he can hold the pieces together for him. Just for this little while.
"It's okay." He repeats. His cheek rests against Sam's head. "S'okay."
Chapter 3: in our laughter
Bucky's dying to know where Sam got the idea from to ride a bull. He is also greatly unsure if Sam planned to ride an actual live bull, in which case he's utterly insane. While Bucky will go as far as personally driving Sam to whatever corner of the earth to fulfill his wishlist, he stops short of placing the guy he's sweet on in the path of a four-legged death machine.
However, he reckons Sam could take it on. Probably. Sam runs pretty fuckin' fast for a non-enhanced human.
"Hey, you think you can take on a bull?"
Sam, on his back with a bowl of popcorn, cranes his head up and frowns at him, "Can I what now?? "
"I mean, hypothetically, if one charged at you, would you be able to outrun it, or like not get killed?" Bucky says. He steals some of Sam's popcorn.
Sam tucks his feet in under Bucky's thigh. He looks like he's trying to be serious, but he's failing at that quite miserably. "Dude, what are you talking about," he throws a popcorn flake at Bucky, "Of course I can!"
Inevitably they start arguing about the semantics of it, how much it'll actually take to outrun a pissed-off bull. Sam even googles their weight, and top speed then does some complicated calculation on one of his sticky notes to prove his point. Bucky just likes watching him get so passionate and worked up over crazy scenarios.
So, of course, a real live bull is out of the question.
Bucky says, "Alright pal, next best thing is one of those mechanical fellas. Think you can hold onto that?"
Sam says, "Pshh." Bucky's not sure what Pshh is supposed to mean, but Sam takes out his phone and pulls up the address of a nearby cowboy looking joint with bright red neon lights out front.
And that's pretty much how they end up at a steakhouse with an obscene mechanical bull smack bang in the middle of the place. The walls are decorated with vintage cowboy memorabilia, and they've got old country music blaring through the speakers that some young folks over by the bar are dancing to.
Sam takes one look at the sturdy brown leather half-cow writing about in the middle of the floor, and says, "Nope."
Bucky picks them both a classic style cowboy hat off the complimentary rack and hands Sam's over to him. He supposes it also serves as a cover; nothing will spoil their evening like people recognizing Captain America and becoming ogling, cooing messes.
"What do you mean, nope? Don't tell me you're scared of—?"
"Throwing my back out?" Sam says, "Damn straight, I am."
"You are an avenger! "
Sam rolls his eyes and pulls them around the corner to the bar. "Gotta prepare for this shit!" Sam shouts because the music is louder over here.
Bucky watches the barman line up four shots of clear liquid. He looks at Sam with some obvious skepticism.
"It's okay!" Sam yells above the music, "Tequila!"
Bucky pulls a face that Sam thinks is hilarious, but he nods his agreement and Sam orders four more. Well, okay then.
Sam grins from ear to ear when he picks up his first shot. "Cheers!"
Bucky copies him and holds the shot to his mouth, throws it back when Sam does, then eats a lemon wedge. It's… not horrible. It pulls all the taste buds in his mouth into a pucker, but the aftertaste is pleasant enough to warrant a second, then the third and fourth.
Sam taps the tiny glass down on the bar after each one. His eyes are a little more sparkly afterward. He's got a wicked pull to his lips when he turns to Bucky, rubs his hands together, and says, "Alright. Where's that bull."
Bucky smirks, leans back on the bar. "Thought you were worried about your back and all?"
Sam shushes him by placing his index finger on Bucky's lips. Bucky thinks he's going to pass out. Sam says, "That was 10-minutes-ago-me. This is now-me. Now-me wants to ride a bull."
Bizarrely that statement makes Bucky blush. Thank god for dim strobe lights, huh?
Bucky grabs Sam by the wrist, "Okay. Come on."
Bucky takes him to the front where he saw a stack of bandanas. He makes Sam put one on because he already sees the headlines: "Captain America: Rough Rider." He shudders.
"You think I can hold onto that thing?" Sam's looking curiously at the bull just as it swings a skinny blonde broad right across the mat. Damn.
Bucky shrugs and very earnestly says, "For the sake of the video I'm gonna take, I hope it hurls you to Texas, pal. For the sake of your dignity, I sure hope you can."
"You," Sam says, grins a bright one. He covers the lower half of his face with his bandana, then, muffled, says, "You're an asshole."
Bucky returns his million-dollar smile and shoves Sam in the direction of the mechanical bull. Over there the spotlights are bright so Sam freezes for a second when he steps out and everyone cheers. Bucky gives him a thumbs up and wiggles his phone in the other hand.
The d.j makes a big fuss of it, the woman in the first row of tables too. It's sort of funny. Bucky still gets inexplicably jealous. Sam gets on the thing, curls his hand around the handlebar and nods to the d.j that he's ready to start.
Bucky almost forgets to hit record because the bull begins rocking Sam back and forth slowly and it is incredibly distracting. Jesus Christ. His body moving like that, his thighs bulge under his jeans, his biceps straining and rippling to keep himself steady.
The longer he stays on it, the more the crowd cheers which in turn does wonders for his endurance. Sam holds out even when the bull begins to jerk violently in all directions, so much so that Bucky at one point wants to jump in and stop it. But he reminds himself of the spongy mats, the inevitable safe landing and the way Sam's eyes crinkle up in the corner.
Sam's enjoying himself. He's wearing that gorgeous rainbow smile under the bandana, Bucky knows. His mission was to make Sam happy, and he looks pretty happy to Bucky.
Eventually, not even Captain America can hold onto the force of the bull and just as Bucky imagined, Sam gets flung across the mats and hits the ground laughing.
Bucky ends the recording, giggling to himself and goes over to help Sam up.
He's breathless and sweaty and a little unsteady on his feet. "Got you," Bucky says, swinging the metal arm around Sam's waist. He holds him up easily like that and leads him to the bar on the other side where he can discard the bandana.
"Oh, god!" Sam heaves when he undoes the knot and wipes his face with the material. "That was—"
"Pretty impressive, gotta say."
"Fuck yeah! Did you get it on video? Did I look good? How's my butt look?" Sam waves at the waiter in what must be some secret bar lingo for refreshments, since the guy appears a moment later with two beers.
Bucky chuckles, and yes okay, his cheeks are hot again. "It looked fine, Wilson."
"Just fine?? "
Bucky rolls his eyes, "Oh, fuck me!" then takes a sip of beer.
Sam grins wickedly, then winks, "That's what he said."
That's pretty unexpected, makes Bucky sputter out a laugh and shove at Sam's shoulder. "Jesus. Here. See for yourself." he says and hands Sam his phone, then presses play on the video.
Sam cackles at himself on the screen, and it's stupidly adorable. He shows Bucky parts of it as if he wasn't watching every single move already, as if that ain't burned into his memory for the rest of his life.
"Oh, man. The butt does look good!"
It really does, sweetheart. It does. It does. So much. Yes.
Sam's standing in a spot bathed in purple strobe lights and it falls on him all soft and glittery, makes his lashes swoop long half-moons beneath his eyes. Bucky can't look anywhere else.
They leave a short while later and instead of heading home, decide to take a stroll around Central Park, half-finished beers still in their hands.
"Hey," Sam says, nudging Bucky's shoulder, "Thanks for tonight. Thanks for everything lately."
Sam's not looking away from him, and Bucky wonders if he knows that Bucky knows about the list, he wonders if now's the time to fess up and tell Sam. But he doesn't know how to do that. He simply offers Sam a smile.
Sam continues, "I forgot to have fun with all the shit that happened. Been hittin' the ground fighting since D.C. I forgot how to just breathe."
"I know what that's like," Bucky replies quietly. He knows it's hard to live without constant chaos sometimes when that's what you've been used to for so damn long. This is the first bit of peace they've had in years.
They find a small bench between a tree and a streetlamp and sit down. Sam doesn't spare any space; he shifts until his arm presses against the length of Bucky's metal one.
"I used to do the same thing when I was serving. Forget to live." He continues. He's looking straight ahead, beer resting between his legs and he's got a faint glimmer of the sad, lost look on his face. The next word he says seems like it gets stuck in his throat before coming out, "Riley reminded me how. He'd take me out on the town, do the stupidest shit," Sam laughs, "made me do it too. I… He was the reason I… he kept me alive."
"You loved him," Bucky notes.
Sam turns to him. It breaks Bucky's heart the way his eyes are wet and gleaming like this. "Yeah. Still do. But uhm," Sam leans to the side to fish something from his back pocket. Bucky doesn't immediately realize what it is until Sam unfolds it. Sam is holding the tear blotched wishlist.
"Sam, I didn't… it's not," Shit. He didn't plan for this part of the plan. He fully intended to tell Sam at some point, when he completes all the items save for the last one since he can't help Sam with that.
While he sputters out an apology, Sam reaches in his pocket again and pulls out a pencil that Bucky doesn't even know he had on him.
Sam ticks off "Ride a bull."
Bucky says, "I'm so sorry. That was private. I had no—" and fails to explain what possessed him to do something like this.
But then Sam says, "My heart's big enough for two, Barnes."
And he ticks off "Fall in Love."
Bucky's words halt dead in their tracks, and he stares at the list, a little bewildered if not completely shocked. It does take his brain a few seconds, while Sam is blinking at him expectantly, for reality to settle in. And still, all his mangled brain comes up with is: "Who'd you fall in love with?!"
Sam's shoulders drop, exasperated, and he rolls his eyes, "Christ."
"What??" He says like a dumbass.
"What? Do I know them?" Has he been fucking delusional? How'd he miss Sam going sweet on someone when he lives with the fuckin' guy??
"Holy..." Sam grips the back of his neck, nods while he's speaking, "I'm gonna kiss you now. You big idiot."
Again, Bucky goes, "Wha—"
But their lips meet before Bucky gets out another syllable. His eyes are still open, so he sees Sam smiling as much as he feels it against his lips before Sam parts his mouth a little.
Bucky's eyes fall shut, and he smiles back. It's funny how his body remembers how to do this, how his lips close so softly over Sam's despite being 70 years or so out of practice.
Sam shifts forward a little, and then there's a hand in his neck and one on his thigh that squeezes, it makes all the air in Bucky's lungs feel like fluffy, pink clouds.
Bucky squeezes Sam's bicep too, seems kisses means squeezes, and he doesn't mind that one bit.
Bucky sort of pulls Sam into his lap and slips his fingertips under Sam's shirt.
Sam is a really, really good kisser, his tongue is so slick and soft, and he's cupping Bucky's face just right, lets his hands curl up in Bucky's hair, and it is… waking up his enthusiastic boner.
He's thinking of a good enough reason to stop (and failing) when somewhere in the distance someone yells, "Hey! What're you doing over there!!" and a security guard comes jogging toward them.
They let out a unified "Shit!!" and book it for the exit. Sam's got the wishlist crumpled in one hand and clutches Bucky's metal hand in the other.
Together they run toward the car cackling uncontrollably. In Bucky's chest, an indescribable warmth spreads, it furls around his ribs like vines and envelops his heart. His brain's still trying to catch up to the fact that he just had Sam's lips on his own, had him in his arms, that he made Sam smile like that. That he kissed Sam Wilson, holy shit!
Running with a semi is uncomfortable as hell though.
Chapter 4: forever more
In truth, Sam hadn't looked at that list in years. He tried to forget it existed in the first place, tried pretending that the thought of it didn't fill him with unimaginable dread and regret.
But Riley can't be forgotten or ignored; he lives on in Sam. Love like that lingers despite distance, despite absence, despite death.
So when Bucky first suggested they do things that Sam had long since put aside, it was painful, but it was just what he needed to remember that Riley, above all, wanted him to live his life.
He kind of forgot how, until recently. Forgot how Riley's favorite thing was the way Sam laughed, and how Riley would stare and grin and look all stupid at Sam. At some point, he started seeing that same fond look on Bucky's face whenever they were together.
He's no idiot; he knew what Bucky was up to since he said the word 'waterpark'. He could never hear that word and not think of Riley jumping to his feet in a heat-stricken desert and going "Jesus christ what I'd give to roll around in acres of fuckin' water right about now!" The way he sat down next to Sam in the dusty red sand and said, "Sammy take me to a goddamn waterpark when we get outta here, will ya?!"
Sam promised he would.
Sam made a fucking list.
The same way Riley said, "You know what a soprano is?" and proceeded to explain the whole affair in excruciating detail with such enthusiasm Sam swore his pupils would stay that dilated and his smile would never vanish.
He promised to take Sam to see a play one day, promised he'd love it. Made him put it on the list.
Sam ended up going by himself. He did love it. He sobbed alone in the dark of the empty theatre long after the play had finished.
Riley said, "—win a fuckin' rodeo, Sam, swear to god—hey one day, one day I'm booking us a trip. All across the state." and Sam told him he had to be crazy thinking Sam would ever get on a bull.
Riley grabbed the list and scribbled down "Ride a bull" anyway in his nasty, uneven handwriting, then tucked it back in Sam's uniform pocket.
Sam looked at Riley then, and he still remembers it clearly, his freckled face and boyish smile as he closed his eyes and soaked up the sun.
It was then that Sam wrote the last item on that list even though he was already so deeply in love.
He knows Riley was in love with him too because his pinky curled around Sam's in the warm sand and he hummed an old, old love song that Sam can never quite get out of his head to this day.
The next day Riley spread his wings one last time.
"So," Sam says early the following day when Bucky shuffles into the kitchen, "There's something else that needs to be ticked off."
Bucky frowns at him because each item now has a faint grey tick beside it.
"NASA ain't quite ready with that spaceship, dollface," Bucky grumbles as he pours coffee. "Gimme a week."
Sam goes a little hot up his neck at the name Bucky calls him.
He laughs and moves to wrap his arms around Bucky's middle from behind. "Stop being a smart ass, Barnes, and get dressed. Got a jet waiting." He whispers into Bucky's ear.
Bucky's skin responds in a spread of goosebumps that Sam is all too pleased about.
"Christ." Bucky mumbles and turns in Sam's grip, stares down at Sam's mouth, "Let a guy breathe will ya?"
Sam gives him an intentionally wicked grin and leans up to kiss Bucky. This is only the second time that they properly kiss each other. Feverish necking in the hallway before deciding to cool it doesn't count.
Bucky runs a finger along Sams jaw, and pulls away a fraction, "I bet I can top whatever plans you made today, and we ain't even gotta move from this spot," he says and goes back for more. Lord, the man can kiss. Sam's a little weak at the knees, and he's kind of losing it with the way Bucky holds his chin when he puts his mouth on Sam's
Sam is serious about getting a move on though, so much to his dismay, he interrupts their moment. In his sweetest, sugary voice he says, "Hmm, damn, I'm gonna take you up on that offer baby," then he heads off to his room, "But first get your ass dressed, something you'd wear for hiking. Leavin' in 10!"
Bucky stares after him all disgruntled, looking real cheated because he can't stand there necking Sam for another twenty minutes.
Sam showers, he doesn't bother shaving because his beard's coming in real nice now, and slips on a pair of short cargos, a white Captain America t-shirt—yes, he's that guy, what about it?—a pair of sneakers, ballcap, and his shades.
He's good to go. Bucky though...
The guy clearly doesn't understand the meaning of hiking gear.
"Those are skinny jeans." Sam points out as he puts his shades on. "And assassin boots."
"I resent that," Bucky says, acting like he's offended, "These boots don't have a single speck of blood—"
"No!!" Sam throws his hands up, "Man. I hate you."
Bucky laughs, rough and deep and sincere.
"You ready to go?" Sam asks before he finds a reason to lock himself in here with Bucky and not come out for at least two days.
"Ready as ever, doll," he says, takes Sam's hand and puts his own shades on. They are a damn fine couple if Sam says so himself.
Sam won't tell Bucky where they're going, and Bucky stopped prodding about an hour into the trip and is now just reading a book in the co-pilot seat while Sam flies the jet down to the Grand Canyon.
There is something to be said about the satisfaction and closure you feel once you finally manage to do something you thought was impossible. Steve told him long ago, shortly after Bucky was found again, how Bucky dreamt of this place, how he couldn't stop talking about it.
Bucky never talks about the things he wants. Like Sam never really spoke about Riley. Sam thinks: why say anything when it's so easy just to show?
He knows he was right when the jet's ramp lowers and this rocky expanse of land comes into view. Bucky stares in awe at the view, the jagged formations and tips of swaying trees below them, the sun gleaming sharp on the horizon.
"How'd I do?" Sam asks quietly, smiling.
Bucky brings one hand up to his face and rubs over his beard. "Goddamn," he whispers all wet and hoarse. When he blinks, a single tear runs down his cheek. He turns to look at Sam and entwines their hands. Cool metal and warm skin, "It's perfect, dollface. It's just perfect."
Sam leans closer, rest his head on Bucky's shoulder. Sam whispers, "So are you." and maybe Bucky hears it because he tightens his grip on Sam's hand ever so slightly.
They stand there and watch for a long time; they watch the shadows shift from one corner of the canyon and stretch over the middle.
And maybe they both let something go while they're standing there, just a little bit of the hurt so that they can make room for happiness. Finally. Sam thinks he goddamn deserves it. Riley would have wanted this for him, would have told him how gorgeous he is when he's happy and to "smile a little Sammy; make my day."
Sam sniffs, and Bucky kisses the top of his head, then sniffs too.
Later—after a short hike, a few selfies and maximum complaining about skinny jeans and friction—they're stretched out on the ramp of the jet on a soft blanket, picnic basket settled between them, while they watch the sun draw lower and lower, getting ready for nightfall.
Bucky turns on his side, and his fingers play around in Sam's hair, scratching along his scalp.
Sam maneuvers himself so he can lean in for a kiss and just like before it's too good to pull away. This time they don't have to; Sam landed high enough that no one can even see them.
Bucky is slowly busy working the picnic basket out of the way, inching closer to Sam. He's not subtle at all, especially not when he nudges Sam's face to the side and makes his way down Sam's neck.
The cool air up here chills the skin where Bucky's mouth has been, but where their bodies press together, they're warm. Sam gets a little bold and pulls Bucky on top of him.
"Hey now," Bucky says all gruff and smirking.
Sam runs a finger along that bearded jaw and tells him, "I ain't been this happy in a long time, Barnes."
Because Bucky is an absolute idiot, he does a quick salute with the metal hand and says, "At your service, Cap."
Sam laughs and drags him back down for a kiss while the sky turns a hundred shades of pastel above them.
Funny how this feels an awful lot like the type of love that lingers. Funny too, how he never thought he'd find that again.