“Banner,” Sam says. “You’ve got to promise not to send me anywhere fucked up.”
“I would never do that, Sam,” Bruce says patiently.
“He’s definitely gonna send you somewhere fucked up,” Rhodes says, raising his eyebrows as he leans against a nearby lab table.
“You’re going to 1992,” Bruce says, giving Rhodes a look. “Walk around a bit. Then you’ll meet up with Barnes in 1979 and come back here. No more, no less.”
“You’re going to do great,” Scott says, happy, as ever, just to be invited.
Scott’s in New York, in particular, to help them test an updated version of the quantum suit; allegedly new and improved, although Sam’s not entirely sure why they’re messing with a good thing, or why they’re still messing with time travel at all. Surely too many people have had their hands in the pie now—Tony, Bruce, Scott, Hank Pym—for this to be entirely safe. He wishes Sharon were here; she, at least, is practical enough to agree that this is stupid.
Or maybe he’s just feeling a bit chickenshit about the whole thing.
Bucky looks similarly disenchanted as he examines his shiny white suit, which he’s been doing since he put the thing on a few minutes ago. “So this thing’ll take me straight to Sam, if I need it to.”
“Yes,” Bruce says, either full of confidence or full of shit, Sam isn’t entirely sure. “And if not, just come back here.”
“Great,” Bucky says dryly. “This is just what I always wanted.”
“Hey,” Sam says, “you volunteered after I did, Barnes. I believe your exact words were ‘if Sam’s going, I’m going.’”
He's not actually surprised Bucky volunteered, of course; Bucky has pretty much gone everywhere Sam's gone for the last, oh, eighteen months or so. It's gone from being mildly confusing at first to a given now. Sam's always worked best with a partner, after all, and Bucky is—something like that.
“Couldn’t let you screw it up, could I,” Bucky says, moving towards the jump pad. He knocks his shoulder easily against Sam’s before stepping up onto the platform.
Then he offers Sam a hand, as though Sam can’t possibly manage the step on his own. “C’mon, ready or not, birdy.”
Sam rolls his eyes and bats Bucky’s hand away, ignoring Bucky’s grin as he takes his place on the platform. Bucky takes the spot to Sam’s right, and they both spend the next few moments standing there awkwardly as Bruce mumbles to himself and presses buttons on the control panel.
“I was still in elementary school in ‘92,” Sam mutters. “God, this is weird.”
Bucky gives a little moue. “I was in a freezer in Eastern Europe.”
Sam waits a beat. “We were both really into Popsicles at the time, then.”
Bucky laughs, too brightly given the circumstances, and then Bruce starts counting down. Sam watches Bucky’s cheerful expression sober, but finds only mild apprehension settling in its place.
We’re going to be fine, Sam tells himself, as Bucky’s gaze flicks to meet his. This is only a trial run, after all, and after what the others managed to pull off, well, this ought to be nothing. We’re both going to be fine.
Bucky’s eyes are steady and blue—and familiar, after all this time.
Bruce doesn’t finish the countdown, or if he does, Sam doesn’t hear it. One second he’s still looking at Bucky, oddly averse to looking away, as if they’re having the world’s strangest staring contest. Bucky opens his mouth to speak; Sam strains to hear him.
Then the whole world—and maybe everything else, too—goes askew.
Sam materializes on his feet, but stumbles almost immediately, his equilibrium lurching. He bumps into something that feels like a brick wall, unable to get his balance. The word topsy-turvy comes to mind. He grits out a “no, no,” to nobody in particular before he throws his head forward and vomits on his own boots.
He leans heavily against the wall, breathing raggedly through his mouth as the nausea calms. It’s dark wherever he is; he expected daylight. He’s supposed to have materialized in Atlanta thirty years prior, though judging by the damp smell, he’s definitely in a city alley, narrow and dingy. There’s music playing somewhere, muffled by the sturdy brick next to him.
Sam lifts his head and looks toward the entrance to the alleyway, about ten yards away. There are spots in his vision; he hasn’t quite recovered from whatever quantum wringer he just went through. It’s easy to mistake it for a trick of the light when two women stroll by in knee-length skirts, their short, brassy hair styled in thick, careful curls. Sam’s no expert on white women’s hairstyles—or any women’s hairstyles, actually—but they look pretty grandmotherly, all things considered.
Barely a moment later, a group passes by the alleyway, a handful of men in olive green. One of them hoots something, and Sam hears one of the women shout back laughingly, her accent bright and lofty, “Oh, piss off!”
Either Sam has just stumbled upon some kind of war reenactment—in the middle of a major city in the southern United States, where absolutely no battles were fought—or something has gone left. Or, rather, pretty far east.
They’re supposed to be checking the tethering capabilities on the quantum suits—their ability to track other time-travelers across time and space, even with a moving target. It wasn’t too much of a concern for the first model, as the goal was simply to get everyone to survive the process, but now that the tech exists, there’s a reasonable chance someone will eventually attempt to get their hands on it. He’s supposed to give it a few minutes before he attempts to jump directly to Bucky and has to resist the urge to attempt it now, experiment be damned.
He sucks in a deep breath—and immediately regrets it, given that he’s still standing next to his own puke splatter—then starts fooling with the costuming function. That’s been drastically upgraded, too, but Sam’s too keen on figuring out what the hell is going on to waste much time with it. He settles on a pair of khaki slacks, a perfectly reasonable choice in most of the English-speaking world for the last seventy or eighty years, a plain white button-down, and a brown leather jacket. All told, it makes for an outfit that, he thinks ruefully, Steve might’ve worn.
The street’s not busy at this hour, but a single glance at the cars parked here and there up and down the road confirms that yeah, he’s definitely overshot his mile marker; he’s no expert, but the early 1940s wouldn’t be a bad guess. A look in a car window confirms that the people here definitely drive on the wrong side, and the scenery has a metropolitan air, albeit a dated one. He seems to have materialized next to a bar, and while instinct urges him away from lights and people, he might stand the best chance of figuring out exactly where and when he is by venturing in, at least for a moment.
Sam walks in and is immediately overwhelmed by the warmth and noise—he feels easily overstimulated, as though on the verge of a migraine. He takes another few steps into the front room and almost immediately stumbles directly into someone’s path, bumping into a broad chest.
Some beer slops over the rim of a glass in the other man’s hand. “Oh,” Sam says automatically. “Shit. Sorry.”
“Whoa there,” the guy says, distinctly American. As Sam looks into a handsome, dark-skinned face, he has the strangest idea that that face should be in black and white. “You alright?”
“I, uh,” Sam says. “What’s the name of this bar?”
The guy shrugs. “Hell if I know,” he says. “English joints all sound the same.”
Another man, paler, shorter, and mustachioed, pokes his head out from behind the American and asks him something in what sounds like French. Sam’s knowledge of that particular language is limited to voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?, and right now his grasp on English isn’t much better.
He’s still standing smack in the two guys’ way, and now they’re both watching him with raised eyebrows, either out of impatience or polite concern. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, man,” the American says. “You need a seat?”
Sam tries to control what must undoubtedly be a distressed expression, but no amount of nanotech can cover the sickly scent of bile that’s following him—not to mention the fact that he looks woefully out of place in this dark, chintzy pub, surrounded by men in uniform and women in dresses and pumps. He sits when the French guy points him towards a table a couple of steps away, and watches in muted astonishment as the Frenchman plunks a beer down on the tabletop.
“We’re in a celebratory mood,” the American says by way of explanation, shrugging. “Drink up, and uh—you got something on your face.”
Another man appears next to the French guy, snatching another beer out of his other hand. “Sweet Christ, we sent you guys to get beers, not pick up strays,” he says, also American. “Who’s this?”
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch, Morita, we—”
That name jogs something loose, and as Sam looks up into the three faces standing above him, recognition bursts like sun flares—Morita, Jones, Dernier—if he looks, surely he’ll find Dugan, and Falsworth, and—
Yet another face appears, this one blotting out some of the low amber light from the nearest wall fixture. “What’s all the fuss about?” the fourth man says, conversational, downright drawling, and Sam looks up into his face.
“Barnes,” Sam says, very nearly sighing this. Bucky meets his eyes immediately. Morita, Jones, and Dernier all turn their attention, expectantly, to Bucky.
Sam expects Bucky to cover for him, probably before coming up with some excuse to hustle him from the bar; these are his old war buddies, after all, so it ought to be his responsibility to deal with them.
He doesn’t expect Bucky to just—stare at him. “Sorry, pal,” Bucky says a bit slowly, maybe to play up his accent. “Have we met?”
Sam waffles for only a second. “In basic,” he says. “You don’t remember me?”
Bucky gives him a thin smile. “Don’t think so,” he says. “What’s your name?”
Sam’s gaze falls, as though dragged, to the drink in Bucky’s hand. His left hand—ungloved, and very convincingly flesh and bone.
“Tom,” Sam says, on autopilot. “Tom Paulson.”
This Bucky’s hair is a little longer on top and has been neatly combed and parted. His facial hair is shorter, a touch patchier. There are sickly dark circles under his eyes, giving him a vaguely hollowed-out look. He looks—like a soldier, Sam thinks. And like someone’s shaved a few years off him.
But he’s also pursing his lips a bit, giving him a slightly pug-faced look that Sam has seen Bucky make plenty of times, most recently while overwhelmed with options in the chip aisle at 7/11. It’s Bucky, alright, it’s just not a Bucky he’s ever met before.
Given the context, though, that frowning look of his takes on a slightly suspicious cast. “I’d say you have me mistaken,” Bucky says, “but you know my name. So.”
“C’mon,” Morita says then, making as though to walk off. “Dugan said—”
Sam stops listening to their chatter, too busy looking around the bar. Isn’t it a cardinal sin of time travel to run into the past versions of people you know? Every movie ever would have him believe it. He needs to go before this Bucky looks at him any harder than he already is right now—
Steve cuts an imposing figure, even from across the room, and even from behind; his broad shoulders are immediately recognizable, clad in an unfamiliar olive green jacket. Sam’s eyes catch momentarily on the shiny blond gleam of his hair under the lights. Then Steve starts to turn, and Sam lurches up from the table.
“Excuse me,” he says, and makes a beeline for the front door.
Someone says something to his back—Bucky, he thinks, it’s Bucky calling after him—no, it’s not, it might as well be a stranger—but Sam doesn’t stop. He bursts out into the cool air and relative quietude of the London street, then, deeming it the safest option for now, heads for the alley from which he came.
He gets rid of the get-up and starts cueing up the jump sequence as soon as he’s hidden in the shadows, moving quickly through the dialogs that should take him to Barnes, his Barnes. Then he pushes the metaphorical button, closes his eyes, feels the swooping sensation in his gut that signals a jump—and finds himself right back where he was ten minutes ago.
“What,” Sam says, “the fuck.”
“Oh, piss off!” the girl at the end of the alley laughs.
Sam opens his comm channel. “Barnes?” he says. “Barnes, do you copy?”
Silence. If Barnes is nearby, he’s not talking, and he wouldn’t do that to Sam unless something had gone horribly wrong.
Sam pulls up the tracking readout on Barnes on the visor, but there’s seemingly nothing to track, no bead on Bucky to follow; either the function isn’t working or something really has gone horribly wrong. Panic lurches in his gut, tasting like bile. Speaking of which, his puke is now gone from the ground and wall as though it never was. Jesus Christ.
Sam keys up the return sequence. If he can get back to Bruce and the others, they can figure out what, if anything, has happened to Bucky. There it is, the sensation of falling while somehow staying in place, and then—
He opens his eyes. He hasn’t moved.
“Fuck,” Sam says.
Laughter. “Oh, piss off!”
Sam doesn’t go back into the bar. He walks a couple blocks in search of an escape from the cold, remembers he has no 1940s British money for a hotel room, then ends up creeping through the half-standing rubble of an apartment building that looks as though it’s been hit by a bomb. Probably because it has.
He has no real way to call for help across eighty years. Nobody can hear him over the comms, that’s for sure. He could attempt a jump again, but after the last dozen tries, he’s pretty sure it’s not him that’s fucking up here. The others should be able to tell that he’s gone off-course; they’ll know to bring him back. Hopefully.
Or he’ll be stuck living the rest of his life from this day forward—this day, very much in November of 1943, judging by a crumpled newspaper he finds on the sidewalk—which would really fucking suck.
He’s not eager to wander the streets alone at night, especially not in this era, so he waits, miserable in the cold and damp, watching over the course of a few hours as the sky lightens from an inky black to a sooty gray. And then, quite unexpectedly, he feels his stomach drop.
He doesn’t even have a chance to feel excited because he realizes almost instantly that he hasn’t been called back to New York, A.D. 2024. It’s dark again, and he’s back in that goddamn alleyway—and this time he didn’t even initiate a jump.
If he makes it back to the present, Sam decides, he’s going to wring Banner’s thick-ass green neck.
He goes back to the bar.
The Whip and Fiddle, according to the sign above the door—a ridiculous name, in Sam’s opinion. He ought to avoid it altogether; he feels like he’s asking for trouble lingering anywhere near the past selves of Steve and Bucky. But if Barnes—the modern one—shows up in 1943 looking for Sam, he’ll hopefully think to look for himself.
The suit has an exhaustive database of costuming choices, favoring certain eras and regions—programmer’s bias, Sam assumes—but designed to provide at least a few options for a jump anywhere in the last couple hundred years. Sam settles on a dress uniform like Steve’s. He’s no expert on the history of military dress, but he does know the Air Force didn’t go blue until after the war.
The bar is exactly as crowded as it was the last time he did this, and now instead of disoriented and panicky, he feels tired and frustrated. He’s taken long enough picking out his wardrobe that Dernier and Jones have already made it back to a table in the rear of the bar. Sam avoids the area, although he can’t help but stand around just long enough to get a good look at them all sitting together, their conversation loud and boisterous, almost bizarrely carefree given the setting, a half-bombed out London in the middle of a war. But life does go on, sometimes even in wartime.
Bucky and Steve are in another room, standing at one end of the long, curved bar, talking quietly; Sam avoids them, too, taking a seat at the far end of the bar, tucked in a dimly-lit corner. From this vantage point, he can study Steve, a younger version than he’s ever met—he’s all put together, handsome and shiny like a new penny, smiling at something Bucky mutters in his ear. Sam wishes he had the money for a goddamn drink.
After about thirty minutes, two of the Commandos—Falsworth and Morita this time—return to the bar, fetching another tray of beers for the table. As they’re leaving, Morita claps Steve on one large shoulder, grinning; Steve playfully shrugs off the touch, then allows himself to be tugged off his seat, glancing at Bucky as he goes. Bucky shakes his head, then waves Steve on, the universal gesture for in a minute.
Sam has drawn a stray lowball glass in front of himself to give the impression that he belongs; he finds himself fidgeting with the glass compulsively, rattling the half-melted ice at the bottom. When he looks up again, Bucky is looking directly at him.
Their eyes meet; Bucky raises his eyebrows, a smile playing at his mouth. Sam nods reflexively, but is unable to force a smile in return. Then Bucky slides off his stool, and Sam thinks—with some passion—oh, fuck.
Bucky approaches, because of fucking course he does; he takes a stroll around the curve of the bar, dodging a couple of women who are giggling and clutching at each other’s sleeves. His movements are leisurely, unstudied, casual in a way that reminds Sam of the calm, confident way Bucky walks when he’s got a gun in his hands. Sam pretends not to be tracking his movements with singular focus, but he can’t bring himself to feign surprise when Bucky swings a leg over the stool immediately to Sam’s right.
“Seat taken?” Bucky asks.
When Sam makes it back to the 2020s—when, he thinks firmly, not if—he is going to wring Barnes’s neck, too, just for the hell of it. “Wide open,” Sam says. “Just like the one you left.”
Bucky raises his eyebrows and blinks; Sam recognizes this look. It’s the look he makes when he’s about to be a pain in Sam’s ass. “Yeah, I noticed,” Bucky says, leaning forward, letting his elbows rest on the edge of the bar. His eyes don’t leave Sam’s face. “Noticed you watching me and my friend, too.”
Sam considers himself a quick study, and it probably helps that he already knows Bucky—at least, a future iteration of Bucky. He thinks, based on the evidence at hand, that this Bucky is spoiling for trouble. There’s the deliberately casual, almost cocksure posture; the hint of a smirk; the way he won’t fucking stop looking at Sam, staring openly, like he wants to be called on it.
“Just trying to place a resemblance, that’s all,” Sam says, as easily as he can. “Sorry, man.”
Bucky huffs. He turns his head and lets his gaze track along the far wall. Sam’s pretty sure he’s looking pointedly at a large Captain America poster near the front door. “Did you figure it out?” Bucky asks, his tone wry, as he looks back at Sam.
Sam only hesitates for a second. “I didn’t mean your friend,” he says, on a hunch.
Bucky scoffs again, either out of amusement or disbelief—or maybe both. “Well, I’m no movie star,” he says. “If that’s what you’re wondering.”
“Really?” Sam says. “Could’ve fooled me, Cary Grant.”
Bucky stares at him for a beat or two, seemingly in shock, and then he bursts out laughing. He laughs so heartily and so loudly, throwing his head back with it, that it almost startles Sam. It would seem that, in any era, he and Barnes can find a way to fuck with one another.
“I’ll be goddamned,” Bucky says, once he’s quietened down a bit. “I haven’t had a laugh like that in a while.”
“You look like you could use it,” Sam says.
“We all do, pal,” Bucky says, too blithely to be real. “Yourself included. What’s your name?”
Sam hesitates, but only for a beat. This is Bucky, after all; surely he won’t remember having met Sam, even if he’s going to meet him again—if you could call it that—in seventy or so years? “Sam,” he says. “Sam Wilson.”
Bucky slings out a hand. “Bucky Barnes,” he says, and Sam, trying very hard to ignore how surreal this is, shakes his hand briefly. Bucky turns and looks down the bar, then whistles to get the bartender’s attention. “What’ll you have?”
“Uh—whiskey,” Sam says. “Neat.”
The barkeep makes his way over, and Bucky says, “Whiskey. Put it on Rogers’s tab.” He grins. “My friend here says I look like Cary Grant.”
The bartender blinks. “Your friend should get his eyes checked,” he says.
Bucky snorts. He’s in a strange temper, having shifted from borderline confrontational to charming and silly in a moment. Sam has no basis of comparison for a situation like this, though; the Bucky he knows doesn’t really drink. “How much have you had, Barnes?”
“Oh, plenty,” Bucky says, though he is remarkably clear-eyed, if he’s drunk. He doesn’t quite meet Sam’s eyes when he says, “They must water the drinks down here, because I don’t feel a thing.”
The bartender returns with Sam’s whiskey, and Sam asks, “Do you all have food here?”
The barkeep shrugs. “Could probably fetch you a sandwich,” he says.
Sam nods, trying not to appear too eager, and the bartender leaves again. Bucky watches as Sam takes a sip of his drink. “So, Wilson,” he says. “What brings you here?”
“To London?” Sam says. “Unfortunate circumstances.”
“Join the club,” Bucky says. “I meant here. Sure isn’t the social element, because you’re keepin’ all to yourself.”
Sam blinks at him. “I don’t mind keeping to myself.”
“Really?” Bucky asks, raising his eyebrows. “I’ll leave you be, then.”
He moves to get off his stool, and despite himself, Sam blurts, “Wait. I don’t mind company, either.”
This is a pretty disturbing situation, after all, and so what if he wants familiar company. And nobody could blame him for being curious about Bucky’s younger self—his pre-Hydra self, at that. Even if that younger self is smirking at him, just a little, like Sam has said something unintentionally funny. But he stays, settling comfortably back onto his chair.
The bartender brings Sam a sandwich that is entirely bread and cold cheese, but Sam supposes beggars can’t be choosers. He hadn’t exactly been planning for this mission to last overnight, after all. At least the whiskey has already hit his empty stomach, warming him from the inside out.
Bucky orders another drink of his own and sits there idly, watching Sam eat. “So where’re you from?” he asks.
“Brooklyn,” Bucky says, nodding with approval, as though pleased to be from the same city as Sam. Christ, this is fucking weird. He and Bucky never really had a chance to meet one another, all things considered; Bucky wrenched the steering wheel out of Sam’s car while said car was in motion, and then Sam spent the next couple of years, on and off, on a wild goose chase with Steve. Now he lives with Barnes and spends roughly eighty percent of his time, working or otherwise, around him. And now this.
“You’re a quiet guy,” Bucky muses.
Sam huffs a laugh in between bites of sandwich. “My friends would tell you differently.”
Bucky widens his eyes. “Aren’t we friends?” he says, lifting a hand to his chest as though wounded. “I bought you a drink.”
Sam raises his eyebrows. “I think Captain America bought me a drink, actually.”
A petulant little frown crosses Bucky’s face, but he plays it off with a dramatic roll of his eyes. “Well, I’m a lot more fun than he is.”
“Is that so.”
“Definitely,” Bucky says, mock-serious. “I mean, he’s my friend and all—like a brother to me. But you definitely lucked out with me coming over here.”
Sam laughs despite himself, and Bucky looks slightly mollified. He grins at Sam, and Sam doesn’t think he’s had enough to blame the flush that comes over him on whiskey. He has the same warm, strangely eager feeling in his chest that he gets when he and Barnes are sniping at each other over the comms or bickering over the car radio or debating which breakfast chain to eat at, only this is different.
This Barnes is—flirting with him. A little. Maybe.
“My buddies’ll be wondering where I am,” Bucky says after Sam has finished eating and downed the rest of his drink. “They’re good for a laugh. You could join us.”
“Thanks,” Sam says, “but I should get going soon.”
It’s getting late, or rather early; if Sam’s going to be stuck here for much longer, he’d better get some rest eventually. Bucky nods, although there’s a hint of disappointment in his eyes as Sam gets off his stool. “Sure,” he says. He sticks out a hand again. “Nice meeting you, Wilson.”
Sam shakes his hand. “Don’t worry,” he says, acting on a strange, nameless impulse. “You’ll see me around.”
Bucky smiles lazily at Sam over the rim of his glass. “I hope so,” he says.
Definitely flirting, then.
Sam breaks the lock on the backdoor of a clothing shop across the street from the bar in order to bed down for a few hours. He feels a little guilty about it, sure, but it’s better than stealing, and presumably with fewer butterfly effect-style consequences. Once out of the elements, he gets a couple hours of thin sleep before he is rudely awakened, not by the owner of the shop, but by another quantum jump.
He finds himself, once again, in the alleyway outside the Whip and Fiddle, this time lying on the cold, hard ground. It’s definitely the same night; the same group passes by on the street as he lies there, stunned. There’s absolutely no way he managed to trigger a time jump in his sleep, even if he’s got a malfunctioning suit. The feeling of wrongness—the unease which he’d been able to set aside for a few hours while he entertained himself in the bar—returns in full force now.
This time, he makes it out onto the street a little earlier, having not needed to spend as much time disguising himself as he has on previous occasions. He heads for the bar entrance, still trying to tamp down on a vague but all-encompassing sense of panic, and almost doesn’t realize that he’s found another familiar face until he reaches the front door at the same time as one Peggy Carter.
“Oh,” Sam blurts, as he stares at her and she raises her eyebrows at him. Attempting to cover for his obvious shock, Sam reaches out and grabs the door handle, quickly swinging the door open. “Uh, after you.”
“Thank you,” Peggy says politely before striding past him into the bar, a faint hint of floral perfume wafting behind her on the breeze. She’s slightly shorter than he would’ve expected, even in heels. She is also, of course, astonishingly good-looking, especially in Technicolor.
Peggy doesn’t seem to have come to stay; she pauses to speak to Bucky and Steve, then makes for the exit, but is waylaid before she can get to the door by Dugan. He’s swiftly joined by all the other Commandos, every one of them practically frothing at the mouth. Peggy tolerates this for a few moments before making her escape, at which point Sam witnesses the exact same scene he’s already walked into twice now: Jones and Dernier making their way to the bar, Bucky and Steve talking quietly together, the whole deal.
He’s considerably less obvious about watching this time, wary of inviting Bucky’s attention again, but he still manages to run into him—almost literally, as they nearly bump into one another in the crowd outside the bar’s single bathroom. “Oh,” Bucky says, patting a hand on Sam’s chest to steady them both, then letting his gaze linger, a touch deliberately, on Sam’s face. “Sorry, pal.”
Sam could swear a blue streak. This must show in his expression, because Bucky just raises his eyebrows and goes on his way.
He’s exhausted after what, at this point, has been almost three full nights of this nonsense—he’s in no mood for Bucky, and he definitely doesn’t want to risk running into Steve. He leaves the bar early and makes his way to a hotel several blocks away. Then, using a bit of subterfuge that would probably not make Natasha proud—knocking over a vase in the lobby—he manages to steal a key to a room from behind the front desk. It’s not an especially nice hotel—water-stained ceilings and drab carpets, standard mission fare—but at least this way he’s able to bathe and get some real sleep in a real bed.
Then he wakes up in the alley again, having once again jumped unexpectedly at dawn, and this time he curses so loudly that the girls passing by on the street send nervous looks into the dark alleyway and speed up, their laughter forgotten.
“A pilot, huh.”
Sam’s exact words were I fly, but it’s always easier not to argue with the obvious assumption. Though he thinks this version of Bucky would be pretty interested in the wings. Or maybe not; covert government projects might be a tender subject at this particular point in time.
Maybe it’s just that this particular Bucky seems pretty interested in Sam, generally speaking. It’s been days, now, nearly a week’s worth of nights—and Bucky keeps managing to find him. Tonight Sam even brought a newspaper with him to the bar, just to give himself something to do, and Bucky still found his way to the seat next to him.
Granted, Sam does keep leaving that seat open.
“Yeah, you look like a flyboy,” Bucky decides, after studying Sam for a few beats.
Sam raises his eyebrows. “The hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know,” Bucky says, waving a hand vaguely. “You’re reading the fuckin’ newspaper in a bar. I’ve been out of the loop for a bit myself, but that paper’s days old.” He smirks. “You gotta be a little funny in the head to let them put you in an airplane, I figure.”
Sam laughs. “You’re full of shit.”
Bucky grins. “I’m just screwing with you,” he says then. “You do seem like you’d make a pilot, though. You’re all mysterious and fancy-looking, sitting here by yourself.” He reaches for his drink then, so that he’s not looking directly at Sam when he adds, “Handsome, too.”
It’s been days and Sam still feels guilty for enjoying this, the avidity of Bucky’s interest. He has a vague idea of what the last several weeks of Bucky’s life have been like—Bucky mentioned Italy a few days ago, although he didn’t seem keen on going into detail at the time, so Sam had let it drop. Sam’s heard enough from Steve, though—not to mention history class—about the Austria mission, and about what Steve rescued Bucky from. All things considered, Bucky’s mercurial mood makes a certain amount of sense.
But even with his mood, Bucky’s the one constant Sam has right now. Childishly, he’s continued to avoid Steve. Steve would be much harder to lie to than Bucky, probably because Bucky always seems like he’s enjoying Sam’s bullshit. It’s also easier given that Bucky seems to be avoiding Steve, too.
“Well, they didn’t pick me for my looks,” is all Sam says, in what he hopes is a lighthearted, thanks-but-don’t-get-any-ideas sort of way.
Bucky looks like he has ideas. “Now you’re just being modest,” he says, grinning.
Sam tries very hard not to smile. “I’m Air Force. I’m never modest.”
Bucky laughs, then gets them both another drink. All things considered, Sam decides, it could be worse. It’s not like he has to relive exactly the same thing again and again—the variables stay the same, but his experience varies depending largely on his interactions with Bucky or, occasionally, the other Commandos. At least he’s in good company until Bruce manages to get this thing sorted in 2024. Because surely, surely someone knows that Sam’s stuck here. He’s been trying not to dwell on that part, really.
Tonight, Steve makes an unavoidable appearance; he’s at the bar, presumably to fetch drinks for the others, when he notices where Bucky’s gotten off to. He makes his way through the crowd, smiling, and taps Bucky on the shoulder.
“Oh,” Bucky says. “Hey. Tired of playing busboy for that bunch of drunks?”
Steve rolls his eyes. “They’re having a good time,” he says. “I don’t think Colonel Phillips is going to be happy about my discretionary spending, though. Who’s your friend?”
“This is Sam,” Bucky says. “Sam, Steve Rogers.”
Sam shakes Steve’s hand and pastes on his most pleasant smile. He’s no fool; he knows why it stings to be around this Steve. This Bucky’s different, sure—louder, friendlier, cockier; he hasn’t been through what his older self has yet, and yeah, that’s a pretty dark thought if Sam dwells on it. But this Bucky has still been at war for a while now. By comparison, Steve seems younger, more fresh-faced, almost boyish. Add that to the fact that Sam doesn’t have Steve anymore, in his time, and keeping his distance seems all the more wise.
“Nice to meet you, Sam,” Steve says, raising his voice slightly to be heard over a burst of bawdy song from a nearby table. “You should come sit with us.”
“That’s alright,” Bucky says. Sam doesn’t miss the look Steve gives Bucky, assessing and curious. Bucky’s expression doesn’t change under the scrutiny. “Sam here’s a pilot, he’s too good for the likes of us.”
“He seems to be getting along just fine, Buck,” Steve says, and he throws Sam a little half-smile that makes something in Sam’s chest clench, just briefly. “Nice meeting you, Sam.”
“You, too, man,” Sam says.
Steve wends his way back to the rear of the bar. Sam’s not one for dramatics, but watching him go—even though this Steve, this younger, already lost version of him, has no idea who Sam is—feels a little bit like losing him all over again.
“Something on your mind?” Bucky asks, eyeing Sam. When he gets a little more serious, his gaze steady and watchful, he reminds Sam of his older self. That hurts, too.
Sam shakes his head and takes another sip of his drink. “No,” he says, trying to mean it. “So. Tell me about these friends of yours, Sergeant Barnes.”
The loop is getting shorter.
It used to last until dawn. Then it lasted until just before dawn. The past few nights, he’s been averaging about three A.M. before he gets rudely snatched back to the alley outside the Whip and Fiddle. Sam can’t help but think this doesn’t bode well for the longevity of his time here.
“What would you say,” Sam says, “if I told you I’m from the future.”
Bucky raises his eyebrows, seemingly amused by this question. “I’d say I’ll have what you’re having.”
Sam has had quite a lot of what he’s having. More than he usually allows for, even outside of a time loop.
Sam lets himself lean forward against the bar, avoiding Bucky’s gaze. He won’t have to deal with a Bucky that remembers anything he says. Still, there’s no point indulging in theatrics. As best he can reason, he has two options: take off the suit, effectively dooming himself to living out his days in this timeline, or leave it on and risk getting trapped in a time loop that seems to be collapsing.
All things considered, Sam feels a bit theatrical.
“So,” Bucky says, when Sam says nothing. “Tell me about the future, then. Do they really have flying cars? Howard Stark seems to think so.”
“No,” Sam says. “But there’s jetpacks.”
Bucky snorts. “You’re an odd bird, Wilson.”
Bucky has taken this in stride so far. Sam wonders if he would take it quite so easily if he knew that he’s a part of the future Sam’s from—if Sam told him that, eighty years in the future, a spry thirty-something Bucky will be hanging out with superheroes and drinking coffee from the same pot as Sam every morning. Sam feels like he’s taken a punch to the gut just thinking about it, about Barnes’s stupid, daily, sleepy mumble of mornin’, birdy.
“Yeah,” Sam says finally. “I, uh. I’m sorry. I’m not usually like this. I’m just—”
“Homesick?” Bucky surmises.
“Yeah,” Sam says, running a finger around the rim of his glass. “I guess so.”
“S’alright,” Bucky says. “No shame in it. You got family?”
“My mother,” Sam says. “Two siblings, but I’m closest to my sister.”
Bucky’s met Sarah, actually. He told Sam’s nephew a knock-knock joke.
“I’ve got three younger siblings,” Bucky says. Sam, of course, knows this, although he’s only ever known Bucky with dead siblings before now. “I miss ‘em, much as they made my life hell growing up.”
“My little sister, Becky,” Bucky continues, “she’s with our grandparents now. They’re in Indiana, farmers, but they’re old, of course. Needed the help. She’s miserable there. She wrote me a letter once saying she was going to shave her head and enlist.”
Sam huffs. “What’d you tell her?”
Bucky smiles thinly. “To stay the fuck home.”
Thinking vaguely that he ought to sleep this off while he still has the chance, Sam slides off his stool. He lands on his feet, but the room gives a funny sort of tilt, and he catches at the edge of the bar to steady himself. “Easy,” Bucky says, observing this with raised eyebrows. “You alright?”
“I’m fine,” Sam says. “I’m no good tonight, Barnes. Sorry.”
Bucky studies Sam for a beat, his brows drawn together slightly, then hops off his own stool. “C’mon, pal,” he says easily, slinging an arm over Sam’s shoulders, seemingly without a care in the world. “Where’re you headed?”
“Uh,” Sam says. “Hotel. Three blocks down.”
“Sure,” Bucky says. He exerts faint pressure around Sam’s shoulders and Sam starts walking. Bucky guides them through the bar, never actually giving the impression that he’s leading the way. Sam hasn’t been this drunk in—at least a decade, probably longer; he’s forgotten how it feels, the strange, unsettling disconnect of his brain and body.
He’s drunk enough that he can’t feel the cold as they walk, which is nice. He’s not drunk enough that he can’t feel Bucky’s body heat, though. The warm, solid weight of his arm drapes pleasantly over the back of Sam’s neck, heavy without being burdensome. Sam could turn his face into that warmth gladly.
This Bucky smells different, like wool and a harsher soap, probably Army-issued. Sam can’t remember what the other Bucky smells like.
Sam’s foot catches on a loose brick on the sidewalk. “Shit,” he says, but he doesn’t get the chance to really stumble; Bucky slings out his free arm, too fast, bracing Sam across the chest with a force that—were it not for the protection of the nanotech—would be jarring.
“Sorry,” Bucky says, loosening his grip on Sam’s shoulders. “I, uh—didn’t mean to grab you like that.”
This Bucky doesn’t know his own strength yet; Sam hastens to soothe him. “It’s okay,” he says, turning his face towards Bucky’s, “it’s fine—”
He kisses Bucky without really thinking about it, clumsy and chaste, but very much wanting; Bucky stiffens almost immediately, jerking his face away. “The hell are you doing?”
“Fuck,” Sam says. The middle of the street, the middle of the goddamn street, in 1943—“I’m sorry.”
Bucky seems distinctly displeased, but he still hasn’t let go of Sam, and they seem to be safely alone. “Straighten up, soldier,” he says, and then he gives Sam’s shoulders a little squeeze. “C’mon. Let’s go.”
Bucky seems to be in a slightly better mood when they get to the hotel, because he laughs a bit when Sam says blearily, “Take the side door—I’m not actually supposed to be here.”
“Whatever you say, pal,” he says. “What room?”
“Uh,” Sam says. “Twelve.”
Stumbling only a bit, they manage to make it in through the lobby’s side door without being noticed; from there, it’s a straight shot down a long, narrow hallway to room twelve. Sam spends a few moments fumbling with various pockets before he finds his key, at which point Bucky has to unlock the door for him.
Sam doesn’t kiss Bucky again, and maybe should never have kissed him at all. He sits down heavily on the bed, neatly made as it always is when he arrives, no matter how he left it last, and says, “I’m sorry.”
Bucky smiles wryly. “Don’t be, man,” he says, and gives Sam a bracing pat on the shoulder. “Sleep it off, you’ll be alright.”
Sam looks up the length of Bucky, tall and broad and a little bit too thin for his frame, and opens his mouth to speak, but he doesn’t know what—if anything—he could say to convince Bucky to stay with him. He’s already been more than kind in getting Sam here, not to mention in tolerating Sam’s clumsy affection for him.
“Thanks,” Sam says finally. “You’re a good man.”
“Don't mention it,” Bucky says, and he at least waits until Sam’s gotten his boots off to leave.
Sam’s almost grateful for the clock resetting itself this time. It seems highly likely that there’s now a timeline out there where Bucky Barnes walked a drunk stranger to his hotel and tolerated a very sloppy kiss from him, but at least Sam doesn’t have to deal with any fallout from it.
He’s free to stop hanging out at the bar, of course. He could go anywhere, although his options are limited by the fact that it’s London, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a war, and that he’s sure to be yanked right back to where he started no matter where he goes. It feels only a little bit like defeat to admit that if he’s stuck here, he’d rather be stuck with Bucky than with anyone else.
He feels a bit better, at least, although admittedly with a bit of a headache. Sam has never been one for sustained dramatics, even in the face of tough odds.
Barnes, on the other hand, is a different story; his sometimes pleasant, sometimes sulky mood doesn’t change from night to night, although Sam usually manages to charm him to the better end of the spectrum.
“I haven’t seen my buddy in a while,” Bucky notes, letting his gaze roam the bar idly the way he often does after about an hour or so of talking with Sam. “Maybe he snuck off somewhere with Agent Carter.”
Sam plays stupid, as he usually must when talking to Bucky about anything to do with the war, various soon-to-be historical figures, or Steve. “Agent Carter?”
“This dame that works for Uncle Sam,” Bucky says. “She was here earlier, you must’ve seen her. A woman like that could do the can-can in front of Rogers and he’d still think he had it wrong.”
Steve is very much still in the bar—Sam last clocked him stopping by the bathroom before returning to the Commandos—but Bucky doesn’t seem to have noticed. “You sound a little jealous,” Sam says, letting his voice dip into a tease.
Bucky glances over at him, equal parts sullen and handsome. He tracks the movement of Sam’s hand with his eyes as Sam reaches for his water and raises the glass to his mouth. “Do I?” he says. “She’s a dish, alright. But she’s more Steve’s speed than mine.”
Kinda seems like I’m your speed, Sam almost says, but refrains. Bucky must’ve only recently been made aware of the new and improved Steve, given a comment he made a few loops ago about how Steve “used to be tiny.” He’s not entirely sure who Bucky’s jealous of here, or rather if he’s just feeling pissy with life in general; he has reason to be, Sam can’t deny.
Bucky keeps right on talking. “So how about you, Wilson?” he says, giving Sam a little nudge with his shoulder, making Sam flush despite himself. “You got a girl?”
“Uh, no,” Sam says. “I don’t.”
“Nobody waiting on a guy like you to come home?” Bucky says, almost crooningly; payback, Sam is sure, for calling him jealous. “Damn shame.”
“Yeah,” Sam says. Then, before he has time to think about it: “I know a guy back home, actually. Who looks a little like you.”
Bucky raises his eyebrows at this. “Really,” he drawls. “Not half as good-looking, I’m sure.”
Sam bites back a laugh. Sometimes the absurdity of this whole mess strikes him when he least expects it. “He’s alright.”
“High praise,” Bucky says dryly. Then: “I could go for a cigarette. You?”
He’s asked Sam this a few times before, and Sam has always politely declined; he’s not necessarily against it on principle—hell, he’s stuck in 1943, what’s a little bit of lung damage—but, apparently unlike everyone else in 1943, he finds the idea of smoking indoors a bit off-putting.
This time, though, he gets a little stuck on the way Bucky is watching his mouth, and blurts, “Sure.”
“Wait here,” Bucky says.
There’s literally a machine in one corner of the room that vends cigarettes, but Sam watches as Bucky bypasses it and heads to the back of the bar, returning with a handful of cigarettes and a matchbox.
“Where’d you get those?” Sam asks, amused. The Bucky he knows is pretty good at lifting things when the situation calls for it, but Sam has always assumed that was a skill he picked up later in life.
“Guy by the name of Falsworth. Free’s always better, don’t you think,” Bucky says, with a deliberately roguish grin, and Sam has to swallow a burst of buoyant, overwhelming affection for him.
By the time Bucky lights up, they’re back in the alley, standing just outside the reach of the light from the nearest street lamp. Sam sort of wishes they’d chosen someplace else. He does his best to ignore the fact that he will almost certainly find himself right back here in just a couple of hours, all of this wiped clean like it never happened, at least for everyone around him.
Sam takes the cigarette that’s offered to him, lighting it with a match and, thanks to the lack of a filter, immediately inhaling a puff of gritty smoke. “Shit,” he says, coughing a little.
Sam can barely see Bucky by the diffuse yellow light of the lamps, but he can practically feel his eye roll. “Don’t be a wuss.”
“Fuck off,” Sam tells him, taking another drag out of spite.
Bucky laughs quietly, letting his arm knock against Sam’s in the dimness. Sam smiles.
The smokes are shorter than what he’s used to in the twenty-first century, and burn fast. “Thanks,” Sam says after a moment. “I needed a break. It’s pretty close in there.”
“Sure,” Bucky says easily, and Sam watches the red butt of his cigarette disappear as he flicks it aside. “Say, Wilson, you want me to suck your cock?”
Sam coughs, loudly and hard, and Bucky, goddamn him, gives him a quick pat on the back as though that’s going to help. “What,” Sam manages.
“S’alright if you don’t,” Bucky says. “Just thought you might.”
“Are you—” Sam says. “Are you for real?”
“Sure,” Bucky says, leaning closer, his shoulder knocking against Sam’s a little more firmly now, obvious for the come-on that it is, the come-on it’s been this whole time. “You can pretend I’m a broad if you want, I don’t mind.”
“Jesus Christ,” Sam says, and Bucky must take that for a yes, because his hands are at Sam’s belt buckle, unerring even in the darkness.
But of course—Bucky, unlike Sam, has enhanced night vision. Maybe he doesn’t even realize exactly how dark it is. Sam aches for him, even though he can hardly see him.
Bucky drops to his knees as he unzips Sam’s pants; Sam prays fervently that the illusion created by the quantum suit holds, but if Bucky notices anything amiss, he’s too intent on his task to say anything. He takes Sam in hand, stroking until Sam hardens, his free hand smoothing up Sam’s thigh.
“You too cold?” Bucky asks, his voice low.
“Huh?” Sam says, unable to focus. The sidewalk beyond is mercifully deserted, but someone could find them, someone could—
“You’re shaking,” Bucky says, giving Sam’s dick a little squeeze that makes Sam’s hips twitch forward helplessly. Then, softer: “Don’t worry, darlin’. I’ll take care of you.”
“Jesus,” Sam hisses again, and then Bucky’s hot, wet mouth is on him. He doesn’t tease, thankfully, and doesn’t bother with much finesse, just bobs his head a bit with one hand around the base. The noises of his mouth are almost as loud and obscene as the sound of Sam’s shaky breathing bouncing off the brick.
Sam dares to put one hand in Bucky’s hair, which is soft, a little tacky with some kind of product. He puts the other hand at his mouth, biting down on his knuckles when he comes. He doesn’t care if Bucky can see it, doesn’t care for a moment about anything at all.
Bucky tucks Sam’s dick back in his pants for him, an efficient but polite gesture, before standing up and crowding Sam against the wall a little, caging Sam there with his arms. His voice, when he speaks, has gone low and gritty from smoke and giving head. “This fella of yours,” Bucky says, “the one that looks like me, does he get you all weak in the knees like that?”
“I—” Sam says, startled, “he—he doesn’t know. That I want him.”
“Oh, honey,” Bucky says, gritting this out as Sam fumbles with his zipper, grazing the bulge of him in the process. “Then he’s a fuckin’ idiot. I knew you wanted me, and I only just met you.”
“Shut up,” Sam says, “don’t—just shut up, Barnes.”
Bucky laughs, and then he moans, goddamn him, low and hoarse right in Sam’s ear, when Sam gets a hand on his dick. “Fuck,” he says, sounding almost as floored as Sam feels, albeit perhaps for different reasons. “Fuck.”
Sam kisses him, just once, and Bucky allows it, though he doesn’t seem to have been expecting it. He doesn’t last very long; he shivers when he comes, and Sam reflexively wraps an arm around his middle, steadying him in case he stumbles.
“Goddamn,” Bucky says after a moment. “Sorry. Think I might’ve messed up your pretty uniform.”
“Huh?” Sam says. “Oh. Don’t worry about it.”
Bucky drops his arms then, stepping back to give Sam breathing room as he zips up his pants. Sam can make out the jut of his shoulders, the pale moon of his face, the thought of both inspiring a vague sense of tenderness in him.
“Thanks, man,” Bucky says, as easily as if Sam’s just caught the elevator doors for him. “You want another smoke?”
“No, thanks,” Sam says. His voice sounds far away, even to his own ears. He hopes Bucky doesn’t notice.
Then he remembers it doesn’t matter—none of this does, at least to anybody but himself. “I’m alright.”
The jump comes at barely two A.M. this time; Sam’s walking from the bar to the hotel when it happens. He’s quite literally running out of time.
But now he knows, at least, that Bucky really is down; he’s sort of suspected this whole time, but last night pretty much proved it. If Sam has to take the suit off—if rescue doesn’t come before then, if this loop keeps getting shorter and shorter—he’ll at least have that.
He can’t follow Bucky, of course, nor Steve, not off to war. The logistics are daunting, considering he’s only posing as a soldier in this time; he’d be flying blind in a foreign era, chasing men who don’t know him from a hole in the wall. Taking off the suit means losing them almost as assuredly as keeping it on means losing his friends in 2024.
“What?” tonight’s Bucky says. “Something on my face?”
“Nah,” Sam says. Somehow Bucky keeps finding him, night after night; Sam dares to think there might be something special about that, even if this is all some kind of cruel joke from the universe. “You can’t help the way it’s made, I guess.”
Bucky grins, looking askance at Sam. Sam recognizes that expression—not because he’s seen so much of it these past few weeks, though that’s true, but because Bucky has always smiled that way when Sam’s been quick with a comeback.
“Hey,” Sam says, quickly, on an exhale. “D’you want to get out of here?”
Bucky raises his eyebrows, but he doesn’t look put off. He makes a show of letting his gaze drift around the bar, taking in the same crowd that’s been here for weeks now. There’s the blonde girl by the cigarette machine who’s doomed to break her heel later in the evening, the handsome Navy man who leads the same rowdy song every time. Sam could practically catalogue them all at this point.
“Sure,” Bucky says, as if he’s found nothing to interest him. “Where’re we going?”
“My hotel,” Sam says, watching his face. “If you want.”
“Lead the way,” Bucky says, his smile pleased and catlike, quietly desirous. Sam could get used to that look, if he had the time.
They make quick work of the walk, neither of them wanting to linger in the cold. “Your friends won’t miss you?” Sam asks as the hotel comes into view. A vaguely serial killer-ish question, he’s aware, but it seems polite to ask. To Bucky, at least, he and Sam are still in the small talk stage of their budding friendship.
Bucky waves a hand vaguely. “I’ll catch up with them later. Besides,” he says, “you’re better company than them.”
Sam has barely shut the door behind them when Bucky’s on him, seemingly okay with kissing him now that they’re safely indoors. They haven’t even turned on any of the lights; Sam generally avoids that, wary of alerting anyone in the hotel to his presence, although again, it’s not like he’ll be expected to deal with the consequences.
Sam sighs into the kiss, pleased, and lets Bucky back him up against the door. Then Bucky’s hand is at his belt, and Sam’s stomach drops a bit, with both arousal and surprise. “Wait,” he manages, mumbling this against Bucky’s mouth.
“Hmm?” Bucky says, breaking the kiss. “You can fuck me, if you’ve got somethin’ slick.”
Sam hesitates. Discretion be damned, he fumbles a hand along the wall until he finds the light switch, flooding the foyer to the room with yellowish light. Bucky is watching him, his blue eyes dark. “Or I could do you,” he says, the corner of his mouth twitching like he wants to smile. “You tell me, sweetheart, I’m not particular.”
Sam has been thinking of putting Bucky on his back and riding him into the mattress, and made it a point earlier in the evening to track down some petroleum jelly that will simply have to do, but he was expecting a hell of a lot more lead time. “Sure, we can do that,” he says. “But what’s your hurry?”
Bucky gives a little shrug. “There’s a war going on,” he says. “What, haven’t you noticed?”
He kisses Sam again, pressing him more firmly up against the door, and Sam allows it, craves it even; he reaches up and cards his hand through Bucky’s hair, letting the touch get firm, a little possessive. Bucky groans like he enjoys it, then presses kisses to Sam’s jaw, not seeming to mind the patchy growth of beard that has come in thanks to weeks without convenient access to a razor. He’s pretty stubbly himself, his kisses stinging.
Bucky goes for his belt again, and this time Sam doesn’t stop him. If this is all he can get, if this is the best he’ll ever get, it’s not bad, all things considered. He could be happy with just this, really, he could.
Bucky starts to pull back. “Hey, Wilson,” he says, a hint of confusion in his voice, “what—?”
Bucky’s question is lost to the fadeout in Sam’s ears as he dematerializes.
Sam closes his eyes reflexively, disappointment flooding him, but he doesn’t get a chance to wallow in it. Something’s different. It’s not cold, for one, and it’s bright—
“Sam,” someone says. “Sam?”
“Oh my God,” Sam says, opening his eyes. He’s in the lab, standing on the platform under the fluorescent lights like he never even left. In New York, at the compound 2.0, in 2024, right where he belongs.
Bucky is there, too, blissfully, blessedly normal-looking, except for a heavier growth of beard than he usually keeps. He meets Sam’s gaze and holds it, his eyes wide, seemingly as stunned as Sam.
“Jesus Christ,” Bucky says. “Where the hell have you been, Wilson?”
“With you,” Sam says. “In nineteen-fucking-forty-three.”
“Well,” Banner says from near the console. “That’s—an interesting development.”
“I told you he was going to send you somewhere fucked up,” Rhodes says.
“I would never—!”
“Where have you been?” Sam asks, ignoring this.
“2007,” Bucky says. “Manhattan. For two weeks.”
“What the fuck,” Sam says. He’s shaking, vaguely nauseous, but not from the jump this time—from relief, swift and staggering. He’s back, he’s back, and his Bucky is just fine. “Were you—?”
With me, he means, and Bucky nods. “I tried to get back to you,” he says, with a strange sort of urgency. “To you, I mean.”
“How long have we been gone?” Sam asks, directing this at Scott, who is standing a few feet from the platform and doing his best to pretend like he’s not avidly observing all of this.
“Uh,” Scott says, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. “Ten seconds, maybe, before Bruce called it? But, at least in my experience, quantum space can move funny when you mess with it. It messes back.”
“Yeah, I’ll fucking say,” Bucky mutters, already tearing at the fastenings of his suit’s breastplate.
Not even ten seconds in 2024, two weeks in a time loop—what if they’d been stuck there for thirty seconds? Or ten minutes? Does that sort of thing even matter? Sam needs to sit down.
“It’s like the suits tethered you to one another, but not—to each other,” Bruce says, nonsensically. “But I don’t understand why you didn’t—hey, Barnes, be gentle with that, please.”
“The goddamn thing’s broken anyway, clearly,” Bucky says, shooting Bruce a look as he continues stripping down to the plain black compression clothes under his suit. “We could’ve died, Banner.”
“I told you all not to fuck with time,” Rhodes says.
“Rhodey,” Bruce says, “save it, please. Sam, wait, where are you going? I need to run some tests, and maybe you should—”
“Leave him be,” Bucky says sharply, and Sam would spare him a grateful look if he could stand to look back at all.
The choice between food, sleep, and a shower is a daunting one. Sam would like to be left the hell alone by everyone in the building, and possibly by everyone in the world, but going to bed—at least for the moment—feels like it might be too alone, so he settles on the shower. He turns the water up to a near scalding heat and pounding pressure, something the pipes in World War II-era London just weren't able to manage, and stands there for several minutes trying and failing not to think.
He’s back in his own time; he ought to be grateful. Bucky’s right—they could’ve died, or worse. If being stuck in an eight hour loop was bad, Sam can only imagine what it would’ve been like to be stuck reliving the same ten minutes—or the same ten seconds—endlessly, for the rest of eternity or until his body gave out. Knowing that Bucky would’ve been doomed to the same fate is no comfort at all.
He doesn’t feel grateful, though. He feels tired, and numb, and—off-kilter. Not right.
The water in this place will run cold when hell freezes over, but Sam can only conscience letting it run for so long; he bathes, then turns the water off and spends a few moments cleaning up his beard. He’s barely done when there’s a knock at his door.
“Friday,” Sam says, “if that’s Banner or Rhodes, tell them to go away.”
“It’s Barnes. Should I tell him to go?”
“Shit,” Sam mutters. He wipes a damp towel over his face, avoiding his own eyes in the mirror as he says, “Let him in, please.”
The door to Sam’s quarters unlocks automatically, and Bucky lets himself in, pausing when he notices Sam in the ensuite immediately to his right. Sam abruptly regrets not having anything more than a towel on, though it’s not like Bucky hasn’t seen him like this before. They’ve seen each other in almost every condition imaginable in the last year and a half—naked, mostly naked, covered in blood, bruised up and thankful to be alive. Sam should not feel as exposed as he does.
“Hey,” Sam says, turning from the counter. “Sorry, I just got out of the shower.”
“I know,” Bucky says, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his zip-up hoodie and looking away, finally, casting his gaze about the room as though the standard-issue furniture is going to provide some entertainment. “I was waiting.”
Sam raises his eyebrows at this, and Bucky explains, “Heard the pipes shut off.”
Sam pads out of the bathroom and into the dimness of his bedroom, his skin prickling in the cool air. Bucky’s own room, which looks much the same as Sam’s, is right next door. “These walls are supposed to be soundproof. You can hear me?”
Bucky rolls his eyes. “Only the pipes,” he says. “And when you blare ‘When Doves Cry’ in there at the asscrack of dawn.”
Sam scoffs. “Well,” he says. “I’d apologize, but I have great taste.”
Bucky grins and Sam’s stomach gives a funny lurch. “I like hearing it,” he says. “Most times.”
“Good to know,” Sam says dryly. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna get dressed.”
“Sure,” Bucky says, still lingering by the door. Sam hasn’t had much use for his walk-in closet until now—his clothes and shoes barely fill a quarter of the space—but he’s never been more grateful for Pepper Potts’s apparent esteem for large wardrobes, as it gives him the opportunity to change out of sight. He’s not sure he can handle platonic nudity right about now.
“Sam,” Bucky says as Sam walks out of the closet in basketball shorts and a t-shirt. He’s taken a few steps farther into the room but still hovers, uncertain, a safe ten feet away.
Sam withholds a sigh. Of course Bucky’s not going to let sleeping dogs lie, not even long enough for Sam to get some fucking sleep himself. “Yeah?”
“Where were you?” Bucky asks. “In 1943.”
“London,” Sam says. “Little hole in the wall by the name of the Whip and Fiddle.”
“Thank God,” Bucky says, with enough feeling to take Sam by surprise. “I thought maybe you—well. Anyway. So you saw Steve?”
Sam can imagine what Bucky must’ve thought; hell, Sam spent a good chunk of the 2000s deployed. Bucky’s fortunate that he didn’t get stranded in the Afghan desert.
“Yeah,” Sam says. “And everybody else, too. Where’d you find me?”
Bucky winces slightly. “At a nightclub, actually. Place called Vybe. With a y.”
“I don’t remember it,” Sam admits. The odds of them both finding each other in such a setting are not lost on him. “But that’s probably my own fault. I must’ve been—”
“Between tours,” Bucky says. “You told me.”
2007—he’d seen war, but that was before Riley died. He can only imagine what kind of fool he must’ve been then, young and stupid and maybe a little arrogant. Flying high was a hell of a drug, that first time around.
Sam really does not want to go there right now; he imagines closing the avenue to Riley off in his head like firmly shutting a door. “Yeah, I’m sure I told you a lot,” Sam says, and takes a few steps toward his bed, wide and spacious and very inviting right about now. “Look, man, I’m tired. That was—a long ten seconds.”
“Sam,” Bucky says again, heedless as ever. “What happened?”
Sam rubs at his face. “That’s a story for another day. I told you, I’m tired.”
“Please,” Bucky says. “Just tell me why you won’t look at me. That’s all I’m asking. Was it something—bad?”
Sam looks at him for a beat, taking in Bucky’s heavier beard, the circles under his eyes, and the sorry state of his hair. He bears it a little better, but he’s running on fumes, too. Sam swallows a lump of something complicated, relief and affection and worry all rolled into one. “I guess that depends on your perspective,” he says.
“Talk plain, Sam. Please."
Sam’s starting to figure out what that strange, off-kilter feeling is: a heavy mass of guilt, coiling unpleasantly in his gut. He could lie, but—no, he really couldn’t. “You and I,” he says, “or—the younger you and I. We, uh, did stuff.”
“Stuff,” Bucky says, his expression inscrutable save for a slight furrow to his brow. “What stuff?”
Sam swallows. “Sexual stuff.”
Bucky doesn’t flinch. “Okay,” he says calmly. “Like what?”
Grow the fuck up, Sam tells himself, and says, “You asked to suck my dick outside the bar. And I let you.”
Admittedly, perhaps not the best way to break that news, but he’s most certainly taken aback when Bucky, instead of questioning further or getting angry, just snorts loudly. “Sorry,” he says, taking in Sam’s startled expression, “I just—well. That seems about right for my, uh, younger self.”
Sam just nods, a grim sort of realization sinking in. So Bucky’s not upset—somehow even worse, he doesn’t care. But if that was just the sort of thing he did back then, why should he?
You called me darling, Sam thinks. And said you would take care of me.
Sam avoids Bucky’s gaze and takes another step toward the bed, trying to make his intent obvious. “Well,” he says. “Yeah. I’m sorry. There’s no excuse.”
“Sure there is,” Bucky says, and then he suddenly walks forward, coming unbearably closer. His amused tone has been replaced by something softer, a rising concern. Don’t, Sam thinks, don’t come closer, don’t touch me, don’t make this any harder. “You thought you were going to be stuck there forever. Sam, don’t be upset.”
“Sam,” Bucky says. “Now’s probably a good time for me to tell you that I fucked you. In that club.”
Sam’s head whips around. “What?”
Bucky’s gaze is very steady and very calm. “Another you, I mean,” he says. “I thought I was going to die, or else not see you again for a long time. I couldn’t give it up, not when I’ve wanted it for so long.”
Sam knows he’s gaping, probably foolishly, but he just can’t bring himself to stop. Everything within him is unspooling wildly; he feels almost dizzy with it, overwhelmed by this confession. “But you—and me—?” he says. Then, mastering himself: “Tell me.”
“You asked me to,” Bucky says, and the next step he takes forward is intentional, slow and deliberate. “Up against the bathroom wall. I had to put my fingers in your mouth, you were so loud.”
“Christ,” Sam says, a sickly sort of heat running through him. This is torment, this whole experience has been an exercise in torment, in reminding him how much he wants. He’s been so good at ignoring it before now.
“You loved it,” Bucky says, refusing to drop his gaze. “I did, too.”
“Barnes,” Sam says, and covers the remaining few feet of ground between them.
Though Sam can’t imagine he’s had much practice at it these last several decades, except for whatever he’s been doing very recently, Bucky kisses like his younger self did—he just goes for it, tongue and teeth and a hand firm at the back of Sam’s neck. Sam couldn’t be more grateful for it. It doesn’t take long to shed clothing—Sam’s drops nearly as quickly as he’d gotten it on—and then, with concerted effort, to stumble towards the bed.
“We can’t—” Sam says as his back hits the mattress, “I don’t have any—”
“That’s alright,” Bucky says, breathlessly, getting his knees on either side of Sam’s thighs and grinding their pelvises together, “just like this, Sam, we’ll do it just like this.”
Sam gets one hand on Bucky’s ass and the other on the nape of his neck, pulling his body in tighter and urging him on; they rut messily, clumsily, gaspingly. Bucky comes first, groaning, and the hot spill over his hip makes Sam arch up and moan for it.
Bucky’s quicker on the uptake than Sam generally gives him credit for; he drops a hand down to bring Sam off, murmuring, “That’s it, sweetheart, c’mon.”
Bucky stays overtop of him for a moment, both of them breathing heavily, and then he shifts away. Sam doesn’t really think about it; he just clutches at him, one hand catching at his waist. “Wait,” he says.
“S’alright,” Bucky says. “Just getting something to clean up with.”
Something turns out to be a handful of Kleenex from the box on Sam’s nightstand. Bucky wipes at Sam’s stomach halfheartedly, then tosses the tissues aside, muttering “oh, relax” at the grimace Sam makes. Then, to Sam’s surprise, Bucky sort of—clambers back on top of him, resting his weight on Sam and tucking his face straight into the crook of Sam’s neck, as close as he can get outside of a carnal act.
It’s not exactly comfortable; Bucky’s hardly featherweight class, and he’s equal parts hard muscle and bony joints. But he’s also warm and solid, like the world’s heaviest weighted blanket, and he’s Bucky, which makes it tolerable. It is also, Sam realizes, the closeness he’s been craving through this whole quantum nightmare, and maybe longer than that.
Bucky snuffles at Sam’s neck and then sighs softly, as though pleased. The gust of his breath makes Sam shiver. “This okay?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Sam says. “S’good.”
They lie in a doze for a little while, maybe twenty minutes—Sam’s not exactly keen on looking at the clock right now. He’s also fairly certain they’re going to stick together if Bucky tries to move. All the more reason to delay that, in Sam’s opinion.
He’s a little nervous of what’ll happen if the spell breaks, sure. But after the last couple of weeks he’s had—after the last couple of years he’s had—he won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. He’s been through enough, he decides; they’ve been through enough. Everything else will work itself out, in time. If he keeps repeating that, it'll start to feel true.
Sam strokes a hand lazily up Bucky’s back after a few minutes, hardly daring to believe he’s allowed such intimacy, and Bucky squirms a little, as though rousing. “Gotta say,” he mumbles, “I’m a little put-out that younger me got to suck you off before I did. The hell kind of sense does that make?”
Sam huffs a laugh, although it comes out more like a wheeze. “Good God,” he says. “You are a jealous creature.”
“When it comes to you, sure,” Bucky says, and Sam flushes. “We can rectify that situation whenever you’re ready, by the way.”
Sam’s probably going to need a nap—the eight-hour kind—before that happens, but it’s an appealing thought. “Just tell me I didn’t call you ‘daddy’ at any point,” he says. “I was kind of into that in my twenties.”
This gets Bucky’s attention, as Sam had suspected it might. He lifts his head in order to look Sam in the eye. “Just your twenties?” he asks, too casually.
Sam rolls his eyes. “You’re a menace.”
“Maybe,” Bucky says, “but you put up with me.”
Sam scoffs. Bucky starts to relax back down onto him, but Sam gives him a little nudge in the side. “Uh-uh,” he says. “My ribs can’t take much more of this, man.”
“I would make a joke about birds having hollow bones,” Bucky says, “but I think that would really lower my chances of getting laid again.”
“You would be absolutely correct,” Sam says. “This ain’t the BBC, spare me the wildlife facts.”
Bucky laughs. When he quiets, he smiles at Sam in a way that starts out amused and then goes kind of dopey, soft. Fond.
Sam wants to squirm, but not in a bad way; it’s a weirdly pleasant sort of disquiet. “Don’t look at me like that,” he says.
“This is how I always look at you,” Bucky says.
Sam can’t really disagree with that; maybe he’s just not used to seeing that look up close. He could get used to it, though. He reaches up, cards a hand through Bucky’s hair, and just says, “Yeah. Okay.”
Bucky smiles, then obligingly shifts off of Sam. He doesn’t go far, though, flopping down at Sam’s side and leaving an arm over Sam’s middle. That’s okay; Sam can live with it, really, if Bucky’s not far from him for a good, long while.