Sam lays his head on the back of the couch and closes his eyes, taking slow, calming breaths. He is going to kill someone over this. Probably Bucky, definitely Bucky actually. No wait. Sharon. It’s Sharon’s fault anyway because she is the one who owned that goddamn suit jacket. Which is some fucking bullshit because it looks tailored to Bucky’s body so why the ever loving fuck did Sharon just happen to have a suit jacket hanging around that is tailored to fit Bucky’s body? It doesn’t make sense, that’s all Sam’s trying to say.
And he’s also trying to say that no one should look that good in a suit. Sam has been uncomfortably aware for a while now that Bucky is….not bad to look at. Sam had been too tense and, to be honest, Bucky had looked too pathetic while they were on the run, so Sam hadn’t noticed then. But now? Now he looks much more human, much less dead behind the eyes, and far more willing to express himself. Sam is beginning to get to know Bucky more now and he likes the guy he’s meeting. But Bucky already looks unfairly good in his jeans and combat boots, so he shouldn’t be allowed to get more attractive in a suit jacket. To put ideas in Sam’s head about taking him somewhere fancy. Platonically or otherwise.
Anyway so he’s going to kill Sharon and then maybe Bucky after just for looking so good.
Actually he’s going to kill Zemo too. But not because Bucky looks good. Zemo is going to die because of the way he manhandled Bucky earlier. For ordering Bucky to fight. For touching Bucky without his consent. Or, well technically, Bucky did consent didn’t he? Zemo did exactly what they had talked about on the flight to Madripoor. Zemo had warned them that there was no way Selby would be willing to listen to them without a fight. That the Winter Soldier would probably have to do more than stand there and look pretty. Zemo had looked slyly at Sam when he’d said that, when he’d chosen to phrase it that way. Sam had almost murdered Zemo right then and there.
Offering Bucky to Selby in a trade was also part of the plan, but Sam had been wholly and entirely blindsided by the white hot rage that had filled him at Zemo and Selby and every other person in the room who would have stood by while they traded Bucky like he was just another weapon. Sam was not and had never been a violent person, but the look on Selby’s face when Zemo had made the offer had made Sam want to beat her death with his bare hands. He had barely held himself back, but even now, here in Sharon’s loft, the rage is all consuming and he bitterly regrets Selby’s quick death.
Taking a deep, forceful breath, Sam opens his eyes again and looks back up. Bucky is watching him from the couch across from him, but instead of his usual blank, empty stare, he looks mildly curious.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Sam snaps, harsher than he meant. Too harshly, he realizes as Bucky’s face immediately smoothes and his eyes go blank again. Bucky jerks a sharp nod and leans back on the couch. His eyes shift off Sam and fix at a point over Sam’s head.
See, this is why Sam has been hoping they can wrap this mess up quickly and move on with their lives. Because the more time they spend together, the harder it becomes to pretend like he doesn’t find Bucky insanely attractive. To pretend like he doesn’t have an overwhelming need to make sure Bucky is cared for. To pretend like he doesn’t want to get Bucky in another suit jacket and take him somewhere fancy. Not platonically. He wants to protect Bucky from the world. Show it to him in a way that makes it welcoming and eases his discomfort. Bucky would understand Marvin Gaye if they listened to it together, if Sam explained it. And then maybe Bucky could stop looking so blank and vacant all the time.
But it seems like the more he tries, the more he pushes down this sick, aching need to comfort and guard, the more he pushes Bucky away. To the point where only a few days ago he was threatening to never see Bucky again. And he’ll never be invited to listen to Marvin Gaye with Bucky because instead of drawing Bucky out and into a friendly conversation about music, he had come across as mocking and made Bucky retreat further into himself.
Sam forces himself to stop watching Bucky and stand up to go into the kitchen and grab a glass of wine. He doesn’t ask Bucky if he wants some as well because he is afraid it’ll come out all wrong the way all of his interactions with Bucky go, and he’ll make things worse again.
Of course now he’s in closer proximity to Zemo, who has that same smirk on his face that he’d had on the plane when he was hinting at Sam’s attraction.
“Trouble in paradise, Sam?”
Sam is one millisecond from grabbing Zemo by the throat and throwing him across the room. How is this his life? Maybe he is dead already and this is his hell.
“Stay out of it, Zemo.”
Zemo must see something in his face because he puts his hands up and doesn’t say anything else for a moment. Together, they watch Sharon walk around the room adjusting the paintings and fiddling with the tablet she must use to catalogue her inventory. Bucky is facing away from them, so the only part of him they can see is the back of his head.
“I have never seen two people talk past each other quite as much as you and James do.” Zemo’s voice is pitched low, low enough that hopefully it will not carry all the way to where Bucky is sitting, even with his enhanced hearing.
“I thought I said to stay out of it. That means don’t make any comments about it. And actually, I could do without hearing from you at all, unless you have something to contribute about the flag smashers or the serum.” Sam tries to make his voice stern, but he doesn’t think it quite gets across what he means it to.
This hypothesis is confirmed when Zemo lets out a quiet chuckle. “Of course, Sam. To bring it back to the mission then, perhaps the next time James has to bring the Winter Soldier out we will let you play the part of his handler. Will that prevent some of these theatrics after the fact, do you think? If you are the one holding the reins?”
Sam turns sharply to look at Zemo’s smiling face. He finds he can’t even summon anger because the idea of that…. yes, actually. Yes, it would make him feel better to be the one giving Bucky orders. He could control when they stopped. He could call Bucky off and then bring him back to stand next to him. Close enough to touch, to make sure he wasn’t hurt. He could put his hand on the back of Bucky’s neck to ground him, to ground them both.
It’s more than that too. Up until the bar, Sam hasn’t really seen Bucky fight like that since right after he met Steve. And even then, Sam didn’t see most of it in person. Seeing it up close was….intoxicating is maybe the word for it. He understands why Hydra wanted all that strength under their heel. If Bucky was following Sam’s orders instead of Hydra….
The shame that sweeps through Sam at the thought is more than enough to prevent further anger. How is he any different than all the others who have seen Bucky as nothing more than an object these last 90 years? Sam looks back at where Bucky is still sitting and has to quash the urge to go apologize.
Zemo sighs and starts walking away from Sam, “Like I said, I’ve never seen two people talk past each other more than the two of you.”
Sam ignores him and continues watching Bucky. He decides he’s going to apologize for being short with him earlier. Bucky doesn’t need to know that he is also sort of apologizing for how the idea of a compliant and obedient version of Bucky has now lodged itself in his brain in a way that Sam is confident isn’t coming out anytime soon. Sam pours a second glass of wine to bring with him as a peace offering.
Bucky is still staring at nothing by the time Sam gets back to the couch and holds out the wine glass to him. He looks at the glass blankly for a second and then reaches out seemingly on instinct to grab it. Sam takes a seat next to him on the couch, so he won’t have to look at Bucky’s face while he apologies.
“Sorry for snapping at you. It’s been a long day and I’m jet lagged. Thanks for checking on me.” It’s not great as far as apologies go, but Sam is afraid of putting more emotion into it in case it comes off wrong.
He sees Bucky look at him out of the corner of his eye and can’t seem to stop himself from turning his head to meet Bucky’s eyes. Sitting next to him has now backfired horrifically. Bucky searches his face for a moment, and Sam would give a lot to know what he is looking for there. Whatever he sees, his eyes get fractionally warmer.
“Don’t worry about it. Let’s just get through the next few hours without getting attacked and maybe we can actually get some rest.”
Sam relaxes a bit. Bucky is right. He just needs this fight to be over so he can get his head screwed on straight and figure out what the hell is going on with him. He’s pretty sure it’s going to be a bit before he’s allowed to have that moment.