“How are we gonna get it out of the truck?” Sam’s barely got the words out, a joke half formed on his lips when the engine seems to float up and over the side of the bed of the chevy, as beaten down as the boat to which it’s carrying spare parts.
With his coat collar up against a phantom chill, Bucky lowers the engine to the dock. “There,” he says.
It’s how they say hello—they don’t.
Bucky, as it happens, knows quite a bit about beaten down machines from bygone eras. Perhaps it comes from being one himself. There was a time when Sam would have said that, but he doesn’t say it now. They work on the Paul & Darlene. They don’t look at each other. They mention Karli Morgenthau from time to time. They do not mention John Walker.
Sarah feeds Bucky, and Sam laughs when the spicy food repeats on him. He sweats and guzzles milk. No one asks who he is, but everyone knows. Sam’s nephew AJ does ask him if he can touch the arm. Bucky doesn’t answer, but mutely holds it out, the black and gold vibranium glinting in the setting sun. AJ runs his small fingers over the metal, touching the segmented joints that let the arm move like it’s true flesh and bone. “Wow,” he says softly.
Bucky just rolls his sleeve back down and shrugs.
In the little house in Delecroix, Bucky sleeps on the couch. They don’t talk about the worn-down leather drum case or what it holds, not yet, but the case draws the eye. Whenever Sam’s eyes fall on the case he feels Bucky’s eyes on him. “White wolf,” he was called, in Wakanda, but to Sam “White Shadow” seems more apt.
He thinks they are that to each other—ghosts, phantoms, reminders. The conversation with Isiah Bradley wears on him. The man was haunted, damaged, bitter. The man was right, and Sam knew it.
He was wrong though, and Sam knows that too.
People are complicated.
“Don’t flirt with my sister,” Sam says, and he’s really not sure why he says it. Sarah can watch out for herself, and then some. Besides, Bucky’s okay. Bucky’s idea of flirting is also woefully inept, harshly dated by decades floating in and out of Hydra’s purgatory. It has Sam some type of way, though, the way people look at Bucky. So he says it, and Bucky just smiles at his feet.
Days pass in a pleasant sort of peace, familiarity creeping in like a thief in the night. The boat’s almost done, and Sam realizes somewhere deep inside that he doesn’t want Bucky to go back to New York. They’re still on the proverbial bench, waiting for word from Torres that there’s some kind of lead on the Flag Smashers, half waiting for John Walker to smash down the door, looking for what he thinks is his.
Finishing the boat means a lot of things. It means Sarah can sell it; it means Bucky can go. It means Sam doesn’t have a project except figuring out what the hell he’s going to do with the thing in the brown leather case. It still sits in his living room, leaning up against the edge of the fireplace. It continues to draw his eyes, and he continues to draw Bucky’s. He can feel those eyes on his skin, and in truth it feels an awful lot like two sets. The weight of that gaze is too heavy. No young, brave, hopeful kid from Brooklyn ever had eyes like that. It’s the Winter Soldier looking at him, the way he looked at Steve, once, when all three of them had met at the fall of SHIELD.
How do you know me? They asked.
Do I know you?
Can you save me?
The little scoffs and eyerolls from Sarah do not help as he and Bucky dance around each other in the house, on the boat. Passing tools back and forth, snipping at each other. One night, Sam’s fingers brush Bucky’s as they reach for the same valve on the boat’s ancient water pump, and Sam gasps. Sparks, just like in the movies, but too late he realizes it’s the wrong hand, the wrong arm.
It’s the wrong kind of sparks.
Bucky snatches his hand back and mumbles something about checking the bilge, turning his back and popping his collar up to hide his face as he leaves the little cabin. Sam continues to fuss with the water pump, abusing the poor thing, and really, it’s hardly the water pump’s fault.
It’s the third day in a row that Sam has said, “I’m sure we can finish this up tomorrow,” when Bucky actually makes noises about going home.
The only thing left to do on the boat is paint over the name. Paint over its history. Erase the legacy of Paul and Darlene Wilson and send it off to someone else. “I think maybe you and Sarah should do that together,” Bucky says. He can’t help but show off a little so he pops his beer cap by flicking it off with a vibranium fingertip.
Sam snorts, shaking his head. He holds out his own bottle, and Bucky uncaps it for him. They’re sitting on the deck of the boat, rocking gently against the dock. Sam leans up against a pile of rope; Bucky sits with his back rigid, looking out toward the sunset. Composed. Brittle.
They’re silent till the stars come out and Bucky finally asks. “So what are you going to do with it?”
“I don’t know,” Sam answers honestly, Isiah’s warnings rumbling in his head, down into his chest.
Bucky nods, sips his beer. There’s three or four coolers surrounding them on the boat; folk that came to help brought beer to drink and share while everyone whipped the old boat into shape.
Sam didn’t drink much, and he was pretty sure Bucky didn’t drink at all. Too much fear of his mind not being his own, even for a few hours. Longing. Rusted. Seventeen. Daybreak.
Sam would have bet good money that not a soul within a hundred miles could speak a lick of Russian, but nevermind. They made their way through one of the coolers, slow and peaceful, mellow in the hot and humid moonlight. It reflected off the water, sparkling and shimmering like scales as the water moved.
Sam watches the water a while. He likes nights like this, the cool night air drying the sweat on his back. The breeze is warm, but he shivers. Sam hears a muffled grunt, and a thud.
Confused, he opens his eyes and turns to see Bucky placing his damn arm on the deck of Paul & Darlene. He rolls his shoulder, empty now, and sighs. He leans back against the gunwhale.
“Does it hurt?” Sam finds himself asking.
Buzzed, Sam scoots around, sitting next to Bucky on his other side. He nudges the arm out of the way with his foot. They’re not quite touching, but they could be—like maybe if they both inhale at the same time, expanding their lungs to let their shoulders brush. Their breaths don’t quite sync up, though, so there remains a half centimeter of universe between them, like the empty space inside a molecule. Most of a molecule is made of empty space; Sam remembers reading that somewhere.
Bucky drains his last beer and sets it down on the deck, with a finality of a judge banging his gavel on the bench, and his hand comes to fall on his own thigh. The tightness in his jaw tells Sam he’s about to leave, so Sam decides to stop him.
He doesn’t grab Bucky’s hand. Instead, he brushes his fingertips over it, feeling the bones through his thin, pale skin. It’s almost not even a touch, but it’s plenty to erase the empty space between them.
Bucky turns, and there’s a twitch in his left shoulder which moves the fabric of his empty t shirt sleeve, like he was trying to raise his phantom limb. Like maybe he was going to cup Sam’s face in his palm.
Sam sees a muscle go in his jaw, as if Bucky’s biting back a curse. Bucky looks down, looks away, shifting like he already knows this is a mistake. So, Sam decides to meet him half way, possibly for the very first time since they met. He brings his own hand to the side of Bucky’s face, feeling the stubble under his callused fingertips as he drags them across the sharp bone of his cheek.
Bucky’s eyes are so blue. It’s dark out, but Sam can still see them. Or, rather, there’s enough moonglow bouncing off the water to remind him what color Bucky’s eyes are. They’re almost grey in this light, but Sam knows exactly what they’ll look like when the sun comes up.
With his own eyes closed, Sam leans in. He had to be the one to do it. Bucky is brave, but Sam is fearless. Sam has noticed Bucky’s lips before, noticed how pink they are. How delicate. The gentle slope of his cupid’s bow at such odds with the harsh lines of his jaw, the stubble, and the strong dimpled chin. Now, Sam realizes Bucky’s lips even taste pink. He can’t explain that to himself and doesn’t bother trying. He swipes his tongue over the crease between them, once, and draws back.
Bucky had not closed his eyes, and he stares at Sam now like he’s a mythic creature who’s turned him to stone—frozen with those pretty pink lips parted slightly and his eyebrows stitched tight together in a hard, severe line.
Now, Sam waits. Was it a mistake? Probably—but was it a mistake to be repeated?
And Bucky answers him, Yes.
They’re moving together, groping and grappling on the deck of the boat, frantic and graceless like teens trying to get off before someone catches them. It works for them, though. Nothing between them has ever been elegant, and this is no exception.
Sam just wants to hold him, wrap him tight and squash him close. His moves are tender as he maneuvers to lay Bucky on his back on the wooden slats of Paul & Darlene’s deck. Bucky, however, is frenetic, urgent. He grabs for Sam’s shirt, one handed, and tears it, reminding Sam that Bucky is more than just a man. So they roll and bump together awkwardly until they find an angry sort of give and take that works for them, just like they do when they’re in the field together. Sam slides out of his ruined tee, and goes to lift Bucky’s over his head. The grip on Sam’s wrist is sudden, painful. He understands, he does, but Sam is never one to shy away from scars, so he levels his gaze at the man below him, squints, and waits.
The fight goes out of Bucky and when he blinks up at him just maybe those blue grey eyes do in fact belong to a brave, hopeful young man from Brooklyn, instead of a hundred year old killer. Bucky releases Sam’s wrist, and with a look that’s equal parts resigned and eager, he nods.
So Sam peels off his shirt, exposing the pale expanse of a body hard-used. There are a lot of scars on Bucky, and of course there are dozens more hidden deep inside where Sam can’t see. Sam does not flinch from either kind, and touches the ones he can see and silently honors the ones he can’t, because each of them led Bucky here.
Finally he brushes his hand over the stump of Bucky’s left shoulder, tracing the shiny pink scar tissue with his thumb. Bucky is still, allowing him to do this, watching warily and breathing hard. Sam smiles slightly, and lowers his lips to Bucky’s upturned throat, kissing down toward his collarbone, sucking little marks of his own into his skin. Bucky doesn’t seem to mind, in fact he pushes his hips up, grinding against Sam, the bulge in his jeans asking for attention. If a humping pelvis could be snippy and sarcastic, Bucky’s absolutely is.
Sam grins against Bucky’s skin, working his hand between them to get at the fly to Bucky’s pants, wiggling them down a bit and searching for the best way to free his dick. Bucky huffs out a groan as Sam wraps his fingers around his prize, giving it a few slow tugs. It’s frim and warm against his palm, like he can feel Bucky’s pulse through his cock. All it takes is a brush of his thumb over the sensitive head, and Bucky rolls them both, one arm plenty enough to manhandle Sam onto his back.
With his new short hair (that Sam’s still not sure if he likes) the Bucky he has known recently always seems buttoned down and controlled, stiff and practiced. This Bucky, wild and panting, completely rumpled with his dick sticking out of his pants, is far far more interesting. More unhinged. Bucky rears up tall on his knees, strong thighs bracketing Sam’s hips. He gives Sam a little space, enough space to rapidly finish undressing, but not enough space to escape—as if Sam would want to even try.
Bucky’s skin glows in the moonlight, and Sam wonders who the last person was to see him naked. He imagines it had to have been someone from Hydra, and shoves the thought away, reaching eagerly to the waistband of Bucky’s jeans, encouraging him to lean forward. Bucky wobbles a bit, a little unbalanced, bracing his palm on Sam’s chest. Soon enough they’re both nude, rocking together as the boat rides the gentle waves below their bodies. Perhaps the waves come from them.
Absent any better options, Bucky spits in his palm. “Ugh,” says Sam, wrinkling his nose a bit, and speaking for the first time in a while. “Gross, man.”
Bucky twists one eyebrow and shoots him a lopsided smile. “You prefer a dry rub?”
Sam’s laugh turns into a moan as Bucky presses their cocks together and wraps his spit-slick hand around them both, jerking them together erratically, and the night is filled with the sounds of soft cursing, and the shick shick shick of Bucky's hand. Sam takes his lead from Bucky and presses two fingers to those sinful pink lips, and Bucky takes them willingly, his tongue rasping and swirling and Sam wonders if there will be time for him to try some other applications of that mouth.
Soon enough Bucky is moaning around his fingers, and Sam doesn’t want to wait any longer. His voice is low and rough when he grits out, “You sure?”
And by way of answer, Bucky rolls his eyes. He leans forward, releasing their dicks and bracing one elbow on Sam’s chest, his forearm rigid against Sam’s skin to hold his weight so he can keep his balance as he offers his ass up like a sweet peach that Sam, for one, wants to sink his teeth into. Again, maybe if there’s time, after.
Sam breaches the tight little pucker between Bucky’s cheeks, probing with his strong, blunt fingers to make him moan and push back against the intrusion. Sam chuckles a bit, cataloging each needy noise so he can tease Bucky about them later.
“Shit, Sam,” Bucky says, face buried in the little spot below Sam’s ear. “Oh, shit.”
They roll again, Bucky on his back with his leg hooked up over Sam’s hip.
Their foreheads push together, and when Bucky says, “Do it,” Sam doesn’t ask if he’s sure.
Sam shoves in to the hilt, and Bucky arches below him, crying out, a strangled sound of pleasure-pain, drowning out the sound of Sam’s tiny, reverent, “fuck.”
“Language,” quips Bucky, and they both still.
Joined, utterly, but embarrassed, avoiding each other’s eyes now because the thing that ties them together most closely is grief. But tie them together it does, so after a moment of silence to honor that, they’re fucking. Hard. Fast. Open water distorts sound, and to Sam it seems like the entire marina is alive with the slap of flesh on flesh, like hundreds of Sams are pounding into hundreds of Buckys on the decks of boats all around them.
Sam can tell Bucky’s holding back, because he could probably snap Sam like a twig if he wants, vibranium arm or no. But there’s something about that barely controlled animal wearing Bucky’s skin that Sam finds thrilling—the white wolf.
Sam rolls his hips, driving into Bucky with everything he’s got, knowing his knees will bruise where they brace against the deck of the boat. Seized by some soft impulse, Sam pauses with his hips flush against Bucky’s ass and reaches for his hand, bringing his knuckles up toward his own lips. Sam presses his lips to the knobby bone of each of Bucky's knuckles. He’s a southern gentleman, after all—never mind the fact that he’s power-fucking a fellow Avenger on the deck of a boat in a very, very public marina.
The night is a hot one and it’s getting hotter, sweat covering them both like salty dewdrops, and Bucky’s cock is leaking over Sam’s fist. He doesn’t remember grabbing it, but he must have, wanting to see Bucky cum before he lets himself go over the edge. Bucky’s hand slaps down against the deck, fingers scrabbling for purchase and Sam hears the sound of the wood splintering. Good, Sam thinks, something we can fix tomorrow.
“Sam,” Bucky breathes, “I’m gonna--oh, shit.”
The tight slick pulsing of Bucky’s channel is plenty enough to do Sam in, and with stuttering hips he’s unloading, emptying himself hot and fast as he fucks Bucky through it. The dick in Sam’s hand twitches, cum spurting out over the scarred real estate of Bucky’s muscled chest, broken moans dripping from his lips. Sam drops, boneless against his chest, nosing along Bucky’s jaw, tonguing his ear before whispering a single word like a prayer. “James.”
As they come down, together, they come back to themselves, and Bucky squirms under Sam’s weight. Sam winces as his dick slips free, and he knows full well that Bucky could easily move him, but instead chooses to say, “Can you move your leg?”
Sam grins. “No,” he says, with as much seriousness as he can muster.
A pause. “I hate you.”
And then they laugh, sticky and naked and sweaty and sated. Beer buzzed and cock drunk, Sam grabs for the first thing he can reach, which happens to be a rough spun canvas tarp, and drags it over them. They do not cuddle; they curl up back to back. But before Sam drifts off, he reaches his arm at an awkward angle and gives Bucky’s hip a little squeeze.
He wakes alone, with the dawn, counting himself lucky he can get his pants on before his sister and nephews show up to finish up the Paul & Darlene.
He looks at the evidence of last night, which is minimal: beer bottles, a splintered board, his own torn t shirt. He peers around, half expecting to see the black and gold of the vibranium arm winking at him in the dawn sun, but the arm is gone, gone with Bucky. Gone with the Winter Soldier.
It's how they say goodbye—they don’t.