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Favorite Worst Nightmare

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Sam doesn't know how Steve did this. Had to have been something in the serum. Nazis? Infuriating, but Sam knows what to do in the face of a bazooka. Some overgrown purple psycho trying to wipe out half the world's population, well, Sam wasn't technically there for that whole fight but he wasn't standing down. 

But there's something about press conferences that make him want to crawl into a hole and nap for twenty hours. The questions are so tedious. Usually offensive. Talking to traumatized veterans was easier. And Sam knows he can't skip these press conferences. Black Captain America acting like he's too good to talk to the American press? No way. So, Sam stops by D.C. like a good patriot and does his due diligence. In a respectable suit and tie. He's not a show pony, dammit. 

He smiles pleasantly in front of the cameras, delivers his speech, and starts answering questions. Behind the flash bulbs, Sam catches sight of Bucky in the back of the room, casual as you please, unnoticed by the rest of the crowd. He gives Sam a brief smile. Bucky never mentioned he was stopping by D.C. after their last mission. But Bucky does that. Bucky also has the immense gift of walking into a room undetected. He has a little house not far from Sam's place in Delacroix, and whenever Sam is over, Bucky moves so quietly Sam seriously is considering buying him a bell. 

"Mr. Wilson," a reporter says. "Would you ever consider relocating to our nation's capital?"  

Hell no, Sam thinks. 

"It would be an honor to live in D.C.," he says. "But Louisiana is my home. My family is there." 

"There are Black people in D.C.," a reporter quips, and immediately Sam can see Bucky's hackles raise, but Sam gives him a gentle look that says don't. 

"My man," Sam says lightly, "Black people are everywhere." 

--

Sam isn't surprised to see that Bucky has disappeared from the room while everyone clears out. The Wakandans affectionately call Bucky the White Wolf, Sam calls Bucky the White Cat. It doesn't surprise him thirty minutes later when he gets on the jet to Louisiana and Bucky is already strapped in and ready to go. 

"Nice speech," Bucky says. 

Sam slumps into the seat beside him. "I'd like to see you go up there and do a press conference." 

"Not a chance in hell," Bucky says. "I was being sincere, though." 

He's staring at this protein bar in front of him like he's waiting for someone to give him permission to eat it. He looks tired. Sam wonders if he's had a mobile therapy session, because this last mission, they ended up in Moscow. Sam knows Bucky hadn't been in Russia since, well, Bucky didn't even have to say it. He was quieter than usual. And it wasn't just that. Sam had been outnumbered at one point, struggling in a hallway, when Bucky not only kicked the door in, he threw it into the man who was trying to shoot Sam and knocked him clean out. Almost killed him. It makes sense, why he hasn't gone home right away. Sam doesn't feel too great about it either. Actually, he feels exhausted. Strangely exhausted. He nods at the protein bar in front of Bucky. 

"You gonna eat that or just stare at it?"

"I'm melting it with my eyes," Bucky says. 

Sam laughs. "Okay, you let me know how that goes." 

They take off smoothly, and Sam relaxes with the assurance that they'll be home soon. Together. It hadn't taken much convincing to get Bucky to move to Louisiana. In fact, Bucky looked like he was waiting for the offer. He had barely anything in his Brooklyn apartment, so moving was a breeze. Sam tried to get him a real estate agent, but Bucky came down with a place already in mind, a bungalow from the 1950s just ten miles away from Sam and Sarah's place, good bones but probably in need of an update. 

And that was it. Bucky moved in, bought an actual bed, and busied himself with renovating the place. He even rescued a dog off the back roads, a scraggy looking pit bull mix he's yet to name. Sam's been bugging him for a month now to name the poor guy, and Bucky keeps saying, "He'll let me know," like he can talk dogs, and hell, maybe he can. It makes Sam feel some type of way. Having Bucky nearby all the time, having Bucky here now. Bucky, who always wanted him to have the shield. 

"You good, though?" Sam says.

"'m alright," Bucky says. "You okay?" 

"Yeah." Sam watches as Bucky finally rips into his protein bar. "Just can't wait to get some sleep."

--

The first thing Sam realizes is that he can't speak. The second thing he realizes is that he doesn't know where he is. The panic that crawls into his lungs is ice cold. He tries to remember everything that happened before this: jet landed, he dropped Bucky off, took a shower, got into bed—did someone kidnap him? Are Sarah and the boys okay? Why the fuck can't he talk? Sam puts a hand to his mouth and feels no binding, nothing. It looks like he's in some sort of castle. Rustic, and way too quiet. 

Get it together, Wilson.  

Then he hears gunshots. Sam ducks behind a pillar and grabs at his belt for…nothing. He's unarmed. The gunshots sound close but Sam isn't sure where he is, if he should try and help or just stay hidden. There's footsteps as armed men come down running down the hall right in front of him and Sam makes himself as small as possible. 

Then, the gunshots die. There's a quick succession of pop, pop, pop. The unmistakable sound of a knife being thrown. Grunts of pain. Then silence. The sound of one person walking. Sam stops breathing. A man in black leathers walks past him and it takes Sam a moment to recognize him. 

Bucky? He tries to say. 

Only this isn't Bucky as he knows him, this is Bucky from another life, Bucky when he was a weapon. Sam whips his head around wildly. For a wild, heartbreaking few seconds, Sam thinks that someone, somehow, managed to trigger Bucky again, has forced him into this life again. But he can see the long hair, the metal arm and red star. This is a dream. This has to be a dream. A side door opens, and it turns out to only be a female servant, desperate to escape the chaos. Bucky shoots her in the head without hesitating. Keeps walking.

Sam breathes. Can only breathe. The woman is on the floor at his feet, and there is blood but it won't stick to his shoes. The woman's eyes are open. 

He follows Bucky up a set of narrow stairs and immediately there are more men ready to attack. Bucky rolls and hurls a few knives, kills three of them instantly. The shots that went off go right through Sam like he's made of smoke. Bucky leverages off the wall and punches the remaining man so hard his neck breaks immediately. There's nothing there in Bucky's eyes. He doesn't know who he is. He ducks into the corridor as more footsteps come. Wake up, Sam thinks, Wake up, for the love of god, wake the fuck up. 

"Sam," someone says. 

Sam turns. It's Bucky. Only it's not him. It's the Winter Soldier. Long-haired, dead-eyed, mouth muzzled and he looks calm, too calm. He puts his hand on Sam's shoulder. He actually touches him. 

"He wouldn't want you to see this," the Winter Soldier says. 

Then he pulls out a gun and shoots Sam in the neck. 

Sam wakes up gasping. He reaches immediately for his neck and finds it whole, but for a moment there was pain, actual pain. The house is achingly quiet. Sam realizes that he's shaking. He slides out of bed and splashes his face with water in the bathroom. Gets a good look at himself in the mirror. He's alive. He's at home. His neck is intact. It isn't that Sam doesn't get nightmares anymore. They still come, just not as frequently these days. It's been a long, long time since he's had a nightmare like this. In fact, Sam isn't sure he's ever had a nightmare like this. 

He stays in the bathroom a long time, just breathing, grounding himself. Once he's stopped shaking, he goes back to the bedroom and digs his phone out to text Bucky. It's past two in the morning.

Hey man, you up? 

Bucky texts back almost immediately. 

Yea. Watching the Two Towers 

You are such a nerd, you know that?

Bucky sends back a bunch of gifs of Gandalf. Then a photo of himself in front of the TV looking fake mad. It also looks like he's sitting on the floor.

You ok? Bucky asks. 

Sam already knows he's not going to tell him. But if Bucky's up that means he's probably had a nightmare too, and for a brief insane moment Sam wonders if they had the same one, because it just felt so real. 

Bad night, Sam writes back. Mind if I join you? 

Sure but I'm not shutting off LOTR

Omg whatever 

They fall asleep together on the couch in the middle of Return of the King, and Sam wakes up that morning to Bucky already awake and messing around in the kitchen. White cat, he thinks. Bucky is pulling out eggs and vegetables and looking really pleased for someone who may or may not have had a horrific nightmare last night. 

"What are you doing over there?" Sam says.

"Thought I'd make breakfast. You like eggs benedict?" 

Sam untangles himself from the blanket and trudges into the kitchen. Dog is sitting loyally by the fridge, watching Bucky with unfiltered adoration. Bucky's whole house is an organized junk shop, like he's not sure how to decorate it yet, bottled ships lining the tops of the cabinets, an old sundial on the back porch, waterlogged books in piles by the spare room. There's a collection of nutcrackers that Sam has decided not to ask about. In the windows, Bucky has vase after vase of wildflowers that he's handpicked. 

"You can make hollandaise sauce?" 

"Yes?" Bucky says, holding two eggs in his metal hand. 

"You brought store bought cakes to my parties and your ass can make gourmet food?"

Bucky laughs, sheepish. 

"I didn't grow up eating eggs benedict, okay? And sure as shit no one in Hydra ever fed me that. I thought I'd learn to cook. I like it." 

Sam pours himself a cup of coffee, smiles. Bucky makes coffee like he's trying to make rocket fuel, but bless him for making it. And there's something about the mental image of Bucky sitting in his kitchen learning recipes that makes Sam's heart catch in his chest for a moment. He never, ever thought this is where his life would lead to. Sam crouches down to pet Dog under his chin. He had a dog once, when he was a child. Doesn't think about that much now, though.

"So, uh, you good? After last night?" Bucky says. 

"Yeah," Sam says. "Just a bad nightmare." 

"Want to talk about it?" 

Bucky is looking very purposefully at the bowl and not at Sam. Bucky is almost a different person than he was last year, but he's still Bucky. Quiet at times, prone to staring, not sure if he's doing it right. Being a person right. This is why Bucky doesn't do press conferences. He'd get up there and say two words and leave. And Sam would never let them make Bucky do a press conference. He feels weirdly protective of Bucky now. Kinda gets it, why Steve went to the ends of the earth for him, even if Bucky is sometimes the most abrasive shit he's ever known. 

"Nah," Sam says, standing. "I'm good. Thanks. What about you?" 

Bucky shakes his head. 

"I didn't have a nightmare. Just couldn't sleep." 

He's lying. Sam can see it right away. He doesn't know why, and it's not his place to pry. Bucky has a therapist, he talks to her, Sam isn't here to hold anyone's hand.

"That's good, man," he says. "Now get my breakfast going." 

Bucky lobs an egg at him. 

--

The problem with downtime is, Sam accidentally looks at the internet. And he knows that he shouldn't. Sarah yells at him all the time, because she can tell even when he doesn't tell her about it, because apparently, he gets this sad dopey look on his face. Like right now on the boat, cleaning the same spot over and over again. Sarah comes stomping over and is somehow more terrifying than any villain he's ever faced. 

"Have you been looking at social media again?" 

"No," Sam says. 

"Do not let these white fools get you down, Sam." 

Sam throws his rag down. 

"'What brand of fried chicken is Captain America's favorite'? Really? What moron thought the poll was a good idea?"

He reaches down and picks the rag up, twists it in his hands. 

"I'm about to dig Steve up and ask him which potatoes he likes best."

Sarah stares at him. 

"He was Irish, Sarah." 

"Yeah and he's dead, Sam," she says. "This is all you now. You saw the poll but did you see all the backlash?" 

She steps in and pulls him into a hug, and it's incredible the way she can just comfort him like that. Sam lets go of the rag. He feels so guilty, because for five years, he was just gone. Wasn't his fault, but it still happened. He was gone before that, too. When he thinks about it, Sam's been gone a long time. 

"I saw it, yeah. But it's the fact that it happened at all." Sam takes a deep breath, squeezes Sarah's shoulders gently. "You think I should pull a chicken wing out the next time I beat up a bad guy?"

"No, what? Sam." 

Sam guffaws. "I'm kidding. Mostly. Bucky would have been behind that idea." 

"Well Bucky is the craziest man I've ever met in my life," Sarah says. 

She pulls back smiling, though. Like yeah, maybe that'd be kinda funny. For a minute. Until the media shit storm. Black Twitter would love it, though. 

"It's still worth it, right?" she says. 

"Every minute of it," Sam says. "And that I'm not kidding about." 

They head out together to deliver meals in town and pick Bucky up along the way. Bucky is happy to help, makes the whole thing go a lot faster, considering he can carry twice as much as Sam. He's relaxed in the back of the truck, sunglasses on, waving at everyone he sees. Sam still feels a little wound tight. Like everyone he says hello to today knows, and it shouldn't matter, they don't care. But he can't shake the feeling. They pull up to Ms. Delilah's house with the last of the meals, and Sarah insists on getting out herself. 

"Her son'll drive me home, later," she says. "I know she's gonna talk my ear off and make me drink a liter of sweet tea. Y'all go on ahead." 

Bucky climbs into the passenger seat. He and Sam are just out onto the main road again when Bucky taps his thigh. 

"It was hard for Steve too sometimes, you know," he says. "Different reasons, obviously, but. Still hard." 

Sam shakes his head, eyes on the road. The sun is just starting to think about setting, the wind swinging sweet tendrils of Spanish moss around the trees. The air is humid and sweet smelling. Safe but fragile. Sam thinks of Bucky punching a man so hard his neck breaks.

"They just love to put me under a magnifying glass. I knew it was gonna happen. But damn, fried chicken? It's not even my favorite! You know who loves fried chicken—?" 

He starts ranting as they go down the backroads. Bucky mostly nods, listening, actually genuinely listening, and occasionally laughing so hard his eyes crinkle. Sam doesn't realize he's at Bucky's house until he pulls up to the drive. Suddenly, he's disappointed. He watches Bucky fidget with the sleeve of his jacket. 

"What're you up to tonight?" Sam asks.

"Probably walking Dog," Bucky says. 

"Please give that poor mutt a name." Sam glances at the house. "You doing okay, after Moscow? I know that was…it's okay if you're not okay." 

Bucky lolls his head against the seat, still smiling, but Sam can see it in his eyes, the flutter of old panic. 

"You're not my therapist, Samuel," he says. 

"No shit," Sam says. "But I'm your friend. Want to order pizza and watch a movie? We're still working through the list." 

Bucky agrees immediately. They go inside and Dog bounds off the couch and into Bucky's arms, who kisses him right on the mouth, then starts wrestling on the floor with him. Bucky says he gets depressed if he's alone too long. Lost dog, found home. Sam doesn't think about the similarities. They take him on a long walk, then order pizza and decide on a movie, which is always a process. Some films are on the No-Fly List, as in, absolutely off limits. This got decided after Bucky tried to watch The Manchurian Candidate and called Sam in the midst of a panic attack. Sam decided to nix all the Terminator films too. Metal killing machine? Bucky didn't need that. Any realistic war films off the list as well. They've both had enough war for three lifetimes. Tonight, they settled on Dog Day Afternoon. Sam is trying to catch Bucky up by decades on the classics. They're still in the 1970s. 

They settle on the couch with cheese pizza, Dog curled up by Bucky's feet. Sam stretches his legs out onto the coffee table, their beers slowly warming. 

"Were you awake much in the '70s?" he says. 

"Dunno," Bucky says, mouth full of pizza. "I place everything by world events. What happened when this movie came out?"

"1975? Shit, end of the Vietnam War." 

"Oh," Bucky says. "Yeah, I was definitely awake for that." 

He makes no move to elaborate. Sam doesn't ask him to. 

By the time the movie is over, it's pretty late, and Sam has a bit of a buzz. He texts Sarah to let her know he'll bring the truck back in the morning and asks Bucky if he can crash on the couch. 

"Sure," Bucky says. 

He's got his cheek squished into his metal hand and already looks half asleep. He kept asking Sam questions once he found at the film was based on true events. Why didn't they bring a sniper in? Why wouldn't they give his wife the money? Wasn't it nice, now, Bucky said, that she could live as herself? It reminded Sam that Bucky wasn't from this time, and so many things were so different to him, and strangely, Sam forgot that so easily.

Bucky grabs him a blanket and the spare pillow before disappearing into the bedroom with Dog.

"Night, Buck." 

"See ya later." 

--

He's cold. He's standing in a room he doesn't recognize, cavernous, dark. Sam doesn't see anyone at first, then he notices the soldier. Russian, by the looks of his uniform. He looks up and Sam tenses, but he doesn't seem to notice Sam at all. He's looking right through him. Then Sam hears footprints, the sound of something dragging. He turns. Two soldiers are dragging a half-conscious Bucky into the room, flakes of ice clinging to him like sweat. Sam knows immediately that he's dreaming. He watches them drag Bucky to the third soldier and sees the chair now, the one he read about in countless files. 

No, Sam thinks. I don't want to see this. Why am I seeing this? 

The way Bucky screams makes Sam's eyes prick hot. 

Why am I seeing this, why am I seeing this?

Someone is reciting words in Russian, and Sam has to wake up, he has to. He turns and nearly collides with the Winter Soldier. He's just standing there, watching Bucky with the most unreadable expression. Then his eyes flit over to Sam. 

"Why are you here? We didn't invite you here."

"Yeah, trust me, I'm not trying to be here," Sam says. 

The Soldier has a knife in his hand, thumb rubbing along the hilt. Sam is about to tell him not to stab him with that when the screaming stops abruptly. He turns and sees Bucky heaving in the chair, he's being asked a question. He responds in Russian. 

Wait, Sam thinks. Did I just speak? 

He jogs down to where Bucky is shakily standing up. Neither the soldiers nor Bucky seem to notice him. Sam looks back over at the Winter Soldier. He's stepping forward, he's about to strike. Sam turns to Bucky.

"Bucky," he says. "Buck!"

It's like a punch, or a kiss. Bucky's eyes clear in a blink, and he turns left, and he sees Sam. He sees him.

"Sam?" he says. 

Then everything collapses into smoke, everything gone, until it's just blackness.

Sam wakes up. 

He's tangled in the blanket, disoriented for a moment before remembering that he's at Bucky's house, on Bucky's couch. Then he hears Bucky's shuddering breathing coming from down the hallway, Dog's concerned whining. Sam stumbles upright and down the hallway. He holds himself outside Bucky's door a moment, hand raised. Then he knocks. 

"Buck," he says. "It's me." 

"Wild, I thought you were a ghost." 

"I'm coming in."

"Sam, I'm fine—" 

Bucky is shirtless when Sam comes in, still in bed with Dog mostly in his lap. Even without the light on, Sam can see that he's shaken. Dog wags his tail when he sees Sam, but he doesn't move from Bucky's lap. Good dog, Sam thinks. 

"Sorry if I woke you up," Bucky says. 

"You didn't." Sam swallows. "What was your nightmare about?" 

Bucky starts petting Dog faster. He doesn't want to talk about it, Sam knows. Knows that Bucky trusts him, but his nightmares, those have always been something he's kept to himself, or maybe he's opened up to his new therapist about them. 

"Go back to sleep, Sam," Bucky says. 

"Look, I had a nightmare, too. I just need to—" 

Sam pauses. He needs to know what? Check and see if they just shared a dream? Because that sounds insane. No less insane than anything else they've been through, but still. This is too big of an inkling for Sam to just ignore it. He gestures to the bed and Bucky nods, so Sam sits on the edge of the mattress. Dog wags his tail again. Bucky reaches for the water on his bedside table and talks a long drink, hand steadier, so he's calmer at least, but Sam still gives him another minute before he starts talking. He waits until Bucky is just idly petting Dog before finding his words. 

"You don't have to tell me about the nightmare," he says. "Let me just…ask you some questions, and if they sound similar, let me know. Sound good?"

"Are you high right now?" Bucky says. "Because I won't tell Sarah."

"I would love to be high right now," Sam says. 

Bucky doesn't look like he quite believes him, but he waves him ahead. Sam clears his throat. 

"In your dream, were you in Siberia?"

Bucky meets his eyes fast. Says nothing. Sam's throat is closing up too, yet he keeps talking.

"Did you get put in the chair for conditioning?"

"Sam," Bucky says.

"Did you see me?"

"Stop!" 

Bucky scrambles out of bed so fast that Sam is half afraid he's going to hurt himself. He presses himself up against the wall like Sam is suddenly a threat he has to assess, looks around wildly like he's maybe still dreaming. Dog whines on the bed, aggravated and confused. Sam keeps his cool. He knew, somehow, and he's freaked out as all hell, but at least now he knows for sure.

"Bucky, you're fine, we're fine. We're awake—" 

"How did you know that?" Bucky says. "How the fuck did you know that?" 

"It's freaky, okay, I get," Sam says. "I think we had the same dream. Or somehow I was in your dream, I don't know. It happened first right after we got back from Moscow—"  

"What," Bucky says.

"Yeah, you were in a castle." 

The blood drains from Bucky's face. "The coup? You actually saw that?"

Sam doesn't get a chance to reply before Bucky is frantically pulling his shirt and pants on, then opening his drawers so fast he splinters them, in a desperate search for what turn out to be socks. Sam gets up from the bed and puts a hand on Bucky's shoulder. It's a surprise when Bucky shrinks away from him. His face is tight, jaw hard, and his eyes are bouncing around the room. 

"Buck, what are you doing?"

"You weren't supposed to see that. You had no right to be there." 

"I didn't ask to be there," Sam says. "I don't know how it happened." 

Bucky blows past him and out the bedroom door. It's clear now that he's about to pull on his boots and just leave. At near four in the morning. Dog trots out of the bedroom, all nervous energy. 

"Bucky, where the hell are you going?" 

No answer. 

"Dude, this is your house!" 

Bucky slams the door behind him and Sam follows him out immediately, only to find Bucky gone. 

"Shit," he says. 

He turns around to find Dog standing behind him, crying. Sam takes him for a two hour walk around town, and when they come back, Bucky still isn't home. Dog lays by the door and whines intermittently, depressed and clearly missing his owner. Sam doesn't want to admit that he kind of feels the same way. A little pissed, too, though. 

"I'm gonna name you Petunia just to spite that old asshole," Sam says.

Dog just cocks his head.

--

The callout comes a few days later. Hijacking of a plane en route to Cuba, a few U.S. nationals. The first thing Sam thinks is, Wow, people really still hijack planes, huh? Then he gets picked up by Torres at an airstrip and off they go. Bucky had reappeared the day after he disappeared, looking both embarrassed and skittish, thanked Sam for watching Dog, and said nothing else. Sam figures they'll talk when they're both ready. 

When the callout came, he asked Sam if he thought he could handle it on his own. Sam gave him a reassuring smile. Squeezed his shoulder. 

"Can't have you showing me up all the time anyway," he said. "I'm Captain America, remember?" 

"Oh, the shield and those wings, I really show you up." 

Bucky relaxed under Sam's grip and met his gaze. They were going to be okay, Sam thought. And it was good, anyway, for Bucky to be aware of limits. Besides, Torres needs more practice with the Falcon wings.

On the plane now, Sam can't believe how much he wishes Bucky were there. Torres is in the cockpit, looking equal parts nervous and excited, the old Falcon wings strapped to his back. His leg is twitching a bit, but that's all. 

"Okay," he says. "We're gonna be low enough that we can both fly up and engage from below. I'll have it on autopilot. Too bad Sergeant Barnes isn't here to help, though." 

"You do realize you can just call him Bucky, right?" Sam says.

Technically, Bucky is still a civilian. A free agent. There's been a lot of weird red tape and bureaucracy about him tagging along with Sam, "because of his troubled past." That's the phrasing some senators have used. The same senators who removed the shield from the Smithsonian and gave it to Walker. So they can all go get fucked, as far as Sam is concerned. They want him to have a handler, which is just about the worst idea Sam has ever heard. Sam has never mentioned it to him, but he's got a feeling that Bucky knows. Guy has a habit of knowing information he's not supposed to. Bucky only takes Sam's lead because he wants to. Because Bucky, who has seen the absolute worst in everyone and everything, has decided that Sam is good. Even during the times when Sam doesn't feel all that worthy of anything. 

Torres gives Sam a serious look and shakes his head.

"Metal arm," he mouths. 

"Oh my god," says Sam.

--

Later, after the hostages are secure, Sam joins Torres in the cockpit. Kid is reading over some government files, has them just splayed out on his lap. Sam sets the shield between his knees and runs his fingers along the surface of it, feels the weight of it against his legs. It surprises him sometimes how light it feels. Other days, how heavy. He never dreamed, not once, that he'd be carrying it. Sometimes it still doesn't feel real. He nods to Torres. 

"What are you reading over there?" 

Torres' eyes light up.

"Data about people who experienced the Blip together," he says. "There's been this interesting phenomenon over the last eight months—siblings or spouses that were dusted together have been sharing consciousness. All over the world, like here in Norway, these sisters have been in each other's dreams—" 

Sam sits up so fast he nearly slams his head against the ceiling. 

"Hold on, what?"

He grabs the files out of Torres' lap and starts scanning them. There's just report after report, loved ones showing up in each other's dreams, able to communicate and touch and understand. Sam knows his breathing has picked up. He can't pick out a pattern, but it's hard when he feels like he's panicking. The reports keep saying blood relations. Or spouses. Romantic partners. He thinks of Bucky whimpering in that metal chair. His own throat blowing open. He sits back. 

"They don't say why it's happening," he says. "Where's the rest of the data?"

"Um, I don't know," Torres says. "You haven't, uh, had any dreams, have you? I didn't think you experienced the Blip with anyone you loved." 

"No," Sam says, eyes focused on the clouds. "No dreams." 

--

Bucky is waiting for him in his truck at the airstrip. He looks casual as all hell—black jacket, leaning against the hood with his legs crossed. His lips quirk when Sam comes striding over to him, and when Sam gets close enough, he pulls him in for a hug and tells him that he smells. 

"Yeah well so do you," Sam says. "And you didn't even save nobody today, so what's your excuse?"

"I wrestled with Dog." 

"Okay, fair." 

They drive straight to Bucky's house, which someone Sam knew would happen, and he doesn't mind. He was hoping for it. He uses Bucky's shower and tries to think of how to tell him what he learned on the flight home. Hey man, remember how I showed up in two of your dreams? It'll probably happen again, sorry. Apparently, it's been happening to people who went through the Blip together. But people who love each other. Which we do! But as really great friends, right? 

Maybe he'll leave the second part out. Because Sam does love Bucky, in the weirdest way, he supposes. The way he loves any stray cat that might've followed him home. Bucky is Bucky. Bucky is good-hearted and loyal and generous and deeply caring. He's also stubborn and aloof and prone to staring. And Sam wouldn't have him any other way. He just doesn't think about it too much. 

By the time he gets out of the shower, something is smelling really good from the kitchen. Sam dresses and sees Bucky making them bowls of fucking étouffée. 

"Is that étouffée? Did your 1940s ass just make étouffée?" 

"Um." Bucky stares at the food. "Yes? Sarah gave me the recipe. She said you love it." 

"I do," Sam says, suddenly struck dumb by the realization that Bucky made this for him. 

"Look I'm sorry for freaking out the other night," Bucky is saying. "You didn't…I just never wanted…" 

He pauses for a long time. They're both just standing there, steaming bowls of étouffée in front of them in the kitchen, Dog snoozing on the couch, the quiet Louisiana night around them. Bucky is having trouble looking Sam in the eyes, and that's how he knows this is hard for him. Sam lets him take his time. He was there, after all. He'd read the files, before, saw remnants, but he never actually saw

"I never wanted you to see what they did to me," Bucky finally says, all one breath. "I never wanted anyone to—" 

He inhales and just stops talking. Sam decides that's enough. He crosses the invisible barrier between them and hugs Bucky, hand solid against the back of his neck. Fingers touching soft hair, always softer than Sam anticipates. 

"It's okay," he says. "It's okay, Buck." 

Bucky nods against him, silent. 

"What the hell is happening?" 

Sam pulls back and gives Bucky's arms a squeeze. Thank god for Torres. Bucky's eyes are bouncing over Sam's face like Sam has all the answers in the world, and really, Sam has only scratched the surface. He barely knows anything. The files he looked over were inconsistent and confusing. Some people are no longer dream sharing, some still are. Those who aren't don't seem to know why. Some have been dream sharing for months. Others for just a few weeks. 

"Maybe we should sit down and eat," he says. "And I'll explain what I can." 

--

"Huh," Bucky says when he finishes. "Well that sounds kind of awful." 

He's aiming for casual but he still looks freaked out and somewhat bewildered. Sam nods between shoveling bites of étouffée in his mouth, because god damn, Bucky is a really good cook. Bucky hasn't touched his own food yet. 

"Yeah," Sam says. "'Awful' is one word for it." 

Bucky is silent for a long time. Sam would make a joke about his cyborg brain working, but he can tell that Bucky is sincerely thinking about all this, probably the same way Sam has been thinking about it. Like, why have they only been in Bucky's dreams so far? Not that Sam isn't grateful. He takes a sip of his beer just as Bucky refocuses. 

"So…" Bucky says. 

"So…" Sam says. 

"So you should stay here for a while," Bucky says. It comes out as a question.

"Yes. Wait what?" 

Bucky presses his lips together, shrugs, like this is a totally off the cuff idea, like he hasn't been thinking about it for the past five minutes. 

"Well, you said in the first dream you couldn't talk at all, right? And you were at your place. But in the second dream, you could speak. I saw you…" 

"Right," Sam says. 

"Well, maybe proximity is a factor. You were on my couch the second time. We could wake each other up faster." 

Bucky shrugs again, still aiming for casual, and pushes his food around his plate but once again never takes an actual bite. He has to know that Sam can see right through him. It was something that Sam thought a lot about on the flight home, the fact that Bucky had zero control over his brain for over seventy years, and what it must feel like to think it's happening again. Sam would be furious if someone just walked into his subconscious. 

"I didn't even consider that," he says. "That's a good move, Buck." 

Bucky smiles with teeth. "Well thanks, Cap." 

They argue for a few minutes over who's going to take the couch, Bucky acting the good host, but Sam really knows he's still getting used to sleeping in a bed like a civilian. They picked the mattress out together one day in town when Bucky first moved, Bucky folding himself onto different beds like they were going to eat him, until they found one firm enough. Sam finally just shoos Dog off the couch and stretches out onto the cushions. The pillow and blanket are still there, anyway. 

"Now take your nameless dog and go to bed," he says. 

"I don't take orders from you in my own house," Bucky says, pulling Dog toward him in offence. 

"Does that mean you'll take orders from me at other times?"

"No comment," Bucky says, already walking down the hall. 

Sam laughs into the cushions, the smell of food still fresh around him, something homey and found and comforting. He calls Bucky's name. Bucky comes back into the front room, already half undressed. 

"Yeah?"

"I'm sorry I'm in your head, man," Sam says. "Really." 

Bucky nods his head, almost tucks his face against his shoulder like his hair is still long and he can hide it. 

"It's not so bad if it's you," he says, and disappears again down the hallway. 

--

The first night, there's nothing. No dreams that Sam can remember, none for Bucky either. They get up and take Dog for a walk, come back and Bucky makes breakfast but Sam politely insists on making coffee. He's not trying to fly without wings all day, for Christ's sakes. Then Sam decides to go pick up some essentials from his place to bring to Bucky's, because clearly this might take a while, and he can't wear the same shirt and he's certainly not going to shave with Bucky's straight razor. When he tells Sarah that he's going to be staying at Bucky's for a while, she seems completely unphased by the news. 

"How did his étouffée come out?" she asks. 

"Uh, really good, actually," Sam says. 

Sarah nods, perched at the kitchen table drinking her morning coffee. Sam doesn't know if he should be freaked out or not that she and Bucky have this whole secret friendship going on that he doesn't appear to know about where they apparently share recipes and probably gossip about him. He packs in a hurry, not really sure why, he just feels like he needs to get back to Bucky for some reason, even though neither of them is going to sleep until tonight. Bucky can obviously take care of himself. Sam tells himself that a good three or four times and still packs in record time, bag at the door, when Sarah offers him breakfast. 

"Already ate with Bucky," he says. 

"Mmm," Sarah says, like she knows something. Then, "Has he made those hush puppies yet? I will make a southern cook of him, believe you me." 

Sam stares at her. 

"I'll…ask?"

"Thank you," she says. "Love you. Tell him I said hello."

Sam leaves the house in a bit of a daze, gets back to Bucky's and finds him in the backyard with Dog, sleeves rolled up and arms sunk into the soft dirt. There are herbs in their little black containers surrounding him. Dog barks when he sees Sam, starts wagging his tail but otherwise doesn't leave Bucky's side. Bucky acknowledges Sam with a tilt of his head. The closer Sam gets, the more he can see that there are other plants already sewn into the earth. He's never actually seen this little hidden area of Bucky's yard before. 

"Didn't know you gardened," he says. 

"Yeah," Bucky says. "Ayo taught me some stuff in Wakanda. It's, uh, you know, grounding. No pun intended." 

"Please remind me again why I put up with you?" Sam says.

"I have a metal arm and your nephews adore me." 

"Holy shit," says Sam. "You have a metal arm?"

Bucky throws soil at him. 

--

They garden together for the better part of two hours, then shower and get lunch. Days stretch like that for a while—no dreams, no nightmares, just days of leisure. Sam has never really seen Bucky like this before, in his own element. Sometimes Bucky is very talkative, tells Sam things he's interested in doing, like maybe getting a few chickens, or a duck, because he tended the goats in Wakanda and he misses that, but most times he's quiet. 

Sometimes he's very quiet, somewhere in his own head, and Sam feels the temperature of the room drop, so he'll say a color: "yellow." And Bucky will name every yellow thing he can see. Standard PTSD grounding technique. Most times that works, other times Bucky just leaves the room all together. Sometimes Sam has those moments, too. He needs to be outside, stare at the lake, pet Dog, ground himself. Not look at the internet and see who's judging him for what he did or didn't do today. 

"This must have been a nice place to grow up," Bucky says one night.

They're standing out by the dock, watching the sunset smudge the clouds. All that water, the long green tree line. 

"Never saw this growing up in Brooklyn," Bucky tells him. 

Sam swallows. 

"It was really nice, for the most part." 

He and Bucky say goodnight to each other later, Sam settled on the couch cushions, which have basically molded to his body at this point. 

Then he blinks awake in the sunshine. He can tell right away something is just…off. He's outside his house but his house seems bigger. Everything seems a bit bigger. There's his parents' old truck, a 1978 Chevrolet. Sam turns again and sees Bucky, Bucky as he is now, only he seems so much taller. 

"Sam?" Bucky says. 

He looks like he isn't sure. 

"Well who else would I be?" Sam says, and snaps his jaw shut.

His voice is…he looks down at his hands. His clothes. Oh god he's…he's so young. He must be nine or ten here. A dream. 

"This is my dream," Sam says. 

The area feels quiet except for him and Bucky. Sam can't think of what's about to happen, or what did happen. Except that he's hungry and wants Corn Pops, which is weird. Bucky walks closer to him and bends down to touch his shoulder, only his hand goes right through him. Close enough in proximity to speak, but not to touch. That's good to know, then. God, why does he feel so hungry? He misses his parents. 

"What are we waiting for?" Bucky says.

It's as if he cues the dream. The sound of a truck heads towards them, and they both brace themselves. It isn't until Sam sees the navy-blue coloring that his heart starts beating uncontrollably. 

No, he thinks. No, no, no. 

His eyes are already pricked with tears by the time the truck stops. Two white men get out. They don't even look at him. One of them opens the bed of the truck and drags his dog Red out, her sweet yellow fur stiff and lifeless, lets her fall to the unpaved road. The truck bed is slammed shut again. 

"Boy, I told you, that dog came near my property again, I was gonna shoot it," one of the men says. His name is Harold, Sam thinks. 

And all Sam can say is, "Uh-huh." 

He's trying so hard not to cry, he cannot cry in front of these men. He remembers how old he is, now. Nine exactly. The thing is, Red had never gone on their property. Sam found that out later. And he had inkling then, but he couldn't figure out why they'd do such a thing. Red was a good dog, she didn't do anything to anyone. From behind him, Sam hears Bucky move, and something tightens in his chest even though he knows this is a dream. It's also a memory, and they can't get in any more trouble. 

"What the fuck," Bucky says. "You can't just shoot his dog." 

Sam turns, feels wild and young and old all at once. There's something unchecked in Bucky's voice.

"Bucky, don't—" 

But Bucky is already punching one of the men with his metal arm, only he goes right through him like the whole thing is a holograph—

Sam wakes up with his eyes wet. He wipes at them quickly, breathing erratic, and notices the sun is already almost up. Had they really spent almost the whole night in that dream? It felt so quick. He hears Bucky's door open and Bucky walks out, sheepish, scratching absentmindedly at his flesh arm. Sam stares at his dog tags. 

"I'm all right," he says. 

Bucky nods and comes and sits next to him on the couch, eyes purposefully staring straight ahead. Sam has the weirdest urge to hug him. In the dream, he was terrified, angry, even, that Bucky was going to punch those white men, but of course Bucky would have done that. Sam isn't a child, anymore. That isn't even his worst memory, and he feels shaken, knowing Bucky has seen it. No wonder Bucky ran off the night Sam witnessed him being tortured. 

"I'm guessing…back then, calling the cops would've been even worse than calling them now?" Bucky asks.

Sam laughs in his throat, and it hurts. No, his family didn't call the cops. They buried Red in the yard, and Sam's mom gave him a long talk about the way life was, how maybe someday it wouldn't be like that. She and his dad even offered to get another dog but Sam couldn't handle it. He and Sarah cried for weeks.

"Do you think we should share the bed?" Bucky says, which feels totally apropos of nothing. 

"Huh?"

Sam looks over at him and finds Bucky cupping his dog tags in his hand, just staring at them. And maybe it's the exertion of what just happened, but he also looks a little flush in the face. 

"I mean, we can talk to each other in the dream," Bucky says, still talking to his dog tags, "But not touch anything. I just figured if we were in the same room—I mean we don't have to share the bed. I can take the floor—" 

"Oh no," Sam says. "You're not using this as an excuse to start sleeping on the floor again. We're grown men and you've got a king mattress. We can share a bed. If we still can't make physical contact in the dream, we'll just have to try something else." 

Bucky nods, relaxing by visible degrees. Dog comes trotting out for pets, happy and unaware. Both Sam and Bucky oblige him. Eventually, Bucky rolls his shoulders and starts to stand. Sam already knows he's not going to say anything else about the dream, not unless Sam does, and Sam adores him for that. The way he just gets it. 

"I'll make coffee?"

Sam scrambles up from the couch. 

"No, no, my god, Bucky. Let me, please."

--

That night, Bucky wears a shirt to bed, which Sam thinks is very old-fashioned and gentlemanly of him. He also takes the side of the bed that affords him the closest spot to the door but no vulnerabilities, which Sam understands. There shouldn't be anything awkward about this, they're friends, they've never specifically shared a bed before, but Sam has shared a bunk with Riley, and he knows Bucky and Steve shared a bed back in the '30s. He can't stop the weird little tremor in his hands, though, when he slides into bed, and he tells himself it's because he's nervous about having a nightmare. Selfish as it is, Sam would rather be back in Bucky's head tonight than his own. But if it means Bucky doesn't backslide into himself, Sam will take his own nightmares five times over. 

Bucky is stiff as anything when Sam settles under the covers, Dog curled up on his feet at the end of the bed. Sam stares at him.

"You good?"

"I just…honestly I'm a little worried I'll hurt you," Bucky says. "If I have a nightmare." 

Oh. Somehow that's both charming and heartbreaking. 

"It's all right," Sam says. "We'll figure it out." 

Bucky nods, mechanical. Sam turns on his side to give him privacy. As long as Bucky doesn't crush his neck with his metal arm in his sleep, they'll be fine. Sam can't even imagine Bucky hurting him, these days. You know yourself too well, Sam thinks. You'd never hurt anyone you didn't want to. Someday Bucky might even believe that. 

And then there's jazz music. 

It feels like a fog clearing, the music swelling. Sam is in a sea of young people dancing, laughing and alive. There's an actual band on stage, and Sam realizes he is not in the 21st century even remotely. This is definitely Bucky's dream, Bucky's life. Sam scans the crowd for him, finally spots him in the middle of the dancefloor twirling a girl around. This must be the Lindy Hop that he's always going on about. The song ends and Bucky and his partner part. Bucky is laughing and smiling. Sam walks closer and his breath catches in his throat. 

Bucky looks young. He can't be older than twenty, hair messy. He's smiling in a way that Sam has never seen before, like nothing bad has ever happened to him. There's no shadow of horror in his eyes. No metal arm, both hands of flesh and blood and bone. Sam is suddenly struck by the notion that he shouldn't talk to Bucky at all, shouldn't interact. But then Bucky sees him, and his eyes light up even more, like he's been waiting for Sam all this time.

"Sam!" he says, gesturing him over. "Hey, pal, get over here." 

Sam is still speechless. Bucky is skinnier and wearing suspenders and ushering Sam over to the wall so they can talk. 

"Bucky," he finally says. "Man, you look—" 

"Handsome?" Bucky says. "Yeah, I know." 

" Young, " Sam says. "How old are you right now?"

"Right now?" Bucky tilts his head. "It's 1938, Sam." 

He's twenty-one, Sam thinks. Well before he went to war. Before anything. 

"You know this is a dream, right?" Sam says. "You know what year it really is?"

Bucky's eyes clear. Like he forgot. Like he thinks it's really 1938. Sam can guess why—this seems like a good dream, a great memory. Why wouldn't his mind want to hold onto it as reality? 

"Yeah," Bucky says. "This is a dream. It's May, and Steve is sick so I'm not staying out too late tonight. I go home and get pissed because he's out of bed drawing. This is a dream." 

Music starts up again, and Bucky snaps his fingers and bites at his lip, and god, Sam has never seen him like this. This Bucky is a whole different person. It makes him furious, to think that Hydra took this away from him. That war took this away. All of a sudden, Bucky's hand is on his shoulder. 

"Holy shit," Sam says. "You can touch me." 

"Let me teach you to Lindy Hop," Bucky says. 

"You want to what the what?" 

Sam is still freaking out that they've made physical contact in a dream. This is big. He doesn't exactly know what it means, but if they can communicate like this, maybe they can stop the dream sharing. Only Bucky doesn't seem very concerned about the right now. He's smiling and moving his feet. 

"Come on, you always make fun of me about '40s music, and our nephews are always showing me those TikTok dances—" 

"Did you just say our nephews—" 

"Let me show you, Sam." 

And how can Sam say no? Right here, in this dream, in this space where both of them are so safe? Sam looks around and sees Black folks dancing with the white folks, sees same-sex partners dancing. This is Bucky's dream and it's safe. He barely says okay before Bucky pulls him onto the dance floor and tries to show him the triple step. 

"It's like quick-quick-slow, quick-quick-slow, got it?" he's saying, only he's not really giving Sam time to learn, he's just moving him around the floor with him, almost manic in his excitement. Eventually, Sam manages to pick it up, and they're going together, the live big band music really adding to it. Sam is having a good time. He can't remember the last time he had this much fun. They go into a slower number together, totally in-sync. 

"I take it back," Sam says. "I like this dance." 

"Told ya," Bucky says. 

"I'm glad we're in this dream. I'm really glad I get to see this you, before the war and everything." 

Bucky looks at him like he doesn't know what he's talking about. Then Sam sees it, the instant his face closes off, his eyes go wide, scared, like he's trying not to remember something. The music is suddenly warped, syrupy, like Sam is listening to it through the wall. The dancehall feels colder. For a moment Sam thinks his vision is going fuzzy, then he sees that it's snowing inside the building, and Bucky doesn't seem to notice. He's standing there stock still, eyes terrified. 

"I go to war?" he says. "Does something bad happen to me?"

In the distance, the sound of a train. 

Sam grabs for Bucky's hands without thinking. He can ground him like this, he can talk to him. And even though it's the truth, he can't tell him outright. Won't tell this Bucky what the future is going to bring. But he can't lie to him either.

"Hey," Sam says. "You'll be just fine." 

And that is true, mostly. Bucky squeezes his hands, nodding, eyes clearing a bit. Over his shoulder, through the snowfall, Sam catches sight of the Winter Soldier. He's such a stark contrast to the whole scene that Sam can't help but startle. He's watching Sam, and he doesn't look happy. Sam drops Bucky's hands and steps back. The Winter Soldier is moving fast through the crowd towards him. Bucky notices and turns around, hands reaching for the Soldier. 

"Подожди," he says. "Остановись. Не надо!"

The last thing Sam knows is the barrel of a gun in his face. 

He wakes up and his head throbs. Sam bolts upright, head in his heads, images of guns and dancing and Bucky right behind his eyelids. Can hear Bucky now, breathing almost just as heavily. He says nothing, which is good, because Sam doesn't even know if he can process words right now. Hell, he can barely process breathing. It takes a long, long time for his breathing to calm, even longer for his head to feel like it's not going to explode. Sam finally lets himself look at Bucky. Bucky, who's just watching him, his micro expressions so unreadable, but Sam thinks maybe he's relieved. 

"You didn't have to do that," Bucky says. "In the dream. You didn't have to lie to him." 

Sam doesn't understand what he's saying for a moment. Then he remembers. You'll be just fine. 

"I wasn't lying. You're on your way to being fine." He coughs to clear his throat. "Why are you referring to yourself in the third person?" 

"I'm not that guy anymore." Bucky holds his metal arm up before Sam can say anything. The vibranium looks smooth, almost liquid in the dark. "I know I've got parts of myself back, I know that. But I'll never be just Bucky anymore. I've made peace with that. That kid you saw is dead." 

Sam thinks of dead dogs and watching Riley fall from the sky. He nods. 

It's a weird hour to get up, but they both know they're not getting any more sleep, so they head to the kitchen for water, aspirin for Sam, and decide to watch a movie. Something lighthearted, Sam thinks. Like a Miyazaki film. They settle on the couch. Bucky is still somewhere in his dream. Sam, too, honestly. He watches the way Bucky's metal fingers flex against his glass. Strange, that Sam thinks he looks better with it, than without. His head is still throbbing. 

"Question," he says. 

"Possible answer," says Bucky. 

"Does the Winter Soldier always stalk you in your dreams?"

An unreadable expression passes over Bucky's face. 

"What do you mean?" 

"I mean, the first dream we shared, that asshole shot me in the throat," Sam says. "The second one he was prepared to gut me like a fish, except you saw me and woke up. And now this one—" 

"He shot you in the first dream?" 

"Yeah and it hurt. " Sam presses his fingers against the skin of his throat. "Look, I'm sure there's a lot to unpack with that. He wasn't you, but he was you. I wouldn't even ask if I wasn't…getting killed by him just about every time I'm in your dreams." 

Bucky has both hands on his water glass now, about two seconds away from shutting down. As if on cue, Dog comes bounding out of the bedroom and nuzzles Bucky's thigh, eager for attention, which snaps Bucky back into the moment. Bucky gives him a quick pet, a half-smile. Sam is strongly convinced that someone let a PTSD therapy dog loose by Bucky's house and maybe it was Bucky's therapist. Or maybe Dog is just the greatest dog in the world. 

"I'm not backsliding," Bucky says, voice louder than it was a moment ago. 

"Okay," Sam says. 

"Sometimes he's just…" Bucky presses his lips together until they're white, then shakes his head. "I don't know how to—" 

"It's cool," Sam says. "I'm not actually dying. I wake up." 

Which is true. He'd love a dream grenade launcher, and maybe that's something he can work on. At least now they know that sharing a bed means they can talk and touch in the dream. Sam could realistically fight the Winter Soldier if he had to. He'd lose, but he could at least put up a fight. He squeezes Bucky's shoulder and Bucky's head shoots up, eyes at attention. 

"We made physical contact tonight, remember? You taught me how to Lindy Hop." 

Bucky smiles, barely. 

"I remember," he says. "You were terrible." 

Sam slams one of the pillow cushions on top of his fat head and Bucky laughs. They watch My Neighbor Totoro. At some point, Bucky slumps against Sam's shoulder, asleep again, which is such a miracle Sam doesn't dare move to wake him. He's never actually seen Bucky asleep before, other than photos of him in cryo. He has long lashes. Sam doesn't know why he notices that. He doesn't actually watch the rest of the film.

--

For the next week, there's nothing. No dreams from either of them, and it is actually anxiety inducing, waiting for the next one. So they keep themselves occupied—work on the boat, workout, scan for any potential threats. It's been quiet lately, though. Sam doesn't know if that's a good thing. AJ and Cass introduce Bucky to Skyrim, and now Bucky has a console in his house and Sam will come in and find him zoned out, totally in his own world. It's both the nerdiest thing Sam has ever seen and completely endearing. They also paint the outside of Bucky's house. It was a chipped, faded blue when Bucky moved in. He decides to paint it a pale yellow.  

Sam watches him carefully apply paint around the railings, nose scrunched in concentration, the knees of his jeans stained yellow. He thinks of dead dogs and snow and Riley and getting shot in the throat. He thinks of Bucky dancing, Bucky waking up next to him every morning for over a week now. Bucky keeps to his side of the bed, sleeps so still he could be dead if not for his even breathing, but when he and Sam wake up at the same time, there's a moment where Bucky is all vulnerability, so brief Sam can't even describe it, before he remembers that he is who he is. That life happened to him. It should feel strange, waking up next to Bucky. It doesn't feel strange to Sam at all. Feels like they should've been doing it for months now. 

Sam glances upward. Looks like rain tonight.

--

Standard PJ Rescue Op, nothing they hadn't done a thousand times before.

Standard PJ Rescue Op, nothing they hadn't done a thousand times before.

Standard PJ Rescue Op, nothing they hadn't—

"Riley!" 

He doesn't think, he just goes. Down, down. He doesn't think. He has to save him. Sam goes for what feels like miles, the wind burning his face, fuck the fact that he knows that Riley is already dead, body burned and mangled. He has to get him. Has to—

Sam lands hard on the sand, stumbles forward and lands on his knees. Riley is already on the ground. He's always already on the ground. Sam pushes his goggles off and walks on his knees to him. Hands shaking. He can't even touch him. 

"Just wake up," Sam says. "Come on, Riley." 

His voice is wet, he's blubbering. Already dripping tears into the sand. Then he hears footsteps. Sam looks up and sees Bucky standing there, Bucky as he is now. He looks concerned, confused. And Sam is so fucking relieved to see him. For a moment he forgot he was dreaming. 

"Who is this?" Bucky says. 

Sam shakes his head. 

"He—" 

"Did I kill him?"

And something in Sam snaps. Suddenly, he doesn't want Bucky here at all. Doesn't want him to see this, he shouldn't be seeing this, no one should be seeing this. It's private and Sam wants Bucky out. 

"This isn't about you, Bucky," he says.

"This is your dream," Bucky says, voice infuriatingly gentle. "Is this Riley?" 

"I said this isn't about you." 

Sam moves in front of Riley's body. He feels the need to protect him, now. Bucky can't see Riley. No one can see Riley. Sam never even got to see Riley. He just watched him fall, and it was like Riley disappeared. And what was the point, after that? If someone he loved as much as Riley could just be taken from him, he could lose anyone that easily. How could he look anyone in the face again, if he had the wings and weapons and couldn't even protect Riley? They gave him an honorable discharge and nothing about it felt honorable at all.

"Goddammit," Sam says. "I hate this." 

Bucky hasn't moved from his position. 

"This wasn't your fault," he says.

"Shut up, Bucky." 

Sam shuts his eyes tight, opens them, and Riley's face is Bucky's face. He blinks again and there's no body at all. Sam scrambles to his feet, Bucky watching the spot where Riley's body was like there are ghosts out in the desert.

"I can't stand this!" Sam says. "You're just here in my head! All the time. Why is any of this happening to us? It's driving me crazy!"

Bucky's eyes snap to his, and the lack of expression in them makes Sam's stomach go cold. He knows immediately that he's said the wrong thing.

"Yeah," Bucky says, carefully blank. "I know." 

Fuck, Sam thinks. He can't even open his mouth again before Bucky is gone from the dream like he was never there at all. Sam blinks at the spot where Bucky was standing, as if he can will him to come back. Turns to where Riley's body was. There's nothing. Feels like he stands there for ages before he finally wakes up. 

The bed is empty.

"Fuck," Sam says.

--

Sam takes Dog onto the boat with him. Dog seems to like that, but Dog seems to like just about everything. After waking up, it was clear to Sam that Bucky wasn't in the house, and even clearer after a few hours that he'd done a disappearing act. Sam wasn't up to just sitting around in an empty house, and Dog definitely wasn't either. So he and Dog were now on the boat, fishing. Sam's stomach grumbles. He skipped breakfast. Seemed weird to eat it without Bucky, and Bucky makes a better breakfast anyway. 

"Dog," Sam says. "You are so lucky to be a dog." 

Dog cocks his head. 

"Yup," Sam says. 

Bucky isn't back at the house that afternoon when Sam comes back with Dog, and he isn't there that evening when Sam orders Thai food for two and sits alone at the table with Dog begging at his hip. Sam puts Bucky's meal in the fridge. He thinks about RPGs and Bucky screaming and dancing in 1938. There's got to be a reason, he thinks. Sam pulls out his phone and calls Torres.

"Hey, Joaquín, I need a favor."

"Sure, Cap."

"Those dream sharing files, can you get them to me?"

Torres sounds disappointed. Probably was hoping for another run in the Falcon wings. He's so young, so, so young. 

"Yeah," Torres says. "I'll email your way right now." 

Sam spends the rest of the night opening files on his phone and squinting to read them, poring over details that barely make sense, only something has to make sense. There has to be a reason. Why did the dreams just stop? Sam reads until the words become just black smudges on his screen. It doesn't occur to Sam to go back to his own place to sleep. He dresses down and gets into Bucky's bed, leaving enough space for Bucky to crawl in without disturbing him, not that Bucky needs the handicap. White cat, Sam thinks. 

It takes Sam a long time to fall asleep.

He doesn't dream.

--

Bucky isn't magically in bed the next morning, which Sam expected but is still disappointed by. He sighs so loudly that Dog cocks his head and whines. It's not that Sam is worried, exactly, it's just that if Bucky is off self-loathing somewhere because of what Sam said, Sam is going to have to smack them both. 

He gets up and lets Dog out. Makes coffee. Dog wanders back in and Sam pets him in the quiet of the house. Too quiet, without Bucky, even though Bucky himself is quiet. There's something about Bucky's quiet that Sam enjoys. Misses. He finishes his first cup and pours a second. Turns around and there's Bucky, standing in the kitchen like he's been there all morning.

"Jesus fucking Christ," Sam says, sloshing hot coffee over his hand. "I really need to get you a bell."

Bucky just furrows his brow. Dog is jumping and wagging his tail but he doesn't go to Bucky yet, like he knows it's not time.

"Never mind." Sam wipes his hand clean with a towel. "Just scared the hell out of me, is all." 

Bucky doesn't react. He grabs a mug and pours himself a cup of coffee. Up close, Sam can see that his eyes are bloodshot, like he didn't sleep last night. Bucky takes his first sip of coffee and shuts his eyes, exhales like he's finally relaxing. He bends down and pets Dog.

"I had no right to say what I said in my dream," Sam says, because he's spent a long time thinking about this, because he's not going to drag it out. "I never should have said that to you. I'm sorry." 

Bucky is petting Dog in very specific patterns: head, neck, ears, head, neck, ears. Sam waits. His hand still burns a little from where he spilled coffee on it. 

"You were upset. Your partner died."

"That's not an excuse," Sam says. "You're not crazy, Bucky." 

"I'm a little crazy, Sam." 

"Well, lucky for you, I'm into that." 

Bucky laughs. It sounds a little painful for him to do that, but he still does it. 

"You need a color?" Sam asks him.

"No," Bucky says. "I want to cook, actually." 

Sam opens the fridge for him to show the leftover Thai food that was ordered, an apology on top of an apology, but Bucky pushes past that for the eggs and vegetables. He tells Sam that he's going to make a frittata instead. He just really likes to cook, apparently, so Sam watches him do it. Bucky's knife skills translate well into the kitchen, he can dice and chop and julienne. He can crush a whole bulb of garlic in his metal hand to pull the cloves out. It seems like something that gives him genuine pleasure. Bucky fries up bacon too and throws pieces to Dog while they eat. When Bucky is out of bacon, Dog switches to Sam's side of the table. 

"Uh-uh," Sam says. "I don't share bacon." 

Once they've finished eating, Sam goes to collect the dishes and Bucky stops him. 

"I've got manners, you know. You're still a guest."

"Uh, no, I think we moved past guest when I started sleeping in your bed," Sam says. "I'll handle the dishes." 

There's no hiding the brush of pink along the bridge of Bucky's nose. Sam didn't mean for it to come across like that, it's just, Sam is sleeping in his bed. And right now Sam is ignoring the own heat that pools in his belly. He grabs the dishes from Bucky's limp hands and washes them. Focuses on the soap suds collecting on the yellow sponge in the sink and not the way Bucky is staring at him. Bucky is loud when he stares. 

"I have a theory," Sam says. "About the dreams." 

Bucky doesn't answer but he knows he's listening. 

"I had Joaquín send over the files to me again. I wanted to see if I could find some kind of pattern, something. Anyway, seems like all the people who've stopped sharing dreams were working through something together—a trauma, a family issue, missed time. So if I had to hazard a guess—" 

"We don't have any problems," Bucky says. 

Sam finishes rinsing off the last dish. Through the window above the sink, he can see into Bucky's backyard, the patch of ground he's been gardening. 

"Maybe not with each other," Sam says. "Maybe they're related. Maybe it's easier when you're asleep." 

"Or…" Sam turns, hands half-dried on a dish towel. Bucky has Dog pulled into his lap, or maybe Dog got up there himself. "…Or maybe I'm totally fucking wrong here. But if there's something you want to tell me, Buck, you can. Anything." 

Bucky's eyes are fixed somewhere else. He's scratching Dog's chest. Sam used to tell vets at the VA all the time when he was counselor: progress isn't linear. But progress doesn't go away. He can't tell if he's thinking of that right now for himself, or for Bucky. He sets the dish towel down and sits at the table again, opposite end so Bucky has space. No one is crowded. 

"There's nothing," Bucky says, then motions to Sam with his chin, as if to ask the same of him. 

And what can Sam say but no? It's nothing to do with Bucky and he doesn't deserve to be involved. At this rate, they might just be dream sharing for eternity.

That night, Sam gets into bed after Bucky. The mattress dips and their hip and arm come into contact. Bucky doesn't tense up but Sam immediately gives Bucky more room, inches back to his allotted portion on the mattress. 

"Sorry," he says. 

Then Bucky turns to him, his eyes like white jelly in the dark. 

"You know I don't mind, right?" he says, and turns back around before Sam can say anything. 

--

He hates that the VA looks exactly the way it was the last time he was there. Well-lit, open exits, so many pamphlets. Sam is in khaki pants and a nice button down. Bucky is next to him, short-haired, staring. 

"Nice pants," he says. 

"Oh shut up," Sam says. "I don't pick my dream clothes." 

They're up at the podium together. No one is in the folding chairs. The room is empty save for them, like Sam's subconscious expects him to sit Bucky down and give him a one-on-one therapy session. Some of the memories here…they're good. Sam helped people. A lot of vets came in a bad way, some in such a bad way they'd freak out in the middle of a session and leave. Some would never come back. But a lot stayed and Sam got to know them, got to love them. Sam remembers a lot of other things, too. Like ignoring Sarah's phone calls to visit home. 

"Why are we here?" Bucky says. "Do—oh, it's Sarah."

"What?"

Sam's head snaps up. Sarah is sitting in one of the folding chairs now. She's talking, but there's no sound. She's speaking to someone, maybe to Sam, because she's looking right at him, but Sam can't understand her. 

"I can't hear you," Sam says. "Sarah—what are you—?" 

She gets up without making a sound. Sam watches her take out her phone and call a number. 

"Sam," she says, and yeah, he can hear her now. "Will you please just talk to me? You don't even have to visit, just let me know you're okay." 

Sam jumps when Bucky puts a hand on his shoulder. His eyes are stung hot, and he's filled with the heavy weight of shame, of remembering. 

"I didn't—" Sam watches Sarah blink away. "After I left, I just couldn't face going home again. Felt like I had no one."

He doesn't know why he's never said this to Bucky before. Bucky of all people, understands. The feeling of not belonging, having no one there at all, losing someone so precious to you that life hardly seems worth anything. You can lose one, you can lose them all. The explanation is so simple, and yet beyond words, which is why Sam can't really give any, and Bucky doesn't offer them. Sam feels Bucky's fingers squeeze gently into his shoulder. 

"I was barely there when my nephews were born. I just couldn't—" 

"I didn't know how to come back for two years," Bucky says. "It's okay." 

Sam nods, eyes on the empty room, feels something break open in his chest, and it's painful, it is, but Sam realizes part of that is just relief. He's only crying. And Bucky is here. He's fine. It's okay. He's wearing these stupid, practical khakis and there's not a tissue in any pocket, but dream tears aren't real, he supposes, so Sam just wipes his eyes with the backs of his hands and sniffs. From the open doors of the meeting room, he can see a low moving fog. Bucky still hasn't moved his hand, so Sam brings his hand up and touches Bucky's wrist. 

"See that?"

Bucky steps away from the podium, cautious. 

"Guessing this isn't part of the VA's usual aesthetic?" 

Nothing about the fog feels ominous, at first. They walk out together, and very quickly, Sam realizes they're no longer in the VA building, but somewhere else entirely. He doesn't recognize this place. Clearly, Bucky does, because he's breathing has slowed to something more controlled, and his hands are flexing like he wants a weapon. 

"What is this place?" Sam says.

"I thought this was your dream," Bucky says.

Sam just shrugs. 

They're in a long, chrome hallway. The hallway is wide but feels claustrophobic anyway. Bucky seems to know where he's going. This must be a Hydra facility. There are no doors, until there is one door. They stop there together, and Bucky hesitates. His jaw is working hard, like he's chewing his tongue or his cheek. It reminds Sam of a Hydra report he'd read once, about how Bucky didn't have a mouth guard at first for his conditioning, until eventually he started cracking teeth. Something about those lines made Sam feel physically ill. He never showed that to Steve. 

"You don't have to open the door," he says to Bucky now. "Not unless you're ready."

Bucky nods, then turns the handle. 

The room inside is surprisingly gentle. The lighting is soft and there's a light gray couch, a table, a chair. There's a wallpaper of a birch forest behind the couch. It looks like a therapist's office, Sam thinks. Seated on the couch is the Winter Soldier. Sam wishes his gut didn't flip inside out at that. Technically, that's Bucky. And Bucky doesn't seem surprised to see the Winter Soldier. He takes a seat beside him while Sam stays safely by the door. The Winter Soldier is watching him, no muzzle, eyes full of nothing. He says something to Bucky in Russian. Bucky says something back in a sharp tone. 

"It's fine, Sam," Bucky says in English. "You can sit. He won't kill you." 

Sam decides he's going to sit across the table, chair dragged closer to the door. It's beyond bizarre, seeing Bucky and Bucky staring at him, one is long-haired and murderous, one is healing and watching Sam with a soft, pleading expression. 

"Он не должен здесь быть," the Soldier says. 

"Not his fault. We didn't choose to share our dreams." 

"Он узнает наши секреты."

"Значит так и будет," Bucky says. "Я их больше не хочу."

They go back and forth in quickfire Russian for a while, and Sam wishes now that he knew anything beyond don't shoot and thank you. His eyes dart between both of them, almost amused by it, Bucky arguing with what is essentially a projection of himself, until the Winter Soldier points sharply at him.

"Я должен его убрать чтобы защитить нас, чтобы защитить тебя. Ты не хочешь чтобы он увидел, что нам пришлось зделать."

"Я знаю," Bucky says. "Я знаю, но я ему доверяю."

"Then why won't you tell him the truth?" The Winter Soldier says that in English. 

There's no malice in his tone, only curiosity. Concern, even. Sam can see now that the Winter Soldier looks at him like he's a threat to Bucky. He presses his hands against the cushion of the chair gently, ready to kick the table up at any moment and give himself a chance to flee. 

"What truth?" he says. 

Bucky is looking at the table. He already looks shut down, so it startles Sam when the Winter Soldier touches his wrist and Bucky immediately snaps to attention. They're looking at each other like they completely understand, and like both pity and envy each other, empathize and care deeply for each other. 

"Ты теперь свободен," the Soldier says. "Ты веришь этому?"

He presses the first two metal fingers to Bucky's forehead. It seems like an affectionate gesture. Sam can't tell if this is meant to seem deeply insane or an ingenious way of coping with a complete lack of autonomy for most of your life. The Winter Soldier gives Sam a passing glance, curious, but not dangerous. Then he stands up and exits the room. Bucky is sitting there, stunned, staring at the closed door like he's expecting him to come back. 

"Bucky," Sam says, after the silence has stretched on for what feels like hours. He doesn't even know what he wants to say.

"You know my exhibit at the Smithsonian?" Bucky says. His voice is rough, like he hasn't talked in weeks. "A lot of that's propaganda." 

Sam decides to move off the chair so he feels less like Bucky's therapist and more like his equal. He sits beside him on the couch, where Bucky is tracing nonsense patterns on one of the couch pillows.

"I never enlisted," Bucky says. "I was drafted. And I told myself it wasn't so terrible because it was a good fight. Every time I killed a guy, I told myself I was helping people. And every time I killed someone for Hydra they told me I was helping the world. That my work was a gift. And sometimes I look back and I don't even know the difference anymore. Just that one of those guys had control, and the other didn't." 

Sam touches Bucky's hand, the one tracing the pillow. The moment their skin meets, Bucky grabs hold of Sam's hand and squeezes. His grip hurts. Sam doesn't wince, he barely notices. He can imagine that Bucky, a little too skinny, getting his draft card and hiding it from Steve. Sitting and shivering somewhere in France, some nameless soldier dead and frozen next to him for days already. Sam thinks of walking in the desert and tripping over hands sticking out of the earth.

In a creeping way, he is starting to understand. In a selfish way, he doesn't want to. He wants to be wrong. He chances folding his free hand over where his and Bucky's hands are joined, sees Bucky watch and not move. Bucky used to hate being touched. Now he just relaxes, mostly. Bucky, this person who was split open so spectacularly and everyone keeps trying to tell him he can be fused back together. 

"I don't want to kill anyone ever again," Bucky says, his voice softer and heavier all at once. "But if I keep fighting, one day I will. And I know it will be for you, and I'll never forgive myself, and you'll never forgive yourself."

He takes a deep, shuddering breath, and Sam wonders how long, how long has he been thinking about this? 

"Whatever acronyms the government comes up with, it's all the same. I don't want a handler, Sam. I just want to be me. And I barely know who that is, still." 

Bucky meets Sam's eyes, the blue of them sharp, and Sam hates that it looks like he's waiting for approval. He's already decided. It's done. He doesn't need Sam's approval, even if decades of abuse demand it from everyone. Sam thinks back to walking into the house last week, and Bucky was slapping dough around the counter, brows furrowed in concentration, but otherwise totally relaxed. Sam barely said hello before Bucky started talking about how he was going noodling with Carlos next week, and he wasn't quite sure what that was, but apparently, he was going to stick his metal arm in a hole and catch a catfish. He looked up at Sam and flexed his metal fingers, smiled, like he was so pleased to find a purpose for his arm that wasn't just violence.

"Buck," Sam says. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't…come on, I didn't want to disappoint you. I believe in you, Sam. I just can't fight anymore." 

"So don't," Sam says. "Stay home and be a gourmet cook. Tend to your garden. Name your goddamn dog. Do what makes you happy, Bucky. That's not going to disappoint me." 

It's easier to say than Sam thought it would be. He doesn't know if it's because they're in a dream, or because he just really means it. Maybe both. Bucky starts shaking in front of him, and Sam realizes that he's sobbing. Squeezes Sam's hand harder and cries, head bowed, the pillow dotted with tears. This was it, Sam thinks. This was it all along. 

Bucky looks up at him, his eyes lined with moisture, red-rimmed, somewhere on the edge of happiness and hysteria. 

Then he shifts forward and kisses Sam. 

--

They wake at the same time. Sam can still feel the ghost of Bucky's lips on his, and when he shifts on the pillow, Bucky is staring straight up at the ceiling, unblinking. 

"Uh, hey," Sam says. 

"We don't have to talk about it," Bucky says immediately. 

"Which part? The major cathartic breakthrough, or you kissing me?" 

Bucky exhales like he's deflating, body sinking just a bit more into the mattress. He finally blinks. Doesn't look at Sam. 

"I was emotional," he says. "I didn't mean to—" 

Then, "I'm sorry." 

Sam sits up and forces himself into Bucky's line of vision. Bucky looks almost comically bewildered, like a thirteen-year-old who just revealed their crush. Bucky, who wants to be just a civilian. Bucky, who likes to garden and cook and wants to be gentle. Is gentle. Sam loves him.

"You're assuming you have to apologize for the kiss because I didn't want you to kiss me," Sam says. 

Bucky just stares at him. 

"I'm going to use smaller sentences since you seem a little overwhelmed." Sam leans closer. "I want you to kiss me." 

That seems to jog something loose in Bucky. Very slowly, he smiles, a real smile, and Sam is just now realizing that this is a smile Bucky keeps only for him. He shifts on the bed, angles his body towards Sam. 

"So can I kiss you right now?" he asks. 

"Sure—" 

Bucky pulls Sam to him so fast that Sam almost cuts his lip on Bucky's teeth. Then they're kissing and it's fine. For someone who arguably hasn't kissed since 1943, Bucky sure remembers the mechanics of it pretty quickly. He kisses sweet and fast and like a real gentleman, like he's going to walk Sam to his door at the end of the night and that's all. It's Sam who deepens the kiss, feels this hysterical need to be really close to Bucky, maps out his mouth, cups his face in his hands and just feels him. Eventually, Bucky pulls away. He's shaking hard. 

"Okay," he says. "Wow, I—" 

Sam pulls his hands back fast. 

"You all right?" 

"No, I'm fine," Bucky says.

He reaches for Sam's hands and lays them against his jaw again. Sam can feel his pulse point fluttering. 

"It's just a lot," Bucky says. "Been a few years." 

"Years?"

"Decades," Bucky says, drawing out the s. 

Sam laughs. Kisses Bucky's forehead. 

"How about coffee, then?" 

Bucky nods. 

They get out of bed together, Bucky lingering behind, and Sam is confused for a moment until he realizes that Bucky is really, really hard. Sam politely looks at Dog, thinks about his mom walking in on him masturbating, Sarah yelling, literally anything else. Then Bucky's hand feathers over the small of his back and they're good to go out into the kitchen, where the sun is just starting to rise. Sam immediately grabs the coffee beans from the cabinet. Bucky sits on the floor and pets Dog, but he's frowning. 

"You never let me make coffee." 

"Buck," Sam says, "with all the love in my heart, you make coffee like you're trying to fly to the moon. I do not have super soldier serum in me. That much caffeine would actually destroy me." 

Bucky is smiling up at him. 

"What?" Sam says. 

"Love, huh?" 

Sam turns around and dutifully measures out coffee beans, struck dumb for no reason at all. Just the way Bucky is sitting there on the wood floor, scratching his nameless dog's chest, smiling like he's known for so long. Sam drops a bean on the counter and stares at it. 

"Me too," Bucky says. 

--

The dreams stop. Sam has his own dream, something strange and half-remembered, and when he wakes up that morning, Bucky has no recollection of it either. It feels oddly sad and anticlimactic and right. Sam makes coffee and Bucky works on perfecting his biscuits and sausage gravy. As far as Sam is concerned, they're already perfect. Better than Sarah's, not that Sam would ever dare tell her that out loud. Bucky is silent when he cooks, except for the occasional stray word, and sometimes he lapses into Russian. If he notices, he doesn't make a show of it, so Sam doesn't either. 

They're drinking a beer on the couch that night, Bucky pressed against him, when Sam decides to ask. He drapes his arm over Bucky's shoulder, and Bucky doesn't even flinch. He just exhales heavier, like he's relaxing further. Sam swallows. 

"That last dream," he says. "What did the Winter Soldier say to you before he left?"

Bucky is quiet for a long moment. Frasier is streaming, and he grabs the remote and turns it off. Sits up and gives Sam his full attention. It's hard not to feel pulled in like that, when Bucky's eyes are so sharp and just blue. 

"He told me I was free now. And he asked me if I believed it." 

"Do you?" Sam says. 

"Yes. Now." 

Sam isn't sure which one of them kisses the other first. He just knows they're kissing. It's sweet and slow and Sam revels in it. Then Bucky moves them up to fast and urgent, pulling Sam closer like he's trying to get Sam up under his clothes and skin, their bodies suddenly tight and hot. Sam can't believe how quickly it's gone to now now now . He pulls back gasping.

"Whoa, okay," Sam says. "Hey, we don't have to—I'm not expecting anything tonight." 

Bucky nods but his mouth is swollen red, spit shiny and filthy.

"But we could, if we wanted to? I mean do you want to?"

Sam takes six or seven deep breaths. He both does and doesn't want to hit the pause button. He knows what Bucky's been through with Hydra, beyond just use as a weapon. But the last thing Bucky needs right now is someone infantilizing him. Bucky knows who he is. He knows what he's been through. 

"It's whatever you want, Bucky," he says. "We don't have to do anything—" 

"I want to." 

Sam's mouth fills with saliva.

"Trust me, I want to," Bucky says. "I just don't know how to…" 

He gestures, vaguely, but enough that Sam understands. 

"Okay," Sam says. "I got you." 

He pulls them both up from the couch and realizes that he's shaking, badly, but that's fine because so is Bucky, probably worse. They barely make it down the hallway. Sam has at least enough foresight to shut the door so that Dog doesn't come in. Bucky pulls him in by the collar, kisses him. Then lets him go entirely and pulls his shirt off. Sam mimics him.

"You need to stop at all, just let me know." 

Bucky nods, undoes the button on his jeans. He's not hard yet, but that's fine. Sam moves forward, slow enough that Bucky can see all his movements, and kisses him. He feels Bucky relax in increments. 

When they finally get onto the bed, Bucky is hard, squirming, and pointing uselessly at the side table. 

"Something in there we need?" Sam says. 

" Sam.

Sam opens the drawer and finds a bottle of lube, unopened, like maybe Bucky was working up to it. Or maybe he got it just for this. He sets it on the mattress and kisses Bucky again, Bucky delightfully pliant under him, relaxed and melting into the pillows. 

"Not yet," Sam says. 

He kisses down Bucky's jaw, his neck. He feels confident and aroused and fucking terrified. Sam kisses Bucky's collarbone, feels his breath hitch as he works his way over to his metal arm. Shuri did a magnificent job of covering up the scar tissue that Hydra just didn't give a shit about, but there's still some there, exposed. Sam makes his movements known, so that Bucky can stop him if he wants. By the time he kisses the mottled tissue, Bucky has gone completely still, breath held in his chest. Sam squeezes his ribs gently. 

"Hey," he says. "You okay?"

"Uh-huh," Bucky says.

"It's okay if you're not." 

"No, I—" Bucky finally takes a breath. "No one's ever—it's gentle." 

Sam smiles against the scarring, places one more kiss there before moving down over Bucky's chest, nosing at his dog tags. He kisses past his belly button, aware that Bucky must be so sure he's going for his cock. He taps Bucky's hip and tells him to turn over. Bucky sits up a bit, blinking, but obeys without question. The scarring is worse on his back shoulder but Sam doesn't worry about that right now. He kisses the small of Bucky's back, bites the globe of his ass sharply and feels Bucky jump forward. He's silent otherwise, like he's trying to be good and quiet. 

So, Sam spreads him open and licks at him. 

Bucky pushes back against his mouth immediately, then forward like he's going to squirm away, then back again. Sam hears him make this choked off noise in his throat, and that's it, he thinks, time to let go. 

"Aw fuck," Bucky says. 

The noises he makes are perfect, hips pushed up. Sam can hear the sheets twisting and the plates in his arm moving. He reaches around and gives Bucky's cock the gentlest squeeze and Bucky actually kicks a leg out, shouts, starts shaking and babbling but Sam can't understand him. He just hopes that Bucky remembers right now that he has super strength and Sam is still a measly unaltered human. 

"Please," Bucky manages out. "God, Sam, please." 

Sam pulls away, wet and filthy and god, so turned on it hurts. 

"What?" he says. "What do you need?" 

"Just fuck me," Bucky says. "Please fuck me." 

That's all Sam needs to hear. He turns Bucky back over and gets a pillow under his hips, finally opens up the lube. Bucky is watching him with his eyes blown wide, chest heaving. He hitches his legs up over Sam's shoulders, not even jumping a little when Sam's fingers start tracing around his hole. Maybe it's because of the serum, or Bucky is just extremely impatient to get fucked, but he keeps trying to hurry Sam along, like the prep work isn't important. Sam politely ignores him. He likes the way Bucky doesn't think to order him, just begs for it. Like he trusts him. Because he trusts him. 

"Sam, please, I'm good, seriously, just hurry up—oh fuck—oh god, Sam, please. Please just—" 

"I'll fuck you when I know you're ready for it," Sam says. 

Bucky snaps his jaw shut, licking over his lips like he wants to just eat Sam up. And maybe Sam drags things out a bit, but he's not going to hurt Bucky, he's just not. And it's not bad, either, watching the way Bucky goes a bit cross-eyed every time Sam brushes over his prostate. 

"Okay," he says finally, and Bucky slams his head back against the pillows. 

The moment he starts to inch in, Bucky arches his back and just opens for him, like he's been waiting all this time for Sam to just slide home. 

"Jesus Christ," Sam says, afraid he's going to lose it already. 

He barely has a moment to breathe before Bucky surges up and kisses him. 

"Sam," he says, like something inside him has just come alive again.

--

When Sam tells Sarah that he's going to keep living at Bucky's, she just looks at him. 

"Could've told you that when you moved in," she says. 

Sam keeps folding his duvet neatly into a box and does not look at her, because she can tell when he's blushing, and he just does not need that right now. Then Sarah is next to him. She kisses his cheek. 

"I'm really happy for you," she says. "Both of you." 

"Thanks," Sam says.

"But you got another thing coming if you think you're taking granddaddy's fishing poles." 

"Hold on a minute." Sam follows her into the dining room. "Who fishes here!"

--

He wakes up one night and Bucky isn't in bed. Feels the sheets and finds them cool, and no Dog either, so Sam gets up and starts looking around the house. He's had one callout since Bucky officially retired, and it wasn't bad at all, but Bucky was still a wreck about it, questioning himself, quiet and doubtful. It's taking some getting used to. Sam doesn't think he can pull out the stay-at-home husband jokes yet. 

But otherwise things are good, better than Sam could've imagined them to be. Even if people try to troll him on Twitter, there are enough supporters to keep him buoyant, and a bunch of sock puppet accounts that Sam is starting to think Bucky might be running. It's a good feeling, to be fighting on his own terms, to be home. To come home and see Bucky there, looking at some new recipe book, or running around the yard with Dog. Good to see Bucky come undone in his arms, call out his name and just lay on top of Sam after, dopey-eyed and free.

Sam checks the couch, the kitchen, but Bucky isn't there. Even the spare room, which they've started to fix up as an office, is empty. Sam turns around and Bucky is suddenly in front of him, always appearing out of thin air.

"Jesus Christ—" Sam grabs the door handle. "You're like a cat, you know that?"

"Is that why you want to buy me a bell?"

"Oh, you remember that?"

Bucky shrugs. "I could be into a collar." 

Then he turns around and Sam has to cough into his hand. He follows Bucky to the back door, left open to the porch, both of their wooden lounge chairs pulled down into the grass. Dog is sitting contently by Bucky's, waiting for his owner. Bucky must have been out here for a while. Even with the full moon it's still dark, so Sam sticks close to Bucky as they take the steps down and sit together. Sam watches Bucky watch the moon. 

"Nightmare?" he asks. 

Bucky nods. 

It's strange, now, that Sam wishes he could be there, to wake Bucky up. Remind him that it's a dream. 

"You want a color?"

Another nod. 

"Okay," Sam says. "Blue."  

Bucky looks around for a moment. 

"Night sky," he says. "The perennials. Moon kind of has a blue hue. The pond water. Your shirt. That weird wind sculpture you bought." 

"It's art," Sam whispers. 

Bucky looks at Dog and points. 

"Blue," he says. 

Sam doesn't understand. Dog looks at Bucky's outstretched finger and gives it a lick. 

"Dog?" Sam says. 

"That's his name," Bucky says. "Blue." 

He turns to Sam. Less and less it's like he's looking for permission. 

"Thought we'd go down the line of colors," he says, and Sam's eyes are wet before he can stop them. 

He goes over to Bucky's chair and kisses him, their hands tangling as they pet Blue. Bucky shifts over so they can share the chair, and it's really not big enough for both of them but they make do, Sam half in Bucky's lap. Bucky presses his nose into Sam's shoulder, his breathing mostly steady now. Sam watches their hands overlapping. 

"He deserved a name," Bucky says. "And everything." 

"Yeah," Sam says. "And everything."