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Sam Wilson had just been outed by Captain America.

Quite an achievement, given that the man had been last seen nosing a plane into the Arctic fifty years ago.

He was fresh out of Basic Training, green about the gills (and didn't he know it), but surer than he'd ever been that this was what he wanted. But fuck fuck fuck, this was all going to be over before it started if this counted as telling for “Don't Ask, Don't Tell.”

Basic Training had been its own little bubble, contact with the outside world caught in snippets from family or TV. Assignment to a unit was a little less insular, and something as big as Captain America being officially outed as gay (and Bucky Barnes too, for good measure) had been making waves. The interview with Gabe Jones had been on the TV in the mess. The man looked old and so much smaller than in the history books, but he was still proud and upright, saying right to the cameras that sure, the Commandos had known, they hadn't cared, and it was a damn national scandal that they'd all been slapped with gag orders in the late seventies stopping them telling the world about it.

Sam had stayed deliberately blank, trying to look like he was only vaguely paying attention, when inside he was laughing, screaming, jumping up and down. He'd been maybe seven when his grandpa had decided to sit him down and tell him the story of Gabe Jones and Captain America (always that way around; never Captain America and Gabe Jones). Gabe Jones, who was multilingual, who ran and broke codes in the field; and not just that, but a crack shot and a useful man with explosives. Gabe Jones, who proved that desegregated units could be the best in the whole army. Gabe Jones, who came home and stood up with the civil rights leaders; who stood tall and calm and told his story when the media tried to make out that he was nothing more than a glorified manservant to the Commandos. In short, Sam's childhood hero and role model.

Sam was comfortable with his sexuality, but for his hero to stand up there and say that he was comfortable with it too, it was–it was almost too much. Best damn day of his life, and he had to sit there making sure that no one else knew that.

Of course he wanted to read the biography. But DADT was still very much in force, so he wasn't going to go buying the book. Perhaps if he had people around him that he could trust (if he had his own Howling Commandos), but he really didn't know these guys yet. Take his bunkmate, Riley – a doughy white boy with whom Sam was getting on well, but with a Southern accent and manner that made Sam edgy about what might lie beneath.

Today, Sam had received three parcels in the mail and was standing by his bunk looking at them in confusion. Riley, lounging on the top bunk, looked at him over the top of his magazine and said, “You got some fan club there.”

“Nah. Mom, Auntie, and big sister.”

“Your birthday?”

“Nope.”

“You ain't opening them?”

Sam didn't actually know why he wasn't opening them. A vague feeling of... something. He mentally shrugged and tore open the first parcel to find a shiny hardcover copy of the newly published Captain America biography inside.

Suddenly Sam had a very, very bad feeling about the contents of the other two parcels. But at this point, stopping was just as incriminating as opening them, so he tore open the second and third parcels and ended up holding three identical, shiny hardcover copies of A Kid From Brooklyn.

Fuck. Outed by an alliance of his female relatives and Captain America.

And right now, his future in the Air Force depended on what Riley chose to do about this. It took Sam a moment to look up to find...

...Riley, beet-red with suppressed hysteria. The moment Sam made eye contact, Riley burst out laughing. Sam just stood there, watching him until he composed himself.

Eventually, breathless, Riley said, “Awww man, your family think 'don't tell' means 'don't take out an advert on Fox,' don't they?”

“It's not funny.”

“Funniest thing I've seen all year. Three copies.” Riley leaned off the bed and punched Sam in the shoulder. “Secret's safe with me.” He snickered. “Though not with your family.”

“I am so glad that I am providing you with amusement.”

“That's how it goes. You bring the funny, I bring the sex appeal.”

“Other way around.”

“There's a line of women who say different.”

“Women with terrible taste. Drunk women. And drunk women with terrible taste.”

“I'm real hurt you don't think I'm sexy.”

“Sorry I broke your heart, princess.”

And that was that. Riley knew, didn't give a damn, didn't breathe a word to anyone, and before he knew it the pair of them were best friends.

He read the book in snatched moments, not wanting to take the step of reading it where anyone other than Riley could see him. It made him like Captain America for the first time. In his grandpa's stories, in lessons in school, Captain America had been a boring authority figure. Brave, but basically dull. But the guy in the book, a scrappy little shit who hung around dive bars with drag queens? Sam would have loved to have gone out for a night on the town with him.

Soon he began to notice copies of the book around the place. Copies placed on desks or shelves or nightstands like any other book, but not quite. Placed in a way that you couldn't help but notice what book it was. Placed in a way that you could never argue violated DADT (because it was a biography of one of the US's greatest soldiers, and you couldn't ban people in the armed forces from reading it), but somehow saying - I've not actually told, but you definitely know.

From what he'd read, Captain America would have liked that.

So when he saw the amazingly hot technical sergeant walking across the mess holding a copy of the book–

Riley elbowed him in the ribs so hard that Sam actually yelped, and he nodded towards the sergeant. “You go for it, boy.”

Sam glared at him and muttered under his breath, “First, don’t tell, and second, if you are deliberately cockblocking me, I swear–”

“I'm being your wingman!”

“You are aware that a wingman is supposed to help someone get laid?”

Riley beamed. “And you need all the help you can get.”

Sam hit him.

Sam did end up in bed with the technical sergeant after tactically depositing Riley within flirting distance of a couple of female nurses visiting the unit. Not that night, of course. Nothing so obvious. He just exchanged a few words, and the next night the two of them ended up at a sleazy motel at the edge of town that charged by the hour and was full of soldiers fucking people they shouldn't have been.

Technical Sergeant was a disappointment in the sack. Sometimes it was that way with hot guys – they knew they were all that, so they didn't feel the need to try. But at least mediocre sex was a change from a night out with the same old faces.

“You read it?” asked Sam.

“Read what?”

“The book. A Kid from Brooklyn.”

“That thing. Started it, but,” Technical Sergeant made a disgusted face, “damn thing's a history book. Promised myself I wouldn't read anything like that after I left school. Ain't getting fooled into reading it just 'cause Cap was a queer.”

Yeah, definitely not second date material. Disappointing on a lot of levels.

When he slunk back to barracks (neither early nor late enough to cause comment), he found Riley already back, lying on his bunk.

“You're home early.”

“Those motels charge by the hour. I ain't paying for cuddling.”

“Why am I thinking that your date didn't agree with you on that?”

“My date is goin' back to her posting in Fucking Nowhere, Ohio tomorrow. And she's a big girl. She'll get over it.” Riley grinned. “You don't look too impressed either.”

“Technical Sergeant. Technical Sergeant sex.”

Riley shook his head. “Shoulda seen that coming.”

“I let the perfect butt overshadow good sense.”

“If that book got you laid, you gon' carve a notch in the cover for each time?”

“And have to buy a new copy every month?”

Maybe not that much. But Sam was getting laid with pleasant regularity, and though most of those weren't Captain America's fault, he certainly wasn't harming Sam's batting average.

–––

Sam didn't really know which of them came up with the idea of applying for pararescue. But as soon as the idea was there, it seemed like it was right. Something they should be doing.

Then there was the hurdle of getting accepted, more training – but still, through that, that sensation of it being right.

“You. Brother I never had.” Riley was drunk, arm slung around Sam's shoulders.

Sam was drunk too. “See the family resemblance.”

“Idiot. You. Me. Both all sisters. Waiting for a brother. Wingman. Plamamamtonic soulmate.” Riley tried to focus on him. “Don't wanna fuck you, though. Desert island, no women, no sex, at least six months before I'd fuck you.”

“Nine. Months before I'd think of fucking you.”

“Fuck you. 'M fucking attractive.”

“I'm your brother. Here to– to– keep your feet on the ground.”

“Air Force. Not supposed to have feet on the ground.”

–––

The two them were damn good in the field together. Best in their unit, and that made them the best of the best. And not stupid enough to get cocky, either. Best of the best didn't mean that you were invulnerable.

They were in a tent in a forward operating base in Afghanistan, each of them lying on their respective cots, staring at the canvas above them, bored out of their minds, but not saying anything, because to curse the boredom was to invite lethal sorts of excitement.

“You got that book?”

Sam didn't ask which book. Even though he'd only read it the once, he carried a copy with him when there was room for it in his pack. It was a badge. A symbol. And, though it was cheesy as hell, an inspiration. The sheer volume that Captain America had achieved in less than two years, hell, what he'd fought through growing up just to get to that point - short, poor, sick, gay, almost everything going against him. So of course there was a slightly battered softcover copy in his pack.

“Sure. Why?”

“I ain't read it.”

Sam reached under his cot, pulled out the book, and threw it at Riley, who caught it without sitting up, opened it, and started to read. After a minute, he looked over the top of the book at Sam. “If this turns me gay, you gon' have to help me draft an apology to the women of America.”

“Give me your Playboy, ‘cause if that turns me straight, those women are going to be writing you a letter of thanks.”

Though he was careful never to let anyone see him reading it, Riley seemed to be utterly engrossed in the book. And while Riley always projected the image of a slightly dumb Good Ol' Boy (and when he was around attractive women he could be an incredible idiot), underneath all that he was fiercely clever and capable of being very thoughtful.

They were in another tent, and Riley looked up from the book at Sam. “Musta been hard for him. Being Captain America. Having to pretend to be something he wasn't.”

“He wasn't pretending to be Captain America.”

“You know what I mean.” Riley looked pointedly at Sam. “Pretending to be the Captain America that America wanted, rather than the one it needed.”

Sam didn't know what to say to that. He was just overtaken by a profound gratitude that fate had washed him up with Riley, the best friend a guy could have. (While sober. While drunk, the biggest asshole in the universe).

Riley broke the slightly awkward silence. “I know you think I chase every girl I see, but that's just me marking time. One day I'll find a girl who'll be The One. And I won't ever look at another girl again, 'cause we'll be looking at each other like this.” He held open the book and tapped at one of the pictures: the half a photobooth strip, a black and white image fading to brown, of Steve Rogers kissing Bucky Barnes on the cheek, eyes open and filled with such adoration it practically bled out of the page.

“Doesn't everyone want to find someone who'll look at them like that?”

“Even you?”

“Sure.”

“Huh. Never saw you settling down. White picket fence and a coupla adopted kids?”

Sam made a face. “No kids. Nieces are enough.”

“Now you mock me all the hell you want, but I'm 'gon have that American dream. Girl who looks at me like that. Kids. White picket fence.” He grinned. “And, in the driveway, a monster truck.”

That's the important part of the American dream.”

“Sure is. We're 'gon live the American dream, and every third Sunday, we're 'gon leave the wife and husband behind and we're 'gon race those monster trucks.”

Sam laughed. “It's a date. And I'm gonna win.”

––––

Riley wasn't coming home.

That was what Sam fixated on. Not that he was dead, not the fiery horror of his death, not all the things that Riley had talked about in his future. Just that he was never coming home. Never going to walk through the door of his parents' home, a house that he talked about with such affection that Sam knew its layout nearly as well as he did his own. Never going to see his youngest sister graduate. Never going to get to see the family dog again.

Sam was able to get to the funeral stateside, part of the honor guard of Riley's comrades.

He didn't know what to say to Riley's family. The words died in his throat, drowned in a wave of nausea and bile that was fed by the guilt of being alive while Riley was dead. He mumbled something to Riley's parents and sisters about him being a good guy, stood in a corner with Riley's other military friends until he could leave the funeral without looking like he was running away, and left.

Get back in the saddle. That was what they said. You fall off a horse, you get right back on, because the longer you leave it, the harder it would be.

Getting back into the air was easy. He wasn't scared; not scared of dying, not scared of crashing. He was... empty. Missing something. He completed the next mission, but he could feel that he was reckless, with none of the cool that he knew he needed in the air.

He got himself out of the Air Force as soon as he could. He may have been grieving, but he wasn't suicidal, and keeping on flying in the state he was in amounted pretty much to suicide.

He didn’t have much of a plan after that.

–––

“Hi, sis.”

“Where are you?”

Sam had to blink, to think and remember where he was. He’d spent weeks couch surfing at friends’ houses; then, when he thought that he had worn out their hospitality, stayed at motels, and sometimes just went to places that were open 24 hours, not sleeping until exhaustion overwhelmed him. All the time with an itch under his skin that nothing – not sex, not running, not alcohol – could scratch.

Now he was in a casino. Had been in casinos for the past couple of days. Days in which he hadn't slept. Gambling hadn't scratched the itch, either. “Atlantic City.”

“Seriously? Standards, Sam, standards. If you're going to blow it all, blow it all in Monte Carlo. Or Vegas, at the very least. Not Atlantic City.”

In spite of himself, Sam smiled. “Just where I washed up.”

There was a moment of silence on the line, then his sister said, “Is running away helping? Because if it is, you keep running. But if it isn't, we have space for you. Mom and Dad will always have space for you.”

“I can't–”

“Don't decide tonight.” She laughed. “No-one makes good choices in Atlantic City. But think about it. Look after yourself.”

––––

Sam was back living with his parents and putting himself back together with a lot of help from the VA. And with help from his family, too; mom, dad, sisters, all the aunts and uncles – all of them held back from telling him what he should be doing, but instead gave him offers, never forcing him into something. So his sisters would ask if he wanted to take their kids to the zoo (yes, and, though he'd been a little worried, it had been fine), or the water park (hell no, and that had nothing to do with PTSD and everything to do with waterparks in school vacations). He helped out his dad in the garden, and his uncle in the garage.

There were still problems. He could see a point in his future when he could stand fireworks, but he knew he was never going to enjoy them again.

And then there were the moments–

There was a box of things that had been packed up for him when he'd been too shaken up after Riley’s death to sort out his own kit, and he'd never unpacked it. A box of the past. He chose a quiet afternoon, just him in the house, and opened it.

It was mostly junk, bits of kit and rations and things that family had sent him, all scooped up together by whoever had packed the box.

Then his fingers closed around a familiar, battered paperback. With a bookmark in it. Riley's bookmark. He'd never finished the book.

Sam's breath stuck in his throat, and it was as if his hands moved of their own volition, opening the book.

–Paris was a city still thick with the exhilaration of liberation, and naturally Captain America and the Howling Commandos found themselves the focus of spontaneous outpourings of–

He put down the book. Was it better that Riley had been reading something positive and hopeful before he died? What the hell did it matter if you were dead? Was there ever such a thing as a good death? He sure as hell hadn't seen one. Perhaps his grandparents had had a longer life than Riley, and ended their lives surrounded by their family, but they'd all died scared and in pain.

He looked out of the window at quiet suburbia, unfocused, watching the breeze move the tree branches.

You didn't choose your death, but you damn well chose your life.

It was in that moment he realized that he'd do it all again. Even if he knew how it was going to end.

He'd made that choice. Now he had to choose how he was going to live the rest of his life.

–––

Sam Wilson was, in no particular order, a VA counsellor, a favorite uncle to all his nieces, a keen runner, and single. The last of those was the only one he was less than happy about. It wasn't like he was failing to get laid (he gave a quiet thanks to Grindr for taking the boring hanging-around-bars part out of that), but... no connection. No-one he wanted to make breakfast for.

It wasn't something he lost sleep about. He had too much good stuff going on in his life to start getting miserable about one part that was less than perfect.

He also wasn't going to kid himself that he was the guy he was before going to war. There were still nights when sleep didn't come easily, nights when the nightmares came; times when he woke obscenely early with that old restlessness, that old itch under the skin. The difference was that, these days, things did help. Things like talking, like running.

So this morning, as dawn was barely gray, he was running.

He honestly never thought that he'd actually meet Captain America. Let alone that the guy would be flirting with him. And flirt with him sarcastically.

Then Sam very nearly blew it, and the moment he did, he knew what he'd done. He'd treated him like Captain America, not like Steve Rogers. Steve Rogers, soldier. Steve Rogers, scrappy little shit.

And Steve smiled at him in a way that made Sam go genuinely weak in the knees, and Sam was wondering if he could actually go ahead and ask the guy out for breakfast–

Then Steve looked at his phone and excused himself to be picked up by a woman in a fast car, and Sam made the most pathetic offer of why-don't-you-come-and-see-me-sometime.

Smooth, Wilson, real smooth.

He tried very hard throughout the day not to think about missed chances, and basically to convince himself that Steve was only being friendly and hadn't been flirting at all.

It didn't work.

He was aware that he was, to use a phrase of Steve Rogers’ vintage, mooning over a guy. And damn it, Sam Wilson was too cool for that. So he threw himself into work, and it worked. He was absorbed, distracted by other people's problems.

Then Steve Rogers went and turned up at the VA.

Thing was, Steve was a vet – something that people tended to forget. They remembered he was a national hero, a gay icon, but not that he was soldier. So Sam owed it to him to treat him like any other vet.

And hell, the guy was sad. Under the smile, under the friendliness – not knowing what makes you happy? He had clients who were, in their own words, “so fucked up I'm practically in the stratosphere” who could answer that question with something.

“You should come back. If you want it, if you're ready, there's a bunch we can offer. Some people they like groups, some people one to one–”

“I don't know...”

“Like I said, when you're ready. And we take confidentiality seriously. Whoever you are.”

“Thanks.” Steve paused, then looked up at him. (And that had to be a move – Steve was taller than Sam – a move designed to show off those lashes and those baby blues.) “Ultimate fighting?”

“A suggestion. You want another direction? You could be on RuPaul's Drag Race. You've got experience.”

Steve chuckled. “Aw, no, my friends always looked good to me however they did themselves up. Not an ounce of fashion sense in me.”

Sam looked him up and down. “You're not doing too bad.”

“I get good advice. You want a hand with those boxes?”

“Sure.”

Steve helped him carry the newly delivered leaflets to the store room. And by 'helped,' Sam of course meant 'carried all of them like they weighed nothing while Sam gave directions'. Steve put down the boxes, then looked at Sam. “You're gonna have to help me out a little with modern subtleties. Were you flirting with me?”

“Hell yeah.”

And suddenly Steve was kissing him, one big hand cupping Sam's face, the other arm around his waist, pulling him close. The kiss was demanding, no soft press of lips, but a full-on assault of lips and tongue, exploring and sucking. Sam didn't even notice that he was being walked backwards until his back hit the door of the store cupboard.

Without any letup in the kissing, there was now a hand at his groin, squeezing him through his pants, and his dick did not need any encouragement to get with the program. Then Steve's hands were at Sam's fly, and Sam barely had time to process the thought holy fuck are we going to do this here before Steve was on his knees in front of him and, with a final cocky grin up at Sam, was pulling Sam's dick free of his pants and licking the length of it like a popsicle.

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. That was about the extent of a thought process that Sam could manage, as Steve lapped his tongue around the head of Sam's dick, licked along the length again, then took all of it into his mouth, slowly, teasingly. With little glances back up at Sam, and always looking like he was seriously enjoying himself. Until, fuck, the tip of Sam's dick was pushed up against the back of Steve's throat, as Steve's tongue curled and swirled around his length. Then Steve sucked

“Man, I'm gonna–”

And the pressure was gone, Steve loosely pulling back, leaving Sam almost whining for release. Steve pressed a tiny kiss to the head of Sam's dick, then flicked out his tongue, little licks along the length and down to Sam's balls. It was somewhere between absolutely fantastic and complete torture, because Sam was so turned on he didn't know what to do with himself, and all he wanted to do was to come down Steve's throat, but he didn't want this to stop, either.

Steve kept on with the teasing licks, but now had one hand wrapped around the base of Sam's dick and was squeezing, and damn it was just right, just the perfect amount of pressure to keep Sam right on the edge.

Sam realized that Steve had his own pants open and was stroking his own dick as he sucked Sam off, and just that realization, that Steve was enjoying sucking off Sam that fucking much was almost enough to have Sam coming all over Steve's face.

Steve must have realized that, because he grinned and took Sam's dick back into his mouth again, this time sucking as he did, pulling him all the way in, until finally Sam's dick was at the back of Steve's throat again. Steve looked up, made eye contact with Sam, and swallowed, the back of his throat squeezing around the head of Sam's dick, and Sam was coming, hard and long, biting into his bottom lip to stop himself from making a sound.

Steve swallowed it all down, the gentlest of pressures around Sam's dick, until he finally pulled back.

It took Sam a moment to catch his breath, then he said, “Stop grinning like that was the best blow job I ever got, because it was definitely only in the top ten.”

“I must be out of practice.”

“Get up here.”

Sam kissed him and wrapped one hand around Steve's erection as he did. Shit, the guy was so hard he was leaking, and Sam guessed he was only a couple of good strokes from coming. Sam dropped to his knees and took a moment to have a good look at Steve's dick – long and thick, but not at the porn extremes that had you thinking twice about being fucked. Not circumcised, and it wouldn't be the first uncircumcised dick that Sam had sucked, but it certainly wasn't something he'd practiced on. But more to play with, as he closed his lips around the tip of Steve's dick and took it into his mouth, then used his lips to draw the foreskin back over the head again.

Steve had one hand around Sam's head, not forcing him into position, but gentle, like he needed to touch. Sam looked up and made eye contact with Steve, who just smiled, looking happy. Sam couldn't help but smile, which completely screwed up his cocksucking technique, so he looked down again. Concentrate on the task in hand. Or mouth. He sucked Steve down again, and he hadn't trained his gag reflex well enough that he could take a guy Steve's size all the way in, but he could do a lot with what he had. He flicked and curled his tongue the best he could, wrapped one hand around the base of Steve's dick and squeezed, hearing just the slight intake of breath from Steve that indicated that was something he liked. He swirled his tongue around the head of Steve's dick and Steve was coming, filling Sam's mouth as Sam did his best to swallow all of it.

He pulled off, took a tissue from his pocket, and wiped his mouth. He grinned at Steve as he stood up, tucking himself back into his pants as he did so.

“So that's one thing that makes you happy. Blowjobs from guys you barely know in storage closets.”

Steve grinned back, finishing zipping his fly. “Guess so. I’m kinda wondering if going on a date with a guy I barely knew might be another thing that made me happy...”

“Is that your idea of a line? How in the hell did you ever get laid, because that was terrible. How are you fixed for Thursday?”

“Thursday's fine.” Steve smiled. “I'm more used to giving the right kind of looks to guys who were wearing the right color ties in the right sort of bars than actually asking anyone out on a date.”

“Certainly giving the right kind of looks to me. Just the words that need some work.”

They agreed on a Thai restaurant and a time, exchanged numbers, and Steve left. Looking just as wholesome and all-American as when he'd walked in, and definitely not like a guy who'd just sucked another guy off in a storage closet.

–––

When Natasha had spotted Steve, red, white and blue against the muddy riverbank, it was the first time he'd looked... small. Fragile. Like it was even possible he could die. So it was only then, not when the helicarrier had gone down, that Sam got really scared.

Then it was all a rush, checking if he was breathing, talking about finding someone they could trust to treat him, an ambulance, hospital–

“I'm sorry, sir, but it’s relatives only in here–”

“He's my partner.” Sam hadn't even thought about it, the words out as soon as they threatened to take away Steve. And it wasn't technically a lie. Steve had asked him out, and Sam had said yes. Then they'd risked their lives in some near-suicidally stupid heroism. That made for partners.

The nurse had blinked in surprise, then smiled, and he'd been allowed to accompany Steve. He'd expected surgery, or something, but the doctors said that the bullets were out and his body seemed to be healing itself. They were just going to give him fluids and oxygen and monitor him.

So he sat by Steve's bed and waited.

Some time later (he’d pretty much lost track of time), Natasha arrived with fresh clothes, his iPod, and a bunch of other things.

“Am I going to have to replace a window?”

“No, but your back door could use a better lock.” She looked at Steve, still unconscious. “Go change. Get something to eat. I'll watch him until you're back.”

When Sam came back, changed and washed as well as anyone could be in a hospital restroom, he found Natasha standing by the side of Steve's bed. She glanced up at Sam, then looked back at Steve. “There were footprints. Someone pulled him out of the water and walked away.”

“Someone. You know damn well there's only one person who could have done that.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Makes your life interesting.”

“I'm just here because he shouldn't wake up on his own. After that...” He shrugged.

Natasha looked at him for a long moment. “Well, you do have stupid self-sacrifice in common. There are worse starts for a relationship.”

Then there was just him and Steve and Marvin Gaye.

“On your left.”

Sam smiled. “You should know they said relatives only, so I kinda told the nurses I was your partner. You give the word and I'll leave.”

“No.” Hell, he never wanted to see that look in Steve's eyes again. Just that little flash of fear and loss and– he'd fallen in love with Steve Rogers, hadn't he? Steve licked his lips and looked at Sam. “Not a fan of waking up alone in hospital beds.”

Sam took Steve's hand, and Steve squeezed it, held it. “You go back to sleep now, and I'll be here when you wake up. Unless I'm in the bathroom. Didn't get issued a supersoldier bladder.”

“We... we need to talk.”

“We sure as hell do, but we don't need to do that while you're in the hospital.” He squeezed Steve's hand. “Go to sleep.”

Steve smiled, tired but genuine, and closed his eyes. Sam kept hold of his hand as his breathing deepened into sleep again.

–––

There was a brown manilla file on Sam's kitchen table, resting there like a hand grenade with the pin pulled. Steve was sitting at the table, fingers on the edge of the file, staring at it but not opening it.

“You don't have to do this. There are other ways we can start looking for him–”

“I– I need to know.” He looked up at Sam. “I don't want to know. But I need to. Because I need to help him, and I need to make them pay, and I can't do that without knowing who they are, what they did, and how they did it.” He paused. “You don't have to–”

“You do enough dumb shit when there are sensible people around you. Who knows what stupid shit you'd do if you went out there on your own.”

There was a long silence. “I missed our date.”

“We were both kinda busy.”

“Tonight. Come out with me tonight.”

“I...” Sam's eyes flicked to the folder between them without even meaning to.

Steve looked at him, seemingly calculating. “What do you think you know? About Bucky and me?”

“Ok, I fess up, I read your biography, but it's been years–”

Steve huffed an empty laugh. “That thing. I guess– I guess I should be grateful they got as much of the truth in there as they did. Still wasn't much.”

Sam waited, but Steve seemed to be lost in his own thoughts. “You don't have to tell me. But if this is going to be the point when you tell me that you're straight–”

Steve laughed again, more genuine this time. “No. But– you did two tours. Tell me what you thought of what it said about the Commandos.”

Sam paused and thought for a moment. “Sanitized. Very, very sanitized. And missing a hell of a lot of detail. Like maybe half of what you did was too brutal for them to write about, and the other half too classified.”

“Sanitized covers all of it. Not just the war. They gave me the interview transcripts. They're... closer to what happened. But they’re still not right.”

“People do remember things differently–”

“My memory's good. Since the serum, really good. Almost photographic. But that's the thing: almost. I... I read the book, and it said that I kissed Bucky right in front of the Commandos the day after I'd got him back, and I thought, no we didn't, we were behind a bunch of crates... and I realized I couldn't remember.” Steve closed his eyes. “I can remember the smell of the mud and the wet tent, I can remember how angry Bucky was, I can remember that he grabbed the front of my jacket to pull me in to kiss me, and I can remember realizing that they'd seen us... but I can't remember if we'd stepped behind those crates, or if I just thought afterwards that we should have.” He opened his eyes and looked at Sam again. “I don't even know if I'm right or they were right.”

“I'd go with your version over guys who'd been retelling the story to themselves for twenty years.” He paused. “So what is your version? Of you and Bucky.”

Steve half-smiled. “Pair of idiots and jerks. He was... he was the most stand-up guy you could ever wish to meet. Never gave up on me, even when he really should have. The handsomest guy in all of Brooklyn.” Steve turned to look out of the window, but Sam could see he wasn't focused on the present. “The book makes out we were practically married. Never mentioned the other people we screwed. But at the same time, we were practically married... the interviews. Charlie, Louisa – they said that Bucky went out with other guys because he thought that he could do better than me. And that I went out with other guys because he was with other fellas. I...” He looked at Sam. “He went out with other guys because I thought he could do better than me. I pushed him away because I thought he needed a guy who could keep up with him, maybe even a girl he could be proud to be seen with. Someone who didn't spend half the winter sick. And I was out with other guys to prove that he didn't need to stick around.”

“And after the serum?”

“Didn't get much chance to think. Always moving, always something to be doing. If we had a minute alone, it was just... relief that he was still alive.”

“So you're taking me out on a date to prove to Bucky that you can get along without him?”

“No. Because I want to go out on a date with the handsomest guy in all of DC. Because you and him are the only two people who make me feel this way.”

“Which means?”

Steve looked down and away, then back at Sam, “I think I might be in love with you. And I think I might still be in love with him. And I don't want to have to choose.”

Sam laughed, “Oh, because most of America now thinks that being gay is fine, you just have to up the ante and go poly.”

“Poly?”

“Polyamory. Being in a relationship with more than one person.”

“That... sounds like an idea.”

Sam reached over the table and took Steve's hand. “I will go out on a date with you. I think there’s enough of you to share. But this is gonna get a hell of a lot more complicated when we find him. You don’t know what he’s going to think, what he’s going to want, hell, I don’t know what I’ll think when you dating someone else stops being theoretical and starts being something that’s actually happening.”

Steve squeezed Sam's hand. “You know, I remember when my life was simple.”

“And I bet you were bored out of your mind.”

Steve laughed and kissed Sam's hand.

–––

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Steve could read a little Russian. The guy spoke fluent French, fluent German, a reasonable amount of Italian, so why would it be surprising that he had a little Russian?

“Not enough, though. These are technical reports. I guess if I got a dictionary–”

“I know someone.”

“I… I know it would be someone you trusted, but…”

“Then edit them. You can read enough to work out the parts you don’t want seen. Act like the government and redact the hell out of them.”

Hopping over a friend’s back wall and knocking on their back door wasn’t the most sophisticated way of avoiding surveillance, but it probably worked as well as any other. Stacey took his arrival with nothing more than a raised eyebrow and a wave of a mug towards the coffee maker.

“Was that you on TV, then?”

He grinned and sat down at the breakfast bar. “I can neither confirm nor deny that the handsome, brave man with incredible flying skills was me.”

She put a mug of coffee in front of him. “You and Captain America versus the world. You always did punch above your weight.” She sipped her own coffee. “What do you need me for?”

“Technical documents in Russian.” He put the sheaf of photocopies on the table.

“HYDRA?” Sam nodded. “I’ve kept up my Russian, but I haven’t read anything like technical or intelligence documents for years.”

“We need someone we can trust. Someone who isn’t going to share this with anyone.”

“Oh, so you and Captain America are ‘we’ now?”

“No comment.”

She flicked through the papers. “This is important, isn’t it? I’ll clear my diary. Give me two days.”

“Handwritten. No computers. Don’t look up anything on the internet. We don’t know how deep and sophisticated their surveillance is. And HYDRA are bad news, so this might get you in the firing line–”

Stacey made a ‘tsk’ noise. “First, I was translating classified documents while you were still in diapers, Wilson. I can do this old school. And second, some things are worth taking risks for. ”

When Sam came back two days later, Stacey had already made two mugs of coffee, and was sitting at the breakfast bar looking grim. “You know, I honestly thought I’d heard it all. I thought I knew all the ways the KGB tortured people, and a few others that other organizations used. But these... “ She looked up at Sam. “It’s like these people were hit with the worst the KGB had to offer, then were handed off to medics who made Unit 731 look like your family doctor.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “But... you know, some of the old hands, they said that they thought there was a shadow KGB, that even most members of the KGB didn’t know about, that did its own ops and its own research, that could get almost anywhere and do almost anything. We thought they were paranoid, but they weren’t, they just didn’t know it was HYDRA that they were talking about.” She took a gulp of her coffee. “I wonder if there were guys in the KGB saying the same thing about us.”

Then Stacey looked at Sam sharply over her mug. “And if you’re going after HYDRA, you need to have fewer tells, Sam. You’re not a spy. You reacted when I said ‘people’. When these say ‘Subject’, it’s always the same subject, isn’t it?” Sam nodded. Stacey whistled. “Now you may have scored out the dates, but I spent my professional life reading stuff like this. I can tell a 1940s typewriter from a 1980s print-out.” Another deep breath. “So one guy. Tortured, experimented on, sent out to do things which I’m pretty sure involved killing people, then back for more torture. For at least forty years. Hell. So what are you going to do with this information?”

“Try and find him.”

“And what do you think you’re going to find?”

“I have no idea. Like you said, not exactly something there’s a lot of experience with.”

“Take a person, torture them and brainwash them and make them do your dirty work – that’s a description of thousands of child soldiers. The specifics are more extreme, but the basics… a lot of people have gone through that.” She took his hand and squeezed it. “You’re just one guy, Sam. And you don’t have a super-serum or anything like that, but what you’ve got is a lot of friends. A lot of people who love you, and a lot of people who owe you, and probably more than you’d think who’d take some pretty dumb risks if you asked them to. I may be getting older, but I still go down the range often enough.” She tapped the sheaf of papers, and there was a definite snarl in her voice as she said, “You ever want someone to put a bullet in the head of one of these motherfuckers, I’ll come do it.”

–––

Sam was still pretending to be busy cleaning the kitchen when Steve emerged from the living room. He put the sheaf of papers down on the table and paused, hand resting on them for a moment.

Without looking at Sam he said, “You can read them. If you like. You don’t have to– no-one should…” He trailed off, then looked out of the window. “I’m going for a run.”

The door shut behind Steve, and Sam took a deep breath, sat down, and read.

Bucky Barnes had been systematically brutalized. Every method the KGB or the CIA had ever used to break someone probably had been tested on him first. And when that hadn't worked, when the core of the stand-up guy Steve talked about had remained, when he was crying and screaming and delirious but still wouldn't kill for them, they tried some kind of mind-control or hypnosis. And that just left him unpredictable, so it was medicines and machines after that. Drugs to pacify, drugs to wipe the memory. But here their own experiments to replicate what had been done to Steve came to bite them, as he metabolized the drugs in a quarter of the time expected and developed tolerances to them in record time. So the machines: wipe his memory, leave the training and the muscle memory, and train him, like a dog, that there will be less pain if he behaves.

Then the missions. Here, the file was less forthcoming. It seemed that the trainers and handlers were different people to those who ran the missions, so there were very few details about what he had done. There was just a summary of what he’d done in a year (and some years it simply said, ‘inactive,’ which must have meant he was on ice for the whole year), not even the dates when those things had been done, along with some vague comments on whether his performance in the field had been satisfactory or not.

And then, a file dated 1978, “New information suggests that Subject was, before conditioning, a homosexual. Discussion with Dr V and Dr P as to whether this may be useful in future conditioning. Subject will, if allowed to sleep, sometimes sustain an erection on waking. However, aside from this, no evidence of any sexual drive or instinct remaining whatsoever. Therefore, of no practical use in conditioning.”

Sam felt the bile rise in his throat. Clinical little statements that boiled down to this: The only reason they didn't rape him was that there was so little humanity left, they didn't think it would be useful to do so.

The file stopped at the fall of the USSR. Presumably, they’d decided to rebase somewhere more stable. He was certain they wouldn’t have left their ‘asset’ on ice for nearly two decades.

He leaned back in his chair.

After a few minutes, he picked up a notebook and pen. Steve had written neatly into Stacey’s translations all the identifying information that he had taken out. Sam started making a list of anything that could lead them to places that Bucky had been held or the people who had held him.

It was six hours later when Steve came home, breathless and dripping with sweat. At the speed the man ran he’d probably only turned round when he got to the outskirts of Seattle.

Sam handed him a bottle of water from the fridge, which Steve drained in a few seconds, then another, and another.

Then Steve just stood, hands braced on the edge of the kitchen sink, head down.

Sam put his hand on Steve’s shoulder and said, gently, “Shower. You don’t stink as bad as you should do for running that long, but, man, you still stink.”

Steve barked a surprised laugh, straightened up, and headed to the shower.

–––

Another country, another cheap hotel. They started to blend into each other after a while. But right now he wasn’t getting an opportunity to look at the decor because Steve was kissing him, pulling him towards the bed.

It had been a shitty few days. Too much death, too many reminders that there were still plenty of HYDRA cells out there. They were both functioning on adrenaline, and after a three-hour car drive all that pent-up tension needed an outlet.

Steve was eager and handsy as all fuck, but still careful – naked as fast as possible, but never with the risk of torn clothes or pulled-off buttons. Sam could appreciate that in a man. But however eager you were, combat boots made for a pause in the proceedings. Of course, Steve had his own boots off first, and started mouthing wetly down Sam’s neck.

He could leave the other boot on, couldn’t he, he was naked enough for – no, Sam Wilson had standards, and if he was fucking in a bed, he was not fucking with his boots on.

Steve was pulling him up the bed before his boot hit the floor, and then it was all sloppy, desperate kissing, rutting against each other with the most delicious friction, oh, and Steve was spreading his legs in the least subtle invitation in the history of sex.

Sam pulled back. “We had this conversation. I’ve had a long day, we’re doing this the other way around.”

Steve grinned and flipped them over, before leaning off the bed and groping for the lube. Maybe Sam should have been a little more ashamed of taking advantage of the whole ‘supersoldier boyfriend’ thing so he could be a lazy asshole in bed, but Steve was just so damn enthusiastic that he couldn’t feel bad.

Steve was back and, fuck, that was a picture a thousand wet dreams were made of: Steve straddling his hips, every perfect muscle chiseled and shining, dick hard between his legs.

As Steve poured a generous amount of lube into his hand, Sam protested, “Hey, don’t I get to–”

Steve cocked his head to one side. “You’ve had a long day.” He wrapped a lube-slick hand around Sam’s dick, making Sam shiver. “I’m surprised any of you is capable of standing up.”

Sam groaned. “How are you still this terrible at talking dirty?”

Steve laughed. “You like being the smooth one.”

And Sam absolutely would have had something smooth to say, but Steve had started to finger himself, and if he’d been a picture of a wet dream before, now it was something else. Steve, sinking his fingers into himself, arching back into it, eyes drifting shut with the pleasure of it, dick hard and glistening against his abs.

Then Steve was shuffling forwards and, with a grin down at Sam, was slowly, way too slowly, sinking down onto Sam’s cock, and as Sam canted his hips upwards to try and make this go faster, Steve grinned and used one hand to pin his hips to the bed.

Hey, if Steve wanted to ride his dick with no input from Sam, then fine. Fuck, it felt good. Those supersoldier muscles went everywhere, and every so often Steve would squeeze, and Sam was three quarters of the way through reciting every single army regulation he could remember in his head to stop himself from coming.

Steve wrapped a hand around his own dick, and, no, this was not how this went. Sam pulled Steve’s hand away and wrapped his own hand around Steve’s dick, started jerking him. Steve was quiet, always, but his face was an open book, and he was just on the edge.

He came, squeezing Steve’s dick as he did so, and then Steve was coming, hot over Sam’s hand.

Steve leaned down, kissed Sam, and then was pushing himself up, Sam’s dick slipping out of him, and getting off the bed. A moment later he was back with a damp washcloth, cleaning the both of them up and then sliding under the covers with Sam.

Sleeping with Steve Rogers basically meant that sex with any other human being, ever, was going to be a disappointment. Hot sex, amazing body, perfect gentleman afterwards. There were five star hotels that didn’t give the level of service that a post-coital Steve Rogers did.

Now Steve was cuddled around Sam, head resting on his shoulder. Sam brought his hand up to stroke gently through Steve’s hair, and he could feel him relaxing. The guy loved to touch, loved to be held. Not that he had actually said this. Asking for something for himself (rather than other people, the mission, or the world in general) was something that Steve almost never did. He’d had to do some work on getting Steve to ask for what he wanted in bed, so he wasn’t going to push for asking outside of bed just yet. It was an ongoing project.

What the hell was he doing with his life? Running around the world with a man he would admit he was stupid for, but running after Steve's ex-boyfriend... he didn't even resent that. Bucky needed a friend, needed Steve a hell of a lot more than Sam did.

It appeared that being a self-sacrificing idiot who didn't ask for what he wanted was somehow catching.

––––

“Hi, sis.”

“Look, I understand why you never call me from the same number twice, but do you know the number of telemarketers I’m answering the phone to now? I see something explode on the news, I get a phone call, I hope it’s you to say you’re ok, but it’s always some guy in Delhi who wants to talk to me about my cellphone plan.”

“Oh, you’re assuming that everything that explodes is somehow my fault.”

“You or your stupid-ass, reckless boyfriend.”

“You know he’s got the super-hearing thing and can hear you.”

“Yeah, he’d better be listening, and he’d better know that if you get so much as one scratch that’s his fault, he’ll have me to deal with.”

He and Steve were laid on the bed of a hotel in… Marburg? No, that was yesterday. Still in Germany, though. Probably. Steve was wrapped around Sam’s waist like Sam was an overgrown teddy and, at that outburst from his sister, opened his eyes and looked up at Sam, extending one hand towards the phone and raising an eyebrow.

“Do you want to talk to him yourself?”

“Sure.” That was said in the same tone of voice that was more usually heard in action movie ultimatums.

Sam handed the phone to Steve, who didn’t move from cuddling Sam’s waist. “Hi, Monica–”

Now Sam didn’t have super hearing and couldn’t hear what his sister was saying, but he could hear the edge of her tone of voice.

He stroked the short hair at the nape of Steve’s neck as Steve was harangued, though he managed to get a couple of placatory noises in here and there. Of course, he knew why his sister was so upset; and hell, every so often he woke up feeling sick, worrying that perhaps HYDRA would decide to get to him by targeting his family.

The lecture seemed to be winding down. Steve was almost managing to get in full apologies.

“Monica– Monica– I love him.” Steve looked up at Sam. “I know I’m putting him in danger, but he can go home any time he wants. It’s his choice. And I will do everything I can to keep him safe. But…” Steve swallowed. “I know that’s not always enough.”

Sam bent his head to kiss Steve on the forehead.

Steve smiled up at him, but was obviously still listening to Monica. “I know. Sure. I will, when I can.”

He handed the phone back to Sam. Monica sounded slightly mollified when she said, “At least his heart’s in the right place. Even if his brain isn’t. Which is why he’s with you.”

“Love you too, sis.”

She sighed. “I didn’t love you, and I wouldn’t care about you getting the wrong side of some Nazi asshole.”

“You take care as well–”

“I know. I’m a target. And... “ She chuckled. “And I don’t give a damn. Those bastards hurt you, they even look the wrong way at the kids… but if I could do what you can do, I think I’d want to be out there with you.”

“This is why Steve needs supervision. If he gave a talk to Girl Scouts about being a good citizen, they’d probably end up stealing uzis and a plane to go and overthrow some dictator.”

“Hey–”

Sam looked down at Steve. “Stop talking, otherwise you’ll persuade Monica and the kids to come and join us, and Alicia gets car sick.”

“You look after yourself, Sam. And see that Steve looks after himself too.”

–––

Of course they didn't find Bucky until Bucky wanted to be found.

It was a base in Utah, an old one, up in the high desert, one that hadn't been used by SHIELD since the fifties, and probably not by HYDRA since the seventies. But it was remote and forgotten enough that they thought that maybe there would be something there, some clue–

They'd seen the smoke a long time before they got near. They'd exchanged glances – not likely that it was anything else on fire out here in winter. But they kept driving, because the only people who would have wanted to burn the base were either HYDRA, or Bucky.

The entrance had been disguised as an old shack, from which smoke was now pouring. Further away, up the hill, smaller plumes of smoke were probably coming from air vents and exit tunnels.

They got out of the truck. Snow was blowing in now, and it was bitingly cold.

A movement from behind the shack, and Sam turned and brought his gun up–

Bucky Barnes. AK in his right hand, but pointed at the ground. Civilian clothes, short hair (Sam would guess a few months growth from a buzz cut). No sign at all of any transport that might have brought him out here, even though they were hours away from the nearest town.

Sam wasn't sure what he had been expecting. Fighting? A great swell of romantic music, and then Steve and Bucky would kiss and the end credits would roll?

What was actually happening was that Steve and Bucky were standing stock still, staring at each other. Sam belatedly realized that he was still pointing a gun at Bucky, and lowered it.

He waited for something to happen.

Hell, they'd been looking for this guy for months; patience could take a hike. “You two can have a day-long staring contest if you like, but you can do it in the nearest heated motel room, not in the middle of a snowstorm. You, you, in the damn car. I'm driving.”

Both of them looked at him. Then Steve looked back at Bucky and said, “You want the front seat?”

Bucky shook his head, picked up a bag, and got into the back seat of the truck.

So. Driving back through the wilderness with two supersoldiers, one of whom was still holding an AK across his knees, and neither of whom were speaking.

It took three hours to get to the motel. Three hours of no talking, but, to be positive, also three hours of the trained assassin quietly looking out of the car window and not trying to kill him, so there was that. The desk clerk at the motel barely looked up from her phone to hand him the keys to a room, so there was a good chance they weren't about to be called in.

The room wasn't the cleanest, but still one of the better he'd stayed in on this little trip. He dropped his bag on the floor by one of the beds, and turned to look at the other two. Steve had sat down on the end of the other bed, and Bucky was standing with his back to the wall, close to the door, and Sam knew a defensive position when he saw one.

“I can leave if you two need time to talk alone.”

Steve looked at Bucky, who shrugged, and Sam really hoped that the guy hadn't gone mute because that would make things even more difficult than they were already going to be. Steve said, “No... I... stay. Please.”

Sam sat on the other bed.

Steve looked up at Bucky and took a deep breath. “I'm sorry. I never looked for you. I never thought anyone could survive that fall. I'm sorry I never paid attention enough to work out–”

“Shut the hell up, Steve.” Ah, good, Bucky could talk. Bucky sighed, jaw set. “I've been working things out. Reading. I remember some, not everything, but some. And if you had come looking for me, you wouldn't have been on that plane and Mom, and Dad and Ruthie and Sally and Becca would all have died. If I went back and you made me choose between what happened to me and them dying, I'd choose this. So quit the guilt.”

All through this, Bucky was still, unnaturally so; still the hunter.

Steve twisted half a smile. “I can keep being guilty about not paying enough attention during the war. And not paying enough attention to work out there was something wrong with SHIELD earlier. So I'm still sorry.”

“You've apologized. That all you want from me?”

“I still love you.”

“You don't know me. Not any more.”

“I… you haven’t hurt a single innocent person. All the months we’ve been following you. You’re trying to do good. Perhaps I don’t know you as well as I used to, but I think you’re still the same. Deep down.”

Sam saw Bucky’s jaw clench, but the guy didn’t say anything.

There was a long pause, and then Steve swallowed and said, very carefully, “And if you want to tell me that you want me to quit following you and never see you again…” Steve took a deep breath. “If that was what you needed, I’d do it.”

“That’s not what you want.”

“No. But that’s not what’s important–” 

“Yes, it is.”

The two of them stared at each other for a long while.

Then Bucky nodded at Sam. “What about him?”

“I love him as well.” Steve half-smiled at Bucky. “I'm in love with two guys. Never could choose the easy way out. You don't have to be ok with that–”

“We fucked around. Before. Doesn't say that in any of the books, but I remember. I hated it. Hated those bastards getting their hands on you when they didn't give a damn about you.”

This was what Sam had expected. If Bucky wanted Steve back, it was going to be all polite handshakes and it-was-great-but-now-it's-different, and Sam would be out of the frame. He should have been angry, and he was sure he would be later, but right now all he felt was a weight in his stomach.

Now Bucky was looking at Sam with an intimidating intensity. “You love him.”

It was a statement, not a question, but Sam answered anyway. “Yeah. Makes me kinda an idiot, but I do.”

Bucky's attention switched back to Steve. “He looks after you. You need him.” There was a pause. “Don't need me.”

Steve was opening his mouth to reply to that when Sam said, “Yeah, he does. He's goddamn whiny without you. It's more than one man can take. But what do you want?”

Bucky’s jaw clenched again, and he said, “I don't know.”

There was another long silence.

Then Steve held his hand out towards Bucky, looking at him. Didn’t stand up from the bed, didn’t say anything. Bucky stared at it, then slowly stepped forwards, and took Steve’s hand. Steve smiled up at him, but Sam could see that he was on the brink of crying. Bucky stepped forwards again, and Steve almost fell forwards, so his face was against Bucky’s shirt, and Sam was sure that he was crying now.

Bucky brought up his hand to stroke the back of Steve’s head and sighed. “Oh, Stevie.”

He should leave. This was nothing to do with him. But just sidling out of the door without even a goodbye felt wrong as well.

Sam didn’t know how long it went on – Steve crying gently into Bucky’s shirt, Bucky cradling his head like it was as fragile as eggshells, and Sam just watching them.

Steve took a deep breath and looked up, smiled at Bucky, then turned and smiled at Sam, his smile more uncertain this time. “Sam…”

“If you need me to go–”

“I still want you to stay.” Steve looked up at Bucky. “Is that ok?”

Bucky blinked and paused a long time before answering. “Sure.”

Steve sat up a little straighter. “Bucky Barnes, this is Sam Wilson. Sam Wilson, this is Bucky Barnes. You’re the two best guys I’ve ever met.”

Sam extended a hand and Bucky shook it. “Sorry. For trying to kill you.”

“You weren’t yourself.”

Bucky looked at Steve again. “Should have apologized to you too. Hurt you… bad.” Bucky swallowed.

Steve smiled at him, completely warm and genuine. “Like he said, you weren’t yourself.”

This was like the most awkward blind date in the world. He’d suggest that they all got drunk, but that wasn’t an option for two of them, and tactically not the best idea either.

Sam looked at Bucky. “So why did you let us find you?”

“HYDRA. I… dealt with my past. But they grew another damn head. They’re rebuilding. I can take them down but they’re building faster. I don’t… is this it? Is this what I do? Forever?”

“I thought I was doing the right thing. Working for SHIELD. Protecting the world. I guess I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now either.” Steve glanced at Sam. “Sam had himself all sorted out, and then I went and lost him his job–”

“I don’t regret a thing. And I’ve got transferrable skills.” Sam stood up, and sat on the bed next to Steve. “You don’t have to decide tonight what you do with the rest of your life. Either of you.”

Steve smiled at Sam, then at Bucky. “I think it’s your turn to choose dinner.”

–––

It wasn't just that there were now three of them that made the journey different, it was that there wasn't a destination.

There might have been a vague plan that they would find someplace out in the wilds where they could take the time and space they needed to work things out, but right now they were drifting across America. At night it would be a new sleazy motel (it had to be somewhere that wouldn't ask for ID), sleeping in shifts, and in separate beds. During the day, travelling, looking for the perfect place to hide away for a while. Always paying cash. Sure, the withdrawals from Steve's account could be traced, but every time he took out more than they needed so eventually they could drop off the map entirely, for a while at least.

So here he was, travelling incognito across America with a wanted man and a suitcase of money in the trunk. Two wanted men, actually. Apparently Senate committees didn't take too kindly to Captain America ignoring their summons.

Tonight it was another town that could be almost anywhere, with the same strip mall, the same Wal-Mart – hell, he was sure these were exactly the same sheets as the last motel.

They were out of toothpaste, and Steve had said that he would go out for that and a bunch of other things they needed, and it seemed the most natural thing in the world. Right up to the moment that the door shut behind him, and Sam realized that this was the first time he'd been alone with Bucky.

Bucky must have noticed his discomfort, because he said, “Do you think I'm going to hurt you?”

“Oh no. If you were going to kill me, you've had plenty of opportunities. What's worrying me is the awkward conversation.”

“About Steve?”

“And you and me.”

“Steve wants both of us here. So we're both here. That's it.”

“So neither of us get a say in this?”

“Do you want to leave?”

“No. But I'm not sure you know what you want.”

Bucky was quiet for a while, staring at the floor, before taking a deep breath and saying, “It felt like everyone knew who Bucky Barnes was, except me.” He looked up at Sam. “I read all the books. That official bio of Steve, all the unofficial ones. Someone even wrote one about me. And I started to remember, and... what I remembered didn't fit. I wondered if those books were right and I was wrong. And now...”

There was another long pause, before Bucky spoke again. “When my grandpa died, everyone said these things about him being this generous, loving guy. He was a miserable bastard, never had a kind word to say about anyone, and wouldn't have given you a dime if it would have saved your life. It was like him being dead had messed with people's memories.” He chewed on his lip. “What if that's what's going on with Steve? That I never was the man he remembers?”

Sam sat next to Bucky on the bed. “Even if everything he remembers is wrong, he's prepared to take you as you are now. He's not dumb. He knows things have changed.”

Bucky said, so quietly that Sam barely heard it, “I don't even know who I am now.”

Sam took Bucky's hand without thinking, squeezed it gently. “You'll work it out.” He smiled. “Didn't you use to live with a Lewis who ended up a Louisa? You should know better than most that there's a lot of options for who you are.”

Bucky looked at their linked hands for a long moment, then at Sam. “Guy. Not girl. I know that much about who I am.”

“So you know one thing about who you are. You can work out the rest as you go.”

They sat there, quiet. Bucky's hold on Sam's hand was gentle, but a hold nonetheless.

Bucky said, “Did you read those books, or did Steve tell you about Louisa?”

“Read the book. The official one, at least, years ago. I can't remember half the things it said. I do know that the Steve Rogers in that book isn't quite the guy I know.”

“And what about me and the guy in that book?”

“I don't really know you. Not yet. How about you work out who you are, I get to know you, and I'll get back to you on that.”

Bucky half-smiled and squeezed Sam's hand. “I get why Steve fell for you. You're a good guy. There's not as many of them as you'd think.”

“So don't forget that he fell for you as well.”

“I'm not the same guy.”

“And he's not a five-foot nothing teenager any more either.” Bucky opened his mouth to object, but Sam continued, “Yeah, I know you're going to say that it's not the same, and it isn't, but everyone changes. He will have done, as well as you.”

Bucky sighed and looked at the floor.

They were still holding hands when Steve arrived back with the groceries. He stopped in the door and smiled. Bucky let go of Sam's hand, stood up, and shut the door behind Steve.

“Silhouette, Steve. Didn't you learn anything?”

Steve swallowed. “Sorry.”

Whatever moment there had been was lost.

–––

It was a cliche to go out to a cabin in the wild to find yourself. But there was a reason why it was a cliche. There was… space. Peace to think.

Sam certainly appreciated it (though he knew he was a city guy at heart, and give it a few more weeks and he’d be climbing the walls), and he thought that it was doing Steve and Bucky good as well. They settled into a routine. He and Steve would get up before dawn and go out and run; usually on the way back, they’d find Bucky, who seemed to walk through most of the night. They’d shower, have breakfast, talk about reading or going for another walk – and always end up poring over reports and intelligence and talking about whether they should be going after HYDRA and, if they did, how they should do it. Then dinner, which Steve insisted on cooking, and bed. Bucky took the couch, when he slept at all.

Sex was off the menu. Not with Bucky in the next room. But if anything, Steve needed touch, to be held more than ever.

Tonight, he left Steve happily cooking and went out to the front porch, where Bucky was sitting on the step, looking out towards the setting sun.

He sat next to him, and they sat in comfortable silence for a while, before Bucky said, very quietly, “Do you think I should leave?”

“Why would I think that?” said Sam, equally quietly.

“Let Steve get on with his life. Without his past dragging him down.”

“He doesn’t think that.”

“He’s an idiot.”

“Not going to disagree with you on that, but I think you’re wrong that you’re dragging him down.”

“The two of you… you’re good together–”

“And he still looks at you like you hung the moon.”

“He looks at you like that.”

They lapsed back into silence.

Sam glanced at Bucky. “You any closer to working out what you want?”

“I…” Bucky swallowed. “I want… to go to sleep like I used to. With Steve.” Bucky looked at Sam. “And… and you too.”

Sam grinned. “Sure. As long as you don’t snore.”

“I… don’t know if I do. Any more.”

Steve’s smile when Bucky hesitantly brought this up while they ate could have lit up a city.

That night, they dressed for bed like normal, and then Steve said, “How are we going to do this?”

“You go in the middle,” said Sam. He nodded at Bucky. “You pick a side, I’ll take the other.”

Bucky paused for a long while before settling on Steve’s right. “Can we… like… before?”

Steve smiled and turned onto his left side. Bucky spooned behind him, right arm around Steve’s waist. Sam slipped into bed beside him, on his right side, his left arm over Bucky’s right. Steve sighed, and shifted slightly, pressing his face into Sam’s neck.

Sam chuckled. “Yeah, this is almost enough snuggling for you, isn’t it?”

Steve chuckled. “Almost.”

Bucky said, “I might not be here when you wake up. I don’t– I don’t sleep well.”

Sam felt Steve squeeze Bucky’s hand. “It’s ok, Buck. Whatever you need.”

–––

It was three days after that (three days when Bucky had gone to bed with them at night and been gone when Sam woke in the morning), when Bucky kissed Steve.

They were washing up, and it must have been something that the two of them had done together a thousand times before. Which was probably why, leaning past Steve to pick up a plate, Bucky turned his head and kissed Steve. It was barely a peck on the lips, but as soon as he’d done it, Bucky froze.

Steve brought his hand up to Bucky’s face and softly said, “It’s ok. More than ok.” His gaze flicked down and then back up. “And ok if you wanted to do it again.”

Bucky almost smiled. “Just ok?”

“You want me to tell you how much I like you kissing me, jerk?”

“Maybe I do.”

“I could show you instead.”

Bucky put his head to one side and raised an eyebrow. Steve put down his dishtowel and leaned in – slowly, Sam would guess, to give Bucky a chance to back out if he wanted it. But Bucky didn’t, and they kissed, slow and gentle at first, and then, frankly, making out like horny teenagers.

Eventually, they parted, just a breath apart.

Steve breathed, “It’s ok if you don’t– don’t want–”

“Come to bed,” said Bucky, who then glanced at Sam. “You too.”

Sam grinned. “You asking for backup, or just an appreciative audience?”

Bucky really did smile this time. “We’ll see.”

It was a momentary flash of the cockiness that Sam thought maybe was Bucky Barnes before – well, before everything.

A flash that disappeared as soon as they were in the bedroom.

Steve took Bucky’s hand and said, “We’re not going to do anything you don’t want to do. You say stop, we’ll stop.”

“We?” Bucky was still fronting. Sam wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing.

Steve smiled. “You were the one who asked for backup.”

“On the bed, Steve. And I said we’ll see.” Bucky gave Steve a gentle push to the chest and Steve flopped backwards onto the bed. He crawled up next to him and glanced over at Sam. “C’mere, backup.”

Sam sat on the bed, leaning back against the headboard. Steve looked up at him and grinned, before looking back at Bucky. Bucky hesitated a moment before rolling on top of Steve and kissing him.

Uh. This was hot. Was he supposed to feel jealous? He tried to look for the feeling, but couldn’t find it. Steve had one hand on Bucky’s ass, the other cupping the side of his face. Bucky’s right hand was stroking through Steve’s hair, the left… the metal hand was gripping the pillow.

Steve pushed Bucky back, just an inch, and breathed, “Can I blow you?”

Shit, Bucky’s expression – and pupils so dark you could barely see the color of his eyes.

“Yeah.” He rolled off Steve.

Sam could see that Bucky was already hard in his pants, as Steve settled in on the other side of him. Steve smiled and pushed Bucky’s T-shirt up, smoothing his hands over Bucky’s abs as he did it. When he’d pushed his shirt up to his shoulders, Steve pressed a kiss into the center of Bucky’s chest.

Shit, there was something so reverent about the way that Steve kissed down Bucky’s chest and down his abs. Bucky was breathing faster, and Sam wasn’t sure if that was arousal or–

Suddenly, Bucky grabbed Steve by the shoulder and almost hiccuped the word, “No.”

Steve smiled up at Bucky and rolled off him. “Sure.”

Bucky looked at Steve for a long time before saying, “I had to know. That you would stop.”

“You know I would.”

“I… yeah. You... “ Bucky smiled, almost to himself. “Shining beacon of everything that’s good in the world.”

“Oh, you know that’s not true.”

“Yeah,” said Sam. “You hog the damn covers.”

Steve nodded at Sam. “See?”

“Yeah, that’s terrible.”

“Not what you said in the middle of winter.”

Bucky swallowed. “I still want…”

Steve curled in a little closer. “Tell us. Nothing you don’t want to do.”

Bucky hesitated for a moment, then turned to Sam. “Kinda want to know if he still likes the same things.”

“You mean does he like being fucked ‘til he can’t talk? Or that he loves sucking cock, and being sucked off, so much you wonder if he ever gets around to doing anything else with his mouth and his dick?”

Bucky smiled. “Yeah, still the same Steve Rogers.” He looked speculatively at Sam. “So, if both of us fucked him…”

And Steve goddamned groaned, then breathed, “Please don’t say things like that if you’re not going to–”

Bucky poked Steve in the ribs. “I mean it.”

“And me too.”

“So get naked, Steve, and tell me that we got something for lube.”

Steve almost fell over getting off his clothes as Sam pulled the lube out of one of their bags and threw it to Bucky.

“You sure?” asked Bucky.

“Yeah. You first. You’ve been waiting longer.” 

Bucky grinned and efficiently stripped off his clothes, and Sam undressed as well.

“You want…?” started Steve.

“On your back. I want to see your face.” 

Steve lay down and spread his legs.

“Hell, you’re beautiful, Stevie.” Bucky knelt between Steve’s legs and bent to kiss him. Bucky broke the kiss, and then just dragged his cheek down Steve’s chest, and Sam realized that it was the sensation of the stubble that was making Steve shiver.

When he got to Steve’s dick, Bucky paused and kissed the head of his dick, before sucking it down so, so slowly. Steve’s fists were clenched in the sheets, and Sam wasn’t sure that he’d ever seen anything as hot as this in his whole life.

Without releasing Steve’s dick, Bucky slicked up his own fingers and started fingering Steve open, and Steve fucking moaned, like he couldn’t keep quiet if his life depended on it. Sam was having a hard time not touching himself, but that would mean this was over for him far too soon.

Bucky pulled off as slowly as he’d sucked Steve down, slicked his own dick, shifted the position of Steve’s hips, and slid his dick into him.

“Fuck,” breathed Bucky. “You feel… fuck… Steve…”

“Move, Buck, please.”

Bucky grinned and started to fuck Steve like he meant it. Steve was pushing up as Bucky thrust into him, arching his back off the bed. Bucky gripped his hips and said, “Nope.” Steve made a little unhappy noise at the back of his throat.

Sam took it back. This was the hottest thing he’d ever seen.

Steve’s hand drifted down his stomach, and just at the point that he was going to get hold of his own dick, Bucky pulled his hand away. “No, ‘cause you’re gonna come when we’ve both fucked you, and not before.”

That was the point that Sam’s brain gave up entirely. He couldn’t say how long he watched them fuck, Bucky’s thrusts becoming more erratic until he came, slammed close into Steve.

Bucky pulled out, rolled onto his side next to Steve, and said, “Your turn.”

Fuck. Sam was so hard he was aching, and Steve was spread out for him, wet and well-fucked, but taut as a bowstring from not coming. Sam barely managed to get together the coordination to slick his own dick and take Bucky’s place between Steve’s legs.

Fuckfuckfuck, he’d never fucked anyone who’d just been fucked before. This wasn’t sloppy seconds, this was fucking awesome.

“You want us to touch you?” murmured Bucky.

Please,” gasped Steve.

Bucky wrapped his right hand around Steve’s dick, and Steve was coming, clenching around Sam’s dick, and that’s all it took for Sam to come as well.

By the time that Sam was properly taking in his surroundings again, Bucky had a damp washcloth and was cleaning up the three of them. Steve had a slightly dumb smile plastered all over his face.

“Liked that, did you?” asked Bucky.

Steve just nodded dopily.

Sam chuckled. “I think that counts as a success.”

He and Bucky were draped over Steve, and Bucky reached out, a little hesitantly, and brushed his thumb along Sam’s jaw. Sam smiled, and Bucky said, “Can I kiss you?”

“Sure.”

Bucky leaned over Steve’s chest and kissed Sam, gentle and hesitant at first, but getting more bold when Sam returned the kiss enthusiastically.

When they broke apart, Bucky was smiling, and Steve – Steve was grinning like a goddamned idiot.

“You know, he probably had all this planned out,” said Sam.

Bucky quirked a smile. “He is the man with the plan.”

“Don’t start that again,” said Steve.

“Tomorrow,” said Bucky, “I will teach you the Howlies’ alternate lyrics to that song.”

“You will not.”

“Gonna stop me, big guy?”

Steve kissed Bucky. “Guess I could try and keep your mouth occupied all day.”

Still not smooth,” said Sam.

–––

Sam knew as well as anyone that sex didn’t solve anything, so it wasn’t a surprise that Bucky wasn’t in their bed when he woke. The found him on their morning run, just the same as they had yesterday, and perhaps he looked a little… lighter, might be the word.

They were sitting on the porch steps again that evening, Steve in the kitchen, when Bucky asked, “Can you dance?”

“I’m not bad. You want a night on the town? Because first we’d have to find a town–”

“No. I can’t remember the last time I danced. I… I want to know if I still can.”

“You’re looking for a dance partner.”

“Steve can’t dance. Never could. Fights like… it’s almost graceful. But try and dance, and he’s got two left feet.”

“We’ll need music–”

“I think I gotta teach you the steps first. Unless you’re gonna tell me you already know how to lindy hop.”

Sam laughed. “Nope.” He held a hand out to Bucky. “Bucky Barnes, would you give me the pleasure of this dance?”

Bucky smiled and took his hand, standing the both of them up as he did so, “Sure thing, doll.”

“Oh, so you’re leading, are you?”

“You don’t know the steps.”

“Which are going to be easier going forwards than backwards.”

“Fine.” Bucky pulled him into a close hold. “You lead, you big hunk of muscle, you.” He rearranged Sam’s hands and said, “Slow stuff first. I need to know you’re not going to kick my shins before we try anything fast.”

They did start slow, just swaying to a rhythm that Bucky counted out. Then they started to move, Bucky giving short instructions about moving his feet.

Apart from a couple of very awkward prom dances, he’d never danced with a partner before, not like this. It was… nice. He could get used to this.

Though he might take that back when they got to the faster parts of the lindy hop. If Bucky were to forget his own strength, Sam might be launched into a low-earth orbit.

They were making turns of the porch now, slow and synchronized. Sam had gotten used to the rhythm that Bucky was following. They turned again, and Steve appeared in the doorway, smiling the fondest smile that Sam had ever seen on anyone.

So of course Sam tripped over his own feet.

Bucky paused and looked at Sam. “It’s Steve, isn’t it?” He shook his head. “Not just a bad dancer, but makes other people bad dancers.”

“Sorry,” said Steve, and the smile hadn’t faded from his face at all. “Just you two look… I think I could watch you dance all night.”

“He’s sweet-talking us,” said Sam.

Bucky half-turned them so they could both look at Steve. “Are you?”

Steve’s cheeks colored slightly. “No. I just think that right now I’m the luckiest guy in the whole damn world.”

“You’ve got a strange definition of lucky.”

Steve stepped forwards, put an arm around each of them, and kissed them gently in turn. “No, I don’t.”

Sam felt a bloom of warmth in the center of his chest. There might be bad things coming (oh, who was he kidding? Steve Rogers was going to get into trouble as soon as trouble presented itself, and he– they were going to run after him), but whatever it was, it would be worth it for this.

Now he just had to work out how he was going to explain all this to his sister.