Looking back, his first warning should have been Steve hunched intently over a tablet propped up on the kitchen table. Steve liked tablets pretty well, but he didn't always enjoy watching video on them. For that he preferred the bigger screen of Sam's flat-screen.
But there he was, watching carefully as a lady talked her way through giving a small child a fancy-looking braid.
Sam had made it a rule never to ask Steve, Bucky, or even (especially) Natasha what was going on in their dear little heads: that way madness lay.
"Hey, man," he said, continuing toward the fridge and the tragic remains of the juice. Bucky drank a fuckload of juice. Steve paid for it, so Sam didn't really mind, but it was sometimes difficult to get a damn glass of juice in the morning, because the World's Deadliest Assassin-Ghost was in the kitchen already, guiltily lowering the empty bottle from his mouth. When he opened the fridge he discovered that Bucky had carefully poured out a glass of juice, covered it with cling wrap and written SAM on the cling wrap in small capitals. He had drunk the rest of it, of course.
Still, small victories. Sam took the juice out and pulled the cling wrap off before Steve could look up and see the writing on it. Writing had not been a skill required of a HYDRA assassin, and Bucky was still relearning it. It made Steve sad because apparently Bucky had had beautiful handwriting as a boy, the type that won prizes of expensive fountain pens and was pinned up on the classroom wall as an example. Steve would never breathe a word of it to Bucky, of course, but Sam crumpled up the cling wrap anyway.
"Hey," said Steve, distracted. His head tilted a little, like a dog studying how to get the ball from the human's hand into the air. The lady chirped, "Maisie loves this with a ribbon at the end, too! So old fashioned and cute!"
"Are you watching braiding videos on YouTube?" said Sam.
"Yeah," said Steve, tapping the screen and watching the lady again.
Sam decided discretion was the better part of valor. "Is there any type of juice JB won't drink?" he said.
"He doesn't like orange pulp," said Steve, still intent. "Or cranberry."
"Like, won't drink it or won't drink it unless there's no other options?" said Sam, looking at the shopping list. It was divided into three sections and labeled with Steve's neat draughtsman handwriting: HOUSEHOLD - STEVE&BUCKY - SAM. The household needed rice, because someone, not mentioning any names, whose digestive system was still impressively fucked up from being frozen, thawed, refrozen, and rethawed for seventy years, went through as much as a middling sized Asian family. Bucky needed juice and the organic milk Steve trudged out to get at farmer's markets.
"Dunno," said Steve. "Can't much remember having juice before the war, and during the war we drank what they put in front of us."
"Yeah," said Sam, remembering with a shudder the juice his unit had been presented with on tour. He'd had better Koolaid when his nephew made it for him.
"He didn't like the cranberry juice Nat gave him last week," said Steve. "And he's never liked orange pulp. He used to suck oranges instead of eating them."
"What the hell," said Sam.
Steve shrugged his broad shoulders eloquently. "I'll get him more strawberry guava," he said. "Or the Gatorade stuff, he likes the fruit punch type. Damn, this lady must have three hands."
Sam looked closer at the video and had to agree. "Gimme your wallet," he said. Steve lifted up from the chair about an inch and wriggled his hand into his back pocket. Steve never wore what you might call skinny pants, but Natasha had declared a lifetime ban on dad khakis. It wasn't like Sam really wanted to date the guy or whatever, but damn, that ass. Steve pulled his wallet out and flipped it to Sam without taking his eyes away from the screen.
Sam caught it and pulled the list off the fridge. "JB," he hollered, "last call for weird ice cream!"
Bucky appeared silently, took the list from Sam, printed "the ice cream with the hazelnut ice cream and the chocolate ice cream" with a pen he pulled from his knot of hair, and ghosted away again.
Sam decided he hadn't seen a stiletto in Bucky's hair too. If he had he would of course have to mention it to Steve and Steve would go and look hangdog at Bucky and Bucky would stare silently back at him and Sam's entire world would be supersoldiers acting like scolded dogs and he really didn't have time for that today.
Sam headed out the door, stopped, headed back to the kitchen for the reusable bags Steve and Bucky collected like they were the only thing between them and the zombie apocolypse, and went to the store.
He forgot about Steve learning how to braid until Bucky started appearing with increasingly elaborate ones in his hair, sometimes just a plain plait, sometimes French braids, one time like seven of them like the world's oldest white boy hiphop poser.
Even then, he didn't really think much of it -- Steve didn't draw much any more, but he colored with Sam's niblings like a champ, and had picked up friendship bracelet knotting in one visit to the children's hospital, so it wasn't out of the range of normal for him to decide that Bucky needed to have fancy braids. And Bucky liked it, that was clear. He would pause sometimes in front of mirrors or windows and look at his own head, or pet the end of his braid absently, or bring Steve the comb and sit down in front of him when Steve and Sam were watching TV.
Then Nat sent him the YouTube link. Nat was second only to Steve and Bucky in her obsession with YouTube. If he was a better person and that was a hill he was willing to die on, he'd try to explain that YouTube humanity was probably not the best version to base yourself on, but he had other things he wanted to do with his life, like not drink himself to death. But as it was he clicked dutifully on whatever they sent him and he'd only been rickrolled like four times.
A white background with HAIRSTYLES BY HAIRSTYLEZ4ALL in a violent, T-Mobile pink filled the screen. "GUYS," screamed a person in their very early twenties, "GUYS OH MY GOD I AM HYPERVENTILATING OH MY GOD YOU GUYS YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED. AHHHHHHHHHHHH."
The screen blipped and the person reappeared, now clutching a large Ragdoll cat who was purring even as the human muffled another scream in it's fur. "Omigod. Omigod. I'm calm. I'm calm. GUYS. So you remember how I said I hoped you'd send in reaction vids to the hairstyle tutorials? I think Captain America just sent me one, oh my fucking God." They squeezed the cat tightly enough that it let out a mildly protesting squeak. "OH GOD, Roadkill, I'm so sorry, Mommy's so excited right now." They let go of the cat and it sort of flowed into a puddle between them and the camera. "Okay. Okay. Roll video."
Sam paused the video long enough to break out the ginger ale and vodka.
An old fashioned film count down played and Sam saw, with resignation, the neighborhood park. Steve at least had had the sense -- or Bucky had, at least -- to make sure it looked like a thousand other parks. Then Steve moved into the field and said, "Um, hi. My name is Steve and I really like Miss Hairstylez4all's videos. They were real clear and um helpful, so I thought I'd like to show you how um good I got at this thanks to you."
Steve was wearing a royal blue sweater and jeans, and his hair was sticking up all over like he'd ran his fingers through it a lot while setting up the camera. He looked like a supermodel, not a super soldier. Maria was going to fucking kill him. Sam tilted at least a quarter of his drink down his throat.
"So my friend just … got back," said Steve earnestly, "and he's been growing his hair out for a while and it's getting in his face a lot, so I thought I'd learn how to braid because his arm isn't, um, so good right now."
Cut to hairstylez4all, clutching the cat again and staring at the screen with huge eyes.
Cut back to Steve, who is now standing beside Bucky's back. Bucky was wearing a long sleeved henley -- one of Sam's henleys -- and facing away from the camera. His dark hair was freshly washed but not brushed. Steve picked up a brush and began to carefully brush out Bucky's hair. "His hair is kind of curly so I got some of that serum stuff you suggested," said Steve, completely straightfaced, the shithead. He picked up a small bottle and pumped a few drops into his hands, rubbed them together and smoothed it into Bucky's hair. Bucky's shoulders visibly relaxed as Steve's capable hands stroked his hair into silky waves.
"I had a lot of trouble with the fishtail one at first," said Steve, picking up a comb and dividing Bucky's hair at the crown, "but your method really helped me get it down." His quick deft fingers began to seperate and weave Bucky's hair into a fishtail braid, as Bucky slumped lower and forward like a cat getting the back of his ears massaged.
"So there you have it," said Steve, stepping back as Bucky straightened his back again. :"Thank you for your help. We really appreciate it." He waved, awkwardly, at the camera and the video snapped off.
Cut back to hairstylez4all, now with the cat eating out of a bowl that had clearly contained cereal at one point. "Guys," they said reverently. "Guys, I can't stop fucking watching this. I am the luckiest person on earth right now, guys. Oh. My. God."
They reached out over the cat and the video flipped to the logo card.
Sam looked down sadly at his drink and topped it off with vodka. Then he scrolled down fatalistically to the comments.
The first one was "OMG TAG UR PORN." which pretty much summed up the opinion of three quarters of YouTube, followed closely by WHY DO U GIRSL THINK CAPTAIN MAERICA IS BEING GAY IN THIS, along with THIS IS SO HOMOSEXUAL I WILL NEVER TRSUTSCAP AGAIN???? and a snotty but vocal minority that was clearly beside themselves with jealousy and was venting it by snidely saying that even if they got reaction videos from someone who looked like Captain America they would never suggest it was Cap just for hits, because they were vlogging for truth and beauty, unlike hairstylez4all, who was a dirty hit whore.