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sam deserves better than these assholes

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askl;fdsakj okay so when Civil War came out I was super jossed, as expected, but also the Rossos came up with BUCKY AND SAM: WE HATE EACH OTHER BUT WE ARE STEVE'S BEST FRIENDS and obviously I need to write approx 50000 words where they fight like two cats in a sack for Steve's attention but if anybody looks at Steve cross-eyed they promptly murder that asshole straight in the face.

So I was super jossed but I'm actually really happy about it BUT THAT MEANS I can't continue Sam Deserves Better Than These Assholes obviously. So here it is. All of it, in one file so you can download it. Please enjoy!

THANK 2 VERITY FOR LETTING ME INCLUDE HER AMAZING EPISODE OF SAM VS ASSHOLES IN THE FILE

Chapter Text

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.

Sam sighed.

Chapter Text

Sam was half asleep when he walked into the kitchen, but he managed to stop himself before he ran into Steve and Bucky, staring at each other in the middle of the room. He was sort of used to it by this point, and they had thoughtfully left him a clear path to the super-fancy coffee maker that had appeared the day after Tony Stark had found out who Steve was shacking up with -- or rather, the day after Colonel Rhodes had. The note, in Colonel Rhodes' own actual handwriting, had just said, I am so sorry. Sam would deny having slept with it under his pillow with his last breath, but it was on the fridge, held up by the stupid tacky Air Force magnet Riley had bought him.

He poured himself a cup of coffee and settled down to observe super soldiers in their natural habitat. Today the Rogers and Barnes Show seemed to be a dramatic re-enactment of the Cold War, and Sam wasn't sure if Ice Cube or Freezer Burn was winning. They seemed to have reached the stage where blinking would be losing, and Sam wondered how long they'd been at it.

Barnes said, "Plate in the oven," without otherwise acknowledging Sam's existence.

"You know we have a microwave, right," said Sam. He didn't expect to win the argument, but he sort of lived in hope.

"That's disgusting," said Roger and Barnes, in creepy unison. They stared at each other like they were having an entire argument with their eyes. It's some real creepy-ass super-married shit, and Sam's parents were working on forty-five years together. He knew from silent conversations.

Sam took the plate out of the oven and settled down to eat it. Bucky wasn't what you might call a fancy cook, but he was good at it, and Sam gave the omelet the attention it deserved. They'll probably stare for a while more, and Sam needed to be a lot more fed and caffeinated before he started applying artificial tears to supersoldiers.

When he put the plate in the sink and got another cup of coffee, he looked up and saw that Bucky's face hadn't changed, but Steve's jaw was sticking out at a angle best described as 'mulish'.

"Okay," said Sam, taking a fortifying drink of his coffee. "You guys gonna use words any time soon, or do I tattle to Nat?"

"Nat thinks it's funny," said Steve. This was true. Natasha's sense of humor was childish at best and Russian at the worst, and she would probably be sitting on Sam's kitchen table, swinging her feet and eating Sam's granola while she watched the show. Which reminded him, the next time she showed up, Sam needed to block the wildlife channels.

"I think you're twenty-seven, not seven," said Sam.

Steve somehow managed to make a face without breaking eye contact or blinking, which, score one for the serum. "Bucky's forgetting I'm not ninety-five pounds soaking wet any more."

"Captain Rogers is forgetting he's still a target to thirty-eight separate terrorist groups," said Bucky flatly.

Sam winced. Once he had gone with Steve to visit Ms Carter when she'd had a good day. When Steve went to go ask for a vase, he'd asked her if Bucky had ever called Steve Captain Rogers like his mom called his dad "your father" when she was mad at him, and talking to Sam and at his dad. She said, "Good Lord, yes. The others used to run and hide."

"Guys," he said, "Don't make me break out the puppets." Natasha had made the puppets out of Sam's favorite handknit socks from his sister, some pipe cleaners and some shitty yarn she'd fished from a bin at the VA. One had yellow yarn hair and the other had black yarn hair, and they both had ugly blue button eyes. The black haired one had angry felt eyebrows carefully superglued onto it. Steve and Bucky had received them in the spirit Nat had intended -- which was to say, baffled rage. Natasha amused herself quietly for hours with them, a puppet on each hand. "I don't like it when you shoot me four times in the chest," the Steve-puppet would tell the Bucky-puppet gravely. "I feel angry when you let me drop to my death in the Alps and get picked up by HYDRA and used for an assassin for seventy years," the Bucky-puppet would respond. "I feel bad when you try to kill me," the Steve-puppet explained. "I feel sad when you look at me like a wet Golden Retriever," the Bucky-puppet would share. "It makes me want to punch you right in your All-American face." "Nat, I swear to God I will burn those damn things," said Steve, standing over her as Bucky flipped a knife into his hand meaningfully.

"Do you know where she put them?" demanded Steve, still staring at Bucky.

"I'm not telling you," said Sam. "She's meaner than either of you. Seriously, what are you guys fighting about now?"

"I don't know what he's so mad about," said Steve, jutting his chin out more.

"Okay," said Sam. "Guys. Either look at me like civilized human beings or I swear to God I will call Pepper Potts and let her deal with you." Bucky and Steve turned toward him so fast it looked like they were on a pivot. "Thank you."

"It's dangerous," said Bucky, glaring at Steve from the corner of his eye.

"It's less dangerous for me," said Steve.

"Can we maybe start from the beginning?" said Sam.


The beginning, as it turned out was this: One day as Steve was going around trying to find his place in the world (nineties power ballad background music optional) he'd gone past the Planned Parenthood in Brooklyn in time to see a girl and a clinic escort head in. He'd wondered why she was being taken in by a friend, and then he'd seen the protesters. All of the protesters. And their noise, and their pictures.

He'd been watching for about three minutes when one of the protesters had realized who he was and made the tactical error of coming up to him, clearly hoping Captain American Family Values would hold a sign or denounce the girl or something.

Steve had looked at him for a long, thoughtful minute, smiled politely -- and Sam knew that polite smile, the one that meant Sarah Rogers had raised him to believe that courtesy cost nothing -- and walked up to the girl and her escort. "Scuse me, ma'am," he said, all six foot four white male built like a brick shithouse. "Please, may I walk you past these thugs?"

The rest, as they said, was history.

Sam covered his face with his hands. "Get me more coffee," he ordered Steve, pushing his cup toward him.

Steve brought it with a free hangdog expression. "I couldn't just let them harass her," he said.

"How did this not end up all over the news?" said Sam.

Steve rubbed the back of his head. "Well, the people in front of the clinic didn't all recognize me and I think they didn't want to admit I thought they were jackasses," he said. "And the lady at the clinic promised to keep it quiet as long as I wanted it quiet."

"Okay," said Sam. "So that was just the one time, right?"

Bucky turned his head, like an owl, all the way to the side where Steve was standing, and gave him the filthiest look Sam had ever seen one human being give to another one.

"I might have given the lady my phone number," said Steve, avoiding Bucky's death glare.

"I need more coffee," said Sam.

"It's just," said Steve, hunching his shoulders defensively. "It's just that it's not right. My ma had to help so many girls when they got in trouble, and now they can do it safely, and they're just bullying them. And here I am big enough to defend them, and it's just a crying shame not to ---"

Sam held up his hand. "Look, you're not going to get an argument about what assholes that assholes that stand in front of clinics are," he said. "But Bucky has a point, too."

"I'm not going to stop," said Steve, muleheaded, and Bucky surprised them both by saying,

"I don't want you to stop. I don't want you to do it alone."

"But you hate crowds," said Steve.

"I don't care," said Bucky. "I won't let you do it by yourself. And--" he hesitated. Words were still hard for him at times. He could give a mission report or describe a scene but the ability to recognize and express what he felt was still growing. "It's not right. I want to. It would be good, wouldn't it. If I could protect someone instead."

"Yeah, Bucky," said Steve. "Yeah, it would."


Nat watched the footage five times in a row, chin propped on her hands, of Steve and Bucky walking the girl to the clinic. Steve bent close to her, trying to make her laugh and be less nervous. Bucky didn't touch her or seem to even acknowledge her presence, but the way his eyes coldly swept the clinic protestors made them take five sharp steps back toward the invisible line.

"They're good kids," she said finally.

"Yeah," said Sam. "They really are."

Chapter Text

Sarah showed up with a diaper bag, two stuffed animals, a stroller and also Jodi, who was half asleep but cooed when she saw Sam, and stretched out her arms toward him. Sam took her automatically. "What's up?" he said.

"You're babysitting," said Sarah. Her mouth was set in a firm line, the one that meant Samuel Wilson would do as he was told, or his older sister would rain down hellfire.

"I am?" said Sam, and then cursed mentally and tried, "I can't babysit without notice, Sarah!"

"You gave up your day job to be a superhero," said Sarah, unimpressed. "I see no crises happening today. I'll be back tonight." Then she turned and marched off, leaving the pile of baby supplies at the door.

"Great," sighed Sam. Jodi patted his mouth and tried to grab his beard. "Mommy just jinxed us, sweetie. Wasn't that nice of her?"

"Was that your sister?" said Steve, poking his head out from the kitchen. He was on his third attempt at carbonara. It was somewhat less like scrambled eggs on pasta now, but he was still doggedly trying. Apparently Bucky had been the cook in their household, and Steve's skills were still limited to "boil pasta, open can of sauce". He'd apparently eaten in the SHIELD cafeteria a lot, which was horrifying at more levels than Sam wanted to think about. "Oh, hey, who's that?"

"This is my niece Jodi," said Sam, as Jodi put her head down on his shoulder and regarded Steve thoughtfully through her thick eyelashes.

She was just old enough to be unsure about strangers, and Steve was wary around babies. Something about having been too contagious to be allowed around many before the serum, and a persistent fear that he would break them in half after it. He liked little kids, toddlers and older, fine, but babies made him skittish and he made babies skittish in return. Steve smiled at her nervously. Jodi considered him for a minute more and then smiled at him and reached out.

"Aww, she likes you," said Sam proudly. He took the spatula from Steve and passed him Jodi, who clung to him and looked up at him with curious eyes.

"Hello, Miss Jodi," said Steve gravely. "I'm pleased to meet you." He passed her back to Sam and took his spatula back. "She's real pretty, Sam. Better keep her away from Buck, though."

"Shi-oot," said Sam. "I didn't even think of that. Look, I can call Sarah back, or get my brother to watch her instead, if it's going to be a thing."

Steve stared at him. "What?"

"You said to keep her away from JB," said Sam. "Is it gonna trigger him? Being around her, I mean. You're nervous enough, I don't want him to freak out or whatever."

"No," said Steve, and was interrupted by Bucky himself, who materialized in front of Sam, staring at Jodi. Sam took an involuntary step back. There was something starving in Bucky's expression.

"Baby," said Bucky. "Whose baby?"

"Uh," said Sam, staring back at him. Jodi hid her face in Sam's neck again, looking sideways at Bucky. There was a tense silence, and Bucky reached out his right hand toward Jodi, not quite touching, just hovering. "This is my niece, Jodi?"

Jodi turned her head toward Bucky, studying him carefully. Sam braced himself for tears or Bucky storming off and upsetting everybody, but instead Bucky curled up his hand and offered it gently to Jodi. "Hi, beautiful," he said, in a rough voice, like it was being dragged out of the far depths of his memory. "Why's a pretty girl like you hanging out with a smuck like that?"

"Hey!" said Sam.

Jodi considered Bucky for a second more, and then her face blossomed into the bright smile she usually reserved for her parents, and she leaned across the space, reaching out for him. Bucky scooped her up with one arm and nuzzled into her neck. He breathed deeply, and then lifted his head and wrinkled his nose at her. She giggled delightedly and poked her hand toward his mouth. Bucky caught it gently in his lips and pretended to eat it.

"What the fruit," said Sam, staring helplessly. "What the actual living fruit."

"I was gonna say," said Steve, "don't let Bucky see the baby or you'll never get her back."

Bucky tucked Jodi more comfortably into the side of his body. "You like pear sauce, gorgeous? I got some pear sauce. And some congee."

He wandered into the kitchen, still talking softly to Jodi, pausing to listen to her babbling replies, as Sam and Steve stared after him. When Sam turned to Steve, still in shock, Steve was smiling, a little wistfully. "Bucky loved babies," he said. "He had all his younger sisters, you know, and he helped bring them up, and after they got older he was always going around helping the ladies with their kids. He used to say he wanted ten of them for a start."

Sam was silent. He was pretty used to how horrible everything that had happened to Bucky was, as terrible as that sounded, but every now and then he was struck anew by how much had been stolen from him. "We could -- I bet we could arrange for him to sit with the newborns at the hospital. There's a program they arrange with the VA."

"Yeah," said Steve. "He'd like that."

Chapter Text

Sam woke up as the tasty filling in a super-soldier sandwich, a thing he would have been more into if the super-soldiers in question weren't Steven Rogers and James Barnes. Like, he super loved the dudes and all, but there would be ice skating in hell before Mrs Wilson's son was dumb enough to get his dick within ten feet of either of those crazy assholes.

Also Bucky clung like a limpet and Steve specialized in spreading out into every available micrometer of space, and a few that weren't available, and that meant that Sam, in the middle, was suffocating. Sam wondered groggily if it was just Steve finally taking up all the space he couldn't before the serum or if Steve had always been a fucking bedhog. Considering the way Bucky was riding the edge of the bed like a champ, he was inclined to think the latter was correct. Which was kind of cute when you thought about it. Little Steve Rogers spreading out like the Blob on their narrow bed while Bucky lay half on top of him to warm him up and protect the few precious centimeters of space Steve let him have.

Now, though, Steve was big enough to back up his claim to the bed and Sam was having a hard time getting a clear breath. He pushed at Steve until Steve shifted a grudging centimeter and pulled the blanket over himself.

He flailed an arm out from beneath Steve's giant bicep and groped blindly over to the bedside table. Bucky was out so hard he didn't even flinch when Sam brushed his metal shoulder reaching for his phone. It was almost noon, and he had like fifteen missed texts and five missed call alerts from his mother and oldest sister.

He didn't remember much of the night before, but he had a vague memory of Steve and Bucky sitting him down in a half lit bar and bringing him shots of whiskey grimly, like he was about to go through surgery without anesthetic or something. His eyes were still full of dried crumbs, so he probably cried all over one of them too.

"God damn it," said Sam. "God fucking shit fuck damn hell. Fuck."

Bucky didn't stir, but Steve lifted his massive paw and tried to pet Sam. He thumped him a couple times soothingly and mumbled, "Go back sleep, better inna mornin'."

"That's my line," said Bucky, very clearly, and cuddled down into Sam's favorite pillow.

Sam really had to piss, his arm was falling asleep again under Steve's stupid log of an arm, and he was sweating like hell from their combined body heat. "It is morning," he said. He wasn't even really hungover, which was almost worse. He wished he was. He wished he had a headache and was puking his guts up, instead of lying squished between Steve and Bucky, safe and protected and without Riley god fucking dammit.

"Better inna nother mornin'," said Steve. "Night." Then the asshole had the balls to reach out across Sam and pat around until he found Bucky, and grab Bucky's hand to entwine their fingers together over Sam's torso.

He could wriggle his way out of bed, go take a piss, call his family back and tell them he was okay. He could make coffee and pretend today was a normal day. He could go to work, or at least get something done around the house.

Bucky shifted like he was falling back into deeper sleep, but he turned his back toward Steve and Sam and faced toward the door and the window, keeping closer watch even in his dreams. Steve's arm laid heavily across Sam, stretching out to keep hold of Bucky. Sam remembered this feeling of safety, of being denned up with someone you knew like the breath in your lungs.

His eyes burned and he scrubbed them roughly with the hand holding his phone. Fuck it. Just, fuck it. He didn't want to be with his family today. He didn't really want to be with Steve and Bucky either, but at least they understood.

He sent a mass text to his family and the friends and other vets who had texted him. Holing up today, but doing okay. He turned off the phone. Then he reached over across Bucky and set it back on the nightstand and huddled into the warm space between Bucky and Steve.

They were on watch. He could be vulnerable for now.

Sam closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

Steve came back from a mission, which must have gone pretty well since he'd stopped at Stark Tower long enough to shower and change out of uniform, and he was carrying the uniform in it's reinforced garment bag instead of leaving it with Stark to be repaired. He still looked pretty wiped, though, and he hung the garment bag in the coat closet with a long sigh of relief.

"Hey, man," said Sam, coming in from the kitchen. "How was it?"

"Good," said Steve. "Awful glad to be back. Stark spent the entire time freaking out because there was a baby and apparently he's allergic."

Sam nodded and wisely did not point out that Steve himself regarded even Jodi at the cautious distance of ten feet at all times. "Glad you got back safe."

"How are -- things, here?" said Steve. Sam knew he actually meant 'how was Bucky' but he appreciated Steve trying to pretend he cared about anything else at all.

"Not too bad," said Sam. "Well, you know. You want the good news, the okay news, or the rest of what happened?"

"Oh jeez," said Steve.

"Well, the okay news is that Bucky discovered yoga pants, so there's at least thirty percent less traumatic dick sightings in my future," said Sam. "The good news is that Bucky went to the VA with me and got along pretty good with some of the older vets, and they invited him to Bingo Night at the VFW."

"Bucky loved bingo," said Steve. He toed off his boots and went forward into the living area.

"Bucky loves bingo," corrected Sam. "And the VFW bingo crowd loves him. He came home with one of those marker things with a label that said COME TAKE A RIDE ON MY BINGO STICK, and the little old ladies make him cookies and tell him all about their lonely grandchildren."

"Oh, lord," said Steve.

"That would have been fine," said Sam tiredly, "but apparently one of the lonely grandkids is a research scientist doing fuck only knows what."

"I gotta sit down," said Steve, and felt for a seat. He sat heavily down on the couch and squared his shoulders like he was bracing for a blow. "Okay."

"So some dumbfuck terrorist splinter group thinks, Well, the only family this scientist has is his dear old grandma, we'll kidnap her at bingo night and he'll do whatever we want."

Steve holds up his hand. "Does this story end up with Bucky being arrested?"

"Amazingly," said Sam, "it does not. Did you know that Natasha likes to give Bucky ceramic throwing knives? Because apparently that's a choice she makes. To give him knives that pass through a metal detector. And Bucky then chose to stand up in the middle of the bingo hall -- oh, that's right, he didn't wear his arm that day because apparently he gets more cookies without it-- and say, and I quote, 'hey asshole, buy a card or leave'."

Steve put his face in his hands. "Go on," he said.

"And the guy says, 'I don't take no lip from some one-armed reject', and Bucky looks at him and says 'I don't see you buying no cards'. And the guy said, 'I don't need no fucking card when I blow this shit shack of old people up'."

Steve held up a hand. "Where were you during this?" he said, like he was a little afraid of the answer.

"Crawling my god damn way across a floor that hadn't seen a mop since before the smoking ban, trying not to knock over walkers or oxygen tanks, hoping to fuck I could borrow someone's illegal concealed carry firearm, and imagining what the officer was gonna say about the black guy with the gun in a room full of veterans," said Sam.

"Sorry, Sam," said Steve. "Just -- I'm really sorry."

"No, no, it gets better," said Sam. "So Bucky does his shoulder thing, you know what I mean --" Steve nodded, because when Bucky rolled his shoulders to loosen them out, shit was about to get super fucking real "-- and one of the other guys decides he doesn't like the look on Bucky's face and aims a gun at it, and then the next thing I know Marilyn the Korean war nurse clocks him over the head with Fred from Nam's fucking four-legged cane, the gun goes off, and Bucky nails all four of the dumbasses to the wall or the ground with the god damn ceramic knives."

"Oh my Jesus," said Steve.

"Then Marilyn and Bucky both sat down and Bucky said 'get your ass back up here, Wilson, I didn't pay five dollars for your cards for you to waste my money' and fucking Annette kept calling until the police and shit arrived."

"I miss getting drunk," said Steve.

"Oh, don't worry about that," said Sam. "I'll do your drinking for you. In fact you might as well give me your black card now, because now that you're home guess what I'm doing tonight."

"Yeah," said Steve, a little sadly. "I figured." He fished out his wallet and tossed it to Sam.

Bucky poked his head around the stairwell. "Steve," he said. He still had problems with affect in his speech, but Sam and Steve were used to figuring it out. He looked, for values of Bucky, delighted to see Steve. He came out and padded closer. His hair was tied up loosely in a bun, and he wore dove-colored yoga pants, hanging half off his hips. It was pretty obvious he didn't have anything else on. He curled up on the couch beside Steve and stared at him without blinking.

"Hey, Buck," said Steve, after one wild and disbelieving look at the thinness of Bucky's pants. He looked up at Sam with real pleading in his eyes.

"Why don't you and Steve watch the kitten documentary you saved for him," said Sam cruelly. "Me and Kate and Nat are going out for a while."

You asshole, mouthed Steve, as Bucky reached over him for the remote and then sort of … failed to lean back, curling up against Steve so Steve had to either awkwardly and obviously put his hands on the couch back or let them fall naturally on the curve of Bucky's half-naked hip.

"What was that, Steve?" said Sam.

"I said," said Steve more loudly, as Bucky pulled up a documentary about kittens and fished up a soft velvet throw to drape around them, "I hope you have a good time."

"That's what I thought you said," said Sam, satisfied.

Chapter Text

"You look like teenagers getting ready to play strip poker," Sam says as he drops down into the recliner in front of the TV. He's just run a loop around Prospect Park and the only thing he's getting up for is aliens. Someone else is going to have to handle pizza delivery. "Is that Steve's sweater?"

Kate and Bucky lock eyes over their mugs, then turn their heads eerily in sync. "This is Dagmar," Kate says. She plucks at the hem, bracelets rattling. "It's cashmere."

"What's strip poker?" Bucky says innocently.

Sam says, "I'm putting on Bill Maher again if you two don't behave."

No one should ever have put Kate Bishop and Bucky Barnes in the same room, that's all. Sam could have told anyone that, except he was at work the time giant spiders tried to take over Brooklyn and Bucky went to ground in Clint's apartment. Kate was already in Clint's apartment, allegedly stealing the affections of Clint's dog.

Clint signaled the bartender for another round. "She'll take him with her again if she leaves. I can't do it again, man. Heartbreak."

"No one can take someone from you if they don't want to leave." Sam was just quoting Taylor Swift in that article in The Guardian, but it sounded real profound three pints in. "Lucky's his own person, Clint."

"He's a dog," Clint said.

"That, too," said Sam.

Clint's new beer friend arrived, foamy and glistening with condensation. "He likes your boyfriend's boyfriend better than me," Clint said as he swapped out pint glasses.

Sam squinted. "Run that by me again?"

The way Bucky dresses never seemed fashionable until Sam started seeing a lot of Kate, who basically wears the same stuff except it costs thousands of dollars and has a lineage that sounds like a pedigreed dog, like adidas by Stella McCartney for Alexander McQueen. In the field, she's all purple-catsuit-business; the rest of the time, it's all drapey plum linen this, designer lavender leggings that.

"See, now you don't have to make eye contact with anyone, and you look cute," Kate says, settling a pair of aviators onto Bucky's face. "Don't frown. I'm going to—yeah, that's great." She tugs a few loose locks of hair free.

Bucky probes his bun, hopefully checking the structural integrity, probably feeling for weapons. "Does my hair need to be down?"

"Not unless you're auditioning for Metallica," Sam says.

"What's Metallica?" says Kate.

While Sam is deciding between turning up the volume on Rachel Maddow and retiring to Arizona, Steve comes in from the kitchen. "Are those my sunglasses?"

"Ah, good," Sam says. "You can pay for the pizza."

"Sometimes I like to think about the good old days," Steve says to Sam as they listen to the thudding of the dartboard in the next room. "Back when I got to wear my own sweaters."

"Back when they used to play music videos on MTV," Sam says wistfully as he puts another slice of pepperoni on his plate.

"Carson Daly, my man," Clint says from his perch on top of the massive oak hutch that Natasha got them from an estate sale, possibly as punishment for their sins.

Steve nods. "TRL."

Sam doesn't even want to know.

Chapter Text

Sam came in and almost tripped over Bucky, again. Bucky opened one eye and glared at him half-heartedly. He looked really comfortable and warm, sprawled on the sheepskin rug Sam had finally convinced him to use, taking up most of the entry way's sun spot.

He was also, as usual, bareass naked, but Sam was almost resigned to that by now. "Seriously, JB?" he said. "Not even yoga pants?"

Bucky closed his eyes and turned away. His dick flopped against the sheepskin, and Sam gave a silent prayer of thanks that Bucky used it now. Hysterically scrubbing the floor after Bucky had put his dick all over it had gotten old super fast.

"Come on," said Sam unsympathetically. "I got groceries to bring in, you gotta put on pants."

Bucky sighed deeply and rolled to his feet in one fluid motion. He pulled on the yoga pants and shirt from where he'd folded them up when he picked the sunspot, and toed on his boots. That meant he was having a pretty good day, so Sam let him follow him to the car and help him carry the groceries in -- the three of them generated approximately five fucktons of groceries every week. Bucky even managed to smile at one of the hipster moms running very slowly past their brownstone.

Sam dropped his bags down and said, "I gotta take the Zip Car back, you wanna come with?"

"I have to change clothes," said Bucky. It wasn't a no.

"That's fine, I'll put the perishables in the fridge," said Sam. "Go. Become less naked. Please."

Bucky went upstairs to -- please, dear God, please -- put on more clothing, hopefully including underwear, and Sam began stuffing the fridge. Sam ate a fair amount himself, but Steve's caloric needs were insane, and Bucky's only slightly less. Also, Bucky had one of the lowest appetites Sam had ever seen and lived mostly on Ensure and some hideous concoction that they had pulled from the HYDRA files. Steve hated it, silently and miserably. Bucky didn't appear to like it much either, but he would take it when he wasn't interested in any other food, so Sam made it for him.

Bucky came downstairs in thick denim jeans and one of Steve's sweaters, the one that one of Steve's USO ladybros had started knitting for him on tour and then never got to him after he went on active duty, and laid aside after he went into the ice. Seventy years later Steve got a package in the mail and there was the sweater, wool as good as the day she'd started on it on a train to Des Moines.

It was Steve's favorite sweater, and Bucky was forever taking it and wandering around with it all soft and draped around his still too-skinny frame. Steve always looked torn between irritation and desperately needing to bundle up Bucky in his arms. Sam briefly considering doing a weapon check and then shrugged mentally. Bucky was nearly as good at hiding weapons as Nat was, and it was pretty useless to sweep him for weapons when his left arm was always his most deadly one.

He didn't seem to be very armed, at least; one of those parachute cord bracelets, some sort of coiled metal thing holding his hair back, a heavy belt holding his jeans up, and whatever was holstered in the boots he was carrying. Sam himself was carrying a knife and thanks to copious quantities of Tony Stark's money, could carry concealed if he really wanted to, but he liked to be optimistic about things like that. "You gonna set off a metal detector?" he said.

"No," said Bucky, and then, like he was trying to be strictly honest, "not one in Park Slope."

"Fair enough," said Sam.

Bucky took point outside to the car and examined it suspiciously like he'd be able to tell if it had been booby trapped in the time Sam had been inside putting things away. Sam supposed it was technically possible but he didn't know how Bucky thought he was going to be able to tell.

Bucky let him drive the car, which was nice because Bucky's driving skills were mostly composed of combat situations and also getting away after assassinating someone, which was fine in context but less than suitable for ordinary driving in Brooklyn with small children and lawyers around. Instead, he kept a suspicious watch on everything around them.

“We're probably not going to be attacked in broad daylight,” said Sam mildly.

Bucky slanted a look over at him.

"Okay, we might," said Sam. "But let's hope for the best for once, yeah?"

Bucky snorted.

---

The Zip Car was across the street from a Starbucks. It was a pretty nice one, as they went: it had squashy seating for people who were bent earnestly over their laptops or talking to each other about how they were just so stuck on this scene, they really couldn't feel what their character wanted to do, you know? or talking about how this piece of code was just so fucked up, dude, or talking about the tax codes for multinationals and comparing lack of hours of sleep, like it was a contest.

It also had long tables and power outlets, and the staff seemed pretty nice, even if the guy barista was convinced that a bowtie made him look sophisticated instead of like a dipshit.

Sam said, "You want to get some coffee before we walk back?"

Bucky stared at the wide windows and glass doors, at the hipsters with their giant Timbuk2 and Chrome bags, at their baggy flannel and places to hide weapons, and then he looked at Sam, helplessly.

"We could tell Steve about it tonight," said Sam. "But if you don't feel ready, we can go home and eat his share of the ice cream. You did good coming with me to drop off the car, man."

Bucky straightened up his back. "I can do it."

Sam didn't thump him on the back, but he grinned at him delightedly. "We'll be quick," he promised. "You think you can pick something out, or do you want me to pick?"

Bucky said, "I dunno."

"That's fine," said Sam. "C'mon, before you lose your nerve, okay?"

Bucky marched in grimly beside Sam, looking like he was going to his own execution. The store was relatively empty, with only a lady with a running stroller and a baby and a few serious-looking hipsters typing on their MacBooks while they listened to God knew what fashionably disharmonious shit through headphones worth more than the rent of Sam's first apartment. He made it okay through the store but balked at the menu board and the chipper young lady smiling from behind the counter.

"Hi!" she chirped. "What can I get for you today?"

Bucky took an involuntary step back.

"Two grande pumpkin spice lattes," said Sam. "And, uh, two birthday cake-pops."

The girl said, "That will be fifteen dollars, please," and Bucky winced.

Sam pulled out his StarkCard and handed it to her. He liked being friends with Tony Stark's money, not only because there was always an exciting chance that Colonel Rhodes would be around looking long-suffering at Stark. Apparently there was a wince-worthy file or two about Bucky and Howard Stark's involvement in the Winter Soldier Project in the SHIELD files, and Stark felt like his best option was throwing money at him until he felt less guilty about his father's legacy.

Sam could have told him that it wasn't going to make him feel better, but it was kind of nice not having to pay for shit on his own dime.

"You want to find us a good seat, JB?" he said. Bucky looked relieved at being given a task. He moved off and looked around carefully. Sam watched him out of the corner of his eye as he signed the receipt and added a very generous tip. Bucky had pretty specific requirements for a good place to sit in public. His back had to be to the wall. The sightlines had to be clear. He preferred to have a hard backed chair because it was easier to get up and defend himself if he needed to. He also liked to be within eyeshot of any babies or dogs in the area, which was probably the only personal inclination Sam had ever seen him express in a public area.

There was an alcove area free in the back of the store, with a hard backed chair, a small table, and an armchair. Bucky made for it, looked around carefully, and then sat down in the hard chair, staring out of the window at a large Doberman sort of dog sitting with an air of bored patience for its human to return.

Sam got their coffees and cake pops and went back to where Bucky was sitting rigidly, like he was afraid lest someone catch him off guard. He handed one latte to Bucky and sat down in the soft armchair. He put his own latte down and pulled out the cake-pops. "These are pretty good," he said. "They're really sweet, though."

Bucky accepted it and sniffed it. Then he took a tiny nibble of the pink frosting, wrinkled his nose, and a further tiny nibble of the cake filling. His nose stayed wrinkled for a minute more, and then it slowly relaxed and he nibbled at the cake-pop very slowly, like he had to make sure it lasted the entire day.

Some days Sam genuinely couldn't figure out where Bucky got most of his issues from. Like, obviously there was the whole brainwashed, traumatized assassin fun, but reading between the lines of what Steve said, he had obviously started out with enough weirdness in his head to keep three psychologists busy for thirty years each.

The weirdest thing was that Steve obviously had no idea about it. Like, okay, they were best friends or whatever, but still, Bucky had apparently spent most of the Depression lying about how much food he had, where he had gotten it from, and how hungry he was, and keeping Steve from realizing that he was lying about it, which was partly a testimony to Steve's blind faith in him and mostly a testimony to Bucky's acting skills. The wonder was that the poor bastard wasn't even more fucked up over food than he was.

Still, he seemed to like the cake-pop, which was good. Sam ate his in a couple of bites so Bucky would stop just nibbling at his own: another one of his issues was that he would not eat if he thought someone else was going to want his food. It was terrible around Steve. They'd eventually accepted that Steve would have to take his full share and eat it with Bucky watching every movement like a hawk, and then push his plate away with at least a bite left over. Then, and only then, would Bucky eat his own food.

Shit was fucked up, as Sam's counselor used to say, and you just gotta deal.

With Sam obviously through with his own share, Bucky started nibbling more rapidly. It should have been funny watching him eat it so delicately, but it was actually sort of sad.

He finished it and put the stick down carefully on the empty paper sack, then picked up the pumpkin spice latte and examined it suspiciously. Sam had been through this song and dance with him before. He waited patiently while Bucky smelled it carefully and took one tiny sip. His eyebrows stayed drawn and suspicious for a minute before they relaxed and he took a longer sip.

Sam did a mental fist bump and calculated the amount of calories he was about to get down Bucky's throat. He kept a straight face, though. If Bucky thought he was being managed he would probably refuse to take another sip.

He took a drink of his own latte and watched as Bucky sucked down his own. He looked faintly betrayed when it was finished, and Sam said, very casually, "We could get you a frappuccino. Lots of whip on that."

Bucky visibly hesitated, torn between like seventy years of not expressing an opinion about something he liked and a pumpkin spice frappuccino.

"We could make Tony pay for it," said Sam.

Bucky despised Tony, in a distant sort of way: he knew he had to put up with him if he wanted any upgrades or maintenance on his arm, but he had heard the story about the first time Tony and Steve had met and he was never going to forget it, or forgive Tony.

"I'll get you a decaf venti," said Sam, standing up.

Bucky shrugged.

---

Bucky drank the venti really slowly, so by the time they walked home it was nearly dusk. Sam stuck his hands in his pockets and enjoyed the rare peace. Probably tomorrow -- or tonight, around two am -- he or Steve would get a call that someone needed their help or Bucky would have a nightmare and everything would be horrible, but for now it was a beautiful fall day and Bucky was no more paranoid than any other combat veteran, and Sam could relax. Bucky even moved his mouth in an upward direction at a baby sitting out on a door stoop with its mother and a large dog, eating it's own toes.

Then they got home and heard the strains of the Andrews Sisters advising people that they could just hit the road.

Sam looked at Bucky.

Bucky looked at Sam.

Sam pulled out his phone, turned on the camera, and they slunk quietly into the foyer and toed off their shoes before moving with exquisite, silent care to the living room.

Sam got thirty seconds of priceless footage of Captain America swinging his groove thang in boxer briefs to the Andrews Sisters before Steve shook it around to face the door and caught sight of them.

Sam hit stop on the recording and tossed the phone to Bucky. "Run!" he said, even as Steve lunged toward them and Bucky caught the phone and bolted toward his safe area in the attic.

Steve almost beat the crap out of him, but it was totally worth it for the way Bucky cackled the entire way to safety.

Chapter Text

Sam wasn't sure what Bucky and Steve would think of modern Halloween, but he thought they might enjoy it. He didn't expect them to go through a haunted house or whatever, but damn it, Sam liked trick or treaters and he'd be sorry if he had to not give them candy.

He brought it up with Steve about two weeks before while they were watching football and Steve had concluded a blistering commentary on football players wearing hot pink. "So I don't want to get JB wound up," said Sam carefully, "and no offense, man, you aren't so good about strangers either, but Halloween is coming up."

"Bucky's ma had a Halloween party once," said Steve. "For his friends, you know? And Bucky got mad because I refused to come because I didn't have a costume and wouldn't let him get me one, and then Ma found some old bandages and wrapped me up as a mummy."

That was almost heartwarming, as Steve's childhood stories went, so Sam waited for the punchline.

"She had candles lit up everywhere," said Steve. "I caught my bandages on fire and Bucky had to put me out with the apple-bobbing water."

Sam rubbed his face with his hand. "I don't even know why I ever ask you about your childhood any more, man."

"We didn't do a lot, though," said Steve. "By the time the kids started trick or treating or whatever they call it now we were too old. I think Bucky dragged me to a party during high school." He smiled reminiscently. "I painted myself as a skeleton and Bucky got mad at me."

"Why did --" began Sam, and then said, "You know what? Never mind. I don't want to know."

"I think it was because it wasn't that much of a stretch," explained Steve. "I was pretty skinny that October."

Sam tried to imagine what 'pretty skinny' had been by Steve's standards and came up with 'famine victim'. He shook his head. "Well, anyway, I don't want to have a party, but we should be getting a pretty fair amount of kids, you know? I don't want JB to get freaked out too hard."

"Freaked out about what?" said Bucky, behind him, and Sam jerked a foot in the air and swore.

"I told you to make noise!" said Sam, clutching his chest. Christ, that motherfucker could move like a god damn cat. "My nerves aren't what they used to be, asshole."

"Nobody's nerves are what they used to be," said Steve soothingly.

Bucky just stood and stared at them.

"So we're probably going to have a lot of kids on Hallowe'en," said Sam, trying to keep eye contact even though his eyes were watering. "And I don't know if we should just turn out the lights and watch, I don't know, Nightmare Before Christmas or if you're okay with the kids coming for candy."

Bucky thought this over.

"You don't have to decide right now," said Sam. "Like, we don't have to get candy yet." He did not say he was sort of scared to get candy before the last minute because both Bucky and Steve were terrifying candy monsters and Sam had once personally seen Bucky pour an entire bag of almond M&Ms in his mouth and swallow them nearly whole. "But if you let me know in time, my sister will bring Jodi and her brothers over so you can see their costumes."

Bucky brightened up a little bit.

"Well, if Bucky thinks he'll be okay," said Steve.

"They're not going to put stuff on our door or whatever?" said Bucky.

Sam and Steve stared at him, and Steve said, "I totally forgot you and that gang of assholes you ran around with did that every damn Thanksgiving."

"Thanksgiving?" said Sam.

Steve waved his hand, as if to suggest the story was long and kind of terrible and too long to explain to the modern American without copious quantities of liquor to smooth the way. If Steve thought that, it would probably require Sam to get blackout drunk to erase it from his head, so he didn't ask.

Bucky smiled.

"Oh Jesus," said Steve. "Of course that's a good memory for you."

Now Sam really didn't want to ask ever. "I don't think we're going to get people TP-ing us," he said. "We're probably going to get a lot of people early on, and maybe a couple after dark when the teenagers come out before the parties."

Bucky shrugged, which was as close to agreeing as he ever really got.

---

Sarah, somewhat to Sam's surprise, was totally down with bringing her kids over. "Your neighborhood has much better candy," she said. "And I can leave Jodi there before she gets too tired."

Sam didn't actually ask her if she was really sure she wanted to leave Jodi with them: Jodi loved Bucky and Bucky liked her probably second best of anybody, which, considering the first best was Steve, said something. "What's she dressing up as?"

"I was going to make her a ladybug but I think I'll make her Little Bo Peep instead," said Sarah thoughtfully. "Remember when I was Little Bo Peep and you were my sheep?"

"Yes," said Sam.

---

Natasha bought Bucky a hat and explained to him in Russian, what it was for, and Bucky examined it with interest and asked her a question back. Then they turned their creepy Russian assassin eyes on Steve, who took two large steps back and nearly ran into Sam.

"Ow," said Sam plaintively. Even a near miss with Steve was enough to make you feel good and crushed.

Steve reached behind himself and somehow half-lifted, half-pulled Sam in front of him.

"Hey!" said Sam.

"They're scary," said Steve piteously.

---

[[And then Bucky's Jodi's sheepdog for Halloween and Steve and Sam are her sheep and sorry guys I had a point and now I just want to get this thing out of my hair before it's completely ridiculous. The next real one should be the Blanket Wars, so look forward to that.]]

Chapter Text

SAM is with his family eating the shit out of his momma's cooking. BUCKY AND STEVE were originally going to be eating shitty Chinese food in their jammies -- Steve has plaid, Bucky has Minion -- and watching Animal Planet, for which they both have a disease, but then Pepper sent Happy with a giant-ass hamper full of like ALL OF THE THINGS FOREVER and they ended up having like ten pounds of turkey and never you mind how many pounds of side dishes plus like three pies. They have a good time by themselves watching, I don't even know what's on Animal Planet today, some awful show about this border collie - pit bull mix that was rescued from some horrible fate and had like ten surgeries and some tiny kid like, donates five dollars to its medical expenses and the community rallies around this dog and neither Bucky, Steve, nor I am ashamed to admit that buckets and pails of tears happened.

GOD I am conflicted about those shows, like I love them but I dislike the way I end up with tears dripping down my face and snot everywhere when the dog runs out joyously and the small child of the wonderful family that adopted it squeals and flings its arms around it.

Bucky and Steve cry QUARTS, okay, practically GALLONS.

Anyway they're perfectly happy cuddled up on the couch under about fifteen of those furry microfibre blankets, three actual tons of food, and the border collie / pit bull mix hesitantly wagging its tail at the vet assistant for the first time.

Steve's so happy he could burst with Bucky safe and warm and cuddled up with him and if he plays his cards just right he can put his head down on Bucky's shoulder just like he used to before ... everything ... and be surrounded by Bucky's scent and warmth and everything is awesome.

Bucky's feeling pretty good too, between the cozy soft blankets and the dog learning to trust humans and also Steve right there where he belongs, right where Bucky can see him. He's maybe not up to having a libido yet but it's awful real nice, having Steve close like this.

Sam, likewise, is having a great time at home shoveling all of the food forever into his mouth, like his mother is literally the best cook ever, you guys, you don't even understand. He has ham and three types of salad and two types of rolls and biscuits and turkey and green bean casserole but not the shitty type, no this is the delicious fresh type, and sweet potatoes with marshmallow on top and candied carrots and then he takes a deep breath in and he has cranberry sauce and more turkey and then he has roasted veg and stuffing and gravy. Then they waddle their way to the kitchen to help his momma clean up and afterward they collapse on the couches and sort of watch a football game but mostly snore. Sam has Jodi sacked out on top of him. Then they wake from their food comas and have pie and cake. It would take three years to describe the desserts Sam's momma can make, but there's pecan pie and pumpkin pie and cherry pie and four kinds of cake and the ceremonial first eggnog of the Christmas season.

--

When Sam comes home Steve and Bucky are sleeping off their Thanksgiving but they wake up when Sam closes the door and says he needs help because his momma has sent them some stuff, so Steve stretches, long long long, and then Bucky wakes up in a hurry because Oh my god, Sarah sent Jodi to stay with them while she does Black Friday and the day after Thanksgiving is full of BABIES and PIE.

They have a pretty good time.

Chapter Text

Sam spent Christmas Eve with his family and got home late, pleasantly tipsy from his father's hot buttered rum and sleepy with a full stomach and the smell of the old church, and walked in with piles of Tupperware for Steve and Bucky and some presents for them too. "Just little things," his mother had explained guilelessly. "Those poor boys."

"Momma, Steve knows Tony Stark," Sam had objected from behind his piles of Tupperware and two giant bags with penguins and snowmen on them, because Sam had learned everything he knew about being a shit from his dear mother. "Believe me, they'll get presents."

His momma sniffed in a way that suggested her opinion of Tony Stark and his ability to do anything but throw money at a shopper from a high-end department store. Which, Sam had to admit, was totally valid. "You just bring those poor boys that and if they're too proud to take them you tell them Jodi sent them," she said.

"Momma, you're evil," said Sam, respectfully.

Bucky would have probably prefered to have Jodi instead of presents from Jodi, but Sam had taken about fifteen million pictures of her in her tiny red and white velvet dress with the red and white headband clinging grimly to what little hair she had, so that would have to do.

He expected to find Steve and Bucky drinking cocoa and decorating the tree. The tree was a sore point. Sam's family put theirs up the day after Thanksgiving and took it down New Year's Day. The Poor Little Matchboys had put their tree up on Christmas Eve and taken it down January 6th, and Sam had heard about the way he'd taken up with a pair of Catholic white boys until he could recite the lecture in his sleep.

Upon further inquiry, it had turned out that Bucky's family generally put theirs up a few days before Christmas, but Steve and his mom thought it was a good year if they got a straight up Charlie Brown Christmas tree when when she dragged herself home from work Christmas Eve. And of course after Bucky had bulled his way into Steve's life after Sarah Rogers had died, Steve was too proud to let him get the tree early even when they had the money for it, so Bucky had made a virtue of necessity and pretended he liked putting the tree up on Christmas Eve, anyway.

Sam loved those stupid bastards.

When he took the pile of Tupperware into the kitchen, he almost stumbled over Barton's dog, who was lying in the middle of the kitchen with the expression of a martyr and the fart-aura of a minor nuclear weapon. He looked up at Sam and rolled over to expose his half-bald, stinky stomach, and Sam said, "What the hell."

He put the Tupperware in the fridge before he went to investigate. He had his priorities, and one of them was the preservation of his mother's chocolate pie from Clint Barton's dog.

In the living room, Steve was patiently putting individual pieces of tinsel on the tree in a pattern only known to his fussy artistic brain. As Sam watched, he took a step back and squinted at the total effect, and then moved one strand of tinsel to a needle about three millimeters away from it's first location, and then nodded to himself, satisfied.

Bucky was curled up in the squashy armchair he usually made Steve take, burritoed into a lump of wet hair and grumpy eyebrows. There was a snowflake crown on his head. He flicked his eyes toward Sam and then turned his head resolutely toward Steve again. Steve, come to look at him, was wearing a red and silver bow stuck to his head.

"Momma … sent you presents?" Sam ventured.

"Oh good," said Hawkeye the Male. "I love Momma presents."

Hawkeye the Female made a disagreeable noise and curled more tightly into the side of the couch. Hawkeye the Male had a giant bruise blossoming on his face, of course, and Hawkeye the Female's hair was sticking up in spikes. Some of it looked frizzled. Sam decided not to ask Steve, who was an evil troll at all the most inconvenient times, and who was clearly determined to ignore everything but his picture perfect Christmas tree.

"What," he said helplessly.

"Someone," said Hawkeye the Female, "not mentioning any names but someone with a stinky fart dog forgot to get his work wife a Christmas present."

Sam said, "Okay."

"It wasn't my fault," said Hawkeye the Male sulkily. "I forgot she was celebrating American Christmas and then I tried to go to Macy's to get her a new jacket."

"I am not drunk enough for this story," decided Sam, and put the presents under the tree. Steve made an irritated sound and moved them two feet away. He knelt down and put two more strands of tinsel on the bottom branches of the tree. Sam left him to it, and went to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a medium stiff whiskey.

"And then," said Hawkeye the Female ruthlessly, "he ended up stuck to the top of the tree in the women's lingerie section and had to call me for help."

Sam 5,000,000% did not want to know how that happened. "Okay," he said, slowly. "I'm going to regret this, but …. why are you here? Why is JB --"

"Barnes and I were practicing darts," said Hawkeye the Female, as if the idea of James Barnes in a pub dart contest was not a thought to strike fear and terror into the strongest of hearts. "So he went along with me."

"Actually," said Sam, "never mind, please don't tell me the rest of this story."

"The lady at the Yorkie rescue place was very nice," said Steve, not looking up from his fussy placement of every single gift under the tree.

"It didn't have a sweater," said Bucky. "It's too cold for a little dog not to have a sweater."

Sam took the rest of the whiskey at a shot. "Did you get Natasha's jacket, at least?"

"Yes," said Hawkeye the Female, "except then Barnes had to take the Yorkie to the rescue place and then the fountain happened and Clint had to pay a courier twice the cost of the jacket."

"Highway robbery," murmured Steve, pulling the tissue paper of a gift bag carefully straight.

"Okay," said Sam, finally, "I guess my real question is, why are you here?"

"Tasha's going undercover with the Brazilian mafia," said Hawkeye the Male.

"My father bought me a MacBook Pro and told me he was getting divorced again," said Hawkeye the Female.

"They want us to suffer with them," concluded Bucky.

The dog wandered into the room and let out an audible fart, redolent of rotten cheese and leftovers.

"I'm going to bed," said Sam. "Wake me up when Santa comes."

Chapter Text

Sam understood how much it meant for Steve to ask him and Bucky to go with him when he went to visit Agent Carter. He really did, and he was prepared to sit through Steve's driving for as long as he could before wrestling the steering wheel away from him and telling him that Bucky looked kind of tense.

Bucky, of course, was by mutual agreement never the driver unless they had to stage a getaway. Bucky was amazing at getaway driving, for fairly obvious reasons.

But it was still a hella long four hours, and Sam wasn't looking forward to the return trip when Steve would be quiet and stricken and Bucky would alternate from being just as stricken, and shoving Steve into the corner of the car and the most defensible spot of wherever they stopped to eat.

It would probably be easier on everybody's nerves if they could just fly down, but Bucky's arm and metal detectors were not a great idea, and no offense to anybody, but Steve wasn't hella good at planes and even Sam prefered to not be in the sky when he didn't personally know the pilot. And Steve had scruples about accepting help from Stark, or even Ms Potts, when he still spent most of his time looking wistfully at Stark's head like he'd really like him better if he could just smack him like a mother cat teaching a kitten manners. Just once.

So the Jersey Turnpike it was, and Sam didn't say anything, but he planned the trip so Bucky would have plenty of time to check for bombs after they stopped, and packed a picnic basket about half his weight. He also swallowed his pride and called Riley's family and asked if they would mind him borrowing the little apartment in the back of their house that Riley had used between deployments.

"Of course not, Sam," said Riley's mother. "You know you're welcome, any time."

Sam swallowed hard over the lump in his throat and managed, "I appreciate it, but I've got my friend Steve and JB and they're kind of --"

"In the service?" she guessed.

"Yeah," said Sam.

"They're still welcome," she said. "Would you like to have dinner with us? Give those boys some good home cooking."

"Well," said Sam, in an agony of awkwardness. Like, Riley's mom was the third best cook he knew, after his momma and his nana, but the thought of showing up for dinner with Captain America and a dead-eyed vet scoping out everything and glaring at their poodle like it was a time bomb was --- "Actually, um. My friend is named Steve Rogers."

There was a long, long silence.

"I see," she said finally.

"And my other friend, JB, he spent a lot of time over there. He got captured, and --"

"Hmm," she said.

There was another silence.

"Well," she said, "I guess I'll buy an extra roast."

Sometimes Sam missed Riley so much.


So after Sam carefully explained that Riley's mom had invited them for dinner, and Bucky had spent an hour pacing restlessly and staring at Sam and the picture of Riley on the mantel, they decided to leave early the first day, spend a full day driving if they had to, have dinner that night (before Steve saw Peggy and Bucky saw Steve seeing Peggy and everybody became a hot fucking mess, Sam did not add), go see Peggy the next day, spend the rest of the day recovering, and then drive home the third day.


The trip down went as well as Sam had privately suspected, and by that he meant Bucky had to spend half an hour examining the car every time they stopped for gas or Steve's super-serum gerbil bladder; Stark called and whined for half an hour without apparent pause for air about the way they were driving instead of taking a Stark Industries jet; and Steve looked more and more miserable and tense with every passing mile.

Also, fucking Jersey.

When they pulled into the DC suburb where Riley's family lived, everybody was done with everybody else. It was raining, of course, and when Steve swung his backpack over his shoulder he looked nothing like a symbol of manhood and America, and very much like a tired, heartsore vet with his world broken to pieces. Bucky looked at him sideways and then carefully bumped into his shoulder, telegraphing his movement. Steve smiled a little, but he still looked inexpressively weary.

Sam picked up his own bag and walked up to the porch, with Steve and Bucky behind him. The door swung open and Mrs Riley held Jazz back from bounding out. "Hi, Sam," she said. She looked over at Steve and Bucky. "Come in, just let me get Jazz under control." She looked down at him and said, "Find a toy!" and released him. Jazz skittered off in an agony of enthusiasm and a rattle of claws against the hardwood floor.

"Thank you for inviting us, ma'am," said Steve, with his Captain America smile. He held out his hand and Mrs Riley shook it.

"Oh, no, any friend of Sam's," she said easily. She looked at Bucky and didn't offer to shake his hand. Riley's dad had been in Viet Nam. "It's so nice to meet both of you boys. Sam, why don't you take them down to the apartment and get them settled before Jazz goes crazy. I hope you all like pie."

"Pie?" said Bucky, hopefully. It was the first thing he'd said since Steve had snapped at him for checking the gas cap five times.

"Pie," said Sam.

"So much pie," said Mrs Riley. "I made a pecan pie for you, Sam, and there's an apple pie and a lemon curd tart --"

The three of them probably broke a speed record getting to the apartment, throwing their stuff down, and getting back.


Sam insisted that they sleep in a bit the next morning. Steve never slept more than three or four hours at a time, of course, and Bucky would probably always be That Guy Getting Up To Check The Locks and Windows Every Two Hours, but if they lay in bed after they woke up they both were slightly less tightly wound. Sam had taken the hideabed, not out of any unselfishness, but because if Steve and Bucky shared the bed they would sleep better which meant that Sam would get a good night's sleep too.

Still, Steve was up and prowling by seven am, and Bucky was up shortly thereafter. Sam tried to sleep until eight, but he wasn't immune to the nervousness pouring off Steve in waves. It got worse as they went for a run, took turns in the shower, and ate breakfast. It was affecting Bucky too, which in turn made Steve more wound up, which made Bucky more wound up, which made Sam develop a pounding headache by eleven am. It was almost a relief to drive to Peggy's home.

The hospice was a pretty white building set a little back from the road; it had a wide porch plants growing over the black iron fence. It had a secured section in back for wandering dementia patients, and it smelled like lemon detergent and flowers. Steve had brought flowers for Peggy, and he carried the great sheaf of red roses like it was his shield. Bucky trailed after him, looking pale and serious; he carried the vase for the roses carefully, like it might shatter if he so much as flinched. Sam, bringing up the rear, couldn't help but think what an absurd procession they made. The nurses and caregivers didn't pay much attention to them, at least: they were used to it. Sam could hear the dim sound of someone calling Bingo in what must be the main common area, and one of the caregivers smiled politely at them. "Here for Miss Peggy?" she said.

"Yes'm," said Steve, dredging up a smile.

"She's having a real good day today," she said. "She'll be glad to see you, I bet."

"I hope so," said Steve.

When they reached her room, Sam and Bucky hung back a little, almost instinctively. Steve rapped gently at the half open door. "Peggy?" he said. He spoke gently, like he did when Bucky was having a bad day.

"Steve," said Peggy Carter. Sam couldn't see much over Steve's broad shoulder, but from the way Steve's shoulders relaxed he thought that Peggy was pretty alert.

"Hey, beautiful," said Steve. "I brought some people to see you."

"Darling, how sweet, but one handsome man is enough for me," said Peggy. Steve stepped into the room, and Sam came in. "Well, the more the merrier, I suppose."

"Peggy, this is my friend Sam. He was in the Air Force and now he's in the VA as a counsellor and helps with the Avengers," said Steve.

"Ma'am," said Sam, and held out his hand. Peggy took it and held it for a minute. Her hand was cold and dry. Her skin was soft, and Sam felt big and awkward beside her. She smiled up at him for a second.

"It's a pleasure," she said, then addressed the door. "Well? Are you going to just lurk there, Barnes, or are you going to join us like a civilized gentleman for once?"

Sam stared at her.

"I hated it when you did that," said Bucky, coming in reluctantly. He came up to the bed and they looked at each other for what was perhaps thirty seconds but felt like a small eternity. Finally Bucky set the vase down and reached out to tuck a lock of white hair behind Peggy's skull. "Hi, Carter. Thought you'd got rid of me, I see."

"Oh, I never thought that," said Peggy. "Well? What's your story? Those wretched girls are always trying to hide the newspapers from me, but I heard about the fiasco." Her lips tightened.

"Aww, Carter, you can't help idiots," said Bucky. He sounded more like a real person than Sam had ever heard him.

"Speaking of idiots," said Peggy sharply.

"Oh no," said Bucky, glaring at her. "You promised."

"You promised too," said Peggy, glaring back.

Steve blinked. It was clear this was the least attention Peggy or Bucky had paid to him since before he'd swan-dived into the Arctic.

"Don't ask them, man," said Sam. "Don't do it, you'll regret it ---"

"Promised what?" said Steve, proving again that he had approximately the sense of self preservation of a suicidal lemming.

Peggy and Bucky glared at him until he cowered back, and then returned to glaring at each other. Then, both at once, "I told you to take care of him."

"Oh Christ Jesus," said Steve prayerfully.

"Oh jeez," said Sam.

Chapter Text

Steve was the only one who was surprised when Bucky took the Sorting Hat test at Pottermore and came up as a Hufflepuff.

Steve thought Bucky was a Gryffindor. Steve was still reeling from the betrayal of everybody, including Pepper Potts and Sam's mother, looking at him and saying "Slytherin, totally a Slytherin" after he complained about being sorted into it. Steve was really invested in Bucky, at least, being a Gryffindor.

Also, Steve had a charming blind spot about Bucky and how he would totally be brave and noble and shit for anybody or anything except for the extremely narrow range of people that he loved, but Sam was willing to leave him that illusion.

Clint said, "Caw caw, badger bros forever," and held up his hand for a high five. Nat stuck her lower lip out briefly and said, "You could have cheated enough to be in Slytherin too, you know."

Bucky just stared at her. She said, "Well, you could have."

"Am I the only Gryffindor in this room?" Sam wondered.

"There's always Thor," said Clint.

"I like these frogs," said Bucky, and Steve lunged over to shove all of Sam's chocolate frogs into his hands.

Chapter Text

Sam walked into the kitchen and then he almost walked straight back out again, because Steve was looking at a cookbook he'd bought specifically because his mom had had it and then speculatively at the oven.

It wasn't that Steve was a bad cook. He was pretty amazing at anything that got put on a stove burner and simmered for four hours, and he was weirdly good at making rice. But baking was a challenge.

By that Sam actually meant Steve was a super-perfectionist asshole who was very upset that he couldn't bake for shit and had once been defeated by "anybody can make these -- Clint can make these" cookies and spent a week sulking about it.

"That's not a hill you want to die on," said Sam, because he was genuinely a good person and a good friend. "Make like Elsa, man, Let it go."

"This cake only has four ingredients," said Steve, sticking his jaw out. "I can handle that."

"No," said Sam. "You know what you can handle? Putting your coat on and walking with me to Angel Food."

"I wanted to make him a cake," said Steve. "His ma always made him a cake."

Sam took a deep breath and did not suggest that Winifred Barnes probably did not have the magical ability to infuse everything she made with the taste of despair and homesickness, to the extent that even Clint Barton's dog would sniff at it and then just look up at Steve like 'why are you trying to murder me this time'. "You know what he'd like more than a cake?" he said instead. "Just a thought, but work with me here, Rogers: I bet JB would like it better if you bought twenty four cupcakes with dye-free organic ingredients and brought him back the ingredient list so he could do his thing" -- his thing, in this case, was check the ingredients against some mysterious, long buried list in his head, of things that would or would not kill Steve -- "and then spend the day with him on the couch, watching movies in your pjs and eating cupcakes."

Steve hesitated. "But--"

"You know they put little toys on top?" said Sam. "My nephew got a little robot ring last time and JB thought it was the illest thing he'd ever seen."

Steve sighed heavily. Steve hated relaxing, but there was nothing Bucky liked more than having Steve curled up beside him, watching something cheerful and uplifting on the television. Steve apparently felt like he didn't deserve it, but then -- Bucky did, his muddled guilt-thinking went, so what was he supposed to do?

Sam had not been previously aware it was possible to cuddle like a martyr, but he'd been over watching it in like, five seconds.

Also, Bucky loved squirreling things away; Sam was always coming across little caches of Jodi's barrettes, or Natasha's hair ties, or buttons, or little carefully wound balls of twine. They were always careful and tidy and small, but Bucky obviously loved them. He would probably lose his shit over a bunch of tiny toys to keep and gloat over.

"Hey," said Sam, more gently, "Let's try it like this. How about for JB's birthday, you let yourself enjoy his company without feeling like you don't deserve it? I think he'd like that. He'd like that a lot."

Steve was tense for a second longer and then slumped all over at once. "Okay," he said.


The lady at Angel Food Bakery had tattoo sleeves that Steve was always trying to look at without being rude about it; he was fascinated by their beauty and how much time they had obviously taken. Not that he'd ever said that out loud; Sam had a feeling Steve felt like if he'd tried he'd say something like "I sure do think your arms are pretty, ma'am" and have to sink into the ground and become one, at last, with the borough of Brooklyn to escape his shame.

She also was 50,000% percent committed to making Steve smile and blush at her, so it was probably just as well Bucky wasn't with them. Bucky had conflicting, inarticulate opinions about people making Steve smile and blush.

"What would you like today?" she said, leaning forward. She had a beautiful chest-piece of Victorian birds holding ribbons and flowers that Steve also admired and tried not to look at, and Sam bit his lip to keep a straight face. "Our special is the gluten free soy free dairy free dye free vanilla bean tapioca cakes with vegan cream cheese frosting. Or," she added with a conspiratorial wink, "we have organic vanilla cake with a egg custard filling and a buttercream frosting."

Steve's eyes went huge, like they always did. "Um."

"We have pink champagne with rose frosting," continued the lady ruthlessly, pointing at probably the prettiest cupcakes Sam had ever seen, pale, golden pink, with the frosting piped on to look like the top was one unfolding rose, with silver and pearl sugar balls balanced delicately on the petals to suggest early morning dew. "The frosting is made with artisanal small-batch rosewater sourced from a small family farm in Portland, Oregon and fresh organic cream. Or, of course, we have devil's food cake with organic, free trade cocoa and free-trade organic dark chocolate glaze."

Steve turned mutely pleading eyes to Sam, who took a step back and raised his hands.

Steve looked back at the lady, and somehow managed to look from under his eyelashes at her, which was kind of a trick, considering he was …. Steve …. and she was approximately five foot nothing. "I just want birthday cupcakes," he said. "For my friend."

The lady eyed him benevolently and reached under the counter. "I actually thought you might come in today." She pulled out a bakery box and set it on the counter, and opened it to reveal twenty four cupcakes, yellow cake, buttercream frosting, with small toys ranging from Captain America's shield to pink robots on top.

Sam and Steve both stared at them, and then at her.

"I guess my grandma dated James Barnes for a while," she said. "She said he really liked her cake recipe."

"Ma'am, I could kiss you," said Steve fervently.

"What's stopping you?" she said. Steve leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek, and she pinched his other cheek. "That will be $78.38, please."


Bucky ate half the cupcakes and slept for like three hours with Steve petting his hair, and Steve was so relaxed Sam was half afraid he was going to melt off the couch and take Bucky with him.

It was pretty great.

Chapter Text

Natasha had "borrowed" Bucky, partly because she needed a sniper that did not have a magnetic attraction to dumpsters and mostly (Sam suspected) she wanted someone to sit in the back of sketch Russian cafes and silently consume pelmeni with. Also Bucky, as far as Sam had been able to tell, liked dressing like a Russian gangster, complete with aviators and loud prints.

"Bucky's always had wild taste," said Steve.

"His sister saved his suit," said Sam flatly. "I saw it. It's navy blue serge. It's at the Smithsonian."

Steve just looked at him and shook his head, slowly and sadly, as if mourning the ignorance of the rising generation.

Anyway, so for a week Bucky and Natasha had been off being terrifying and broken people together and Sam and Steve had been rattling around the brownstone. It felt bizarrely empty considering that Bucky spent most of his time wedged into a sort of nest he had built himself in the attic, where he chewed his way through his daily allotment of protein cubes and read pulp novels, or following the patch of sun as it moved through the living room and glowering when Sam almost tripped on him and then made a pained involuntary sound at the sight of white dude penis.

It was probably good for Steve.

Sam was making chili for supper and Steve was hunched over his laptop, chuckling low and spiteful in his throat as he composed replies to conservative family groups inviting him to speak at their events.

"You're going to do something to your back," said Sam, sniffing at the steam rising from the pot. "You have a standing desk, why don't you use it?"

"'I would be happy to speak at your function if, of course, it is opened by a priest'," read Steve out loud. "I don't like the desk, it's too far away from everything."

"What type of priest?" said Sam, briefly diverted, even as he promised himself another talk with Steve about his anxiety levels. Like, usually he was fine, and then he would turn around and either avoid people or be octoSteve, clinging with every sucker he had.

"I was thinking one that could say prayers in Latin, if they take me up on it," said Steve. "They think the Jesuits are going to produce the anti-Christ."

"Jesus," said Sam, appalled, and then, "What if they find one?"

"I think they believe in the headship of men, so I should be fine if I ask for a female priest," said Steve.

"What the fuck is wrong with people?" said Sam.

"It's okay," said Steve. "They said I should do a talk about the differences between now and when I was born."

Sam started to reply and was interrupted by a pounding on the door. Steve looked at him and tilted his head. Clint was, as far as they knew, safely in the hospital with Kate explaining to him with small words and diagrams why people who were pushing forty should not be attempting to slip the surly bonds of earth, and Sam's family rang the doorbell like civilized humans.

Sam put the lid on the chili and went to the door. Steve followed a casual distance behind, hovering just close enough to a convenient pointy sculpture to grab it if he had to. They had a lot of pointy statues all around the house, because Natasha was justifiably paranoid and also loved hideous Brutalist shit, almost as much as she loved the way Steve reeled back from her latest finds like he smelled rotting dog poop. When Sam opened it, Tony Stark burst in, making a noise like an enraged weasel, and almost knocked Sam over.

"What the hell?" said Sam.

Steve stepped away from the mosquito and relaxed a little.

"BARTON," hissed Stark. "BARRRRTOOOOOOON."

"What?" said Steve.

"He beat me!" screamed Tony, almost frothing at the mouth with rage.

"Tony, I've told you before not to play poker with him," said Steve tiredly. "I know you can count cards but your poker face is for shit and he's ten times better at sleight of hand."

"I don't care if he beats me at poker!" snarled Tony. He actually probably didn't; Clint had money in some mysterious way but he was a pauper compared to Tony, and Tony had an itchy wallet when it came to people he liked. Also he was extremely offended by Clint's flophouse in Bed-Stuy. Everybody was except Steve and Bucky, who thought that as decrepit apartment buildings went, it was at least ten times better than the one Bucky had bullied Steve out of after his mother died. "The asshole beat me at Prime/Not Prime!"

There was a silence. Sam looked over at Steve, whose eyebrows were up and whose mouth was tucked up just slightly into a smile, like he wanted to laugh but was resisting.

"I don't even want to know how this even came up," said Sam finally.

"I visited him in the hospital and I brought him new arrows out of the kindness of my heart," said Tony sullenly, "and he beat me. Me!"

Sam pulled his phone out of his pocket and started Googling.

"8,081," said Sam.

"Prime," said Steve, followed by Tony about five seconds later.

"9,179."

"Not prime." Steve was again a little faster, and Tony looked annoyed.

"104,911."

"Prime," said Steve.

"What the fuck!" said Tony.

"It's not that hard," said Steve. Sam and Tony both stared at him and Sam coughed a noise like "SERUM" at him. "No, really. Bucky and I used to do it, when I was sick, I mean."

"If this is one of your poor little matchboy stories I'm going to go turn the chili down," said Sam. "You want a soda, Stark?"

"I don't know why you call us the poor little matchboys," said Steve, following Sam into the kitchen. "I never saw my grandmother by the light of a single match on Christmas day."

"Your knowledge of that shit disturbs me," said Tony. "Both of you disturb me."

Sam turned down the chili and got out the bowls and the ingredients to make cornbread. "Okay, Gramps, tell us about your sad childhood playing math for fun with your best friend."

"You think you're funny," said Steve, "but there wasn't a lot to do during winter, you know? We couldn't afford much lighting and I wasn't allowed to read after dark because of my eyes, and there's only so much knitting you can do at once."

"Knitting," repeated Stark.

Steve gave him a look that dared him to make something of it, and Stark solemnly zipped his lips, locked them, and threw away the key.

"So … math games?" said Sam.

"Yeah," said Steve. "Or, you know, chess or checkers. It's not like we had that 2048 thing."

"I bet you cheated," said Stark darkly. Steve was a rotten and confirmed cheat, although he said it was 'just luck, Sam' and 'why would I bother to cheat at Go Fish, Sam, I'm Captain America'.

"I would never," said Steve, looking at him with huge and innocent blue eyes, probably the same look he'd perfected on suspicious nuns and priests. Sam bet it hadn't worked so well on them, either. "I'm just really good at chess. I had time to practice."

"Uh huh," said Sam.

"I can't believe Dad was in love with you," said Stark sourly. He shoved his hands in his pockets and glowered at nothing in particular.

Oh, boy, thought Sam. He'd known this was going to come up eventually.

"Well, he wasn't," said Steve, calmly. "Not really."

Stark didn't even justify that with a reply. He just stared at Steve and let his eyebrows go up.

"He's got a point, man, it's pretty famously a part of the thing where his dad spent a jajillion dollars looking for you in the deep freeze," said Sam, pulling his bowls out.

Steve hesitated. It was easy to forget how observant he was sometimes, how carefully he thought about stuff. It was a weird thing sometimes to see the person who spent most of his time going off in a rush to hit people's fists with his face explain why he'd thought it was the right thing to do. Of course some of it was basically "I have a martyr complex and a death wish and I've seen too many people I love die" but sometimes. Sometimes Steve came out with stuff like:

"I know he liked me," said Steve. "I think he was attracted to me. But if he was in love with me, it was because he was in love with Captain America."

"But you're Captain America," said Stark.

Steve shook his head. "I liked Howard an awful lot but we didn't really spend that much time together. We met the day of the Vita-Ray experiment and then I didn't see him again but once or twice until the day he flew me to rescue Bucky, and after that I -- I don't think he really saw Steve Rogers, you know?" He twisted his mouth in a shape that wasn't quite a smile. "Not like Peggy or Bucky, or Dr Erkstine. They loved me before I was like this. Howard might have liked Steve Rogers okay but what he was really in love with was the -- idea of it, I guess. Falling in love with something he'd created. He was pretty romantic sometimes."

"Jesus," said Stark. "Every time I wonder how much more ---"

"It was fucked up," said Steve. "How Howard turned out after the war."

The room was silent for a while, and Sam mechanically measured out the flour and cornmeal and put them in a bowl. He pulled the buttermilk and eggs from the fridge and started the cornbread.

"It wasn't your fault," said Stark. He looked much older than Steve suddenly, tired and resigned. "You know that."

"It was still fucked up," said Steve. "I'm sorry for that."

The silence was much shorter this time before Stark blew out an annoyed breath. "It still wasn't your fault," he said. "Christ. I'm done with it. Let's talk about the way you're a dirty cheating asshole and I hope you took my old man to the cleaners."

Steve said, "I felt bad about it sometimes."

"Lies," said Sam.

"Maybe a little lies," said Steve.

Chapter Text

At five thirty am, Sam heard Steve get up, both feet on the floor at once, and say, "Wow, Buck, lookit that sunrise!"

There was a muffled zombie noise from Bucky.

"Come on, it'll be a beautiful day for a run," said Steve. "I'll wake Sam up. We can go through the park before it gets crowded."

There was another angry zombie noise from Bucky, and then a muffled thump, like he'd tried to get out of bed and rolled out instead.

Shuffling. The door to Sam's room creaked open.

"Sam?" said Steve. "Sam, do you want to go for a run?"

Sam lifted his hand in the air and folded down three fingers and a thumb.

More shuffling.

"Are you sure? Come on, it's gorgeous outside! Don't you want to enjoy it?"

"Go to hell, Army," said Sam from under his pillow.

"We could get bagels," said Steve.

"No, Steve," said Sam. "Don't let the door hit you where the good Lord split you."

"Can't, Bucky's crawling through it," said Steve.

This actually got Sam's attention enough to pull his head out and squint blearily toward the door. There was a large pink worm-creature wriggling its way to the bed, which, once Sam managed to focus, turned out to be Bucky wrapped in his fuzzy blanket from residential therapy. They'd initially been very apologetic about letting Bucky chose it, but Steve pointed out that Bucky'd had four sisters who had regularly practiced their pin curl technique on him, and also that hot pink microfleece was probably the furthest thing Bucky could think of from cold freeze and slow-thawing.

The worm creature slithered its way across the floor, reared up and rolled in an ungraceful movement over Sam to the far side of the bed by the window.

"Kill me," said the worm creature. "Kill him. Kill someone. Let me sleep."

"I feel you," said Sam, retreating under his pillow.

Steve sighed and Sam knew he was looking at them fondly. Bucky knew it too, because he took Sam's Air Force Build-A-Bear from Sarah off the headboard of the bed, and fired it at Steve.

"Fine, if you don't want to go out and enjoy this wonderful weather," said Steve, putting Major Bear carefully on the bed again.

"We really don't," said Sam. "Goodbye, Steve."

Steve closed the door.

"See if I sleep with him again," muttered Bucky.

"Hey, good job sleeping in a bed!" said Sam, and then wondered bleakly how his life had come to this. "Only, uh, maybe next time try your own and not Captain Asshole's?"

"He looked so warm," said Bucky. "And then --"

"I know, buddy, I know," said Sam.

Sam drifted back toward sleep, but something occurred to him. He reached over and patted at Bucky over the blankets, down his back and toward his hip.

"I'm wearing boxers, dickface," said Bucky sleepily.

"Man's gotta draw a line," said Sam, into the pillow. It was warm with Bucky in the bed. Unlike Steve, Bucky could share a bed without soaking up all the space up like a mold, and he also ran a constant, low-grade super-soldier fever. It was their metabolism or something, Sam didn't know exactly and cared less. "When do you think he's gonna get back?"

"I don't give a rat's ass," said Bucky. To prove it, he stole one of Sam's pillows and tucked himself more closely into his bright pink cocoon.

Sam didn't either, as it turned out.

When Steve got back, he flung himself across the bed and both their torsos. "Good morning!" he said.

"Fuuuuuuccckkkk meeeeee," said Sam from beneath 250 pounds of enthusiasm. Steve Rogers did not smell like justice and liberty. He smelled like gross white dude.

"This wasn't fucking cute when you were a hundred pounds, either," said Bucky. "Oh God, I'm having a flashback."

"What, really?" said Sam.

"Yes, of Dum-Dum Dugan's armpit in my face," said Bucky.

"Yeech," said Steve.

"So why don't you take it away?" said Sam. "Take your triggering armpit away from us before you make JB have an episode."

"It's seven thirty!" said Steve. "It's a beautiful day outside! I've got my best friends here and --"

"I don't know how you let him survive that long," said Sam to Bucky. "I really admire you, man, that must have taken a lot of patience and self-control. I would have smothered his skinny ass just for another hour of sleep."

"Wake upppppp," said Steve, rubbing his sweaty head all over Sam's nice comforter and Sam's shoulder under it.

"He used to crash after half an hour if you ignored him," said Bucky from under his pillow. "It was nice."

"Fine, I'm going to eat all the donuts by myself then," said Steve, making as if to push himself up. "And the bagels." He got as far as rolling off Sam before Bucky clamped his left hand around Steve.

"No, you're not," said Bucky. "You're going to go to the kitchen and turn on the coffee maker and not eat any donuts until we get there."

"I don't know," said Steve. "I got those donuts by being at the shop when they opened. There was a line. Maybe I should keep them."

"Being ticklish isn't a flaw, Rogers," said Bucky, with genuine menace. "They didn't fix it."

"Is he really?" said Sam, lifting his head. "Man, is that just a Irish thing? Riley was ticklish as all fuck."

"Let's not be hasty," said Steve. "How about -- how about I go start the coffee pot and take a shower and let you fellas wake up on your own time, how's that?"

"Sure," said Sam graciously. "That sounds great."

Bucky uncovered his eye and looked at Sam. A single look passed between them, but it was enough. When Steve tried to pull away from Bucky, Bucky let him go just long enough for Sam to lunge in and get his hand under Steve's shirt and draw his fingers against Steve's torso. Steve shrieked and flailed straight into Bucky's waiting arms. Bucky headbutted him and sent him crashing to the floor before reaching for Steve's armpit.

"Fuck you!" gasped Steve, rolling up like a dung beetle. "I'm going to go and eat all the donuts myself now!"

"No, you're not," said Bucky, looking down at him.

"No, I'm not," said Steve.

Chapter Text

lysapadin replied to your post:*ROLLS AROUND*

Sam, his pet assholes, and the kitten. (what kitten? I don’t know, you tell me.)

JERSUS CHRIST OKAY BUT BUCKY LOVES CATS BUCKY LOVES CATS SO MUCH I MEAN HAVE U MET STEVEN GRANT ROGERS HE IS THE MOST CATLIKE

ALSO BUCKY IS LIKE, I LOVE THE CAT BUT I CANNOT HAVE THE CAT BECAUSE I CANNOT TAKE CARE OF CAT OMG SORRY BABBY CAT I WOULD LIKE TO BE YOUR HUMAN AND CUDDLE U AND STUFF

anyway so sam is like, wow you really like the cat don’t you and Bucky is like “I am literally terrified I will like do something terrible to it accidentally” and sam is like, no, no, this is good, we can cat sit, this will be therapy and shit

steve, by the way, does not particularly care for cats, like they’re there or whatever but tbh his cat meter is completely filled by being around tony stark

so sam arranges to be cat foster parents to see how it goes and bucky one hundred thousand million billion trillion quintillion percent loses his shit and also the plot and spends three weeks waking up every two hours to syringe milk into this tiny kitten’s gullet and steve is like “im honestly kind of having creepy flashbacks to the winter of 1934″ and sam is like “jesus fucking christ I’m terrified to ask how you ever survived anything ever” and steve is like, “hint: you see that sad runt kitten buck is cleaning the ass of? Yup.”

and then bucky raises ALL the kitten successfully and then he’s like “I should let it go to good home :((((((((((((((" and natasha is like “you fuckin idiot” and that’s how natasha gets a cat named Cat.