Steve offered Bucky his bed when he finally shows up and slept on the couch. Bucky doesn’t sleep much but the offer was nice and he closed the door so Steve could think he was sleeping.
The next morning, after Bucky finally managed to sleep for a couple hours sitting on the floor inside the door with his back up against it and a hunting knife next to his hand, he emerged to find Steve making pancakes with Sam.
"Since when do you eat flapjacks?" he asked Steve, folding his arms.
Steve shrugged. “No rations,” he said like that explained why he liked a food Bucky definitely had a memory of him pushing away uneaten.
Sam tossed Bucky an apple. Bucky, who had idly brought the hunting knife tucked into his sweatpants, pulled it out and sliced the apple in half as it passed him by. He plucked one of the halves out of the air and bit into it.
"Apple a day keeps the doctor away," said Sam.
"Yeah, then make sure he’s getting enough,” said Bucky, pointing to Steve with the knife. Waste of time, throwing fruits his direction.
Steve rolled his eyes and threw an orange at Bucky. He sliced that one in thirds in midair just because.
Sam came over most mornings, it turned out. He always handed Steve the Sports section of the paper and read through all of the Arts.
Bucky didn’t care much about current events—regimes change and innocent blood gets spilled every day—but he liked to look over Sam’s shoulder sometimes at the paintings. The memory wasn’t solid yet, but he knew he had dreamed of museums and galleries for Steve once.
Then one morning, Sam handed him the Arts when he handed Steve the Sports.
"I’m not gonna take your—" Bucky said, appalled and a little annoyed.
Sam snorted. “You give it to me when you’re done, asshole.” He rolled his eyes. “We share.”
Bucky sighed. Sam was making such a mess of this, honestly. But there was a review of a new exhibit at MoMA and, yeah, he wanted to read that.
They went to a baseball game on Tony’s dime. Steve was enthusiastic but the crowds were bigger and louder than Bucky remembered. He hunched down in his seat and flinched each time the guy next to him bumped his arm.
Sam laughed at Steve a lot that day and threw cracker jacks at his face at least three different times. The last time emptied his box and even though there was a guy selling them walking the aisles, he insisted on going to find a concession stand.
"You’re gonna miss the game," Bucky pointed out. "I’ll go."
Sam shrugged his shoulders and looked vaguely innocent.
Bucky slipped over the side of the bleacher and scaled the column down. He snagged three boxes of cracker jacks while the concession stand guy wasn’t looking—though he never did look up—and then climbed back up the column. He took a minute nestled into the crook under the bleacher, feeling the rumble of feet and excitement above him.
He breathed in and out.
Sam took the cracker jacks knowingly. Steve pretended not to know anything.
Bucky was struck by how similar they were, his Steve and Steve’s Sam.
"Cute trick," he warned Sam in his ear later. "But save the head-shrinking for him, OK?”
Sam didn’t shrug, but he looked a little sadly at Bucky.
It came to a head when Sam came over to Steve’s apartment even though both he and Bucky knew Steve was on an assignment with Natasha somewhere top secret in Asia.
Bucky had perched in the window overlooking the crowds going in and out of Stark Tower and counting how many people looked like someone he had killed. It was an exercise that filled two purposes: it helped him remember things sharper and it made him feel things he shouldn’t forget.
"Man, you’re going to drive yourself mad doing that," said Sam quietly from behind him. He hadn’t noticed Sam come in, hadn’t registered the footsteps approaching his undefended back.
"None of your business," said Bucky mulishly. "Steve’s your business. That’s it."
Sam sighed and it sounded properly sad this time, not any of the bullshit empathy stuff he’d been throwing around recently.
"I don’t know how I can convince you that I have time for you and him,” said Sam finally.
"It’s not time I’m worried about," said Bucky. He looked back at Sam. "It’s space."
"You think there’s not room in this Tower for all three of us?" asked Sam, brow furrowed.
"Nah, not that kind of space."
He was more worried that trying to help Bucky—caring about Bucky with all his black hole of pain—might use up someone else’s heart. He’d sure as hell used up his own.
He didn’t say it out loud, but Sam seemed to understand anyway.
"More than enough space there too," he said. "Is it OK if I hug you?"
Maybe if he was a black hole, Sam was whatever the opposite of that was. Maybe he spent heart the way Bucky spent his pain.
"Yeah, whatever," he said.