A/N: As in the last chapter, there is a tagged {{{{{bracketed}}}}} portion for skipping mature scenes. This chapter ends with it though, so should you prefer, stop at the first indicator.

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR—December 14th, 2039

She had actually floated in clouds before, yet this was better. Sam's heart was light and unburdened for the first moment in…she could not remember how long. Everything went soft around her, lights, textures, sounds, thoughts. For a moment, she was hardly there, wherever there was.

Then she returned, unburdened still.

Sam lay on a bed, warm but uncovered, full yet emptied. She smiled when Bucky leaned over to cradle her face, in total awe and disbelief in her luck.

"Hey," she replied to whatever he was saying.

He was all concern and terror. Why? Was it bad? Did he think he'd hurt her?

His hands made to hold her face but he hesitated, arms adjusting to not touch her shoulders, to not touch her arms. Finally, he landed on scrambling off the bed to flip the quilt over her. It was when he leaned to ensure the fabric did not smother her face that she heard his muttering. "What did you do?"

Sam's body became responsive again, so she sat up lazily. "I'm ok, Buck. It's not like—" she blushed faintly "—I wasn't a virgin or anything. You didn't hurt me."

It was the wrong thing to say. The fuss and fear doubled in his sharp grey eyes instantly. Bucky snatched his shorts from the floor, and thundered to the bathroom, growling "what the hell" through clenched teeth.

She swung her legs off the foot of the bed and listened, muffled ravings wafting from a gap between the floor and the doorframe. Sam offered a tentative call. "Um, Buck? Are you al—"

"You idiot," he barked from inside, followed by a rattling bang. The tink of tile pieces hitting the floor signaled an offending fist withdrew slowly.

Sam swallowed before letting out an exaggerated sigh. All in all, this was the worst reaction she ever imagined, especially since disgust seemed to be coming after sex, instead of disgust preventing sex as she would have predicted.

However, alarm and guilt never manifested. She remained warm and fuzzy. Intriguing.

She was thirsty. That was it. That's all Sam could think to do.

Sam grabbed her sweatshirt from the hall hook and juice in the kitchen. Drinking straight from the bottle, thoughts vague and plain—what time is it? Is it snowing in all that dark? Do the Rogers have cereal?—Sam stood at the sink, pleasantly recognizing the smooth, hard tile beneath her bare feet and the cool, rounded knob of the cabinet against her knee.

Bucky's comm tablet sat by the sink, screen flashing on to show another message from her father.

STARK: Avoid vultures

Curious, Sam thought, but it only occurred to her that she had no idea where her own tablet was. She had not seen it for the better part of a year—another notable consideration that she wanted to write down—but concern never took root. She just took another long swig of juice.

She heard the footsteps before watching Bucky's clothed reflection approach in the window.

"Samantha," he huffed, eyes at the floor. "I'm sorry."

Sam turned to look at him, and his eyes flicked up for only a second.

"I should never have touched you." This last sentiment ended low, breathy, and his eyes hesitantly darted toward various spots on the tile.

She cocked her head. "So you hated it?"

Again, she couldn't read his mood. No answer came while Bucky adjusted an arm to roll a tight muscle in his neck. His eyes shut tight, and all Sam could hear was the grating buzz of the box light underneath the cabinet beside the sink, annoying her like a fly jetting past her ear.

She swiveled the comm in her hand. "Who are the vultures? Isn't that what Dad calls reporters?"

Bucky's face scrunched in distaste, but he still said nothing.

"Guess it's a good thing that we can't talk to vultures, huh?"


Eventually, she relaxed in defeat. "That's good, Buck. Good practice," Sam muttered.

He let out a deep sigh before hissing and grabbing the bruised rib. She had forgotten. How could she forget?

"Dammit, sit down," Sam ordered, more in frustration with her idiocy than Bucky's unclear response. She grabbed a bag of frozen veg and followed him over to the chair, Sam's chair from before. The bag hovered over his chest until he readily, gently, pressed it over his heart. "Well," Sam mumbled, "I've clearly left an impression."

She turned to give Bucky space but startled at the hand he placed at her hip, just above the hoodie's hem. A short, raspy noise escaped him.

"Don't make me laugh," he said to the floor. The low chuckle died softly when Bucky leaned into the chair back, but his hand remained. "Sam, I…" He never finished the thought. Bucky kept gently shaking his head as he looked to the ceiling, the windows, eye-level on her chest covered in lumpy, thick yellow. She couldn't be sure he meant to, but his fingers brushed lightly back and forth over the fabric he grasped until he looked at his own hand.

He could see the sunny hem high on her thighs just as weak morning rays shot through the windows. Bucky found himself wondering what color her eyes would be when he looked up.

Sam seized the opportunity to lift a leg and climb into his lap. Easy. Her body pinned his icepack in place. His hand automatically rolled over her thigh to hold her up while the other smoothed the soft fabric across her back. As if she knew Bucky's hesitation to look at her, Sam brought his head to rest against her chest. He felt a shaky breath leave her lungs, and the initial chill of cotton warmed against his cheek. He heard Sam's heartbeat slow before she spoke.

"Are you ashamed of me?"

His head snapped up, a regrowing curl bouncing to his forehead. She expected a yes or no, but Bucky's mouth opened and closed before he sat back in the chair, putting what little distance he could between them. "Sam…" he finally started, averting his eyes, "you are—"

"If you say young," Sam breathed, gripping the icy bag tighter against him.

"I was gonna say powerful," he winced, "very powerful, obviously, and this…you're not a fighter."

"I have plenty else to offer. That—" Sam pointed to the arm holding her legs in place "—is my proof."

"You're Tony's daughter."

She tossed her hands up in lax fists. "And we're back to the kid talk."

"Not like—I mean that your life is not yours. Not private."

Here came the vultures, picking at the carcass of her forfeit life, wrapping a repellant cloak around a body Sam had hardly gotten to use for herself. "So you are ashamed of me!"

"Quit—" Bucky looked back to her with a tight brow. "Quit doing that. Give me a second, okay?" His hand absently gripped and released the thick muscle of her thigh a few times. "It's just that…it's a lot easier when…" He shut his eyes and shook his thoughts into coherence, but the crux of his fear pinched his chest more than the swollen rib. "One day, I won't come home."

Sam met his sad, steely eyes with an equally gentle chocolate gaze. "Then it's a good thing my powerful ass can prevent that, huh?"

All he offered was a frown. "I could still die, Sam, and I don't want you involved in half of the—"

"Ah, so since I'm actually barefoot in a kitchen right now, that's the best vision of me you can come up with?"

"I don't want you to get hurt."

"A, too late, and B, you're more vulnerable than I am." She flicked the icy bag.

"Wounds aren't always physical."

Sam bit her bottom lip in an attempt not to scowl. That was a low blow, and Bucky knew. She wasn't going to talk about why that he was out of line, and he knew that, too. She kept huffing out breaths and refused to look at him.

He followed her shifting gaze to keep her attention. "I can't be concerned?"

Sam put up her hands again. "When it's diminishing, you're damn right you can't—" but Bucky snapped back.

"You're just like them, ya know that? Howard and Tony, all you Starks just have to be right, and whatever your way is, it's right. No question. God forbid anyone else…" Bucky scoffed before he went too far.

Sam's expression fell instantly. "I think we both know that's not accurate in my case." Her face remained flat for another beat. "Can't be right if no one ever tells you what's happening. I'd need to know how the board looks to play the game."

Bucky huffed out a shaky breath, leaning his forehead against Sam's. "Come on. I know enough about what you've been through to want something more…stable for you."

"And I'm saying—" Sam cupped his face "—stable sounds really boring."

He responded with a humorless laugh.

"As does sleep," Sam continued, realizing she still held his tech as her hand, the slim touching his face. It gave her an idea. "May I?"

It was rhetorical.

A flash of panic washed over Bucky. He made to grab the device from her until thwarted by her swivel in his lap.

"I just want to—" she tapped and typed through programs faster than Bucky had ever managed "—play you something. It's therapeutic."

Bucky bristled further.

"Music therapy," Sam smiled, "you already do it—to fall asleep no less—and Tony's set up this sharing playlist for me. This though—" gentle trills of raked symbols and a jazz saxophone bled out of the speaker "—I thought of you. I mean, I thought you would like these."

Sam put the tablet on the table as the rhythm swelled. She shrank into his grip, tucking her head under his chin. She sighed into the false comfort as if she belonged there, as if she would want to know the rat's nest of mixed emotions cluttering his mind.

Confusion overtook the moment for Bucky. The music, the heat of Sam against him, worrying about her, fighting for the right to worry about her, and his desperation to express any of it catapulted him toward one long-dead memory.


He had not thought of her in years, not since he first laid eyes on Nat's fiery red hair.

When Bucky was still too young to enlist and join the real ranks of men in the barracks at Lehigh, the soldiers used to bring in ladies to cheer the men up. Sometimes a soldier or two would take an interest in making young James Buchanan into a man, and so Bucky found himself alone in a room with Katherine. Not Kate or Kathy or Kat. Katherine. While there was certainly a lot of red in her hair, she hated being called a redhead, or any variation thereof, so Bucky didn't dare mention her freckles or how much he liked those, too.

Katherine knew he was starved for touch, losing his mother so young and his father a few years earlier. She'd held his hand while he told the story, and then beautiful, tall, shapely Katherine taught Bucky Barnes how to dance—close, slow dancing—cheek to cheek with a hand at her waist. She took the pins out of her hair so the long locks could waft the smell of her shampoo, drowning him in the soft scent. A century later, Bucky still had no equivalent.

Katherine came around every few months for years. Bucky fancied she would be his girl after he officially joined the army, so in '38 when he enlisted, he nearly jumped out of his skin to tell her. His whole world revolved around service; he owed the army everything. Why wouldn't he give back?

Inevitably, Katherine came around with her girlfriends, let Bucky dance with her with far fewer clothes on than before, let his hands wander a bit. He was old enough now. He thought Katherine would consider him a man, that his new status would be a turn-on, so he told her while his face was buried in the hair behind her ear.

She did not take it well. Katherine slapped him, apologizing profusely while repeating "what have you done" over and over.

Back then, Bucky hadn't understood why he cried at her reaction. It wasn't until long after Katherine left for good that he recognized the absolute fear in her, the understanding of what challenges and horrors lay before him. Bucky had forced her to run away because who would choose to sit and watch? He never knew how she understood; he wished he'd asked her more about herself.

He never even knew her last name.

Just Katherine. Fiery Katherine. Wise Katherine. Lovely Katherine.

She loved him inside a bubble of innocence, and once the bubble burst, Katherine knew she couldn't protect him anymore. Now, Bucky understood. He knew what lay beyond.

He had this one chance to keep the bubble around Sam, even if in reality the bubble was the cage of another dimension. Life together was here or nowhere. The music could go on if he just kept her here, kept her safe, something he could barely manage for himself.

When I'm near you…

Make me lose my balance,

Baby, it's a challenge,

Tryin' to measure up to your kind of cool—

At some point, he didn't know when, Bucky had laced this fingers through Sam's, foreheads resting together again, swaying, and Sam noticed his return from a daydream.

"I have a whole playlist here," she sighed, "so you've got plenty of time to say absolutely nothing."

Bucky grunted in acknowledgment.

"It's great how consistent every single one of you is at not telling me anything. Seems to be working out pretty well for me, too. Wouldn't you say? I mean, I'm loving it, being completely unaware of what's going on—"

"You know," he tried, rolling his tongue over his bottom lip before nudging his head towards the speaker, "this isn't how it used to sound, back in the '40s."

If Sam was being honest with herself, she wanted to hear him speak no matter what he spoke about, so her genuine enthusiasm swelled. "Oh yeah? How'd it sound?"

"I don't know. Different. Older."

Sam nodded with a bemused smile. "Mr. Barnes, a man of many words."

Bucky snorted. "That'd be a first."

After another minute, Sam whispered, "I'm sorry," and Bucky quirked his head.

"For what?"

She shifted, suddenly stiff against him, fearful. "I wish—" her voice was nearly inaudible "—I wish I were better for you. I wish I were stable. I wish I hadn't…"

The tiny choked whine of the last word broke him. "Okay, that's it." Bucky tossed the frozen bag onto the table and swept his arm under Sam's knees and lifted her, looking straight to her shocked and blotchy face. "Sleep," he barked. "Then you'll feel better, I promise."

He did let her reach down to grab the music, assuring Sam the playlist was very good before dropping her at the bathroom for both to brush their teeth. He pointed out the stack of Sharon's clothes he laid by the door for Sam, but she shrugged and made no attempt to change. Bucky shut the blinds against the morning sun as best he could. He turned down the already disheveled bed and gave her a playful wink in the mirror before pulling out the room's corner rocking chair to get situated. He'd stay in case the nightmares started, but Bucky let his eyes close for a moment, listening to the rustle of linens.

"You really are an idiot."

He peeked from under a heavy lid. Sam stood over him, pointing at the bed. "For your chest," she specified, and Bucky noted the stacked pillows on the right side of the bed.

The bed was comfortable, but a little too comfortable. Bucky sometimes had problems with that. It didn't feel right. Grey streaks of light still scattered the ceiling, and a few brave birds chirped in the cold outside. Luckily, he was accustomed to working and waking at odd hours, and the easy, smooth sound of Sam's playlist helped further relax him.

He could hear her sigh softly when the tip of her finger brushed against his palm and crept the whole hand over to grasp his. That, too, was comfortable, and Bucky shifted a little closer so his thumb could graze her soft skin more easily.

A beat passed. Sam nudged closer, tucking her head on the mattress between their pillows, her breath gliding across his trapped fingertips.

A few more inches and he could…

The edge of his pillowed sank under his weight until Bucky's forehead rested on hers, and Sam hummed, contented. He felt the same. It was comforting, her warmth, her softness, her proximity. The dim light, the closeness of the room, the cocoon of the quilt around them, all led to her; the rest didn't exist.

After a few more breaths, Sam tilted her head up enough to barely flutter her lips to his, so lightly it almost tickled. He pushed his lips into hers with equal delicacy, until he inched down to kiss her, firm but chaste. The corners of Sam's lips pinched in a smile beneath his, so soft, so smooth, before barely breaking their seal.

Bucky let his free hand slide over Sam's waist, curving his fingers to lightly scratch up and down Sam's back. She shimmied forward into the drag of his nails, her hips staying farther away until their clasped hands pressed against her chest, and her neck stretched to reach him. Sam didn't press her lips back to his. She simply hummed more, softly encouraging the raked pattern through her hoodie.

The purr soothed Bucky's frayed nerves, and he kissed the tip of Sam's nose, feeling it wrinkle beneath his lips.

"Pokey," she mumbled, but he could hear the smile in her complaint.

Without hesitation, Bucky swished the stubble on his chin across her nose in response. Sam giggled, and the tension in his chest evaporated with the glorious chirping sound.

He could only scratch at one half of her back with his arm draped as it was, so Sam scooted her hips closer in annoyance, head tucked under his chin. She let go of his hand, allowing Bucky to extend his pinned arm beneath her neck. She had to use him to pull forward, so her hand settled at his side when she was done wiggling.

Fingertips jumping over the bunched hem of his t-shirt, Sam traced her own tiny patterns on his lower back. Her lashes fluttered open against his neck, and a long inhale sucked his musk into her lungs.

Bucky continued scratching in slow Xs until his eyelids grew heavy again. Sam's soft, fragrant hair on his face sealed his last thoughts to her and the welcome calm.

{{{{{{{Mature Content: End of chapter if skipping}}}}}}}

Sam's eyelashes fluttered against his throat again, and the fingers atop his shirt tucked under the band of his shorts. He tried to ignore it until the back of her finger rounded the elastic over his hip.

Bucky's abs tightened involuntarily, riling nerves and blood to attention.

"Sam," he warned.

"What?" Her hand smoothed up his chest, this time under his shirt. She was not very convincing as an innocent.

Groggy, his words were slurred. "Go to sleep." Bucky pushed Sam's elbow to force her arm around his back again.

She palmed his ass instead.

"You can't be mad at me. I'm very powerful."

Bucky couldn't help the annoyed smile breaking his serene face. She wasn't technically wrong. "You're a menace is what you are." Her hand stroked him through the slinky material. "Pure evil."

"From angel to villain," she mumbled into his neck, "in two hours flat."

He struggled not to adjust to give her more access to him, but the smooth feel of cloth and pressure sliding across him was too exciting. He couldn't resist.

Sam's finger crooked into the elastic again and pulled it out and over to expose him. Bucky became acutely reminded that Sam was and always had been naked beneath the enormous sweatshirt.

"Dangerous," he growled deeper.

Sam's body distinctly shivered against him. "Is it bad I like th—"

Bucky's lips were over hers in an instant, devouring the weak giggle that died in Sam's throat as he rapt her attention.

He should have been terrified, or at least hesitant, knowing the shitstorm that awaited them on the other side of a thin-air magic trick, but Bucky wanted this. This little slice of real, uninterrupted life was perfect.

He would make Sam feel perfect in a way he could not express in words. She would know how natural it felt for him to slide his hand all the way up her smooth back, spreading the collar beneath the hood so his fingers grabbed her hair. He made her laugh as she begged him to break their kiss, a smothering mess of cloth at her head, so she could take the hoodie entirely off. He made her work for that. Her wiggle made him smile.

"Ah-ah, no tearing," he panted when her desperate hand gripped his shirt. "It's not mine."

"We are in a different dimension," Sam whined, "I hardly think it—"

Bucky's lips latched onto Sam's neck after removing the shirt himself.

There was that shattering sound again, the one high on his list of new favorite things, the moan that rattled around in his brain, bulldozing of any other foci.

However, as his firming cock grazed her stomach, she did it again. Same as the night before, Sam sucked in to keep herself flat, tense. It made him clasp around her tighter, holding until she began to relax against him. His lips trailed over her collarbone, down her sternum as he slid his arm out from under her head. Sam rolled to her back, intermittently holding her stomach flat beneath his hand but releasing when aroused gasps could be held back no longer.

Bucky planted his forearms along her sides, hands tucked behind her back, and proceeded to kiss every inch of Sam's abdomen, methodically noting each ticklish spot. He lingered at the joints of her legs as the pungent smell of her filled his lungs until he realized the salty note was not hers: it was his sweat already on her, marking her. A feral possessiveness swarmed his buzzing mind and consumed him. He buried his lips in the hot nest of her sex, drowning in her sound, smell, and taste.

She squirmed before saying something totally incoherent, arms searching the sheets until lifting herself to bury her fingers in his hair. He wasn't letting her get a millimeter from him.

Sam mewled beneath the force as Bucky locked his arms around her hips. Captivated by her struggle to scream or breathe, head lolling back to the pillow, crushed by the heady weight of her flaring desire, Bucky watched his handiwork. He was merciless, greedy, lost to any reason in the universe that they should be anywhere else, doing anything else. Everything was for and with his angel.

Exploring the texture of slick and skin and nerves, sucking the bud of her clit into his mouth one last time, his favorite moan dropped an octave and crescendoed in a gasping command for him.

Not an instant was wasted. Sam's spasming walls raged as he entered, hugging against the aching length in a silky vice grip.

She bit his shoulder.

"Shit," Bucky gasped, "you're so tight." He slid himself out only partway, to spread her cum around his cock. The pumps became smooth strokes quickly.

Sam twitched beneath him.

He froze. "Am I hurting you?"

"I'm trying—" she awkwardly sought to tuck her hands behind her head "—not to hurt you." She ended her struggle with an eye roll and a huff, dark hair streaked across her face from thrashing around.

Bucky gave a short laugh, blowing a gust of cool wind to tip a lock away from her nose. "Right." Each tiny shift he made sent a spark to his groin, but only after a twinge ripped through the bruise on his chest. He'd forgotten to care.

Big brown eyes stole his reserve. Sam looked so worried that he had to do something. Tentatively, he gripped a wrist in each hand. "Okay?"

The panic on her face melted back into lust as Bucky sank his weight down, pinning her arms by her head so he could lean in to kiss along her jaw. Sam wrapped her legs around him, basking in his heat for the first time, angling a stream of those soft, obsessive noises to ring out above his ear.

He'd never been so willingly consumed by anything in his whole life. Tender, violently strong, precise thrusts carried the last of unfocused thoughts off into an abyss of bliss. Bucky buried his face in Sam's soap-scented hair and listened to her heartbeat surge like waves of punishing rain. His mind was wiped clean of all else. He was not lost. He was not without. He was full and found, and he was going to relish it.

{{{{{{{Mature content end}}}}}}

A/N: Featuring song "Unsophisticated" by Kandace Springs 2018

Thank you for reading! Don't hesitate to leave a comment. Anyone have any predictions? Always love to hear those...