Bucky sits on the floor of his apartment’s bathroom and tries to consume his mind with the image of the white-ish beige popcorn ceiling rather than the sequences playing out right behind his eyes.
He’s falling from a train in the Alps, screaming for Steve.
He’s being experimented on by Hydra scientists nearly to the point of death.
He’s lost and confused and doesn’t know who he is or why he’s wanted for something he didn’t do.
He’s being dragged through snow by soldiers he thought were Russian allies; blood trails behind him and he wonders if he’s dying.
Armin Zola is injecting him with Super Soldier Serum.
He wakes up in a dark and dirty lab with a missing arm and wishes he’d died during that fall.
He’s electrocuted until he can barely think, and his last coherent thought is of Steve, and how he’s sure he’ll be here any time now to rescue him, just like last time.
He’s watching one of the men in his platoon throw himself over a grenade right before it explodes.
There’s gunfire everywhere, there’s nowhere safe to go, all his friends are going to die, he won’t get to go home to Steve –
It’s not even just the images and visual memory of it all that plague Bucky most; it’s the emotions. Even if he can stop from seeing it all in his mind’s eye, even if the years and the trauma make faces and places and details blur together, he’s still struck with those horrible feelings on nights like this, so vivid and so intensely similar to what he felt when each thing was actively happening that he feels like he might combust.
Against his will, tears flow hot and fast down Bucky’s face. He feels sick and he wants to scream or hurl himself out a window or punch a hole through the wall, anything to release the pent up energy flowing through him right now – a disgusting, embarrassing mix of anger, anxiety, grief, hatred, self loathing.
He grabs at his hair and ducks his head between his knees, hyperventilates as he rocks back and forth in an attempt to get himself under control.
After several minutes of seething and sobbing and failing to stop spiraling, Bucky moves to sit up on his knees and scoots closer to the small bathroom counter. With a shaking hand he reaches for a small bottle next to the sink – orange with a blue-ish cap and still mostly full of small white tablets. Bold text on a printed white label reads: CLONAZEPAM 1 MG TABLET. TAKE ONE TABLET BY MOUTH AS NEEDED FOR ANXIETY.
He got the prescription a few months ago from the psychiatrist he was forced to start seeing. He didn’t want it, insisted he was fine without it. About a week later, Sam dragged him along on a “grocery run” and wouldn’t let either of them leave until Bucky went to the pharmacy and got the prescription filled.
He’s taken it two or three times since then, on days and nights like these when he feels like his own thoughts are eating him alive.
Bucky stumbles over the child-proof cap for a moment then taps the bottle on his hand to release one of the pills into his hand. He replaces the top and sets the bottle back down on the counter, pops the pill in his mouth and messily sips water straight from the faucet to swallow it down.
He slumps back against the wall and blows out a breath, fresh tears still falling. Now it’s just a waiting game of whether it’ll make him fall asleep, calm him down long enough to let him catch his breath, or not work at all.
On unsteady legs Bucky walks out of the bathroom and back to the front of his apartment and lies down on his “bed” – a comforter folded in half and placed on the hard floor accompanied by a throw blanket to cover up with. He lies down and pulls the blanket over himself, tries to tune out the sights and sounds invading his brain.
It’s currently what most rational people would consider late, nearly 1 A.M., but you wouldn’t be able to tell just by standing where Bucky is – the lights are on. The trouble sleeping, the nightmares, the urge to punch something or scream or cry or both, they don’t ever really go away, even in the light. But he’s long since learned that the dark makes it worse.
Alpine creeps in from the kitchen and moves to stand beside Bucky, who rolls on his side to run a hand through her fur. This is one good thing he can count on at least. Bucky struggles to think of what his life might’ve been like up to this point had he never taken in Alpine. Having a living thing that relies on him for food and shelter makes him feel wanted, and reminds him that he’s needed even when he feels like all he does is screw everything up. And it helps that unlike people, Alpine can’t leave him (at least not easily).
After a few minutes Alpine settles, makes a few careful circles before plopping down on an empty patch of the comforter Bucky is laying on. She curls into Bucky’s side just enough that Bucky can feel the gentle vibration of her purring through the wifebeater he wore to bed, and it makes him smile a little despite the sour mood he’s already in that just gets worse whenever he tries to sleep.
He knows he should sleep. He knows. Even if he didn’t, he certainly hears it from Sam often enough. As much as he wishes it did, being a Super Soldier does not, in fact, render anyone capable of surviving on coffee and adrenaline.
It just – it’s too much. It’s all too anxiety-inducing. He never sleeps enough because he spends half the night freaked to hell of what someone could do to him when he’s so vulnerable like that, even though he installed a security system and two extra locks on the door – a second deadbolt and a latch – the day he moved in; he can’t help but run through every worst case scenario about what if this is all some elaborate dream, what if this is some new form of torment, to put me back on ice and make me think I’m home and free until I wake up and find out it was all fake, what if –
So… yeah. The whole sleeping jig isn’t going great. And though he knows the medication has helped when he does use it, it makes him tired and loopy and vulnerable, all things Bucky would very much not like to be in the middle of the night should an intruder decide to target him, thank you very much.
So much for that. Alpine can keep an eye out, he supposes. She’s a good cat like that.
A person would make him feel much better, though.
The only problem is that the thought of spiraling out in front of most of the people he knows makes Bucky want to curl up in a ball and die, so it usually builds up until he feels like he’s drowning and like his skin is too tight and it all spills out at once. It’s what’s happening tonight, it’s why his cheeks and nose are stained light pink and his face feels all stuffy and miserable. He tries to be alone when these things happen, tries to keep a mental log of how close he feels to snapping so he’s able to make sure it doesn’t happen in front of anyone else.
But tonight – tonight is bad. Tonight Bucky feels like a walking talking DSM-5. A poster child for shell shock.
And so Bucky pats the blankets around him until he finds his phone and checks the time – 01:15. It’s a weekend, he has nowhere to go tomorrow, it’s fine if he doesn’t sleep well tonight. But he’s barely slept the last week, only a few hours here and there, and god, he’s just so fucking exhausted.
Bucky goes through a mental list of people he can talk to – about what, he’s not sure, but he’s been told he needs to get better about, like, asking for help or something.
Everyone he thinks of is either dead or the idea of talking to them is too mentally draining. But then he remembers Sam is there, and he sounds… bearable. And he’s said before for Bucky to call him if he ever needs anything – and despite Bucky’s better judgement (or rather, incessant need to solve his own problems), he opens his messages and begins typing.
B: Are you awake?
It takes a few minutes for Sam to respond; so long that Bucky worries he’s bothering him, that Sam doesn’t want to talk to him, that his previous offer to talk if Bucky ever needed it was Sam’s idea of a bad joke.
His phone vibrates before he can spiral too much.
S: Yeah. What’s up?
B: Rough night I guess. I can deal with it, I’m fine. Just felt a little out of it for a minute. It’s fine.
They both know he’s lying. He’s very not fine, and the fact that he was willing to admit he was having a rough night spoke to how bad it is – Bucky either has to be really hurt (whether physically or mentally) or has to have it pulled out of him in order for him to admit when he’s not doing okay.
Bucky can’t decide whether he wants Sam to believe him and let it go or push a little more and try to help him. Some small part of him wants – even needs – the comfort of not being alone right now. The comfort of knowing someone is keeping him safe, that all the war and death and Hydra and manipulation is in the past now and can’t hurt him – at least as long as Sam is there with him.
S: I’ll be there in five. Unlock the latch.
Sam leaves it at that, no room for debate. If he’d given a more open-ended answer, asked can I do anything? or do you want some company? Bucky would’ve tried to change his mind. It would, of course, be futile; once Sam decides to do something, very little can stop him. Bucky knows this – and Sam knows that Bucky knows. He’s made sure of it.
He doesn’t bother responding. Bucky knows that Sam knows he saw it, and Sam knows that Bucky will do as he asked. But Bucky doesn’t let himself overanalyze how willing he is to trust Sam, both with his life and small things like asking him to unlock his door. That sounds like a headache waiting to happen.
There’s too much knowing between the two of them, Bucky thinks. He’s always gotten the sense that they understand each other a little too well. Maybe it’s the bits of shared history (and trauma), maybe it’s their equally stubborn personalities. Who knows.
Bucky stands reluctantly from his cat-blanket-hardwood-floor nest to open the latch on the door to his apartment. He leaves the deadbolts locked – Sam has keys for them, keys which Bucky gave him one day a few weeks ago in case you need to play Prince Charming and come rescue me or something.
He lays back down on the floor where Alpine is still sleeping peacefully.
That’s good, he thinks. At least someone in this apartment is getting some rest.
A few minutes later his phone buzzes again, another message from Sam.
S: I’m outside and about to unlock the door, the noise is just me
Despite the warning, Bucky still instinctually flinches at the sudden sound of keys jangling against his door.
The door opens, closes again, locks with several distinctive clicks of the latch and deadbolts being locked back into place.
When Sam finally turns around to see Bucky laying on his floor and staring at the ceiling, he’s momentarily at a loss for words. This is not where he was expecting to find him.
Sam’s mouth opens, closes, opens again, and he says, “The floor, Barnes? What’s this about?”
Bucky rolls to his side to face Sam’s general direction and retorts, “don’t Barnes me, Wilson. ”
At that, Sam slides his shoes off and kicks them out of the way of the door, leaving him in a worn-down black sweatshirt and thin athletic pants. He holds his phone and a book in one hand, using the other to gesture down toward Bucky and his bed – though Sam wouldn’t exactly call it that. “Scoot,” he says.
After Bucky wordlessly obeys and moves a few inches to the left, Sam sits on the right side of him, careful not to disturb Alpine.
He looks at Bucky with an expression Bucky can’t quite read, and a part of Bucky is grateful for that fact, because he’d probably combust no matter what it was – anger, pity, annoyance, sympathy, whatever. All of them make his insides burn in their own special (shitty) way.
Sam places his hand on the back of Bucky’s neck and gently guides him to lay his head in his lap. Neither of them say anything about it, and neither of them say anything about the way Sam’s hand starts absentmindedly running through Bucky’s now shorter but still very thick head of hair.
It’s Sam that speaks up first. “Why the floor? I thought you said this place came furnished. Or at least with a mattress and a bed frame.”
Bucky ponders that for a moment. It’s hard to explain – it’s one of those things that unless you’ve also experienced it, it’s almost impossible to understand why someone thinks and acts the way they do in any given set of circumstances.
The whole sleeping on the floor thing – Bucky has known a few other people with this issue, too. He deduced it’s probably a trauma thing, but has yet to have the mental energy to analyze it beyond that.
“It’s hard to explain,” he lands on.
“Try me,” Sam says. “I got nothing but time and nowhere to be but here.”
Bucky sighs and tries to get his brain to piece together a few coherent thoughts through the haze of anxiety and paranoia and benzos. “It just – it feels unsafe or something.” Bucky closes his eyes. “It’s so stupid,” he grumbles. Sam is about to retort with something corny and emotional like “your feelings are valid, Bucky,” but before he can, Bucky continues, “I feel sick trying to lie down in there. Like I’m – it’s like I’m back at –”
The words get lost on his tongue, so Sam finishes for him. “Hydra?”
“Something like that, yeah.”
“You want to talk about it?” Sam asks. “Or you want a distraction? Or I can just sit here and shut up. Up to you.”
“I don’t want to talk about it and I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts and I didn’t text you so you could come here and watch me meditate.”
That gets a small smile out of Sam. “Well, if you can believe it, I’ve been reading a book.” He holds up the book he brought with him. “It’s called Ali: A Life and it’s about – well, Muhammad Ali. You know who that is, old man?”
“Mm. May have heard the name.”
“This book – it’s got stuff you wouldn’t be able to easily find by just Googling the guy. For one, he didn’t just change his name because he joined the Nation of Islam. He was born Cassius Clay, and started going by Muhammad Ali because Clay was the last name his enslaved great grandfather took from his owner, and Cassius was the name of another slave owner. He didn’t fuck with that, so he changed his name; but a lot of people didn’t isten to him ‘cause – I mean, basically they were just white and offended.”
Bucky laughs a little for the first time all day. Sam sounds genuinely interested in and excited about this stuff, and it’s enough to temporarily replace the white-hot flood of emotions in his head with a gentler warmth. “That sounds about right, yeah.”
“And, you know how so many people admire him now, and think he was this super cool boxing champion turned actor? It was pretty much the opposite when he was alive. “People hated him for being part of the Nation of Islam, but for all the wrong reasons; they didn’t hate it because of how flawed the Nation was, they hated it because he wasn’t being the nice black guy, because he didn’t accept second-class citizenship. He was losing boxing titles and facing criminal charges for speaking out against the Vietnam War and refusing to enlist,” Sam says.
Bucky raises his eyebrows in confusion. “People were mad at him for that? We’re vets and even we know how screwed up everything was with ‘Nam.”
“Blind patriotism will do that to you,” he answers. Most everyone outside the obvious – hippies, punks, whatever – supported it and assumed anyone who didn’t was some sort of traitor who hated their country. He hated it before it was socially acceptable to. He said his reason for it was, ‘you expect me to fight for you and kill other brown people that haven’t done nothin’ to me, but you won’t fight for me or my rights at home?’ He wasn’t the passive advocate people wanted him to be. He told it like it was.”
“Sounds a little like someone I know,” Bucky says.
“You are insufferable,” Sam responds, but there’s no malice in his voice or on his face; just warm endearment and relief that Bucky is looking more like… Bucky.
“Uh-huh. You love me,” Bucky says with a smile.
“Yeah, yeah, don’t let it go to your head,” Sam laughs, leaning down to kiss him.
They sit in comfortable silence for a few minutes until Sam notices Bucky blinking frequently, clearly fighting the urge to fall asleep.
Sam taps Bucky’s chest to get his attention and asks, “You tired?”
Bucky rubs his hands over his face and sighs into them. “Yeah, god, I’m exhausted.”
“Then go to sleep,” Sam says. “Lord knows you need it.”
“I know, I know,” he grumbles with the air of a teenager being reminded to do the dishes. “I just don’t want to go to sleep only to wake up feeling like I’ve just run a marathon. Nightmares’ll do that to you.”
“I know. Believe me. But I’ll be here when you wake up.”
Bucky doesn’t catch even a hint of dishonesty in Sam’s words, but he still puts up a fight. “No. No, it’s fine. You should go home. I’ll be fine,” he argues, shaking his head.
Sam raises his eyebrows at him. “Bucky.” He holds back the urge to say, I’m with you. I’m already home.
Bucky knows he’s not winning this no matter how much he tries to insist he’s fine. The state of his appearance makes it obvious enough that it isn’t the best idea for him to be alone right now. “Fine.” Then, “you locked the door when you came in, right?”
“Yes,” Sam replies patiently, and, before Bucky can mention it, says, “and I re-armed the security system. We’re fine. Now sleep.”
Bucky eyes him hesitantly but eventually relaxes a little, releasing some of the tension in his muscles. It isn’t long until the exhaustion that comes with panic attacks, flashbacks, crying, and medication takes over and he falls asleep to the sounds of Alpine purring and Sam quietly humming some Queen song to himself.
“Montgomery! Morita! Behind you!” Bucky yells, but it’s to no avail. They’re outnumbered and surrounded by Hydra on all sides – there’s nowhere for any of them to run.
There’s about a dozen other Allied soldiers out here, and at least twenty Hydra ones forcing everyone to drop their weapons and fall to their knees so they can be bound and transported almost a hundred miles away to a Hydra weapons factory in Kreischberg, Austria.
When they arrive at the factory, each of the Allied soldiers are manhandled into cages and spend the next week or two assembling Hydra weapons. That is, until Bucky comes down with walking pneumonia and can barely sit up straight, let alone be an active participant in the hard labor that comes with weapons assembly.
He becomes so weak that he drops several weapon components in front of the officer in charge of the facility, Colonel Lohmer. The Colonel beats Bucky something stupid for it and throws him back in his cage. With the combination of a potentially deadly disease coursing through his body and how badly he was injured by Lohmer, the soldiers he shares a cage with know that if Bucky has to work in the factory tomorrow, he’ll drop dead before noon.
They come up with a plan to kill Colonel Lohmer, which would put a different, slightly more merciful officer in charge of overseeing the factory who would allow Bucky to remain in the cages until he recovered.
The next day, they execute the plan without a hitch and the Colonel dies when he is crushed under a ton of heavy machinery. With no one specific to blame the incident on, the prisoners' only punishment for the Colonel’s death was a reduction in food rations for a week. As expected, the new officer in charge allows Bucky to stay in the cages to recover – but the relief didn’t last long. Soon after being saved from dying on the manufacturing floor, he’s taken by Armin Zola for experimentation in the ‘examination rooms.’
He’s injected with some sort of Hydra-fied version of Super Soldier Serum, and tortured, and put through unspeakable things – he spends most of his time in there hoping he’ll just die, because at this point it seems like the only viable option to escape this place.
He doesn’t like giving Zola a reaction, he doesn’t want to give him that satisfaction. But every once in a while it’s all too much and he can’t help but scream. The words he says are the same every time.
“Steve!” Bucky yells. “Steve! Steve!” Yells break into sobs as he continues begging for Steve, like his name is some sort of prayer and if he says it enough Steve will come back to him.
Bucky wakes shaking and crying, the remnants of a yell leaving his throat as he’s ripped back into consciousness.
He feels hands on his skin, comforting him, and for a split second he allows himself to believe that it was just a dream, that everything is alright, that Steve is here.
Then Sam says his name, a gentle “Buck?” and it’s hushed, kind, and it blows out the flame in Bucky’s spine, calming him, because he is safe, and he’s loved, but there’s still hurt curling in his gut when he lets himself fall into Sam’s arms – because while he’s incredibly grateful for Sam, for one beautiful moment he thought Steve was there.
He’s no longer lying sideways on the floor but is rather half-sitting, half-laying in front of Sam, his back against Sam’s chest. Sam’s arms are wrapped around his torso, holding him gentle but sure, and he quietly shushes Bucky to calm him down, whispers reassurances of you’re okay, it was just a dream, you’re safe.
Bucky’s hands grab onto Sam’s forearms as he’s wracked with lingering sobs and tries to get his breathing under control. “It’s okay. You’re good,” Sam whispers into his hair. “We’re good, Buck.”
Bucky is practically boneless against Sam, worn out from screaming and sobbing and hyperventilating. “Are you okay?” Sam asks gently.
His voice is slightly hoarse when Bucky answers, “I don’t know. Will be, I guess. Tired.”
“Yeah, well, you were only asleep for a few hours, and evidently it wasn’t very restful.”
Bucky hums in agreement, but before he can say anything else, Alpine moves from her spot beside Sam to lay on Bucky’s blanket-covered legs. Both he and Sam chuckle in amusement – but what Sam doesn’t know is that this isn’t the first time Alpine has done this; she has a habit of sensing when Bucky is feeling less than ideal. Even when she’s in one of those cranky cat moods, she’ll make time to sit with Bucky and purr her heart out whenever he’s having a panic attack, or flashbacks, is freshly awake from a nightmare, or is in a bad mood for some other reason.
“That’s a damn good cat you got there,” Sam says.
“Yeah,” Bucky says with a smile right before falling asleep again. “I got a damn good partner too.”