Those 2 little words were enough to make Grace groggily stir from her sleep. She looked up at the ceiling, wondering if she'd imagined the crisp British accent.
"Sargent Barnes appears to be having a nightmare. His vital signs are very elevated." JARVIS sounded apologetic. "Would you like me to attempt to wake him?"
"No, thank you JARVIS." Grace was up and moving before JARVIS finished telling her what was going on. Her mind felt a little fuzzy from the wine from dinner as she fumbled for the door in the dark. Like he sensed her distress, JARVIS put the light on in the apartment. Grace squinted in the bright light, making her way through the apartment and into the elevator as fast as her feet would allow. It wasn't until she was in the elevator, she realised she hadn't even thrown a robe over her pyjamas. Grace shook her head, trying to get the silly thought away. Bucky wasn't exactly going to complain about her being in boxers and an old singlet. Grace was thankful that was 30 years old, nothing was starting to sag in unwanted places quite yet.
The elevator seemed to take only half a second before Grace was on the right floor. Jogging across the hallway, Grace flung the door open. As she did, Bucky sat up on the bed with a strangled scream dying in his throat. He was covered in sweat, his bare chest and hair were dripping wet. The plates of his metal arms whirred and clicked as he flexed his arm. His flesh hand was white from clenching it so hard. He was close to hyperventilating as he sat on the bed heaving for breath.
"Bucky." Grace started, crossing the room and standing as close to the glass as humanely possible. She put her hand up on the glass and put on her most soothing voice. "You had a nightmare."
"Can't breathe," Bucky gasped out in short wheezes. "Crushing…"
"You're breathing right now," Grace soothed him, cutting him off. "Do what I say. Breath in, hold for 5 seconds and then breathe out."
It seemed like an eternity before Bucky took in a shuddering breathing. Grace counted in her head, waiting for him to exhale. It was more like 10 seconds, but Bucky finally blew out a long breath.
"And another, 4 seconds this time," Grace instructed. "In."
On her command, Bucky breathed in again.
"And out," Grace said after the required 4 seconds.
Bucky let out another long shuddering breath.
"And again. 8 seconds this time."
Grace instructed Bucky through another few cycles of breathing until he was able to breath without hyperventilating.
"Where am I?" Bucky's voice sounded like he'd just swallowed a load of gravel.
"You're in New York, Manhattan to be exact." Grace went to the fridge and got a bottle of water out. "About a week ago, you were wandering around Brooklyn. Do you remember who brought you in?"
"Steve." The name came out as a croak in Bucky's voice. "Steve brought me in. You have a pretty name. Why can't I remember it?"
Bucky slammed the palms of his hands into his eyes, rubbing them hard. Grace winced at the force he hit himself with, but didn't comment on it.
"Because you a nightmare and you're still waking up," Grace said gently. "And thank you, I think it's a pretty name as well. You'll remember it in a minute. Just breathe and give yourself time."
Bucky's face screwed up under his hand like it was physically hurting him to try and process his memories.
"It's 2015," Grace continued. "You were working for HYDRA until 6 months ago."
"I went on a killing spree," Bucky's voice was scarcely above a whisper. "I hunted down my handlers and those left and ripped them apart with my bare hands. There was blood, so much blood…"
Bucky trailed off, leaving Grace an opening.
"You weren't yourself." Grace tried to calm him down. "What HYDRA did to you left a mark and you have every right to be mad at the people who did this to you. You are safe now though. No one here is going to hurt you."
"Grace." Bucky said suddenly, as his head snapped back up. His gaze wavered for a second until he zeroed in on her behind the glass. "Your name is Grace."
"That's right," Grace said gently, feeling a small smile tug at her lips. Suddenly at her name, Bucky looked like he was back here in the present moment. His fists unclenched and his shoulders drooped, making him look small and exhausted. "It's okay Bucky, you had a nightmare. I'm right here."
"A nightmare," Bucky repeated, his head dropping back into his hands. "I'm here with…"
Bucky trailed off again, the small part of his face that Grace would see was furrowed in intense concentration.
"Steve." Grace supplied for him, not wanting to add any stress to his night. "Just remember. Steve. 2015. Manhattan. Those are the things that are real right now. Can you repeat them for me?"
It was a simple distraction technique. It made the patient feel back in control of their situation and remind them that whatever they were experiencing, it wasn't real.
"Steve. 2015. Manhattan," Bucky parroted back obediently, taking in another deep breath. He held onto it for a few seconds before letting go.
While Bucky composed himself, Grace put the bottle of water into the chute. She looked around Bucky's room with a small sigh. There was no reason he couldn't have a small fridge in here to keep drinks in at least. She'd have to talk to someone about it later. The clock in the room only read 3:17 am. No one would be awake for hours. For all Grace knew, she and Bucky were the only ones awake in the Tower. Bucky made no move to get up off the bed, he simply stared at the glass in front of him looking miles away. The plates on his arm started to work again as he clenched his fist.
"We should watch a movie," Grace interrupted his thousand yard stare, making Bucky jump. He frowned in Grace's direction, raising an eyebrow in question. "There's a TV in your room and I dare say Stark has an impressive movie collection hidden somewhere." "Stark?" Bucky's frown turned thoughtful. "I knew a Stark."
"You did," Grace confirmed with a smile. "Howard, his son Tony owns this building."
"Howard." The word sounded foreign on Bucky's lips as he continued to frown, deep in thought. "He made me the most beautiful sniper rifle. I wonder what happened to it? Did he knock some poor unsuspecting girl up?"
Grace covered her mouth to stop the snort of laughter coming out. Everything before that was a broken man trying to piece together his memories. The last statement sounded like the man hidden deep within the layers of brainwashing.
"His wife actually." It took Grace a lot of effort to keep her laughter in check. "Howard got married in the 60's and had a son, his name is Tony."
The change of topic was so quick, Grace's head spun a little. Though, she would blame it on the lingering effects of the wine. It took her a second to realise what Bucky was talking about.
"Yes, sniper breathing. An ex SEAL visiting a teammate was doing it to keep his teammate calm through a panic attack. I asked him about it and he explained the teammate had been his spotter many times and it was a technique they were taught in sniper school to maximise their shooting," Grace explained, her thoughts drifting back to that day early in her residency. The ex SEAL she spoke to was SHIELD. Grace wondered if he was still alive. She couldn't remember his name but remember his face clearly enough. He'd been quite attractive, but so shy. His teammate has teased him ruthlessly even before Grace was out of earshot. "The guy who explained it to me was in SHIELD. I kind of wonder what happened to him."
"My last handler was SHIELD." Bucky phrased it so it was more like a statement than a question.
"He was, Brock Rumlow," Grace said with a nod, even though Bucky couldn't see her. She was mildly surprised Bucky wanted to keep talking. But this was a good step without pushing any boundaries just yet. "The man has worse handwriting than I do."
Part of Grace's research had been digging into trying to find out what happened to Bucky's last handler. He's been critically wounded in the fall of the Triskelion, but every record of him suddenly stopped about 3 months ago. There was no death certificate, so Grace assumed he'd either gone back to HYDRA or disappeared off the face of the Earth. He had the skill and resources to do both.
"He was nice to me." Bucky's next words surprised the hell of out of Grace. From the last reports from Rumlow, nice wasn't a word she'd use. Effective, but definitely not kind. "One of the other men questioned it once. Sir said if you treat a dog bad, it's gonna bite you. He made sure I was treated with respect. Do you know what happened to him?"
Grace winced at the analogy used. As horrible as it was, it wasn't a lie. It just wasn't a very nice way of putting the situation into words.
"He was injured when the Triskelion fell." There was no point lying to Bucky. It would only come to bite Grace in the ass if Bucky found out later. "But then he disappeared. Do you think he's trustworthy?"
"No." Bucky's reply was instant as he shook his head. "He was one of HYDRA's top dogs and would shoot his best friend in the head if it served his purpose. But I still respected him for not treating me like a mindless drone."
Bucky looked like he was going to say more, but his mouth suddenly snapped shut.
"How about that movie?" Grace wasn't going to push. What happened now was some good progress, despite the nightmare. Pushing and prodding was only going to make Bucky's situation worse.
"I don't remember the last movie I saw." Gruff and sulky Bucky was back as he threw himself back on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
"Good, because you have 70 years of movies to catch up on," Grace said cheerfully, happy about the little breakthrough from before. She wasn't going to let Bucky's sulky mood deter from that. "Do you remember Disney movies?"
Bucky shot Grace an incredulous look, making her smile even further. A sulky Bucky Barnes was much better than a brooding Winter Soldier.
"You'll be in for a bit of a surprise how much they've changed," Grace said with a small chuckle. "JARVIS, can you put on Frozen in Bucky's room please?"
Grace had to sit through hours and hours of watching Frozen. It was a favourite among her nieces and nephews for far too long. The recreational rooms in Walter Reed seemed to have in playing on loop for months not long after the DVD release. Still, it was an innocent enough movie that Bucky was either going to love or hate. Grace wouldn't have to sit there watching him carefully for any triggers. Secretly, Grace still enjoyed the movie despite seeing it a few thousand times.
"Of course Dr Anderson," JARVIS responded quickly. A second later the opening scene started to play on the TV. "Shall I filter the sound into this room as well?"
"Yes, please." Grace knew it off by heart. But she wasn't going to knock back a bit of entertainment at this time of the morning. She went to the couch and dragged one of the rugs and cushions off it, so she could sit against the wall and be somewhat comfortable. Dropping to the ground, Grace saw Bucky sitting up out of the corner of her eye as the first song was playing. She wedged the cushion between the glass and pulled the blanket around her. It wasn't very comfortable, but Grace couldn't see Bucky's television from the couch. So it would have to do.
Despite being tired, Grace stayed awake during the entire movie. Though his facial expression didn't change much, Bucky's attention stayed glued to the screen for the movie. Grace could have sworn there was a few quirks of his lips. But it was too quick for her to say for sure. Once Frozen was finished, Bucky turned to face Grace.
"It's a long way from Snow White."
"It is," Grace chuckled, rubbing her stinging eyes. She was extremely pleased he remembered something without asking for clarification. "Do you want something else like that?"
There was a long pause before Bucky spoke. Grace sat there, patiently waiting while his inner conflict played over his face. He looked wary to be asking for something else. But he also looked like a child who'd just discovered something amazing and wanted more of it.
"Yes." Bucky finally said and added in a smaller voice. "Please."
"JARVIS, can we have Brave next?"
Grace snuggled down further into the little cocoon she'd made as the next movie began to play. The sound of Scottish music filled the room and Grace closed her eyes. It was soothing listening to the gentle music and the giggles of a young girl getting her first bow. Grace heard, rather than saw Bucky shift in his bed.
A hand on her shoulder made Grace jerk away in surprise. Her eyes flew open to find Steve stand over her with a tray of coffee and paper bag in his hands. Grace blinked up at him blearily before her eyes fell on the clock on the wall. It was a little after 7am.
"Shit." Grace groaned, reaching up to rub her face. A quick look in the room saw Bucky asleep again. He was passed out on his back, mouth open in a soundless snore. Unlike before, he looked at peace in his sleep.
"Rough night?" Steve asked, his eyes following Grace's line of vision.
"Nightmare," Grace said, wincing at the hoarseness of her own voice. She cleared her throat and pulled the blanket around her a little tighter, suddenly uncomfortably aware of sitting here in pyjamas and nothing else in front of Steve. "It's to be expected. We watched Frozen and then Brave. Kids movies are always a good distraction."
Steve's lips unexpectedly quivered and he cleared his throat a little louder than what would be polite. Grace looked up at him, quirking an eyebrow at the squashed down humour.
"Sorry, it was a comment Tony made once. It was a little inappropriate." Steve cleared his throat again, having a hard time keeping a straight face.
"But now you have to tell me," Grace prodded, feeling her own smile tug on her lips. Whatever it was, it should be good. "I grew up with 5 older brothers and Sam was my best friend. Believe me when I say that I've definitely heard inappropriate before."
"Natasha and Clint were watching Brave in the common room." To Grace's delight, Steve gave in quickly. "Tony walked past and said that Merida would be what their child would look like. Except she would have murdered and kept the heads of her suitors instead."
Grace snort of laughter came out before she could stop it. It was undignified, but it made Steve laugh as well. Together, they both laughed for a few seconds.
"I will never get that image out of my head now," Grace said with a final chuckle. "Thanks. Is one of them my coffee? I could chew my arm off for some caffeine right now."
"Right." Steve looked flustered for a brief second. He grabbed the nearest cup, handing it to Grace. "I wasn't sure what to get you. But the barista said a latte was always a good choice."
"Coffee of any type works for me." Grace inhaled the smell of coffee greedily. It wasn't from Starbucks and it smelt divine. "I'm not even fussy if there's milk or not."
Grace took a sip of coffee, savouring the rich blend sliding over her tongue. She usually scoffed at people and their expensive coffee blends. But she could get used to this. She could even afford to get used to quality coffee.
"And the promised bagel." Steve handed her the paper bag.
"Thanks." Grace patted the floor next to her, as well as she could with her full hand. "Please, pull up a chair in my office."
Steve laughed, but complied, sinking down across from Grace. She couldn't help but to sneak a quick glance at the man across from her as he got settled with his own drink. He looked and smelt freshly showered. A few days of stubble was over his face, giving him a light beard. If it wasn't for the bulging muscles under his casual t-shirt, he looked like a completely normal person. Grace still felt the need to pinch herself to make sure this situation was real. That she was actually sitting across from Captain America and this wasn't a crazy dream.
"Did Bucky say what his dream was about?" Steve asked, taking a sip of his own drink. Judging by the smell, it was the same coffee Grace was drinking.
"No." Grace dug into the bag to get her promised bagel. There were 4 in the bag and the top one was marked as a smoked salmon. She took it out, handing the rest of the bag back to Steve. After seeing how much he could eat last night, she didn't doubt the rest were for him. "He woke up confused as hell. It took him a little bit to remember where he was, but he got there. I have a few questions actually before we get stuck into his books."
"Ask away," Steve said, taking the bag off her.
Grace couldn't help but notice how much more at ease Steve was when he felt like he had a purpose. It was like he didn't quite know his place in a normal conversation. It wasn't enough to make him look extremely uncomfortable, or unconfident about how he handled himself. But it was enough to a trained eye to notice he was never entirely comfortable in a casual conversation.
"The first one is a bit more personal, probably a little bit silly really," Grace said, carefully unwrapped her bagel. It was a long shot what she was about to ask. "A few years ago I ran into a guy who was an ex SEAL visiting an old teammate. He was SHIELD back then and I'm sure he mentioned STRIKE. I can't remember his name, but he told about the breathing techniques snipers used and I've used it a lot with patients. It's one of those things that now I've thought about him, I kind of wondered what happened to him in the fall of SHIELD."
"What did he look like?" Steve asked as Grace paused to take a breath. "Even if I can't think of the person, Natasha or Clint would know. They were both STRIKE. Natasha knew everyone, and everything goes on in their lives too."
"About 6'1, light but muscular build if that makes any sense?" Grace pursed her lips, scanning her memory for his face. If she hadn't had a boyfriend at the time, she would have asked him out for a drink. "Brown hair, but he had really green eyes."
"Riley," Steve said with a small laugh, almost instantly. "Riley Hunterton. His wife is Natasha and Clint's best friend. There weren't many in STRIKE that were loyal to SHIELD. But he was one of them and a handful of others. He saved a lot of lives when the Triskelion went down. He and his wife live in Minnesota now."
"Oh damn, he's married," Grace joked, taking a bite of her bagel. She was happy to hear he was one of the few loyal to SHIELD though. Even though she'd only met him briefly, it made her glad someone's life had turned out well. Grace's little joke made Steve laugh.
"His wife was STRIKE too, be careful," Steve warned playfully, looking completely at ease at their conversation. "They both retired to the quiet life, running his family's chicken farm."
The wistful, almost sad look that crossed Steve's face made the tease Grace was about to make die in her throat. She carefully switched topics, not quite ready to try and broach a topic with Steve about personal issues. Grace knew she needed to build the trust between them more before she could do that.
"Bucky also mentioned Howard Stark made him a sniper rifle, he wondered what happened to it." Grace changed the topic to something more neutral.
"It is hanging up in the Smithsonian under his exhibit." Steve relaxed again, unwrapping his own bagel. "It was a lovely rifle. Completely custom made, years ahead of anything we had at the time."
"That's a shame," Grace mused, picking a piece of salmon off her bagel. Another thing Bucky had said earlier popped into her mind. She fought back a smile and tried her best to keep her tone casual. "Bucky also thought Tony was a product of Howard knocking up some poor unsuspecting girl."
Steve had just taken a bite out of his bagel. He had to quickly clap his hand over his mouth, his face turning bright red as he struggled not to choke. Grace sat there, smiling innocently as she watched him struggle. Steve finally managed to swallow his food, coughing as it went down.
"Did he really say that?" Steve's voice was scratchy. He had to clear his throat a few times before he could speak again. "Because that's the Bucky I know."
"He did," Grace finally let herself laugh. It was a very funny comment and not far off the truth about what Grace knew about Howard Stark. Steve joined in her laughter a second later. "It was a hilarious comment."
"And exactly the Howard that Bucky knew too," Steve said around his laughter. His gaze drifted to the sleeping man in the other room. "That gives me hope my old friend is still there."
"He is," Grace reassured Steve, smiling at him. "He's doing well. He remembered Brock Rumlow, his last HYDRA handler. Did you know him?"
"I did." The good humour fell away from Steve's face. "I swear if he hurt Bucky in any way, I'll double the efforts to hunt that son of a bitch down. That man even had Natasha fooled about who he really was. I drank with him, played poker with him, hell I even considered he was a friend outside of work."
The bitterness of betrayal was easy to make out in Steve's voice. While Grace didn't know the full story, she knew he had every right to feel betrayed. Close knit elite groups were like brothers. A betrayal among them would be like being stabbed in the back by your own family. At least there was one thing she could soothe him about.
"Quite the contrary actually," Grace said carefully. "Bucky said he treated him with respect. It wasn't a nice analogy he used. But the respect was still there. So that's one less bullet you have to put in him."
"That doesn't sound right coming from a doctor," Steve's face was still tight, but a small bit of tension faded at the joke.
"Some people deserve the bullet or bullets that are coming for them." Grace shrugged. "Just because I'll do anything to save a life, doesn't mean I don't think some people deserve what they get. Besides, I'm a psychiatrist. I only deal with sick in the head people. Snotty noses are gross."
Grace was pleased Steve managed a proper laugh at her poor attempt at humour. It wasn't far from the truth. Doing her paediatrics rotation as an intern had been a new form of hell for her.
"So, 5 brothers?" Steve asked, changing the topic with a curious look. "It's not often you see big families these days."
"Yes, I have 5 brothers," Grace said with a smile. Steve was right, coming from a big family was getting rarer and rarer as the times went on. "I was a bit of an accident. There's 9 years between me and my last brother. I think my parents were very grateful they finally got a girl though. Holidays are a new type of insane."
"You weren't here for last Christmas," Steve said, the last bit of tension fading away from his posture. "Or Thanksgiving. Tony tried to deep fry a turkey,"
"Gross." Grace laughed, finishing her last piece of bagel. "Did you want to come up to my apartment so we can go over those notes? I don't think he's waking up anytime soon."
Bucky was in the same position as before. He hadn't even twitched during the time Grace and Steve had been eating breakfast. His face was relaxed and calm, unlike earlier. Grace felt a small rush of relief at seeing him sleeping again. The movie had either bored him to sleep, or he felt comfortable enough after his nightmare that he could go to sleep.
"He looks peaceful," Steve voiced her thoughts, looking wistful at he gazed at his best friend. He stood up and offered his hand to Grace. "Shall we?"
Despite the deflection, Grace could see the thoughts so clearly on his face. It wasn't a surprise Steve would have problems sleeping. Grace had no doubts his own PTSD ran very deep. But confronting him about it wouldn't help the situation. Steve was a man of his time. Anything to do with his own mental health was going to be a stigma.
"Lead the way." Grace paused, suddenly remembering how little she had on. Instead of being embarrassed, she decided to own it. If Steve was the gentleman he came across as, he wouldn't blink an eye about it. "And excuse my pyjamas. I didn't have time to get changed."
With more confidence than she was feeling, Grace let the blanket drop off her shoulders. To his credit, Steve didn't blink at her lack of proper attire. His eyes stayed firmly above her neckline. Grace wasn't surprised. She was sure that someone like Steve wouldn't be interested in her body at all. She was feeling the effects of far too much good food since her stay here. She was going to have to ask Sam to show her to the gym. Otherwise, she'd end up 300 pounds before her time here was over.
The elevator ride up to Grace's apartment was silent. Grace kept her arms crossed over her chest, mindful of the cool air. Once they got into her apartment Grace got her laptop and the first of Bucky's books. Steve was standing by the kitchen, looking unsure of himself. He had his hands shoved in his pockets, scanning the apartment like he was on a mission.
"Make yourself at home," Grace said, motioning to the couch as she put the laptop down on the coffee table. "I'll grab the first of the books and we'll go through my notes."
"I'll make a coffee if you'd like?" Steve was nervous again. Grace could see him trying not to fidget or look too uncomfortable.
"Coffee maker is right there." Grace pointed to the expensive machine on the bench. "I have no idea how to use it."
"Luckily I do," Steve said, looking ridiculously pleased with that small bit of information. When Grace looked at him in question, he shrugged not looking the least bit embarrassed. "Pepper showed me when I first moved in. Out of all the modern appliances, I love my coffee maker the most."
"You'll have to show me," Grace said, returning the smile. "I'll be back in a second."
Without waiting for an answer, Grace turned on her heel and went straight to her bedroom. She resisted the urge to tug on her boxer shorts down so they covered a little more than the bare necessities. It would only draw attention to her self-conciseness about them. It didn't take her long to get changed and head back into the lounge room. True to his word, Steve had a steaming mug of coffee waiting on the coffee table. Steve was already reading the first book, his brow furrowed in concentration.
"It's a bit of a mess," Grace warned as she sat down next to him, leaning over to open the notes on her computer. "Except for his handwriting. His handwriting makes my neatest attempts look like chicken scratch."
"It was probably the only thing the nuns managed to beat into him," Steve said, looking up from the book. He looked uncomfortable at what he'd been reading. "Is any of this true?"
Grace leant over to have a look at what part Steve was referring to. It only took her a second to zero in on what he was referring to.
"According to his files, yes." Grace fought to keep her voice even. Bucky had gone from writing about stealing art supplies for Steve when they were kids, to a mission in Vietnam during the war. The particular mission had been Bucky slaughtering a village that aided US troops. Then he'd hunted down the men the Vietnamese village had helped and killed them as well. For whatever reason, the Soviet's wanted those men dead and sent the only weapon they had that would make sure of that. Bucky's resulting retake on those events with graphic and in a perfect description. Grace had felt ill the first time she'd read it.
"I never thought Bucky was capable of such things," Steve murmured, looking sick himself. "I know it's war. But this is…"
"Something else," Grace finished for Steve. It had taken her a few hours to wrap her head around on a personal and professional level. "But the way I look at it is that Bucky Barnes and the Winter Soldier are two very different beings. If this wasn't a case of brainwashing, which I'm still trying to wrap my head around, to be honest, I'd called it dissociative identity disorder."
Steve's blank look made Grace stop the current train of thought she was on.
"Multiple personality disorder," Grace explained. A look of understanding bloomed across Steve's face as he nodded. "It doesn't quite fit this because Bucky remembers what he did as the Solider. Dissociative identity disorder patients often have big gaps in their memory from when their other personalities take over. But not all, some people feel like they're seeing things happen through someone else's eyes and they have no control over what that current personality is making the body do. But it's the same principle. A person with true DID can't be held accountable for their actions when one of their personalities take over. It's something they have no control over."
Grace trailed off, feeling like her mouth was running away from her. She couldn't help it. Despite the frustrations of her old job, she loved delving into the mind of people. Rare and complex disorders were always a fascination to her. It's one of the reasons she decided to with help PTSD patients. The complex layering of the disorder made it a challenge to treat. Grace loved being the one to peel apart the layers and bit by bit put people's brains and lives back together. But to her surprise and secret delight, Steve looked completely fascinated by what she was saying.
"Sorry, I'm rambling." Grace cleared her throat. She took a sip of coffee to cover her mild discomfort.
"Not at all," Steve reassured her with a smile. "You're passionate about it. Please, go on. I'm enjoying this."
Steve was far too polite for his own good. But Grace found herself picking up where she left off, happy to have an avid listener. Most of her friends and family got a glazed look on their faces when she started to talk about these things.
"Treating someone with DID is really tricky. You can't medicate them like you would say for someone with bipolar. People's different personalities are like an entirely new person and there's no baseline for an actual chemical reaction that goes on the brain when they switch. The only way to address it is work through the underlying cause, which in most cases is trauma. So we use psychotherapy as a baseline, which is in very simplified terms is what most people would know as talking therapy. But it's a fine line between pushing for information because you have to be mindful of an alter coming out. At the moment I don't know what triggers the Winter Solider to come out, or if he's a separate personality if you want to call it that, in Bucky. He can't remember what's real himself and what's not. Which is why I have him writing down the memories. No matter how disjointed and horrible they are, it's a baseline of how much Bucky remember's of his previous life."
Grace paused to take a deep breath. Steve's attention had stayed on her throughout the entire explanation, much to her surprise.
"I need to find out what's real and what's not. If it's not real, then I try and find out where he thinks that memory came from. If it's real, then I work on helping him through the horrible things that he can remember. As slow as it is starting from the bottom, it gives me a baseline of where to go from here. One of my favourite Professor's likened it to building a 7 tiered cake. If you don't make your bottom layer rock solid and able to support everything, it'll come tumbling down with disastrous consequences. I feel like I need to buy you dinner for sticking with me through that entire explanation."
"You explained it very well." Steve laughed briefly. His eyes went back to the computer screen and book in front of him, chasing away the humour on his face. "I'm sorry you have to read things like that. I was in a war and I found it hard to get through."
"I deal with veterans who have seen and sometimes done horrible things, day in and day out," Grace gently reminded Steve. "Everyone has their demons. Some are more horrifying than others. I don't judge, I only help people put their lives back together when they hit rock bottom."
"So, how do you deal with this on a daily basis?" Steve waved a hand over the laptop and book. He wasn't prying, he was genuinely curious with a touch of concern in his voice. "I mean as a whole, not just Bucky."
"I'm not going to lie, some nights I would go home and cry myself out with a very big bottle of wine," Grace said dryly. "It's hard. I felt sick to my stomach reading some of those things. But I have to distance myself on a professional level. You have to learn to compartmentalise and function with empathy while still being detached. You also learn to recognise when you're in over your head and when you need to talk to someone about your own problems. A surgeon can't operate on their own body, so a psychiatrist can't do therapy on yourself. I'm lucky I have Sam. He's helped me through some really rough patches. I couldn't ask for a better friend."
"He says the same thing about you," Steve said with a smile. "It was you and no one else when we brought Bucky back. I'm beginning to see why."
"Don't get too generous with your praise just yet," Grace warned with a playful tone to cover up her embarrassment at Steve's praise. The smile he gave her was giving her butterflies again, for an entirely non-professional reason. She cleared her throat and motioned to the laptop. "Shall we?"
It was late afternoon by the time they got through half of the first book. The notes Grace had made before ended up doubling thanks to Steve's input. All of Bucky's memories from his earlier life had been true. Grace had laughed so much as their shenanigans as younger men that her stomach had hurt. She was enthralled by Steve's stories of their youth and during the war, on the times he got a little more sidetracked. But amongst the laughter, there had also been some sombre moments. Steve's mom's funeral was hard to get through. As was the bits and pieces of what Bucky had put together after he fell off the train. Steve took it all in his stride, putting on a stoic face as he added to the fragmented memories. When the words started to blur together, Grace called it a day.
"Thanks for all your help," Grace said, leaning against the doorframe. She was dying for a quick nap before dinner. Sam had texted earlier promising to bring over Indian. Steve was lingering in the hallway.
"I'm the one who should be thanking you for all your hard work," Steve countered. He looked as tired as Grace was feeling. "My brain hurts from looking at all of that, let alone putting it together."
"It's a very long and slow process." Grace couldn't stop the small sigh escaping from her. "But now I have somewhere to start."
"A start is good." Steve smiled at Grace. He was back to looking mildly uncomfortable. His hand came up to rub the back of his neck as he looked past Grace, instead of at her. "I didn't mean to ignore your dinner comment earlier."
Grace couldn't stop the surprise from showing on her face. She was very glad Steve was looking past her and not at her right now. That wasn't at all what she'd been expecting.
"It's fine. "Grace recovered quickly. "It was a joke between Sam and I while I was in med school. I'd ramble about a topic and in return, I'd have to buy him dinner for boring him half to death about the cool new disease I learnt about."
"Right." Steve looked disappointed, but it was gone as quickly as it came on. His posture was rigid as he went back to looking uncomfortable and unsure of himself again. "Did you want to go through more of the book tomorrow?"
Grace studied Steve's face, trying to place where this conversation was actually going. It wasn't her imagination that Steve looked disappointed at her brushing dinner off. Part of her mind wandered into dangerous territory, that Steve actually wanted to ask her out for dinner. The direction her mind wanted to go with that piece of information wasn't in the friendly territory. It could have come across as them going on a date. In Grace's mind, that was preposterous. She was sure she was tired and reading into a situation far too much. But part of her was now far too curious to see what would happen if she extended the dinner invitation.
"I actually want to start going through some of this with Bucky tomorrow," Grace started, she felt a flutter of nerves as she put her plan into place. "But I'll pick you up for dinner at 6pm tomorrow because you were such a good listener. I feel like I owe you a really big steak for sticking with me and my psychiatry ramblings."
It was very forward of her and very presumptuous. The look of surprise on Steve's face made Grace's stomach drop. She suddenly felt like she'd just misread the entire situation. But she kept a smile on her face to hide her inner turmoil. It'd been far too long since she'd asked someone out to dinner, even just as a friend. The silence seemed to tick on for hours, but in reality, it was only a few seconds.
"Steak sounds amazing." Steve looked shy and very pleased all at once. "I'll see you at 6 then. Have a good afternoon Grace."
"Bye." Grace shut the door before she did something stupid. Like giggle uncontrollably about how she just asked Steve Rogers to dinner and he accepted. Grace quickly pinched her arm to stop the giddy feeling from overwhelming her. It was only dinner between friends, nothing more. She wasn't going to let a few looks and reading too much into a situation come between the start of a new friendship. Still, Grace let herself feel one more little thrill as she went back to her computer. Her nap was long forgotten as she sat down, pulling the computer into her lap and started to look for a good steakhouse to go to.
Obviously I'm not a psychiatrist, so everything discussed in this is what I've gained from reading articles and textbooks. Part of what I love about writing is the research that goes into stories and just losing yourself in an entirely new world of something you have no idea about.
I hope everyone enjoyed the chapter and it wasn't too much of an information dump and no action. For my readers and fans of Crystallize, no these stories aren't tied together so don't get too excited about that mention. I needed someone and that bit just kind of happened instead of making a new character. It was kind of nice to think about the what if in another time and universe about what stuff might happen. So it's nothing more than that.
As always, I love your reviews so please let me know what you think.
Until next time.