Hey, look! I didn't abandon this fic after all! I never meant to, actually, but I got distracted with my Steve and Bucky Hogwarts AU. (Which, if you haven't read that one, I'd recommend it. Not that I'm biased, or anything.)
Anyway, yes, the boys are back. This one's set a month or so after Bucky's return, and he's having trouble sleeping. Seems angsty at first, but doesn't stay that way.
Steve woke up to a panicked yell, and he was on his feet and halfway across the hall before his brain had entirely registered that it was Bucky screaming. Bucky was curled up in an agitated tangle of sheets at the head of his bed, and he yelled again and lurched over to the side.
"Bucky?" Steve said. "Bucky, wake up," he said when Bucky didn't respond. He hated standing over here by the door and calling to his friend, but he'd learned the hard way that Bucky didn't always know where he was or what was going on when he woke up from dreams like this. Even if Steve didn't mind taking the hit, Bucky felt awful about it and Steve didn't want to do that to him. "Bucky!" he said louder.
Bucky gasped and his eyes snapped open, and he lashed out at the air with what would have been a bone-shattering left hook.
"Buck?" Steve asked.
Bucky's eyes shot over in Steve's direction, and Steve could see panic in the steel blue slowly swirling back into awareness and clarity. "Steve?" Bucky whispered.
Steve took that as his cue to move closer, and crossed Bucky's room in a couple of steps to sit on the side of the bed. "Yeah, Buck," he said. "I'm here." He'd also learned the hard way that he needed to leave first physical contact up to Bucky, but tonight Bucky grabbed him before he'd sat all the way down. "Bad one, huh?" Steve said sadly, wrapping his arms tight around his friend.
For several minutes, Bucky just sat there and shook. Finally, not raising his head, he whispered into Steve's shoulder, "Are you really here?"
"I'm really here," Steve replied. He hugged him a little tighter. "Right here."
"Where am I?" Bucky whispered.
"You're home, Buck," Steve said. "It's 2014, and you're in New York. This is your room and this is our apartment."
A brief silence. "I don't remember that."
"That's okay," Steve said, patting him on the back of the head. "You're safe." If Bucky didn't know anything else right now, he could at least know that.
"Can he find me?" Bucky asked so quietly that Steve wouldn't have caught it without his enhanced hearing.
"Nope," Steve said firmly, even though he wasn't sure which 'he' Bucky was referring to. "Zola's been dead for a long time. Pierce is dead. Hydra's gone." That ought to cover all the bases. "They can't find you. You're safe," he said again.
Bucky nodded, but he still didn't look up, and Steve just held on to him. He looked up briefly as his eye caught Sam moving past the door, but didn't give it much thought beyond noticing it. Bucky was still shaking, so Steve hugged him a little tighter, reaching one hand up to cradle protectively around his head, and started talking softly.
"Remember that time we found that little kitten in an alley?" he asked, not expecting an answer and not getting one. He wasn't talking to get an answer, or even to say anything in particular, but just to give Bucky something to listen to that would distract him from whatever horror had come screaming into his head tonight. The kitten story was just what popped into his head.
"I think we were in third grade," he went on. "And we found the little guy in a box. I wanted to call him Tiger because he was orange, but you said we should call him Steve because he was so little and skinny. We went with Tiger, by the way…"
He kept talking, detailing their efforts to nurse the abandoned little kitten back to health. Bucky wasn't responding at all, so Steve didn't know how much attention he was paying, but that wasn't really the point. He'd stopped shaking, so that was good.
The door creaked open a little wider, and a plastic laundry basket came sliding across the floor. The door shut again, but Steve smiled. Bucky had discovered that he liked the smell of laundry fresh out of the dryer, and he had a tendency to curl up with the clean towels and sheets he was supposed to be folding and take a nap. Sam teased him about this cat-like behavior, but he'd started getting up when Bucky had a particularly loud nightmare and tossing a few towels into the dryer. Once they were warm and fluffy and clean-smelling, he'd slide the basket full of them into Bucky's room and go back to bed. Bucky felt bad enough about bothering everyone in the middle of the night like this, so by not coming into the room, Sam was saving him a little bit of embarrassment. Actually, Steve wasn't even sure if Bucky knew Sam was doing this—no one ever said anything about it.
It did help, though, so Steve shifted a little bit and reached down to pick up a couple of the towels. He laid one over Bucky's pillow and just sort of held the other one in his hand while he went back to hugging Bucky. He could feel the muscles of Bucky's shoulders slowly unclenching until he finally moved to sit up away from Steve. There was some embarrassment in his eyes, but there was clarity there now too, so Steve smiled.
"You okay?" he asked gently.
Bucky nodded. "Yeah. Sorry." He said that every time.
"Don't worry about it," Steve told him. He said that every time too.
Bucky gave him a small, grateful smile. "Thanks."
Steve handed him the towel, and he shifted back to lie down, holding onto the towel where he could still smell it. Steve waited a minute, taking his lead from Bucky as to whether he was ready for Steve to leave or not.
"Um, so what…what happened with the cat?" Bucky asked softly.
Steve smiled and finished the story. Bucky wasn't asleep when he finished—he usually wasn't—but he looked calmer now, and he nodded his thanks to Steve. Steve got up, picked up another towel and placed it on the bed next to Bucky, then moved for the door. "Night, Buck," he said.
"G'night, Steve," Bucky mumbled.
It took a minute or two before Bucky realized Sam was talking to him. Actually, it took him a minute or two to notice that Sam had even come into the room. He must have drifted really far. His handlers would have beaten the hell out of him for letting his guard down like that.
"I'm sorry," Bucky said, shaking his head and pulling himself back to the present. "What did you say?" He still didn't like asking people to repeat themselves, but he knew now he wasn't going to get in trouble for it.
Sam smiled at him sympathetically. "I said that I noticed you've been having trouble sleeping lately. More than usual, anyway."
He really had. That was probably why he was having trouble paying attention to things. Sam's tone told him that he wasn't upset—he sounded more worried than mad—but Bucky still cringed inwardly. Sometimes Bucky handled his nightmares on his own, but sometimes he couldn't. He knew he made a lot of noise, and Steve would come in and sit with him and hold on to him, but by unspoken agreement, Sam didn't involve himself in those late-night nightmare sessions. He knew Bucky was more comfortable with Steve than he was with him, and so the two of them didn't talk about it—though Bucky suspected Sam was behind the post-nightmare fresh towels that had been appearing in his room lately. He appreciated that, but it was still pretty hands-off. Bucky must have been making a lot more noise than usual for Sam to say something.
"Sorry," Bucky said. "I don't mean to keep waking you up."
"No, no, that's not what this is about," Sam said. "I'm not mad about that. I mean, I might be if you were just getting up and yelling in the middle of the night for the hell of it, but I highly doubt that's what you want to be doing."
Bucky shook his head, not sure how else to respond to that.
"And it's not all that unusual, you know? People who have been through some crap, trouble sleeping is a pretty common thing. I see it a lot with folks down at the V.A."
"Uh huh," Bucky said, appreciating what Sam was trying to say about Bucky not being some freakish edge case, but not sure where this was going.
"And there's different ways they try to deal with it," Sam went on. "I'm guessing sleeping pills aren't really up your alley?"
"No," Bucky said quickly. "No, no, I—" After all the mind-altering treatments, sedatives and drugs Hydra would use on him, the thought of taking any more of them sent a wave of nausea rolling through his stomach. "No," he said again, shifting farther back in his chair.
"Whoa, whoa, hey, it's okay," Sam said, holding up his hands. "Sorry, I wasn't trying to suggest you should. I shouldn't have led with that."
"Oh," Bucky said. He felt suddenly embarrassed about how tightly he'd curled up in the chair, like he was trying to get away from Sam. He knew Sam didn't want to hurt him. "Sorry."
"Don't worry about it," Sam said with a smile. "What I should have started with was, I've been thinking through some of the stuff I know other people do to try to sleep to try to find something that might help you."
Bucky just managed to stop himself from asking why Sam would do that. He'd been doing it already, and he'd answered that question last week anyway with the thing with the puppies—Bucky was still just having trouble wrapping his head around people being nice to him.
"So, I got you something," Sam finished, reaching down to the side of the couch and picking up a shopping bag.
"You…" Bucky blinked in surprise. "You got me something?"
"Yeah," Sam said, jiggling the bag in his hand, indicating that Bucky should take it.
Bucky accepted the bag gingerly. It was heavier than it looked like it should be. "You got me something?" he repeated. "Like…like a gift?" He'd gotten a lot of stuff since he came to live with Steve and Sam. Steve had gotten him a lot of stuff, and it had been things he'd needed, like clothes or a toothbrush, and he supposed that was a gift too, but…that was different. Steve was his friend and Steve was trying to help him. Sam was…This was…unexpected.
Sam chuckled. "Yeah, like a gift. That okay?"
Bucky considered. "I…Yeah. Thank you."
"You're welcome," Sam said. His smile widened. "You might want to open it, though."
"Oh. Right." Bucky opened the bag to see a fold of dark red material. He pulled it out, and it unfolded into his lap. It was a blanket. It was weirdly heavy for a blanket, but it was really nice and soft.
"It's a weighted blanket," Sam explained. "It's…There's a lot of science you could get into, but the idea is that it puts this light pressure on you, supposed to make you feel secure and get your brain to release calming chemicals and stuff like that."
Bucky eyed the blanket skeptically. That sounded like a lot for a piece of fabric.
Sam chuckled again. "It's not a magic blanket. Not a cure-all or anything. It's basically…I don't know, kind of like getting a hug. I thought it might help you get to sleep easier. If nothing else, it'll keep you warm," he added. "Winter's starting to kick into gear, and I know you don't like being cold."
Bucky nodded. Even if this science blanket of Sam's didn't work, it would keep him warm. And it was really soft. Bucky liked soft things. He smiled at Sam. "Thank you. That's really thoughtful. I…Thanks."
"You're welcome," Sam said again, and he smiled and patted Bucky once on the shoulder as he stood up and moved to the kitchen.
Bucky examined the blanket a little more closely. He ran his fingers across it, then looped it around his back and wrapped it around his shoulders. Oh. He leaned back into the chair cushions and tugged the blanket a little more securely around himself. Oh, that was nice. Maybe Sam was on to something here.
Sam had been wracking his brains for a while now, trying to come up with an idea that would help Bucky get some sleep. There may have been a little bit of selfishness behind it—it was hard to get a good night's sleep when the guy two rooms down started screaming bloody murder at two in the morning—but for the most part, he just wanted to help. Not being able to sleep sucked. It messed with your emotions and messed with your brain, and it was hard to make any kind of recovery progress with all that going on. Sam saw it all the time at work. Hell, he'd been through it himself, even before he'd lost Riley. He got it. And he hated to see anyone else have to suffer through it.
It was his turn to make dinner tonight, so he emptied out the dishwasher and got started on the food. Bucky was still in the living room, and Sam pretended not to notice him experimenting with his new blanket so he wouldn't get self-conscious. He focused his attention on dinner, and had momentarily forgotten about Bucky until it was all in the oven and he looked over into the living room. He grinned.
"Hey, I'm—" Steve called from the front door, back from his meeting with Tony.
"Ssh!" Sam hissed, cutting him off.
"What?" Steve asked, confused, but quieter.
Sam nodded across the kitchen counter in response, and Steve smiled as his eyes followed the gesture. Bucky had curled up into a little ball, nestling down into the big soft cushions of the armchair. His new blanket was wrapped around him, covering every inch of him except for a tiny part of his face where his nose stuck out so he could breathe. He was fast asleep.
"Looks like your blanket idea worked," Steve said.
"Guess so," Sam agreed.
They ate dinner quietly, so as not to wake Bucky, then decided if he was sleeping well in the chair, to just let him sleep. Sam went to bed a little while later, and he woke up in the morning after a quiet night. Bucky had gotten up and moved to his room at some point, but he came padding in to the kitchen while Sam was getting breakfast. The hair sticking out every which way and the blanket wrapped around him like a cape gave him the air of a sleepy little kid, but he looked a little better rested than he had been the past several days.
"Sleep alright?" Sam asked, pouring himself a glass of orange juice.
"Yeah," Bucky said. "You were right—it didn't keep me from having nightmares or anything, but…" He shrugged. "I actually managed to go back to sleep afterwards, so…I don't know, it did something." He gave Sam a little smile, slightly embarrassed, but genuine. "Thank you. It, it means a lot to me that I can…Well, and that you would…Thank you."
Sam clapped him warmly on the shoulder. "Anytime, man. Glad I could help."