"Come on, we should be able to bunk down here for a while," Steve announced. He was exhausted. Normally he would have another eight or nine hours left in him before he needed a rest, but he was emotionally as well as physically drained by this point and had dipped into his reserves long ago.
He turned to find Bucky staring at him, struggling to keep his face blank but in doing so showing a mask of incomprehension. He stared right back until his friend finally relented and asked, "Why?"
"Because I need to rest," Steve explained. He didn't want to seem mean about it, but he did think it was fairly obvious. Then again, few things were what they seemed anymore, so there was that. "We've got enough food for a few days even though it's us but, damn, I need to shut my eyes for a few minutes. Maybe a few hours at this point." He accentuated the admission with a yawn.
Bucky nodded and picked up one of the guns from where it had been stored. "Go on then, I've got watch," he said, which was so beyond ridiculous that Steve had to fight the urge to laugh.
They were in a cloaked Quinjet on its way to the middle of nowhere. Autopilot was set to give them the most direct route while occasionally rounding back around to give false trails in case they were being tracked. It was SHIELD tech. No, scratch that, it was Stark tech, which meant Tony probably had a back door into the system. He had done what he could to compete with that but quite frankly, even with as quickly as he had picked up on most technological changes, he had his limits.
He reluctantly figured that Bucky had a point. Someone should watch for the bells and whistles to signal they were being tracked, or possibly directly attacked. With only the two of them on this little journey, that left very few options. He pointed out the weaponry on the outside of the jet and how to use it because if Barnes had to use the gun in his hands it meant they were already down, and then offered a hesitant, "Two hours, okay? Then it's yours."
He fell asleep almost immediately even though he had the overwhelming feeling something was off. Two of course became three and he woke up on his own versus the agreed time. "Damn it, Buck," he muttered, knowing he'd be heard. He checked the clock and their position, scanned the logs to verify nothing was highlighted in red as a potential threat, and turned back to his extremely unapologetic friend. "Fine, we're just shy of another two hours before we hit possible resistance. You've got at least an hour, hour and a half because of your little stunt."
"I'm fine," Bucky protested. "Slept more than I was awake for the past seventy years anyway."
"You were drugged into unconsciousness and put into cryogenic stasis," Steve corrected.
Bucky shrugged and pursed his lips before he replied, "Same thing."
"Really, it's not," Steve advised. "One's voluntary, for the most part anyway, and something your body needs to survive. The other's a way of putting you on hold, all of you, all of your systems and processes, until they need to pull you up again."
"Sleep's not voluntary," Bucky muttered. "Cryo's not either."
Steve had a sickening feeling at the pit of his stomach. It made sense, in a horrific way, but that was their life now and he knew he had a greater chance at being right than wrong on this one. "How often do you sleep, pal?"
Bucky made a face. "I recharge when I need to," was all he said.
Steve thought back to the dingy apartment that he had found him in and all that it held. "Not just propped up against the wall or in some chair and dozing, but real, actual sleep? You had a bag, so you had to use it sometime, right?"
Bucky bit his lower lip, a sign he was either hiding something or going to say something Steve didn't like but phrase it in a way that was, again, hiding the worst of it. "I'd get... tired, I think the word is? I'd get tired every once in a while. Food wasn't enough or whatever. I'd go back to whatever safe-house I'd made and rest."
"But did you sleep?"
Bucky scrunched up his face until it finally smoothed out into a frown. "There were times when I'd set the traps and sit down to recharge, close my eyes and everything. I'd open them and it'd be hours later. Must have passed out, what you're calling sleep, because there's no other explanation for it."
"That's not sleep, not really," Steve complained. He shook his head and corrected, "Okay, so part of it might have been. You reached a state of unconsciousness that allowed your body to rest, but that's not how it works, or at least how it should."
Bucky shrugged again, the very edge of his lips quirked up in the way Steve had come to recognize as self-depreciated apology. "Told you: same thing."
Steve breathed out through his nose and tried to find the words he needed. Tried to find the words to not piss Buck off when he was well on the way to getting there himself. "Okay, so the sleeping bag. It looked used, right? How often did you lay down with it with the sole intent to close your eyes and rest?"
Bucky snorted at that. "That was for remembering," he corrected, because it was clear that's what he was trying to do, that he was pointing out the differentiation between two things that he thought didn't have anything to do with each other. "I'd shut off all the lights and block out all the windows and lay down, close my eyes, and let the memories come. Sometimes they were almost pleasant. Most of the time they weren't and I'd open my eyes to find I'd punched another hole in a wall or something."
"That was sleep, Buck. That was dreaming," Steve explained. "Makes sense your memories would come back then, but some of that would be dreams, or maybe nightmares. It's your body's way of coping with everything thrown at you, let's you analyze it in a way you can deal with to pick apart later." He silently thanked Sam for that particular lecture. It hadn't even been directed at him, but at a group of gathered vets one of the times Steve had visited. He had made a mental note of it figuring he'd find a use for it later, especially with the group he found himself all wrapped up with.
"Can't say I have much use for it," Bucky muttered.
"Tell you what," Steve started, grasping on to what could be a bad idea but was probably a necessary one. "When this is over, we'll find a place, just us, just us two. It'll have a big comfy bed and you can sleep all you want in it. I'll keep watch and, when you wake up, I can help tell you what was a dream and what might be a memory. Sound like a plan?"
"I don't need any-"
"Indulge me," Steve cut him off with a wry grin. Buck always did have a hard time saying no to him when he got an idea. Hopefully this one would actually benefit him this time around.
"Maybe," Bucky finally relented after far too long of a pause. He pointed a finger at Steve now, and gave the caveat of, "If we get out of this with our heads intact and can find a place to lay low that doesn't want to kill us."
Steve held out his hand to shake and said, "You've got yourself a deal."
Bucky snorted again, but this time there was far more humor than derision in it. He stuck out his own hand and took Steve's with a grip that only trembled a little. "You are such a punk," he grumbled with a shake of his head.
Steve turned back to the controls, knowing not to push Bucky about sleeping just yet. He'd take his victories where he could. That didn't mean he didn't toss out one final, "Better a punk than an idiot."
"You'd know because you're both," Bucky grinned, and Steve couldn't help but return the sentiment.
Plans made, such as they were, he looked out the window into the vast nothingness that lay before them. It wasn't exactly a positive portent but, if he wrapped his mind around it and squinted at it in just the right way, he could see that nothingness as a future to be shaped, a chance to start all over again. It wasn't perfect, as an analogy or a battle tactic really, but it was good enough.
Now he just had to convince Bucky of that.