The elevator was quiet, blissfully quiet. Completely devoid of the talking, typing, clicking, clacking, cart-rolling, pill-passing noise of the general medicine floor of the hospital you worked at. The bright fluorescent lights were the only thing keeping you awake. If your state of being was to be considered awake, you leaned heavily on the back wall of the elevator using it to keep upright. Swaying, your blinks were long and frequent, pushing off the fatigue until the last possible minute. You were almost home, after your fourth 16-hour shift in a row, you had your fist day off in ten or twelve days. The money from working so much overtime was nice but it left you tired down to your mitochondria.
Finally, the elevator dinged, and the doors opened. You stumbled out and onto your floor paying no attention to anything other than the floor in front of your feet, keeping ahold of all your belonging and finding your key. Your shuffling gait was in a direct collision course with one of the occupants from the other room on the floor. You shuffled on, not aware of him at all.
“Jeez, Y/N, are you okay?” Sargent James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes asked as he side-stepped your swaying shuffle.
“I’m fine. Jus’ tire’ is all.” You slurred. You came to a rough halt, not wanting to lose a moment with you floormate. You didn’t dare turn around knowing that you would see stars.
“Did you work all night again? Do you need some help getting to your room?” Bucky looked at you back, noticed your light trembling and swaying. “Never mind, I am helping you to your room. Give me your keys please, Y/N.”
“No. I can’t let my patients suffer.” You fisted the keys to your apartment, which was across from the one Bucky shared with the one and only Steve Grant Rogers-or as most knew him, Captain America-and lurched away from him. You tried to put more effort into speaking so the slurring wouldn’t be too heavy, a day nurse had told you that you were practically unintelligible. Your suddenly clear speech did not distract him from the fact it took you three tries to fit you key in the lock.
“What am I going to do with you?” Bucky sighed. You figured it was rhetorical and even if not, it was getting harder to stay awake. Bucky nudged you out of the way, unlocking your door for you and guided you in. You inelegantly threw your stuff on the counter, heaving a deep sigh.
“James, thank you for helping me get home. I should be fine from now. I am going to sleep a bit and get a shower. I am off today. I hope.” You faced James totally, wanting to convey your thanks properly. “I don’t mean to be such a burden to you. Let me know how I can repay you.” You flashed him a bright grin.
Bucky felt his breath catch. Even run down as you were, even dressed in wrinkly and smelly and sweaty and stained scrubs, your hair a greasy pile on your head and speech almost undecipherable. You were beautiful.
“Repay me? Y/N, there is no need. You are my friend. You are Steve’s friend. I am doing what anyone should do, being a nurse is hard and demanding on a full-time schedule, let alone the insane one you have.” Bucky said. You just shook your head and smiled.
“Fine, you win, mister. Now, if you don’t mind, I need a shower and to clean up my apartment and a nap. So, go do your ‘Avengers’ thing.” You made a shooing motion with your hands. Bucky held his up and walked backwards out the door laughing lightly.
“You shouldn’t lie to your elders. That isn’t polite. If you need me just knock. We just got back from a mission. Steve is still at the compound, but I came straight here” Bucky said. “Do you want anything to eat? I can whip up some eggs for you. You are looking a little thin.”
“I’m not ‘ungry. Have a few chores. Then sleep. Later?” You were slurring again. Bucky took your answer as a question. From sharing your floor, the last few months, he knew you were prone to skipping meals too often.
He and Steve used their heightened senses to keep track of you. Left to your own devices you slacked in the self-care department. He had learned that you worked 3pm-11pm most days but some days it was 7pm-7 am or even 3pm-7am, and the latter seemed to be happening more and more frequently. He knew you didn’t have much family or friends to alleviate the workaholic tendencies you displayed.
“Okay, Y/N. Why don’t you come over for dinner? We can watch Blue Planet. If you need us, we are across the hall.” Bucky offered.
“Thank you again, Sargant Barnes. Without your help I would still be sitting in the hall asleep.” You focused on his face once more. He peered closely at you and seeming to believe that you weren’t in danger of passing out, He ruffled your messy hair and left. He closed and locked the door behind himself.
The second the door shut it felt as if he took all the liveliness with him. You sagged where you stood, exhaustion catching up with you. You looked around and sighed, your place looked like a goblin had been living here for a month. The last two and half weeks especially had been rough on your floor at the hospital, being a general medicine floor, you took anyone eighteen years or older for anything at all. You could have a 20-year-old with the flu or an 89-year-old with a fresh hip replacement. You had the beds for any patient the hospital had to admit that didn’t need a specialty room (unless overflow happened). The floor had 60 beds for usually 6 nurses and 8 nurse aides, however, there was a low supply and high demand for healthcare workers. Recently, you have been the nurse for 30 patients and having to help the aides since there are only four or five of them a night. And even shorter staff on the overnight shift, leading to you picking up or needing to stay over because no one was there to relieve you. You also picked up shifts as a nursing assistant or patient care tech, believe that no nurse is above their aides and you understand you patients better.
“Okay, let’s get changed and then shower. We can clean up after that.” You nodded firmly, pulling from the almost empty energy stores to get moving.
You pulled off your filthy scrubs, not even beginning to identify the mysterious stains and added them to the dirty laundry. After a quick shower you pulled on sweatpants and a shirt, feeling like a functioning member of society and not a dirty trash goblin. You gathered all your dirty clothes and began on of the many loads of laundry, while that went you did dishes and cleaned out the fridge, took out the trash, changed sheets, swapped the throw blankets on the chair and couch. You even wrote a grocery list for the next week or two. After doing a second load of laundry you called it quits. It was 9:30 in the morning and you needed some sleep before tackling the rest of your chores.
“Two melatonin and two-night ibuprofen should do the trick. I can sleep. I can sleep and not have to get up for work until tomorrow.” You said to yourself. You took the medication and curled up on the couch with David Attenborough lulling you to sleep.
“Some arteries of the blue whale of big enough for adult humans to swim through.” Was the last thing you heard.