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by inches

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The last time they argue about how Steve makes damn sure Bucky's nightmares wake him up and fully intends to keep doing so, Steve doesn't actually say anything.

A lot of the time they don't have to, when it comes right down to it. He and Bucky are perfectly capable of having a five minute argument by way of expressions and silences, a fact which Sam has stopped even bothering to pretend he doesn't find hysterical. Steve'll even grant it's probably hilarious from the outside: pointed looks, silences, long staring matches. That's mostly why the ones they did have out loud always tended to be, and still tend to be, pretty loud, fights instead of arguments: by that point they've been ignoring each other's silent points for five minutes or more anyway, so at least one of them's pretty annoyed.

And it's probably both of them.

Their last argument on this particular subject starts with Bucky trying to say that if Steve doesn't have to wake up, he shouldn't, because he knows as well as Steve does that Steve can decide what's going to wake him up and what isn't, at least within reason. And Steve almost has the feeling part of Bucky's subconscious makes him bring it up because it's trying to make sure he loses this one, finally, and maybe gives up and lets it go, because the tack he tries next touches on how Steve training himself to recognize that kind of thing in his sleep is messed up and unfair.

At that, Steve closes the paper he has open on the dining room table and gives Bucky a long, disbelieving look. And keeps it up until Bucky has to say, has to admit out loud, "Yeah, no, I remember I fucking trained myself to wake up when you started wheezing. That's different. You could've died."

Steve just shifts a little in his chair, leaning an elbow on the table, and keeps up the incredulous expression until Bucky's face turns sour and irritated and he mutters something nasty at Steve in Russian, throws the paper-towel he'd had under his breakfast-bagel at Steve's head and almost-stomps off to the bathroom, locking the door behind him.

Bucky spends the rest of that day in a mood Steve can only call foul (thinking of his mother while he does), genuinely short-tempered and irritable even with the kitten . . . but when that fades it pretty much looks like the issue gets sorted, and it doesn't come up again, and as far as trades go that's a bargain.


Sometimes there's not much to it anyway: a few minutes to resettle and if Bucky doesn't necessarily go back to sleep right away, he's out of the dream enough for it to fade away and for him to relax until he can drift off again.

Sometimes. Not tonight. Tonight is one of the nights that whatever it is his subconscious decided to throw at him drives Bucky far enough to be half out of the bed by the time he's really finished waking up, or believing he's awake, and sends the kitten scrabbling up on top of the dresser. But it's not bad enough to come with its own dissociative episode, so Steve marks it as could be worse.

Bucky catches himself and Steve watches him force what muscles he can to unwind, to put the knife back down on the bedside table and rub at his right temple with his right hand; he glances back at Steve, then at the cat, makes a very slight face and then pushes himself up out of bed from - Steve knows by now - the need to move around to shake the last bit of it off.

Steve pushes the comforter back and gets up, follows Bucky to the bathroom and waits until Bucky's finished splashing cold water on his face and then dried it off, taken a drink.

When Bucky turns back towards the bathroom door, Steve carefully hooks an arm around his waist, pulling Bucky over so Steve can rest his head on Bucky's shoulder, and Bucky can do the same on his. And after a minute or two, Steve moves his hand to cradle Bucky's head instead, kisses his temple.

"You know," Bucky says, quietly, "I think I fucking resent that the clinical shit went for calling it 'anxiety'. Makes it sound so fucking small."

It's the kind of thing Bucky will pretty much only say in the middle of the night, in moments like this, that already feel half-unreal - liminal, Steve thinks, that's the word of Natasha's that fits, that means what he wants. Time that only exists to mark the passage from one thing to another. Something like that.

Out of old, old habit Steve reaches for etymology and ends up saying, "Anxiar, angō - that's what, torment and distress. Started out okay."

Bucky exhales a not-laugh, right hand resting at the curve of Steve's neck. "I can't believe you fucking remember that."

"Me neither," Steve admits. "I'm pretty sure those brain-cells could be doing something more useful." Then he asks, "Want to tell me?"

Bucky shifts, shakes his head a little and rests his forehead against Steve's. "S'gone, mostly - just blood and screaming," he says. Might be a lie, might not be, but if he can say it like that, then even if there is something clinging, Steve knows, it's not that bad.

"Come back to bed, then," Steve says, "you scared your cat."

"Fucking cat," Bucky says, and doesn't mean it.