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safe in the 5am light

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Sam and Bucky both never slept.

They never had to ask each other, but they both knew each morning that the other couldn’t have slept for more than an hour. Sam knew better than to point out the dark indigo bags under Bucky’s eyes, and Bucky knew better than to acknowledge how comically bloodshot Sam’s eyes always were in the morning. They never said anything about it, but they both knew that the other knew.

They’d only been living together for about a month, neither of them being able to fully let their guard down around the other yet. They were friends, don’t get them wrong. They had been friends for a while, but things were… different now.

One thing they’d agreed on was to not mention the elephant in the room: Steve. Steve had died of old age a week after they’d moved in together, changing the atmosphere and the dynamic between the two. Discomfort and awkward tension would fill the room whenever the two of them were in the same vicinity. Neither of them would know what to do or say, and usually one or both would flee the situation.

Both of them desperately wanted to be closer with the other, but neither of them knew how to approach the situation.

But they started with bonding over their inability to fall asleep each night.

-

After tossing and turning for what felt like hours, Sam decided to go to the kitchen. He didn’t know what the kitchen would solve, but he was already out of his bed and walking through his bedroom doorway before he could think of an answer.

As he walked into the kitchen, he saw Bucky had the same idea, seeing his silhouette by the coffee machine. He didn’t know whether to acknowledge him or to just get the hell out of there before Bucky noticed him, but all his clouding thoughts about the situation quickly dissipated when he noticed he was only seeing 4/5 of Bucky’s silhouette.

He didn’t know why he’d assumed that Bucky slept with an uncomfortable hunk of metal attached to him.

Sam was raised better than to stare at people who didn’t fit the norm, but he just couldn’t take his eyes off of how the left sleeve of Bucky’s tshirt just fell limp without anything to fill it. He realized then that he’d never seen Bucky without his metal arm on before.

He hoped Bucky wasn’t noticing he was staring.

“Take a picture, it’ll last longer,” the brunette joked dryly, not looking away from the coffee machine.

Shit.

Sam’s face flushed and he immediately retracted into himself. “Sorry,” he whispered. He wanted to follow up with something, but didn’t know what.

The two just stood there in silence, the only light coming from the moonlight streaking through the window, the awkward tension building up until neither of them could take it anymore.

Bucky turned to face Sam, leaning back against the counter. “Finally needed a change of scenery?” He placed his right hand on the edge of the counter and cracked a small smile.

“Yeah…” Sam sighed. “Was getting stir crazy in there.”

“’ve never seen you come out of your room when you can’t sleep… which we both know is every night.” Bucky let out a small chuckle. “I’m here almost every night, er, morning, wondering what you could possibly be doing.”

Sam chuckled at Bucky’s remark. He made his way next to his roommate, leaning against the counter like Bucky was. “Nothing that fascinating… just… staring at the ceiling. Thinking about how goddamn insane everything is, and has been.” He looked up at the kitchen ceiling, which desperately needed to be painted over.

Bucky hummed. He looked to Sam, then down at the floor. He wanted to respond, but every response he could think of had to do with either Steve, the shield, or the blip. He couldn’t break their golden rule this early into making it.

The two sat in silence for a few minutes, neither of them knowing what to say.

Sam finally turned to Bucky, his eyes falling on his left side. “I don’t know why I thought you always had your metal arm on every hour of the day,” he said with a small laugh, trying to spark another conversation.

Bucky laughed harder than he should’ve, not expecting Sam’s remark. He shifted his body to face him. “I used to. I don’t know when I finally realized it was more comfortable to sleep without it, but that was a game-changer.”

“...is it cold?” Sam shifted towards Bucky and crossed his arms. “The arm. Like, during winter or summer, do you have to take it off because the metal’s too hot or too cold? Against your… shoulder? Or… can you not feel it?” Sam wished he could’ve thought of a better topic of conversation than the temperature of his roommate’s prosthetic arm, but it was better than sitting in silence for another few minutes.

Bucky smiled slightly at Sam’s curiosity. “I mean, it’s annoying, but it’s never gotten so bad to the point where I have to take it off.” He chuckled slightly. He looked over at Sam, whose eyes had, yet again, fallen on Bucky’s absence of his left arm. He sighed. “You want to feel it, don’t you?”

Sam took a step back, not expecting to hear what Bucky had just said, and slightly cringing at the question. Was it just a normal thing for people to want to feel where his arm used to be? What kind of people? Kids? The other Avengers? Why would fully grown adults want to feel it?

“...I didn’t.”

He paused before taking a very small step forward. He’ll admit that his curiosity had now gotten the best of him. “...but, now that you’ve said it…”

Bucky sighed, the corner of his mouth quirking up. “Go for it.”

Sam hesitantly placed his hand over where Bucky’s left arm would start, slightly feeling around, and realizing it feels exactly like how every other part of a body feels. “...I don’t know what I was expecting,” he admitted as he pulled his hand back.

Bucky laughed. “Sorry to disappoint.”

Sam looked over to the coffee maker still brewing, and raised an eyebrow. “Completely given up on trying to sleep, huh?”

Bucky shrugged, and reached up to the cabinet holding the mugs. “Yeah. Once it’s past 5, I just give up.”

Sam’s eyes widened. “It’s already five?”

Bucky laughed. “What time did you think it was?”

“Not five, that’s for sure.” The slightly shorter man rubbed his eyes. “God’s sake, I can’t believe I just stared at my ceiling for over six hours.”

“Me neither. I usually lose it after the first hour.” Bucky pulled one mug out of the cabinet, then looked to Sam. “You want some?”

“Sure.”

Bucky took a second mug out of the cabinet. He filled both of them and gave one to Sam.

The two sat in silence for a while.

But the silence was different this time. There was no awkward tension or discomfort, and neither of them felt the need to flee the situation. Just two guys, enjoying a coffee, finally being able to relax around each other.

After a few minutes, Bucky turned to Sam. “You should come out of your room more. I swear I don’t bite.”

The corners of Sam’s mouth quirked up. “I will.”

-

Sam glanced over at the digital clock by his bed, displaying “2:34”. He let out a loud, anguished sigh and shoved his pillow onto his face, half hoping he’d inadvertently smother himself.

He was about to get up and see what Bucky was doing when there was a knock at his door, and it opened to reveal the aforementioned man.

Bucky leaned against the doorway. “Can you help me cut my hair?”

Sam turned his head towards Bucky, not quite processing the question. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, trying to wake himself up, despite having been awake since the afternoon. “Can I… what?”

“I wanted to do it myself, but I got scared.”

Sam was still hung up on the first statement. He furrowed his eyebrows, wrapping his head around the situation. “You want me… to cut your hair… at two in the morning?”

“Isn’t that what everyone does at two in the morning?” the brunette joked.

Sam laughed harder than he should’ve at that. When he finally collected himself, he looked up to his roommate, smiling softly. “How short are we thinking, Barnes?”

 

Fear filled Bucky up to his head when he saw Sam’s eyes fill with terror and his jaw drop. He was already planning to invest in hats for the next few months before he’d even seen how badly Sam had screwed up his hair.

“Did you… how short did you want it?” Sam took a step back and covered his mouth with his hand. “It’s not bad!” he frantically reassured. “I just… started... pretty short. Uh, hope you didn’t want it a bit longer.”

Bucky didn’t know how much he believed Sam’s reassurance, but decided to not fully freak out until he was finished. He started mentally preparing himself to see how jarringly short Sam had just cut his hair. Despite the nerve-wracking situation, he couldn’t help but laugh. “God, I can’t believe I placed the fate of my hair in your hands.”

“Hey, hold still.” Sam chuckled slightly and held Bucky’s head steady. “Don’t want me fucking up worse than I already have.”

Bucky hated how much he liked the feel of Sam’s hand against his head. He hadn’t realized just how badly he craved touch from another human until this very moment. He tried to take in the moment as much as possible, knowing he probably wouldn’t feel some form of touch again for a while.

 

Bucky grew more and more worried the longer Sam was cutting his hair, but finally eased up when Sam set down the clippers and cracked a smile.

“Hey, I didn’t do so bad!” Sam stared at Bucky’s new haircut in disbelief, and moved to the side so Bucky could see his reflection.

Bucky was taken aback when he saw himself in the mirror. He could almost see the boy from the 40’s he used to know looking back at him. He missed him.

He hated that he was getting choked up over a goddamn haircut.

He ran a hand through his newly cut hair, feeling around the back, getting familiar with the drastic difference in length from not even an hour ago. “...wow. It looks great.”

“It’s not too short?”

“Well, it’s definitely very short… but I like it.” Bucky ran his fingers through his very short fringe. “Reminds me of how I looked before…” he paused, wincing, “everything.”

Sam’s expression softened. He couldn’t even begin to imagine the pain and torment Bucky had to endure over the past 70 years under Hydra’s control. Steve had shown him a few pictures of Bucky back from the 40’s, and it was sad to see how different he looked back then. He looked… happier.

Sam placed a hand on Bucky’s shoulder and smiled softly. “It suits you.”

Bucky subconsciously moved his hand over Sam’s. “Thanks.”

-

The nights where the two could actually get to sleep were arguably worse than the nights they couldn’t.

Sam woke up to screaming coming from the other bedroom. His stomach dropped, and he immediately got up out of his bed, making a beeline for Bucky’s room.

“Barnes?” He knocked on the door. “Bucky? Is everything okay?”

No response.

Sam’s hands were trembling. He didn’t know what was happening on the other side of the door, and dread filled his entire body with each second he didn’t know. “I’m coming in, okay?”

He opened the door to see Bucky sitting on his bed, hunched over, head in his flesh hand, heaving.

Nightmare, probably.

“James?” Sam warily approached Bucky the way you would a frightened animal. “Are you okay?”

Bucky exhaled hard. “Yeah,” he said, hoarsely. “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” He made a shooing motion with his hand. “Go back to sleep, or… whatever you were doing.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Sam frowned. Bucky is obviously in anguish, clearly not fine. Sam mentions this.

He took a few more steps forward until he was standing against Bucky’s bed. “Can I sit?”

Bucky reluctantly nodded.

Sam sat down on the bed, facing Bucky. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

Bucky shook his head.

“Well… what can I do?”

The brunette sat up and hesitantly held out his hand for Sam to take, which he willingly did.

“At least you were able to get to sleep at a decent hour, right?” Sam tried to lighten the mood as he softly rubbed circles into the back of Bucky’s hand.

“I would’ve rather just stayed up instead,” Bucky choked out.

Sam sunk, and held onto Bucky’s hand tighter. “Yeah… Nightmares can be terrifying.” He reached out his other arm, now holding Bucky’s hand with both of his. “When I was in high school, I used to force myself to stay awake in fear I’d have a nightmare when I went to sleep. ...That’s probably what led to my horrible sleep patterns today.” He forced out a laugh, trying to lighten the mood with his anecdote, but it just came out rather sad.

Bucky just nodded. He wanted to speak, but knew he would break the second he would start.

“You want me to stop talking, don’t you?”

“I don’t--…” As soon as he’d started speaking, he’d abruptly stopped, growing too choked up to keep talking. He took a deep breath and squeezed his eyes shut, causing a few tears to fall.

It pained Sam to see his comrade crying in front of him. He had never seen this man show any emotion, let alone cry, until a few nights ago.

“Aw, Buck…”

Sam instinctively reached his hand out to wipe Bucky’s tears away, resulting in Bucky letting out a small yelp, quickly retracting his arm to cover his face, and pulling himself away from Sam.

Sam’s heart dropped, and he immediately pulled his hand away. If his heart wasn’t in pieces before, it was now. “...I would never hit you, James.”

Bucky slowly lowered his arm, realizing what had just happened. “Oh, god… I’m sorry.” He sighed, ashamed. He tried his absolute hardest to force the second wave of tears back down. “I don’t know why I… — I do, but I don’t know why…” he trailed off, unable to finish. He grunted and covered his face with his hand. “...I’m sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing?” Sam furrowed his brow, frowning. He didn’t want to think about all the things that had to happen for Bucky to flinch and shield himself from Sam slowly reaching out to him. “Nothing’s your fault. I’m sorry for not asking, or warning you. I shouldn’t’ve done that.”

Bucky rubbed his eye and let out a long sigh. It took a while for him to collect himself. When he finally did, he looked back up at Sam, hesitant to speak. “Can… can you do that again?”

It took a few seconds for Sam to register the question, but when he finally did, his eyes softened and he nodded. “Of course.” He slowly reached his hand out, making eye contact with Bucky. He gently wiped a few tears away with his thumb, his hand slightly lingering on Bucky’s face.

Bucky leaned into the touch and shut his eyes.

Before Sam could pull his hand away, Bucky lifted his own and placed it over Sam’s.

“I know this is weird. I just…” He exhaled. “I haven’t been touched in a century.”

It was supposed to be a joke, but neither of them laughed.

“I get it. I’d be doing the same thing.”

Sam gently rubbed Bucky’s cheek with his thumb, which made Bucky’s heart flutter. This was definitely something he could get used to.

Bucky finally opened his eyes, meeting them with Sam’s. “...Can I… can I hug you?” His voice was notably higher than it usually was.

Sam didn’t say anything. He merely smiled and pulled Bucky into his embrace. He held him tight, rubbing up and down his back, slowly.

Bucky held on for dear life. That second wave he thought he’d forced down was coming back up, and escaped before he could stop it. Next thing he knew, he was a sobbing mess in Sam’s arms.

Sam started to trace circles on the other man’s back, and rocked back and forth very slowly. He wanted to say something to comfort or console him, but he decided to just stay quiet.

After he’d finally calmed down a bit, Bucky rested his chin on Sam’s shoulder and shut his eyes, melting into his embrace. “God, thank you so much. Thank you.”

“Don’t need to thank me, Buck.”

The two stayed like that for a while.

 

“...You think you can go back to sleep?” Sam asked at a low whisper.

Bucky just knew that meant Sam was tired of consoling him, and wanted to go back to sleep. “Yeah. I think I can.” He wanted to stay in Sam’s embrace forever, but he didn’t want to force him to stay if he didn’t want to.

Sam pulled away from the hug, his hand lingering on Bucky’s shoulder. “...Do you want me to stay?”

“You can go. It’s okay.”

Sam noticed how Bucky didn’t give a yes or no answer, but didn’t say anything. “Okay. See you in the morning, Buck.” He stood up and started to leave.

“You and I both know it’ll be the afternoon,” Bucky joked.

Sam laughed. He turned to face Bucky with his hand on the door frame. “Yeah… see you in the afternoon.” He cracked a fond smile before he finally left the room, shutting the door behind him.

Bucky laid back down in his bed, and was asleep in a matter of minutes.

-

Their dynamic changed drastically after that night.

They were finally getting more comfortable around each other, and grew more familiar than they were before. After Bucky’s remark about not being touched in years, Sam made a note to touch him more, whether it was a casual hand on the shoulder, a playful jab in the arm, or a brief arm around the shoulders when they’d sit on the couch. Bucky tried to reciprocate, but always felt like he was intruding each time he reached his hand out. He would place his hand over Sam’s each time he initiated the touch, which they both knew was the best he could do right now.

After that night, one of the two would have a nightmare at least once a week. It was always the same routine: one would hear the other screaming, panting, and/or cursing, come into their room asking if things were okay, and staying with the other until they felt okay enough to fall back asleep.

As the days, weeks, months passed, their touches became more frequent, and lasted longer. By month six, they might as well have been attached to each other.

It was really nice.

-

The two were watching Friends reruns of all shows at some ungodly hour in the morning, Bucky half asleep on Sam’s shoulder, and Sam trying to keep himself awake.

Sam absentmindedly ran his fingers through Bucky’s hair, which was a few weeks overdue for a haircut. They’d gotten into a routine where Sam would cut Bucky’s hair once a month, but they’d started getting lazy. Neither of them minded, though. The winter months were beginning, so it kept Bucky’s head warmer, and Sam liked to run his fingers through it sometimes.

Before he even realized what he was doing, he leaned down and placed a soft kiss on Bucky’s head.

Bucky was wide awake now. A fond, giddy smile spread across his face as he processed what had just happened. He lifted himself from Sam’s shoulder, looking him in the eyes.

If the last time Sam slept hadn’t been 36 hours ago, he probably would’ve immediately apologized and hightailed it to his room, but he was running on zero hours of sleep, and part of him has wanted to do that for a while now.

Bucky just looked at Sam, his eyes half open and that stupid smile still on his face. He leaned over and kissed Sam’s temple before resting his head back on his shoulder.

They’ll talk about this more in the morning.