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(if I were) that kind of grateful

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In his last days in 1945, Steve hadn't slept much. In the first twenty-four hours after Bucky fell Steve'd mostly spent his time trying desperately to get drunk, and failing. After he'd gone through the first whole bottle to no effect, Jim'd left him alone, gone back to help Monty and Dernier deal with Gabe, who wasn't handling things much better than Steve was but had a much higher likelihood of drinking himself to death if someone - maybe multiple someones - didn't watch him.

Dugan'd sat outside smoking until Peggy came.

The third day, Steve'd managed to fall asleep for a few hours. A few hours, between the end of planning and the start of execution, when there wasn't a damn thing for him to do but wait until other people were ready. So he slept, maybe five hours, enough to call it "a night" without really being of that much use.

When he'd woken up, he'd forgotten about everything. Just for a few seconds. Misplaced the memories, the knowledge, of how the world was now.

Just for those few seconds, everything was okay.

Then . . . not so much.

It'd happened once or twice more over, the two years after he woke up and it turned out to be 2012 and everyone else he knew and loved was dead too. And he'd hated each time more than just about anything short of - well. More than a lot of things. Each morning it'd happened lead to one Hell of a bad day.

Nowadays (even he has to admit), it's kind of funny that he can sometimes end up with the other way around. Funny-funny in the irony, and bitter funny in how he'd only just been maybe starting to figure out how to live with things when - well, when everything changed, again, in how he can tell that because sometimes just as he wakes up his mind defaults back to that reality, to those base assumptions.

And he can handle how it's funny, even the bitter, because Holy Mary, Mother of God, this way around is better.

 

He wakes up and it's dark, and maybe he wakes up out of a dream - he doesn't remember it, but somehow, while he slept things inside his head got put away in the wrong places and he wakes up knowing he's in his place in DC and a day with SHIELD awaits and he's still trying to convince himself any part of his life has a point. In the instant he wakes up and blinks and can't figure out what's subtly wrong with the room he's looking at, Steve knows all of that.

Except knowing that doesn't last long, because when he rolls over even just a bit, Bucky's lying beside him in bed, curled up on his side, asleep.

It's barely long enough to think anything, to make a thought, before the inside of his head sorts itself out. Back before, the old knowledge'd used to settle on him like heavy wet wool that somehow melted and got through his skin, inside him. How smothering might feel if it didn't kill you, if you didn't need that air to live.

Now, it's . . . not like that. It's like a sudden spark between his spine and his breast-bone, a pulse that drives threads of something out to wrap around his heart and his lungs and coil around his ribs and find every nerve to light it up just for a split second, and his chest aches and he can't breathe and it's better than the moment Howard's stupid machine opened and the pain stopped and Steve took the first full breath he can remember in his life.

After the pulse comes the warmth, the gentle way the world clicks back into place, into the right place. The deep breath and the faintest prickling at his eyes and the way he reaches out to rest his hand on Bucky's right arm without thinking, or having to think, just to prove to one more sense that this is real. That Steve isn't making it up or dreaming or wrong.

God, this way around is better.

He might have been dreaming, might not, but now his body tells him that he actually woke up because he's thirsty and he needs the bathroom. Steve just manages to convince himself to get up and deal with that, right now, rather than letting himself stay. Because then he can stay without nagging discomfort. He turns that logic into a kind of stick and prods himself up and out of the bedroom with it.

Then he gets back into bed, before Bucky's sleeping brain or body can really notice he left, rolls back onto his side and watches Bucky's face. Just for a moment.

Okay. For a while.

It still doesn't wake Bucky up when Steve pushes his hair out of his face, smoothes it back. And that's still a fucking miracle. Everything about him, about him being here, it's all a fucking miracle, one thing after another. Here and now Steve lets himself take a moment to think about that, to dwell on that, to just for a moment let himself feel how fucking grateful he is for that. Christ: how happy he is. Right here, right now.

It's hard to pin down. It's not the kind of feeling you should pin down, not really: it flutters around in Steve's head and the hollow of his chest and through every single bone like scraps of tissue-paper in a gale. Maybe flutters against the inside of his skin like it wants to get out and doesn't know how because there isn't any fucking way on earth to make the full depth of it into something anyone else can see. In heaven, maybe. Not on earth.

Steve's hand cups the side of Bucky's face. His skin's warm, soft at his temple, faint roughness by his jaw. Steve's head is full of this, of knowing just how fucking incredible every part of this moment is, wholly comprehending it. Awed by it. That Bucky's here, and asleep, and Steve can touch him.

He thinks, I lost you. I missed you. Like my lungs. Like my blood. Like someone carved everything out and shoved ashes inside me instead.

And, I lost you, I missed you, and you came home and I could breathe again I can breathe again and I will do whatever I have to not to lose you again.

And Christ, God, I missed you.

He has said it, or close. Close enough. Said it out loud, to Bucky. Steve honestly tries to be careful with it, with all of this, careful with the words and the shape and the meaning, because he thinks maybe they can be like hammers and God knows not every problem is a nail.

But he's said it. That's something.

Bucky stirs a little. It's a sleep-motion, the kind that's maybe halfway to being a twitch. Steve watches Bucky's eyes start to move and then his breath speed up, and he knows that look, those lines on Bucky's face. Knows all of that well enough to reach over and tug gently on Bucky's top arm, his right arm, until Bucky's eyes open and he's outright frowning, half awake.

The frown is a lot better than the flinching, upset look that'd started.

"Hey," Steve says, softly, running his hand up Bucky's upper arm to his shoulder. "You were starting a bad dream."

Bucky blinks slowly at him for a second and then says, "Hnh."

It's a sound, more than it's a real comment. Bucky's not really awake and that's a good thing too, as long as falling right back to sleep doesn't mean falling right back into the dream. And it doesn't have to mean that. Doesn't have to at all.

Steve says, "C'mere?" but actually Bucky's already moving. Rolls more onto his front and slides over, dragging his pillow with him. He settles mostly on his stomach right up against Steve's side, arm thrown across Steve's ribs. He yawns, then closes his eyes again.

The kitten makes annoyed little noises at having her bed moved, ones that still seem to be half a purr and never make it all the way to meowing, but mostly just pads over and curls back up against the back of Bucky's head, grooms her foot three or four times and then subsides.

Steve kisses Bucky's forehead. Rests there for a bit, smelling Bucky's skin and hair, feeling him breathe. He has to resettle himself eventually, little adjustments that mean he can actually sleep without waking up with a new bend in his neck, but it's only a little.

And it's a good way to fall back to sleep.

Actually, it's a fucking miracle.