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Saudade

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They took Sam.

The battlefield clears and all Steve and Bucky can see are Sam's goggles, the right lens gone and the left one cracked. They'd stopped fighting hours ago. Bucky doesn't know how long, and he doesn't care. Only one thing matters. He's gone. Somehow he was there and then somehow he wasn't and Bucky was too slow. Too late to notice in the confusion and chaos.

No trace of wings or a gap-toothed smile.

"Steve--" Bucky bites out, jaw clenched and eyes hard in what the blond can see is soul crushing fear. The knowledge that Sam is gone isn't so much a lightning bolt of sickening realization but more like the steady thrumming of venom racing through one's bloodstream to take a life. The opposite of when he'd lost Bucky on that train all those years ago, and yet just as soul-shattering.

"I know, Buck." 

Steve takes a shaky breath that feels like it's collapsing his lungs as opposed to taking in air because he feels likes he's being suffocated. Hours of searching the wreckage just proves what they both were hoping against all odds it wouldn't be and that what they feared is what's happening. A fucking nightmare, realized.

Sam is gone.

Sam is gone and he's been taken right from under their fucking noses. They're super soldiers and yet their all too organic and human partner has been wrenched away from right beside them.

Bucky crushes what's left of the goggles in his metal hand, rage and pain warring for dominance on his face. His long brown hair is tied back in a messy bun that Sam had been the one to smile and put his hair in this morning, and Steve can see every line and crevice of fear on Bucky's face. It matches his own. 

The fury is enough to have him biting his own tongue in two because this isn't supposed to happen. They're both super soldiers for gods sake, and it's their unspoken rule between the two of them that they protect Sam with everything they have because they have strength to spare. 

They have strength to spare and yet Sam still wasn't safe with them because he's been taken away from them. Steve can bench as much as Thor and yet he couldn't keep Sam safe. He fucking failed him. 

They both did. 

Bucky takes a shaking breath, eyes dead and hard. 

The collapsed building on what's left of this corner of the world crumbles to the ground.

~

Sam can't move, that's the first thing he realizes. His ears are ringing, his head feels like a jackhammer has been pounding through it and he can't move.

Whatever he's lying on is cold and he can feel the gash on his cheek and arm thickly oozing blood. The wet, metallic smell makes his stomach turn.

He wonders if Steve and Bucky are all right.

Then he passes out.

Chapter Text

The room isn't what he expected when he was first hauled off the cold ground, stitched, bandaged and dragged somewhere else.

He'd been bleeding, in pain and ready for some dirty, grimy cell of some sort. It is Hydra, after all. It's not like Sam expected anything less than being subjected to torture and eventually death, when they eventually realized he wouldn't give in to them or tell them anything about his team.

Sam didn't expect to end up in someplace that looks a lot like a regular bedroom.

There is no clock, and no windows, but he knows that he's been here for a while. Long enough for the wound on his face to begin stitching itself back together but not long enough for the larger, deeper one on his arm to stop throbbing under the bandages.

It's still something of a trap, and he knows it. A place that looks harmless and meant to lure him into a false sense of security so he doesn't notice the lack of windows and vents. So he doesn't notice the fact that there's no space under the door and no doorknob on his side of the entrance where a blank faced man brings him his food every day.  The bathroom has no cabinets and the drains are sealed.

But Sam is a military man. He knows what to look for, and everything he's seeing in this room screams 'Don't let your guard down, Sam Wilson, don't you dare.'

It's a bland space, grey walls, bedding and carpet, but Sam is preoccupied with trying to rationalize why he was taken in the first place, along with whether he remembers seeing Steve or Bucky before he'd blacked out. He would feel a lot better if he knew they were alright. He also guesses the Hydra agents took his wings, but he can't find it in himself to be too worried. Tony and T'Challa will argue about who gets to make him a new pair when he gets back. Nat will smirk and tease them both before pulling Sam away from the bickering pair and dragging him off to someplace or other for coffee or something.

It's happened before. The super-geniuses bickering over his tech, he means. Not the being kidnapped by Hydra bit.

He supposes what's worse is that he isn't all the way sure what to expect. Had he been beaten, thrown into some dingy cell and starved he would have been able to pick out what a situation like that needed of him, but this...this is harder. Because while he knows he shouldn't wish for it, the fact that he has limited contact with his captors means he can't really feel out what's going on or what could happen.

~

"Scanned the area again." Tony says, pinching the bridge of his nose and rubbing a hand down his face.

"And?" Bruce asks, looking up warily, fingers pausing on the keys for a  moment. The lab is as tense and packed as it's been since Sam disappeared a month and a half ago. It's dark and every surface is crowded with files upon files upon files about where he could be and who could have taken him. Where he's being held.

Whether he's even alive.

But they just...don't know. They've gotten nothing. At all. It's like Sam just...disappeared. 

Tony's running on coffee and alcohol, Bruce is running on green tea and concern while Bucky and Cap are running on nothing at all. Natasha has been in and out, checking sources and tracking down people who owe her favors, trying to get a handle on what the hell happened and where they should even start with leads. Fury's doing what he can and honestly, they haven't found much. Pretty much nothing.

It had been a standard Avenger-led ambush and destruction of a Hydra base. It was supposed to be the last one. That was supposed to be it. It was supposed to be the end. The end of Hydra being such big players in the game 'of what-what-will-destroy-the-world-next'.

After that bunker went under they didn't expect for Hydra to be completely stomped out, that would be naive, but the fact that one their own was snatched from under their noses is enough to send the message that their work isn't over yet.

"Nothing. Jarvis couldn't find anything."

"Like last time." Bucky says tightly, hand curling into a fist, jaw clenching.

Steve inhales through his nose, trying to keep the tattered shards of himself together. He can't lose it. Sam needs him. He needs them, and that's why he and Bucky has been in overdrive non-stop trying to get boots on the ground looking for him.

Their bed is big, and the empty space Sam left is glaring. It makes it cold, even with the two of them in it, because it's not supposed to hold two.

It's supposed to hold three. Steve still remembers when they went shopping for it. He remembers Sam's giggles as Bucky stumbled over words, blushing red as he tried to explain what they needed to the sales associate at the furniture store. Sam laughed the entire time.

Bucky kissed him quiet as soon as they got out.

Steve and Bucky sleep on the couch now. The reminder is too much.

~

"So you're Sam Wilson."

The voice is low and slimy, and Sam jolts awake, all traces of sleep immediately vanishing. In a split second he's awake and is shoving himself upright and away, his back thudding against the wall (somewhat painfully, seeing as he's lost a bit of weight and muscle) and the sweatshirt they gave him (the clothes had also been a surprise seeing as he'd been abducted in his bloody, dirtied, torn gear and clothes) is too big, so when he moves his arms to scramble away the sleeves slip over his hands and he can't shake them loose in time to stop someone's hand from reaching out and grasping his arm in a steel grip. His hands digs into Sam's wound, and the man winces, biting his tongue on instinct to keep quiet.

The grip is hard and Sam is kicking himself because how could he let himself fall asleep at all? Here? Let his guard down like this? Sam is disoriented from having been wrenched out of sleep, and that, mixed with so little food and compounded with the shock and fear of it all it takes him too long to actually look up at the man that has addressed and grabbed him.

So he does.

The first thing Sam notices is that he's tall. And broad. But in a way that's more intimidating than say, Steve, who's big and built like a brick shithouse, but still manages to give off the vibes that he won't hurt anyone.

This man doesn't have Steve's well-meaning demeanor. The smile on his face dashes any hope of that.

Well, the smile and the fact that he's digging his fingers into Sam's gash and harshly pulling him toward him and off the bed.

The man's hair is jet black, slicked back and he's clearly older than Sam. His age is on his face, and Sam can see that some shots of gray at his temples have been dyed over to hide them.

He's in a suit. It's well tailored, and Sam's no Sherlock Holmes but he can guess that he's a big player in...whatever, this is. For fuck's sake, why did they take him anyway? What was the point of keeping him alive in this room for as long as they have?

"Cap's boy." the man drawls, a slow smile spreading across his face, eyeing Sam, "The sweetheart to America's sweetheart."

"Fuck you." Sam hisses without thinking. Though honestly, even had he thought about it, he probably still would have said it.

Either way, Sam is still braced for an attack for his outburst, but the man just chuckles like the avenger is only an amusing puppy of sorts.

"You've got fire." he grins, "I like you already, kid. We're gonna be close, I can feel it." 

Sam clenches his jaw. The less he says, the better. He needs to learn more about them than they can about him, and the only way to do that is to say as little as possible.

Sam just glares at him, willing his heart to stop pounding because now that something is finally happening (and his arm has been bust open and bleeding again) it really hits him that he's on his own. He's completely alone. Steve and Bucky aren't here. The team isn't here. It's just Sam. Armed with...well, nothing.

Sam looks at the criminal defiantly, eyes hard.

"But," the man continues casually, like he's discussing the weather, "for this plan to work, I'm afraid--and trust me, I hate this too--I'm going to have to douse that fire in you, little by little."

Sam wills himself not to think about what that could mean, he just holds his bleeding arm--wincing at the pressure of half of the stitches being ripped open while the rest remain closed--and gives him a look that says 'Good luck with that.'

"Or," the man continues, ignoring him and giving him a charismatic smile, "you could just do what we tell you to and we'll only you hurt you a little bit. Scouts honor."

Sam glares harder, sending all of his hate and 'shut the fuck up' and 'fuck you's through a single look.

Or, he's doing his best to, anyway. The man is just looking at him like he's a pouting child throwing a tantrum.

He's amused by Sam. He's not even frustrated or angry at Sam's lack of outward fear or reaction...he's grinning like he's a child acting out. Rumlow at least took him somewhat seriously.

"So what do you say?" he asks before he takes another look at Sam and a slow smile spreads across his face, "And I hope you agree, I really do. You have a great face and I'd absolutely hate to see it get messed up."

The man talks so fucking casually, like he's asking if Sam wants to go to the goddamn movies and that just makes him angrier. Because not only is he standing there in a room with no windows, cradling his bleeding arm that hurts so fucking bad, in clothes that aren't his and so far away from anyone who cares about him, but he's also not even being taken seriously.

"So what do you say, little bird?" the man asks, folding his arms, smiling lightly in amusement and leaning against the wall, looking comfortable as ever, "Gonna be good?"

"Fuck you." Sam says again, because if they're going to kill him they should just do it. He isn't working with or for them, and he won't give them what they want.

They're all murderers and killers. They've destroyed the world a million times over and they tortured Bucky for decades. So no, he won't submit, and he won't make anything easy for them. They can go fuck themselves. All of them.

They should just kill him, if they know what's good for them, because even if Steve and Bucky never find him, Sam isn't going to go down easy. He refuses. He's stronger than that.

The man sighs, rolling his eyes and looking slightly disappointed, but more like the kind of disappointed where the store has run out of your favorite ice cream flavor than 'our-entire-evil-plan-is-ruined' disappointed.

"That's too bad." he says lightly, raising his eyebrows and inspecting his cuff-link, not even giving Sam his full attention, "You're going to help us whether you like it or not, Sammy--"

"Don't fucking call me that--"

"--but I was hoping it would be a lot less painful for you than this. But you know, I like to let people make choices. Let them make their mistakes and learn and all that." he continues, as if Sam hasn't spoken, "You're going to do what we want, and I gave you a choice to choose the least painful route, but you've made your decision and I respect that, kid. I really do."

He smiles at him, and now Sam is doubly on edge because it looks almost kind.

And nothing is more dangerous than a madman who thinks they're being fair.

He knocks on the wall he's leaning against, and it's a lazy, casual movement that freaks Sam out because his body language really doesn't fit the situation at hand--

and a small crowd of guards hustle in, trooping through the door, all in Hydra tac gear.

Sam's heart stutters because he's about to die. They're going to kill him.

The fact that he's accepted this fact doesn't change the fact that he's instinctively taken a step back.

"You scared, Sam?" the man asks, frowning and looking concerned, "You can still change your mind--"

"If you're going to kill me then do it." Sam grits out, and he can barely hear himself over his pounding heart, "Just hurry up because I'm sick as shit of hearing you talk."

The frown disappears and the man smiles at him, looking deceptively kind, "This isn't the last you'll be seeing of me, birdy. Trust me." he looks at the guards, and Sam glances at them nervously, noticing how they're looking at him.

His stomach churns.

"Have your fun, boys." the man says, turning to stroll out of the room, "But please be sure to not do too much permanent damage, alright? I want him somewhat put together when you bring him to me."

What?

The door shuts and before Sam can so much as breathe, pain explodes behind his eyes.

It takes him a sickening moment to realize that in the split second it took for the man to leave the room, one of the guards presented his fist to the still healing gash on Sam's face, busting it open again and sending the smaller man to the ground.

Sam is no weakling, he's formidable in his own right, but Hydra clearly has a standard for the men they recruit because they're all of similar shape and size. They tower over him and look they all can bench-press him. And even with his training they're bigger and stronger than he is, and once they have him on the ground he's lost the war, so to speak.

The next punch is to his stomach and that has him curling in on himself as pain sizzles through his body, more blows raining down on him so fast that he can't even tell where they land until he's just in crippling pain pretty much everywhere.

Then it gets confusing because Sam can hear the shouts and the things they're spitting at him, but he can't quite make them out what with the ringing in his ears, but suddenly he'd gone from the floor to the bed. At first he wonders why until he's distracted by someone (he can't see who, his vision has started tunneling a bit) running their finger over the gash on his cheek and mumbling something above him.

Their touch stings and he tries to twist away as much as he can (which, surprising no one, isn't a lot) until the sting of a finger tracing his wound isn't what has his brain screaming but the fact that his arm--now bleeding heavily--is being squeezed again as he's maneuvered onto his stomach.

The open wound on his cheek is suddenly pressed against the rough mattress as someone holds him down, face first, rubbing his bleeding, gaping cut into the rough fibers.

Sam would scream if he could, but everything is alight in the hot, white, sizzling fire of pain that it chokes him.

Squeezes the air from his lungs. Knocks any breath that he would use to scream right out of him.

He still struggles though. He fights against the pain and the moist, metallic smell of his own blood and tries. He tries as hard as he can, but in the end Sam is still being pressed face first into the mattress, bleeding and bruising and horrified at the sound of a belt buckle being undone.

He hears the clang of metal over the ringing in his ears. A belt. The man pinning him is taking off his belt. He's...he's...

Sam panics, because of all the things he thought they would do, of all the things he was prepared for them to do, everything down to killing him...this, this was never something expected. It never entered his mind.

But now that it has, the smell of the man pinning him down makes him want to vomit. Sam can't breathe. He can't breathe and all he can smell is the man above him. His skin, his sweat...

He chokes and struggles weakly--deep down knowing it's not enough--and his stomach rolls and churns when the man's smell gets every bit closer and he feels a hand palm his backside roughly. If he could think his mind would be screaming, but it's like as soon as he realizes what's about to happen--what's about to happen about half a dozen times over because the amount of guards in the room is more than the one on top of him--body weakly tries to make up for what his vocal chords can't do.

Sam struggles. It's exhausting and with every movement of muscle pain makes itself more present, but he can't seem to stop or convince his panicking body that it's useless. He has no control. At all.

He probably never will again.

The man on him says something before wrenching his waistband down his thighs, tugging his pants off. Sam feels the man's body heat pressing into his exposed skin and he wants to retch. He wants to do so many things. He wants to scream and puke and scratch, claw, bite, getawaygetawaygetaway--

 A hand grips his thigh harshly, and the press of unwanted hands on his flesh makes him fight as hard as he can. He knows--in the back of his mind--that it's pointless. That he's just tiring himself out, further injuring himself and contributing to his own blood loss.

Sam can't stop. The crushing feeling of fear is as suffocating as the man on top of him, holding him steady and arranging him into the position he wants to rape Sam in. 

Sam can't hear anything but the ringing in his head. He's morbidly grateful for it. He doesn't need to know what they're saying. The horror and revulsion coiling inside him is enough.

And suddenly Sam finds himself dry heaving because he's being cupped, caressed, stroked and touched as his body goes into overdrive, trying to expel contents of his stomach that aren't there. He feels the first press of the man's length prodding at him and Sam's stomach clenches as he tries to scream. He tastes his own stomach acid.

In the split second it takes to choke and recoil at the bitter taste on his tongue, he's breached hard, rough and brutally fast, his face pressed into the mattress as he chokes out a scream. It's a hoarse and broken sound, and Sam shakes and pukes at the feeling of being split open along with the icy, hot, devastating fire of the feeling of himself ripping immediately. And a little bit more as the man slams into him, twisting Sam's bloody arm behind his back and using his other hand to alternate between gripping his neck and pressing his face into the mattress and running over any bit of Sam's body he can reach.

It's simultaneously the most agonizingly painful and hideously revolting thing he's ever felt. Blood makes itself known very soon and Sam chokes on his own bile, excruciating pain, fear and stomach-churning disgust as his body is used and degraded, the force of the man's thrusts into him making him choke each time and causes his split cheek to rub harshly into the mattress. 

Even in it's decrepit state Sam's body betrays him, blood welling up at the tears in his entrance, coating the guard's shaft and slicking it's way into Sam's body. 

Sam's vision tunnels more with each slam of the man's cock into him, his prostate bludgeoned and sending sharp spikes of agony up his spine along with the pain of his torn entrance being repeatedly abused. The gash on his arm is popped open and bleeding, as is his cheek, he's bruising everywhere and his chest cracks with every stuttered, croak of a breath, wet with blood, horror and revulsion.

He can only take so much.

He passes out. The pain wakes him up again, each time. And each time there's a new man on him, in him, their smell distinctly different and yet no less nauseating and revolting as the last as they push themselves into him, bury themselves deep and leave their mark. Their come coat his insides, their hands press bruises into dark skin and their teeth leave bite marks that are so deep they'll never go away.

They're all buried so deep inside him he'll never get away. His body is where they've simultaneously hidden all their dirty secrets, and it's where they've buried him.

It goes on for so long.

Chapter Text

Sam wakes up.

Unfortunately.

And immediately clutches his churning stomach, hot with nausea and revulsion. He doesn't open his eyes for a very long time. He can feel every pain and ache. It's unbearable. It all hurts so fucking much. He can feel that his pants are still gone, and desperately wants to move off the bed that's disgustingly soaked in blood--his own--and the men's come. 

So is Sam. He's sticky with it.

He's disgusting.

His face burns with shame and the re-realization of what's happened, and his trembling increases tenfold.

That's when he tries to clear his mind and not think about it. He tries not to think about the fact that he can still smell them all on his skin. That he can feel where they've bitten, fondled and touched him. Where they've rammed into him and buried their essence deep in him.

It's hard though. It's so fucking hard to try and make it not the only thing he thinks about. Because he can still feel, hear, smell and remember everything.

Sam tries to move.

He lets out a pained whimper because as soon as he tries his entire body feels like it's been lit on fire again, and he stills as his stomach violently turns. 

Sam dry heaves and the door opens.

His first thought is 'no, no please no more' and he tries to scramble away even though he knows it's useless and he's only hurting himself, but of course he gets nowhere, being as injured as he is, and the last thing he feels is the prick of something in his neck.

He passes out almost immediately.

~

Bucky wakes up that morning and throws up. He has no clue why, and he's only slept for about two hours (And he's sure Steve has slept even less, they haven't been able to sleep more than a few hours at a time since Sam was taken) but for some reason he wakes up and he feels sick. 

His hair is tied back (and as he did it he tried not to break down at the fact that Sam is usually the one who ties up his hair, and does it better than any of them ever could) and some strands fall in his face as he heaves, that ominous sense of foreboding and dread making his stomach rebel.

It's mostly acid. He hasn't been eating much. 

The presence next to him isn't a surprise, and Steve bends down beside him, pushing the stray hairs back as Bucky heaves into the toilet until his stomach stops clenching and trying to jump out through his throat.

"Buck--"

"I'm fine." He says quickly, taking a breath. He has to be, Sam is still out there. He needs him. He needs them, so Bucky doesn't care if he's coming down with the goddamn black plague, he isn't going to slow down or stop. He doesn't feel too ill though, just mildly nauseous.

Steve looks at him, takes in his facial expression and nods. 

"Sam needs us." Bucky says, and Steve snaps to glance at him, eyes wide and pained at the mention of Sam. 

They haven't talked about it candidly since he's been taken. It's like they're both sporting large, open wounds that bleed and bleed and leave trails of blood wherever they go, but they don't talk a out it with one another because for one, talking about it takes away from action and they're both too busy actually doing something about it to pick through their feelings and set time apart to cry in each other's arms. And second, because that's exactly what they'd do. If they sat down and talked about Sam or tried to even guess what he's going through, they'd both fall apart.

They don't have time for that, Sam needs them. He doesn't need them to sit around crying, he needs them to do something. So that's what they've been doing.

They'd do fucking anything to get him back. Since he's been missing it feels like a huge, bleeding hole has been ripped through them both.

Through the team.

Natasha is quieter, less flirty and playful because Sam was her partner in crime. She feels his loss and it's eating away at her, along with the guilt because while she puts up a good front, Natasha feels like most things that go wrong are her fault. Steve sympathizes. He feels the same way often.

T'challa has gone back to Wakanda to gather resources and soldiers to help find him, and Tony has only been sleeping and eating when Rhodey comes down to the lab and forces him to do so. Peter has been sneakily skipping school to keep surveillance in the city (and Bucky is sure the kid knows how illogical it is to think Sam is even being held in New York, but he understands the feeling of having to do something, even if what you end up doing probably doesn't make too much sense), watching from buildings for any sign of anything helpful. A clue, anything. Johnny Storm has been doing the same.

Wade came by a few days ago and said he was searching as well, and if they needed him to do anything in particular. It's the most serious Steve has ever seen Wade about anything.

He even took his mask off.

Bruce got an email from the X-Men as soon as it all started, offering their help with anything they'd need.

The point is, Sam is fucking cherished, loved and valued and important and he's fucking gone.

And when Bucky gets his hands on whoever is responsible, the winter soldier is definitely going to be making a reappearance. 

~

Sam wakes up again, and feels just as horrible as the last time. He's hurting and shaking and nauseous, so of course it takes him a while to realize he's in a different room this time. On a different bed. 

Sam trembles, looking around at the sheer luxury of the room, and that detached feeling sets in because after everything, more is probably coming. 

He feels like vomiting but he has nothing left to cough up. His body is empty, full of only what those men have given him.

The door opens. Sam closes his eyes and wills himself not to fucking cry. Because that would be pathetic. Would Steve or Bucky cry? Would Nat? Definitely not.

It's just...everything fuckin hurts so much. And the shame is heavy and fucking choking him. 

Sam feels empty, despondent and hysterical all at the same time.

"Sammy."

He doesn't respond. Sam just stays where he is, curled on his side on the bed that he's sure he's ruining with the blood that's still oozing from his arm and cheek, staining the silk under him as he dejectedly stares at the wall, painted a rich red color.

He does flinch at the hand that settles in his shoulder, but he's so tired and hurt he can't manage much in terms of movement. His stomach still grows hot with nausea though. The last thing he wants is to be touched.

Sam recognizes the voice. It's the man from the room. The man in the suit. 

"I wish you would have chosen differently." The voice says, sounding mildly upset, "But I think you're smart, and you'll learn from these mistakes."

The hand travels down to his hip. Sam flinches, but can't move.

He's already soiled and disgusting. Why fight anymore? Especially when he's injured, tired and unable to tear his eyes away from the wall.

He feels like he's simultaneously trapped inside his body and floating above it. Like he's there...present, in the moment, but also...detached and floating.

He flinches again when he's turned over, onto his back with the man above him, just as the guards were, pressing him into the mattress and pinning him there.

"I'm Krause, by the way." The man says, oddly kind, "You're sticking with me from now on, alright?"

Sam doesn't answer, just blinks at him. 

That seems to be satisfactory enough though, because Krause merely moves his hand from Sam's hip and under his shirt. 

"I'll get you cleaned up." He says,  running fingers over Sam's skin, "I promise."

Sam doesn't say anything. He can't. He's exhausted and is shut down to the point that when Krause starts to undress him he can't muster up much of a reaction. Or a fight.

He just stares past him and at the ceiling, trying to block out the feeling of the man on top of him running hands over his body (is it even his body anymore? Sam isn't sure) and kissing his bloody cheek.

Krause is soft with his touches, bites and kisses like that changes the fact that Sam has no choice in the matter. That he's been kidnapped and and degraded and now will be, what? Used as some rich Hydra agent's bedwarmer and fucktoy?

But then again Sam can't help but he grateful that at least he isn't being punched this time. He's grateful for the lack of excruciating pain.

Then he hates himself.

Sam's wet lips part in a silent, sickened noise when one of the man's large hands palm at him before fingering him open gently. It hurts, it does, because he's still torn and he's sure he's bleeding again and that Krause's fingers will come back red with blood.

And yet it still hurts so much less than when Sam was taken with no preparation.

Sam wants to puke. He probably would if he could. 

His head hurts. Everything does.

He can feel what Krause is doing, how he's using him, but somehow he loses time because the next thing he knows Krause is pressing inside him with an arm around Sam's waist, trapping him and thrusting into him, softly kissing the dark-skinned man's cheek and whispering something Sam can't quite make out.

His stomach rolls again as he tries to keep his eyes on the ceiling to block out the feeling of Krause, thick and scorching, slowly moving and out of him.

Somehow, despite the fact that it doesn't hurt as much, it's still every bit as disgusting and horrifying as it was in the room with the guards. It might even be worse because Krause is gentle with it, like it changes the fact that Sam is being raped while he's still loose from being degraded the first time. Like just because the man thrusting into him isn't punching or choking him that makes it okay. Better.

It's worse. 

"You're safe now, birdy." Krause moans, pulling out slowly, like he's making sure Sam feels everything before thrusting back into the silent, shaking body under his, "You're with me now."

No. Sam will never be safe again.

~

After that, Sam finds himself in a bath with Krause behind him, his back to Krause's front as the man pours soap on his hands and massages it into Sam's skin, cleaning him.

Sam flinches and shivers with disgust as the man runs hands over his body yet again (and he's sure it won't be the last).

The water smells like lavender, and so does the soap that Krause is coating Sam in, washing the blood and come (his own and his guards') off of Sam's body. 

Sam tries not to think about what's going on. He just...floats.

The worst part is when Krause's fingers press against his entrance again, the warm water compounded with his fingers stinging the bloody, sensitive and torn flesh and making Sam bite his lip to stop any pained noise from escaping into the air.

He tries not to think about how, with Steve and Bucky, nothing ever hurt.

Sam shakes them out of his mind, because if he thinks about what he's lost he'll be inconsolable, and Hydra has already humiliated him enough. They don't need to see him become a crying, sniveling mess.

So Sam bites his lip and tries to block out what pain he can as Krause rubs the pads of his fingers over his torn entrance in an effort to clean him as thoroughly as possible.

"I got you." The man says, like that's supposed to be comforting. Like that fact that Krause has him isn't Sam's entire problem.

When it's finally over Krause presses his wet, naked body against Sam's smaller one and wipes him dry with a towel, making sure to avoid the wound on his arm and cheek before giving him new clothes and calling in someone who Sam guesses is a doctor to look at, disinfect and stitch up his wounds.

Sam sits in the bed, the same bed he was violated on--though the sheets have been changed--and doesn't make a sound as his cheek is stitched and bandaged with Krause watching the doctor carefully from about a foot away.

The man, thin and blond, nods and leaves, content with his work. 

Sam is distantly glad that his wounds are no longer gaping, and the fact that he's no longer steadily losing blood means that he's slowly becoming more alert. He really wishes this wasn't the case. He doesn't want to have to face what's going on. He wants to remain as detached as he can.

God, the bruises still hurt, and he can't sit comfortably.

This is all a nightmare.

Krause steps forward, fully dressed in another suit, and caresses his face.

Definitely a nightmare. 

Sam is torn between wanting to fight and curse and claw, and just accepting that doing those things will get him nowhere. Krause is bigger than him, and Sam is already injured. Tactically, antagonizing the man would make no sense. 

"I see why Captain America chose you." Krause drawls, looking at Sam like the predator he is, "You're gorgeous. Exotic. Look at you."

Sam's stomach curls in disgust. So, on top of everything, the man he's stuck with not only raped him (and intends to continue doing so), but is also fetishizing him. Wonderful.

Exotic?

Sam bites back an insult. 

"We move around a lot." Krause tells him, hand lingering on Sam's uninjured cheek, "So you'll stay by my side."

Sam says nothing. 

"I suggest you forget about your friends, birdy." The man grins, "I'm your only friend now. But don't worry, I'll be nice."

Sam wants to take his hand off. Another part of him is grateful that Krause doesn't seem to be hellbent on smacking him around, but as soon as that thought enters his head he's disgusted with himself.

God, he misses Bucky and Steve. 

No, don't think about Bucky and Steve. Or how much you miss them and love them and just want to see their faces. To be in their presence and feel safe--

"I have a meeting tomorrow." Krause says, "Nothing for you to worry yourself about, but Germany is where we're headed. I'm having everything you need bought for you as we speak. You'll learn that I'm not so bad, Sam."

Krause grins.

Sam hates him.

 

Chapter Text

Sam isn't sure when he falls asleep. He also isn't sure of whether he's fallen asleep or passed out, but he wakes up on that same bed, with Krause's arm around his middle.

Like they're lovers or something. 

Sam startles and tries to wiggle away, but he's still weak and tired and hasn't eaten much (even yesterday, when food was delivered to him he only picked at it, afraid of throwing up anything he ate because his stomach would surely rebel.), and that compounded with the fact that he doesn't want to wake Krause and even risk the possibility of the man being conscious before he's meant to be and then touching Sam.

He knows it's coming again, and that Krause is going to pin him down and take what he wants yet again, but he doesn't want to have to suffer through that again a minute before he has to, so he ends up having to say silent and still with the man's arm around him.

A nightmare.

He shouldn't be here. He shouldn't be wrapped up in bed and in the arms of a man who raped him not twelve hours before. He shouldn't be a few hours from being taken out of the country, to Germany, no less.

He should be with Steve and Bucky. He should be in bed with them. In the middle, which is where they both insisted he be. Right between them. 

He should be waking up with one of them on either side. He should be rolling his eyes fondly whenever Bucky hands him a hairband (with that grin that he always has on when he does) before pulling the brown strands back and out of his lover's face. He should be making pancakes with Steve and flinging flour at him in the kitchen while Bucky takes pictures to put online because 'the world needs to see how immature you both are so I don't have to suffer alone'.

But...he's not. He's...not there with them. He's alone. And soon he won't even be in America, making the chances that they'll find him even slimmer. He'll be long lost to everyone who cares about him. He won't be able to tease Nat about her crush on Pepper anymore. He won't be able to give Peter advice when the young man comes to ask him something because he sees Sam as an older brother. He won't be able to calm Wade down when he gets panicky or anxious. He won't be there to spar with T'challa or have drinks with Rhodey. Tony won't be able to invite him to play pool at midnight when neither of them can sleep.

No more badgering Tony with Pepper. Or helping Sue keep Johnny in line. He won't be there to listen to Ororo lament about Logan. Or to be a guest speaker at Xavier's school. No more watching movies with Thor, Maria and Clint.

It's been a while, and no one has found him. And he's been stationary this entire time. In the same compound. They definitely won't find him if he keeps being moved.

This...having his attacker's arm around him as he panics in a dark room with his arm and cheek bandaged with bruises being pressed into his skin...this is it, now.

Sam doesn't realize he's hyperventilating and silently crying until Krause stirs, and when he realizes what's happening his stomach turns to lead.

God, no.

"No," Krause murmurs, pressing closer to him as Sam tenses, stomach curling in disgust at the feeling of the man pressing his body closer to his own, "no tears, Sammy."

He wants to say 'then let me go'. But he's panicking and trying to catch his breath.

It's difficult to do so when Krause is using Sam's distress as an excuse to touch him and act like he's trying to comfort him when really what the man is trying to do is fuck him. Again.

"Shhh..." he soothes, gently rolling on top of him, ignoring the fact that Sam is shuddering in disgust because of him. That Sam is crying because of him and what Krause is doing to him.

He's a psychopath. Even more dangerous because he acts like he isn't. He acts like the fact that he's running his hands along Sam's skin is because he wants to soothe his fear when that's the cause of it. And Sam is trapped with him. 

Sam hates himself even more because he just bites his lip and takes it. Sure, maybe he's injured, weak and suffering from blood loss but shouldn't he be fighting? Shouldn't he be trying, at least?

Instead of just whimpering pathetically as Krause kisses his cheek, strokes his face and pushes into him?

Wouldn't an avenger fight?

Krause presses closer and shallowly thrusts into him, and Sam isn't really sure he was ever meant to be one.

~

He doesn't fall back asleep, and in the morning he's given more food to pick at as Krause enthusiastically shows him the clothes he's gotten him (and Sam wonders why the man isn't offended by his lack of a reaction) before he has to suffer Krause's arm around him yet again as he guides Sam to a jet he's never seen before.

Either this isn't a Hydra jet or they're developing new technology, Sam isn't sure.

He's not sure about a lot of things anymore. He goes from being hyper-alert to completely detached. It happens so quickly he can't stop it. Sam knows it's not good, and that he should work to stay present and keep his mind from its inevitable decline, but he can't. If this is what makes it all easier then he doesn't care about what's healthy.

The jet is clad in all black, and Sam distantly wonders how big of a figure Krause is in Hydra because he has the jet all to himself. No guards accompany him. Just Sam. Whoever Krause is, he's important.

He sits Sam down in one of the plush, leather seats and disappears in some back cabin Sam doesn't care to see (he just sits in his seat, staring ahead and wincing as his arm throbs), returning with a smile and what Sam can see is some champagne.

"In celebration of you accompanying me on all future journeys." Krause says, grinning at him and pouring Sam a flute of the bottle's contents.

"You say that shit like I want to be here." Sam spits, surprising himself with his sudden fire and response.

Krause just pours himself a drink and smiles warmly at him, "Why not? Don't you? Your friends haven't come for you. They haven't even tried. From what I see, I'm all you've got, Sammy."

"Don't call me that." Sam says, and his voice sounds weak to his own ears as he tries to ignore what Krause has just said.

"No can do, dear." Krause says easily, placing a hand on Sam's thigh, not noticing when Sam flinches and shudders in disgust.

He would move away, but they're trapped on a jet. Spaces don't get much smaller than this. He would shake Krause's hand off and then what? Go where?

Sam stares ahead, trying to disconnect.

He doesn't touch his drink. Krause doesn't notice.

"You can try and fight me all you want, Sammy." Krause says, "But am I really that bad?"

"You're a fucking terrorist." Sam spits, glaring at him and trying to ignore the hand on his thigh.

"I suppose so," he says, "but I'm not a brute, at least. You could do worse than me."

"No, I couldn't." Sam says angrily, injured cheek throbbing as blood rushes to his face in rage.

And suddenly the rage is replaced with ice cold fear as Krause moves so quickly and one second, is in his seat, and the next towering over Sam and bending over above him, one hand at the back of Sam's chair. His face is so close and Sam can almost taste the man's lips again.

His stomach turns and he jumps at the sudden movement as he tries to press himself into his seat and away from the man pressing closer to him.

"Believe what you want." Krause says, voice pitched low, "But I'm the one you're stuck with."

Sam flinches as the man's cologne washes over him.

"Last night you were laying under me." he continues, "You stayed still for me and you made no noise and didn't push me off. You let me. You cried silently and I wiped your tears. So let's not forget that you're not as resistant to me as you'd like to believe."

Sam's heart leaps into his throat as he averts his eyes, his brown ones looking everywhere but Krause's green, and tries not to let his captor's words register.

Sam was too weak and tired to fight. It doesn't mean he wanted it. Or liked it. 

"And maybe you didn't want it. Because honestly, I don't think you did." Krause grins, straightening before draining his glass and pouring himself another, "You still didn't fight me." 

Sam says nothing.

"It also simply doesn't matter what you want." Krause tells him, taking a sip from his glass, "What matters to me is what I want."

Sam mentally rolls his eyes because yeah, he figured that.

~

Sam sits there on that jet and zones out as Krause talks at him. He looks straight ahead as he hides in his own mind, just trying to get away, at least for a little while.

Krause doesn't seem to notice that Sam is silent and unresponsive. It makes no difference to him whether Sam is even present, mentally.

So Sam sits there, on the jet, in that leather seat and doesn't say a word. He doesn't eat what he's given, and he doesn't drink anything. 

Eventually Krause takes his good arm and leads him to the back cabin and hands Sam one of his shirts and nothing else, telling him to get dressed for bed. Sam gives him a disgusted look (which only gets him a shit-eating grin from the man) but does, because well, he's still on a goddamn jet, thousands of miles in the air. What can he do?

So that's how he ends up under Krause as the man kisses him and Sam tries not to puke, wearing only the man's shirt as Krause slides into him and whispers shit like, 'I got you', 'I'm here' and 'my Sammy'.

It's so fucking ridiculous Sam could laugh if he wasn't about to fucking cry.

How can anyone be as delusional as the man above him? Krause is acting like they're together. Like Sam wants any of this. Like if Sam had a choice he'd still be here, with him, under him, only able lay still and try to relax as the man pumps into him, staining him further.

Sam just bites his lip and tries not to make a sound.

That doesn't make any of it go any faster, and it seems to last forever. Just like the first time and every time after that.

Krause pants above him, an iron grip on Sam's hips, cock nudging his prostate with every thrust, but Sam merely bits his lips when Krause isn't kissing them and tries not to think about what's happening. 

It's hard when the man keeps grinding into his body though, and treating Sam like a lover instead of the unwilling captive he is.

~

When Sam wakes up, Krause is watching him.

The man's face holds a smile, and Sam clenches his jaw as he shifts in discomfort, wincing when he feels the man's come on his thighs.

"You have very delicate features," Krause starts casually, voice slow with sleep, "you know that?"

Sam just looks at him, blinking. 

"Your lips are perfect," he continues, "and your bone structure is enviable. Your eye shape too."

Sam can feel his face morphing to show his disgust. Krause of course, doesn't notice.

"Just further proof that taking you was a good choice." The man smirks, "You're incredibly pleasant to look at, Sammy."

Sam says nothing. The hell is he supposed to say? Tell him to fuck off? He's done that and only got a laugh in response.

Doesn't leave Sam with a lot of options.

So he's silent.

Krause kisses him. He wraps an arm around Sam's waist, and Sam tenses as he's pulled into a lazy, gentle embrace with Krause's wet lips caressing his.

This is a fucking revolting nightmare.

The scene is set up like a normal morning between significant others, and it's anything but that. Sam wears Krause's shirt with the man's come dried on his thighs, and Krause kisses him, clad only in some sort of ridiculously expensive pajama pants as Sam tries not to gag.

This is so much worse than it all being brutal, in Sam's opinion. Instead of his body being injured and breaking down before it fails, it'll be his mind.

If he was being tortured and beaten he would at least have his head to escape and hide in, but this? Krause is creeping into his mind, and soon he'll have nothing left.

He's forced to accept every wet press of lips against his, and every stroke of Krause's hands on his skin, but thankfully this time he isn't pressed into the mattress and fucked.

Krause releases him, and with a grin moves to get dressed before he gives Sam his clothes and exits the back cabin.

And it's so bittersweet because this is the first time Sam has had a minute to himself since he was taken as Krause's fucktoy, but on the other hand, he's stuck laying on the bed that he's been violated on and forced to share with him, on the vessel that he's been forced to share with him. 

Sam can't seem to catch a break. He's torn between laying on the bed he was degraded on or getting dressed and walking outside and into the presence of the man who degraded him.

There's no winning.

~

"I really miss Sam."

Steve freezes, looking at Peter. 

They're in Tony's lab, and Bucky is with Bruce trying to see if the footprints they've pulled from the battle a month ago could give them a clue as to where Sam is and who exactly took him. Peter walked in wordlessly a few minutes ago and sat on one of the tables, feet swinging as he looked down at his sneakers, his school bag thrown to the side and forgotten.

Steve told Tony to call him up yesterday and tell the kid to go to school. That's what Sam would want. He'd lose it if he knew that Peter was skipping school to look for him, and when (and yes, Steve refuses to think of any other option than them getting Sam back) Sam is rescued and brought back home he doesn't want to have to tell him that Peter's grades dropped.

According to Tony, the boy argued a bit before eventually giving in with a huff.

That didn't stop him from trooping through the door to Tony's lab as soon as he was let out of school though.

Steve's chest tightens. He knows how much Peter looks up to Sam. He worships the ground he walks on. He's like Sam's little brother.

"I know, Peter." Steve sighs, trying to keep it together for the boy's sake, "I know. I do too. So much."

Peter nods quietly, looking at his sneakers again.

"He was gonna take me to the science museum. For my birthday." Peter says sadly after a moment, "It was supposed to be a surprise but Nat told me because she lost one of our bets so she had to. It would have been fun. Spending the day with him, ya know?"

Steve takes a deep breath through his nose, willing himself not to fucking cry in front of this kid.

It's so fucking hard though. Because this is heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking to watch the sullen 15 year old sit there looking sadder than Steve has ever seen him, so obviously missing Sam.

That compounded with the blinding worry that Steve has been trying to bite down since Sam went missing and the fear of what could possibly be happening to him makes Steve want to break down and bawl.

But he's Captain America, and nothing is solved by crying his eyes out, and Peter doesn't need to see him break like he so desperately wants to. He has to be strong. For Sam. Sam would want Steve to keep it together and reassure him.

So Steve bites back the tears and shoves the bone deep sorrow down his throat and into his chest instead, letting it rot there.

"Hey." Steve says, and Peter looks at him sadly, "When we get him back I'm sure he'll be thrilled to hang out with you."

Peter manages a shaky smile, "Yeah. I guess that's not really my concern, I...just wanna know if he's okay. Not hurt, ya know?"

Steve bites back the tears and nods, "Yeah."

Chapter Text

Sam remembers the first time he and Steve made love. And that's what it was. Making love. The reverence in the air was so thick Sam could taste it. 

The press of lips, torsos, thighs. Steve handling him gently because the super soldier knew his own strength and didn't want him to hurt, even for a second.

He remembers giggling though the clumsy parts, Steve grinning and turning red and Sam playfully biting at his lips, asking for entrance into the blonde's mouth to taste him.

Sam remembers Steve wrapping strong arms around his waist and gently kissing Sam's neck as he sighed, wrapping his legs around the blonde's waist and wanting more. His brain chanting moremoremoreneedyoutouchme on repeat as Steve trailed gentle fingers down his back before pressing his fingers into Sam, so fucking gentle and careful, nudging that place inside him that had him shaking and clutching Steve closer.

Sam remembers skimming his fingers down Steve's strong back and kissing him so softly, exchanging smiles and sweet words, Steve's blue eyes gazing into his own. Lips pressing against his own. He remembers being handled like gold, because that's what Steve thinks he is. More precious than that, even.

Stuttered gasps and moans, Steve tasting his skin as he buried himself deep in Sam, leaving his mark there, gifting him with it.

Sam wanting to press himself so close to Steve they were one, until he realized he didn't have to because Steve was inside him, hot, thick and heavy and they already were.

Sam remembers Steve's eyes on him at all times, and Sam soaking up the attention. Steve breathlessly asking if Sam was okay, looking at him like he was the moon and the stars.

Sam remembers feeling so good he couldn't contain the cries falling from his lips. Pleasured sounds bursting into the air as Steve drove into him, gasping into Sam's neck and licking there, needing to taste all of him on his tongue.

Sam remembers Steve's hands on his ass, parting him as he plunged into him, Sam's hands in blond hair, head thrown back and moaning. Both of them exposed to each other.

Sam remembers that. He misses it.

~

They land in Germany only seconds after Sam finally works up the courage to get dressed and leave his moment of solitude to meet Krause in the main area of the jet. 

The man smiles at him. Sam doesn't respond.

It doesn't matter. And Krause's doesn't seem to notice. As usual.

Sam pretty much blanks out after that, not caring about the hotel suite or the fact that Krause seems insistent on Sam coming to Hydra parties and meetings with him.

His only thought is, 'Hydra has parties? Demons get to have parties?'

The hotel suite is huge, but he's still forced to sleep with Krause, and the thought makes him shudder in disgust. 

It's like he'll never get away.

~

Sam remembers the first time he and Bucky made love.

He remembers tangling his fingers in long brown hair, looking into Bucky's eyes and murmuring 'you deserve love', 'you deserve this' and 'I love you' as Bucky took him again and again, the haunted look gradually disappearing from those eyes. 

The passion was potent in the air, so thick he swore he could taste it as Bucky thrust into him, his metal arm wrapped around him and holding him steady as Bucky groaned into Sam's throat.

Bucky had come to him shaking, angry and broken that night, and somehow Sam found himself being breached while cradling Bucky's face in his hands and soothing the distressed super soldier with whispers of 'you feel so good, Bucky', 'you're making me feel so good', 'it's okay baby', 'come for me, Bucky. C'mon baby, let go. It's okay'.

The love was there, the desperation was there, the need was there.

Sam remembers Bucky parting his legs and slipping between them, looking at Sam like he was a gift simply for letting Bucky do so. He remembers taking off Bucky's clothes so lovingly, trying to prove to him that he deserves happiness, and if he wants Sam he can have him. That he's a good man that's been forced to do bad things, but that doesn't make him any less beautiful or deserving of happiness.

He said those things and Bucky gazed at him in something that looked like a mixture of desperation and awe before pressing flesh fingers into the smaller man and pressing his wet, tear stained lips to Sam's.

They held each other, Sam under him, taking his length so beautifully as he whispered to Bucky that he was beautiful and worth it. That he was loved.

Sam remembers Bucky making him come, and then Bucky filling him with his come before the super soldier kissed his lips, metal hand caressing his inner thighs before flipping Sam onto his hands and knees, pressing himself over him, kissing his neck and taking him again.

He remembers Bucky having him over and over again, and wanting more.

~

"The first weapons expo is tonight." Krause says, looking at Sam over his coffee, "I can't wait for you to see the tech Hydra has come up with. Really, it'll change everything."

Sam sits there, on the balcony of the hotel suite with an expensive German coffee in front of him, wearing a sweater he's sure costs more than his entire wardrobe combined. Which is ridiculous. It's a fucking sweater.

"You mean new tech that you'll use to set the world on fire." Sam says dully, unimpressed and disgusted.

"Oh Sammy." Krause says says, the small balcony table being the reason why he can press his hand to the small of Sam's back without much difficultly, "You need to stop thinking like that. We're making it better, you'll see, babe."

Babe? Ugh. Yuck.

Sam would respond, but the pet name throws him off and he flinches. What the fuck.

The sun is shining, but Sam doesn't notice. All he can feel is a cold chill come over him.

"Anyway, you look like you could use a party." Krause grins, "You're tense."

"I wonder why." Sam spits, eyes narrowing.

"Aw, dont be upset." Krause soothes, "You should learn to enjoy this Sam, you'll be here for a while. We're cloaked and won't be found by your buddies, so I suggest you keep comfy."

Sam's breath hitches, "Cloaked?"

Krause grins, a tinge of cruelty to the gesture, "We have some leftover magic from a...friend." he says, "Very useful."

Sam bites his lip and tries not to fucking scream (then cry). Magic? So on top of everything, not only will he be moved periodically, but they're also using cloaking magic?

How did Hydra get a hold of that anyway?

"Loki." Sam breathes, the thought striking him like lightning.

"You're so sharp, Sammy." Krause muses, sipping his coffee, "That's why I'll keep you."

Sam shudders.

~

Sam remembers the first time he, Steve and Bucky made love.

He remembers laying with his cheek on Steve's broad, firm chest as Bucky fingered him open, Steve lazily stroking his cock as Bucky prepared Sam for him. Sam remembers panting into Steve's neck as Bucky's fingers nudged that spot in his that had him whining and shifting on Steve's lap, the blond's cock filling up and growing right next to Sam's thigh.

Remembers their words.

'Ya love us, right Sammy?'

'So pretty for us, Sam.'

'God, you're beautiful.'

'Want you, Sam.'

He remembers Steve burying himself into him as he kissed him deeply before Bucky stole Sam's lips for himself. He remembers Steve's strong arm around his waist and bouncing Sam on his cock, red and swollen as it nudged Sam's prostate making him moan, pant, gasp and shake. 

He remembers them gently positioning him so that he was on his hands and knees taking Steve as Bucky gently fed Sam his length, salty, thick and perfect on his tongue.

It was a long, love-filled night.

Sam was bounced on Steve's cock, then Bucky's, alternating between sloppily kissing them both as he came on himself over and over again. By the time he was laying on Steve, stuffed full of the blonde's thickness with Bucky pressing into him right alongside Steve, Sam was limp, whimpering and soaked in come and sweat as Steve and Bucky thrust into him, holding him close and kissing him breathless.

Sam had never felt so utterly and completely loved in his entire life.

~

Sam's barely touched coffee is taken away and replaced, instead, with breakfast that he barely touches before Krause finishes eating and hauls him back into the suite and off the balcony.

Krause says something about getting ready that Sam doesn't care to catch before he presses a weakly protesting Sam onto the bed and does as he pleases. Sam shudders in disgust as the man kisses him, pinning him again, slipping into him and taking what he wants.

Krause finishes with him, showers and tells him to do the same.

Sam's then dressed in a suit he hasn't even bothered to really look at (and he feels like a goddamn doll, a plaything for Krause to dress up and fuck) because he simply doesn't care, and then dragged to Krause's side and pulled into some car.

The expo seems to be more of a party. It reminds him if Tony's. And then Sam feels bad because nothing like this horror show is like his friend's expo, that--despite the fact that Tony throws it to be in the limelight for the night--showcases inventions that will benefit the world, while this one shows off tech that will single-handedly destroy it.

Destroy it indeed, Sam thinks as he stares at some modernized drawn and quartering device. 

All of this shit will be used to kill thousands of people. Millions. Millions of lives lost.

Sam misses most of what Krause says as the man rakes him around the expo and shows him everything like the fucked up science fair it is.

He doesn't move his hand from around Sam's waist, and his grip is almost bruising. 

~

"Where's the big guy with the hammer?" Wade asks, pretty much exploding into Tony's lab.

Stark is running on zero sleep and seven cups of coffee, and as much as Wade is a part of his family and Tony loves him, he doesn't have the energy to deal with him right now. He can barely stay awake. Sam was a lot better at handling Wade than he ever was or will be.

The guy is just...a lot, is all.

"What?" The man asks, startled by the merc's sudden appearance.

"The guy with the brother that fucked a horse or something," Wade says urgently, waving his hands around like that will prove his point, "he had two okay movies that held us over until the big ensemble films, and I'm not complaining they were pretty good, entertaining, not a bad way to kill two hours but we all know what we really wanted was Age Of Ultron even though that was a little disappointing, what with Nat and Bruce thing and honestly, Joss Whedan just needs to stay away from you guys..."

Tony rolls his eyes in that way he does when Wade starts talking nonsense.

"Thor?" He asks, mind finally processing the first bit of what Wade said.

"Yeah!" Wade cries, pointing at Tony, "Where's he?"

"In Asgard." Tony sighs, rubbing a hand down his face.

"What's his phone number?"

Tony pauses. What?

"What?" 

Wade has his phone out, looking at Tony expectantly. It's one of the phones Peter keeps asking him to buy him, seeing as Wade keeps losing/breaking them.

"Phone number." Wade says again, like Tony is an idiot.

"You know that intergalactic communication doesn't work like that." Tony tells him, "We can't just call him. We wait for him to come back."

"But I have to talk to him." Wade says seriously, "Like, now."

Tony shrugs, "You'll have to wait, buddy."

Wade throws his head back and groans. And groans. And groans. For a really long time. 

Tony is nursing a headache by the time the merc stops.

"Why do you need to talk to Thor anyway?" Tony asks, after a moment.

"His friend Heimdall sees everything, right? And I'm gonna have to apologize because if he can see everything he's totally seen me jackin--"

"Wade." Tony interrupts, stopping him with a hand, "The point."

"He can find Sam."

~

Sam is carted around and stared at for about an hour until he realizes he's the only black person at an event hosted by a neo-nazi organization.

Wonderful. Add that shit to the list of reasons Sam would rather trip and fall into that bladed torture device Krause's just showed him than be here for one more second. 

The man is severely unhinged. Sam knew that, but the wide grin on his face whenever he shows Sam some other fucked up invention really reminds him of that fact.

Krause speaks to people, and Sam says nothing, just staring at those that stare at him with dead eyes until they get uncomfortable enough to look away. And that's really something because having a staring contest with Sam freaks these people out but looking a death ray that'll be used to kill millions doesn't? 

It's eventually over, but not soon enough. And then Sam is back in that stupidly large suite with Krause smiling at him as he pushes Sam to kneel on the floor in front of him.

Chapter Text

"What's going on?" Bruce asks, looking like he's dreading Tony's answer as the man dashes through the lab, ordering Jarvis to get in contact with Jane Foster.

"Wade is a fucking genius." Tony says, tapping hastily on his computer as Wade strolls through the door, "That's what's going on."

"Bruce, get Steve and Bucky." Tony says, moving around the lab like a hurricane, "I'm getting the roof ready for Thor to land."

Bruce pauses, probably about to ask why Thor will be coming back before he seems to decide that it's a question for later, and he exits quickly in search of two super soldiers. 

"Ya really mean I'm a genius, tin man?" Wade says brightly, and Tony--despite the fact that he doesn't look up from where he's typing hastily on his computer--grins.

"Definitely Wilson."

Wade bounces on his feet like a child, clapping happily.

"Stark?" Jane's voice suddenly interrupts them, ringing through his lab as Jarvis broadcasts their phone call through the speakers.

"Jane!" Tony cries, not missing a beat, "Call Thor, we need him."

"Uh, okay." She says, sounding puzzled, "But, ah...why?"

"Sam's missing and we think--"

"Sam's missing?" She asks in disbelief. Tony pauses.

Shit. Of course she wouldn't know. They haven't spoken to her in ages. She's in Estonia brainstorming various quantum physics theories with a bunch of scientists. Of course she wouldn't know. She's been isolated for almost as long as Sam has been gone.

"He was taken a while ago." Tony says, voice dulling slightly, "We...we've been looking for him ever since."

"How long." Jane demands and Tony winces because her voice has gone hard and cold with fury.

"Jane--"

He knows how much the answer will upset her.

"How. Long." She snaps.

Tony gulps, happy he isn't in her presence when she's in this mood, "About two months."

She swears.

"I'm calling Thor." She says, tone dark, "I don't know how long it'll take for him to get my message, intergalactic signals are iffy, but I'm getting on it now. And when you find Sam you better give whoever took him a hard punch in the balls for me."

Tony shivers. The woman is small but terrifying.

"Yes ma'am." 

"Good. Foster, out."

The line goes dead exactly when Bruce troops in quickly, looking nervous with two stone-faced and anxious super soldiers at his side. They both look like whatever Tony called them for better be good, because according to the stoic looks on their faces they were doing something important.

Tony turns, takes one look at Steve's and Bucky's faces and explains.

~

Sam nearly throws up as soon as Krause comes down his throat. 

He tried to fight, he did, but in the end Krause is still bigger and Sam is still healing. 

He knew what Krause wanted the very moment he told Sam to kneel, and the man tried to protest because the last thing he wants is Krause's cock in his mouth. He's already had to taste his mouth, his stomach had twisted at the thought of tasting his length.

But of course it was futile and Krause won, forcing Sam to his knees and feeding the trembling, sickened man his cock, bit by bit and running his thumb over Sam's lips as they had no choice but to open for him, moist and plump as Krause slipped himself inside.

Sam gags. Immediately.  Because if the man's scent makes Sam sick when Krause is so much as near him, the fact that he smells his captor even more now that he's forced to suckle him makes him even more ready to vomit.

Krause is hot, salty and musky on his tongue as he thrusts into Sam's wet, warm mouth as the man in his knees whimpers, flinches and tries to pull away.

Krause doesn't seem to care that he's ramming into Sam's throat and making him gag and choke. He doesn't seem to notice the tears streaming down Sam's cheeks as he makes helpless noises of revulsion and pain.

Krause's fingers skim down Sam's wet cheeks and then it gets so much worse because then he starts talking.

He looks down at Sam with a smile as he rolls his hips into his mouth, making him choke.

"You look so pretty like this, Sammy." He starts, "Your lips are so very, very pretty, especially like this."

Sam closes his eyes so he doesn't have to look, but then he tastes him even more because now all his focus is on what's on his tongue.

Sam whimpers and Krause spills down his throat, holding Sam's mouth closed and forcing him to swallow every drop.

"There we go, birdy."

He leans down for a kiss, and Sam rears his fist back and punches Krause in the nose.

As soon as he does it he knows he'll regret it, but he's still tasting Krause's come on his tongue and lips and the bolt of rage, helplessness and disgust that rolled through him--

And then, so quick he can't even register it, Krause takes him by the neck, lands a blow to Sam's eye and hauls him up roughly, yelling something Sam can't hear because his head is ringing.

That punch was hard. And he's not surprised when he's pushed on the bed and pinned there with Krause's hand around his neck as the man spits something at him.

He knows what's coming next.

~

He remembers the first time he, Steve and Bucky woke up together. 

The sun streaming in through the window, birds chirping loud and clear because Steve forgot to close it.

Sam blinked awake, wrapped in two pairs of strong arms around him.

~

Sam wakes up bloody, covered in come and spit, and in excruciating pain.

He knew his mistake would cost him. That that one little burst of emotion would be something he had to pay for. He was right.

He lashed out. Foolishly. The fact that he's bleeding and covered in Krause's fluids is because Sam fucked up. Sam pushed him.

Fucking stupid.

Sam lets out a sob that surprises even himself, as do the tears on his face because he misses Steve and Bucky. He misses being home. He misses being safe. Where he wasn't kept as a personal fucktoy for someone who has zero morals. Where he wasn't paraded around like some trophy. Where he wasn't touched and fondled and fucked against his will.

He misses laying on Bucky's firm chest as they watched movies. He misses kissing Steve. He misses having them both wrap him in their arms gently as they took him, opening his body and burying themselves inside, handling him like he was something precious. He misses not being afraid. He misses not feeling like his use is being a hole for someone to slip themselves in. A body for them to sink into.

He misses not feeling like he's just a mouth to use. Something to dump come in and nothing more. A trophy.

Sam bites his lips and tries not to sob like he wants to. He hasn't been happy in a while, but now it's making himself known. That bone deep, heart wrenching sadness for what he's lost. For what he is now.

"Crying again, Sammy?"

And that's it. That's what sets him off. Krause is already awake and focused on him, and in Sam's mind he suddenly doesn't see the point of trying to keep it together or trying to keep his cries quiet. Everything fucking hurts and he misses his life. He misses the people who never hurt him.

He misses being safe.

Sam falls apart.

His breathing quickens and he sobs, curling away from where Krause had him in an iron lock in his arms and curling in on himself instead.

It's like he's subconsciously trying to protect himself from what's on the outside, even though he knows he's been unable to protect himself since he'd been taken and turned into some madman's whore.

He's so fucking defeated and utterly broken, sobs shaking his thinning frame, that he doesn't even fight Krause when the man reaches for him. 

And oh God, it's the last thing he wants. To be touched by Krause. He hates it. He hates him. He wants to scream, spit and curse. He wants to kill him.

For some reason Sam leans his head on Krause's firm chest and sobs.

He doesn't know why. He really doesn't. Maybe it's because, despite the fact that he's the reason Sam is a mess in the first place, Krause is there, and offering comfort. Even if it's of a twisted, violating sort. Maybe because Sam has been with him for too long and subconsciously Sam thinks Krause is the only comfort there could possibly be. He can't remember the last time he's spoken to anyone else.

Maybe it's because Krause is getting into Sam's head.

He wraps his arms around the smaller man's shaking body, soothing and shushing him gently, like he's not the monster that's reaching into Sam's head and tearing his psyche apart. Like he's not the one that's tinkering around in Sam's mind, making him into something he wasn't meant to be.

Sam doesn't move, he just pathetically soaks up Krause's attention and doesn't even flinch when the man pulls Sam into his lap, arranging him so Sam can feel his cock fattening under him, obviously aroused at the feeling of Sam so close and so utterly broken, scared and pliant.

Sam is disgusted with himself, he is, but he still doesn't pull away, he just keeps hyperventilating and crying into Krause's chest as the man soothes him, voice gentle as he grinds up into Sam, his swelling cock dragging along Sam's ass slowly.

He doesn't even acknowledge it. He's pathetic and he doesn't even pull away as Krause starts to finger him open again because Sam needs someone to shake and fall apart into and his captor is there. He's there and he's whispering stupid shit like 'it's okay, Sammy' and 'I got you' while gently rubbing Sam's back and kissing his temple. He doesn't even flinch when Krause shifts again, slipping inside him, hot and heavy as he cries, clinging to the man that's killing him, but only because he's providing comfort. 

Sam knows he's fucked up. He's not stupid. He knows that something has cracked in his mind that has him clinging to Krause and crying into him, greedily absorbing the man's words of comfort as an arm is wrapped around his waist and the man gently fucks into him, bringing Sam down on his length with each roll of his hips.

He doesn't even try to stop him. He just sobs and hides his face in Krause's neck, not caring that the man's scent makes him gag or that Krause is defiling his body again.

Sam just clings to him and cries.

~

Sam wakes up with tears crusted on his cheeks and Krause's come crusted everywhere else.

He doesn't feel sick. Just empty.

Hollow.

Like he's not even there.

It's better than being hysterical though, and it really waters down the shame he's sure he would be feeling for not only crying the man's arms but letting Krause's fuck him as he did so.

Sam blinks in the early morning light and remembers how Steve used to stretch with his arms above his head as soon as he got out of bed. He remembers how Bucky was usually the one trying to sleepily brush his hair out of his face but instead was always hopelessly tangling it.

It feels like ages ago now.

Sam's not an idiot, he's a lot of things now, dirty, soiled, ugly, weak...but he's not stupid, at least not yet. 

He knows they won't find him. The last time he'll probably ever be able to see them was on that battlefield, but just because he's pathetic it doesn't mean that he can't remember them.

It's hard to believe it's only been about two months. It feels like years. The damage that he can feel done to his mind feels like it's taken years to set in. Or, it should have taken years 

Was he always this weak that it only took two months for him to break? Thats...that's fucking pathetic

He didn't even give Hydra a challenge. He just...crumbled.

Disgusting. 

Someone who gives in this easy doesn't deserve to be an avenger in the first place. 

He sure no one would break as easily as he has.

Sam wonders who they've replaced him with. 

Whoever else it is, he's glad they filled his spot. He didn't deserve it.

Sam wonders of they're looking for him. Did they always know he was this disgusting and weak? Is that why they didn't bother?

Makes sense. 

He could almost laugh. Sam really thought that he could be an avenger. That he belonged there. With Rhodey, Nat, Steve, Bucky, Thor, Bruce...

Sam was a fucking idiot. Fucking stupid. He's just some guy who was in the army for a bit. He's not an avenger. He's a fucking moron for even letting the thought enter his head.

He must have looked so foolish--

"You're thinking very loud."

Sam nearly jumps a foot in the air. Krause wraps his arms tighter around him, pressing a wet, sleepy kiss to Sam's temple.

He fights the urge to shiver.

"I'm sorry I had to hurt you last night." Krause says, not sounding very sorry at all, "But you have to know who's in charge, Sammy."

Sam shifts uncomfortably, "I shouldn't have hit you."

Sam then immediately stiffens, eyes widening in shock at his own words. What the fuck. What the fuck? Why did he--

Krause turns him over to look him in the face, mild surprise on his features. 

"Well, look who's getting with the program." Krause smiles, one hand skimming down Sam's side.

Sam says nothing. He doesn't know how to feel. Usually he's disgusted by the man's touch but now, it's like something has cracked then melted inside him because he finds himself thinking anything of it.  Krause smiles.

"You'll learn that it's not that bad to be mine, Sam."

Chapter Text

"Uh," Tony starts, eyeing the woman in black, standing next to Wade, "and your name is...?"

Her eyes narrow, "Jessica Jones."

~

"Hydra doesn't tolerate traitors."

Krause paces, lazily holding a handgun as Sam looks on, frozen.

Krause--of course--isn't talking to Sam, but he is talking to the beaten, bloodied man on the floor before him, looking up at Krause in horror.

Sam is currently curled up in a plush armchair only a few feet away.

He doesn't know exactly what's going on, but their breakfast was interrupted by a guard at the hotel room door before Krause got up, asked Sam to stay put and went to go answer it.

And now he's here, watching Krause and his men beat a man nearly to death over the course of the hour. 

Sam isn't sure if these are the same men who were in the room with him the...first time, but he wouldn't be surprised if they were and he just doesn't remember. Sam's head has been fucked lately.  

Sam clutches at his sleeve as they land more blows on the man, who's gone from screaming to wheezing, his own blood clogging his airway. Distantly, he wonders if it was an odd sight for the guards, Krause waltzing in with a hand around Sam's waist like he did before placing him in the armchair. 

An armchair that definitely doesn't belong in the basement of the hotel, which is where they are. It's dark and a looks a lot like the cell that Sam was expecting to be put in the first time.

It's dank and cold, not to mention leaky pipes that wind along the ceiling make the area slightly wet as well. It's miserable.

Sam would love to be in here alone than with Krause in the hotel suite. He'd trade it in a heartbeat.

Turns out the entire building is Hydra-owned. Sam doesn't know whether he's surprised or not. He also wonders if Krause brought the armchair down here for him. There are no other furniture pieces like this in the room.

Krause has an odd obsession with making sure Sam is comfortable, these days.

Sam flinches as the beating continues, the sounds of fists against flesh and cracking bones making his skin crawl. He's seen people die in war and he remembers Riley--

The point is, he's seen people die, but not from something as intimate and strategic a practice as torture. There's something disconnected in war. Yeah, people are shooting at you and want you dead, but in a way it's a lot more impersonal than being strung up and beaten by seven different people. 

And Sam is here, in some overly expensive and comfortable armchair that nearly swallows him whole, only a few feet from a dying man.

He isn't sure if he feels anything for the man, as a person. He was Hydra, and Sam isn't clear as to whether his aforementioned "betrayal" was 'stole-money-from-them' or 'was-working-against-them', so he has no feelings on the matter. For all he knows, this could be one of three guards that were in the room when they...

Sam just isn't too thrilled that he has to watch. Especially when Krause wanders over to him, the sound of the man's wheezing, blood clogged screams looking like they aren't bothering him one bit, and gives him a small smile and a, "You okay over here, Sammy?" Before taking out a flaying knife.

Sam nods until his eye catches the weapon and he freezes. But Krause doesn't notice. He's walking away.

Sam eventually has to close his eyes to keep from seeing how they cut and peel the skin off of the screaming traitor, and Sam curls in himself like if he makes himself small enough in his armchair then he can block out the sounds of the man's screaming. The basement has gotten colder.

Sam can hear the sound of flesh ripping.

And then he stops. All noise has ceased, and Sam shakily opens his eyes a crack just to see what's going on.

The lump of bloody, twitching flesh on the ground is unrecognizable. He's sure the man is dead, but nerve ending are obviously still firing off. Sam takes a quick inhalation of breath at the corpse and tenses in fear of what all of these men are capable of. He bites his lip to keep from making a sound. The horror makes his heart hammer against his chest, though.

He can't stop staring at the corpse.

Krause appears next to him, suit splattered in blood and hands red, though his expression manages to look as tender as ever.

"Sammy?" He says gently, kneeling next to his chair, "Hey, you're okay..."

No. No he isn't. He'll never be okay again.

"He betrayed us." Krause tells him, voice soft, like a lover's, "He put us all in danger and he had to go. Don't worry, you're safe. I'm here. I got you."

Krause offers him a hand to help him up, fingers stained with the blood of a dead man. Sam has no choice. He takes it.

~

He's happy to be in the hotel room again. Just...out of that basement with that body. It's warmer here.

And Sam must have shown is relief in his face or body or something because Krause, after having washed his hands, cups Sam's face with one hand and looks him in the eye.

He has to stop himself from lurching away. The last thing he wants are those hands, the ones that were peeling the flesh from a body not ten minutes ago, touching him.

"Hey, you know that had nothing to do with you, Sammy. You're as safe with me as you ever were, alright? I just like having you near me, and that man needed to be taken care of. You're safe, I won't hurt you."

Sam's first thought is 'Oh, good', and his next thought is, 'But you're already hurting me'.

Sam nods. Krause smiles.

~

Krause has meetings. Sam is pulled along, kept close to Krause and trying not to hear what's going on. 

He doesn't want to hear about how people are being killed and hurt by Hydra while he's so utterly useless and can't do anything about it.

He's reminded how dangerous and fucking downright bloodthirsty Krause is, but something in his mind has him shrinking close to the man while they're out and about because Krause promised not to hurt him and Sam guesses a part of himself believes the man's words. 

So he finds himself sitting in meetings, next to Krause, usually in an armchair tucked close to the man's side (and Sam is sure that Krause arranged it this way, for Sam to be this close to him, even in front of all his colleagues) and shuts his eyes, trying to block out sound as someone makes some quip about Krause having a former avenger by his side.

Sam's a fucking trophy.

Proof that Krause is dangerous and cunning enough to get whatever he wants. He somehow took and molded one of Captain America's teammates into a sex toy, so yeah, he's showing Sam off like something expensive he's stolen from the store.

Sam had been feeling sick a lot lately. He's getting used to it.

~

His first interaction with someone not Hydra related happens when they're headed out of the hotel lobby.

Sam is by Krause's side, the man holding his hand as Sam's mind drifts. They probably just look like some rich couple. Sam's stomach churns. They're surrounded by guards. 

In addition to getting used to feeling nauseous on a daily basis, he's also getting used to being the smallest guy in the room. He can't even hope to make a break for it and run. There's no escape.

The hotel lobby is just as gold, white and gaudily decorated as the rest of it, but that isn't what grabs Sam's attention.

It's the small, fluffy white dog that comes speeding over to him like a fuzzy bullet. The little thing darts past the guards' legs, and crashes right into Sam's. It happens so quick that the burly men can't stop the canine, and Sam looks down at the dog, panting happily and looking up him with all the wonder in the world.

Sam stops walking, and Krause pauses as well while the guards try to rationalize what exactly is going on.

Sam is already crouching and petting the dog, having let go of his captor's hand. It's such a small thing, being able to pet a dog, but it makes him feel better. A little bit. In Sam's new world where he sits and hears about the awful things Hydra will do, he finds himself cherishing this innocent moment, running his hands through the happy little pup's fur.

The moment lasts for a second. Maybe two.

A blonde woman rushes over, and the guards let her through as she babbles something in German that Sam can't understand. He looks at her face as she looks at Krause, himself and guards sheepishly, looking more than a bit embarrassed.

Sam guesses she's apologizing for her dog's behavior. She looks at Sam and repeats what she's said, but before he can say anything Krause says something to her that causes her to look at Sam in mild alarm before she tries again, this time in English.

"I apologize." She says, he accent heavy and her gaze soft.

Sam wants to yell for help. He wants to tell her that he doesn't belong here with these people. That he belongs at home. With his team. He wants to tell her to get someone. He wants to take her hand and try to convey the message that he's not one of them. That he was taken and is being hurt and witnessing horrible things. He wants to thank her for talking to him. For being the first person that wasn't a Hydra agent to say something to him. He wants to yell for her to get help and somehow get Captain America. He wants to plead and ask her to somehow tell Steve he's alive. He wants to thank her for letting her dog slip away from her, so Sam could get that one innocent moment.

He wants to say so many things. But he can't. She probably wouldn't understand him. And he'd be putting her in danger. An innocent woman with a cute dog. Hurt, because of him.

Sam gives her a quiet, "It's fine."

She smiles and walks away from him, wiggling puppy and all.

~

"So you like dogs?" Krause asks that night, an arm around Sam in bed.

Sam hates wearing Krause's shirts. But he has to. The man insists on it.

Sam doesn't answer for a while, not knowing what to say. The he decides to settle on the truth.

"Yes."

That's all he can manage. His mind isn't even really here right now. He's trying to disconnect and ignore what he knows is going to happen now. What happens every night.

"Mhhmm." Krause hums, reaching a hand under the shirt he's forced Sam to wear, tracing his hostage's bare flesh.

Sam closes his eyes and tries to drift.

He's been missing for three months.

~

Bucky can't be in the lab anymore.

Being in the lab means that they're sorting through evidence that leads them nowhere and he itches to do something. Anything.

He can't keep sitting around Stark's lab and poring over scans of the battlefield or called in tips that lead nowhere at all. 

He can't.

He can't he can't he can't-- 

Sam's been gone for ninety-four days.

Ninety-fours days of Sam, all too human and un-serumed Sam, being in the very hands of the very monsters Bucky still has nightmares about.

The emotion is white hot and burns cold in his chest.

Like the cryo-chamber. And all at once Bucky feels himself losing it, alone in their training room. He's been trying so hard to keep it all together. To keep the rage and bone-shattering fear from capsizing his will. 

He can only do so much.

So Bucky loses it, and by the end the training room is in shambles and Bucky still can't calm down.

Ninety-four days of not knowing. Of hunting and searching.

Ninety-four days of no sleep. Of being scared to death that Sam is...

Ninety-four days of missing his laugh. His smile. The way he and Steve make pancakes in the morning while he sleeps in.

Ninety-four days of not being able to embrace him.

Ninety-four days of not knowing if he's alright. If he's safe.

Bucky punches the wall, metal arm leaving a dent.

~

"Surprise."

Krause grins and steps aside, revealing a fluffy white dog, almost identical to the one that ambushed Sam not even a day ago.

Breakfast had been the usual, Sam picking at his food quietly and Krause yammering away, drinking his coffee before a knock at the door had the man standing and making his way through their lavish hotel suite, giving Sam orders to stay where he is.

Sam, of course, had listened. And didn't care what was going on.

That is until...this. 

Whatever this is.

Krause beams, proud of himself, and Sam shifts where he stands beside the breakfast table on the balcony. The dog barks.

It's...cute, like the other one. But Sam doesn't know what he's supposed to do now. What is the point of this? Isn't Sam just a prisoner? Why the gift?

Krause picks up the squirming little thing before making his way to Sam, pressing in close even as he tries to back away.

"He already has a name that he answers to. He won't recognize anything else. I named him Krause." Krause says, and Sam gets it. Immediately.

And he wants to rip the man's eyes out.

Because this is some sick and twisted way to keep his name in Sam's mouth. By giving Sam this dog that he'll definitely become attached to and love, the man has somehow made Sam love something with his name. Something named after him.

Sam will love a living thing named Krause. When he calls the innocent little fuzzball he'll be yelling Krause's name. Sam will be cuddling, petting and holding something that's named after the man who has kept him like a doll.

This way he gets Sam's love, in a strange and convoluted way. He gets Sam to say his name with some sort of reverence, even in reference to a dog.

He'll make Sam love him.

~

"That won't do anything."

Steve's voice is calm.

Bucky stills, the metal plates of his arm twisting back into place from the blow he delivered to the wall.

Bucky feels a cut on his cheek. He isn't sure how he got it. Probably got cut when he tore the wooden bench to bits. 

"You don't think I know that?" Bucky asks, voice pitched low, still breathing heavy.

"We need to be in the lab--"

"Doing what, Steve?" he snaps, "Looking for more carbon footprints? More sketchy cctv footage?"  

"And this is helping?" Steve asks, gesturing to the ruins of the room, "This isn't doing anything to help Sam--"

"And neither is sitting in the lab." Bucky spits.

"We have men on the ground--"

"No." Bucky hisses, rounding on Steve, "We should be on the ground. We should be out there looking for him. Us. Because he's ours, Steve."

"You don't think I know that?" the blond snaps, eyes blazing as his voice cracks, "Of course I know that. He's our Sam but we have to be sure before we start running all over the globe."

"We have to do something--!"

"We are doing something!" Steve yells, fists clenching, "We are."

"Not enough!" Bucky yells back, "We're not doing enough. For fuck's sake Steve, this should have never happened."

"I know that." Steve says miserably, "I know that. I...I know. We should have...we should have..."

The blond's voice trails off, going quiet, defeated and shaky and...well, that's it. That's what does him in. Both of them in. Because once Bucky's eyes water and that first huff of of sob puffs past his lips Steve starts crying too.

And it's a fucking mess because the two soldiers who took down Red Skull and saved the entire world from too many disasters to count have to face the fact that they couldn't protect the one person they promised themselves and each other they'd keep safe.

Sam, who has no serum and no super strength. Only his wings.

Steve and Bucky go from yelling at each other to sobbing, and they hold each other so the torn frays of themselves don't fall apart, but it's...empty. Even seeking comfort in one another leaves something...lacking.

Because a crucial and important piece isn't there.

~

Thor returns from his battle in Vanaheim draped in blood and victory, the Warriors Three beside him.

It's short lived.

They're teleported back to Asgard, ready to feast and tell tales of their venture with the aid of wine...

Thor stops when he sees Heimdall's face.

"You are needed urgently on Midgard."

Chapter Text

Tony is never truly prepared for when Thor lands.

He's never prepared for the loud noise or the lightning that reminds him too much of the portal in New York.

The point is that it's...anxiety inducing watching Thor crackle and stir up his lightning as he touches down on the landing pad atop Avengers Tower. He'll never get used to it, and it's bad enough when Tony is expecting the God of Thunder to visit. That way he can brace for what's coming, but when Thor shows up by surprise sometimes Tony loses a few years off his life, what with having the ever-loving shit scared out of him and all.

And god forbid Thor is angry and his lightning is a bit more...menacing and destructive than usual...

In the end Tony nearly ends up having a goddamn panic attack in the kitchen because along with not sleeping or eating properly for the passed few months (unless Rhodey makes him), Thor shows up without warning, is pissed beyond belief judging by the lightning outside and the cracks of thunder are louder than he's ever heard them.

~

"I am told that Samuel has been taken."

Thor paces the lab, cape flowing and air around him charged with equal parts electricity and anger, "Who dares to do such a thing?" 

Wade inches behind the desk, away from the fuming god.

"Hydra." Steve says, before cutting straight to the point, "Can Heimdall find him?"

"He has tried. Lady Jane was in contact with him, and he took it upon himself to do so. I was in battle and could not be reached." Thor says, "Our brother in arms is shrouded. The magic is something he's only seen from one being before."

"Loki, I assume." Tony adds, downing the rest of his drink and rubbing a hand down his face.

"Indeed." the god says, expression cloudy, "I must return to Asgard."

"We need your help here." Bruce pipes up from his space in the corner, "We can't--"

"We need Loki." Thor says, brows furrowing, "He is the only one who has ever been able to shroud himself from Heimdall's gaze. He must be able to find out something."

"And why would he help us?" Steve asks, folding his arms.

"I will make him."

~

Sam refuses to touch the puppy for the first two days. 

He knows it's futile and that he'll give in and need the comfort that the puppy could provide, but he can't help it.

And he feels bad, he does, because it's not the pup's fault that Krause is horrible, but Sam still can't bring himself to interact with the dog. The fluffy little thing follows him around, and when Krause drags him to bed, the dog jumps onto the mattress and curls up on Sam's other side.

It's such a fucking nightmare. Sam went from being between Steve and Bucky to being sandwiched in between two Krauses while wearing his shirt. 

Sam could vomit.

But of course he gives in and ends up holding the puppy to his chest more often than not. And he knows he's playing into what Krause wants (the human, not the dog. All the dog seems to want are hugs and ear scratches from Sam) but Sam needs innocent comfort. He craves it. And he has no one else.

~

The prisons of Asgard were quite humane, Thor would say. They were clean and spacious. Safe. 

As safe as they could be, judging that they held criminals. Held Loki.

It hadn't taken him long to work out the fact that his brother was impersonating their father (and yes, in Thor's mind Odin was still Loki's father as much as his own, whether his brother agreed or not) using some complicated spell work, but he'd been equally overjoyed that his younger brother had not perished, and angered at the fact that "Odin" had been the trickster the entire time.

Loki, his little brother, so brilliant and cunning, but so, so troublesome.

He knows he's partially to blame, and he can't help but feel remorse over the path Loki has taken, even though now they were more dubious than treacherous. More childish trickery than evil. His brother was never evil. Hurt and angry, yes.

But not evil.

He'd still put his brother back in the prison, though. At least until he came back and decided what to do with him. Even so, Loki wanted for nothing, even down here. He had his books. His fruits, his trinkets. He had all his dearest possessions, and that is partially because of Sam.

Thor feels the anger curl in his chest again.

Samuel. A brother in arms. Missing. Taken.

"Are you going to stand there and brood?" Loki's voice says silkily, breaking Thor out of his thoughts, "Or will you just spit it out?"

Thor narrows his eyes at his brother, "I am in need of your help once again."

Loki grins, slowly closing his book and rising from his chair. Thor can't help but look at his little brother fondly. He's clad in green, as always.

"Need my help again?" Loki asks, raising an eyebrow, "And what have you done this time?"

Thor huffs, "I am not one for causing trouble these days. Unlike you, brother." he pauses, trying to find an attractive way to word his proposal. The better he makes it sound for Loki, the more his little brother will cooperate.

"I need assistance in finding a friend." he tells Loki carefully, eyeing his brother, "He is hidden from Heimdall's sight."

Loki blinks, brows furrowing at the possibility of strong magic, "Magic?" he asks, and Thor almost smiles because there it is. There's his little brother, curious and wide-eyed as ever.

"Of what kind?" Loki asks, inching closer to the glass that separates them.

"Yours." Thor answers, taking in Loki's look of surprise, "Your scepter was in the midgardians' hands for quite a while, Loki."

The the trickster rolls his eyes, "You come to me for help in finding a midgardian?"

"Yes."

"Why would I care about a midgardian?" Loki asks, brow furrowed in annoyance.

Thor takes breath, "Because that midgardian is the reason you have your spellbooks and trickets. Why your stay here has been comfortable. Why you want for nothing, even in these dungeons."

Loki folds his arms, "Explain."

"Samuel has swayed my decisions in what your punishment should be for impersonating father." Thor tells him, looking his brother in the eye, "I was furious that you would do such a thing, but he made me see that anger would get me nowhere in getting through to you. He told me that once my anger faded I would regret my decision to have you in here with nothing for comfort nor company. He told me to have mercy on you. You owe him a debt."

Loki clenches his jaw and huffs, turning away.

"You will get to be free, if you assist me." Thor adds, "You will go back to your rooms and be free to do as you please. That is, until you cause another catastrophe that lands you in the dungeons again." he finishes with a small smirk.

Loki huffs again at his brother's teasing before he pauses for a moment, thinking the offer through.

"Fine, you oaf." Loki mutters, "I accept."

~

Sam has the puppy for about a week when he finds himself curled up on their bed with the pup in his arms and his face in the dog's fur and forced to listen to Krause beat another man to death in the next room. Sam shakes through it and hides, hugging the puppy to him as he tries to block out the noises.

He didn't want to hear what the context of the situation was, but he did anyway.

They weren't killing a Hydra traitor this time. He was just a guy. A guy who borrowed money from them for something his daughter needed, and was unable to pay it back.

So now Krause and his men are killing him. They're beating an innocent man to death and Sam can do nothing but tremble and hug the eager little puppy to him.

~

Krause locks the dog outside the bedroom whenever he wants to use Sam in the middle of the day.

Times when Sam needs the comfort of the canine most and he isn't allowed to have it.

So he's on his knees, mouth open, gagging on Krause's thick, salty flesh and trying to block out the taste of him and the sounds of him and--

the dog scratches at the door.

~

Krause spills himself down Sam's throat. Into his stomach.

He can feel it rotting him from the inside out.

~

Sam doesn't let go of the puppy for the rest of the day. The dog doesn't seem to mind.

~

Sam has to be in the same room as Krause and his guards as they dismember a man, tearing him apart limb from limb while he's still alive.

Sam shrinks in on himself impossibly small, his insides gone cold and numb while his stomach roils.

He doesn't know the context this time. They're all shouting in German. 

The man is just a torso by the time they're finished. He's still alive. Weakly begging for the release of death.

Sam hides his face in his dog's fur, shaking violently.

~

Sam vomits once he gets back to the hotel room.

Krause pushes him onto the bed as soon as he washes his mouth out, and presses his hot flesh inside him, kissing Sam's eyelids as he cries and trembles under his weight, avoiding his captor's kisses to his lips.

"I know you're scared, Sammy." he soothes, "You don't have to be afraid of me."

The dog scratches at the door. 

Krause takes a meeting in the hotel suite. He's never done so before, and Sam is wary.

Krause never has meetings where he sleeps. He's too careful for that.

But this time Sam sits on the expensive love-seat and the man pulls Sam to his side, close.

The men he's meeting with leer.

Sam doesn't like how they look at him.

By the end of the meeting one of them jokes that in order to seal the deal, and as a gesture of friendly negotiations and good faith, they should all be able to use Sam's mouth. 

Sam tenses as the men laugh.

~

Loki stands over his spellbook (which Bruce notices is floating in midair) and mutters some words that none of them can make out. The trickster stands in the middle of the lab, working his magic and growling in frustration and awe as he realizes over and over how complicated it all is. 

None of them were sure about Loki helping. And who could blame them, after New York.

But Loki was making progress. Slow progress, but progress.

It's obvious that the god was fascinated by the blend of technology and magic Hydra concocted that made it difficult for even him to pinpoint it.  And if there's one thing Loki hates, it's a puzzle he can't figure out. He's too prideful to let anything outwit him.

He's been picking up the magical signatures bit by bit, day by day.

And he's getting closer.

~

Thor and Loki share a floor in Avengers Tower.

Tony never thought he'd be saying those words, but there it is. Even the god of mischief needs to take a break from magic and rest every now and again, and the rest of the team doesn't seem to mind Loki being there too much.

They're all too down about Sam. His absence hangs heavy in the air and all of them have been scattered, doing what they could.

Tony hasn't seen Rhodey in days. He misses him, but they both need to do their part. Sam is one of them. They're going to bring him home.

No matter what.

~

The guards have started leering at him. Sam's skin crawls, but Krause seems adamant about them staying away from Sam unless he's in danger.

Krause says it's to protect him, but Sam knows it's because he's trying to send the message that Sam is his.

That night he presses Sam into the mattress and wraps and arm around him, rocking into him as Sam's mind wanders, trying to ignore how his legs have been spread wide so Krause can slip between them. Slip inside him.

Sam can count the freckles on the man's right shoulder as he fucks him.

There are 13.

The dog scratches at the door.

~

He comes inside him.

Sam wishes he would pull out so he doesn't have to feel it.

~

Sam has been with Krause for four months when he's forced to witness the man light someone on fire. Simply for the amusement of himself and his peers.

The man is lit aflame, and Sam hugs the pup to him as Krause holds him still and makes him watch the flesh grows charred. Until the man stops screaming. Until he's still.

~

Sam can't sleep. He sees every corpse behind his eyelids.

~

"Come here, Sammy."

The group of men turn to look at Sam, who has curled up away from Krause's meeting, off to the side. He thought he'd be able to spend this meeting not pressed against the man, but he guesses not.

Sam stands and moves toward him, and Krause stops him when he moves to take the seat next to him.

"No, not there." he says, voice soft, before pulling Sam onto his lap.

Sam shudders when he feels the fact that Krause is already hard, and that Sam will have to feel the man's flesh digging into his back for the entire meeting. The men rake their eyes up and down Sam's frame, slighter than all of their's.

He makes Sam suck him off in front of all of them.

They laugh as come spills down Sam's throat and dribbles out of the side of his mouth.

The dog scratches at the door.

~

Loki looks up, eyes bright.

Turns to Thor.

"I've found him." 

That's the same day Krause tells Sam they're leaving for Estonia.

 

Chapter Text

"You have freckles." Sam says without thinking, once they're dressed for bed on the jet.

They've been in the air for ten minutes, at most.

Krause is on top of him, one hand up Sam's shirt (which is really Krause's shirt) and another cupping Sam's ass, and he pauses.

"On your shoulders." Sam adds quietly, not sure why he's even saying this.

Krause looks at him for a moment, with an odd expression Sam can't place. Then Krause kisses him. But it's...different. There's a wild desperation there that makes Sam want to pull away and get as far as he can as quickly as possible.

Sam doesn't reciprocate the kiss. He never does, and usually the man doesn't notice or doesn't care, but today...

He runs his tongue along Sam's and his grip grows tighter as he plunges his tongue into Sam's mouth as he gags.

"You, are never getting away from me." he growls between hard kisses.

Sam doesn't respond. He just lays there and tries to leave his own body for a while like he always does. Krause lets go of his lips and looms over Sam, eyes searching his face before he says, "Tell me you love me."

Sam snaps back into his own consciousness, despite the fact that he would rather be anywhere but here because he wants to break Sam in a different way now. He want him to say it. He wants Sam to open his mouth and tell his captor that he loves him.

Sam freezes.

Krause slaps him. The blow is quick and hard and makes Sam's ears ring. A bruise will color his cheekbone tomorrow.

"Tell me you love me."

Sam is silent. He can't say the words.

Krause is furious.

The dog scratches at the door.

~

The next place is a house.

A house. All wood and brick with quaint yet expensive furniture.

Krause wants to play house with him. He wants Sam to pretend with him. Pretend they're together. Lovers. 

Sam wants to puke. 

Krause lights a fire, chuckling when the dog trots away and plops down in the next room, taking a place by the window.

The man sidles up to him, wrapping an arm around Sam's waist and purring, "I want you by the fire."

Sam flinches as Krause kisses the bruise on his cheek before pulling Sam towards the fireplace and onto the fur rug sprawled in front of it.

~

Sam still can't say it.

Krause squeezes his wrists until he's wincing in pain as he fucks Sam in front of the fireplace, but Sam still doesn't say those three words. 

Krause is rougher in his anger, and Sam has to bite his lips because it hurt it hurts it hurts--

Sam whimpers.

"Tell me you love me."

Sam doesn't.

~

Someone is shot in front of the house. 

Sam guesses they're far enough in the forest where no one else hears the gunshot, because no one comes knocking. No law enforcement, no concerned yet nosey neighbors. No one.

Sam didn't really register how far from everything their house was. Sam hasn't been too observant lately. 

Sam doesn't know why the man was shot, but Krause comes back into the house with blood on his shirt, his expression stormy.

The guards takes the man's body away.

~

Sam is on his knees, gagging on Krause yet again.

"You love me Sammy, you do." He moans as Sam is forced to taste him, "Look at you. Sucking me off so well. Of course you love me. You're showing me right now with that mouth of yours. Showing me just how much you love me. And you love me so much, Sammy. So fucking much."

The taste of his come doesn't make Sam wince anymore. He supposes he's gotten used to it.

~

Krause gets annoyed with a weapons deal and Sam witnesses a beheading. Blood dribbles through the panels of wood on their living room floor.

The men laugh about how medieval the method is.

Sam can't stop staring at the corpse. His face is still frozen in the expression he died in.

~

"Look at how well you take me, Sammy." Krause moans, rolling his length into Sam, "Look how much you love me. Laying under me so quiet and good. You love me so much, opening for me like a flower. You take me so well, Sammy. The best I've ever had."

Sam is silent. Crying in the quiet of the night, with Krause on top of him and the wind blowing through the trees outside the window.

"You love me. You do."

The dog scratches at the door.

~

Sam doesn't know where he got the idea or why he did it, but when Krause sets his anger on an innocent delivery man, Sam closes the door on the terrified civilian and kisses Krause, distracting him.

He can't take it. He can't take innocent people being murdered. He had to do something. Even if it means he has to wrap his arms around Krause's neck and grind into his body with his own, ignoring the bile making itself known in his throat.

It works though. The man is spared. He's free to drop whatever the package is and go while Krause is distracted by him.

Sam is grateful for that, at least.

Krause tastes bitter on his tongue.

~

The house is ridiculously large for the two of them. Sam wishes he could run off and get lost in it. So lost that he won't be able to find him.

That Krause will forget about him and never come looking.

It is a beautiful house. Sam just doesn't want to share it with him. He doesn't want to have to be pinned down and fucked in front of the fireplace or in the queen bed in their bedroom.

~

Krause goes out. 

Sam is ecstatic. He has time to himself. He can let his guard down. He gets to be alone. Some blissful privacy and solitude.

He gets to explore the house and have only his puppy for company.

Of course there are guards by all exits, and Sam couldn't even dream of escaping, but he doesn't care.

~

Krause comes back merry and drunk. And holding what looks like a bag of...cloth of some sort.

San doesn't question it. He doesn't care.

Krause presents the bag as he stumbles into their bed that night.

They're panties. Lace.

Sam doesn't understand why Krause bought them until he does, and when the man orders him to put them on he doesn't argue.

He just does it.

Sam has no opinion on them. Krause runs his hand over the globes of Sam's ass, over sharp hipbones and his cock, cradled in lace.

Krause likes them.

Sam has no opinion on the matter.

Krause hooks his finger through them, shoves them aside and thrusts into Sam's wet heat.

~

Steve looks around the hotel. This is where Sam was. Not even a week ago, Sam was held here.

The blond clenches his fists. They're going to find him. They are, they're so close. Loki is trying to pinpoint him again. He'll have Sam's location within the hour.

Jessica Jones is looking for clues until then. Storm and Tony have their eyes on the skies. They're all here. Everyone who loves Sam is here. They've all dropped everything to help their team storm wherever Sam is being held and take him back.

Peter is on top of the building adjacent to the hotel, Bucky is directing leftover SHEILD agents. He wants prisoners. 

Natasha is off on her own search, and Bruce is in the quinjet calculating distances within time frames and a bunch of other things that Steve doesn't understand.

They're going to find them. After four months. They're going to find Sam. He'll be home and safe. He'll be able to heal and Steve will be able to kiss him again. They'll be together again.

They're all scattered--avengers, x-men, everyone in between--all conducting their own investigations until Loki gives the location and signal.

Sam will be fine. He'll be safe in their arms by the time the day is out. If he thinks it hard enough, he'll be able to believe it.

Steve keeps saying those words over and over in his head, but he wonders why he feels like something will go wrong. He's wondering why something doesn't feel quite right. 

He feels like he's waiting for something. And it feels like, despite the sleepless nights and how long Sam has been taken...it was all too easy. Far too easy.

Steve supposes that when the hotel he's standing in explodes and crashes down on him, he should have known better than to believe it would all be this simple.

~

Something happened. Something awful. And Sam isn't sure what, exactly. He just knows that Krause's guards delivered some news that made the man incredibly happy, and that must mean that something catastrophically horrible must have taken place.

He's curious. Infinitely more so when their breakfast is interrupted with whatever news that guard whispers to Krause, causing the man to smile wide.

The other man leaves and Krause grins, sipping his coffee while Sam looks at him in question, slipping bits of his breakfast to the dog.

Krause doesn't tell him anything, but he's a good mood, raising an eyebrows and giving Sam a cheeky, "If you keep giving him food from your plate he'll get fat."

Sam shrugs. Between him and the puppy, at least one of them deserves to be happy.

~

"You're troubled."

Sam looks at Krause in mild surprise as his voice breaks through the quiet. Sam had been on the couch, petting the dog and sulking.

He spent most of his time these days doing just that. What other activities did he have to engage in? It's not like he could go out.

He's confined to the house.

That, on top of everything else means that yeah, Sam is troubled. 

He doesn't know what to say, though. So he just looks at Krause, taking in the man's twisted concern.

He wanders over to him, sitting down close and resting his arm around Sam's shoulders.

"What can I do?"

Sam bites his lip. He doesn't know what to say, and honestly, on one hand he feels a little ungrateful because no, he doesn't really want to be here but he's being taken care of, which is more than anyone could ask for in such a situation, he guesses.

Krause even got him a dog because he knows Sam was upset. Even though the longer he's with Krause he kind of slowly gets used to the man's constant presence. Sam feels bad. And half of Sam kind of feels like a huge jerk. He doesn't want to be here, that's true, but...

He could have been being beaten and tortured and yet Krause didn't let that happen. He's seen Krause and his men torture people, kill them slowly, ripping their flesh off their bodies, beating them to death or lighting them on fire. If Krause had been truly cruel he would have done the same to Sam, instead of buying him things and keeping him in beautiful houses and hotel rooms. 

Sure, he was taken against his will, but it could have been...worse. A lot worse. 

But again, Krause didn't let that happen. 

So Sam isn't sure what to say. His brain feels foggy and he's tired. He can't think properly lately.

He shrugs, "I'm okay."

Krause looks at him, eyes deceptively soft, "I want you to be happy, Sam."

He takes Sam's chin and forces him to look at him. His hands are warm.

"I'm here for you, Sam. I'm all you have, and I'm the only one who cares about you. Your friends? From before? They haven't come looking for you, Sammy. They left you. But I haven't."

He isn't sure why the conversation took the turn it just did, but along with everything else, now he's...sad, as Krause's words sink in.

"And I'm the only one who loves you." Krause adds, "So, anything you need, you can ask me. Because I care, alright?"

Sam just nods.

Krause smiles.

~

Sam's stomach churns as Krause presses himself into his body that night.

Sam traces the freckles on the man's shoulder this time as he fucks him, shaky fingers connecting the blemishes as he tries to ignore his body. He focuses on how the man on top of him has some slightly graying hair at his temples or the fact that his shoulders are broader than his own. Sam counts his freckles again.

"Tell me you love me."

The same demand he's had since the plane ride.

Sam's mind slows, and while he can't quite say it yet, his mouth opens before he freezes, wide-eyed.

Krause smiles anyway. It's progress.

~

"Someone want to explain what the fuck happened out there?" Jessica asks, rounding on everyone in the room.

"I'm wondering the same thing." Ororo says carefully, more composed than the detective but not any less angry, folding her arms and turning away.

"This," Jessica starts, "is why I don't get involved in...Captain America ends up buried under tons of rubble. How?"

Bruce fidgets in his seat, not knowing what to do or say.

The fact that Tony was able to secure a lab in Germany somehow was a surprise to no one, but the fact that the hotel Loki led them to turned out to be a ticking time bomb waiting to go off was.  But maybe it shouldn't have been. 

"We were led into a trap." Ororo says, looking out of the window and onto the streets below. 

"Fucking obviously." Jessica says, rooting around the cabinets for the glass bottle of whiskey she knows Stark has stashed in there.

The room is silent.

Until it isn't.

A lot happens at once. Tony and Peter troop in, and Loki is thrown into the room after them, Bucky lunging at the trickster and quickly wrapping his metal hand around the gods throat as he drags him to the center of the large space.

Ororo startles, Peter takes a seat next to Bruce, yanking his mask off in frustration and Jessica mumbles a curt, "Should've stayed my ass in New York."

Everyone in the room is covered in dust and soot from having been close to the building as it burst into flame, or from pulling the surviving citizens from the rubble and debris in the aftermath. So many people were dead.

So many. So many bodies.

Sam hadn't been in the hotel at all. He wasn't in the rubble, and Stark's tech and cctv footage hadn't shown Sam even in the vicinity during the event. He'd been gone before they even got there. Probably has been for a while.

Everyone is shocked and more than a little tired. Defeated. 

On top of all that's happened Sam is still missing. They're closer, but it doesn't feel like a victory. Not right now.

No one moves as Bucky hisses an enraged, "You planned this." As he tightens a hand around Loki's throat.

The trickster doesn't move and doesn't struggle even as his windpipe is being crushed, but just narrows his eyes at the enraged soldier, about to say something before Thor strides in. 

"Barnes, release him."

The order is loud and firm, but Bucky doesn't heed it, instead opting to continue crushing the trickster's airway in his grasp.

"Barnes, release my brother."

Bucky ignores him. Loki chokes.

Thor moves, anger crackling in the air around him as he wrenches his brother out of Bucky's grasp, quickly shoving him away.

Bucky lunges to attack him, but Thor holds him in place with once hand, turning to Loki. 

Giving him a chance to explain.

"He was supposed to be there." Loki coughs, one hand rubbing at his throat, looking annoyed. "I did not deceive you, brother. Any of you. His energy signature was there."

"You're lying." Bucky seethes, fuming and straining against Thor's hold. "You tricked us. You knew this would happen."

"Believe me." Loki snarls, throat aching, "When I decide to deceive you, you'll know. Trust me."

Barnes moves to attack him again, struggling against Thor's strength, holding him back.

The god however just looks at his brother,  searching his face for one quiet moment before nodding solemnly.

"He is telling the truth."

"And how would you even know that?" Tony asks in a tired voice from the other side of the room, "He's basically a professional liar--"

"I know my brother." Thor snaps, eyes scanning the room dangerously, waiting for anyone else to oppose him.

"Sam wasn't in that hotel, and it was blown to high heaven with Steve inside." Jessica says, not caring about Thor's angry warning glances as she speaks, "And we just happened to be there to see it all happen? Steve just happened to be inside?"

"What are you implying?" Thor asks through gritted teeth.

Jessica drains her glass and swallows, eyes narrowing at the furious god, completely unamused, "I'm saying that someone is fucking with us." She pours herself another glass, "And it's probably your brother."

"Watch your tongue--"

"Or what, Goldilocks?" She deadpans.

"This isn't helping." Ororo snaps, silencing them all, "Sam is still gone and Steve is still injured. We need to focus."

"Steve's fine." Natasha adds, from where she'd mysteriously appeared by the door, arms folded and leaning against the wall, "He'll need to be patched up, but he's a trooper. Barton's with him."

Bucky lets out a breath, tension draining from his shoulders, but only slightly. He yanks himself out of Thor's hands, still looking like wants to rip Loki's head off.

"They have someone." the trickster says, "Someone as skilled as I." he folds his arms, looking annoyed and more like a petulant child than a god, "Almost as skilled as I." he adds.

"How can you be sure?" Ororo asks.

"No simple midgardian could ever weave such a spell."

"Okay, well...how did they know we were coming?" Peter asks, finally speaking as he fiddles with his mask in his hands, "Who told them?" 

"Easy." Jessica deadpans, rolling her eyes and gulping down the last of her drink, "We have a goddamn traitor in our midst. Figures."

Chapter Text

The man is bound and gagged.

And in their basement.

Sam stares at the bruised and bleeding prisoner from his place on the stairs as Krause quickly plunges a knife into the man's knee.

Sam hasn't been explicitly told that he had to stay and watch, so when he bolts up the basement stairs and away from the man's muffled screams, no one stops him. He's thankful for that. He'd rather not see.

He sits on the rug by the fireplace and entertains the dog, happy and panting, soaking up his attention. The screams don't stop, they actually get louder, but he tries not to think too hard about what's going on. 

What Krause is doing.

Eventually the screaming stops, and Sam doesn't know how long it went on for, but the house is silent. 

Krause's captive is dead. He knows it.

Sam also wonders why he bothers to torture them at all. Shooting them in the head is a lot easier, but Sam supposes that Krause finds something in slowly robbing someone of their life. Making their last moments as painful and horrifying as possible.

"Sammy."

Sam jumps, breath catching as Krause kneels down where Sam is mindlessly playing with the dog and pressing himself to his smaller body.

Krause is hard.

Some part of Sam goes offline. He knows what's going to happen now, and he's quickly disassociating and letting his mind wander.

His length is pressing into Sam's side.

"C'mon Sammy." Krause murmurs, voice soft and gentle as he takes Sam's hand and leads him to their bedroom, shutting the door and ignoring the puppy's whimpers. In some distant way, despite everything Sam likes the bedroom. He likes how it looks at least. It's like all the cushions and cloth have been dipped in deep purples and blues. In any other world it would be comfortable and luxurious, and Sam is sure it is. He just looks at it all and can only manage to feel apathetic at most.

He feels the exact same way about the panties Krause insists he wears. 

He has no opinion on his one way or the other. Krause likes them and that's that.

Sam pretty much looks completely different than he used to anyway, so what's a difference in undergarments? His facial hair is gone because Krause prefers him without it, and his clothes are completely different than anything he'd ever picked out for himself. His closet is now filled with clothes he's sure he's seen on Natasha. Except his clothes are in pastels. Which he doesn't mind, he just notes how different it is.

They're all...somewhat feminine. Well, very feminine. Not that it really matters.

And yeah, he's owned some fitted pants, but not quite as fitted as the ones he wears now. He's sure he's never owned quite this much pink or lavender, either.

He certainly never wore panties before either. Not out of any weird hypermasculinity, it just never crossed his mind. 

Krause undresses him while Sam tries not to think about anything at all, and presses him into those richly colored lavender sheets before kissing him. Sam doesn't really react, but as usual, it doesn't seem to matter. Krause just grins and presses a kiss to Sam's collarbone, now all too prominent seeing as his appetite has basically been shot to shit.

"So pretty, Sammy."

The man on top of him groans as he rubs himself against Sam.

He never knows what to say whenever Krause says something like that. Does he say thank you? Does he smile? He really isn't sure. He's forgotten how one usually reacts to a lot of things, so it usually results in him not reacting at all.

Still, the compliment is nice he guesses. His face grows hot, red tinting dark skin ever so slightly. 

Krause notices. Sam winces.

The smiles slowly, eyes on Sam.

"You are." He continues, kissing Sam's neck and jaw as he presses a finger into him, "You're the prettiest little thing I've ever seen, Sammy. Your eyes, your lips...so pretty for me. And you're mine."

Sam doesn't know what to say, he just gasps lightly when Krause hastily adds another finger and drags them along his inner walls.

"My pretty, pretty Sammy."

His fingers are quickly replaced with his flesh, hot and hard and breach Sam who lets out a startled little whimper.

Krause grins into his neck.

"You're perfect for me, you know that?" He says, moving to look Sam in the eyes as he rolls himself into him, "You're so good at this. Laying under me looking gorgeous. How did they ever let you fight and put yourself in danger? This is what you were made for. Beautiful."

He grips Sam's skin tighter, pressing their bodies flush so he feels every bit of muscle as Krause moves against him to press his length into Sam over and over again.

Sam wants to think about something else, other than what's happening, but Krause keeps talking and he can't quite disconnect.

"Oh, my dear." He moans grabbing at Sam's ass and thrusting deep into his trembling body, "You weren't made to fight. You were made for this. Too pretty and delicate to be on a battlefield. You should be here, in someone's bed, waiting."

He kisses him, "Waiting all pretty and ready to open your mouth or your legs for whoever is clever and strong enough to catch you and make you theirs."

Krause looks in his eyes as he thrusts into him, both of their skin going slightly damp with sweat from sharing body heat. Sam has no idea where to look. He doesn't want to look him in the eyes, and he doesn't want his face to heat up at the man's words like it does, but neither of those things are things he can stop. He doesn't know whether he's reacting in embarrassment or flattery. 

He hopes it's the former.

But with Krause talking to him and staring at him it's hard for him to drift away and for his mind to wander until it's over.

He feels every puff of Krause's breath against his cheek and he hears the obscene sound of flesh against flesh and the man's pleasured moans. He feels where their bodies meet, and his face burns with the realization it doesn't hurt anymore because he's always loose and ready to take him whenever Krause wants him.

"You were made for me, Sam." Krause says, voice husky and deep, looking at him with possessiveness that makes Sam's heart stutter, "You're mouth was made to take me and your body was made to take me. And your mine. You're better than any girl, Sammy. Pretty, slim with those eyes and that mouth."

Krause spills into him with a groan of, "Perfect." before he caresses Sam's cheek, looking at him in a way that looks oddly like reverence.

He leaves Sam's body--pulling out and pressing a hard kiss to his mouth--but he's always burrowed into his mind.

~

He buys Sam nail polish a day later. Sam looks at him, confused. That's an odd thing to buy him.

"Just a gift." Krause says, pressing a kiss to Sam's temple and walking off, leaving him with the packaged nail polish.

~

Two days after that there's another person in the basement. But this is...different.

She's a woman.

Sam manages a peek just because he's curious and must hate himself. Why else would he bother to stain his brain with the image of a young woman bruised and tied up?

She looks up and stares Sam right in the eye. He almost wants to break the eye contact and run because he doesn't know what's going on or what she's done but he doesn't want to see her killed. He doesn't want to see anyone killed.

He can't watch anymore.

Sam stares at her, and she stares back. Sam gets so lost in the fact that he can only helplessly look into her eyes that he doesn't notice Krause stomping up the steps and grabbing Sam by his arm, hauling him away. The man is bigger than him and he doesn't stand a chance. Only when Krause has pulled him into the living room and away from the basement does Sam realize that while he and the woman were having their horrified staring match, Krause had been yelling his name.

"You listen to me when I talk to you." Krause hisses, and Sam flinches.

"Sorry." he says, voice quiet (and he doesn't quite remember ever being so docile and submissive, but he doesn't remember a lot of things so he doesn't dwell on it), "I didn't hear you. I wasn't paying attention. Sorry." 

Krause looks at him a moment before he lets go of Sam's arm and smiles.

"I didn't mean to get angry, Sammy I just..." he doesn't finish his thought yet, just sighs. Krause looks at Sam, who's standing in front of him looking guilty because yeah, Sam had been curious but he does feel bad for not responding to him when he was telling him something.

Sam immediately feels awful. He's done something wrong. What's wrong with him--

Sam's guilt doesn't slip past him. He decides to use it to his advantage.

"You know how you can make it up to me? For that terrible thing you just did?"

Sam's eyes widen because he didn't mean to ignore him he was just caught up in what was happening--

Sam shakes his head slowly.

Krause steps closer, running a thumb across Sam's bottom lip, "On your knees, Sammy."

Oh.  Sam knows how to do this. He can't mess it up. At least all Krause wants is something simple.

Sam slips to his knees and Krause looks down at him, eyes half-lidded as he caresses Sam's cheek.

"Go on." He encourages.

Sam undoes the man's belt almost robotically, pulling down his zipper and taking Krause's hard, erect length out of his pants. He twitches under Sam's touch.

"Go on." Krause murmurs, caressing Sam's cheek, "Make it up to me."

Sam says nothing, just tries not to think as he leans forward and takes Krause in his mouth. 

He tries to force his mind to wander, to disregard the fact that he's so used to Krause's scent that he doesn't cringe when he smells it anymore. To ignore the taste of salty flesh on his tongue, warm and firm. The fact that he can taste the beads of pre-come dripping across his tongue and down his throat. 

Sam suckles him and tries not to close his eyes in relief when Krause smiles down at him and caresses his cheek again.

He's been forgiven.

"So good for me, Sammy."

~

Sam finds a card on the desk of Krause's office.

He'd only been in there because the puppy darted in, and Sam of course had to follow it. And he wasn't looking through his things, it was just out in the open. It's not like Sam is banned from the office, he's just never interested what whatever could be in it so he's never stepped foot in it until today.

Still, it catches his attention and Sam inches closer to the desk--arms full of the happily squirming puppy--and takes a closer look.

It's a doctor's card. A surgeon's. He doesn't bother to try and pronounce the name, but under it the card reads 'Obstetrics and Gynecology'. 

Sam blinks?

What?

Why would Krause have this? The female prisoner has been dead for hours. Sam saw the guards take her body out and to wherever they dispose of their victims. And even if she were alive, why would he need a surgeon that specializes in the female reproductive system?

Sam shakes his head, reminding himself to mind his business and that he doesn't care what Krause is doing or planning. It's so much easier not to care.

~

Sam returns to the living room where a fire is roaring in the fireplace and Krause is talking to one of the guards by the door, quietly so Sam can't hear. The conversation doesn't last long, and the guard gives Sam an ominous look before he turns to walk away.

Sam eats even less of his dinner than usual. He feels sick. Like something is coming. Something terrible.

Krause presses him into the bed that night and Sam tries to remember what Steve sounded like.

It hurts. God, it hurts to think about them, but he does it. He tries.

Krause thrusts into him, and Sam can't remember what Steve's voice sounded like.

He can't remember how Bucky sounded when he laughed. 

He can't remember what color Bucky's eyes are. He can't remember Steve's smile.

He's officially lost it all. He doesn't even have his memories.

Krause pulls out to come on Sam's thighs. 

Sam wonders if they remember him at all.

~

The thing is, Sam gets a bit bored. 

The puppy is more than a handful, but still.

So when Sam finds himself lacking anything to do, it's not his fault that he reaches for the nail polish Krause got him, opens the pack and looks at each color as it sloshes around in the tiny glass bottles.

~

Sam would wish he could leave the house if he had a clue as to what's outside. But seeing as he's never been in Estonia before and has no clue what's around, he doesn't particularly think about trying to leave the house. 

He can't anyway. He wouldn't even make it all the way out the door.

He can't use the Internet or watch TV, but honestly he doesn't even know if he misses those things. 

Watching television would only remind him that the avengers are still out there somewhere. That they're not looking for him. Krause says that all the time. That they aren't looking for him. That they don't care and won't risk it.

Sam just figures he's right.

It's been almost six months. Clearly they've moved on. Sam doesn't blame them, but it hurts more than he wants to admit.

Maybe this is better though. He can hardly remember anything about them anyway. He tries and his brain just feels foggy and clouded. He can't quite picture anyone's face. It's all blurred and nondescript. 

They don't need him. They never did.

~

Just because a building was dropped on Steve doesn't mean he'll slow down. Sam is still out there.

The government doesn't share his sentiments. The way they see it, them looking for Sam lead to a building explosion killing hundreds of civilians, and they don't want to listen to Steve when he  tries to tell them it wasn't them. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Fury has done what he can, but they've declared Sam M.I.A.

Presumed dead.

~

The meetings are all the same. Sam is held in Krause's lap and leered at while the man does business like nothing has changed. Sam zones out as usual, trying to suppress the feeling of his skin crawling while they look at him, their eyes raking down his form.

Sam ignores them as much as he can.

"Have you decided on the surgeon, by the way?" A tall man with blond hair asks.

Krause grips Sam a bit tighter around the middle, hand rested on his stomach.

"No. Not yet." He says, "I'm still deciding whether I'll need his services at all."

Sam has no idea what they're talking about, and he tries to stamp down the little bit of interest the conversation has peaked within him.

They continue talking and Sam tries to drift, ignoring the conversation as it turns to how pretty Sam is and the jokes about how he should be loaned out to each of them. Krause chuckles the first time, but they keep lightly suggesting it, and Sam can feel the irritation rising from the man's skin.

In a display of ownership that Sam is entirely not surprised by, Krause makes him suck him off in front off them all, like last time.

This time he comes on Sam's face. Ropes of the man's release dribble from his cheeks onto his lips and bead at the end of his eyelashes. 

Krause tucks himself back in and looks at Sam, grinning at the picture he makes, on his knees, skin coated with his come.

Sam's mind is somewhere else entirely. He focuses on how many stripes are on Krause's tie.

There are 12 he can see.

"He looks good like that." one says, and Sam tries not to shiver. 

~

The real disaster happens days later when Krause goes out for some reason or other (Sam wasn't paying attention).

The guards are by the exits as usual, and Sam is on the fur rug with the puppy snuggled close to him like always. He's reading a book. He isn't quite sure what it's about. Sam keeps forgetting every line he reads. He's not exactly absorbing the material, and he's had to re-read almost every line.

He guesses he's just too wound up.

The point is, the guards are supposed to stay outside of the house, and Sam's confusion is obvious when he hears voices outside the door.

The two in front of the door are talking about something, but Sam can't quite make out what.

It turns out it doesn't matter, because the door opens and one steps through it, eyes catching Sam and giving him a look that makes him very uncomfortable.

He freezes, and the man gets closer.

At least Sam has the sense to push the dog away and send the little thing bolting for the bedroom before he's grabbed. 

Chapter Text

Sam doesn't tell Krause about the guard. He doesn't know why, he just..doesn't.

He doesn't want to talk about it. He doesn't want to talk about anything.

The man held him down and used him roughly before pulling out of him and hissing, "Nigger whore." in his ear before zipping up his pants and leaving.

Sam moved from his position on the floor with his cheek against the carpet and pulled his pants back up. The slur doesn't really faze him, he knows they're neo-nazis, it's not like he forgot, and it's not like what the guard just did to him is any different than what's been happening to him, so he logically doesn't see any reason for being upset.

He still has a crying panic attack in the bathroom as he cleans himself off though.

He feels like he cheated on Krause. He feels guilty, and who knows what will happen if he finds out? If he finds out that Sam was with someone else? He'll be so upset, and Sam...Sam doesn't want Krause to be upset. Krause takes care of him. He doesn't deserve to be hurt because Sam is a whore. He can't tell him. Krause would be upset and he wouldn't forgive him.

Sam sits there and panics. Eventually it subsides, and in the end he's just...there. Sam doesn't really have any other strong feelings about it. It's just something that happened. Another thing to add to the pile.

He went from panicking and crying to feeling nothing.

If anything, his cheek has rug burn, and that's annoying, he guesses.

Krause comes back, and if Sam is a bit more despondent than usual the man doesn't notice.

~

Krause starts talking about his family. Sam doesn't know why, and it's not like Sam asked to hear his family history.

"My mother was a teacher in Germany." He tells Sam in bed one night, arm tight around his captive, "My father was an engineer. As a child I always looked up to my father, but then I learned that my grandfather worked with Red Skull himself and he became my hero."

Sam tries to imagine a little Krause wanting to be a nazi. He cringes.

"He told me everything." Krause continues, fond awe in his voice as he recalls his grandfather teaching him to systematically destroy the world any way he can, "And of course when I grew up, I joined Hydra, worked hard and here I am."

Sam has no idea what to say. Congratulations? Good job on being awful for a living? What does he say?

"I've always wanted a family. Kids." Krause murmurs, his puffs of breath making Sam's skin crawl, "Don't you want kids, Sam?"

Sam is...confused. What does that matter? It's not like he's ever getting away from Krause and will ever get the chance.

Krause presses his palm against Sam's stomach, and he has that ominous feeling that quickly forms a ball of dread. Something awful is coming.

"Don't worry." Krause says, like he doesn't notice that Sam hasn't answered him but instead gone tense in his hold, "Soon."

What?

Sam's brows furrow in worry. This is...this is not good. At all. 

He has a feeling he won't like what's coming.

~

Maybe their priority should have been finding whoever spilled their plans to the Hydra agents who have Sam, but truthfully, Steve is so desperate to do something that he just limits the amount of people who know his and Bucky's next move.

Maybe it's the fact that they were so close. They were so close to Sam, and sure, it's not like Steve could stop a building from falling on him but he still feels like he failed him.

And the healing cuts on his face are proof. 

They refuse to leave Germany. There has to be something here. Something. Anything.

Sam has been gone for six fucking months, and Steve is starting to lose his patience and steady resolve. Bucky is already a time bomb, and they try to hold each other to keep each other from breaking apart but they can only do so much in the way of keeping calm and planning their next move with a level head when Sam is still missing, probably being hurt and they have no leads.

Steve feels like screaming. He feels like tearing everything apart. He feels like being as irrational and volatile as possible because yeah, that won't help them find Sam but being calm and calculating their every move doesn't seem to be working either.

Steve returns to the hotel, or rather, where the hotel used to be. It's a construction site now. They're rebuilding it. 

He stands there for a while, just looking at it, trying to imagine Sam being held there. He tries to imagine what he's possibly going through. He feels Bucky appear at his side and take his hand, looking at the wreckage of the building their soulmate was kept in not too long ago. The wind blows. It's chilly today.

They're silent for a long moment. If Sam were here he'd crack a joke about the super soldiers being grumpy old men.

But he isn't.

"Do you think he's--" Bucky stops, breath catching as his eyes clench shut, pain obvious on his face.

He know what he was going to ask. He was going to ask if he thinks Sam is dead.

And Steve's eyes water because he doesn't even know how to answer that. He doesn't know. The thought makes him want tear the whole world apart and scream until his voice gives out. Steve is losing it and he knows Bucky is too--

"Captain America?"

The voice makes Steve jump nearly a foot in the air, and he turns to see a blonde woman, holding a fluffy white dog, looking at him curiously. She glances at Bucky as well, recognition dawning on her face.

"Uh...hi." Steve greets, confused.

"I do not know if...I sensed that something was wrong..." She babbles quickly, suddenly looking panicked.

"Whoa, whoa," Steve says, looking at her in concern, his interest peaked, "it's okay, slow down."

She stops, eyes huge as she looks between the two of them, "Falcon?"

It's clear she hasn't been speaking too much english for long, but that doesn't matter because she just said--

"Falcon?" Steve asks hurriedly, heart stuttering, "What about Falcon?"

"I saw him." She says blinking at them both, and Bucky quickly asks her something in German and she answers before looking at Steve, "I know him from TV. He is your friend."

Steve could fucking cry because this is...this is something. Finally.

"Yeah," he says desperately, tripping over his words and talking fast, "he's our friend. When did you see him?"

"Who was he with?" Bucky asks, voice tight and eyes hard, focused and squeezing Steve's hand in a vice grip.

She looks overwhelmed by the questions and she stutters out, "My dog ran to him. Was with lots of men."

Bucky asks her something in German, and she answers.

"She says that he looked physically unharmed, but his eyes looked hollow and sad." Bucky says miserably, "She says that a man was holding his hand. She figured something was wrong since he wasn't with us, because he always is when she sees him on tv."

Steve starts, and he feels himself start to grow angry. A man?? Holding his hand? And all he can think is that someone was touching their Sam--

"A man?" Steve asks her hurriedly, voice cracking, "Can you describe him? What did he look like? Just..anything you can remember. Anything."

She looks at Bucky and answers the question in German, Steve looking on impatiently, waiting for her to finish and for him to translate. The little conversational German that he knows is nothing compared to how fluent Bucky is. Steve is better at French, and being frozen in ice for decades made it so he isn't as good as German as he used to be.

She talks for a while, and Bucky leans into her, watching her intently, sharply focus on her words, eyes hard.

She finishes, looking between the two of them and nodding as a sign that that's all the information she could gather from their short encounter.

Bucky thanks her, grasping her hand in gratitude, looking her in the eye and thanking her again. Steve does the same and when she smiles and walks away, Bucky turns to him, face determined.

"We have a description of the men who have Sam." He says, "I'm calling Stark."

~

Krause leaves the house again, headed somewhere that Sam can't remember because while the man told him what he was doing Sam hadn't been listening, instead staring at that one space on the wall where the wallpaper stopped and started again. The crease is obvious.

And all of sudden Krause is gone, and Sam is alone in the house, puppy in his lap as he absentmindedly pets the dog's fur, not thinking about anything in particular.

After half an hour the front door opens and shuts.

Sam should be concerned but he just...can't bother with it, so when the guard appears at the bedroom door, leering at him, Sam can only blame himself for not having the energy to run and hide.

He's so...blank. And yet, somehow so tired.

The man looks at him for a moment, and it's the same one from last time. Blond, hair cut short, muscled and Sam would say he looks quite dim, if he could muster the strength to say anything. He smirks at Sam.

Sam can only shiver.

He remembers his smell from last time. He'll remember it forever.

With two strides the man is next to the bed that Sam is sitting cross legged in the middle of and he snatches the puppy from Sam's hands and tosses the little fluffy dog aside carelessly. And Sam feels...something as the puppy lands on its side because he instinctually tries to scramble off the bed to make sure it's okay. He's scared for the little thing. 

The guard stops him with an arm around his waist as Sam lunges for the  dog, and the puppy (scared but uninjured, much to Sam's relief) darts out of the room, tail between its legs.

Sam is so relieved the dog is okay that he could cry.

The man's hold around his waist tightens and he throws Sam back onto the bed. The breath is knocked out of him for a second and then, in a burst of adrenaline he wasn't expecting, he tries to scramble away from the man.

No such luck, of course. Why did he even try? Try to escape and go where? There are more at every exit. He knows he can't get away.

He gives up, what little energy to fight he had, gone. He barely has the energy to focus long enough to read a book, why did he think he could muster the energy to run?

"Stop your squirming." The man sneers, "Keep still you fucking tar baby."

Wow. He hasn't heard that slur in a long time.

Sam can only clench his eyes shut as the man wrenches his pants down. Sam hears the man's zipper and can only lay still and hope it doesn't last too long when the man shoves himself inside him.

And the entire time he holds Sam down whispers things like "fucking whore.", "nigger.", "slut", "colored garbage."

Sam can only cry silently as the man pounds into him, gripping him too tight and calling him so many horrible things that Sam doesn't want to remember. 

He finishes, his come filling the trembling body under his before he pulls out, gives Sam's hip one last painful squeeze and leaves.

The front door closes behind him, and then it opens again.

Sam doesn't even try to see and identify the next guard's facial features, it's not like it matters once he grabs him and rams into him like the last one did.

This one doesn't talk. He just holds a quietly crying Sam down and pounds into him, looking at him with that murderous glint in his eyes like when he's done he's going to kill him.

Sam wishes he would.

The man grips his wrists so tight he feels like his bones are crushing together, and when Sam sobs and tries to pull a hand out of his grip the man slaps him--hard--before continuing his painful thrusting.

It hurts.

He finishes and looks at Sam with disgust as he tucks himself back in his pants before leaving.

The next guard forces his tongue into Sam's mouth as he forces his length into him over and over again, ignoring Sam's quiet tears and sobs. 

His saliva is disgusting. Sam is forced to taste it.

The next one repeatedly calls Sam a harlot and a tramp. He laughs at his tears and pulls out just before he comes, coating Sam's thighs with it.

The next one spits on him when he leaves.

~

He wonders of Krause notices. If he knows what they've started doing once he leaves.

Sam cleans himself up and clumsily wipes the tears from his face, but he can't help crying a little more.

God, he's disgusting. So many men have been inside him and it's killed him more and more every time.

He's a graveyard. His entire body is just a dead thing for them to fuck and come in. To use.

Sam knows there's no escape though. He lost hope ages ago.

When Krause comes back he's drunk and horny, and Sam's stomach turns as he's pressed into the rug by the fireplace and invaded again.

Krause's words make his blood run cold, and tears make their way down his cheeks again.

"Sammy, our family will be perfect." He croons, pressing into him, "You're gonna look so pretty with the gift I'm going to give you. After the doctor visits."

And it all clicks.

And Sam sobs, desperately trying to push Krause off of him.

"No, no..." Krause soothes, "I know you're nervous. It's okay. You'll be beautiful. You know how they say that women who're expecting have that glow? You'll be so pretty."

Sam struggles, but like all the other times, he can't get away.

The crippling fear breaks through the haze of emotional nothingness, and Sam struggles harder and sobs. 

Krause covers his mouth when he starts screaming.

~

Sam is broken and ruined, not stupid.

He knows what Krause is planning. He, for some reason, wants children. Children with Sam.

And Sam, of course, can't let that happen.

The surgeon is for him. And the doctor is coming for Sam like an executioner.

He assumes that they'll try to attempt some sort of uterus transplant, and the very thought makes him want to vomit. He knows there are men with uteruses, and it's not about being manly or anything, it's about the fact that he doesn't want this and he can't do this. Not with Krause. He trembles violently just thinking about it. 

He can't. He can't let this happen. He's aware he's panicking, but he can't help it. He can't. This isn't...he can't.

It's fucking insane. He can't let Krause do this to him. His breath comes in shaky gasps and he can't stop his heart from hammering against his chest. His mind stutters in fragmented half-thoughts that he can't finish.

The tears come and his sobs are hoarse as he bites into the flesh of his hand, trying to muffle the sounds so Krause doesn't get suspicious about what Sam is doing in the bathroom. His hand starts to bleed.

Sam knew Krause wanted to play house with him, but he didn't expect this.

No.

Nonononononononono

He can't. And even if--if...he can't hand over a baby to Hydra. For them to brainwash and--

Oh god.

Oh god.

Oh god, oh god he's going to be sick.

~

He plans.

Krause needs him. He loves him in some twisted, roundabout way, and Sam needs to find a way to use that. He doesn't know when to expect the transplant, but he needs to somehow make sure that it's too dangerous for them to operate on him. He needs to make it so that if they so much as start some medical catastrophe will make it so Sam is impossible to cut into. 

If it's dangerous, Krause won't do it. If there's a chance that Sam could die during the procedure, Krause won't go through with it.

He can only hope this works, and that he's judging Krause's character correctly because if he's wrong this nightmare will only get darker.

But even so, he can't help but feel guilty. Krause has been...he hasn't subjected Sam to any more torture or physical harm than what he deals out on the regular. 

Sam feels like he's a kid doing something very wrong. The guilt is suffocating.

~

Sam has never looked in the medicine cabinet. Mostly because the cabinet also doubles as a mirror, and Sam doesn't want to or need to see what he looks like. He doesn't know what he'll do if he does, but he doesn't want to find out. 

He'd rather not know.

He doesn't know where Krause is in the house, so he has to be quick. He closes his eyes so he doesn't have to face the mirror, and he pulls it open. The pill bottles are almost all full, and Sam guesses that they're there so that trips to the hospital are not necessary. No need to tip off hospital staff of anything that Hydra has been up to. If they took every guard with a gunshot wound to the local ER the questions would start. 

Better to keep every drug you'll need at HQ and have a Hydra doctor come to them instead, should they need it. 

He wonder why Krause would even keep a cabinet full of drugs in the house and within Sam's reach, but it occurs to him that Krause thinks his hold on Sam is strong enough that he doesn't have to lock the cabinet. He doesn't think Sam will have the will to go in it anyway, and up until this point he was right. 

Sam's hands shake as he reads each bottle, not quite knowing what he's looking for but looking for something. Anything

He notes the painkillers, but his hand stills when he reads the label on the small white bottle next to a bottle of benadryl.

Warfarin. 

Blood thinners.

Perfect.

~

The proper dosage is two to five mg twice a day.

Sam takes a deep breath and swallows 50 mg.

If it makes it so he can't be operated on, perfect.

If it kills him? Even better. 

Chapter Text

Sam starts bruising.

And they're coming out of nowhere. Places no one has even harshly touched. He supposes it's a side effect or the 100mg of blood thinners he's been desperately taking everyday. He distantly wonders if he's bleeding internally. 

Probably.

The headaches are borderline unbearable, and it's made all the worse because Krause doesn't seem to notice. He doesn't seem to even be paying much attention to anything really, too busy being annoyingly chipper about his plan. And Sam feels childishly upset that he isn't paying attention to him.

Sam feels so sick. The bleeding under his skin gets more and more excessive as the days go by. Especially with Krause and the guards doing...what they do to him.

He distantly remembers stuttering around his headache and asking Krause why even wants a baby with him. They'd be mixed race, and Hydra isn't exactly welcoming towards any people of color. That isn't going to change with the birth of a black child. What sense does it make? Even if he wants to keep Sam, why not knock up some Aryan looking woman and have a white child?

Krause's answers makes him want to dig his fingers into his bruises so he bleeds out and dies as quickly as possible.

He tells Sam that no one would expect a mixed-race Hydra agent. They be able to fly under the radar because it's known that Hydra has Nazi roots. They'd be inconspicuous. No one would ever suspect them. His smiles makes him shiver.

Sam dry heaves in the bathroom shortly afterwards. 

He doesn't want a baby, he wants a pet. A weapon. 

~

"Friday is searching all cctv for the dick that fits the description you gave." Tony tells them over the line, obviously working and multitasking, if the sounds in the background are anything to go by, "I'm rounding up the gang and we'll be there in a few hours. Don't start the party without us. I have a feeling you'll need all the help you can get, Cap."

~

A man in a white coat is there when Sam wakes up that morning.

The headaches aren't going away, and neither is the bruising, but he has to keep going. He has to. The alternative is so much worse.

"Morning, Sammy." Krause smiles, taking his hand and pulling him towards the doctor standing in the living room, looking casual and not at all like he's about to do something terrible.

Sam doesn't bid Krause good morning. He never does. It's never a good morning, today even less so.

His heart is hammering against his chest and all of Sam's skin hurts because of the bleeding under it. The bruising is getting worse, but this is his only chance. His only plan and line of defense.

He's pushed onto the couch and forced into Krause's side, the man's arm around him as the doctor moves to take his blood pressure. He frowns once he gets the readings, and Krause tenses. Sam feels an inkling of victory.

The PT test is next, and Sam could cry because it's a fucking miracle. Well, not a miracle, those don't exist, but something finally went his way.

His blood doesn't clot. The little needle mark that punctured his skin keeps streaming blood. He could bleed out. He could die. If they try to operate on him he could die on the table because his blood won't stick itself together to keep his bleeding minimal or to eventually stop it.

The doctor looks startled, hurriedly holding a cotton-ball to Sam's arm, brows furrowing when, instead of stopping, the cotton ends up soaked before it even starts to slow. He replaces it quickly and tapes it to the wound.

The doctor takes a breath, "Currently, it is not safe."

Krause tenses further.

"And why is that?" Krause asks, voice tight.

The man looks quite afraid of him, and cringes when he has to explain why Krause can't go through with his plan at the moment.

"H-His blood is far too thin." The doctor stutters, "He would bleed out on the table. If we try, he will die."

The room is silent for a long moment, and Sam has to bite down a smile. Finally. Something worked out. Finally.

"Fine." Krause says, voice low and threatening, "What do we do about it."

"I can recommend something that will help--"

"Great. Do it." Krause demands, angrily hauling himself off the couch and to the whiskey he keeps in the kitchen cabinet.

The doctor give Sam a bottle of pills before he leaves. 

~

Friday runs the scans of the cctv footage and Loki tries to pinpoint Sam again. And when Tony said he'd round everyone up he really meant everyone. They should have gotten a bigger hotel room, but that's not what matters. Sam. Sam matters, and after about an hour Tony finds Bucky and Steve where they've stepped out of the room for some air to soothe frazzled nerves. The room is packed and they're both too wound up to stay in it.

"Get in here." The man says hurriedly, eyes bright, "We've got a hit, and Loki's like, a minute from finding him."

Bucky grips Steve's hand hard, and Steve's eyes widen as they follow Tony back into the to the room, nearly trampling the billionaire to see the progress.

Everyone in the room is standing around Loki, looking at the spell-laced map he's been working on.

"It's easier because apparently he is not too far." The god says evenly, looking straight at Steve as he and Bucky hastily push their way into the circle, "I have found your midgardian."

And the location is clear. Pinned down to the very building.

And in the moment, Steve, their leader, is speechless. They found him. They found Sam.

It's like he can't fully allow himself dare to believe this is real.

Bucky squeezes his hand tight, as stunned and silent as Steve is.

And because the captain is too shocked to give the order, Tony does.

"We know where we're headed." He calls, "Let's move out."

~

Krause is furious. 

Sam tries to keep out of his way, holding the puppy to his chest and keeping out of Krause's sights. He has no idea if the man would take his anger out on him or not, but he doesn't really want to find out. He's in enough pain as it is. And that's life is now, isn't it? Pain? Discomfort? Living in perpetual disgust of yourself?

God, his head fucking hurts, and it's getting strangely hard for him to see anything clearly. Things are blurring when they shouldn't. The steady ringing in his head won't stop, and it feels like his head is being smashed in two. The pain nearly knocks the breath out of him anytime he so much as moves.

God, it hurts. It's hurts so bad.

Sam stumbles to the bathroom and fumbles for the painkillers in the cabinet, trying to breathe through the pain.

He hears Krause smash a glass in the kitchen.

And something happens. It's so odd, but it's like as soon as he holds the small white bottle in his hands he switches to autopilot and his mind drains of any thought.

Sam pops in a pill. Two.

Three.

Four.

Five.

Six.

Seven.

Eight.

~

"We need to be there quick, Tony." Steve says urgently, strapping on the gloves of his uniform.

"It's an hour and half to Estonia, tops." Natasha says, stone-faced as she checks her weapons, loading her guns. Everyone moves at once, talking over each other and preparing for the fight they know is coming. And if Hydra has proven anything, it's that they can hold themselves in a fight. But between all of them? They're ready. 

"I'll get us there in half an hour." Tony says, gritting his teeth and moving to log a flight plan, "An hour my ass..."

"I'm clearing the skies." Ororo tells them. She stands outside the jet, white curls blowing in the wind as she looks Steve in the eye. He notes that she isn't moving to get in the jet at all.

"I'll be flying." She says, seeing the question in his eyes and helping Jessica into the plane, "If there is a possibility I can get there just a little bit sooner..."

Bucky appears next to her, face set and determined. The soldier puts a hand on her shoulder.

"Thank you." Bucky says, and Ororo nods before the air gathers around herand she's gone. It's a good plan. She's fast. Possibly faster than the Stark jet.

"Weapons check." Clint says, moving through them all, "We need to be ready."

Peter bounds up the steps of the aircraft and the door closes.

"Hold on everyone." Tony calls from the cockpit, "We're going fast."

"Remember," Steve says hooking his shield onto his back, "Anyone who gets in our way..."

"We know what to do, Cap." Jessica says.

"I've called medical backup." Natasha tells Steve quietly, leaning into him discreetly, "Just...in case."

Steve nods soberly. He's thankful for Natasha's quick thinking. Steve is too wound up and focused on getting his arms around Sam again that he can't seem to focus on the little things. His heart is pounding so hard in his chest he can hardly hear himself think. The smaller details escape him. And that's why they have a team. Why they're stronger this way. He always said so. Bucky appears at his other side, looking him in the eye and taking his hand, grounding him.

"This is it." Bucky says, "This is it. We're going to get him back."

Steve takes a deep breath and clenches his jaw, "Yeah. We are."

And he's going to tear every single one of Sam's captor's apart.

~

Nine. 

Ten.

Eleven.

Twelve.

Sam feels sick, but it's oddly distant. It's like he knows it logically, but the feeling is so far removed that it doesn't fully register.

Thirteen.

Fourteen.

His hands are starting to shake now. It's taking him longer to get a hold of the small pills.

Fifteen.

His vision is going fuzzy.

Sixteen. 

He can't hear anything. 

Maybe that's why he doesn't hear the lightning, booming and loud.

~

"The main priority," Steve says, loud and firm over the sounds of everyone starting to move and get themselves in order, "is finding and securing Sam."

"Don't kill any of them." Bucky orders darkly, and his sudden change in tone and inflection makes Steve startle because Bucky is...

He doesn't really look like Bucky. The warmth is gone. His eyes are blank. Cold. Hard. He stands stone-faced and painfully straight. Steve has seen this before.

He looks like the Winter Soldier. Steve feels a curl of worry in his chest, but he can't focus on that right now. He has to be ready.

Sam. Sam. Sam.

They're going to get to see Sam. Save Sam. 

"I want them alive." Bucky clarifies, tone dripping with venom. No one protests. Natasha looks at him intently, like she's cataloguing whether or not he's about to snap back into killer mode and become an additional threat, placing her gun in her hip holster.

"Brace yourself for landing." Tony warns them before the jet shakes violently, "Looks like our weather witch is already there."

And sure enough, when Peter budges his way to the front of the jet and into the cockpit with Tony, Ororo is in front of a house, raining lightning down on what Tony assumes are the exits, effectively trapping anyone in the house inside.

The lightning make her look like a dark silhouette. Her eyes have gone white. She's gorgeous and absolutely terrifying.

Tony is grateful he's never made an enemy out of her. 

The landing is...less than graceful, but Tony doesn't apologize because it doesn't matter and no one complains.

~

Seventeen.

Eighteen.

Sam doesn't stop. 

Why should he?

~

The thing is, Tony knows chaos. He does. Usually he's the one causing it. He's no stranger to the general concept of a lot of things happening at once, whether it's a party or a battle. He's used to it. If anything, that's when he feels most at home. He isn't a big fan of the quiet.

But even then, when the door to the jet opens and everyone is moving loud and fast, he's in awe of how many things can happen at one time. And he's not just talking about the lightning show that Ororo is putting on, her face set in a hard mask of determination, but how Jessica is suddenly beating some faceless Hydra agent unconscious, and how Thor takes an entire tree down on top of another. How Cap kicks the door in just as Estonian medical personnel arrive, sirens blaring.

How suddenly he's in a crowd fighting a small army of neo-nazis.

A house really isn't what he expected to see. He expected an army base or an underground bunker. Not a home that looks like it should be on the cover of the magazines that Peter's aunt May reads. The entire area is surrounded by trees, and it's obviously incredibly secluded because even as he flies and assesses the situation and the number of hostile forces in the area, he still doesn't see anything other than trees for miles.

~

Sam doesn't hear the commotion, or the front door banging off its hinges. He doesn't hear the yelling or the sounds of doors being slammed open as Captain America himself, barges through the house, looking for him.

Sam doesn't hear all of this because he's unconscious.

So he doesn't see every single one of the people he calls his friends fighting for him. He doesn't see how Natasha takes down the blond guard. He doesn't see how Bucky grabs Krause by the neck and squeezes. He doesn't see how Tony and Thor nearly take the roof off the house. He doesn't see how Peter webs Krause down once Bucky has reluctantly let go of him.

He doesn't see Steve's face when he finds him, crumpled, unconscious and bruised on the floor. He doesn't see how Steve rushes to him at breakneck speed, eyes watering as he holds him, hoarsely screaming for help. He doesn't feel Steve holding him close and checking his pulse. He doesn't feel Steve's panicked and terrified tears on his face as he kisses Sam's cheeks and eyelids chanting a broken chorus of, 'It's gonna be okay Sam. We're here. It's gonna be okay you're gonna be okay. I got you. We got you.'

He doesn't see Bucky crashing into the room. He doesn't see how Bucky's face crumples as he joins Steve on the ground, taking Sam's hand and kissing it. He doesn't see the sight they make, Bucky whispering, 'We got you Sammy. It's okay, it's okay.'

He doesn't see Natasha appear in the doorway, face going white when she sees her friend as she directs the medics into the room. He doesn't see Natasha's eyes tearing as she holds Peter back because he shouldn't see. Sam wouldn't want him to see.

Sam isn't aware of how Steve and Bucky only let him go because he needs help. Desperately. How they only let go when they're told he'll die if they don't get him medical attention.

He doesn't see how Steve and Bucky run to catch up with the frantic medics as they roll him out on a gurney. How they have to be pushed back to make room in the ambulance for them to try and stabilize him. 

~

The thing about hospitals is that while they're basically there to promote healing and feeling better, one rarely feels any better being in one. Steve and Bucky had been pushed out of the way as soon as they arrived and Sam was rushed into surgery, doctors fussing over him and shouting orders to one another. 

Steve sits in an uncomfortable chair, changed out of his uniform into his usual blue t-shirt and jeans, elbows on his knees and rubbing his face in worry, fear and frustration. And Bucky? Bucky just paces, silent. Steve tried to talk to him, to try and get that hard, cold look out of his eyes but the brunet just ignored him and continued pacing, arms crossed. Natasha sits in a chair next to him, and Tony sits next to her. Tony is fidgeting while Natasha is startlingly motionless.

Bucky is going to lose it, Steve can tell. And he understands, God, he does.

How they found Sam... 

Bruised, skinny and unresponsive... 

Steve can't get the image out of his head. Neither can Bucky. But while Steve is unbearably sad, Bucky is enraged. The blond can hardly stave off his own sadness and worry enough to have the strength to be concerned for him because he's pretty much being swallowed whole by it. Steve suddenly feels his age, like he's actually gotten older. He's tired and yet so wired he's ready to jump from his seat as soon as the doctor comes. It's just...a lot is going on in his head that he doesn't even want to begin to make sense of.

And then there's Bucky pacing with that dead look in his eyes.

Steve feels the headache building at his temples. The lights in the hospital are too bright and it's not helping. 

Sam. Oh god, Sam.

That's all he can think.

Natasha stares straight ahead, and Steve isn't even sure she's breathing. Tony is uncharacteristically silent, looking sobered and tired.

They sit like that for four hours. They don't talk, and they barely look at each other until a doctor appears, shoes making clacking noises that seem loud in the empty, silent hallway. Steve stands, expectant and very scared as Bucky snaps to attention.

Natasha takes a place at Steve's other side and Tony just rubs a hand down his face as the doctor begins to speak. His accent is thick, and Steve is just relieved he speaks English because he wouldn't be able to stand having to wait for Bucky to translate for him. He'd lose it.

"I will get right to it, shall I?" he says, and they all try to pick apart his tone for any hint about what's happened. Whether Sam is okay.

"Your friend," he looks at his chart, "Sam. He's somewhat stable--"

"What do you mean somewhat?" Bucky asks darkly, staring holes into the physician. Natasha looks between them, brows furrowed like she's ready to fight the doctor, even though there isn't much he can do.

"He needed multiple transfusions. Four, to be exact." the man says, "His blood was horrifically thin and he kept bleeding out. And in addition to that he's underweight and quite frankly, exhausted. We're monitoring him for any further internal bleeding, but honestly, we don't see that issue being solved any time soon. The IV we've administered has quite the job to do. He's suffering from dehydration and he needed his stomach pumped due to an overdose on painkillers and, judging by the chemicals found in his system, blood thinners."

"He overdosed?" Natasha asks, looking at the man steadily, only the tension in her shoulders giving away how she truly feels. She's scared. Steve knows her well enough to be able to tell. She's absolutely terrified.

"Yes." he answers, "Due to the amount he ingested, it's quite clear that this was a..." the man trails off and sighs, looking burdened and sympathetic.

"A what?" Steve asks, dully. He already knows the answer.

"Suicide attempt. " the doctor finishes, looking grim.

It feels like the air has been sucked out the entire world

Oh god, Sam.

Sam swallowed those pills because obviously he didn't think he had any other option. He thought it was his only way out. Whatever they were doing to him was so bad that taking his life was all he could do. His only solution. God, he was so alone. For so long..

Steve hears Bucky take a quick inhale of breath and look away, jaw clenched so tight his teeth hurt. His hands shake and he balls them into fists, heart pounding.

Steve feels ill.

"Can we see him?" Steve asks, barely letting the man finish his report. He just...he has to see him. Hold his hand. Even if he isn't awake. And when he does awaken he doesn't want him to be alone. Not anymore. He's been alone for so long.

"I'm afraid...there is one more thing." the doctor adds, looking sad and uncomfortable, talking over Steve, "There are also signs of quite brutal and constant sexual abuse. Some of it very, very recent. Enough to cause...substantial injury."

Natasha has to physically turn away from the doctor and Steve clenches his jaw and eyes shut and takes a shaky breath, trying not to vomit or cry or scream or all three because Sam--Sam was...

The air is suddenly too thick. Steve gasps for air because he can hardly breathe--

Tony makes a defeated sound and leans forward in his chair, elbows on his knees with his head in his hands, breathing ragged. Natasha's turned away and shaking.

And Bucky...

Bucky spins on his heel and begins to walk away. Steve fights through the nausea and grabs him before he can get out of his reach and Bucky whirls to face him, face red, like he's holding in a scream. The crazed look in his eye and the look of complete and utter fury instinctually makes Steve want to step away.

And Steve isn't stupid. He knows where Bucky is going and what he's about to do because that was one of the first things that flashed through his own mind as well.

Bucky tries to pull away, breathing heavy with fury and hurt and so much fucking fear, gaze hard and eyes lifeless. Steve can only hold on and choke out one sentence before he allows the brunet to pull away and leave.

"Do what you're gonna do, but please, please don't become someone he can't recognize."   

Chapter Text

His hand is warm.

Steve runs his thumb over the skin of Sam's hand and has to bite the inside of his cheek to stop himself from fuck, he doesn't know, crying or screaming or...something.

In fact, he's just trying to make as little noise as possible. Sam needs rest, and if Steve causes a disturbance the doctor has the right to kick him out, Captain America or not. He'd also never forgive himself for robbing Sam of some much needed sleep. And thats why he doesn't think about what the doctor has told him, because if he does he won't be able to stop himself from making a scene. Steve intends to stay for as long as Sam's here. Which means he can't do something that gets him kicked out. Just the thought of leaving him, even to go sleep or eat, makes him feel sick. He doesn't want Sam to wake up alone.

So Steve sits in that chair by his bedside, holding Sam's hand like he tries to hold in tears, and just struggles to keep it together. He has to be strong. That's what Sam needs now, and that's what he'll need when he wakes up. 

He hears Tony and Nat talking outside, voices hushed, and Steve just desperately wishes Bucky was here. That he'd stayed. Because when Sam wakes up he'll need Bucky too, and honestly, while Steve understands, he's also angry as hell. The Hydra agents are secure and they aren't going anywhere, but Sam, Sam is who needs him right now, who needs them both. And he doesn't blame Bucky, not at all, he just...he's angry and wishes he would have stayed.

At least to hold Sam's hand as he sleeps.

God, he looks so small, and the bruises under his skin has darkened to a mottled purple and just...this is all Steve's fault. He should have been faster and smarter and protected Sam. All too human Sam, who has no serum or super strength and durability. Sam, who's all too breakable.

Steve slumps forward in defeat, pressing his face into the bedding next to where he holds Sam's hand, trying not to cry. This is his fault. Captain America couldn't even protect the person who needed him most, and now Bucky is having a mental break that Steve couldn't save him from either. 

And Sam is...he's going to be different when he wakes up. Steve isn't stupid, he knows that even though he's safe now what he's gone through will stick with him for a very long time. And he's been through so much. He won't be okay. At least not for a while. 

A few tears slip past his eyes clenched shut and melt into the sheets.

And Steve, of course Steve is going to be there for him, he refuses to leave him alone ever again, but he won't be enough. He won't be enough to stave off the trauma or the pain. No matter how much he wants to be.

When Sam wakes up he'll be different, he'll be scared and hurt

The door opens, and Steve doesn't immediately jump up and punch the intruder because judging by the sound of the steps, it's Tony. 

Steve feels a hand on his shoulder and he sits up, eyes on Sam, looking small and broken and hooked up to so many machines.

"I'm having him transfered to the medbay at the tower tomorrow morning. Doctor Cho will be there to meet us." Tony says quietly, and Steve--with some effort and a healthy dose of reluctance--looks away from Sam and at Tony in surprise because it's not like Tony to make a decision like that without asking Steve first, not for something like this.

Tony looks at him in slight defiance, "We need to get him out of here, Cap. When he wakes up do you think he's going to want to be in the same place where--"

Tony stops, clenching his jaw and taking a deep breath, closing his eyes and trying to keep himself under control.

"He needs to be home." Tony says after a moment, voice sounding small, "He needs to be home and surrounded by what he knows. What's familliar and safe. He needs to be surrounded by...us." he takes a breath, "Not here."

Steve looks at him, and Tony looks at him like he's daring him to disagree.

And Steve is...touched, really. And oddly proud of him. 

"You're right." Steve tells him, "You're right."

Tony looks away and nods. They're both quiet for a moment before Steve looks at Tony again.

"Thanks Tony."

The billionaire looks at him quickly before rolling his eyes and sighing a tired and miserable, "Shut up, Cap." before dropping himself into a seat by the door, "It's not like I have any other family." he adds quickly, not looking Steve in the eye.

Steve shoots him a smile. It's small and shaky, but it's a smile. Tony tries to act like he doesn't see it.

The billionaire doesn't do feelings well. Unless it's with Rhodes.

They sit in silence, Natasha coming in a few moments later, quiet and looking sadder than Steve is sure he's ever seen her. She takes a seat on Sam's other side. 

In a way, she's filling the space that Bucky left, if only temporarily. 

"We're going to make this okay for him." She says quietly after a moment, and Steve looks at her, eyes dull and face showing just how tired he is.

"We're going to make it all okay for him." She says again, not looking away from her friend on the hospital bed, "We're going to make it better."

They sit in silence, just non-verbally accepting each other's quiet comfort and presence.

~

About an hour later Sam's internal bleeding starts again. Apparently it's minor, and Steve, Tony and Natasha are only relocated back to the hallway for about 45 minutes, but it's enough to make Steve almost put a hole in the waiting room wall. 

Sam doesn't deserve this. He doesn't deserve any of this and Steve is getting increasingly angry at, fuck, he doesn't know, the universe? For letting this happen? 

When Sam is stabilized they're let back into the room and Steve takes Sam's hand again.

It's a little colder this time.

~

There's a flurry of voices outside and Steve doesn't even blink at the fact that they're obviously familiar. It doesn't matter.

Natasha's brows furrow and she moves to get up and see what's going on, but Tony stops her with a gesture, knowing she would rather stay by Sam's side. He stands and exits the room himself, stepping into the hallway and right into a frazzled and worried Peter Parker.

Christ, the kid's eyes are red and his face is blotchy. Tony's heart clenches.

He's been crying.

Clint is behind him, and it's only when Tony takes a moment to assess the situation that he sees that Clint has a hand on Peter's arm like he's trying to hold the kid back.

"What's going on?" He asks, eyeing the teenager.

"I wanna see Sam." Peter says, eyes wide.

And Tony immediately feels a pang of regret. The kid has enough to deal with, with just...being a kid. They should have left him in New York. It would have been difficult seeing as he insisted on coming and is capable of benching 20 tons (so stopping him would have been a chore), but Tony still thinks they should have tried. Tried to shield him from...this. All of this. Sam would tear Tony a new asshole if he found out he let Peter skip school and worry about him.

"I keep trying to tell him now's not a good time." Clint says, looking at Peter pointedly. The boy doesn't spare the archer a glance, just looks at Tony, eyes wide and wet.

"He right, Pete." Tony says, "Really not a good time."

"But I just--" 

"He wouldn't want you seeing him like that." Tony says, "He wouldn't want you to worry. And if you see him that's exactly what you'll do. And when he wakes up and finds out that I let you skip school for this he'll kill me."

They only way to ensure that Peter doesn't force his way into the hospital room is to tell him that Sam wouldn't want him to do so. Because really, the kid has super strength, and if Peter was given some bullshit reason he knew was phony the kid would just throw Tony aside like he was made of tissue paper and head inside. 

Peter stops, looking worried and scared, but he stops trying to get around Tony. It takes him a moment, and he looks so sad Tony wants to take it all back despite the fact that he shouldn't, but the teen eventually nods, looking at the floor.

"Hey," Tony says, "he's okay. He'll be okay. I promise. And he'll tell you that when you see him okay?"

Peter nods again, shoving his hands in his pockets. Clint leans against the wall, watching the two of them, looking assured that Sam is okay as well. 

"Clint," Tony asks, "can you take Peter home? You can take the jet."

He throws the man the keys, gives the sullen teenager a pat on the shoulder and a reassuring look (and Peter looks like he feels a little better, which helps) and watches as the two walk down the hallway.

"What was it?" Natasha asks, when Tony re-enters the room and takes his seat.

"Peter and Clint." He answers, "Don't worry, it's handled."

Natasha nods and Steve doesn't move. He just holds Sam's hand, cherishing the feeling of being able to do so again, and closes his eyes, taking a breath. He wishes Bucky was here. He should be holding Sam's hand too.

In any case, he's just happy to be able to bring Sam home. To make sure he's safe. 

He hasn't been safe for a long time.

"Do you think he'll be okay?"

Tony's voice makes Natasha look at him in shock. He sounds...scared and small in a way no one has ever heard before.

Tony just blinks at her, fidgeting in his seat.

"We'll make sure he is." She tells him, and Tony nods, looking away.

Steve doesn't say anything, he just looks at Sam and rubs his thumb gently cross his hand, hoping that, even though he isn't awake, he's comforted by the gesture somehow.

And soon night falls and Natasha and Tony leave--Natasha, with a kiss to Steve's temple and Tony with a pat his shoulder--because avengers or not no more than one person can stay with a patient overnight. Plus, they figure that Steve would like some alone time with him.

"God, Sam." Steve says, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry, Sam."

In any other instance he would feel a bit silly, talking to someone who's asleep, but once he starts it's like he breaks and he can't stop.

"I'm sorry. We should been faster and smarter and--" he takes shaky breath, "we should have been protecting you. We should have been there. All this strength and I couldn't save you from this. God, I'm so sorry. I'm sorry."

He doesn't bother to wipe the tears from his cheeks.  What does it matter? What does anything matter?

"And then we couldn't find you for so long. You...you were gone and all of us, with all our collective strength, powers and knowledge and we couldn't even manage to find you before you were hurt. We've stopped alien invasions and terrorist attacks and yet we couldn't do this one fucking thing." He whispers bitterly, so angry at himself, at everyone, "We were still too fucking slow. I'm sorry. I know it's not enough. It'll never be enough. I'm so sorry Sam. I'm sorry."

Steve clutches Sam's hand as he cries shoulders shaking as angry tears race down his face and he repeats those two words. And he can't catch his breath through the tears because he's so angry. He's so, so angry and frustrated. This shouldn't have happened. They should have been quicker. They should have found him sooner.

And he would stop himself from becoming a mess because this isn't about him, it's about Sam, but everything pent up pushes free and he can't stop. He feels pathetic but he can't.  

Captain fucking America, couldn't protect someone who means the world to him. How is he fit to protect anyone?

The guilt is suffocating. He welcomes it because he deserves it. He deserves worse for letting this happen to him. 

It takes a while, but he eventually pulls himself together, picking himself up and dusting himself off, metaphorically speaking. He's still that skinny kid from Brooklyn. Getting back up again, putting his fists up and telling anything in his way that "I could do this all day."

He won't let anything like this happen again. Sam is not going to be hurt ever again. They'll have to kill him first. He's sure if Bucky was here he'd agree.

He's had his breakdown, now he needs to focus on Sam. He needs to pull himself together and be strong again.

Steve isn't sure when he falls asleep, but he wakes up with a slight headache (probably from that unexpected crying jag last night) and a crick in his neck from staying an awkward position for so long. The sun is bright,  and Steve reluctantly lets go of Sam to open the blinds a crack, letting a small bit of sunlight in the room.

The nurse checks on Sam, ignoring Steve since he's pretty much been a fixture there since Sam was admitted and leaves, closing the door softly behind her.

Steve sits back in his chair, still holding Sam's hand and dully wondering when Tony scheduled the plane to take them all home. To take Sam home. And really Tony is a gift, because Steve couldn't even imagine being clear headed enough to make those plans, but Tony of course is two steps ahead of him. 

Steve stands, quickly adjusting Sam's pillows and blanket, trying to make sure he's comfortable. 

"There you go." Steve grins softly, pressing a soft kiss to Sam's temple.

And that's when Sam's hand twitches in his grasp. 

Chapter Text

"Sam?" Steve is out of his seat and hitting the call button before he can even think, and he's going to be embarrassed once the medical staff get here if it turned out he imagined Sam's movement and he actually isn't waking up at all.

But Sam stirs, eyes clenching shut and exhaling a small breath. And that is just the most beautiful thing Steve has ever seen because Sam is awake. He's awake and moving and breathing and doing that wiggle thing he does with his nose when he wakes up and--

Steve could cry. He missed him. He missed him so much.

Sam's eyes open a crack, getting used to the presence of light and sound and everything that's rushing back at him. All his senses that are awakening as he does. 

"Sam?" Steve repeats, gently squeezing his hand and moving in close as nurses file in and check the quickly beeping machines. Steve didn't even notice they were growing erratic. If it's not about Sam he doesn't care. 

A nurse adjusts his IV before smiling at Steve and leaving, and Sam...Sam blinks open his eyes.

Steve doesn't breathe. He just watches. Lets Sam adjust. 

Those brown eyes look up at the ceiling, blinking the sleep and exhaustion from them, and Steve watches Sam come around and register where he is. He would say something, but he doesn't want to overwhelm him by talking so soon, before he's had a chance to think.

Sam takes a breath, and Steve is grateful for the air filling those lungs because they could have lost him. A few minutes later and everything Sam took would have had the chance to truly kill him. Steve doesn't want to think about it.

He'd rather focus on how Sam's chest is rising and falling.

Steve doesn't let go of his hand, and soon Sam notices, looking at Steve and blinking blearily. 

The blond squeezes his hand gently and moves to stand closer to the bed as Sam looks at him, face blank.

"Hey, Sam." 

And Steve doesn't mean for his voice to crack, he really doesn't, but it does and can anyone blame him? Sam is awake and alive and looking at him with those eyes that are so familliar. There's an emptiness in them now, but he's still so happy to see them.

Sam's eyes slowly roam across his face, taking in every feature, and Steve suddenly has an awful thought. It hits like lightning and his stomach drops.

What of Sam doesn't remember him?

"Steve?" 

Sam's voice is small and hoarse and it's the best thing Steve has ever heard.

"Yeah," he smiles, trying not to let the tears in his eyes fall, "yeah, I'm here. I'm here, Sam."

Sam blinks at him slowly, "You're...here."

Steve nods, smiling wide and leaning in close, "Yeah, I'm here. You're safe now."

Sam looks at him for a moment, like he doesn't believe him, "Safe?"

"Yeah," Steve says gently, "yeah, you're safe now. I got you."

Sam blinks and looks at the IV in his other arm like he's considering Steve's words.

"We're going to take you home." Steve assures him softly, "It's all going to be okay."

Sam looks at Steve like he's looking at his expression for any hint of a lie.

"Home." Sam repeats, "Where...?"

And Sam has to ask because he isn't sure. He's tired and his head feels like it's been stuffed with cotton. Home. Where is home? Where is Krause? Is he okay? Where is the dog? Where are the guards? 

Steve looks sad, but he manages a smile.

"We live in New York, do you remember?" He asks gently, "We all live at Avengers tower. Do you remember it?"

Does he? He remembers Steve. Steve is safe. But why is Steve here?

A tower. Does he remember a tower?

Sam thinks as hard as he can, but something in his head can't quite connect. The idea is familiar to him, but it's like mist. He can't quite grasp it.

"Hey it's okay." Steve soothes, "It's okay, don't worry about it."

Sam chooses to abandon trying to figure out about the tower for now, because he's faced with another thought. Steve is here. He remembers Steve. Steve is Captain America. Steve likes his coffee black, with no sugar. Steve sings as he makes breakfast.

But...but...someone else. Missing.

"Where's..." Sam starts, trailing off because he's can't quite pick out the name, but there's someone else. 

Recognition dawns on the blond's face, "Bucky?"

Sam's mind grasps onto the name. Yes. That's it. That's him. That's his name.

And the name is like a key, because as soon as Sam's mind recognizes it, it unlocks the memory. 

Bucky. Bucky is also safe. He has a metal arm, Sam remembers. And long brown hair. He asks Sam to pull it back for him every morning. Bucky likes orange juice and sci-fi movies. Bucky used to be the Winter Soldier. He isn't anymore. Now he likes to listen to music and slow dance with Sam in their living room. Bucky always leads.

"You'll see him soon, I promise." Steve says, smiling gently.

Sam just looks at him blankly before he asks, "Where's Krause?"

Steve freezes. He isn't fully sure who that is, but he's not stupid, he has an idea. What he doesn't expect is the obvious concern in Sam's voice. 

"Is he okay?" Sam adds, looking at Steve, somewhat distressed.

Steve's stomach turns.

"Let's get you some food okay?" Steve says smiling softly, choosing not to answer. Sam doesn't say anything, just looks at Steve blankly.

~

Sam picks at the food just like he's picked at anything placed in front of him for the last six months. His head feels a bit less foggy now, so he guesses that's...good? He isn't sure.  Steve talks to the doctor, but Sam can see him looking at Sam out of the corner of his eye, frowning. 

Krause won't like that he's with him. Sam will be in big trouble when he finds out. Really big trouble. And Sam will be forced to his knees and--

He's not looking forward to it, even though he remembers Steve. And Bucky.

He wonders where Bucky is.

Sam is not even entirely convinced this isn't some hyper-realistic dream. Or he's actually dead and this is just where he's ended up. He did take a lot of pills. He couldn't stop himself. He wanted out, and that seemed like the easiest way to do it. Krause won't be happy about that.

Steve nods at the doctor, looking grim. Sam wonders when they're going to bring him back to Krause. To the house.

He hopes it's soon. He doesn't like it here. It's too white and the sun is too bright. It hurts his eyes and he can't think.

Oh. Steve said they're going to the tower. In New York. 

Is that where Krause is? Have they moved again? 

A red haired woman peeks in the door, looking frantic and hurried. Sam looks at her and distantly wonders if she's okay. She looks at him, and her eyes widen. Sam's brows furrow. She looks like she's going to cry. He wishes she wouldn't. She looks nice, and like she doesn't deserve to be upset. 

She pushes her way into the room, and Steve calls her Natasha.

And...Sam remembers her. She's his friend. A spy. She likes Russian movies and French coffee. 

Sam remembers her, and looks at her with the warmth of recognition in his mind. She stands by the chair beside the bed, just looking at Sam, eyes watery before she manages a shaky smile and a soft, "Hey, Sam."

His response is instantaneous, like it's programmed into his brain.

"Hey, Nat." 

He doesn't know why he automatically resorted to a nickname, but he guesses he calls her that, because as soon as he says it she manages a watery laugh before taking his hand.

"We're really glad to have you back." She tells him.

And Sam doesn't know what to say, so he just tries to manage a small smile. It feels odd on his face, and he's not sure he's doing it right.

She takes his hand and squeezes it gently before giving him a shaky smile and walking back to where Steve and the doctor are holding their hushed conversation, listening in with concern plain on her face.

And now Sam is tired. He abandons the food, he has no appetite anyway, and he just dozes as people walk around and fuss over him. He jolts awake several times when someone suddenly gets too close, but usually it's just Natasha or Steve. 

~

Sam falls back alseep.

Steve is both optimistic and worried about Sam's few waking moments. He clearly remembered Steve, Bucky and Natasha, but he looked like he was struggling to do so. And then he asked for someone named Krause, and Steve doesn't know what to think. 

Who is that, exactly? Steve is sure he's one of the men they're taken in custody from the house where Sam was held, but which one? Steve hadn't been paying attention to who was in the house with Sam, he'd just been focused on finding Sam as soon as possible.

"Morning, Cap."

Steve startles, so deep in his thoughts that he doesn't see Tony arrive and stop next him as he leans against the doorframe of Sam's room, looking at the man on the bed, sleeping again.

And when Steve jumps, Tony does too, and the blond immediately feels guilty. He needs to be more careful, he knows Tony struggles with anxiety. Sudden movement isn't something he takes very well.

"Sorry." Steve says, looking apologetic and somewhat concerned. Tony gathers himself and waves it off.

"The jet is here." He says, hands in his suit pockets, "They're about to come through and move him."

Steve glances at Tony and looks back at Sam, nodding.

"He was awake." Steve says, "You just missed him."

Tony looks at Sam, a ghost of a smile on his lips, "It's fine. I'll have plenty of time to annoy him the next time."

Steve huffs a quiet laugh, and then silence settles between them for a long moment.

"He okay?" Tony asks hesitantly, "When he woke up was he...did he seem..."

"He recognized me and Natasha but...he looked like he had to think hard about it. He asked for Bucky, too."

Tony nods, looking down at his shoes.

"He asked for someone who...I think was holding him in that house. Someone named Krause."

Tony looks at him, brows furrowing.

Steve just clenches his jaw and breathes through his nose. 

Tony sighs heavily, budging out of the way when the staff come through to disconnect Sam's hospital bed from the base and the wall so they can wheel him to the jet. Steve watches them closely. He knows they won't hurt him, he just can't help it anymore. After everything, of course he's overprotective. 

He doesn't plan on changing that.

As Steve moves to let Sam's bed through the door, he spots Bucky, sitting in one of the chairs of the waiting room, elbows on his knees. Steve isn't even sure when the brunet arrived, but it must have been very recently.

He looks tired, and Steve relates, but his first emotion is anger.

Steve just stares at him, clenching his jaw and trying to even out his breathing. Tony catches wind of Steve's shift in mood, and takes a small step away, before giving him a quick, "I'll go help them put Sam in the jet. Uh," he looks between Steve and Bucky before adding, "we'll wait for you." 

Steve manages a short, clipped nod, and Tony basically, well, bolts. He really doesn't want to stick around for the two super soldiers to fight it out. Even with words.

Steve, in his defense, does try to keep his voice steady, and he tries not to yell or make a scene.

Bucky doesn't even look at him. He doesn't look at Sam as he passes them, being carted away, sleeping obliviously while his lovers simmer in tense silence.

"Where were you?" Steve asks, voice clipped.

Bucky rubs his flesh hand down his face, sitting up and looking at Steve defiantly. His hair is a mess and he can see the blood on Bucky's sleeve.

Bucky's at the end of his own rope and begging for a fight, and Steve knows he shouldn't entertain it, he knows he should be patient and understanding because it's not like Bucky's anger and resulting actions don't make sense--

Steve is just angry. He's angry and fuck, he needs Bucky's help, not him ditching them to seek out revenge.

"Don't ask if you already know." Bucky says dully, eyes hard and far away, "...I had to do something."

"He asked for you." Steve snaps, temper flaring, "He asked where you were!"

That gets Bucky's attention. He looks at Steve in shock, the blank look slipping from his face and replaced with surprise and something else Steve can't quite identify.

"He was awake?" Bucky asks, eyes wide in shock.

"Yeah. He was." Steve says angrily, looking him in the eye, "He was awake and talking and you would have known that if you would have stayed."

"Lay off." Bucky snaps, "You know why I went, why I had to."

"You didn't have to." Steve says, "You chose to. You chose to leave."

"And I had a good reason." Bucky hisses, eyes blazing, "Don't act like I just walked out for the sake of it."

"Didn't you?" Steve says, trying not to yell.

"No," Bucky shouts, clenching his fists, "I didn't leave because I didn't give a shit, Steve. So don't pin that on me. I couldn't just sit here and--It's not like I killed them--"

"Whatever you were doing could have waited--"

"I needed to--"

"We need you." Steve says, voice rising as he talks over Bucky, "We need you here with us! Not running off seeking revenge when you should be--"

"They raped Sam!" Bucky shouts hysterically, voice cracking as he stands, looking both furious and hurt, "They deserved...deserved...I--I had to...I just...it's S--Sam, and they...they..."

Bucky stands like he's about to bolt again, shaking and gritting his teeth, and Steve freezes at the outburst and how Bucky's anger had startlingly quickly turned to panicked hurt and sadness. And Bucky stands there, with bags under his eyes, looking exhausted, angry and unbearably sad in bloody clothes and tangled hair, trying to keep the shreds of his psyche together in the face of yet another tragedy.

Steve feels the anger drain out of him in one rush, and as soon as he moves to take a step towards Bucky, the brunet looks at him and bursts into tears.

And Steve just moves in and holds him, all anger gone, because Bucky needs to break apart--like Steve did in Sam's room the night before--before he can put himself together again.

And then he does, pulling away from Steve and wiping his face on his sleeve, mumbling an apology before Steve kisses him and tells him not to worry about it.

~

In the jet, Bucky curls up in a chair next to Sam's bed, eyes softening as he watches him sleep. Bucky takes his hand gently, pressing a soft kiss to the sleeping man's fingers before he sits back in his seat, his hand in Sam's as they're taken home.

Chapter Text

Sam wakes up somewhere he can't recognize.

His first thought is that he's dreaming again, and his second thought is where Krause could be. He's not in bed, and Sam is hardly let out of his sight, so where is he? Sam tries to think. Has he done something wrong? Is he angry with him?

Sam can't remember doing anything bad, but slowly he does remember...Steve. Steve was there. And Natasha. She was there too.

But they aren't now, and Sam is just looking at a white ceiling. Maybe they weren't there at all. He must have imagined it.

But now he's starting to panic. Where is he? If he's gone too long Krause will be angry, and Sam really doesn't want him to be angry--

"Sam?"

Sam blinks. The voice is...familiar, but only faintly.

A Korean woman steps into his line of sight, smiling at him softly. He knows her face but...

"Do you remember me?" She asks softly, "I'm Dr. Helen Cho."

Oh. Sam remembers her. He doesn't know her well, but...he remembers her. He doesn't say anything though.

"I'm just here to make sure you're healing okay." She tells him, moving around the machines and fiddling with the dials, "I'll get Steve for you in a moment, alright? Let me just check your blood sugar."

She does so, and Sam guesses Steve actually was there. It wasn't his imagination after all. He doesn't know how he feels about that.

"Hm." She frowns, looking at a small, beeping device that Sam doesn't remember ever seeing before, "Too low. Have you eaten, Sam?"

Sam blinks at her, trying to remember. He picked at the hospital food, but that's all.

"No." He tells her, choosing to be honest. If it turns out that she's one of Krause's doctors he doesn't want him to find out that Sam lied about anything. He would be upset.

"Okay," She smiles, "I'll have you brought something."

Sam wants to tell her that he's not hungry, he hasn't been hungry in a while, and not to bother.

Sam doesn't say anything. She gives him one last smile before she leaves, and Sam looks around the sterile, white room with a detached interest for a few moments before two things happen.

The first thing is that there are two knocks at the door before Bucky steps in, a small smile for Sam, and the second is that as soon as the door opens, Sam's nose starts bleeding.

The first small torrent of blood dribbles from his nose and a drop of red drops onto the sheets of his lap, staining it as Sam reaches up in surprise, touching his face, fingers coming back red with blood.

He's bleeding. A lot.

Sam hears a loud swear but it's distant, and the next thing he feels is an arm wrapped around his waist and a small towel being gently pressed to his face to stall the bleeding.

"Sam? Sammy?" Bucky asks, frantic, "Can you hear me?"

He can. But only barely. The ringing in his head is loud. 

Sam nods. Bucky tightens his hold on Sam, pressing the towel where the blood pours.

"Does anything hurt?" Bucky asks, eyes wide. Sam wants to tell him not to worry too much about it. Pain is something that's normal now. No need for Bucky to be concerned about it. It's okay.

Sam can't quite say that though, with a towel pressed to his face.

"I got ya, Sam." Bucky says, panicking mildly, "I got you."

And second later Dr. Cho returns, and it's only then that Sam realizes at some point Bucky hit the call button.

She jumps to adjust the dials, nudging Bucky's hand off the towel being pressed to Sam's face and replacing it with her own, pointing across the room and directing him to a bin on the table in the corner.

"Bring it." She orders, "Put it under his nose, then go get some paper towels."

Bucky moves quickly, doing as he's told, looking at Sam in wide eyed worry as the doctor dumps the bloodied towel into the bin and replaces it with paper towels, while taking her small medical flashlight out with her other hand.

"Hey, Sam?" She says gently, calm despite the blood and the fact that Bucky looks like he's two clicks from having a full blown worried meltdown, "Can you look into the light for me?"

Sam does so, flinching slightly at the brightness of it as she notes the reaction of his pupils.

"It's likely due to some of the internal bleeding." She says, and Bucky blanches, "This, unfortunately, won't go away anytime soon, but you're getting the proper treatment and you'll be fine. We just need to keep a close eye on you."

The bleeding stops and the tissues are thrown away.

"Are you okay?" Bucky asks, taking his hand.

Sam doesn't know what to say, so he nods. That's what people want to hear, right? When they ask if you're okay? They want you to say yes.

Bucky doesn't look like he believes him.

He doesn't ask again, though. Sam is grateful for that.

Sam hasn't noticed that the doctor has left until Bucky goes quiet, his thumb running across the back of Sam's hand and he looks at him, looking guilty and sad all at once and says, "I'm sorry I wasn't there when you woke up. I'm so sorry Sam."

Sam looks at him, face blank. 

"It's okay." He says. He thinks that's the right thing to say, right? 

"No, I should have been there." Bucky says, sitting in the chair pulled close to Sam's bed, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"We missed you so much." Bucky says, a sad smile on his face.

Sam doesn't say anything, just smiles back. He hopes he's doing it right. Facial expressions and reactions are becoming difficult for some reason. Krause didn't care about whether he smiled or not. But everyone here does. 

Sam misses not having to contort his face into faux expressions. Now that he thinks about it, he wishes the pills would have done their jobs. Everything is so hard already. He has to talk to people and listen to them say they're sorry (and sorry for what? What is everyone sorry for?) and try to react accordingly. He's tired already.

"You're going to be okay, Sammy." Bucky murmurs, squeezing Sam's hand as a member of the staff nudges open the door with a tray of food Sam knows he won't eat.

~

Bucky sits with him as he picks at the sandwich he's given. They're silent, but Sam knows Bucky is looking at him.

"Is...is the sandwich okay?" Bucky asks, "Do you want something else?"

Sam doesn't know what to make of the question. He hasn't been asked about his food preferences in a long time. He's forgotten what he likes.

Sam shakes his head, "Not hungry."

Bucky's eyes take on that soft, sad look again, and Sam wilts because he said the wrong thing he messed up again and now Bucky is mad he's so mad at him--

"Can you try to eat at least a little bit?" Bucky asks gently, "It's just...your blood sugar is low and you need food, Sammy."

Sam doesn't say anything, but he does take a bite out of the sandwich. He was told to eat, after all, and he doesn't want to make Bucky upset. He doesn't want to make anyone upset. Sam does as he's told. That how he avoids getting in trouble. That's how he avoids making anyone mad. Just do as you're told.

It tastes like ash in his mouth. 

Bucky manages a small smile, but Sam is still on edge. Does that mean he's forgiven? And Bucky isn't mad? 

Sam doesn't know how to read anyone that isn't Krause, and he's getting frustrated. Bucky is looking at him again though, so Sam takes another bite of the sandwich, forcing himself to chew and swallow.

'That's good, Sammy. Swallow. There's my good Sammy. So good for me.'

Krause's voice echoes in his head, the thought slamming into him and he flinches. 

He can't. He can't eat anymore, he can't swallow anymore he can't he can't he cant--

"Hey, you okay?" Bucky asks, eyes scanning Sam's face, looking concerned.

Sam's mind searches for what to say. For the correct thing to say. What does Bucky want to hear? He doesn't want to upset anyone because then--

Sam just nods.

Bucky is about to say something, and Sam is braced for...something to happen, but before he can say anything Dr. Cho opens the door, peeking inside the room. 

"Sorry to interrupt." she says, smiling softly at Sam, "But the doctor is here to talk to Sam."

Bucky snaps his mouth shut before looking at her, blinking owlishly before clenching his jaw, "What doctor?"

"Dr. Walsh." she says, "A dear friend of mine. Sam will be safe, I promise." Bucky moves to protest but Dr. Cho cuts him off.

"Sam, are you okay to talk to her?" she asks, ignoring Bucky and looking at Sam imploringly.

Sam blinks at her, not sure what to say. What do they want him to say? What's the right answer?

They probably want him to say yes.

He nods.

"Wait a minute." Bucky says, "We don't know who that is, and if she--"

"She is a psychologist." Dr. Cho says firmly, "And she is here to help. She has never harmed anyone and I would trust her with my life."

Bucky looks at her, searching her face for any hesitation or doubt. Then he unclenches his fists, takes a breath and nods.

"Sorry...I just...I didn't know--"

"I understand Mr. Barnes." she says, smiling lightly, "And I assure you Sam will be as safe as ever."

Sam just watches the conversation silently. Bucky looks down, takes another breath and nods again, hair falling in his face as he stands, giving Sam's hand one more reassuring squeeze.

"I'll be back, okay? I promise." he says gently, flashing Sam a shaky smile, "And I'll bring Steve."

Sam looks at him for a moment, then nods. And Bucky looks like he'd rather do anything but walk out the door, but he forces himself to let go of Sam's hand and head to the exit just as a small, Latina woman enters. Bucky looks at her closely, then back at Dr. Cho, who nods at him and escorts him out.

The woman gives Sam a bright smile, and Sam would return it if he knew what to do with his face to get the desired effect, but he doesn't so he just mumbles, "Hello."

"Hello, Mr. Wilson." she says in a light accent, "Very nice to meet you."

Is it nice to meet him?

Sam wonders about that as she sits in the chair by his bedside. Sam notes that she dresses brighter than most doctors he's ever seen. Her blouse is green.

"How are you doing?" she asks, looking at him brightly.

Sam shrugs, hoping she doesn't get upset with him.

"Can you put that in words for me?" she asks kindly.

Sam thinks for a moment, trying to piece together the words to articulate the truth. He really shouldn't lie. If she's a friend of Krause's too he won't be happy if Sam lies to her.

"I don't really understand what's going on." Sam says truthfully.

She nods like the statement makes the most sense in the world, "Can you elaborate? What don't you understand?"

Sam thinks for a moment before he says, "Where am I?"

"You're in good ol' New York City." she smiles.

"Why?"

She thinks on how to answer that for a moment. "You were in Estonia, remember?"

Sam nods.

"Your friends came to get you, and brought you home. This is where you live." she clarifies, watching Sam closely.

Sam is silent for a moment.

"Where's Krause?"

She blinks at him, a light smile on her lips, "Who? Is that a friend of yours?"

"Yes." Sam says, fingers nervously picking at the threads of his blanket.

"Oh, okay." she nods, "When did you meet him?"

"I met him in the room." Sam says simply.

"The room?"

"I was there for a while," Sam explains, "then I was with him."

She nods, "Was he one of the men you were in the house with?"

"He was the only one in the house with me."

"Was he the one keeping you there?"

"Yes."

She looks at Sam carefully, nodding, "He made sure you didn't leave?"

She makes sure to keep her tone conversational. She's seen this before. If she starts to sound like what he's saying is upsetting, the patient will clam up and refuse to say more. She needs to keep him comfortable, make him relaxed in the idea that what he's saying isn't as horrifying as it is.

"Yes." Sam says, "He had guards by the door. Where is he?"

She searches his face for a moment before she asks, "How did you feel when you were with him?"

That...gets Sam to pause. He doesn't know what to say because he doesn't know the answer. He wants to tell the truth but his mind goes blank. She must see it because she simply smiles and gives Sam a soft, "It's okay, I'll ask something else."

Sam nods.

"What did you do all day?" she asks, "At the house?"

Sam thinks for a moment, then he hesitates before he remembers that he decided to tell the truth. Krause would want him to tell the truth and if he finds out that Sam didn't--

"I had a dog." Sam tells her.

She smiles, "Oh, really? That sounds nice."

Sam shrugs.

"What else did you do?"

"Sometimes I watched him work." he answers after a moment.

"Who?"

"Krause."

"Ah," she says, nodding, "and what kind of work did he do?"

"He killed people, sometimes."

She pauses, something like horror crossing her face so quickly that Sam doesn't see before she composes herself again, "Oh, did you see him do it?"

"Yeah." he answers, "Made me watch."

"Krause?"

Sam nods, "I didn't like it."

She nods slowly, "That's totally understandable, Sam. Were you afraid?"

"Yes." he says slowly.

"I don't mean to scare you," she says softly, "or make you remember, but could you tell me what happened?"

Sam looks at her for a moment, biting his lip and picking at his blanket. Then he detaches, mind wandering, and explains. He tells her everything. Every murder he saw or heard. Every detail.

By the end she's tense, but quickly composes herself before giving a small smile, "Thank you, Sam. I know that was hard."

Sam doesn't answer. He isn't there anymore.

He thinks he hears her say something, but he can't hear her until she touches his hand, bringing him back and grounding him. The room snaps back into focus. Sam looks at her apologetically, but she doesn't seem upset with him, she just smiles and continues.

"Can you tell me about Krause?" she asks, looking at him curiously.

Sam is immediately a bit overwhelmed. What can he say? There's a lot--

"Sorry, broad question." she smiles, "Can you tell me about your relationship with him?"

Oh. That's a bit easier, Sam guesses.

"He likes to have sex with me." Sam shrugs.

A look that Sam can't identify crosses her face before it's gone, "And how did you feel about it?"

"I really didn't like it. Sometimes it hurt." Sam confesses, "But he liked it, so..."

She nods slowly, "You didn't have a choice, did you Sam?"

Sam shakes his head.

"Was he the only one that forced you to do that?"

Sam shakes his head again, grip tightening on the blanket under his hands.

"Can you tell me?" she asks, "I promise it's alright to tell me."

Sam hesitates before he shrugs, "The guards."

She takes a breath, nodding. "Can you tell me about the day you took the painkillers?"

"My head hurt." Sam says simply.

"Oh," she says, "why did you take so many? For your head?"

"I couldn't stop."

~

Dr. Walsh exits the room, face set in hard lines. A vast difference from the light smile on her face when she was talking to Sam.

She steps out of the hospital room and right into the brick wall that is Captain America.

"Oh, I'm sorry." Steve says, steadying her, "Are you alright?"

She fixes her blouse and nods, "I'm fine."

Bucky drops all pleasantries and simply asks, "So how bad is it?"

She pauses--tense--looking at both of them before taking a breath. She waves them away from Sam's door and they follow, looking grim and about a million different shades of worried and angry all at once. She feels sorry for them.

She feels even worse for Sam. The things he's seen and been through--

"I'm not going to bullshit you." she tells him, brows furrowing as she takes off her glasses and pinches the bridge of her nose, clenching her eyes shut, "It's not good. And I'm only telling you this because he's a special case and you two are his significant others and need to know so you can know how careful to be with him right now, and me holding information from you for the sake of doctor-patient confidentiality would do nothing good for him."

Bucky just runs a hand through his hair and mutters a shaky, "Fuck."

Steve takes a breath and clenches his jaw, "So?"

"Severe Stockholm Syndrome." she starts, "He's very much attached to the man who was directly holding him prisoner. Someone named Krause."

Steve blanches, eyes widening, "He...he asked for him when he woke up. I didn't know who he was talking about."

"He asked me about him too." Bucky says through gritted teeth.

"Well, he was the one Sam was interacting with on a day-to-day basis. He was also the one forcing himself on Sam daily, along with the guards." she continues, ignoring how Steve goes white and how Bucky takes a step away, metal hand clenching, "So on top of that, severe sexual trauma. He was also forced to witness a few...gruesome murders, so add that in as well."

All Steve can do it rub a hand over his face and sigh heavily, shoulders slumping. Bucky has gone painfully still. 

"I will have to keep speaking with him, but I'm going to need help in aiding him with his recovery. A therapist, definitely. A psychiatrist, most likely."

Steve just manages a nod.

"I don't want to discourage you," she says, looking at them both, "but this is going to be very difficult for him. And if he doesn't have the support he needs it will be all the more scary, to Sam. Now, I've agreed to take him on as a patient, and I will do everything I can, but he needs support from you two, and everyone you surround him with, or this won't be a smooth ride. It won't be a smooth ride anyway, but without a proper support system..." she takes a breath, "I just need you two to be there for him, and do as I say. This won't be easy."

Chapter Text

Sam really wishes people would stop apologizing when they see him.

~

"You know that Krause isn't in control of you anymore, right Sam?" Dr.Walsh says, looking at him imploringly, "He can't tell you what to do anymore, he can't hurt you anymore. He isn't here."

Sam doesn't know what to say. He wants to tell her that Krause is always there. Always around. Sam will never escape him.

He protects him, hurts him...

"Where is he?" Sam asks, voice small.

She pauses for a moment, swallowing hard and taking a breath, "He has been arrested, Sam. He's in jail. He's far away from you now. He can't hurt you anymore."

Sam's first instinct is to panic. If Krause is...if he's gone, who will protect Sam? Krause said he was the only protection Sam had, and he was the only one who cared about him. Now that he's gone, who does Sam have?

"Sam?" She asks in alarm as he starts to hyperventilate.

Sam throws up.

~

He's in the hospital for two weeks. Two weeks of psych visits and eating so that no one will be upset with him. Two weeks of telling everyone what they want to hear simply because they want to hear it. By the end he remembers the tower, his life with Steve and Bucky. That doesn't mean he feels any more connected to it, though. It still feels like someone else's life that Sam is recalling like a story that was told to him. He remembers fighting alongside them. He remembers sleeping in the same bed as them and interacting with all of his friends, but he doesn't feel like that life is his own. He can't seem to grasp that spark of recognition. It's like he's watching a movie. One he's seen before, but not one he can emotionally connect to. Not fully.

The days in the hospital pass in the same order. Sam wakes up, forces himself to swallow some food ('So good for me, Sammy. Go on, swallow. Pretty, pretty Sammy'), is asked questions for about two hours with Dr.Walsh sitting next to his bed, and Steve and Bucky finally being allowed to visit him. He wonders if their presence is supposed to make him feel better. He isn't sure, but he knows that it isn't. The only thing Sam wants is to be left alone. Being interrogated and poked and prodded at by doctors is only making him more anxious. Making it hard to sink back into that darkness that softens the blows of everything happening to him, around him. He was able to disconnect and detach and drift, but now it's like he's handcuffed to his consciousness with no key to free himself. While he used to be able to just wander around the blank space in his mind, he's losing that ability to shield himself from the harshness of everything. Now it's all upfront and in his face. Everything is too loud, too bright, too much. Too much talking. Too much touching, Too much of everything, and Sam is now forced to face it head on in HD, 1080p and surround sound.

He'd give anything to be able to stifle his awareness and push it deep into the grey, cloudy waters of disassociation.

Sam is returning to himself but by bit, and it hurts. He can't keep up the same detached haze anymore. His mind is getting more complicated and harder to navigate the more he talks about Krause, Germany...Estonia. It's like a maze that keeps adding more parts all the time. He can't even hope to find his way out. The more he remembers about his life before...everything, before Krause, he's finding it harder to keep everything at bay. He's still pretty much non-expressive (mostly because trying to manipulate his face to suit everyone who sees him gets very exhausting very quickly and he can't keep up) but his brain has gone from slowly absorbing what's happening around him to picking up everything at once. It's like he has each half of his mind in two places. One in a space where he's still with his captor's, still being used by them and subject to their abuse, and the other half of his brain trying to rationalize how he's still the same guy that lived in Avengers Tower, had free will and took to the skies whenever it was needed of him. His head hurts and he's confused more often than not.

But soon he is allowed to leave the hospital room and go back to where he lived with Steve and Bucky. The day he's about to be discharged he sits on his bed, looking at the wall while the doctors take whatever readings they need to convince themselves that Sam's insides haven't turned to bloody mush. He wants to tell them not to touch him. He's tired of people touching him.

"Sam?"

Steve inches into the room with Bucky at his side, holding what Sam can see are folded clothes. The blond looks hesitantly happy, and Bucky looks about the same, he just watches Sam's face closer. He wishes people would stop looking at him. This is like the first few weeks of being with Krause all over again. People touching him and staring.

And then there's how Steve and Bucky look at him. He's worrying them. He's making them upset. 

Sam doesn't say anything.

"We brought you some clothes." Bucky says gently, "So you can change before we get you out of here."

Sam looks at them, then at the clothes in Steve's arms. He isn't sure what they want him to say. He's forgotten how to react.

Then he remembers.

"Thank you." he says, and for some reason they give him a worried look before placing his clothes next him while the doctors finish up.

Sam's chest constricts in a pang of fear because he's messed up didn't he? He's done something wrong and upset them--

"Do you want us to...?" Steve asks, pointing to the door, "While you get dressed?"

He's asking if Sam wants them to leave. What does is matter? Sam's body isn't his anymore. It hasn't been for a while. Why even bother asking? 

Sam's body is basically public property. A hole for men to bury themselves in and empty themselves into when someone more worthy isn't around. It isn't his.

So, again, what does it matter?

And he doesn't know what Steve wants him to say. He doesn't know what the right answer is that won't make anyone angry with him. The questions he's being asked are getting more and more complicated and he's having trouble trying to give people what they want. That's how it has to be. Sam has to give people what they want. Anything else gets him hurt.

Sam guesses he's silent for too long because Bucky just pulls a worried looking Steve towards the door and gives him a soft, "We'll be outside, okay Sammy?" 

'Look how pretty you are for me, Sammy. Look at how well you take me.'

Sam hides his flinch in a nod.

The door closes and for one of the few times in the last few months he's alone. Sam doesn't move for a while, merely clutching at the blankets under his hands, feeling the loose threads he'd picked out of it over the course of his stay. It's the second blanket they've given him. They found out the last one had loose threads and replaced it. Sam isn't sure why.

He zones out, staring at the wall and trying to tamper down the panic. He doesn't know what's next. He doesn't know what to expect.

Eventually he looks at the neatly folded clothes under him, and he reaches over slowly, running a hand down the t-shirt. It's dark blue. Sam's mind slows in confusion. He doesn't wear these colors. He's not allowed. Not anymore. Krause doesn't like him in dark colors. Sam wears bright pinks and purples and--

Sam suddenly snatches up the dark fabric and puts it on.

The sweatpants are black.

Sam isn't allowed to wear black. He isn't allowed to wear loose pants. Krause would not like--

Sam quickly puts the pants on as well.

The sneakers are dark blue as well. Sam quickly laces them up.

He's not supposed to be wearing these clothes. These clothes aren't pretty or bright and Krause would be furious--

Sam never wants to take these clothes off.

~

Steve smiles at him when he sees Sam back in his clothes.

These don't feel like his clothes. Nothing feels like his anymore, even down to his skin, but he doesn't say that. He doesn't say anything. 

Bucky says something to him, but Sam doesn't hear it, and doesn't ask him to repeat it. If he does Bucky will know he wans't listening and he'll be upset with him.

Krause always hated it when Sam missed what he said.

He just follows them as they lead him out of the medical wing, the white, sterile walls ebbing away to wallpaper that Sam distantly thinks is familiar. He takes step after step, not hearing what Steve and Bucky say to him, just silently following them both. They don't notice he's basically gone, disappeared into his own head. Soon there are no more medical signs on the walls, and no white tiles. It's all carpet and glass until they're leading him into an elevator. 

Sam hesitates. He stops by the door, but doesn't enter even when Bucky and Steve do. He can't. He can't move. 

And his brain has simply...stopped in panic.

The space is...small. It's too small. The space is too small and Bucky and Steve are bigger and stronger than him. He can't go in there with them. What if...what if they...?

And the the guilt slams into him adding itself to the fear because he knows Bucky and Steve would never do something like that. One half of Sam is so afraid of being in a small space with them, and the other half is pouring guilt down his throat until he chokes for even thinking such a thing of them in the first place.

Sam takes shaky breath, stepping back and tensing. It's too much. Everything is too much--

"Sam?" Bucky asks, face a mask of worried fear as he steps out of the elevator and towards a trembling Sam, "Hey, hey it's okay."

Sam just tenses further, his muscles screaming in protest.

"Sam?" Steve asks gently stepping out of the elevator as well and toward Sam.

Sam flinches. He can't. He can't. Too close. It's too close and he can't bear anyone so close--

"Talk to us, Sammy." Steve says desperately as Sam remains frozen.

'Sammy, look at you. You love me, you do. You're showing me how much you love me with that mouth of yours. And you love me so much.'

Sam takes a gulp of air, suddenly unable to breathe. It's like the air has been sucked out for the room or a plastic bag has been placed over his head. He can't get enough air into his lungs and he gasps, trying to breathe but it's not working and the buzzing in his head is getting too loud on top of it all. His lungs won't work. They've betrayed him. His skin feels too tight and like its made up of that painful static one gets when a limb has fallen asleep. Little pinpricks of agony that leave his epidermis screaming.

His skin buzzes and crackles, radiating pain everywhere, not leaving one inch of him untouched by it. He's suffocating and completely and utterly overwhelmed, sensory overload clogging his senses until he can only distantly feel hands on his shoulders and around his waist as Steve and Bucky try to do...something. Sam isn't sure. He isn't sure of anything. He can't breathe. 'Please don't touch me. Stop touching me.'

Oh god he can't breathe.

'Don't you want kids, Sam?'

Sam passes out.

~

When the murky water of unconsciousness clears and Sam breaks through the surface with a choked breath, opening his eyes, he's faced with a ceiling.

He stares at it, blinking away the blurriness of a fainting spell, and studies the plaster, smooth and white. Like the hospital ceiling. But even without looking Sam knows this isn't a hospital. The air is different. He feels like he should know this place, but it takes a while to sink in and process. This is...this is...

The bed under him is unfamiliar in an oddly familiar way, and Sam lays there, waiting for what he knows is coming. What he's used to. What he knows to expect by now. Sam waits for a body to press on top of his. He wants for wandering hands and invasive, unwanted touches. He waits for someone to pin him down and take what they want. Make him sick from the inside out. Sam waits. And waits. And waits.

Nothing happens. No one comes.

Sam doesn't know how long he's been there, but he feels like it's significantly later somehow. 

He decides to move. His entire body is stiff, and his mouth tastes like traces of bile, but he ignores it and stands, trying to push down the fear and panic.

He doesn't really know why he's afraid. But he is. He always is. It's a part of him now. Like breathing.

Sam takes quiet steps, blindly reaching around in the dark for a doorknob or a light switch or anything--

Doorknob.

Shaking hands wrap around the cool, smooth handle and turns it slowly. He's still waiting. Waiting for Krause to jump out of nowhere and stop him from walking out the room. Waiting for the blond guard to push him back towards the bed and use him. Sam is waiting...waiting...waiting...

The door opens. Sam steps out.

The world doesn't come crashing down.

That doesn't mean Sam isn't still waiting for it though.

Sam looks around the living area. Large and spacious, obscenely large flat screen TV, bookshelves, armchairs and couches included. A trickle of recognition runs down his mind, but Sam just blinks, taking in the high windows and ceilings. It's not small. Not close. A wide open space. Sam relaxes the tiniest bit. 

When he turns to look in the other direction he spots a large kitchen, marble counters and silver appliances, new and shiny. The kitchen island has a bowl of fruit on it. Sam takes another step away from the door he's just walked out of. He doesn't know what to do now that he's out of the room. He didn't think he'd get this far. He's still waiting for someone to throw him down and...and...

Sam pushes the thought out of his mind. He takes a step. Then another step.

Another step.

No one is stopping him. No one is here.

Sam walks to the kitchen island, looking at the marble of the counters.

This is where he lives. With Steve and Bucky. This is where he lives. Where he used to call home. Sam remembers, but only distantly. He remembers feeling at home here, once upon a time. Now he feels like an odd fixture that doesn't quite match the rest of the furniture. Out of place. Foreign. 

The kitchen counter is cool against his fingers, the low temperature soothing his overheated skin and frazzled nerves, if only the slightest bit. The patterns in the marble swirl and loop around each other, and Sam trails his eyes and fingers over it before looking at the fruit bowl. An apple. A banana. Kiwi. Strawberries.

Sam considers taking something. Maybe the apple. Or the strawberries. The fruit looks bright and refreshing--

'Good job, Sammy. Swallow it all. Look at you. Look how much you love me.'

Sam shakes his head. Never mind.

The place is dim, but he can still see when the door cracks open and Steve rushes through with Bucky and a doctor, in tow. Sam considers bolting because the last thing he wants is to be touched and asked questions right now, and maybe he would have ran if what he wanted mattered. It doesn't. It hasn't for a while.

And a small voice in the back of his mind says that things aren't like that anymore, that he's not a prisoner and that he can say no and stop and people will listen, but Sam doesn't fully believe that little voice. 

So he stands there, tense and still with his finger still tracing the cool counter as Steve's eyes hone in on him and he flashes Sam a shaky smile.

"Hey, you're awake." the blonde says, voice gentle, "We...We didn't know if...so we brought the doctor."

Sam doesn't say anything. What is there to say? That he'd rather dig his own eyes out of his skull let anyone's fingers touch his skin? He imagines that wouldn't go over very well.

"We just want to make sure you're okay." Bucky adds, and Sam guesses that the doctor has had quite enough of the pleasantries because he just steps around them both and makes a beeline for Sam, taking his hand and taking his pulse. Sam flinches, but only slightly, and his skin crawls at someone close to him. That feeling of hyper-awareness settles over him, and he can feel how close the man in the white coat is, and it's like he can't focus on anything else. To his credit though, he does keep his face neutral.

Sam zones out a bit, though he's aware of when Steve and Bucky approach because suddenly there are more people in his space than he's comfortable with. And in a logical sense he knows Bucky and Steve are safe, but if he could just convince his irrational fear of that...

"Just the standard panic attack." the doctor says, releasing Sam and smiling at him, "You'll be fine, if a little tired. Try to rest alright? And eat something? You've been under a lot of stress."

Sam blinks because yeah, he supposes he could call it that.

"You sure?" Bucky asks, eyeing the man firmly, "Because if he's--"

"He will be fine, Mr. Barnes." the doctor repeats kindly, "Just have him take it easy and try to relax. If there are any further complications, just give me a call, alright?"

Bucky looks at him before reluctantly nodding.

And Sam really has to start paying attention to time and how it passes, because he blinks and the man is walking out the door, Bucky is taking his hand and leading him around the kitchen island to sit on a stool and Steve is offering him an apple. Too much going on at once.

"No thank you." Sam says.

He wants the apple, he really does, but a part of his brain is yelling at him, screaming and telling him that he just...can't. If he wants it he can't have it. Another part of his brain is arguing and saying that he can do what he wants now, Dr. Walsh says so, and another part of his brain is saying no because as soon as he opens his mouth to put anything in he'll hear Krause's voice.

Steve nods slowly, putting the fruit back, and Sam hopes his expression doesn't give away the fact that there's a war being raged behind his eyes. He doesn't think that would go over well.

"You should eat something, Sam." Bucky says gently, walking to the fridge and peeking in, "We don't want to make you feel like we're forcing you, but the doctor said you should eat something."

Sam shifts uncomfortably in his seat.

"Sam?" Steve asks, getting that concerned, hurt look that Sam is seeing on his face all too often.

"Not hungry." Sam croaks.

"Sammy," Bucky pleads, closing the refrigerator and taking a step toward him, looking sad in a way that makes Sam feel guilty, "please. You should eat something. What...what about that Chinese food place you like, would that be good?"

Sam doesn't remember a Chinese food place, but he gives in and nods. Bucky looks so sad, and Sam can't take it. Not because of him. 

Sam feels awful for resisting in the first place. He's making them upset and it's his fault he can't do anything right--

"Hey," Steve soothes, stepping closer and taking his hand, "you okay?"

Sam knows that Steve knows the answer, and the alarms in his head going off at the fact that someone is touching him makes it so it's a few moments before Sam shrugs. He wants to tell the truth, but he also doesn't want to make Steve and Bucky upset, so he chooses to go for the indecisive answer. That's easier.

"Just...tell us if there's anything we can do, Sammy. Really. Doesn't matter what it is." Bucky tells him, reaching for what assumes is a menu.

Sam nods.

He wants to tell them a lot of things. There's a lot he wants to say.

'Please don't touch me.'

'Don't call me Sammy.'

'Please don't be so close.'

But he doesn't. That will upset them, and upsetting people only gets him hurt. He needs to keep them happy. He can do that. He can agree to what they want. He can take everything they give him and he'll take it quietly---

'You're so good for me. So nice and quiet.'

Sam can be quiet.

~

Sam chews and swallows the food without tasting it. What he does taste makes him want to vomit. Every bites tastes like Krause. His length. His lips. Occasionally the guards sloppy kisses and tongue being shoved into Sam's mouth. Every time he swallows it reminds him of when Krause spilled down his throat. And he equal parts angry and terrified. Angry because he can't even eat without being reminded of the cum-dumpster he became in half a year, and terrified because he'll never escape. Whether he's there or not.

After dinner Sam excuses himself and throws it all up in the bathroom. He can't stop it, and his stomach started growing hot with revulsion by the middle of the meal, but every time he put down his fork and tried to breathe, Steve got this heartbroken look on his face that make guilt make a home in Sam's stomach along with the nausea. But he couldn't hold it back. He tried, he did.

Steve and Bucky will be upset if they find out. Sam's stomach turns at the thought, but he doesn't move from where he sits on the bathroom floor breathing heavy and trying to gather the the strength to stand and wash his mouth out. A part of him tells him that he could have stopped eating if he wanted to, because he can do what he wants now, the doctor said so. The fear won, though.

~

Sam doesn't sleep. The first night he spends with Steve and Bucky in half a year ends up with Sam not sleeping a wink, but instead slipping out of the room and curling up in the space next to the couch and the bookcase. He'd tried sitting in the chair of course, but for some reason that Sam can't figure out, the wide open space made him panicky. Something about the small area makes him feel better. Less...exposed maybe? Sam isn't sure. He isn't sure about anything now. Everything is a giant question mark. A riddle with no answer.

He plans to move before anyone finds him there though. Sam knows he would look like a psycho to anyone who saw him.

The bed he used to share with Steve and Bucky is big, big enough that they all can sleep in it without touching each other if need be, and Sam had told them that him sleeping with them was okay. It wasn't a lie, not to his knowledge at the time, he thought it would be fine. He's used to sleeping with people, but as soon as he settled down that odd and disturbing hyper-awareness set in again, and he couldn't sleep or stop panicking. He left as soon as it was obvious they were asleep. He's terrified because he lied again, even if he didn't know it, and he's also angry because even with Krause...he could sleep. But now he's in this space between being a puppet and being a functioning human who makes his own choices and he's confused. Anxious to the core and unable to rest. A coiled spring about to snap, and snap hard, it's just a matter of when.

Maybe if he finds somewhere else, somewhere just as small but more secluded, maybe he could fall asleep. He's tired. He's really tired.

Sam doesn't move. Maybe it's the fact that moving will make noise and he'd rather do anything but that. Maybe it's because something about the dark convinces a small, hysterical part of his mind that Krause will appear and take him away again. Or a guard. Anyone. Anything.

He pulls the hooded sweatshirt tighter around himself and tries not to think. The sweatshirt is black. Krause would hate it.

Sam finds that he likes black. He likes black a lot. 

He zones out until morning, hours passing and his eyelids growing heavier though he refuses to let them close, and when the sun comes up he moves, eyes feeling like sandpaper and limbs heavy and sits in one of the armchairs, curling up there and hoping he can give the appearance of just having woken up. 

Sam drifts, mind wandering and thoughts straying from everything to nothing, and when he hears the bedroom door open and footsteps growing closer he tenses his muscles to stifle the flinch that he knows is coming when whoever is walking towards him gets close enough.

"Sam?"

Bucky. His voice rugged from sleep, and when Sam turns to look at him he sees the super soldier, standing there in a threadbare t-shirt and pajama pants, and doesn't know what to say. What's the accurate response? What does Bucky want to hear?

"Morning." Bucky yawns, running a hand through his hair, hopelessly tangling it even more. Sam remembers rolling his eyes and tying his hair up. Sam can't bring himself to even suggest such a thing now.

"Morning." Sam answers evenly.

"How did you sleep, doll?" Bucky asks, yawning again.

The endearment is both familiar and foreign to Sam. He remembers it, of course. He remembers Bucky gasping it into Sam's neck as he buried himself in Sam's body, but the warmth from it is far removed and distant. While Sam used to feel a warmth similar to a raging fire, now it feels more like a small candle flame he's looking at through a thick glass wall. Maybe a flicker of that warmth that he can feel through the case as he stares at it from the outside, but so horribly distant that Sam immediately feels guilty. He's back. He back with them now. Why is he acting like this? What's wrong with him? Bucky and Steve would never hurt him, so why is he feeling so horribly distant?

They don't deserve that.

They don't deserve to be treated like this, not when they're the ones who saved him and love him. Just because Sam was whoring himself to someone else for the better part of a year. The guilt presses against his chest, an ever expanding mass.

God, he's disgusting.

"Sammy?" Bucky asks, looking more and more worried the longer Sam's silence stretches on.

"Yeah," Sam eventually croaks, "yeah. It was fine."

Lie. Sam is lying. 

He's a liarliarliarliarliarKrausewouldbefurious--

"Okay well," Bucky extends a hand, smiling lightly, "what about some breakfast?"

Sam does not want to take his hand. Sam does not want to touch anyone. Sam does not want breakfast.

Sam takes Bucky's hand and accepts it all anyway.

~

Breakfast is waffles that Sam doesn't taste. He swallows it all down, stomach turning as he tries to block out the voices.

~

Sam takes a shower after breakfast.

The part of his brain that knows he can do as he pleases blurts it out like he's trying on free will for size, and when Steve and Bucky give him searching looks before telling him 'Anything you want, Sammy', Sam pretty much darts away, desperate for space and quiet and to do something he actually wants to do for the first time in a long time. And right now he wants to scrub his skin raw and burn it away under scolding hot water. He knows that when he gets out he'll have to deal with being naked with two other people milling about until he finds his clothes, but he shoves that to the back of his mind for later.

He needs this now. He strips, dropping the clothes like they've burned him, and the first thing he does is wash the taste of waffles--Krause's lips--no, waffles--the guards saliva--waffles--Krause's come--no, no...waffles out of his mouth, burning his tongue on the scalding hot water but refusing to turn it down. It might be punishment or it might be something he needs to feel clean, Sam isn't sure. But his skin hurts as he scrubs away at it, the voices echoing in his head as he bites his lip until it bleeds, rubbing himself raw. The water burns, and Sam's touch is rough as he handles himself.

It doesn't make him stop, though.

By the end the voices are gone because he's distracted by the physical pain, and Sam is grateful for that. He stands under the burning water for a long time, and is only aware that his nose has started bleeding again because the water that drips from his face is ruby red and Sam can't stop looking at it as it falls, the color spreading in the water before spiraling down the drain. 

Sam knows that no matter how much he scrubs he'll still be something stained, tainted.

It's only logical that his very blood is trying to escape his body. He would escape himself too if he could.

~
He can't stay in there forever though, and when Sam steps out of the shower the panic bubbles up again and the rational part of him is drowned out by fear. What if someone is in the bedroom when he steps out of the bathroom? What does he do then? 

And being panicked means that Sam acts out of panic and throws open the door frantically, stepping into the bedroom because if he's going to be surprised and hurt he might as well--

No one is there.

The bedroom is quiet. Empty. And then he's kicking himself because he knows that what was happening to him with Krause won't happen here, he knows that. It may be buried under paranoia and fear but deep down he knows that. Sam is just such an idiot he panics and forgets where he is, bracing himself for the worst.

He knows where his closet is. He still remembers. 

Sam finds underwear, the darkest, least decorative pair of briefs he can find (the lacy, fancy panties he was made to wear flashes in his mind and Sam shudders, stopping for a moment to panic and shiver until the terror passes), and when he opens his closet he stops. A part of him was expecting pinks and purples, and Sam mentally kicks himself yet again because he isn't there. This is Avengers Tower. This is different--

His eyes catch on every sliver of white or color on the clothing, and suddenly he can't take it. Sam pulls things from hangers, throwing them aside and fully intending to throw them away. Anything with any hints of color are thrown aside to be discarded, no matter how small. He can't do it. He won't. He can't stand to look at it, much less wear it. He reaches for a shirt with some pink logo on it and his breath catches in irrational fear when he sees it before he rips it off the hanger and throws it aside as well. 

Anything with pinks, blues, greens, reds, white...it's all discarded. Sam won't. He can't.

Krause liked Sam in colors. He liked Sam in bright pastels.

Sam likes black. Black. Nothing else.

Black.

It's like he can't stop. His breathing becomes shaky as he frantically purges the clothing, and he yanks open drawers and cabinets for anything else that he feels he needs to get rid of.

Sam is aware his hands are shaking, but that doesn't stop him from throwing everything from underwear to socks into the pile. And yes he's panicking and no he can't hear himself think over the ringing in his head, but he continues, movements frantic with a tinge of hysteria before he quickly dresses himself.

And only when he's fully covered can he breathe again. Only when he's wearing the one color that Krause would never allow him to wear. Sam stands in the middle of the room, breathing heavy and shrinking into his sweatshirt before he takes a shaky breath, gathers up the clothing (telling that anxious little voice inside his head to shut up when it tries to suggest that even holding the clothes is a cause enough for a full blown anxiety attack) walks out of the room, right past a puzzled and concerned Steve and Bucky who jump up as soon as he arrives, and dumps them right into the trash. Sam doesn't look at either of them.

He just throws it away. Sam doesn't answer their questions.

They wouldn't understand.

~

"How was your first night being back?"

They're seated in the living room in Steve and Bucky's (and yeah, it's his too, but it feels more like there's than his, even though he knows he lives there) floor of the tower because Sam would rather pick his skin off than go back to the medical wing.

So here they are. If Sam had his way he wouldn't be having therapy at all. 

He doesn't want to talk about it. He doesn't want to do anything. Or say anything. To anyone.

And certainly not to two doctors. Though he knows that both Dr. Walsh and Dr. Hensington are two different kind of doctors he really doesn't want to have to deal with two people at once. It's stressful enough with Steve and Bucky.

Sam fidgets in his seat, knowing he's going to tell the truth whether he wants to or not. Krause doesn't like when he lies.

"I couldn't sleep." he says quietly.

"And why is that?" Dr. Hensington asks kindly.

Sam blinks at her before looking away, "I-I couldn't...the bed...I-I..."

How does he explain that he can't even sleep in the same bed as the two people he knows love him the most in the world? Sam doesn't know how to explain it because it doesn't make sense, and it's fucking sick and twisted of him because he could sleep in the same bed as Krause--

"Were you uncomfortable sleeping with someone else?"

Sam hesitates, then nods.

"That's completely normal, Sam." she smiles, "There's nothing abnormal about feeling uncomfortable being physically close to people, after what's happened."

And Sam is sure that's true, and that she believes what she's saying and trying to help him, but she doesn't understand. What does that say about Sam that he could whore himself out to several fucking Hydra agents but can't stand to be in the same bed with two avengers?

What does that say about him?

But Sam doesn't say anything, because he doesn't want to have to explain. He's tired. Sam wishes he could sleep, but he can't. He can never sleep again.

"Have you considered sleeping in a different bed until you're feeling more up to sharing a space with your partners?"

That makes Sam pause, because no, he didn't. He's still trying to grasp the fact that he can now make tiny decisions for himself, much less something like moving to his own bed. Sam is having trouble remembering that he can do as he pleases now, and even now, just because he remembers that he can do what he wants doesn't mean he actually has the strength to do so. He's still afraid. He's not strong enough. 

So no, changing beds never occurred to him. He just accepted trying to make Steve and Bucky happy even if he has to lie to them and tell them he's slept fine every night when he didn't sleep at all. He's ready to do that for as long as it takes because what Sam wants doesn't matter.

'What you want doesn't matter.' Krause told him over and over again, 'It's what I want that matters. And I want you to do as I say. So you do it.'

Sam shivers and clenches his eyes shut.

'On your knees, Sammy. Open wide.'

Chapter Text

SHIELD is gone.

And because SHIELD is gone, Sam's captors are being kept in an unmarked warehouse not far from where SHIELD headquarters used to be. It's a crude prison, and if the prisoners weren't beaten half to death by Bucky it would be a security nightmare and someone would have escaped by now, but Bucky made sure to...incapacitate them. Even if they got up the strength to leave, they couldn't.

Steve learned that 'incapacitate', in Bucky's terms, meant to break every leg and ankle. Along with shattering every kneecap.

None of them are going anywhere, and honestly it's only Steve's fear that's stopping him from taking his fists to every single one of them and beating them into the ground until they hardly look human. It's his fear that stops him from peeling the flesh off of every single one of them and feeding it to them.

He's afraid of becoming someone that ends up scaring Sam, who's already so fragile and afraid. Who needs him. Needs him as Steve, in all his love and gentleness. Not whoever rage and vengeance would make him. Steve's afraid that if he goes that far, if he lets himself, he won't be able to shake it. That it'll cling to him like a leech. And he won't be there for Sam. 

Not as himself, anyway. He's afraid he'll become someone...darker. Less tender. Not what Sam needs.

But god, Steve wants to. He wants to let go like Bucky did and tear them apart. What he wants to do scares him. It scares him so much because he doesn't just want to kill them. He wants them to suffer. He wants them to be in agony for as long as possible.

It scares him so much because Sam is the only thing stopping him from murdering every single one of them, and making it slow. So slow. So painful. So excruciatingly agonizing. 

Of course Natasha helped in securing the warehouse, and Steve suspects she also got a few attacks in, judging by the fact that they all have obvious scars from her widow's bite bracelet. He's not surprised, Natasha and Sam have been close for ages, and Nat doesn't take her friends being hurt very well. And by very well he means that she takes it rather horribly. Steve is surprised they're aren't dead.

The building is dark, damp, cold.

Perfect.

He wants it to be the least comfortable place on earth. He wants them to feel everything they put Sam through. Every ounce of pain. Fear. Sadness. Hopelessness. He wants them to hurt more.

But Steve isn't sure how he can do that and keep his humanity in tact for Sam at the same time. 

He's only able to break away from Sam because the man is sleeping, curled up safe in bed and Tony has programmed Friday to keep an eye on him, which in turn means that if something happens or if Sam wakes up, Steve will be the first to know. And then Bucky, by extension.

Steve narrowly avoids a leaking pipe as he ducks into the steel cells Natasha had fixed to the walls, and Steve can't help but be impressed.  Natasha basically created a prison in less than 4 hours, complete with handcuffing every single one of the monsters to the bars. 

God, this place is freezing. 

Perfect.

There's an area for the cells, and a separate room, with a decrepit table and several chairs, which Steve assumes Natasha set up to be somewhat of an interrogation space. There's also a table of quite frankly disturbing tools not too far from it. 

Bucky presses closer to him, flesh hand on his arm and Steve realizes he's zoned out while Bucky was talking.

"Sorry." The blond says, "I'm okay, just...what are we going to do with them?"

Bucky gives him a pointed, knowing look with that darkness behind his eyes. It's been there since Hydra, and Steve knows it'll never fully go away. It's not like Steve cares, he's still his Bucky. Sam's Bucky, who is so gentle, tender, sweet and loves Sam to pieces to the point where he'll gladly become the dark personality that he fears and fought so much to avenge him. Bucky will become the Winter Soldier over and over again for Sam. He'd do anything. Even slip back into the persona that scares Bucky so much. He'd do it in a heartbeat.

Of course.

Steve nods.

"And which one is Krause?"

Bucky's eyes harden, "The one in the suit. Farthest cell to the right."

Steve nods again, takes a breath and squeezes Bucky's hand before they share a reassuring look, grounding each other before they gather themselves, put on their concrete outer layers, and enter the main area of the warehouse. The place is filthy and damp. And Steve raises an eyebrow because yeah, they were beaten pretty badly the last time he was here, but now they look worse. Steve catches sight of broken fingers and electric burns. 

Seems like Bucky and/or Nat have been to visit since Steve has been gone.

He doesn't bother to ask, and Bucky doesn't bother with explaining. He just squares his shoulders and walks to the farthest cell, yanking open the lock with a clenched jaw and rage in his eyes that Steve is sure matches his own, and harshly snatches up the body inside.

And yeah, Krause was wearing a suit, but it hardly looks like it now. His clothes are torn and his face is a mess of blood.

Steve can hardly make out his features. Though it could also be because he hasn't budged from where he stands, and is only standing in the middle of the room with clenched fists, nails biting into the palms of his hands and not moving any closer. He has to steady himself, because right now, if he moves...

If he moves he's going to rip the man limb from limb. If he moves without gathering his resolve, he'll do something that will change him. Something that will make him into someone he doesn't recognize. That Sam won't recognize. And Steve doesn't know if thinking about Sam is helping because on one hand it's reminding him to not lose it because Sam needs Steve in his right mind, but on the other hand the only reason Sam is hurt in the first place is because of all these monsters in the cages lined along the warehouse walls--

"Steve."

Bucky's hand squeezes the blond's arm and Steve takes a shuddering breath and nods again. He doesn't look at Bucky. He just walks.

The room is just as miserable as the rest of the warehouse, and Steve's eyes harden as he takes in the pitiful excuse for a human that is seated on the opposite side of the table, hunched over and bleeding. Krause. That's his name. Krause.

He hurt Sam.

He raped Sam. 

He broke Sam.

Steve shakes with rage, and it's so sudden--so fucking sudden--but he lunges toward the man and is only stopped by Bucky wrapping his arms around his waist and pulling him back, his metal arm a steady pressure on his middle. When the red haze of rage ebbs away Steve notices that Krause has jumped about a foot in the air when Steve moved to attack him, and Steve can hardly breathe through the fury. He digs his fingers into Bucky's metal arm, trying to ground himself and not let whatever feral part of himself take over like he wants it to. It would be so easy. So easy, to just give himself over to the murderous rage. Steve still fights against Bucky though, itching to get at the scum sitting across from him.

"Hey." Bucky's turned to him, struggling to keep Steve from breaking out of his hold, pressed close so he can whisper in Steve's ear out of the hearing of their prisoner, "I handle the bloody stuff, okay? Sam needs you."

"He needs you too." Steve says, voice dark and cold, hard eyes trained on Krause.

"I know." Bucky says, "But I can snap in and out of it. It's a result of...anyway, I can play both sides. You need to know your limits, Steve. For Sam."

Steve is still fuming and breathing hard, still fighting against Bucky, but he could kiss him, really. No one understands him like Bucky and Sam do. And yet again is another example of one of them saving Steve from himself.

Steve eventually nods.

Bucky gives him one more considering look before nodding, releasing him and turning toward the bloodied man handcuffed to the table.

Something dark in Steve is happy to see that the cuffs are tight, biting into his skin. Good.

Steve sits. Bucky doesn't.

Krause has taken to staring at them both, one bloody eye swollen shut. His face is a mess.

And now that he's here, Steve doesn't even know where to start. Bucky a presence behind him--reassuring for Steve and terrifying for Krause--but the brunet doesn't say anything. Steve clenches his jaw, teeth scraping together. The longer he looks at him the more he wants to leap across the dirty table and feed him his own genitals.

Steve wants to rip him apart--

"Just gonna stare, sunshine?"

Krause's voice s raspy and dry, but there a smugness behind it that makes Steve want to take his face off. Just the sound of his voice has Steve's blood boiling.

"I'm just going to tell you right now," Steve starts, and Bucky freezes because his voice is colder than he's ever heard it--a far cry from what Bucky has ever known--, "there is no legal system for you here. There is no court. No jury. Us?" Steve jabs a finger behind him, at Bucky, "We're judge, jury and executioner. There's no law. No government. No one to defend you or keep you safe from us. No one."

"This is a bit dark for you, buddy. Aren't you supposed to be Captain America?" Krause rasps, a smug smile on his face.

"Not after what you've done." Steve says darkly, and Bucky's blood runs cold. "Everything you've ever read about me?" Steve says, "Forget it. There is no nobility or mercy. No fairness. Not for you."

"Ah, and now, to my real question. How is my precious Sammy?" Krause asks, a twisted smile making it's way onto his bloody face.

"He'll be fine." Steve says quickly, tone venomous, "You won't be."

"Will he though?" Krause grins, "After all the fun I've had with him..."

"You're a fucking monster." Steve hisses, eyes ablaze, and Krause looks scared, he looks terrified, but apparently the need to cause pain has him pushing past it.

"Sammy doesn't think so." he smirks, "I think he rather likes me. You should have seen him, he cried and fought at first. He did. It was really cute, but I had my guards have some fun with him for a night and he was pretty much mine from then on. Sure, he still fought a little bit, had to be put in line--"

And Steve's insides grow nauseous and sickened as he imagines Sam fighting and hurting and fighting--

"--but in the end, he laid there and didn't make a sound. Not even when he cried. Or when I had him on his knees. He's a good boy with a talented tongue, I can see why you--"

Bucky grabs one of the long, sharp metal utensils on the smaller table and--quicker than Steve can lunge across the table and wrap his hand around Krause's throat and squeeze--brings it down and stabs it through Krause's hand, the one handcuffed to the table.

His pained screams are choked off due to Steve's hand crushing his windpipe, but he chokes and gargles on his own blood until Steve finally stops seeing red and notices that Bucky is pulling him back.

"Steve." Bucky says, whispering in his ear, "Stevie. Hey."

The blond blinks, coming back to himself.

"Hey." Bucky says again, "I'll deal with the bloody stuff, okay? Remember I said that?"

Steve trembles in anger but looks at Bucky steadily, releasing Krause. 

The man gasps for air and cries out in pain due to his hand being planted on the table with a sharp spear-like piece of metal stabbed through it.

He couldn't even move his hand if he wanted to, the sharp instrument is plunged right through his flesh and through the surface of the table. He's pinned. And bleeding.

Steve sits back down.

And that's when the real test of self control begins, because it's almost like Krause knows that he has nothing to lose and this is his only defense--his only weapon, what he did to Sam. That's all he has to hurt them with.

"He...cried..for you." Krause gasps, pain and oxygen deprivation making his voice drier, "One of the first times I fucked him. Tight little thing. I don't even think he knew he said it. But he sobbed out both of your names." the bloody man laughs, and it sounds like an animal dying, "He cried a lot, my Sammy."

"He is not yours." Steve hisses as Bucky steps forward, eyes scanning the table for what he wants to dig into Krause's flesh next.

Krause goes on like he doesn't hear him, "You should have seen him. How he shrunk whenever I killed someone in front of him. Scared, pretty little thing." he drones, "He was a sight, with that puppy, wearing my shirts and nothing else."

"You're fucking sick." Steve spits, "And this is not going to end well for you.' 

"But it was going to end well for Sammy." Krause smiles, obviously delirious from blood loss, "We were gonna start a family, before you fuckers showed up...ruined everything..." 

Steve freezes, brows furrowing, blood boiling.

"Oh, he didn't tell you?" the man laughs, a hard sound ripping into the air, "He didn't tell you about how I was going to get a doctor to...modify him so he could carry my--" 

Bucky plunges a large needle into the man's shoulder, shaking with rage and revulsion. Steve turns away, dry heaving.

Oh god.

Oh god. Oh god. Fucking hell.

Oh, Sam.

And suddenly Bucky is gone from his side, punching Krause with his metal arm, over and over while Steve flees the room, gasping into the hallway, pressing his back against the filthy wall, trying to breathe and not throw up everything in his stomach.

If they hadn't found Sam he would be--

They were going to--

Steve doubles over, heaving everything in his stomach onto the ground.

~

Sam wakes up with a jolt.

The panic is nothing new, but it's still all consuming, quickening his breath and making his heart race. The room is dark, and it's obvious no one is there, but he still stumbles to his feet, scrambling for the light switch and flipping it on, hands shaking.

He feels a little better with the light on, and he presses his back against the wall and takes a breath. He reminds himself where he is, and who he lives with. He reminds himself what his name is, where he was born, what day, what month, what his middle name is. Sam breathes and recounts these facts, over and over for a good half hour before he finds the will to move.

Sam burrows himself further into his hooded sweatshirt, thankful that it's big because for some reason that makes him feel better, being drowned in fabric. It's actually Bucky's, and it smells like him and that...helps. So much. Sam can't be near him, he can't be near either of them, but this way he can still feel close. Kind of. 

Sam still had to sit there and look at it for about an hour as he tried to convince himself that this wasn't like when Krause forced him to wear his shirts to bed. That this was different. This is Bucky. Bucky who laid the sweatshirt on the bed for him with a small, non threatening smile before Sam took his short nap. Bucky who made sure that Sam was safely in bed before he gently closed the door.

Bucky.

And by the time he'd swallowed the fear, clenched his eyes shut and pulled it over his head, Bucky's scent had washed over him and calmed him. Bucky always smells like rain.

It's nice.

Sam opens the door to the bedroom and steps out. He's still tired, and only slept for about two hours for the past four days, but he's still able to stand so he ignores the fact that his eyes and his head hurt like hell and looks around the empty space curiously. Steve and Bucky are gone.

Sam almost panics.

Actually, he does panic, but it's cut short.

"Mr. Rogers and Mr. Barnes have been alerted to the fact that you're awake, Mr. Wilson."

Sam nearly jumps a foot in the air, ready to bolt or scream until he remembers that the voice wan't coming from a human. It's disembodied, floating out from the walls.

Friday. The AI.

Right. Sam is an idiot. As usual.

"Where did they go?" Sam asks, looking around and feeling oddly afraid.

He's a fucking disaster. He's afraid when they're near him and afraid when they're gone. There's no winning.

"I'm afraid that's classified." the AI says pleasantly, "But they will be back shortly." 

Sam nods, fully aware that the AI probably doesn't register the movement.  

Sam...doesn't know what to do. He stands in the middle of the room, still and silent because this is...this is home but...

It's a distant memory. It doesn't feel like the person who lived here was him. Maybe that person wore his skin and used his vocal chords to laugh and speak but...it wasn't...him.

And Sam panics because what if he never feels at home anywhere ever again? What if he's doomed to feel like a constant drifter? Alone and with nowhere to--

"Hey."

Sam startles and emits a pretty loud and embarrassing shaky gasp of fear before he sees the pale woman peeking in the entrance to their tower floor, looking both irritated and confused. And suddenly his heart is racing and his mouth tastes like ash, and he doesn't run because he sees her and knows it isn't who he's so afraid of, but his brain immediately capsizes in pure terror and snaps back to somewhere else entirely--

'Hey Sammy. My Sammy. So pretty. Open your legs, just like that... '

Sam gasps, heart beating a tattoo against his rib cage. He can't breathe hecan'tbreathehecan'tbreathehecan't--

'Wet, tight Sammy...open up...' 

Krause tastes like sweat and salt and murder. He spills down Sam's throat.

Sam gags.

"Hey!"

Sam's breath stutters, the single word breaking through the panic and fearfearfear--

because that voice isn't...that's not...

"Hey! C'mon don't fucking pass out on me...Rogers will kill me..."

Not...that's not Krause... 

Krause is...he's...

'Mine, Sammy. All mine.' 

"Hey! C'mon, breathe." 

'Open up...' 

Sam breathes. The air smells clean. Not like...not like...

It pulls hims back. It all pulls him back to the present, the pressure of the floor under his knees, the hands grasping his shoulders. The female voice swearing at him. 

"Just wanted to know if this floor had booze." the voice mutters, "I didn't mean to almost fucking kill you." 

Sam takes a shaky breath, opening his eyes. His vision swims until it focuses. 

He half expects to see that rug in front of the fireplace where...where...

The carpet here is blue. Like Steve's suit. Like Bucky's eyes. Blue.

Blue.

"Shit. You okay?"

Sam takes another breath, steadying himself, and with his heart still in his throat, his body still trembling and traces of Krause on his tongue, he looks up from where his eyes are trained on the ground and lays eyes on Jessica Jones.

She's pale, with stark black hair. Sam doesn't remember ever meeting her before. Just hearing about her. 

What a great first impression, she probably thinks that he's a psycho--

"I didn't know this was your floor." she tries to explain as Sam breathes, "Shit, if I'd known I would have left you alone--"

"It's fine." Sam manages, voice strained and hoarse. 

"It doesn't look like it." she drolls, and Sam notes that she hasn't let go of his shoulders, though she holds him at arms length, safely away from her.

Sam shakes his head, clearing it, "No...i--it's fine. Sorry, about that."

"Bullshit." she says, rolling her eyes, "Never apologize. No one is worth it, trust me."

Sam doesn't know what to say, he just blinks at her, trying to catch his breath as she stands and offers him a hand.

"Jessica." she says, and Sam hesitantly reaches up, grasping her cold hand in his own.

"Sam." he says softly. He's in that odd state of quiet after an attack, where he feels like he'll break apart if he speaks too loudly.

"Yeah, I figured." she says, shoving her hands in her pockets. Sam can't help but think that something is familiar about her. He doesn't know what it is though.

"Uh," she says, looking around, "I just moved into this maze so I was gonna ask if anyone knew where Stark stashed the liquor." 

Sam takes another shaking breath before he looks at her, consuming terror receding into his more usual, steady, daily and constant stream of panic, "I think...I think the bar is on the..." Sam pauses, thinking hard, trying to remember, "the...the..." 

Jessica folds her arms, "Don't hurt yourself, it's not that big a deal--"

"The twenty-fifth floor." Sam blurts out, finally remembering, "It's on the twenty-fifth floor."

Jessica nods and looks at him for a moment before she raises her chin in slight defiance, like she's making up her mind about something.

"Well shit, there's a bar?" she says, "Come on. I'm not leaving you here to sulk."

She turns to walk away, and Sam watches her in shock, eyes wide before he pushes that scared little voice to the back of his mind and follows.

~

Steve's mouth tastes like bile and Bucky's metal knuckles are smeared with so much red it looks like a glove.

The blond feels so sick he can barely stand, even when he's finished violently expelling the contents of his stomach and feels his phone vibrating in his pocket. The sounds of Bucky taking his fist to Krause's face echo in the damp, empty warehouse, and Steve fumbles for the slim, smooth device and manages to wake up the screen with shaking, clumsy fingers.

"Mr. Wilson is awake."

--Friday.

And of course Tony programmed the AI to send texts. Tony never seeks out communication if he doesn't have to.

Sam. Sam is awake. And alone. 

Steve rubs a hand down his face harshly. He hoped they'd be back before--

Something in the room snaps. It's like a crack. Steve supposes Krause now has another broken bone.

Good. 

Steve decides to let Bucky let off some steam for a while longer. And a dark, feral part of Steve wants Krause to be beaten half to death. That's a only a fraction of what Sam...oh god, Sam...

Steve understands more and more why he took those pills. Why he kept popping them in and couldn't stop. Why he felt like that was his only way out. Steve just wants to go back to the tower and hold him. He wants to wrap him up and tell him none of it was his fault, that he's beautiful and valuable. So fucking precious. Steve wants to protect him, use his own body to shield Sam from everything...

His phone buzzes again.

We need a new name for this thing. Any suggestions?

--Natasha

Steve feels confusion color his expression for a moment before he remembers. Right.

The dog. It's being retrained.

Steve isn't even sure if this is a good idea. He really isn't sure about making Sam face something that reminds him of what's happened to him. That reminds him of Krause. Steve assumed the thing just died in the raid, but Natasha showed up with a white, wiggling ball of fluff in her arms and grimly told him it only answers to one name.

Steve doesn't doubt that the dog being named after Sam's abuser is some psychological ploy to mess with Sam's head, so naturally and despite the fact he feels bad, Steve isn't fond of the dog. It's not the dog's fault, he just...anything that could hurt Sam is immediately on his bad side.

He and Bucky have talked about it...but...they just don't know.

Steve tells Natasha that he has no idea, and that she can rename the dog what she wants. He trusts her. Steve has no ideas and just wants to get back to Sam, and he only notices that the sounds have stopped when he slips the phone back in his pocket and tries to breathe.

"Steve."

The blonde startles, quickly stepping back into the room because Bucky sounds small and scared and--

Krause is a heap on the ground. Blood is on Bucky's metal hand and the floor, and Steve sees a small pile of what he identifies as teeth on the table where Krause was sitting.

"He said there were videos. Surveillance. Of Sam." Bucky says, eyes wide, "He...he said..."

His stomach roils. And Steve could scream and snap Krause's neck because hasn't Sam been through enough? Why would they need to record--

"It's security footage." Bucky adds shakily, examining his bloodied hand, "From the hotel. The house. And where they had Sam...before. Hydra documents everything s-so..."

Sam. Sam doesn't deserve this. Not sweet Sam who worked at the VA to help fellow vets. Not Sam who befriended Steve as a person before Captain America. Sam who took to the skies to help him find Bucky. Who dropped everything and saved them over and over again..

And what does he get for it? This.

Steve could scream until he pops a vessel. The anger and sadness nearly capsizes his brain and resolve, but he pushes it down (and it's so, so hard), takes a moment, and wraps one arm around a shaking, bloody Bucky and pulls out his phone with his other trembling hand.

He sends Tony a short message of what he needs, and the response is immediate. 

I'll find it.  I'll Destroy it. It's handled.

--Tony

Steve takes a breath and tries not to do something he'll regret.

~

Bucky feels sick. 

Like, honest to God, retching sick. How sick he used to feel when they pumped god knows what into his bloodstream and let him scream as they documented the results. 

Like how he felt when they shocked him over and over again, needles piercing his skin and tearing flesh--

Bucky feels sick.

Because he should have seen this coming. Hydra records everything. They recorded everything they did to him, and they recorded everything they did to Sam. And if it was just him he could deal with it, it would just be another thing to add to the pile, but Sam...

Bucky can't stop trembling.

Hydra doesn't just kill your spirit and mind. They also seek to humiliate. Every video of Bucky's torture is on Hydra files. Everything. And Bucky made his peace with that. But this is Sam, and Sam doesn't deserve this. Any of it.

He's been through enough. So much, and for some reason Bucky's mind takes him back to Sam's stay in the tower medbay. The day they came in and cheerily announced that Sam was, somehow, STD free. There are still tests that need to come back, but for the major ones, he's clean.

And while that was good news, the humiliation and shame was clear on Sam's face before he just turned away and quietly asked to be alone so he could sleep. 

Bucky loves him so much he can hardly breathe sometimes, and the fact that he's hurting and so ashamed of what was done to him, something he couldn't control and something that has no bearing on who he is or his value and how much Bucky fucking loves and adores him--

Bucky's stomach turns.

"Buck?" Steve asks, hands in his pockets, "Can I...ask you something?"

Bucky turns, looking at the blond. The door to the interrogation room is closed, and Krause has been sat back at the table, handcuffed and unconscious as they stand outside where he can't hear them.

Bucky doesn't say anything, just swallows the nausea and nods. 

"When you were...captured, with Hydra," Steve starts carefully, "I know they...they tortured you and made you kill but...did....did they ever...l-like what happened to Sam?"

Bucky freezes for a long moment, thinking. He doesn't remember a lot, and what he does is pain, electrocution...

But not...

"No." Bucky says, "No, not that I remember. I...maybe even they knew that was too damaging...and they...needed me functional."

Steve bites his lip and nods.

Bucky clenches his jaw, hands balling into fists before he says, "He's been calling him Sammy."

Steve blinks at him, "What?"

"He's been calling him Sammy." Bucky repeats, shame coloring his tone, "And I...I've been calling him the same thing. Ever since he woke up. I...was probably reminding him of..."

Bucky takes a shaky breath, looking away, self loathing rolling off of him in waves. Steve sighs, clenching his eyes shut before he breathes and opens them again, wrapping his arm around Bucky and squeezing.

"You didn't know." Steve soothes, "I...called him that too...and I...we didn't know."

"We're fucking up, Steve." Bucky croaks, trembling, "We're really fucking this up."

Steve doesn't know what to say to that. Bucky is right, and he has no response.

~

Sam starts feeling that looming terror again when he follows Jessica to the bar. The space is empty, and Sam is grateful because he knows he wouldn't be able to handle seeing anyone else right now. He hasn't even thought about interacting with anyone but Steve and Bucky because he's having enough trouble with that as is. He has the odd feeling that everyone would be upset at the state of him now. Like Steve and Bucky are.

Sam isn't stupid. He knows they want the old Sam back. Just because Sam himself doesn't remember how he used to be doesn't mean that no one else does.

Sam knows he's pretty much shit company unless he's on his back with his legs open or on knees, he isn't an idiot. That's very clear to him.

But still, the fact that he's in a part of the tower that he isn't sure he's ready to be in, with someone he doesn't really know makes his heartbeat pick up and his pulse race. What if...what if...

"Ya think Stark'll mind if I drink all of his expensive whiskey?" Jessica asks absently, jumping over the bar counter and picking up a bottle, examining it.

Sam isn't sure what to say, but he notices that this woman, Jessica...

She talks to him like she didn't just see him have a panic attack a few minutes ago. Like he's...normal, or something close to it. She didn't even know him before, so this is the only version of Sam she knows.

"I'm sure he can just buy more." Sam says, voice shaky.

Jessica doesn't seem to notice. She just nods and turns to him, "Yeah, I forget that not everyone needs to work their ass off to buy booze."

Sam doesn't know what to say. What's the right response? He thinks, but comes up with nothing.

"So, pick your poison." She asks, pouring herself a cup much larger than the whiskey she's drinking should allow, "Or, ya know, you can just watch me drink and laugh as I become more and more of a mess. I think there's some apple juice back here if you want that." She looks around, "Wait, no. It's pineapple."

Sam looks at her as he scans the rest of the bottles before he pushes down the terror, turns his brain on mute and says, "I'll have what you're having."

"Okay then." She drolls, another glass clinking atop the bar counter. She fills it up and slides it over to Sam, draining her glass quickly and filling it up again.

Sam only looks at her in surprise.

"What?" She asks dully, "I'm a pro."

Sam gives her a questioning look.

She shrugs, "Gotta deal with the bullshit somehow."

Sam shifts, looking at his own drink, hesitant. And this is how he is now. Odd moments of bravery in between long bouts of fear and hesitance. It's exhausting. Why did he follow her? Why did he ask for a drink?

"There is still the pineapple juice--"

Sam downs half of his glass in one swallow.

It burns, but Krause's voice doesn't float into his head, and that's...really fucking spectacular. He isn't sure what possessed him to ask for the drink in the first place, but this is a nice twist.

Jessica smirks at him, downing her second glass. They drink in silence, and it isn't until Sam finally stops staring at his drink and looks at her that he sees that she's casting sidelong glances at him out of the corner of her eye. He's immediately uncomfortable. He doesn't like being the center of anyone's attention.

Certainly not after...after...

"Sorry," she mumbles, picking up on his discomfort, "it's just, you look like me, after...ya know what? Never mind. Forget I said anything."

And maybe it's the liquor (and Sam knows it's definitely the liquor) but he feels numb enough that he can blink at her and give her a bland, "No, what is it?"

She sighs, and glances at him before she trains her eyes in front of her, looking at nothing in particular, off in her own mind, "You look like me after what happened...happened."

"And what happened?" Sam asks, not knowing where this is going or what is going on--

"The same shit that happened to you." she grumbles, draining her glass.

And Sam tenses because he doesn't know how much she knows about what happened to him, but if she knows a lot of it, or...or all of it, how much does everyone else know? Do they all know about how Krause...how he...do they all know? Does everyone know everything? That...that Krause...the guards...that they...

Sam's face immediately burns with shame.

They all know they probably all know they know they see it on him they all know he's a whoreaslutawhore--

"Hey." Jessica says, snapping her fingers, "Out of your head. Stay with me, don't freak out."

Sam feels sick.

They probably all know. Everything.

"So you...know." he says quietly after a long moment, voice shaking and something suspiciously like hot, angry tears of shame pressing against the back of his eyes, waiting to spill. And he isn't sure why he asked. He doesn't want to talk about it, and if everyone knows he just wants to lock himself away and avoid them all. He never wants to be seen again. Sam wants to disappear. How can anyone even look at him?

"Been through it. Can detect it." she mumbles again, taking another sip, hands shaking. And Sam pauses because he notices that...she looks afraid. Just like him.

Her hand trembles, and she doesn't meet his gaze. But suddenly, so suddenly, she goes still. Her eyes are empty.

"He forced you to do things, right?" she asks, voice dull. Lifeless. It's like she isn't there.

Like how Sam gets sometimes, and it gives him an odd feeling because it's like looking in a mirror. If his reflection were a pale white female. But the point is that she looks how he feels, when he disconnects. When the terror is too much and the only way to cope without digging your own eyes out is to flee your very consciousness. 

Sam looks down at his glass, because yeah, apparently they're similar or something but he still can't bring himself to look someone in the eye when he says, "Yeah. His..." he takes a breath, trying not to panic--or worse--cry. "His name was Krause."

She looks at him, face drawn and eyes empty, "His name was Kilgrave."

Chapter Text

Being drunk is different now.

Sam barely remembers what is was like before, of course, but now...

Now it's better than his dull memories, he guesses. He sits shoulder to shoulder with Jessica behind the bar and on the ground, but the close proximity doesn't scare him. Sam isn't sure whether it's the alcohol or the fact that Jessica is telling him everything, her eyes far off and distant as speaks her voice dull.

Sam feels blurry at the edges, but warm and like something should be bothering him, distantly, but he can't remember what it could be. His head is swimming a bit, and he doesn't remember how he went from sitting opposite Jessica to where he is now, but he doesn't complain because it's nice to not feel for a while.

It's so nice. And he can tell she's taking advantage of it too.

"He made me kill my boyfriend's wife." she rambles, head lolling to one side, "Punched her."

"How did that kill her?" Sam asks, trying not to fall over. It's a lot easier to ask and answer hard questions like this.

"Punched her hard." Jessica slurs, "Her heart stopped."

Sam shifts, feeling suddenly upset, "That's so sad."

"You're telling me." she answers, "I didn't mean to. He had this power, ya know, he could make anyone do anything they he wanted them to." she takes another sip, "Was fucked up."

"He had powers." Sam asks, "Wasn't your fault."

"Bullshit." she moans, "Shoulda done something."

"Like what? He was messing with your head." Sam snorts, "Krause didn't have...that. He just..." he pauses, and not because it's hard to talk about--the alcohol is helping with that, currently--but because his tongue gets tied and he has to take a moment to try and think through the drunken haze and remember what he was going to say in the first place.

"He fucked you, right?" Jessica asks, rolling her eyes, "They always want to do that. Why do they always want to fuck you?"

Sam doesn't know why he laughs, but he does.

"And then it's like he's everywhere." he adds after a moment.

"God, right?" Jessica agrees, looking incredibly annoyed, "Even after you're free you're not. So fucking annoying."

"That's one word for it." Sam says, downing the rest of his glass, "Can't even eat."

"All the shit you put in your mouth tastes like him, right?" she drolls, sloppily refilling their glasses from where she's placed the bottle on the floor next to them.

"Mhm." Sam hums. Being numb is...nice. So, so nice.

"Yeah. I still haven't found a way to get rid of that." She says, defeated.

"My doctors told me to just focus on how he's not keeping me captive anymore." Sam slurs, "Doesn't help."

"That's shit advice."

"I know."

"Mine told me to repeat the names of the streets I lived on."

"Does that work?"

"Fuck no." Jessica laughs, slightly delirious, "Fucking hate doctors. Useless."

"They're not very helpful." Sam says sullenly.

"You should stick with it though." She says, "Maybe it'll help a little later."

"Maybe." Sam replies, "Steve and Bucky won't stop calling me what he called me. And touching me."

"And lemme guess, you don't know how to tell them to stop?" Jessica asks.

Sam nods.

"Yeah, same." She says, "My sister Trish was tryna help but she just wouldn't stop doing scary shit like being close and it drove me crazy."

"What did you do?"

"I just...broke off contact." Jessica confesses, "I couldn't do it. Feel bad but...just couldn't."

"I'm sorry." 

"It's fine." She tells him, draining her glass, "Didn't wanna put her through the drama anyway."

Sam shrugs, "I doubt she would have minded."

Jessica is silent for a moment, "Maybe that was part of my problem. She's not a part of our world." she says quietly, before she adds, "But your guys are."

Sam takes a breath, "They'd be disgusted with me, if they knew. All of it. The details."

"That's dumb." Jessica says after a moment, "Those two fucking love you to death. Shoulda see how they were looking for you."

"I don't think they like what they found." Sam says, a slight distant sadness tugging through the drunken haze.

"Well no," Jessica rolls her eyes, "you were being held hostage by a psychopath. They didn't like that."

"You know what I mean."

"Listen," she sighs in annoyance (and for some reason that makes Sam smile, the fact that she is getting annoyed with him, and treating him like she treats everyone else), "that's the dumbest shit I've ever heard."

Sam makes an offended sound.

"Oh, don't act offended." she laughs humorlessly, "I'm just saying that I thought that stupid shit too, when I walked away from Kilgrave. People are fucking thrilled to have you back, Sam. No matter what. They just wish you hadn't gone through the bullshit."

Sam looks down at his hands.

"And that's my daily dose of therapy." Jessica says, "You owe me $3."

Sam laughs.

~

"Friday?" Steve asks, eyes frantically roaming around the empty tower floor, "Where the hell is Sam?"

Bucky is standing in the bedroom, looking at the blankets, tossed aside and completely lacking in the area of one Sam Wilson. They're both tense, especially after putting Krause back in his cell and leaving the warehouse, everything they've learned weighing in their minds like cinder-blocks. And now Sam is gone. Disappeared. 

"He is currently on the twenty-fifth floor, with Jessica Jones." Friday says evenly, and if Bucky's imagination were a little more active he'd say that she sounds disapproving.

"Why? What happened?" Steve asks, desperate, "Is he okay? Why did he leave?"

"They seem to be talking." Friday says, "Ms. Jones arrived and startled him by accident, and they left the floor together."

Steve's eyes widen because he didn't expect to come back to Sam not being here. To Sam having left the floor, of all things. He's been so timid and hesitant lately, and Steve is about to panic because well...Jessica is...

Maybe too...hard, for Sam right now? Steve likes her, he does, but she's a bit rough around the edges which isn't what Sam needs. Sam needs soft. Gentle. Jessica is the opposite of that. A noble person, a hero, but too full of jagged edges and barbed wire.

Worry hits Steve like a train before he moves towards the door, Bucky hot on his heels. They're about ten floors away, and part of Bucky dreads what they'll find, when they find Sam. Bucky is fidgeting in the elevator, heart pounding because if Sam is hurt or upset--

The elevator door opens and Sam is behind the bar, laughing humorlessly as Jessica slumps next him. They've clearly been drinking and talking and--

"You got him drunk?" Steve asks, voice betraying the worry and indignation that Bucky can only imagine he's feeling.

Sam jumps about a foot in the air, and Jessica just stares at him blankly before rolling her bloodshot eyes, "Nice to see you too, Cap. And now that you're here, all the fun has left the room. Awesome."

Sam's smile is gone, and Bucky watches as his face goes from drunkenly amused to somewhat panicked.

"What were you thinking?" Steve asks, taking a step closer, eyes on the drained whiskey bottle and their empty glasses.

"He's a big boy, Rogers." Jessica snaps, "He wanted a drink, he had one. Big deal."

"It is a big deal," Steve snaps back, "alcohol is not what he needs right now."

"Steve--" Bucky says, voice quiet as he watches Sam get more and more panicked, "maybe d-don't--"

"He can do what he wants." Jessica hisses, face going red with anger, "And you think talking about him like he isn't here is helping anything?"

"That doesn't change the fact that getting him drunk isn't going to help him either!" Steve cries, and Sam's breath hitches as their voices get louder.

And suddenly it's too much. There's too much of everything. Too much sound, too much emotion. Just...too much. Sam's heart starts to race as Jessica and Steve argue, and this is his fault because they're arguing about him because Sam is an idiot and a whore and can't do anything right--

"I'm sorry!" Sam blurts out, and maybe it's more of a sob, but he can't help it. He's shaking and tears are pressing against the backs of his eyes, hoping to break free as he takes a shaky breath.

"I-I d-didn't mean t-to." Sam stutters, trying to catch his breath and not cry. It doesn't work, he's a sobbing mess anyway he's such an ugly mess anyway--

"I'm s-sorry."

He isn't sure what he's apologizing for, he just knows that he fucked up and has to say something so they're not mad.

When people get mad at him, he gets hurt. Sam doesn't want to be hurt. He's sick of it. He's sick of someone always being mad at him. The guards were mad because he's black and Krause's, and Krause got mad whenever Sam disobeyed, and now Steve and Bucky seem to be mad at him about everything.

And he's aware he's sniffling and waving his hands like a lunatic, apologizing over and over and over again but he has to try because then he'll be hurt and pinned down and--

"Look what you did!" Jessica snaps, eyes ablaze and anger radiating off of her in waves, "You fucking made him upset. He was fine before you showed up!"

It's so quick, like a light switch being flipped and a room being plunged into darkness.

Sam blacks out.

Suddenly everything is grey, almost black, murky water that dulls his senses and floods his brain, seeping into the cracks and under doors, thick and foggy.

He hears the voices somewhat, but he doesn't know what to make of it all, and he's not back in Estonia or Germany, he's just...nowhere. In an odd blackness that terrifies him because if Sam hates one thing lately it's the dark--

Sam can feel hands on him, and he thinks that the person who takes his shoulders and asks if he can hear them is Jessica, but he can't be sure because he can't hear or see or think--

 He wonders if this was what it was like when he took the pills. He wonders if he can get away with trying to take them again, because he isn't getting this right he isn't doing anything right and every breath hurts and it almost takes forever for any semblance of light and reality to break through, and when it does his head hurts and his chest does too, not to mention that fact that he's still sniffling and feeling more than a little afraid and pathetic.

It comes back. It all comes back. Light. Sound. Feeling. The identifying of textures and smells and touches.

Please no more touches.

He's still on the floor, and Steve kneels in from of him, hands on his shoulders as he soothing speaks to Sam with words he can't quite concentrate on right now.

"Sam?"

Bucky budges into his line of sight, looking just as devastated. Guilt adds itself to Sam repertoire of distress.

"I'm sorry." He croaks again, barely there but still struggling to save himself and get his apology across, "I...I didn't mean t-to, I'm sorry."

"There's no need to apologize, Sam. Hey," Bucky says desperately, trying to catch his glazed, far away daze, "no one's mad at you."

And that is what makes everything stop. Sam blinks, eyes on the ground before he meets Bucky's eyes again, disbelieving. 

They might be mad. But Bucky just said they weren't. They could be lying, but...but...Bucky...he...he said--

Sam struggles to think.

"Hey, let's get back to our floor, okay?" Bucky asks, smiling softly, "Are you tired? You wanna sleep?"

Sam abandons thinking about whether Bucky is lying about being upset with him now that he's presented with a new topic. Is he tired?

He...he thinks so. He isn't sure. He doesn't know what he's feeling. His body is foreign to him. Distant. A lot like being in a car, he's in his body but doesn't exactly know how it works. How it operates.

But...he thinks he's tired. And Krause doesn't like liars, so Sam tells the truth.

He nods, trembling.

"Then let's get you somewhere you can sleep, okay?"

Sam calms slightly at the idea of sleep.

"Can I touch you?" Bucky asks, and at that Sam flinches back, eyes wide.

No. No touching. Sam doesn't like being touched not anymore he can't stand it--

"Just to help you up?" Bucky asks, moving back in order to appear as non-threatening as possible.

Sam almost panics again. It's like a switch that goes off--

"You can say no, Sam." Bucky soothes, "You know that right? You can always say no. We won't stop loving you, we won't be upset, it's completely okay."

Sam's breath quickens. He can..say no. He can say no. He can say no.

It's one word. Two letters. One syllable. 

No.

Tongue pressed to the roof of his mouth to start, before his lips round out to make an 'o', his vocal chords carrying it through. No. That's what he would physically have to do to say the word.

No.

No.

No.

Bucky looks at him, eyes soft and patient as Sam panics and tries to build up some feeble courage and will to say that one word. Steve is quiet, watching the interactions and ready to do whatever Sam needs him to, eyes wide and worried, and Jessica watches Steve and Bucky carefully.

"N-no." Sam breathes out, and the word is foreign on his tongue. Unfamiliar.

But Bucky smiles, small and reassuring before he nods, "Okay. Cool." he looks Sam in the eye, "See? It's okay. No one is upset and it's all okay."

Sam still can't help but feel like he's done something wrong. Something forbidden.

"Let's get you back so you can sleep, okay?" Bucky asks, eyes warm.

Sam doesn't remember moving, but he remembers everyone doing as he asked. They don't touch him, and that's...Sam doesn't know what to think about that. He isn't dumb enough to think that he can do what he wants, when he wants, forever. There has to be a catch somewhere, right?

But...but the doctors said...and Steve said...and Bucky said...

He doesn't notice when they're back in their bedroom. Jessica is gone, and Sam feels bad for not being conscious enough to say goodbye and that he enjoyed spending time with her, but suddenly he's not just tired, but exhausted. He feels more than sees Steve and Bucky move around him, but he doesn't move until Steve steps into his line of sight, making himself known before he speaks so he doesn't scare Sam.

"Hey," the blond smiles, trying to look reassuring. Sam just thinks he looks sad.

"The bed is ready." Steve says, "You can sleep if you want."

Sam looks at him for a moment, then at Bucky, who Sam can see is holding some blankets that he's changed, giving Sam that same sad, small smile.

Sleep. Right. He can...sleep. 

He's okay. He's safe. He can sleep. Nothing will happen. Nothing will happen....nothing will happen...

Sam moves.

The blankets are warm, and the bed is soft and there are enough blankets that he can pile on top of himself and wrap himself in so that the world seems far away. It's...nice.

The surprising thing is that Steve and Bucky don't move to get in bed with him. Instead they make sure he's settled and move toward the door.

"We're right outside, okay Sam?" Steve says, voice gentle as he reaches for the doorknob.

"Call us of you need anything, okay doll?" Bucky adds, and Sam sniffles and nods.

Then they're gone. Away but not...far. they're just outside the door. Far enough for Sam to breathe and close enough that he doesn't feel alone.

They leave the door open the slightest bit, and Sam knows that they can hear if he calls for them.

Sam is...safe.

Steve and Bucky are safe. He's safe with them.

Sam moves slowly to get comfortable, pulls the many blankets around him like a shield, pulling them over his head. It's dark, but it's...different. It's not frightening. This is the dark he can control. This is...okay.

And despite the fact that he is tired from anxiety and having not slept properly in ages, he still lies awake because he's struggling to get his mind to stay quiet long enough for him to relax. He goes from wondering where Krause is to going 'no, don't think about that' to 'what if he finds me again' and in circles upon circles until he's mentally worn out that he can't even remember what day it is or who he is before he sinks into that murky, soft grey of sleep.

~

When he wakes up and finds the small sphere of courage he needs to find Steve and Bucky, they tell him that they're sorry.

And Sam doesn't know why they're apologizing, but they don't give him a chance to ask before they're delivering the information themselves. 

And that's how they end up in their living room at 11 pm--Sam on the couch furthest from them both, shrinking into Bucky's sweatshirt that he wears, not because he's afraid but because for some reason the fabric makes his feel better--as Steve and Bucky look at him earnestly and guiltily.

"We know we haven't been handling this very well." Steve says, sounding saddened, "But we're going to do better, Sam. We promise. Just...tell us what you want. We won't be upset. If you don't want us to touch you, that's fine and it's completely your choice. We...we love you and we don't want to make this harder for you than it already is. So anything you need...just say the word."

And Sam hears them, he does, but he doesn't know what to say. He doesn't know how to react or what to do.

Maybe...maybe they mean it. Maybe there is no trick. Maybe if he actually--

When he said he didn't want anyone touching him they didn't touch him. They didn't ignore him and do what they wanted. They did as he wished. 

Maybe...maybe...

"I...I don't fully understand." Sam stammers, and his heart clenches when Steve gets that's that little heartbroken look on his face. And then he starts to panic because he said something wrong again--

"Hey, hey..." Bucky soothes, trying to quell Sam's fears before he becomes so panicked that he's unable to think, "No one is upset, no one is mad, doll. It's okay. It's okay."

His voice is soft and placating.

"We just...we're just sad that you're hurting." Bucky adds, a bit quieter, "That you feel afraid to ask for what you want."

Sam sniffles, curling up in his seat.

"We just...we want you to be comfortable, Sam. To feel safe. To ask for what you want. What you need. No one controls you." Steve adds, "We would never hurt you, and if we do something you don't like or that makes you uncomfortable, we...we would like you to tell us. Because we would feel awful if we did something that made you upset."

Sam balks. Because now he's really looking at them. He's really seeing them.

And they're heartbroken. He's hurting them. Him being hurt is hurting them too and that's...that's...

It hurts. Oh god it hurts so badly because even if he's in pain he never fathomed that he could be hurting someone else. Sam...Sam is hurting people. People he loves. And he knows he loves Steve and Bucky. This isn't like Krause, where he couldn't say it. He loves them. And he remembers loving them. That's one of the most tangible and real things about his life right now. That's something he can grip into with both hands and actually believe. Because he still feels it. Feels it all.

He loves them but he's hurting them because he won't tell them how he's hurting and what they can do to help.

Instead he's curled in on himself, licking wounds that ripped open the first day he was attacked.

All Sam can do is nod. The guilt wells up in his throat like bile, but he doesn't know what to do about it.

"Sam? Doll?" Bucky asks, voice small, "You okay?"

Sam wraps his arms tighter around himself, shrinking into the couch and biting his lip, trying to tamper down the thoughts that scream 'your fault' and 'you're breaking their hearts'--

Sam just sniffles, hugging himself tighter, like of he does so he can hold the half rotted strings of himself together and stop them from bursting open and revealing the walking wound he is underneath. And it's all too much, really. All he wants to do is curl up somewhere dark and warm and not have to look into the heartbroken faces of the people he's letting down. They want Sam to go back to how he was. They want the Sam who smiled and cracked jokes and could stand to do simple things like touch them and make love and kiss and be intimate and vulnerable.

Well, he is still vulnerable. Just in a more broken way.

He can never be what they miss. He can never be that again.

He'll never be Sam again. And not only has he lost his dignity, his body and his mind--

But he's lost them too.

He's lost himself. And is forced to live in a flesh and blood shell that he'll never be able to call his own again. To call home again. He'll never be comfortable or content or happy in his own skin again or in general--

"Sam?" Steve croaks out, his, voice cracking and eyes shattered. 

And Sam takes a shaky breath before he finally says something. And the thought is so raw and fresh and from his fucking aching heart because he can't do this--

"I should have died."

He doesn't know why he says it because clearly it won't Steve or Bucky feel any better, but it still makes his way out into the air, heavy and stinking like something rotten. 

But he means it.

He should have died. He should have taken the pills earlier and swallowed the entire bottle.

He should have died.

He wants to die.

Everything is so hard, he's so tired and Krause won't get out of his head--

'Fuck Sammy, your tongue...'

"S-Sam--" Bucky stammers, eyes wide and watery as his face crumbles, "you don't mean that."

Sam doesn't say anything. 

"Sam?" Steve asks, and his voice sounds so small and broken and they're both so small and broken and it's his fault--

"Sam, please." Steve says shakily eyes conveying naked hurt, "Please tell me you don't mean that."

Sam doesn't say anything. If he does he'll vomit or scream or cry. 

Because he does. He does mean it. Because he let those men take and take and take everything from him until he was all used up and had nothing else to give the people that love him. The people that he loves.

He let the devil between his legs and in bed with him. He got on his knees for him. He let him into his mouth and his head and his body.

Sam is something stained. Something dirty, soiled and wretched.

He should be dead. He should be dead and gone and not causing anyone any pain.

He should be dead because he can't say the word no. He should be dead because Steve is looking at him with that expression that he'll never forgive himself for putting on his face. He should be dead because Bucky is shaking and looks just like Steve does.

Sam gets up and walks back into the bedroom, ignoring their calls of his name, closing the door and burrowing under the blankets again.

He should be dead.

~

The next day is when it all continues to steadily decline.

They ask about it. But Sam doesn't talk about it. They call the doctors. Sam doesn't talk to them. The doctors pull Steve and Bucky to the side, and Sam knows that they're telling them that Sam is a lost cause. Ugly. Ruined.

Sam went from human to broken and brainless whore to pendulum.

He swings from hyper-awareness to complete and utter absent-mindedness, and he thinks that Steve and Bucky have been trying to talk to him throughout the day, but he can't remember what they've said. All he remembers clearly from that day is going to the bathroom and scratching deep, jagged and bloody grooves into his arms. 

He did it mindlessly. Like a robot.

The sleeves cover the blood.

Sam doesn't eat that day.

~

The next day he a bit more alert. He doesn't remember sleeping, but he wakes up, so logic dictates that's he must have fallen asleep at some point.

And now that he's in touch with his own mind again he wonders where Bucky and Steve have been sleeping, if he's been in the bed by himself for the past two days.

Sam pulls the sweatshirt over his hands and arms, making sure the gashes are covered. They stopped bleeding a while ago, but Sam doesn't doubt that the blood is caked there, not to mention under his nails. It hurts.

It's not bad though.

He considers staying in the bedroom until someone comes and gets him, but for some reason he's restless and anxious. The need to move is strong and he feels like his skin is buzzing.

The pendulum has swung the other way. He's a live wire.

Steve and Bucky have been sleeping on the couch. Sam stands there, looking at them curled up in spaces too small for them, and in a surprising twist of events, he finds himself angry.

Why won't they just...take what's theirs? There's two of them, and only one of him, why won't they take the bed back and make Sam sleep on the couch? It doesn't make any sense. And if they want sex why don't they just take it? Why won't they get mad at him and yell at him and tell him he's being over dramatic and stupid and to snap out of it? Why are they being soft and sweet and gentle when that's not what Sam deserves? Sam deserves to be yelled at and cursed out and made to feel as awful as he's been making them feel. Why won't they fucking realize that? Why won't they do something about it?

Sam silently fumes until they start to stir, and then he goes into the bathroom and scratches more rivets into his arms. He has no idea why he decided to do so. But it helps.

And Sam needs anything that helps.

~

"You two should sleep in the bed." Sam says.

Bucky nearly breaks his neck to snap and look at him, and Steve nearly drops his water because this is the first time Sam has spoken all day, and when Sam speaks these days it's not usually a request or a demand. And yet here he is, sitting at the table with them, pushing food around his plate and looking at them both, gaze even.

"What?" Steve stutters.

"You two should sleep in the bed." Sam repeats. And he's only saying so because he's somewhat of a walking corpse right now, unable to feel or connect. Dead.

Or, might as well be.

The pendulum has swung the other way yet again. He's only able to gather the courage to say this because his head has emptied and only apathy fills the space. He feels hollow.

Bucky just stares at him with wide eyes, "Sam, it's fine. The bed is yours..."

Sam looks at the food as he plays with it with his fork, "That doesn't make any sense."

Steve blanches, "It's fine, Sam. Really, we're fine--"

"It's stupid." Sam says, not looking up from his plate, "There's two of you and one of me. It doesn't make any sense."

"It makes sense to us." Bucky says cautiously.

"And what, you two are just going to sleep on the couch forever?" Sam asks dully.

"It's not a problem." Steve sputters, "It's okay..."

"No." Sam says, sounding as sad as he feels, "It's not."

Chapter Text

Sam's arms hurt.

So badly.

And they're taking a while longer than they should to stop bleeding, which he supposes is because his blood is still quite thin from the thinners he binged on.

He kind of wishes he would just bleed out. That has to be easier than having to see Steve and Bucky every day and know that he's about 99% of their problems. That he's making them upset. 

He can't stop himself from drawing blood from his skin when he's alone though. Something about it calms him. The pain draws him out of his mind, which is currently his enemy. It silences a part of him that's always screaming. That always hears Krause murmuring to him, or the guards hissing in his ear. The pain and the scratches and the blood slowly dull the voices, and it's the most relief Sam has had for a very long time. He'd do anything for some silence, though he's dimly aware that he has a doctor's appointment and checkup soon, mostly because he hears Dr. Walsh saying so to Steve and Bucky when they thought Sam wasn't listening. He usually isn't, but he heard that in one of his rare moments of complete and utter connection to the sights and sounds around him. He's been dipping in and out, lately.

The doctors come and speak to him, but he doesn't answer, and he knows that Steve and Bucky are worried and upset but he doesn't speak to them either. What can he say? That he's spending longer and longer looking at the knives in the kitchen? That he daydreams about walking into the bathroom and just gulping down every pill in the cabinet? That he's thought about walking outside and right into traffic? They won't like that.

His body is like a dead thing he carries, not something that he owns or has, so when the doctors ask how his body feels or how he feels when someone touches him, Sam has no answer. He knows he doesn't like it, but that doesn't matter. 

He wonders why Steve and Bucky are even trying. Sam is stuck with himself but Steve and Bucky could just ditch them and have each other. They have more history anyway, and it doesn't escape Sam that he's the odd one out in many respects. They whisper about him behind his back, and he knows he doesn't have any right to feel any way about it, but he knows they're drawing away from him. He knows he's pushing them away. He wishes they would get wise and leave before Sam hurts them further. They don't deserve this. Sam isn't worth it.

Sam isn't worth anything.

~

After a silent therapy session in which Sam merely stared past the doctors heads and didn't say a word, they sigh and pull Steve and Bucky aside, and Sam wonders where Jessica is and what she's doing. He isn't sure why that thought has popped into his head, but he's suddenly in want of her company. Steve and Bucky tiptoe around him and shoot him sad smiles, but Jessica...she just talks. And that's nice. She talks and makes fun of him and swears and drinks and Sam likes her.

"Sam?"

Dead eyes find Steve, Bucky and the doctors, all standing around him before they take their seats, around him but not close. Sam is immediately uncomfortable, being the center of attention, especially when they're all looking at him. 

He has no idea what's going on, but it's an intervention, he gathers. Sam hates this. He hates it so much. He hates everything so much.

"We've been observing you to see exactly what course of action we should take in regards to your recovery, Sam." Dr. Walsh says, voice kind and soft, "We only seek to help, but you won't talk to us, so we've had to go off your behavior alone."

Sam is silent. 

"So we're simply going to say a few phrases, and you can shake your head yes or no, alright? Just so we can get a better understanding of what's going on."

Sam blinks at her before the urge to obey capsizes any small amount of rebellion and will he's stockpiled and he nods.

'Do as you're told, Sammy...Just like that...'

"Excellent." she smiles, "All you have to do is nod or shake your head, okay?"

Sam nods.

"Are you uncomfortable with being touched?"

Sam nods. His body is barely his, he knows that, but it still doesn't change the fact that touching scares him. Badly.

"Do you feel comfortable saying 'no'?"

Sam knows his answer to that, but he still hesitates before he shakes his head.

"Do you feel like your body is your own?"

Sam shakes his head.

"Do you feel obligated to do things that you think people want you to?"

Nods.

"You're doing great, Sam." she smiles, "Have you been having flashbacks?"

Sam bites the inside of his cheek. Nods.

"Are you triggered often?"

Another nod.

"Do you feel comfortable being in close proximity to anyone?"

Sam has to think about that one. He sat close to Jessica with no problem, though the alcohol maybe has something to do with that, but he's also been close to Steve and Bucky, and been fine.

Sam nods.

"Do you have sensory flashbacks?" she asks, "Can you often hear or taste anything that isn't real, but instead a mimic of something that happened in the past?"

Sam's heart stutters. He nods.

"Have you ever self-harmed?"

Sam pauses, stomach plummeting. No. He...he can't tell them. They'll make him stop and this is the only thing that helps. It's the only think that works. And simultaneously Sam is struggling not to lie (Krause doesn't like liars) and to keep his latest coping method a secret.

"Sam?"

Sam realizes he's frozen, and as every second ticks by in silence, everyone around him looks more and more and more concerned. He's giving himself away. Steve and Bucky look afraid and sad and--

Sam shakes his head.

The doctor looks at him closely. He knows she doesn't believe him.

"This is a safe space." she says softly, and Sam wonders why she's trying so hard to help him at all, "Nothing you say here will get you in any sort of trouble, okay? Here, is safe."

Sam understands. He isn't stupid. And this isn't about being afraid of being punished, it's about the fact that Sam finally has a way to cope. Finally.

And he can't have that hindered or taken away from him, because if he says something, they'll tell him to stop doing it. And Sam will probably obey because he can't say no.

Sam doesn't know what to say in response though. What she's just said isn't something that can be answered with a nod or a shake of the head, but she notices this because then she asks again, eyes open and tone placating, "Have you ever self-harmed, Sam?"

Sam shakes his head.

She looks at him for a moment, then her eyes drop to Bucky's oversized hoodie that he wears. Then she gets that look that Bucky gets sometimes, her eyes getting soft and sad and Sam is tensing and ready to panicpanicpanic--

"Sam?"

Steve's voice is small and gentle, laced with sorrow and horror, and Sam feels something like anger well up inside him like blood from a wound. Why won't they just leave him alone? If he wants to cut and scratch and bleed then why is that their business? Why are they trying to take away the only thing that helps? Isn't he allowed to do what he wants now? Isn't allowed to do whatever he wants with his body? Isn't that what they've been telling him over and over again since he was rescued? Or does that only apply to some things but not others? It's confusing and complicated and doesn't make any sense.

The doctors look at each other (and Sam realizes he doesn't quite remember the blond woman's name) before back at Sam.

"Sam, if you're hurting yourself, you need to tell us, alright?" she asks, "I know you're uncomfortable and upset, but we don't want you to harm yourself in any way."

And Sam's mind is at war, one half of him fighting for independence and the free will to do whatever the fuck he pleases, and the other part--the splintered, cracked and bleeding part--feels the need to give in to what they want simply because they want it.

Sam doesn't know what to do. Thinking becomes so hard when one has been broken into several jagged pieces. 

He refuses to look at Steve and Bucky. He knows they look worried, horrified and heartbroken and small--

"Can we see your arms, Sam?" Dr. Walsh asks, as gentle as ever.

And that, that's what has Sam out of his seat and bolting away.

~

He ran and ran and ran and--

He doesn't know where he is, but he knows he's having a panic attack, and he's far enough that he can no longer hear Steve and Bucky or the doctors shouting his name or their footsteps running after him. He doesn't remember actually running, but he remembers being afraid.

Sam is always afraid, but this is terror. Pure, crisp terror. It's invades his senses, clouds his sight and his brain and he can't hear anything but the blood rushing in his ears as he gasps for breath, not out of physical exertion, but out of that same blind terror that had him eating blood thinners like they were candy.

Sam digs his fingers into his arms, the sharp sting giving him something to hang on to. Something to feel that he can control. He feels like a piece of dust in the wind, being carried along by breezes of fear but this...this helps. The only thing that helps. And it takes a while, but eventually he can recite the date. What state he's in. What his name is. What year he was born.

The world comes back bit by bit, and currently, the world looks like a staircase in Stark Tower. And Sam doesn't know what to do now. He knows he doesn't want to talk to doctors, and that he doesn't want to be questioned and ogled, but he has no idea where he can go that don't involve those things happening. He desperately wishes he could just go back and fall sleep to Steve and Bucky's hushed voices, wafting into the dark bedroom from the living room, but he can't.

He doesn't know where to go.

"Friday?" Sam asks, cringing because his voice is small and shaking and cracked, a lot like him, "D-do you know where Jessica is?"

"Ms. Jones resides on the thirty-third floor." The AI responds, "Would you like me to inform her that you are coming?"

"I g-guess."

Sam sniffles, thinking about it all for a moment. What if Steve and Bucky freaked her out? What if Sam's breakdowns freaked her out? 

What if she doesn't want to talk to him or be friends with him? And what if he's bothering her? 

He wouldn't want to be friends with himself either--

"Ms. Jones has just asked me to pass along a message." Friday says evenly, "I do apologize for my language, but Ms. Jones would like you to--and I quote--'get the fuck over here before I come looking for you'."

Sam blinks, surprised. He calms a little, knowing he'll have company and that she doesn't find him crazy or annoying--

"She seems rather urgent." Friday informs him, "May I suggest you get a move on, Mr. Wilson?"

Sam nods after a long moment, gathering himself before pulling the staircase door open and peeking out, thankful to find it empty. He would really rather not run into anyone, he can only take so much forced interaction in a day, and he learns that the elevator isn't anxiety inducing when he takes it bye himself. He watches the floor numbers rise in a comfortable daze until he's snapped out of it by a sharp 'ding' sound, and the doors opening.

He only has time to step out and look around the open living space that's not unlike the one he shares with Steve and Bucky before Jessica comes barrelling out of a room with a frantic, "I just got a lead on a case."

Sam's breath hitches in surprise.

"So we have to go back to Hell's Kitchen because that's where my camera and laptop is," she rambles, moving around the space like a whirlwind, "and then maybe investigate the victim's house if we have to and--oh yeah, you wanna help me solve a kidnapping?"

She's stopped in front of Sam, having thrown on her leather jacket and raised her eyebrows, smirking in invitation.

Sam takes a moment to process what she's just said.

"I'll buy the coffee." she adds, smirk widening as she ploys Sam with caffeine. Sam blinks at her for a moment, eyes wide.

And it only takes about half a second, but for Sam it feels like his brain has short circuited for a while as he tries to wrap his mind about what she's asking. He hasn't been outside of the tower at all since he got back, and for some reason, now the idea of the city sounds somewhat appealing. He was never allowed to walk around without Krause, and sure as hell not in a crowded city. He was never allowed to go anywhere. And suddenly Sam will be walking around a city--which Krause would never allow--and wearing the black sweatshirt, jeans and boots Krause would never want him wearing. Sam thinks he likes the sound of that.

A kidnapping. Someone is missing. Like he was. And that's terrifying.

If he can help someone...he'd like that.

"Okay."

Jessica grins before she's pulling him along, running down the case as they enter the elevator. And Jessica is pretty much a punch in the face, personality wise, but for some reason that doesn't startle or scare, Sam. It doesn't set him on edge.

"Okay so, babysitter picks up the kid from school at 3 pm, right?" Jessica starts as they make their way out of the lobby, "And she's supposed to keep the kid entertained until 4, when her parents come back from work. But, the babysitter is seeing this guy, and neither she or the kid make it back to the kid's parents." 

"Did the boyfriend have something to do with it?" Sam asks quietly, still mentally preparing himself for the fact that he's going to be outside and brushing shoulders with thousands of people who will be sharing the street with him.

He feels like he should be more afraid, but it's hard to feel afraid or even think of doing so with Jessica distracting him.

"I think so." Jessica agrees, sticking her hands in her pockets, "He's missing too, and he has has a history of petty crime and drug abuse. He's a dealer. She is too, and c'mon, both of them are dealers and go missing at the same time? Along with this kid?" 

Sam thinks for a moment as the elevator descends, "Where were they last seen?" 

"That's the funny part." she says, "She uploaded a picture to facebook at 3:45 the day they disappeared. They're in a building, but I have no idea which one, so we'll have to figure it out by the background." 

They step out of the elevator and make their way through the lobby, Friday bidding them goodbye as they approach the door. Sam holds his breath-- 

And then he's in the sunshine.

He feels the rays on his face first, and he's almost surprised because he hasn't felt it for so long. And the air is cool and not circulated like in the tower, and suddenly there are people and sounds and it's overwhelming but not entirely bad. Just...a lot.

"You okay?" Jessica asks, looking serious.

At least it's the right weather for the sweatshirt he's wearing. 

Sam takes a breath and clenches his jaw, taking a moment but making sure to answer before Jessica drags him back inside.

"Yeah--yeah I'm okay." Sam breathes, flinching when someone walks too close and then looking somewhat embarrassed about it.

"Hey." Jessica says, nudging him, "You're going to flinch and cringe and you'll feel like a psycho, but remember that one, very few people will ever catch it and two, you'll get used to the hustle and bustle again and you'll be flinching less and less. I...I was doing that too. Still do, sometimes." 

"How long did it take to go away?" Sam asks, trying to make himself small as they walk so as not to brush up against anyone. He doesn't look at anyone's faces. He knows if he sees a feature that looks like--

"Hm, a few weeks." She says, making sure to stick close to him, "But like I said, I still freak out sometimes. You just...have to remember that this--the panic and the hysterical fear--isn't forever. Plus," she smirks, "I have super strength and speed. And I can fly--sort of. Well, it's more...guided falling, but the point is that you're safe from the weirdos, promise." 

And that along with the sunshine makes Sam smile, no matter how small and shaky. 

~

"Okay so," Jessica starts, pulling up a chair for Sam at her laptop, "Here's the picture she uploaded."

Sam can't remember spending a lot of time in Hell's Kitchen. Not for any particular reason, he just...hasn't. And Jessica's apartment-slash-office is missing a window (which, when Sam asked, she just looked off into the distance and said it was a long story) and is littered with whiskey bottles and books and papers--

Sam likes it. It's very...Jessica.

And while he feels maybe a bit better being out and about with her, he's still thankful that they didn't have to take any public transportation to get back to Alias Investigations. Sam isn't sure how well that would go over. He's barely used to being outside, much less crammed into a train car or bus with a lot of other people so close.

They took a taxi. And now that Sam thinks about it, Jessica might have arranged the cab on purpose. 

So he's here, curled up in a chair and peering at a bright laptop screen, looking at a clue. The picture is clear, and of who Sam assumes is the babysitter, smiling and cheek-to-cheek with a little Japanese girl, who Sam assumes she's babysitting. He and Jessica sit shoulder to shoulder, trying to find anyth--

"Wait." Sam murmurs, looking closer. Jessica looks at him, waiting for him to explain.

"Look at that." Sam says, pointing to a corner of the picture, right by the girl's shoulder, "I think...that looks like one of those gold jukeboxes at the St. Regis Hotel. Tony had us stay there when we visited from D.C before the tower was finished."

"Shit, you sure?" Jessica asks, visibly impressed.

Sam nods, "Pretty sure, yeah. That's the wallpaper, too. I remember. It's ugly." Jessica snorts.

He's surprised he remembers that at all. It's such an oddly specific thing and yet it's like a beacon. He remembers

Jessica grins before grabbing her camera and her bag, pulling Sam out of his seat, "Come on, Sherlock. We have a kid to find."

~

Sam is definitely sure that Jessica is purposely taking taxis now. 

No New Yorker lets three buses go by without even looking in that direction.

But still, it's nice that someone is considering his comfort. He really didn't expect that from anyone other than Steve and Bucky.

The discomfort comes back a bit when he walks through the doors of the hotel. It doesn't look like the one Krause kept him in in Germany, but it's still something enough to make his skin crawl a bit. Jessica does all the talking, asking the staff if they've seen anyone, showing them the pictures of the child and the sitter that the parents provided, and they all look at the pair oddly (which Jessica doesn't take too well, seeing as she starts glaring at them when they stare) before saying they haven't seen them. Sam isn't surprised. These people don't seem to be on planet earth anyway, and are probably too wrapped up in themselves to notice anyone else.

But Sam spots someone who is obviously the janitor, off to the side and pushed to the corner, holding a broom and looking at them curiously. He doesn't blend into the gold and rich reds of the lobby, and neither do Sam and Jessica, and maybe that's why Sam does what he does next.

He's feeling oddly courageous today. He hopes it lasts.

That, and he remembers that small child is missing, and if he can help then...

He approaches the man, trying to smile reassuringly. He isn't sure how he pulls it off, but he thinks he does it right because the man relaxes.

"Hello," Sam says, "sorry to bother you, but have you seen a blonde girl and another--smaller--girl--about five or six--around here in last few days?" 

Sam's heart pounds, and he thinks his hands are shaking because he's out of the tower and talking to people and--

"The little one--" the man says, in a thick accent, brows furrowing, "Asian? With the blond?"

Sam nods, "Yes that's them, have you seen them?"

The man looks at Sam for a moment, and Sam fidgets until the janitor says, "I remember them. The baby was running around the lobby. They left with a tall boy."

Sam assumes this is the boyfriend.

"Can you describe him?" Sam asks, hoping he doesn't sound as nervous as he feels.

"He was very blond. Like the girl." the janitor says, "Skinny. He had a long scar on his arm. I saw it. He said something about Union Square."

Sam nods before he gathers up his courage one last time and asks, "Do you remember anything else?"

The man shakes his head, "No, sorry."

"It's okay." Sam says, managing another smile, "You've helped a lot, thank you."

Sam--trembling and in slight awe of himself--turns and spots Jessica snipping back and forth with one of the bellhops. Sam comes up next to her before nudging her, like she did to him earlier.

"Hm?" she hums, turning away from the annoyed staff member.

"I think I know where to go next." Sam says.

~

Union Square is pretty empty, for a Thursday.

And because it's empty, it doesn't take Jessica long to ask each stoner looking kid if they know where Gigi and her boyfriend are. Sam, exhausted from the sudden social interaction with the janitor, stays where she's left him by the benches. He watches as she weasels information out of them, and judging by her smug expression when she walks back to him, she got something they can use.

"They have a few hideouts and locations." she says, handing Sam her phone, "You can get anything from these kids if you act like you're looking for someone to score from."

Sam looks at the phone.

It's a list of addresses, all of them in Brooklyn.

"If they're here..." Sam starts, looking at her.

"Then the kid is there too." she finishes before she nudges him and starts walking, "C'mon Wilson, I still owe you that coffee."

~

The first three hide-outs are a bust.

Jessica kicks the door right off the hinges--coffee in hand--and Sam jumps a foot in the air, heart pounding. But the fear is...different. He was merely startled. That's it. There's no struggling to breathe or disassociation. He simply jumps, realizes what it is, and then is too occupied with peeking in the door and looking at the random junkies strewn about--high and looking at them with glazed eyes--to be frightened or panic.

Well, he is still frightened and ready to panic at the drop of a hat, but he likes to think that the underlying terror that thrums in his veins doesn't count due to it always being there no matter the situation. 

And all throughout the day is sprinkled with Sam thinking that Krause would hate everything he's doing right now, and everything he did today. So that makes this one of the best days Sam as had in a while. If not the best.

By the third stop Sam's finished his coffee and isn't surprised by Jessica's methods of gaining entrance into these places, so he merely keeps his eyes open tries to stay alert.

A kid is missing. He has to focus. To help her.

Jessica finds him and shakes her head, and then they're at a rundown old building that Sam is sure that no one is ever supposed to be in.

On to the fourth address, then.

"Just a warning." she says darkly, looking at the building, littered in broken glass from shattered windows and graffiti, "I am most definitely going to beat the shit out of both of them when we find them. Just a warning."

"I don't blame you." Sam says quietly. 

Sam nearly trips twice on cinder-blocks, and Jessica smirks both times until Sam rolls his eyes at her. 

The lobby is mess of fallen, rotted wood and plaster and marble, not to mention the dust and dirt and the smell--

"Jesus." Jessica grumbles, one hand over her nose and mouth, "Yeah. I'm going to beat the shit out of them. Who the fuck brings a kid to a place like this? Who takes a kid in the first place?"

Sam follows her down decrepit hallways, and notices that most of the doors are gone. He can see inside the abandoned rooms, furniture rotted or torn apart. Sam wonders what happened here. He looks around, minding his step, all thoughts of Krause and pain and violation gone and replaced by new sights and smells and curiosity, if only for a moment.

"Look." Jessica whispers, pointing to the end of the hallway, moving toward it with Sam behind her, "The only door in this place."

Sam looks where she points, and then everywhere else. And yeah, she's right. This is the only door on the hinges, closed. They stay quiet, and the place is silent save for the fly that keeps crashing into the window to their right, and Jessica presses her ear to the door for a moment, trying to listen.

Sam's heart pounds and he tries not breathe. Like it'll distract her.

Jessica looks at Sam, and he knows they're in there. Then her face twists in anger and she kicks in the door.

A lot happens at once. Or maybe it's just that Sam is still a bit fragile, but it feels like everything happens at once. There's a scream then the door flies off it's hinges--along with a cloud of dust--and then there's a male voice shouting something Sam can't quite catch and when he looks in the room, startled a more than a little afraid, that familiar panic rising up his throat and starting to overtake him and turn him into a live wire of anxiety and fearfearfear--

But the there's also crying.

Baby crying. It's not coming from where Jessica is, but instead from another part of the abandoned apartment. It's high and hysterical and so sad. Sam doesn't think. Partially because he's already so afraid that his mind has disconnected from his body. He doesn't hesitate long enough to panic about everything, even though he feels like the fear is choking him anyway. He shakily steps into the apartment, trying to hear over the yelling and the sounds of his own heart thudding in his ears or the short gasps of his breath, taking steps to where he thinks the wails are coming from, before he rounds a corner and finds her, in an room just as decrepit as the rest of the building.

She's in her school dress and crying her eyes out, face and clothes smeared with dirt and dust, the braid her hair was in coming loose. She's so small and scared.

Sam's first instinct is to take a few steps closer before he sits on the floor not too far from her, cross-legged and trying to catch his breath long enough to talk. He can't help her if he's in the middle of a panic attack. At least, he doesn't think he can, but his panic attack is in full swing and he's probably going to have to just work around it and do his best.

"H-hi." he says, trying to breathe and stay calm despite the fact that he's shaking like a leaf, "I'm Sam."

The girl sniffles in surprise, like she's just now realizing Sam is there. Sam tries to keep the fact that he's struggling to breathe or think to himself, and tries to hide it as well as he can so as not to alarm her.

She looks at him for a moment before she waves sadly, bottom lip trembling as she wipes tears off her chubby cheeks with her other hand, "I'm Grace."

"Very n-nice to meet you, Grace." Sam says, trembling but trying to smile, and he hopes he gets it right, "We're here to..." he trails off, losing his breath and blacking out for half a second, a flash of pure darkness before his eyes before it thankfully goes away, "...take you back to your parents."

She sniffles again, but lights up, "Really?"

"Y-yeah." Sam says, and he's not ready for the little girl to barrel into his arms with a sob and wrap her arms around his neck, crying quietly into his shirt, but she does anyway, and Sam tampers down the blind panic at the sudden contact as much as he can in order to pick her up and frantically get them both out of the apartment and into the hallway. He almost trips, trying to get away from the noise and because he almost blacks out again, but they make it out safely, and Sam listens to the little girl sniffle into his neck, clearly relieved but still very much afraid.

"It's okay." Sam says, trying to breathe and comfort her at the same time, "You're safe now. W-we'll get you back to your parents okay?"

She sniffles and nods.

They wait there until it all goes silent, and Sam feels her relax when the sounds of the commotion stops. Sam tries to relax too, and tries to remind himself that he's fine. They're all fine. They're okay. Everything is okay. 

Jessica exits the room with a grim expression and bloody knuckles.

~

The girl's mothers cry.

But not like how Sam cries, out of sorrow and frustration. Self loathing.

They're crying out of happiness. Relief. Love.

They hug their little girl, pressing kisses to her and not caring how dusty she is.

Sam actually smiles as he watches the family reunite at Alias Investigations. He's still reeling from the earlier hysteria, and he doesn't quite remember everything that happened, but it's nice to watch them being so happy, and one of Grace's mothers hugging Jessica (who Sam can see looks both touched and awkward in the embrace) before moving to Sam.

He remembers this because his body tenses in fear, still reeling from a panic attack from no more than an hour ago. But Jessica puts a hand on the woman's shoulder, stopping her.

"He isn't really a fan of hugs." she tells her, and the woman nods before giving Sam a sincere, "Thank you so, so much."

Sam gives her as a warm a smile as he can muster. "You're welcome."

They speak to Jessica a bit more, holding their daughter, and he notices that again Jessica derails all conversation they try to send Sam's why back onto herself so Sam doesn't have to talk.

By the time they leave it's almost midnight. Grace waves to him over her mother's shoulder as they leave. Sam waves back.

~

They don't go back to the tower that night. It wasn't a conscious decision, it's just they're both exhausted from running all over the city, and Sam is still recovering from everything that's happened to day. He thinks he would be mulling the day over in his mind and wondering what it all means if he had the energy to do so.. But he can't, he's too sleepy.

"What do you think happened?" Sam asks, half asleep, "With the babysitter?"

They're in her living room now, Jessica pretty much face down on the rug, groaning about how tired she is, and Sam on her couch, trying not to fall asleep, which is a game he thinks he's losing.

Her voice is slightly muffled by the rug, and Sam manages a light smirk because she really doesn't seem intent on getting up.

"Idiot babysitter picks kid up from school, stops to see boyfriend with said kid, said boyfriend convinces idiot babysitter to get high, they both forget there's a kid with them. and then we show up, you save the kid and I beat the shit out of them both." she says sleepily, "It's a proper Disney movie."

Sam doesn't remember falling asleep.

Chapter Text

Sam wakes up in an unfamiliar place and panics.

It hits him like a train and it grips his body along with his lungs, wringing any breath out of him and leaving a curled up and gasping mess on Jessica's couch. And by the time she's woken up and taken him by the shoulders Sam's vision has gone spotty and the ringing in his head is louder than anything he could ever hear in the moment. 

And then the horror show begins.

He's seeing every single corpse, every single person he witnessed die when he was with Krause flash behind his eyelids rapidly and on loop. And maybe Sam is crying, but he can't tell, he's just seeing the head of the man he saw Krause--

A sharp pain in his hand brings him back. It's so abrupt and so jarring that he feels like he has whiplash and motion sickness at the same time. He feels nauseous. But Jessica is yawning in front of him, asking if he wants coffee like she didn't just see him go completely psycho. It takes a moment for him to realize she pinched him.

Sam takes in gulps of air and tries to go with it, nodding.

And that's why they're both standing in her kitchen at 11 am, sipping coffee in rumpled, second-day clothes.

"Wanna go back to the tower?" she asks, eyeing him over her mug, brows raised.

Sam fidgets, slightly ashamed that his first and immediate response isn't 'yes'. He hopes Steve and Bucky are enjoying the peace without him. Sam causes them a lot of trouble, he knows that.

Sam shrugs, "I...don't know. And I-I feel bad that I don't know."

He wonders if that makes any sense. Jessica nods like it does.

"I don't think I'll be there for much longer." she says, thoughtful and quiet, "I don't think I'm a good fit."

Sam knows what she means, and he's not about to ask her to stay for him, so he just nods.

"I...yeah, I understand."

~

She does go back to the tower with Sam though, even if she isn't sure how long she'll stay.

And Sam thankfully has been able to disconnect and drift on the way, so he isn't torturing himself with the fact that soon he'll see Steve and Bucky again, and have to explain. He's able to drift, and Jessica dozes, a friendly silence between them.

She gets off at her floor and looks back with a, "See ya, Sherlock. I'll come find you when we have our next case. If ya need to chill with someone as nuts as you you know where to find me.", and Sam isn't sure whether he responds or not, but then he's alone in the elevator, nearing their floor.

He doesn't remember opening the door or stepping in, but suddenly he's standing in their kitchen with no memory of having walked there, and Steve is behind him, sounding broken and worried as Bucky stumbles out of the bedroom and to the scene they make.

Sam doesn't turn around. He just stares at the cabinets, full of plates and mugs-- 

"Sam? Sam, talk to me, please." Steve says shakily, and Bucky sounds wrecked when he says, "Are you okay? We were...were really worried--" 

And maybe it could be the fact that he's still recovering from the panic attack earlier or the fact that his cherished disassociation is ebbing away but there's a sudden lump in his throat and his chest feels like someone is squeezing both his lungs and his heart and twisting--

'You'll learn that it's not that bad to be mine, Sam.'

And then everything slams into him at once. The fact that he was abducted and made into a awful, dirty mess, the fact that he watched people die and could do nothing to stop it. The fact that people violated him to the point where he doesn't know which way is up. Sam is constantly drowning in the smells and sensations of being hurt, over and over again, and he's standing there in their kitchen, shaking with his back to the people who love him because he can't do it. He can't do any of it, and while yesterday with Jessica was nice, he still very much wants to be dead. Because the world isn't for him anymore. The tower isn't for him anymore. Steve and Bucky have still been taken away from him because Sam isn't strong enough to keep them. Because yeah, people know he's broken, but they don't really know. They don't fully understand what he feels and sees and smells and remembers. They don't know the half of the story, and yet, Sam can't muster the strength to tell them. The self-loathing threatens to capsize what little calm and logical reason he has left, and he hates himself so much that he can't even breathe. A lot like crushing dried out, brittle flowers in your hands, Sam is crumbling, falling away like dull and lifeless flakes of petals that were once velvety soft and vibrant. 

'On your knees, Sammy.'

The fact that they felt like they could take him and ruin him like this makes him hate himself even more. He should have fought harder, and he should have been tougher or threw a few more punches. All the anger is directed inwards, and even that makes him angry because he's too fucked up to even blame the proper parties. His head is a scrambled mess of feelings that he doesn't know how to sort out, and every thought is about Krause, or the guards or how he's worrying Steve and Bucky to death. How they would be better off and happier without him. How he's a cancer that's destroying all three of them, bit by bit. But also how he doesn't know how to stop doing so. And suddenly he has to answer questions and make his own decisions and try not to fall apart when it's hard enough to get out of bed in the morning. He has to be a functioning human again but he doesn't know how. Or if he can. Or if he's even human at all. He can't even eat. He chokes on every breath he forces his reluctant lungs to take, and his body hates him for making it go on when it wants to die, while his mind screams that giving up is the only logical step at this point. How there's nothing for him here. How he's a burden.

'You were made for me, Sam. You're mouth was made to take me and your body was made to take me. And your mine. You're better than any girl, Sammy. Pretty, slim with those eyes and that mouth.'

Steve and Bucky are dying inside, because of him. They're spending their days worried and depressed because Sam spreads unhappiness like some airborne virus. They aren't enjoying their time together because Sam is a tarnished shell of a former human and needs to be coddled because he can't get it together and stop being so selfish. Steve and Bucky somehow beat the odds. They somehow found each other when it should have been impossible. They both ended up in a future in which they are both men out of time, and they outsmarted fate and ended up side by side yet again. And they should be enjoying that, not letting Sam ruin it. Letting him taint it. Sam doesn't belong. He doesn't belong and he doesn't deserve this. He doesn't deserve their help or their love and how can they even look at him?

'You're so good at this. Laying under me looking gorgeous. How did they ever let you fight and put yourself in danger? This is what you were made for. Beautiful.'

How can they even touch him or stand to be in his presence when no matter what Sam knows he always smells like sex and murder and like the men that have pinned him down and fucked him. How can they even stand to think about him, knowing that he's so used and disgusting? Sam is so tired. He's so tired of being helpless and hopeless and afraid and it all bears down on him like he's being weighed down with steel bricks. He's so used up. Empty. Only able to retain and generate random amounts of hate, fear and depression in odd quantities that keep him from being consistent in his moods.

'You're the prettiest little thing I've ever seen, Sammy. Your eyes, your lips...so pretty for me. And you're mine.'

And that's when Sam snaps, and suddenly he's screaming something he can't make out while ceramic plates and mugs are breaking into jagged shards under his hands. He thinks he's crying, but he can't tell because he's too busy trying to say something, something or anything he's been aching to say and relieve some of the suffocating fear and terror that has had him choking ever since the first unwanted touch was pressed against his skin, since the first life he was forced to watch was snuffed out. He feels someone grab him, and all he does is wrench himself away roughly like he's trying to deny all comfort because he doesn't deserve it he doesn't deserve anything he's so soiled and so ugly--

'Oh, my dear. You weren't made to fight. You were made for this. Too pretty and delicate to be on a battlefield. You should be here, in someone's bed, waiting. Waiting all pretty and ready to open your mouth or your legs for whoever is clever and strong enough to catch you and make you theirs.'

And he is crying, he is. He's sobbing his heart out and his eyes are clenched shut as he throws anything he can, just needing to feel something breaking in his hands. Something that isn't him. He needs to feel something breaking--shattering under his hands so maybe he can push away the taste of everyone who forced their way into his mouth--

'No, no tears, Sammy.'

He can't hear Steve and Bucky trying to soothe him, tears running down their faces as they watch Sam break apart, and he can't see how they try to approach him. How they try to grab him because Sam's hands are bleeding and his nose is too and his health is already so precarious that it adds an extra layer to the horror of the blood and the fact that he is clearly hurting himself. And Bucky steps past a shaky and sniffling Steve who looks at Sam in utter loss and helplessness, still trying to restrain him. Bucky merely locks his arms around a crying, bloody and struggling Sam, and as soon as he feels himself pulled to Bucky's chest he sags, all fight gone and all hysteria channelled into crying as their legs collapse in grief that has been weighing them down for too long, sending them into a broken pair twisted together on the kitchen floor, surrounded by shattered ceramic. Bucky holds Sam and tears stream down his cheeks as he clenches his eyes shut and tries to think through the desolation and despair, holding Sam as he sobs, his voice cracked and the very definition of desperation. Hopelessness.

Sam doesn't flinch out of his grip, in fact he buries himself further into Bucky's embrace desperate for relief that he thinks maybe physical comfort will provide. 

Steve joins them, shuffling in close as Sam continues to cry, letting his bone-deep anguish into the air, and Steve wipes as the tears on his face trying to calm down because he has to be strong for them all--

'Last night you were laying under me. You stayed still for me and you made no noise and didn't push me off. You let me. You cried silently and I wiped your tears. So let's not forget that you're not as resistant to me as you'd like to believe.'

"I feel like I'm bleeding out in the middle of a crowd," Sam chokes out, voice small, shaky, desperate and cracked as he sobs out the words that break their hearts "and no one can see me dying." 

Bucky bites his lip, holding in tears as he gathers Sam closer.

Steve can only shove his face in his hands, grabbing at his hair and trying not to give away how much this hurts. How agonizing it is to have to watch Sam in so much pain with nothing he can do. To watch Sam die inside over and over and over again--

Steve wonders if this is what sorrow feels like. 

~

Sam doesn't know if he'll ever stop crying.

But he's laying in his side on the bed, Bucky sitting cross-legged on the floor facing him and holding his hand as Steve moves around the room, placing a cup of water on the nightstand and arranging blankets.

Bucky's face is red, so are his eyes, and Sam can only guess how he looks. Steve wiped away the blood from his hands and his face, and it looked like a lot. So Sam probably looks like a horror show. Not like he cares. His hand has been bandaged (Steve again) and he lays there as Bucky hold Sam's hand in his. 

Every breath is a struggle. Sam is so tired of struggling.

Sam feels tears soak the pillow case under his face and he sniffles, opening his eyes for a moment.

"It hurts, Bucky." Sam whispers, cracked and broken and small. So vulnerable with his soul crumbling in his hands. "It hurts so bad."

Bucky's heart stutters and he kisses Sam's hand, trying to press all his love, comfort and adoration into the little bit of Sam's skin he can touch.

"I know, doll." Bucky says gently, "I know. But we're here, and we'll do anything you need us to. You're so strong and brave, Sam. We'll do anything we have to to get you through this. We promise you won't hurt forever."

Sam wants to tell him he's not strong enough. That as soon as he stands he's pushed back down and pinned there with no way out.

Steve sits next to Bucky, trying to give Sam a reassuring smile. He just looks devastated.

"We're gonna find a way to make it all okay, Sam." Steve says quietly and sincerely, "You aren't alone, and we love you so much."

Sam wishes they would stop loving him and kick him to the curb like they should have done a week ago.

"You shouldn't." Sam whispers, closing his eyes, "You really shouldn't."

"Well, that's a bit too bad." Steve says, soft voice laced with determination, "Because we do love you, and we'll never stop loving you." 

"Gonna have to get used to it, doll." Bucky adds, kissing Sam's hand again, and that actually gets a small, sad huff of a laugh out of him. Sam can feel them both brightening at that. 

All Sam can think is that they're dooming themselves by tethering themselves to him. Sam's a sinking ship, and they shouldn't have to be pulled into the terrors of the sea along with him. They don't deserve that.

"You're going to be really disappointed." Sam tells them sadly, after a moment, "I'm n-not the Sam you love anymore. The Sam you saw screaming, crying and throwing dishes...t-that's me, now." 

"And we love him too." Bucky says, sounding absolute, "So much." 

"You shouldn't." Sam whispers.

"But we do." Steve says, voice soft but definitive, "And we couldn't stop if we tried." 

Sam sniffles before he croaks a slightly hysterical, "I'm used. And...disgusting."

Bucky's breath hitches in something like fear and anger but his voice is soft when he says, "You're not disgusting, Sam. You never could be. Hydra is disgusting, those men are disgusting, not you. You're not used, Sam. You're a person, not a kleenex. And what happened to you has no bearing on your value or your worth, you're just as beautiful, brave and lovely as you always were. So please don't think you're any less, because you're not. I promise you that."

Sam laughs, small and humorless as more tears stain the pillow, "If only you knew the half of it...you would never say that. You'd leave."

"Then tell us." Steve says softly, "But don't think it'll change the fact that we love you, and you're worth everything and that we'll do anything to make sure you're okay, and that we're not going anywhere." 

Sam sniffles again, tired, red eyes looking at their faces, before he tells them about the guards in the grey room, when he refused Krause the first time. He feels like he has no more life left in him, so it's easy to say the words. To tell them everything.

He still keeps his eyes closed though, so he doesn't have to see their faces and stomach the guilt of how he's hurting them. A some point, as he speaks, Bucky presses his lips to Sam's hand, like a perpetual kiss to get him through what he has to say. To get him through talking about the pain, the blood, the semen, the bruises...how they took turns.

He thinks he feels the tears on Bucky's cheeks, but he isn't sure. 

When Sam stops talking he can only hear their breathing and his own sniffles. And that was only part of it. The rest is worse, but Sam doesn't continue because he doesn't know if the three of them can handle all of that today. They're barely functional as it is. 

"Sam?" Steve asks, voice shaky and thick with sadness, "Can I...can I hug you? Is it okay? If you say no, it's perfectly fine."

But Sam realizes after a moment that he doesn't want to say no. Something about everything that's happened has reinforced the idea that they do love him. Even if he's still hesitant to fully believe it he still believes it more than he did before, when he was holding everything back and shrinking away so they wouldn't see the ugliness underneath. The chaos under his skin.

But they've seen a glimmer of it, and they're still here. They're still asking him if they can touch him and telling him that their feelings for him haven't changed.

And that makes something in his head flip back on. That ever present part of him that sees Steve and Bucky is powered up again and immediately whispers 'safe'.

So Sam sniffles and nods, sitting up and holding his arms out to Steve, looking for comfort and protection that now he fully understands come from them. Both of them. And strong arms wrap around him like Sam's worth something, like Sam's worth everything, and Steve pulls Sam against his chest. Sam sniffles and curls up against Steve for a moment, just enjoying the comfort and safety before he reaches toward Bucky as well, where he sits on the floor, watching them and smiling softly.

And then Bucky is there too, and they open their hurt, broken-hearted little circle to him, huddled together. And Sam knows this doesn't mean that everything is all better, that they can hug him and he'll be healed. He knows that even after this, he might not even be able to stand touch again for a while, and that he'll be just as volatile and disgusted with himself as he has been. But this feels like an improvement, and he doesn't care if it's small. For now it's enough. A very small glimmer of light that Sam gets to hold. And it may be fleeting, but he lets two pairs of arms hold him and press kisses to his cheeks, and for the moment, is unafraid. Safe. Loved.

And that's how Sam falls asleep.

~

Tony finds it on Saturday.

Friday doesn't require too much fine tuning, but Rhodey is gone for a few hours and Tony is fiddling with her response time when he stumbles upon a few lines of code he doesn't recognize. He isolates it and runs it, and then struggles to breathe for forty minutes.

And that's how Rhodey finds him, sitting next to DUM-e, chest heaving and hands numb and shaking.

Rhodey is at his side a breakneck speed, holding his arms and instructing him to breathe, grounding him with his voice and his hands, clearly worried out of his mind but trying to keep it all tampered down for his partner's sake.

"What happened?" Rhodey asks, one hand on Tony's neck and the other on his chest, making sure he's breathing. 

And Tony doesn't hesitate because he tells Rhodey everything and because Rhodey is Rhodey and he won't leave or think he's--

"It was Friday." he says shakily, eyes wide and guilty, "Hydra found out we were coming for Sam because Friday was infected with a bot when I had her check security cameras a-and they knew exactly when we we're headed to Germany and when to move Sam. And-and the explosion at the hotel. Because of Friday. Because of me." 

Tony dry heaves, guilt slamming into him because Sam was missing for an extra two whole months because Tony is an idiot-- 

"Hey, hey. Breathe, Tony." Rhodey soothes, a hand running through Tony's hair, "C'mon, follow me, okay? In, one, two, three. Out, four, five, six..." 

It takes ten minutes for him to get his breathing under control, and Tony is always tired after his attacks but this time he's also miserable.

"C'mon," Rhodey says softly, "back to bed. We'll figure all this out later, okay? Let's just...let's get you fully calmed down first." 

~

Sam wakes up in bed on his side covered in blankets with Bucky back on the floor, leaning against the bed and holding his hand. Steve is in a chair, breathing softly, asleep with his elbow on the armrest and his head in his hand.

It takes a moment for him to realize Bucky is asleep too. He guesses they moved so that when he woke up he wouldn't feel trapped and then panic. He probably would have, now that he thinks about it. He lays there, blinking slowly in the dimness, Bucky's hand in his. Sam just lays there and breathes.

It's like they know he's awake, because Sam is only looking at the wall for about ten minutes until Steve stirs, eyes blinking open and catching Sam's immediately. He smiles, soft and sweet, "Hey Sam."

"Hi." Sam says quietly, voice still hoarse from screaming and crying not too long ago, "S-sorry about the mess in the kitchen. I can--"

"No, no." Steve says softly, "I got it. It's okay, Sam. You don't have to apologize for anything." 

Sam isn't sure that's true, but he drops it. Bucky blinks awake, probably from the sound of their voices and he brushes his hair out of his face, yawning big and dramatic. Steve rolls his eyes and lazily kicks at Bucky's leg, "Classy, Buck."

"Shut up." Bucky grins, before leaning back on the side of the bed, looking over his shoulder as Sam, "Hey doll, you okay?"

Sam thinks for a moment.

"Yeah." Sam says, still a bit sleepy, "I...have a headache, though."

Probably from being a crying mess all day. Most likely.

"I'll get you something for that." Steve says, standing and stretching, "Would you like to have something to eat? It's just...you haven't today..."

"Okay." Sam says, rubbing his eye, "Thank you."

Steve tells him not to thank him, and it's obvious he's happy that Sam is even eating. And Sam is somewhat surprised too, but he finds that he's too tired to overthink it. And he is hungry. And Sam didn't realize how much blood he lost, or how much more physical recovering he'll have to do until he tries to get up. His head swims and Bucky steadies him, eyes wide in concern as he asks if he can touch him. Sam nods, and Bucky is careful as he makes sure that Sam is no longer bleeding. 

"The doctor said your blood is still pretty thin." Bucky murmurs, checking his bandages, "So we have to make sure you don't start bleeding again. Do you feel weak?"

Sam nods. He does. Bucky is the only thing holding him up right now. He's also still a bit tired. Well, more than a bit.

Then he realizes that Bucky's touch feels nice. He missed it. So Sam enjoys his touch while he can tolerate, because in a few minutes or hours he could be so afraid again that he can't stand the thought of it. So Sam is just happy that he's in an emotional lull. 

"Okay. We'll get you something to eat and see how you feel then." Bucky says, a had reverently brushing Sam's cheek, "C'mon, I'm gonna take you outside okay? Is that alright?"

Sam nods, but he still isn't fully prepared for Bucky to pick him up and carry him to the outside couch. Sam could almost fall asleep again like this, his head on Bucky's chest. His eyes slip shut, and after a moment the movement of Bucky walking changes and Sam feels himself land on what he realizes is the couch. Bucky sits down next to him, and Sam opens his eyes just in time to see Bucky wind an arm around his shoulders. And Sam surprises himself when he cuddles closer, further into Bucky's side as he lays his head back on his chest.

Sam closes his eyes again, and doesn't see Bucky's grin, or Steve's soft, lovesick and happy expression when he sees them both.

Then Sam isn't sure whether he's fallen asleep or not, it's more of the deep lull of dozing with Bucky's arm around him, but suddenly hears their voices, soft and quiet--nonthreatening and gentle--piercing through the light unconsciousness. It takes his sleepy brain a minute or two to process the fact that they're trying to wake him up. He catches Bucky's soft, "Hey, doll. DInner's here.", before he is finally able to regain enough consciousness to open his eyes. Sam takes a breath, blinking a few times.

He really doesn't want to move. This is more comfortable than he's been in a while. He might never feel this safe again, and he's loathe to do anything that could shatter it.

Sam catches sight of Steve first, the blond giving him a slow, soft smile as Sam reluctantly wakes up. It takes a moment for him to realize he's setting up takeout containers. That familiar overwhelmed feeling bubbles up in his chest a little bit. It looks like a lot.

He sits up, and Bucky looks somewhat disappointing at the loss of Sam laying on him, but he helps Steve put the food on the coffee table before he pauses, his face lighting up before he asks Sam, "Wanna watch a movie?"

Steve freezes, eyes going wide and panicked, "I-I'm not sure about that, Buck. It's been quite a day..."

Sam knows what he really means.

'Sam has been through a lot today.'

And he guesses he's not wrong, but Bucky's suggestion doesn't automatically make him upset or afraid. It's just...something to consider.

"Nothing heavy." Bucky shrugs, looking between them both, "Maybe a Disney movie, or something. Low volume. Just to unwind."

And that actually sounds...nice. Krause didn't let him watch any movies. 

"I'd like that." Sam says, looking between them both, trying not to give away how his heart is pounding because he's unused to making decisions and it's still daunting. A part of him feels like he's doing something forbidden--something wrong that he'll be punished for--whenever he decides something for himself.

"You sure, Sam?" Steve asks, eyes filled with concern. Sam nods.

Another decision. Another tally mark on the metaphorical 'Sam Wilson's agency' chart.

Bucky smirks at Steve, triumphant.

~
They end up watching Alice in Wonderland.

Disney's cartoon version was what was initially picked but--unbeknownst to Sam--Steve nudged Bucky and asked him to switch to the recent live action one, due to the cartoon one being a bit trippy, chaotic and too-bright--color-wise--and his fears about freaking Sam out.

The food is nice, and Sam eats his noodles slowly, trying to adjust to eating food he actually likes, which he hasn't done in a while. The movie is low, and the living room is dim but Sam can still see where everyone is at all times, along with the exits. He feels bad for feeling like he can't sit in the dark with Steve and Bucky, but he just...he can't. He needs to know where everyone is.

Sam has no idea what's going on in the movie, but the imagery is soothing and the colors aren't jarring. The volume is quiet and he he doesn't have to panic about too much going on at once.

And at some point he eats about 1/4 of his noodles--not much, but all he could manage--and Bucky looks at him in question, raising his arm and offering Sam his place nestled into his side. Sam takes it. He lays his head on Bucky's chest, watches as the scene on the television changes before reaching a hand out to Steve.

The blond smiles, soft and happy before joining them.

Sam falls asleep.

~

But of course, the calm doesn't last.

Chapter Text

Sam wakes up on the couch, this time.

He's laying on his side with a blanket carefully tucked around him, facing the back of the couch with this back to the rest of the room. Sound and sensation come to him little by little, and it's still a surprise waking up every day without that familiar pain radiating from between his legs, but he thinks he's getting used to it.

Sam is comfortable and really doesn't want to move, but he isn't sure how comfortable he is with having his back to everything. He likes to see whats going on. Plus there's a distantly familiar sound of irregular tapping. His sluggish mind tries to grasp onto why it's familiar and what it could be, but he's at a loss until he sleepily maneuvers himself to face the rest of the room and is faced with Bucky, frowning with messy hair, on the other couch with a video game controller in hand.

Something in his brain clicks. He...remembers this. Bucky used to do this all the time. Play video games when he felt detached from his robotic arm--when it felt like something foreign attached to his body--because the fact that video games required him to coordinate actions with his flesh arm eventually helped him mentally accept the prosthetic again.

"Hey, doll."

Bucky's voice is wilted, and Sam blinks at him, concern coloring his gaze. He...he didn't know that Bucky was still struggling with this. He's been so awful and horrible and horrendously selfish--

"Hi." Sam says, "Are you okay?"

Bucky smiles at him and nods, "Yeah, just...woke up feeling...anyway, it's pretty much gone now, now I just need to beat this level."

"Oh." Sam sniffles quietly, "Okay. A-are you sure?"

Bucky gives him a warm, fond look, "Yeah, doll. I'm sure. You okay?" 

Sam thinks about that for a moment. He takes in the room, Bucky grinning in pajama pants, shirtless and cross legged playing video games, the sun streaming in through the big windows and the very distant sight of Steve making something in the kitchen, still in his pajamas as well. By all accounts, he should be fine. So he guesses he...is?

"Yeah." Sam answers, "I-I think so."

Bucky smiles, "Really happy to hear that, doll." 

Sam lays there watching Bucky for a while, dozing--veering in and out of consciousness, lulled by the sound of Bucky's fingers tapping the buttons on the controller--and he blearily opens his eyes to Steve kneeling in front of him, eyes soft and smile wide.

"Hey," he asks, "how did you sleep?"

Sam sniffles and burrows himself further under the blanket, "Fine."

Steve smiles, "You hungry? I made breakfast."

Sam thinks for a moment, still waking up and getting his bearings, "A little."

They eat breakfast in the living room while Steve and Bucky fight over the controller.

~

At noon Bucky and Steve look at each other like they're trying to decide on something before they turn to Sam. Bucky shifts where he sits on the couch, and Steve is biting his lip and Sam...Sam's stomach is bottoming out.

And as soon as that happens the anxiety sparks up like red, hot flames behind his eyes. The thoughts start.

What if he did something wrong?

What if they're mad?

What if they don't like him anymore?

What if they think he's disgusting?

"Sam?" Bucky says, voice soft and jarring Sam out of his panicked thoughts, "Do you think you can handle seeing the doctor today?"

Sam blinks, heart still racing but mind reeling to a stop.

"It's just..." Bucky pauses, trying to find the right words while Sam feels awful that Bucky has to try so hard around him, "you lost a lot of blood yesterday, and you were a bit tired and weak. So...uhm, do you think we could bring you down there? Just to make sure you're alright?"

That is...not what Sam was expecting. At all. His first instinct is to to try and exercise his right to say no, but he thinks for a moment. He doesn't want to worry them, and he is still feeling the effects of yesterday, but he really doesn't want to be in that hospital room again. It's too...it reminds him of the first few days after...after...Krause and it's far too close to being associated with Krause and he knows it's ridiculous but he just can't seem to shake it. He's torn. He wants to put their minds at ease, but he...he just can't go back--

"We can have the doctor come up here, if you want." Steve offers quickly, like the idea just came to him (it did), "So there's no need to...complicate anything."

Sam knows what that means.

So there's no need to make Sam uncomfortable.

He hates that they have to tiptoe around him, and go through so much just to make sure he's somewhat okay--

"It's not a problem, Sam." Steve says, looking him in the eye, "You're getting that look on your face. Please don't feel like you're a burden because you aren't." 

Sam pauses, his brain not quite knowing what to say in response. Sam just slowly nods, still feeling a bit shaky and mildly upset. Steve looks at him and bites his lip again, looking almost shy when he asks, "Is it okay if I hug you right now?" 

And something in Sam freezes at the idea of physical contact, and he feels so bad that he even has to think about it, but he is quiet for a moment, brows furrowed in thought as he looks at his lap.  

A hug would mean Steve's body on him, and Sam is already jumpy and not really comfortable right now but--

hand holding. Steve could hold his hand. Sam would like that.

Comfort and touch, but not too much.

Sam looks at him and gathers a few bits of shaky courage before he says, "I would like it if you held my hand." 

Steve's smile is brighter than Sam's request is worth, but it's nice, and Steve slowly comes to his side and takes his hand, grinning at Sam.

And it's...it's nice. Steve's hand is warm and still says 'I'm here' without Sam feeling afraid.

Bucky beams at them both.

~

Then it goes to shit like Sam--in the back of his mind--knew it would.

The doctor is the same older, kind-looking man from before, but even with Steve and Bucky close (basically hovering) Sam still feels like a caged bird when he gets close. And he keeps it together as the doctor shines the small light in his eyes to check the dilation of his pupils, but breath is getting hard to come by, and his heart is pounding and Sam can't feel his fingers due to the numbness of the fast approaching terror because no he's too close he's too close--

The doctor frowns at Sam's reactions and takes his pulse. But the thing is that he has to press his fingers to the inside of Sam's wrist to do that. And as soon as that happens Sam's fear explodes in a shockwave of crying and trying to get away because don'ttouchmedon'ttouchmedon't--

"Sam? It's okay. We're here and no one is going to hurt you. Sam? Can you hear me?" 

Steve. It's Steve. Steve is here. Steve is safe.

So why can't he stop hyperventilating? And why haven't the black spots blocking bits of his vision gone away? Why is he only hearing blood rushing in his head? He feels someone holding him steady though he's not connected enough to know exactly what he's doing and in his mind he thinks the arms around him feel like Bucky, but his body is very intent on not cooperating until he feels a sharp little prick in his neck and he feels his heart rate slow. And he knows it's only Bucky, Steve and the doctor, but the irrational, wounded and terrified part of him has been set alight and no amount of logic in the moment will put out the fire. But whatever it is still slows his body, even if it doesn't change the fact that Sam is still very much afraid.

"Sam? Doll?" 

Bucky. In his ear, voice soft with arms around his waist as he holds him steady while the doctor does...something Sam can't be aware of right now.

"It's okay, doll." Bucky says, "It's just a mind sedative so you don't pass out, okay? We're here and you're safe. You're safe."

Sam just sniffles, but some part of his brain quiets. It's Bucky. Bucky is safe. He won't hurt him. He...he won't let anyone hurt him. 

Sam drifts, leaning against Bucky's chest and sending his mind somewhere else as the doctor works then talks to Steve while Bucky gets Sam comfortable on the couch.

When the disassociation lets him go and Sam comes back to himself (albeit hours later) he apologizes. It's the first thing he does. He knows they won't accept it but he still says it, feeling like he has to because he feels like he did something wrong. He's always doing everything wrong--

"Sam, it's perfectly fine." Steve soothes, "No one is upset and we all understand. It's okay. It's all okay."

"Hey." Bucky says, looking serious, "Remember when I just got back?" 

Sam thinks for a moment, and nods.

"Remember the nightmares and the breakdowns and the mess I was?" 

Another nod.

"It's okay, Sam." Bucky tells him, "It's okay to be a mess, god knows we all are." 

Sam considers that, and yeah, he does remember. And he remembers that even through the nightmares and flashbacks and screaming that he never loved Bucky any less. He remembers just feeling awful that Bucky was hurting. Maybe...maybe it's the same thing with him.

A small, nasty part of his brain volunteers the fact that Bucky was never used over and over and over again like Sam was, thus he isn't dirty and soiled and that makes all the difference. Sam doesn't know whether to listen to that voice or not. 

Sam nods, not wanting to think about it. His head hurts. 

"What did the doctor say?" Sam asks quietly, and he isn't sure why he does because it's not like he cares. Not really.

Steve is obviously hesitant to tell him, afraid of piling too much on him in one day.

"You...might be due for a plasma transfusion soon." Steve says carefully, eyeing Sam to gauge whether the information becomes too much, "Until then, a lot of vitamin k to help thicken your blood and keeping the stress to a minimum." 

Sam could laugh. Keep the stress to a minimum? Has the doctor even met them?

"We also have to be on the lookout for bruises or any bleeding." Steve finishes, "But it'll be okay, Sam." 

The thing is, when it comes to his body Sam isn't sure whether he even cares.

~

He sleeps for the rest of the day, exhausted from it all.

When Steve makes sure that Sam is asleep he pulls Bucky aside.

"We need to calm him down long enough to talk to Dr. Walsh." the blond says somewhat desperately, "We don't know what we're doing. What if we're hurting him?"

Bucky takes a steadying breath, "I'm not sure if that's such a great idea."

"Bucky--"

"He doesn't want to talk to them." Bucky says, "And I understand. I...don't think their methods are working."

"He needs help we can't provide, Buck." Steve says, sounding frantic.

"He was gang raped, Steve. Probably multiple times." Bucky deadpans, "And then kept as a toy for some sick fuck who raped him repeatedly for six months and shoved his brain in a blender. I don't think talking about it is going to help."

Bucky's words make the blood drain from Steve's face. It's not like he forgot what Sam went through--he never could, the guilt and horror is ever present--it's just that hearing it in such plain, raw terms is horrifying. Steve is sick all over again.

"Then what do you suggest we do?" Steve grits out.

"I don't fucking know, Steve." Bucky snaps, running his hands through his hair in frustration, "Let him kill the bastard?" 

"Bucky!" 

"That would make me feel better!" 

"Buck!" 

"It would!" Bucky shrugs, "And we're going to kill him anyway--" 

 Steve takes a breath, "Violence isn't what Sam needs. He...we can't scare him, Buck. He's so afraid already."

"Then what do you suggest?" 

"I already told you." 

Bucky groans, "These doctors don't get it, Steve. They don't understand." 

"But Sam is opening up, at least a little." Steve replies, "Maybe that's all they need to work with so they can help him." 

"And if they fuck it up it could undo everything he's achieved these past two days and maybe cause more damage. We could lose him again." Bucky urges.

"Helen swore by her." the blond says, "And I trust Dr. Cho's judgement of character, Buck. She really seemed to think she could help." 

Bucky sighs, weighing the arguments before he grumbles, "Okay. Fine. But only because I trust you." 

~

Sam--deep down--knew he would end up here again. On this couch looking at Dr. Walsh. It's just her this time, and Sam distantly wonders why, but ultimately doesn't care enough to ask.

"My associate isn't with me today," she starts, "because I feel that her methods are not of any benefit to you. So, we'll do it my way." 

Sam doesn't know what that means.

"I really want to help you, Sam." she says, "But I can't do that if you don't talk to me."

Sam fidgets, feeling like a germ under a telescope. He knows she's right, it's just that keeping his mouth shut is easier, and he doesn't want to relive anything, or talk about it.

"Therapy is not to make you uncomfortable," she adds, "it's so you can speak to someone who you feel has no relation to you. So you can get things off your chest and talk to a neutral party who is simply there to listen." 

Sam looks at his hands, "I don't like remembering it." 

She brightens slightly. That's the first time he's spoken during one of his sessions for a while.

"Well, from the questions you answered the other day it seems like you're remembering it anyway." she says, giving him an apologetic look.

Sam is silent. She sighs.

"Okay, let's start with this." she says conversationally, "How do you feel about your body?" 

Sam clams up and it must be obvious because she sees it and quickly says, "There is nothing you can say that I haven't heard before, Sam." 

And it's a simple statement but it...does something. Sam thinks for a moment and just realizes he's tired. He wants everything to be over.

He gives in.

"It's not mine." he says sullenly.

She nods like that makes the most sense in the world, "If it's not yours, whose is it?"

Sam shrugs.

"The men that you were with?" 

Sam's heart stutters in fear at the mention of them, but he just nods, looking down. 

She nods, "I would like to ask you a question." she starts, crossing her legs and looking at him expectantly, "Who put on your shoes this morning?" 

That's not what Sam was expecting, and he looks at her in confusion.

"You heard me correctly." she smiles, "Who put on your shoes this morning?"

"Uhm," Sam blinks, "No one."

"So it was you."

"Yeah."

"I have another question for you." she replies, "Who brushed your teeth?"

Sam's brows furrow, "No one."

"So you did it by yourself."

"Yeah."

"Another question." she responds, "Who picked out those black jeans for you to wear?"

"I did."

"And who put that sweatshirt on you?"

"Bucky."

(He did, and it felt nice being able to have him close and laughing as he playfully pulled the sweater over Sam's head, even if was for a few seconds before Sam felt antsy again.)

She laughs at that, giving him an amused look, "Okay, that's fair. Different question then. Who put your food in your mouth this morning?"

Sam blinks owlishly, "No one."

"So you fed yourself."

Sam gives her a somewhat offended look, "Of course."

He can at least do that, he's not that messed up.

"Hm, interesting." she hums, nodding, "So, we've established that you feed and clothe yourself."

Sam nods, completely lost.

"And that you brush your own teeth." she adds, looking at him with raised eyebrows.

Sam nods again, no less confused.

"Hm, that's very interesting because..." she makes a thoughtful face, "that sounds like your body is yours. Like it belongs to you." 

Sam pauses.

"Well, you take care of it," she shrugs, "and you are the one feeding and clothing it so...by the sound of it...it seems like your body is your own, huh?"

Oh. Sam blinks. She tricked him.

And Sam has no idea what to say because logically, she's right and he has no counterarguments or anything to refute that.

"We'll start small," she says, "today I want you to do something with your body that you like to do. It could be exercise, or going for a walk, hell even sleeping. Just do something you like and try to be conscious of your body as you do so, think about how you're controlling it. It's a small step, but it will help, I promise."

Sam isn't fully sure.

~

He does it anyway.

That little voice that timidly convinces him he has to do what what he's told makes it so he doesn't ignore her request for long, and when Steve and Bucky reappear after his session and ask if he's okay Sam tells them the truth. It went alright, and he talked a little. Then he asks to watch a movie. He doesn't know why that's the first thing he thinks of, but he remembers that he liked watching a movie last time. And she wanted him to do something he liked. It makes sense in his head, and Steve and Bucky brighten at the fact that Sam is showing initiative in wanting to do anything, and that he's asking for things.

The comfort of last time has him asking for the same movie again, but they don't seem to care that they're watching the same movie twice. Sam's glad they're not annoyed, it's just that the colors are darker and muted and something about that helps. He sees the cover of the DVD. It's a Tim Burton movie. Figures.

And Steve beams when Sam asks if he could lean on him, and he asks Bucky to join them because Sam is feeling okay today, and he wants to take advantage of it while it lasts. Because it could all spiral downward in a second. It really doesn't take much to trigger him. Or turn a comfortable moment into an awful one.

And he forces his mind to consider his body and what it's doing. How his head rests on Steve's chest or how Bucky is pressed to his other side. He considers his breathing, the beating of his heart and every single movement.

He does this for the rest of the day, and when he takes a shower he thinks about how he's doing what he's doing. How he's moving his arms and legs.

He doesn't know how he feels by the end, it's a mix of hyper-awareness and feeling every little thing like the brush of his sleeve against the inside of his wrist. Things like that. Sam doesn't think there's an emotion to pin to it, so when Bucky asks how he's feeling he doesn't quite know what to say.

"I don't know."

Bucky gives him a small smile and nods, "That's fair."

Steve just watches their interaction and leans on the counter, looking fond. The thought that at different times he could have lost them both flashes across his mind, and he's just very, very grateful that he didn't.

~

Sam has a panic attack that night when he wakes up and everything is darkdarkdark and horrible things happen in the dark and nighttime is when--

"Sam? Hey, hey...you're safe," Steve soothes, and Sam is just thrilled that he's not crying this time, "we're here, you're safe."

Bucky turns on the lamp, and the light illuminates the room and their concerned faces paired with messy hair and he woke them up because he's an idiot--

"Whatever you're thinking," Bucky says, "it's not true. I know that look, Sam. Can you breathe with me? I'm going to come a little closer, but I won't touch you, I promise--" Sam nods and Bucky kneels so Sam can see him better, "watch my chest. Breathe with me, okay?"

Sam nods, heart pounding.

"C'mon. In 1...2...3...4...5," he says gently, "out...5...4...3...2...1."

It takes embarrassingly long, but Sam is eventually able to stop hyperventilating and actually think. He considers saying sorry for waking them up, and he doesn't think that'll go over very well. But, because his brain is completely fucked and scrambled he can't help the apologies.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you up. I'm really sorry. S--"

And he's doing that flailing thing he did when they came to get him from the bar with Jessica and he's sure he looks just as psycho now as he did then.

"Sam...Sam." Steve appears, carrying a glass of water and looking at him like...that. Sam really wishes he wasn't putting that heartbroken look on their faces so often.

"You don't need to apologize. It's not necessary. At all." Steve says, sounding unbearably sad, "We love you and we're here to help you. You're not a burden. You never will be."

Sam doesn't believe that because of course he is--

"Sam, do you hear me?" Steve asks, moving to catch his eye, and he looks him dead in the eye when he slowly repeats, "You are not a burden." 

He doesn't know what to do with that information, so he subconsciously just makes the decision to do nothing at all, and he just blinks at Steve. Steve, who looks so sad because he knows that Sam doesn't believe him.

"Do you wanna go back to sleep?" Bucky asks, and Sam nods. And soon they softly bid him goodnight again, and the room is dark and Sam's eyes are slipping shut.

The water remains on the nightstand, untouched.

Chapter Text

"He's a therapy animal, now." Natasha says over the line, sounding extremely proud of the fluffy white dog, "He got his certification. Top of his class. I feel like a proud mother."

Steve actually laughs. It's been a long time since he's done that.

"Thanks Nat, I just...I don't know if seeing the dog would help." he confesses, "It might remind him of..." he trails off with a sigh.

"Yeah, I get it." she says, "Just...think about it. It could be good for him."

"Or it could be horrible for him." Steve counters.

She laughs humorlessly, "Well, if it is I'll keep him. I could use a therapy dog."

Steve smiles, nodding even though he knows she can't see it.

"Steve..." her voice is quiet and careful, "How is he?"

And Steve sighs and feels like a complete failure because he wants to say that Sam is okay. That's he's healing and fine and that he's helping him heal. That Bucky is helping him heal.

"He's...made tiny improvements but--" he takes shaky breath, "I...I don't know if Buck and I are helping him or--"

"Well, being mopey won't help him." Natasha says, and Steve can hear her smirking, "And he's going to see you being a sad sack and feel worse."

"Yeah, I think I'm starting to get that."

"Well, tell me if there's anything I can do to help him. I...I want to see him," she says in a rare moment of worry and vulnerability, "but I don't want to complicate things further--"

"You know that's not what he'll think when he sees you." Steve says firmly, "He loves you, Nat. We all do. Come on by if you want to."

She laughs, and Steve doesn't mention the fact that it sounds a bit watery, and that she sniffles after, "Don't go soft on me, Rogers."

~

Sam wakes up feeling like death. 

It's so odd how some days he wakes up completely numb and neutral and how others...everything hits him at once and he doesn't want to exist. It's like he's extra tired today, and he doesn't know why. It's just...it's awful.

His days do only range from 'not-that-bad' to 'fucking-horrendous' though, so he guesses he shouldn't be so surprised. He feels like his skin is too tight and like he's dirty and he's convinced that he smells like sex. And how blond guard smelled. He feels like he just got out of bed with Krause, like he's there all over again.

By 2pm Sam has excused himself to go to the bathroom and scratch more wounds into his arms, while reopening the old ones. He's not sure if the pain helps, but it's an attempt to feel better, even though he knows that Steve and Bucky are looking at him out of the corner of their eyes when he comes back. 

By 3pm Sam is biting the inside of his cheeks until they bleed, just trying to keep...something--a scream, maybe?--in his throat. The effort is draining. And Sam thought he was tired before.

By 3:40 Sam is in the bathroom again washing his hands over and over and over and over--

He can't stop because everything on him smells like sex and violation and Krause and the guards and their come and their spit and their breath theirbodiestheirhandstouchingtouchingtouchinggrabbing-- 

He can still taste them, all of them. And he can see every corpse in a montage of horror behind his eyelids--

Sam doesn't notice that Bucky has frantically taken his hands from under the faucet and wrapped them in a towel until he's sitting on the bathroom floor with Bucky kneeling in from of him panicking because...because...

Why is Bucky panicking?

Sam looks down and figures it's because his hands are currently a red, peeling, bleeding mess. The wounds aren't big, but Sam's blood still isn't nearly as thick as it's supposed to be, so the redness runs free and stains the towel and Sam is honestly a bit confused. His hands also really hurt. 

"What--"

"Dammit, Sam." Bucky snaps as he panics, grabbing antiseptic and new bandages, while Steve moves behind him, just as frantic and on the phone with the doctor, "Fuck." 

Sam doesn't know what happened. Not really.  A huge gap in time is missing, he just knows that Bucky and Steve are upset. He did...something.

"What happened?" he asks, brain crawling to try and piece it all together.

Bucky glances at him, frustrated and scared, "You don't remember?"

Sam jumps, fear cutting through the numb haze. He shakes his head.

"You were...the water was scalding hot." Bucky says, looking at him obviously slightly angry but trying to tamper it down, "You were scratching at your hands under burning water for almost an hour, Sam!"

Steve paces, frantically talking on the phone but when he hears Bucky's voice rise he whips around and glares at him, "Don't fucking yell at him! That's not helping." 

Bucky clenches his jaw, rubbing a hand down his face. And he looks...tired. Sam feels panic rise in his throat because that's all because of him--

"Sorry--" Sam starts, voice shaky.

Bucky cuts him off and his shoulders sag as he takes Sam's hands--still wrapped in the towel and bandages--in his own as he wearily sighs, "Please, stop saying sorry."

He looks so worn down and Steve is still frantically pacing and shooting Sam concerned looks and Sam doesn't know what to do. How does he fix this? How can he make them not angry anymore? He causes them so much trouble and stress. He isn't worth it.

"I'm not--not mad at you." Bucky says, sounding tired, "I'm not, I'm upset that you're hurt. I was scared, but I shouldn't have snapped at you. I'm sorry, doll." 

Sam doesn't want to accept the apology. Not because he's holding a grudge, but because he doesn't deserve Bucky's apologies. Bucky has every right to be upset with him, and he had every right to snap and yell at him. Sam is...infuriating, and he knows it. And he knows he's tiring to be around and deal with. He's only surprised this didn't happen earlier.

Of course, he doesn't say any of that. Bucky would just be more upset.

So instead he just says, "It's okay."

And Bucky grimaces before he replies, "It's not, but I know what you mean."

Steve stops pacing for a moment and takes the phone away from his ear, appearing at the door looking no less stressed, "Is his blood clotting?"

Bucky checks before breathing a sigh of relief, "Yeah. It is." 

Steve closes his eyes for a moment, shoulders sagging as the tension leaves his body. Then he's back on the phone again, pacing back and forth, glancing at Sam every so often. Sam knows that if he apologizes or do anything of the sort he'll just be annoying them, but he feels awful. So, so awful. For this. For everything. Their dis-ease and discomfort is his fault. It's all his fault. And while he wants to stop worrying them and making them upset and afraid he just...he's self destructing. He torn between thinking he can't help it to scolding himself because he's being such a fucking baby--

"So, the good news is that because your blood is clotting, you'll be fine." Steve sighs, trying to give Sam a shaky smile, "The doctor said to just bandage you up and let you heal on your own, just so we don't further complicate your body's blood situation." 

Sam looks at the floor. 

"It's all okay, Sam." Steve says, and he sounds both firm and comforting when he says, "Hey, can you look at me?" 

It takes a moment, but he does.

"It's all okay." Steve says again, looking him in the eye.

Sam just nods. He doesn't trust himself to speak right now, because if he opens his mouth he'll either start apologizing again or he's going to cry. Neither of which is something he wants to add to the situation. He's fucked up enough for one day.

And with that, Sam blinks, realizing he's so very tired, and asks if he can sleep. He just...he needs to not be conscious. He hates himself so much he has to sleep because if he stays awake any longer he'll do something so much worse than blister his hands. Something he can't undo.

He burrows in the blankets, pulling them over his head childishly as he listens to them walk out of the room. Then he lets the exhaustion take him under.

~

Steve grabs Bucky by the hand and drags him into one of their separate, empty rooms that they've yet to utilize. The floors of Avengers tower are huge, far more space than they'll ever need, but Steve figures they could use one of the many empty rooms after all, seeing as they ordered an extra bed for he and Bucky to sleep in, and they'll need a separate bedroom now.

This room however, is an empty one, and Steve closes the door before his jaw clenches and he grits out, "Friday, soundproof this room, please. And tell us if Sam wakes up?"

"Of course, Captain."

Bucky clenches his jaw, knowing exactly what's coming and already frustrated. Something in the room's walls shift and then Steve immediately turns on him.

"What the hell was that?" 

"That was frustration." Bucky deadpans, "And fear."

"You yelled at him!" Steve shouts.

"Oh fucking bite me, Steve!" Bucky snaps, voice rising, "You didn't see what he was doing! He wouldn't stop and he was fucking trying to tear his skin off--"

"And snapping at him is supposed to fix it?" Steve counters, anger rolling off of him in waves, "And okay, I wasn't there. That's fair, but I wouldn't have yelled at him--" 

Bucky snorts, "Oh, so now we're comparing how good we are for Sam." he hisses, "Is that what we're doing? Measuring who's better for him?" 

Steve's eyes harden, "Don't start that." he spits, "This isn't about us--!" 

"Really? Because you just made it about how you would have been better--" 

"Because I would have!" Steve yells, "When you care about someone you don't--" 

Bucky takes a step back in shock, enraged and clenching his fists, "So I don't care about Sam? Is that what you're saying?" 

"I'm not saying that--" 

"Because Steve, you've fucked up too!" Bucky screams, "You're not perfect, Captain. You've fucked up as well and you don't see me yelling at you about it--"

"I'm trying to keep us all together!" Steve screams back, "I'm trying to keep us all from falling apart--"

"And I'm not?" Bucky asks in disbelief, "Your self-righteousness is on a whole other level, Stevie." 

"And you're hot-headed and brash." the blond spits, "I'm trying to keep both you and Sam from--" 

Bucky laughs, and it's a humorless, sharp sound, "So you're just the martyr trying to keep us crazies in line, huh?" 

Steve throws his hands up in the air, like he's praying for lightning to strike him, "That's not what I'm saying!"

"Why won't you just--" 

"If you would listen to me--" 

"--stop being so fucking high and mighty--" 

"--you would get what I'm saying--" 

Neither of them finish their thoughts because it's like they both realize that this argument isn't going anywhere. It's not solving anything or helping anybody and--

"This isn't helping Sam." Bucky says softly after a moment of the abrupt silence hanging heavy in the air. Steve nods and sighs heavily, rubbing his hands down his face. They're both exhausted and scared and wound up so tight that of course they would snap at some point.

And they're both like puppets with their strings cut. There's no more anger or fight left in either of them. And they aren't even really angry at each other, they're just...tired. And stressed. Which is nothing compared to what Sam is feeling. That puts their entire petty argument in perspective for them both.

"I'm sorry." Bucky murmurs, "I didn't mean to yell at you, or Sam...I just....I'm really sorry." 

Because now he's looking at Steve and seeing the stress on his face and the tension in his body as he tries to hold it together for Sam. For Bucky too. And for himself. Steve turns to look at Bucky, really look at him, taking in his messy hair and dark circles under his eyes--

"I'm really sorry too. I was a jerk, I didn't mean it when I implied you didn't care. I...I didn't mean it." Steve sighs, "Sorry, Buck." 

They stand there for a long time, like they're trying to gather themselves before facing it all again. Like that room is a middle ground where they can dust themselves off before facing the world. They can't fall apart in front of Sam, he doesn't deserve that, he's been through so much already and is already in pain, and they don't doubt that he already feels guilty and like a burden. They can't give him any reason to believe it.

So they stand there and compose themselves, then Steve sighs and pulls Bucky into a tight embrace that the brunet reciprocates with just as much vigor because they love each other and they shouldn't be fighting, or tearing each other down. Not now. Hopefully not ever, but certainly not now.

~

"You have new bandages on your hands."

Dr. Walsh says this with a light air of casual conversation, but Sam's stomach still flips. It's childish and far too late--she's already seen them--but he pulls his sleeves to cover his hands before he folds his arm and looks at the floor. 

"What happened?" she asks.

Sam doesn't answer for a long moment, but eventually he just mumbles, "I burned them. I didn't mean to."

"How did that happen?"

"I...I don't know. I didn't feel right so I went into the bathroom and--" Sam's brows furrow as he tries to piece the puzzle pieces of lost time together, "--I guess I was scrubbing at my hands under hot water for a long time." 

"How long?" 

"Bucky said that I was in there for almost an hour."

"Hm," she hums, nodding, "You said you didn't feel right. Can you elaborate?" 

Sam doesn't answer for a while, but when he does he says, "I smelled like them. And I...was having sensory flashbacks." 

"Ah." she nods, looking at him carefully, "I know that this is difficult to talk about and I can see you getting uncomfortable, so I'm going to switch to nonverbal answers, okay? Just nod or shake your head. That's all you have to do." 

Sam relaxes slightly, grateful he won't have to say more. He couldn't take it.

"I don't mean to make you uncomfortable, Sam. These questions are just so I know how bad it is, alright? Just...try to answer honestly."

Sam nods.

"Are tasting them, sometimes?" she asks, "Traces of them?" 

Sam clams up and shrinks into the couch. It's a good thing he doesn't have to say anything because if he had to open his mouth he would definitely gag--

'Open up, Sammy...' 

Sam tenses so suddenly that his muscles start to hurt almost immediately because of how tight he's wound--

He nods.

"It's okay, Sam. You're safe." she says, looking him in the eye, "It's just me. You're safe." 

Sam takes a breath through his nose and nods again, though he looks away.

"Okay." she nods, "Are you feeling them? Touching you?" 

Sam nods.

It's easier to do this if he doesn't have to look at her. Or anyone.

"Do you feel multiple attacks at the same time?" 

Another nod.

"Do you feel like you carry some sign of what's happened? Like people can see?" 

He nods.

"Are you smelling them, sometimes?" 

Another nod.

"Are you hearing their voices?" 

Nod.

"Do you know what they did was wrong?" 

Nod.

"Do you know that it wasn't your fault?" 

Sam hesitates, brows furrowing because that doesn't...make sense. If he would have--

"Sam?" she asks gently, "Do you know that it wasn't your fault?"

He...he doesn't know what to say. What's the right answer?  

Sam shrugs. 

"Sam." she says, trying to get his full attention, "Hey, look at me, please?" 

It takes a long moment, and he really, really doesn't want to, but he eventually looks at her. She looks him right in the eyes, and her face has gone firm in a way that makes him a bit nervous.

"What happened is not your fault." she says firmly, "There is nothing you could have done to prevent it. This isn't on you. This is on them." 

Sam blinks at her.

"None of this is your fault." 

That's not...that's not true. If he would have fought harder or--

"I know what you're thinking because it's what everyone thinks." she tells him, "That if you would have been smarter or stronger or quicker, that this wouldn't have happened. You aren't the first one to think that, Sam. Everyone thinks that, and it's not your fault. You are not to blame for anything that's happened, do you understand?" 

Sam thinks that over for a moment, and he doesn't know if that makes him feel any better. Because it's a toss up between thinking that what happened is something that was unavoidable and destined, or thinking that he could have changed it. Sam doesn't know how to feel.

But he nods, because he guesses a part of him does believe it wasn't his fault. He doesn't know how big or strong that part is, but it's there.

"I have another challenge for you," she says, smiling lightly, "I want you to continue being conscious of your body, like I told you on Monday. But in addition I want you to do two things: every day, at twenty minute intervals, I want you to take maybe two seconds to tell yourself that it wasn't your fault. I just want you to say it, or think it. Anything that makes you feel comfortable. It'll also force you to consider the time, and hopefully reduce your blackouts."

He doesn't really know how that's going to help, because thinking something and believing it are two different things, but he just nods. 

"And the next thing--don't get all awkward on me about this, okay?--I want you to touch yourself." 

Sam's face heats up almost immediately. What? 

She can't help it, she giggles at his reaction, "You heard me. You need to get reacquainted with yourself again, Sam. Go as slow or as fast as you want, but I think it'll help." 

Sam is sure his face is on fire, but she  huffs a laugh at his expression and is glad he's making someone laugh.

~

Sam is garbage at keeping up with time recently, but he tries to keep to her schedule of every twenty minutes. He's sure he fucks up and misses it by maybe a ten or fifteen minute margin but he still does it, and he does his best.

Her second request is...harder.

He doesn't know if he can do it. He's so used to ignoring, being indifferent (but still distant) or hating his body that he doesn't know if he can go so far as to touch it for anything other than showering. He just...doesn't know. What if he tries and it doesn't feel like him? What if it feels like...

Anyway, Sam wouldn't even know where to start.

For Steve and Bucky it's somewhat simple. They ask if the can touch him, and Sam either says yes, no, or he amends their request into one he feels comfortable with. He's saying no sometimes, but he still feels that fear gripping him, likes he's doing something very wrong, and he has to be calmed down each time before he spirals into a full blown panic. It's embarrassing, but they remind him that it's progress, and leagues ahead of where he was.  He doesn't know if that makes him feel better, that such a small thing is so big for him, but he accepts it because he doesn't want to argue or debate. He doesn't know how anymore.

He still gets mad at them sometimes, though. That they treat him so gently and with so much love when Sam knows he's annoying. He knows he's infuriating and a part of him wants them to yell at him, like Bucky did the other day. A part of him wants them to shout and scream and tell him to grow up-- 

But he knows they won't. And he knows that no matter how much he might want that sometimes that he would break completely if they did. After his bathroom incident he notices that the knives in the kitchen have disappeared, and that the medicine cabinet is locked. The letter opener that used to be by the bookshelf is mysteriously gone too, and Sam has no doubt that the knives that Bucky has hidden around the apartment have vanished as well. He doesn't know what's worse, that they don't trust him, or that he doesn't trust himself either. And then he sees that the metal forks and spoons are gone too, and replaced with plastic versions.

That makes sense. Sam did lose time and harm himself not two days ago. So what's stopping him from blacking out and stabbing himself in the neck or something? It's not like he hasn't thought about it. Of course he has. He's thought about it all.

Sam should probably keep his mouth shut about that, though. He spends the day curled up in an armchair watching Bucky play video games, and he notices that Bucky doesn't pick his usual gritty ps3 adventures but opts for a friendlier option. This one has little cloth people running around, and apparently you can build things. It's cute.

Sam tries to keep time and convince himself that he isn't to blame. That it isn't his fault. It's harder than he thought it would be, because as soon as he tries to believe it--as soon as that little part of him whispers that maybe it's true--the bigger, scarier part screams that he's to blame. That it's all his fault and that he deserves everything he's gotten. And the fact that he's fighting so hard in his head makes him physically tired, and he's even more prone to panic then.

So he goes from 'it's not my fault' to 'it probably is my fault' to 'it's my fault it's all my fault' and back again, and he doesn't notice the fact that he's digging his fingers into the scratches on his arms until Bucky is in front of him looking at him in alarm and asking if he's alright.

Sam doesn't know what to say, so he shrugs and Bucky gives him a sad, searching look. Sam feels his heart twist because he thinks that Bucky might catch on to the fact that he's self-harming, but he realizes he just looks like he's curled up in his sweatshirt. So, that's...nice.

It's only 5pm, but he says that he's tired and wants to sleep. Steve looks at him curiously from the stool in the kitchen, but Sam just quietly says goodnight and returns to the dark bedroom, curling up under the blankets. And when the thought hits him he could almost laugh at the irony.

She told him to touch himself and here he is, digging his fingers into cuts on his arms--and now his hands as well--grasping onto every painful sting he can-- 

He doesn't know what he's gaining from this, but he...he needs it. He doesn't know why, but he does. The pain does...something. Takes him out of his head, maybe? He isn't sure, but he knows that once he starts doing it he can't stop, and he's biting his lip till it bleeds as well. And it's like all of the anger and self-hatred in him is coming out in the rivulets of blood that drip from his lip to his chin before staining the pillow as his brain drains of thought and instead is full of emotion that can't be articulated into words to even form thoughts. He just picks and rips and scratches and bites down and just needs things to get better it needs to get better he can't live like this he'll kill himself--

He's aware he's being hysterical and that Steve and Bucky really won't like this but he has to end it ithurtsobadithurtsobadithurtsobad--

And that's his last thought before he passes out. 

Chapter Text

He wakes up not long after.

It's the middle of the night, and not even the loss of consciousness paired with blood loss dampens the panic that slams into him. He doesn't know why he's panicking, exactly. It could be because he's still alive when he doesn't want to be, or it could be because his sleeves are wet with blood and the fact that it has bled through onto the bed. And then his mind gets away from him a bit after that, because he knows that Steve and Bucky will see it, and they'll be upset/sad/angry/frustrated and he'll have hurt them again. And even after this it'll never stop. He'll always be hurting them and worrying them and dragging them down, and that just solidifies the fact that he's a fucking disease that is tearing them all apart. It'll never end, and he'll be a burden forever because isn't going to get better, he isn't dumb enough to believe that lie, and he'll always be making their lives hell.

Because Sam knows what he is, he's a whore and a slut. He's revolting. 

When Krause comes back he's drunk and horny, and Sam's stomach turns as he's pressed into the rug by the fireplace and invaded again.

He's destroying them. Both of them. He's no better than Krause. Just like he latched onto Sam and took everything from him, Sam is doing the same thing to Steve and Bucky. He's draining their happiness and vitality and their peace of mind. They've both already been through so much, so much more than Sam ever has, and he can't keep infringing on them. Bucky is barely recovered from being tortured for decades, and Steve has PTSD that he's been ignoring since the 1940s. They're both struggling and fighting their demons and Sam is just adding more. He's just putting salt on the wound. His very presence makes them feel guilty and sad. He's disgusting and he's used and he's bringing them down with him. He...he's hurting them, he's hurting them so badly. He's killing them. Sam is making everything so much worse, and he's clearly too selfish to remove himself from the situation--

Until now. 

His saliva is disgusting. Sam is forced to taste it.

He...he can't do it anymore. He can't be here anymore and he can't hurt them anymore. Sam won't let himself. And...and maybe they'll be upset when they find him but--

They'll recover. Move on. And they'll be with each other. They'll heal. Without Sam, and without Sam tainting everything with the horror that's woven into his skin. 

They'll be fine. And Sam is...happy for them, actually. They deserve this. They deserve to be able to live together like they've been denied for too long--even longer because of Sam's selfishness.

And he vows not to make a mess. He doesn't want them to have to clean up too much. He's done enough damage. Enough for a lifetime.

It's all his fault. Everything that happened to him is all his fault. He deserved it. Sam deserved all of it, and more. He's awful, he's a horrible, terrible, awful person and he deserved it.

myfaultmyfaultmyfault

He sits up, and his breath quickens in panic as the words roll through his brain on loop. How he's a horrible person. He deserved it. Everything. It's his fault. It's his fault. It's his fault. Whore. Slut. Whore. Slut. Whore. 

His blood is still thin, so this shouldn't be hard at all. Sam already feels the streams oozing from the cuts, even a few hours later. And god he feels like the stained thing he is, and it hurts so much he can't breathe, much less think of anything other than ending it.

Good. This should be easy. Finally, something is easy.  

It's simultaneously the most agonizingly painful and hideously revolting thing he's ever felt. Blood makes itself known very soon and Sam chokes on his own bile, excruciating pain, fear and stomach-churning disgust as his body is used and degraded, the force of the man's thrusts into him making him choke each time and causes his split cheek to rub harshly into the mattress. 

Even in it's decrepit state Sam's body betrays him, blood welling up at the tears in his entrance, coating the guard's shaft and slicking it's way into Sam's body. 

The decision to die is so, so simple. 

He doesn't remember a lot of what he does next, but what he does remember is leaning against the white tiles of the bedroom's adjoined bathroom, exhausted in every sense of the word. He's so tired. Of fighting and of just being in pain every second of every day. He's tired of hurting Steve and Bucky and he's tired of feeling unwanted hands all over his skin. He's tired of tasting their spit and come and--

Sam can still taste traces of Krause's cock on his tongue.

He can't do it anymore. Sam can't do this. 

"You're the prettiest little thing I've ever seen, Sammy. Your eyes, your lips...so pretty for me. And you're mine."

Sam's body is a horror house, and he doesn't want to be in it anymore. 

The small handheld mirror in the bathroom is easy to break, and once it breaks it's easy to pick up one of the sharp shards with shaking fingers. The world is far away, and it's so fucking nice. It's just a prelude to what's to come, the comforting darkness of death that eluded him the first time. And he wants it. That quiet, that silence. No more voices or tears or fear--

The pain wakes him up again, each time. And each time there's a new man on him, in him, their smell distinctly different and yet no less nauseating and revolting as the last as they push themselves into him, bury themselves deep and leave their mark. Their come coat his insides, their hands press bruises into dark skin and their teeth leave bite marks that are so deep they'll never go away.

They're all buried so deep inside him he'll never get away. His body is where they've simultaneously hidden all their dirty secrets, and it's where they've buried him.

It's the strangest thing, the disconnect that his mind latches onto as he saws the glass into the thin skin of his wrist, right on top of his vein. He's watching what he's doing, but it's like he's viewing it all in a dark theatre while he's sitting in the back row. Like, he's merely an observer, cheering on the character on the screen, who drags the glass deep into his skin with shaking, weak hands.

But he has enough strength to do this.

He uses the last of his strength to do this.

And the entire time he holds Sam down whispers things like "fucking whore.", "nigger.", "slut", "colored garbage."

Sam can only cry silently as the man pounds into him, gripping him too tight and calling him so many horrible things that Sam doesn't want to remember. 

Sam isn't sure he feels the pain of the gash he's slicing into his wrist, but he sees the blood as it breaks free from skin and runs over his hand and onto the floor like a water tap that's been turned on. He can see the pink and white muscle as his wrist and veins split open. 

"Sammy."

He doesn't know when he ended up on the ground, but he knows that the wetness he's soaking in is blood, and that his vision is going dark at the edges. He can't hear anything over the sound of his own heart and the little 'pit-pat' sounds of fat streams of blood hitting the floor. He wants to surrender to that darkness that he feels tugging him under, but he has to do one thing first.

"Whore."

Their voices are so clear. Sam doesn't want to hear them ever again. 

Sam's hearing them now. Like he's there. And he can't...he can't stay here...he can't stay here because they're here and they won't leave him alone--

Sam just wants the voices to stop. He just wants them to be quiet. 

He just wants silence. To stop being hurt.

He does the same to his other wrist. He fumbles and drops the glass, his head going white with static as his body starts to fail him, but he grips it tight even though the blood has soaked his hands in red and makes his grip slippery, and he mirrors his earlier action. And he might be crying, but he can't be sure because it could be blood that's gotten smeared on his face, and when he weakly reaches up to feel if they are in fact tears, his hands are too bloody and his body is too weak for him to find out. His vision is going black, and his body is getting weak enough that he ends up with his cheek pressing against the cool tile. He only feel it distantly, and his head buzzes as he feels himself slowly slip away.

The man grips his wrists so tight he feels like his bones are crushing together, and when Sam sobs and tries to pull a hand out of his grip the man slaps him--hard--before continuing his painful thrusting.

It hurts.

He finishes and looks at Sam with disgust as he tucks himself back in his pants before leaving.

A lot like working one's way into a cold pool before just taking the plunge, it goes from slow to fast and all at once. From him steadily losing strength and blood to his vision blacking out completely. Then he's left in darkness, but it's the worst thing because all of his senses don't falter at the same time. As he bleeds on the bathroom floor his vision goes, but his mind drains away enough to be able to process what he's hearing. It's faint...so, so faint. It's...Sam doesn't know, because Sam can't think anymore.

And all at once he realizes he's dying. This is...this is how it feels to die. To bleed out and slip away. The gradual loss of all thought, function and vitality as his blood escapes him. It doesn't hurt. He doesn't feel anything. It's so perfect, to not feel anything.

He's like a candle dimming... 

"I'm Krause, by the way." The man says, oddly kind, "You're sticking with me from now on, alright?"

dimming... 

Sam's wet lips part in a silent, sickened noise when one of the man's large hands palm at him before fingering him open gently. It hurts, it does, because he's still torn and he's sure he's bleeding again and that Krause's fingers will come back red with blood.

dimmed.

~
Bucky would say that he knows what agony feels like.

He knows what it feels like physically. It feels like Hydra scientists piercing every inch of him with needles and pumping dry ice in. It feels like when they peeled back his skin and placed the sharp, metal obedience fail-safes in. It feels like when they would electrocute him over and over and over again simply because they could.

Before tonight, he would have said that he knew what emotional and mental agony felt like as well. How it tastes on his tongue. He would have said yes, he knew what that felt like.

He didn't.

Oh god, he didn't.

He had no idea.

Bucky has never tasted this agony before.

And this, this agony? It tastes like the stomach acid that gurgles up his throat when Steve breaks down the door after hearing the distinguishable and unmistakable shattering of a mirror. It smells like the metallic that hangs heavy in the air. It tastes like the skin-prickling, horrifying, terrifying fear of seeing Steve--blocking the view into the bathroom--pause for one millisecond in utter sickened horror before he moves, screaming...something that Bucky can't hear. When he moves, Bucky sees Sam.

The blood.

So much fucking blood.

And Sam...so small and broken and Bucky froze, eyes wide and trained on Sam's fragile body laying in his own blood with shards of shattered mirror scattered around him. The world slows and tilts on an axis jarring enough to make him sick. Steve moves, but he's a blur in the background because all that Bucky is seeing clearly is Sam. And through it all, Bucky can't move. It's like something has wrapped around his body and is holding so tight because he stands there as Steve moves around him, looking heartbroken and horrified and afraid and lovesick and oh no oh no oh god Sam Sam no pleasepleaseplease--

Steve's screams echo in his head, but they sound like they're in a tunnel because all Bucky can see is Sam. 

And he remembers every amazing moment with Sam in one slideshow of heartache as he looks at Sam being gathered into a shaking and crying Steve's arms. The blond frantically--hands shaking and slippery with Sam's blood, blood that should be keeping Sam alive--wraps the towels around skinny wrists sliced wide open, veins split. His eyes rest on the injury, how it looks like Sam tried to dig the very life out of himself. It's horrific, the gore. Bucky has seen everything, but he can't...nothing is as horrible as this. He feels the telltale numbness of his psyche splintering.

Bucky takes in how Sam's pretty, pretty brown skin has gone a sickly shade of gray as he...as...he...

Dies?

Sam...

Sam can't die.

He just--he can't.

Steve--with a steadily bleeding Sam, limp in his arms--pushes past Bucky and takes off out of the room, so quick that Bucky's mind struggles to rationalize what's happened. 

Sam...Sam is...

Sam?

He stands there looking at the door that Steve just raced out of, hands limp at his sides and eyes faraway as he stares unblinking, mind hobbling along and trying to piece together the splintered bits of what he understands. What he just saw.

Bucky stares at the door for a while, frozen like a man caught in time. 

He blinks and finds himself in the bathroom. Bucky doesn't step in the blood, it's Sam's blood, Sam is precious so his blood is precious so-- 

His head jogs in circles around little points that don't matter. Like how Sam used the sharpest shard to cut into himself. How his blood happened to not get on the rug. How Sam's favorite toothpaste still sits on the edge of the sink, oblivious to the fact that its owner is...

No.

His brain lurches as he violently rejects the very suggestion that Sam is dead. 

Bucky stands in the bathroom, still and quiet as the apartment sits in silence around him (and he has the odd thought that it's like the very air, walls and furniture know that something has happened, even if Bucky is still struggling to understand it, so the apartment doesn't make a single sound) and he tries to get his brain back online. He knows what this is...he may be losing it but he knows what this is. Mental breakdown. Disassociation.

Sam does it too.

Sam.

What happened to Sam?

Bucky's brows furrow as he looks at the ground. It's like paint. Just...red paint in pools on the floor, winding through the tiles and--

Bucky takes slow, measured steps to the bed. Sam was here, right?

Bucky struggles to keep his brain from losing the information he's gathered. There's a bloodstain on the bed. 

Sam's blood. Bucky leans over and touches the red spot with his flesh fingers and...it's wet, and cold. Sam's blood, cooling on the bed.

Wet.

Cold.

And the physical feeling starts to ground him. He blinks. Breathes.

Blinks.

Breathes. Blinks.

Breathes.

And he's back.

The information slams into him all at once.

And then it's agony.

~

Unlike the first time, when Sam is snatched away by doctors shouting orders and vitals and such, he isn't even trying to keep any part of himself together. How can he? Sam's blood has soaked through his clothes and is on his hands and skin, and Sam was so still in his arms while Steve sprinted to the medbay, clutching Sam and screaming for help oh god anybody help--

So Steve is stained in his lover's blood and crying in the hallway of the avengers tower medbay, shoulders shaking and soul breaking into splinters because he woke up to the sound of a mirror shattering before he and Bucky shared twin horrified looks and broke down the bathroom door to find Sam--the Sam they love so much, who's so fucking beautiful and broken and perfectly imperfect, gorgeous, funny, kind and bright--laying still enough for the grave in a steadily growing pool of his own blood.

Steve is sobbing into his hands in a plastic chair in the hallway of the avengers tower medbay because he froze for one eighth of a second. He froze when Sam needed him, and that could have been the difference between--

Steve is weeping in a plastic chair in the hallway of the avengers tower medbay because Sam might die.

Because Sam was hurting so horribly while Steve slept that he tried to carve the very life from the veins that carry it though his body. Steve is sobbing because Sam is in so much pain, has been in so much pain, that he saw no other option, and wanted to never wake up again. Because Sam wanted it to end.

Steve is tugging at his hair and crying because he might have been too late to save him. He might have failed him, again. There was so much blood.

The blond has no thoughts of dignity or image or what the staff would think if they came across Captain America looking like the entire world has just ended, he just tugs at his hair and buries his face in his hands, letting the terror out from where it's made a home in his chest.

A dazed Bucky eventually appears at his side, movements careful and eyes glazed. He moves like he's trying to hold something together, most likely himself. He doesn't look at anyone or anything, and in a role reversal that they're both morbidly surprised by, it's Steve who continues to lose it and Bucky who traps himself in his mind, instead ripping apart the walls of his psyche in agony.

He has no idea how long he's there, but he knows that he's weak. He's so weak. Steve is the weakest man alive, right now. He's never felt so hopeless, and he doesn't lift his head to look around, neither does he make any sort of move when a hand--Natasha, judging by how it feels--gently lands on his shoulder or when he hears Tony arrive, swear and then start yelling at someone over the phone about calling 'the best doctors and I don't care how much they ask for get them here, now'. He then frantically says something to Natasha and then quickly leaves. Probably to arrange some medical treatment for Sam once he's out of surgery.

Steve doesn't look up when Natasha bends down to see his puffy, red, tear-stained face and dull eyes. He doesn't care. 

She says something to him, but he can't hear it. All Steve can see is Sam bleeding out on their bathroom floor, and all he can think is that Sam made the decision to take his life while he and Bucky slept like nothing was wrong. Steve is supposed to look out for him, for them both, and he failed.

He couldn't do it. This one thing, he couldn't do.

Steve hates himself. He hates himself so much.

At one paint he gets up and paces, eyes far away as he looks at Sam's blood on his shirt before--without warning--he puts his fist through one of the walls. Natasha examines his hand after, but Steve of course isn't paying attention.

The hours pass just like that. Bucky sits there in a daze. Steve alternating between sitting and sniffling to pacing, all with that dead look in his eyes. But they're both doing the same thing. Replaying what's happened. Finding Sam. Brains painfully running through dozens of scenarios with everything they could have done differently.

The doctor's footsteps echo through the hall after a long time, and as he gets closer Steve sees the hard lines of his face. And even through all this...the terror and the horror and the fear, his brain never fully took on the fact that Sam could be...gone. Dead. He did consider it in a sense as he panicked, but he didn't allow himself to dwell on the reality of the fact that Sam could really be gone.

Sam Wilson. Pararescueman and hero. Falcon. Avenger. Lover. Dead. Gone to everyone who loves him.

Suicide, the papers and websites would read. People would inquire as to why, and campaigns about depression would use Sam as an example. The world would have questions and without answers they'd make up their own. About why the usually-smiling military vet named Sam Wilson--aka Falcon, who visits children in hospitals, and grins in disbelief when children excitedly run up to him dressed as him and is so kind to everyone he meets, who's known for being one of the more approachable Avengers--would take his own life. 'But he seemed so happy', they would say. 'The kids loved him, and my son/daughter/niece/nephew is heartbroken', they would say. 'He was a hero, why wasn't that enough convince him that life is worth it?', they would say.

They'd never know about the pain and the scars. The panic attacks and trauma, fear and shame that Sam carried around day after day. They wouldn't have a clue.

How would the headlines break the news?

Sam could be gone. He could be gone forever. Because he was turned into a doll for those who have no inkling of good in them to use and abuse. Because they took him and cut him down so viciously and held him there. Because monsters got a hold of him. Because he was so afraid, and so alone. Because he was in so much pain that ending it was the better option. The least painful option.

There's a possibility that he'll never be able to hold and kiss Sam again. See that gap-toothed smile that Steve and Bucky think is the cutest thing in the world. Seeing him go to bed last night might be the last time Steve will see Sam alive. The very last time. Sam, who is their entire world, couldn't see that he was valuable and beautifully wonderful. That he's so fucking important and precious. Because someone took that from him. They took it by force.

Steve is weak. He's so incredibly weak, because if he's lost Sam--

His brain struggles against the agonizing fear and disbelief.

'Funerals', his mind supplies, 'Caskets. Flowers. Eulogies. Condolences. Carrying the casket. Watching the burial. Throwing a handful of dirt where he'll be forever. Visiting a tombstone instead of being able to hold him, kiss him, tell him you're here and it's going to be okay.'

Sam's memories from the last year of his life being ones of rape and murder. Of pain and violation. Of utter terror. 

Steve is trembling. He feels sick. He feels so sick and so sick at heart--

"He survived surgery." the doctor says, getting to the point, "Mr. Wilson required a few transfusions  and surgery was...difficult. We almost lost him--" 

"What does that mean?" Natasha asks shakily. And Steve is--all at once--tossed back into the present and ripped from his own grief-stricken thoughts, forced to reacquaint himself with light, sound and consciousness as his stunned mind struggles to catch up with what's been said.

The doctor sighs, but knows that there is no way he could spare them any information, no matter how grisly, "He flat-lined three times. For a while we...we weren't sure he'd make it. The blood loss and damage to his arteries made it very, very difficult. You're lucky you got him here when you did. A second longer and I could be delivering worse news." 

Bucky is alert and his eyes are clear as he stands next to Steve tense and listening. 

"Honestly, it's still a bit touch and go." the doctor says, "He isn't stable yet, and his veins were quite literally ripped, bit we've been able to patch them and give him some stitches. Then we wrapped his wrists in gauze as a precaution. We could be looking at nerve damage, but we're not sure yet." 

Steve's heart picks up as it gets through to him that Sam...survived. He survived surgery. He's alive. Steve takes Bucky's hand and squeezes it.

Sam's alive.

He's alive.

He's alive.

Alive.

Breathing and heart beating.

"As per protocol he's on suicide watch, and his psychologist, a..." he looks down at his clipboard, "Dr. Walsh, has been notified of Mr. Wilson's suicide attempt. One of my staff will have eyes on him at all times. At this point, all we can do is keep an eye on him and wait for him to wake up. Then get him the help he needs."

Bucky's voice cracks when he asks, "Can we see him?" 

Natasha perks up slightly at the question.

The doctor shakes his head, looking apologetic, "Mr. Wilson has not stabilized as of yet. If his body were to suddenly start failing we would need to be able to handle it right away, and having visitors at this time could be detrimental to our response time. I'm sorry." 

Bucky's jaw clenches, but he nods, looking at the floor. 

The doctor looks between them all--looking different variations of pained and worried--before he says, "We will keep you updated." 

"Any idea when he'll be awake or stable or anything?" Natasha asks, a tinge of desperation in her voice that Steve has never heard before. Sam is one of her best friends.  

"It shouldn't take too long, a day at most if there are no complications." he says gently, "But he did substantial damage to himself, I'm afraid, so we don't know for sure." 

Steve sniffles and nods and tries to just cling to the fact that Sam is alive, and not the fact that they're not out of the woods yet. 

The doctor promises to keep them updated, or pass messages along via Friday, and then he dismisses himself. 

Bucky is looking at the ground, shaking. The daze has receded and the horrifying visual from earlier is now fully processing. He shakes and clenches his eyes shut and tries to breathe, just trying to keep it together.  

"Buck?"

Steve squeezes his had, pressing closer before he moves to cradle his jaw in one hand while rubbing soothing circles in the back with the other.

"Get him out of here, Steve." Natasha says, and she sounds tired and worn and so unlike herself--

Steve shakes his head, "Sam--" 

"Won't be awake for a while." she says, sitting back down in a hospital chair and running a tired hand through her hair, "go get some sleep. I'll stay."

Bucky shakes his head, trying to tamper down his impending episode, "N-no, I'm fine I swear I just--"

"No you're not," she says, exhausted, "you're both a mess. Go sleep. I'll stay here."

Steve looks at her, and she nods at him, face serious and eyes hard. Bucky protests again, but Steve just squeezes his hand, "C'mon, Buck."

The brunet shakes his head, eyes still on the floor, "I can't-we can't...he'll be alone--" 

"Nat is here with him, and we'll be back soon too." Steve soothes, even though he doesn't feel like he has too much comfort to give when he's falling apart himself, "C'mon. You should sleep."

But all Bucky can think is that he left the first time Sam was on a hospital bed, and now he's about to again--

He finds himself sobbing into Steve's shirt on the entire elevator ride to their floor. His tears mingle with Sam's blood, dried after hours, and he's crying partially in anger because Steve fucking dragged him away from Sam and partly because oh god, Sam.

Steve quietly tells him to please try to sleep before he goes to the other bathroom (and Bucky doesn't miss how his steps falter when he has to walk past the bathroom where they found Sam), and Bucky tries to imagine sleeping now, but he can't. He can't.

He goes back into the bedroom, flipping on the light and staring at the blood spot on the bed that Sam left.

He stares at it--unblinking--for a while. It's almost like it's taunting him.

Bucky turns to the adjoining bathroom and takes in the yellow tape that stretches across the door-frame to stop anyone from entering. Stark. He probably had it closed off so he could have people come and clean it up soon. 

Bucky reaches past the tape and opens the door with shaking hands.

The red pools are still there. The glass is still there. Sam is not there. 

Bucky stares at it for a long time. He doesn't know why. He hates the sight of the evidence of Sam hurting himself.

Maybe Bucky is punishing himself. For leaving the waiting room. For being unable to move when they found him. For being useless.

And he only snaps out of it when he feels a familiar hand take his and shakily close the bathroom door. Steve tries not to look inside. He can't. He'll break again. And he can't right now. Bucky needs him. Sam needs him.

He pulls Bucky to the spare bedroom. It was empty two hours ago, now there's a bed, nightstand and television in there.

Tony. Steve knows it's Tony. He's always one step a head of everyone, even Steve sometimes. He knew that there bed hadn't come yet, and that they can't sleep in the bed where...

So he did this.

Steve makes a mental note to thank him. For everything.

He tugs Bucky onto the bed and asks Friday to turn off the lights and close the door to the other bedroom. 

They both lay awake in the dark, Steve trying not to think and lose it again, and Bucky silently crying. Steve hears the first sob after only a few minutes, and pulls Bucky to his chest.

Bucky kisses him.

It tastes like tears and fear and 'I miss Sam'. 

The sex is frantic and desperate. Desperate for comfort, Steve guesses. Bucky asks for it harder, just to get him out of his head, and Steve obliges, kissing Bucky's tear streaked lips and trying not to burst into tears himself.

Because even this hurried and hard lovemaking is just another reminder that someone else is supposed to be here. That Sam is supposed to be in between the two of them, being kissed and made to feel so good. That Sam should be wrapped in their love as well.

They're not meant to be two. They're meant to be three.

This is another reminder of who they're missing, and that's why Bucky is still sniffling as they lay there after, bodies slick with sweat from shared body heat and the smell of sex in the air.

It's just another reminder.

~

After an hour, Natasha makes a call.

Chapter Text

Sam stabilizes later that afternoon. Steve and Bucky are down there when the doctor comes down the hallways with the news, Steve pacing and Bucky anxiously bouncing his leg. Natasha has been relieved of her position, and Steve has convinced her to go get some sleep and recharge, and that they're so grateful that she stayed with Sam. Her first instinct is to fight and try to stay, but she said the same thing to them not too long ago, and while she has gone longer without sleep, it's not exactly ideal. Plus she has something to do. A calculated risk, of sorts. 

The news that Sam is stable has Bucky on his feet in a flash and anxiously asking if they can see him now, and the doctor nods before leading them down the hallway and into a room. They're told that when he awakens he will be weak and might require more surgery, depending on how he heals. And if not surgery, a plasma transfusion, which he was due for anyway. 

Their hearts are pounding in their chests and they're almost running ahead of the doctor (despite the fact that they wouldn't even know where they were going) because everything is moving too slow and Sam needs them there now. They need to be there as soon as possible.

The room is quiet and dim, just the beeping of machines and a nurse seated next to Sam's bed on watch. So if he wakes up he can't harm himself again. Right, Bucky remembers, suicide watch. 

The bed is big, and Sam is no longer that sickly color he was when they found him, but he doesn't look all the way healthy either. He's still too thin, and there are bags under his eyes.

Bucky's eyes land on the bandages wrapped around his wrists. Steve is at his other side, fingers running over his bandages, feather light. Sam's hooked up to a drip, but Steve comforts himself with the sight of the steady rise and fall of his chest. Bucky steps closer, just looking at Sam, so fucking happy he's alive. The situation isn't good, in fact it's awful, but he's alive. Their Sam is alive.

Breathing.

Bucky can't help taking a shaky, pained and relieved breath and softly pressing a kiss to the sleeping man's cheek. 

Steve smiles lightly, watching Bucky just look at Sam with so much fucking love that it makes Steve's throat tight. They're going to fix this. They're going to help him. 

And they don't care how long it takes. They're never leaving him. Ever.

God help anyone who tries to challenge that.

~

Sam doesn't wake up until 4 am the next morning.

Bucky is snoozing in a chair next to Steve's, on the other side of Sam's bed. Another nurse has taken the previous one's place, and she gave them a warm smile before she sat quietly by Sam's side.

Steve and Bucky just softly greeted her but continued on like she wasn't there. They take turns holding Sam's hand and adjusting his blankets, pressing kisses to his cheeks.

Bucky is almost asleep but Steve is awake and alert when Sam starts regaining consciousness, making tiny movements as his body wakes up. The nurse is out of her seat in a second and Steve is frantically nudging Bucky awake as he stands, gently squeezing Sam's hand in an effort to bring him back to the surface. The nurse checks the machines, then his bandages as Sam's mouth twitches and his eyes clenches shut. He makes a small noise. 

Steve softly calls his name as his breath picks up, and Bucky runs his fingers over Sam's as Steve holds it. It takes a while, and the nurse tries to suggest that Steve and Bucky back up so he won't be overwhelmed once he opens his eyes because everything is rushing at him at once, but they can only move away for a few seconds before Sam sniffles and they're back to hovering over him and telling him that they're there, and he's safe.

Eventually Sam's eyes flutter open to stare at the ceiling.

The nurse quietly and firmly gestures for them to be quiet and step away so Sam can adjust, so Steve and Bucky don't say the words that are on the tips of their tongues. They will, but just...not yet. Steve's entire body just sags with relief at the sight of those brown eyes, open and gazing blearily at the ceiling. Bucky is holding his breath, and Steve has to quietly move and wrap an arm around Bucky's waist when it looks like he's about to rush back over to Sam. The nurse might be right, both of them hovering--no matter how happy they are at the fact that he's alive--may simply overwhelm him, and he has enough to deal with already.

For about thirty seconds Sam just stares at the ceiling, but after that his entire being seems to crumble and he's turned away from Steve and Bucky, starting to cry. And that is what has them ignoring the nurse and rushing to his side, worriedly hovering and trying to get his attention and soothe him--

Bucky tries to reach for him but as soon as Sam feels Bucky come closer he weakly pushes him away, and that's when they see the defeat and fury on his face.

"Sam--"

"What did you do?" Sam says hoarsely, tearful eyes hard and body trembling. He looks the angriest they've ever seen him, possibly ever, and especially since he was brought home. Usually all of Sam's anger is replaced by fear and shame but right now...right now he's angry. Sam hates them, he hates them both so much because finally everything was quiet, finally he had peace, but they couldn't let him keep it. He was finally okay for the first time in ages and they fucking took that away from him and he hates them for it--

Steve doesn't know what's going on at first, and then he looks at Sam, the tearful fury on his face, and it hits him. 

Sam is upset they saved him. He's angry that he's alive.

Steve never considered this as an option. He expected depression, definitely. But...not this. And the realization knocks the air out of him and plunges his stomach to his feet. The fact that such a good thing is something that Sam is not at all happy with. In fact he's furious. Steve has heard about cases where people who attempted suicide wake up and realize that the entire attempt was a  mistake, but this is...not that. 

Bucky takes another step towards Sam as he glowers at them, "Sam, we--"

"Don't touch me." Sam snaps, weakly wiping his face, catching sight of the bandages, "No one touch me!"

Bucky nods, eyes soft, "Okay, okay. No one is gonna touch you, doll. I promise."

Steve is still frozen by his revelation. He feels sick.

Sam sniffles, glaring at the bandages on his wrists. He's obviously still feeling the effects of everything, because as angry as he looks he also looks so worn out and tired that it makes Bucky's heart twist. Sam is clearly exhausted and weak and starting to panic.

"Sam, we had to--" Steve starts, before Sam cuts him off.

"No, you didn't." he hisses through a sob, tears making their way down his face, "You really didn't."

Steve takes a shaky breath, "Of course we did. We couldn't let you--"

"You've been telling me that I can make my own decisions now. That I can do what I want with my life and my body." Sam snaps, trembling, "But you all lied--"

Bucky blinks at him, eyes pleading, "No one lied to you, doll. But that--that doesn't include hurting yourself--"

"It was my choice." Sam replies, before he sniffles and he looks back at his lap, "You're all liars."

Sam knows what they say, that suicide is a permanent answer to temporary problems. But his problems don't seem to temporary, in fact, if they're not ongoing they're reoccurring, at the least. And that's enough. It was quiet...it was all so blissfully quiet and now he can't even have that. He's forced to be here when that's the last thing he wants. They took away his choice. Everyone is taking away his choices. The one thing Sam wanted, and he wasn't allowed to have it. It was stolen from him.

"I know you're upset, Sam." Steve says gently, voice thick, "But we won't apologize for saving you. You mean too much to us, and we'd rather you hate us and be alive to heal, than love us and be gone."

Sam just looks at the bandages. They're white. Like the bed-sheets. 

And as awful as it is to register--that Sam wants so badly to be dead that he's furious at the fact that he's not--Bucky is oddly happy to see such an indignant reaction. Because in some odd, roundabout way, Sam felt like he deserved something because he wanted it, even if that something was awful. He's still being assertive and telling them off. He can't help but think maybe it's a start. Sam is glaring and refusing to look at them, and not out of fear, but because he's pissed, and that is the most confrontational he's been since they got him back. He...he's caught an attitude and he's irritated and very much annoyed. It's...Bucky can't help but think this means something.

Sam hears the nurse quietly tell them that Dr. Walsh should be here soon. 

And for some reason, he crumbles again, but not in anger.

He's just...he has no idea what he's feeling, he just knows he's started to cry again and he's so fucking embarrassed. Yet again he's a sniffling mess because yeah, a part of him is pissed he was saved, but he's also hurt them again. He knows he has. He doesn't need to see their faces to see it. He's hurt them and he doesn't know how to stop.

Sam is just...he's exhausted, and he doesn't notice that he's reached for Bucky until he hears a soft, "Oh, doll." and he's wrapped up in his arms, crying his heart out into Bucky's shirt. Bucky kisses his cheek and tells him it'll all be okay, that he's safe and that they'll get through this. Steve has taken his hand again, taking his seat by his bedside. They tell him they love him, and that they're never leaving and Sam...believes them, this time.

He doesn't know why, or why this is different, but he has nothing else to hold on to. Nothing else to cling to. So he believes it. 

After all, they're still here, aren't they? Even after everything he's put them through?

They're still here.

Maybe he can safely believe that they won't leave.

He's so at the end of his own rope, what other option does he have? 

So he clutches Steve's hand and sobs into Bucky, gasping out a teary 'I'm sorry' every now and again. They just tell him he has nothing to be sorry for, and they it'll be okay. It'll all be okay. They love him and they'll make it okay. 

Sam cries for a horrifyingly long time, but by the time it's died down to sniffles he finds himself not wanting to let either of them go. Having them close isn't scary, at the moment. In fact, he needs them, and Bucky seems to sense that because he moves carefully around Sam's IV, toes off his shoes and curls up on the hospital bed with him, Sam's head on his chest and Steve holding Sam's hand, smiling lightly at the sight they make.

Sam cuddles up close to Bucky, sniffling.

"It'll all be okay, doll." Bucky murmurs, "We'll make it okay. We'll make it better than okay." 

Steve gently squeezes his hand, and Sam feels...he doesn't know how he feels. All he can put into articulate thoughts is that Bucky is holding him and Steve has his hand and is smiling at him as Bucky kisses his forehead every now and again and he doesn't feel awful.

Sam has exhausted himself, and he dozes on Bucky's chest as the doctor comes in and checks the machines. He'd opened his mouth to protest Bucky being on the bed with him, but Steve saw him reconsider (Bucky's 'I-dare-you-to-try' glare might have also been a factor) and simply rearrange the machines so both sides of the bed were free. Steve guesses in case he wanted to join.

Sam drops off to sleep at some point.

Steve can't help but beam at how content Sam looks right now.

He deserves it.

Bucky stays as still as possible, not wanting to wake up Sam, but he looks at Steve and whispers, "We should have someone get him something to eat."  

Steve nods, "You should eat too." 

"Don't wanna wake him." Bucky grimaces, holding Sam a little tighter. 

Steve smiles genuinely for the first time in days. Then he takes out his phone and quietly orders. 

~

In the end Sam is woken up anyway because Dr. Walsh has finally moved around enough appointments to arrive at the tower's hospital at around one. She needs to speak with Sam, who's sleepy, a bit disoriented and panics when Bucky and Steve are asked to leave. He really doesn't want them to, this is the safest hes felt in a long time, and he needs some sort of physical contact with them. He can't handle them leaving, and as soon as Sam clutches Bucky tighter and starts to panic, he stops moving immediately and moves back on the bed, holding Sam. Bucky then gives her a look that's both apologetic and defiant.

It says 'sorry' and also 'If he wants me here I'm not going anywhere'.

She quickly sizes up the situation and adjusts.

"Sam, would you like them to stay?"

Sam nods, sleepy again now that the sudden panic has subsided.

She smiles brightly, like Sam has made a breakthrough of some kind, "Alright then." she laughs, sitting down, "This is a very cute picture." she adds, gesturing to the three of them.

Steve smiles lightly and Sam tries not to fall back asleep.

"Sam? You with me?" she smiles. Sam opens his eyes, blinks away the bleariness and nods. 

"Okay," she starts, "Even from these few moments I've been here I can see that this entire situation is bittersweet."

Steve's brows furrow and he gives her a disbelieving look, "Bittersweet?"

There is no sweet part other than the fact that Sam is alive. That's it. This entire thing is a disaster and Sam is hurt.

She smirks, "Yep. Let me explain. The last..." she thinks, "day and half have been...unpleasant, am I correct?"

Steve nods. Understatement.

"And yet, look at what this has produced." she explains, "Really look."

Steve blinks at her before he looks at Sam, dozing again on Bucky chest with his hand in Steve's. And he suddenly gets it. The simple fact that Sam is even resting on Bucky right now, and having him so close is a breakthrough in and of itself, and Sam was wary around sleeping around anyone present about 97% of the time, but here is he is, almost asleep in Bucky's arms, after having been pissed, confrontational (and somewhat bratty) and assertive. He's laying down with someone and he's comfortable.

She notices when he and Bucky get it, because she gives them an 'I-told-you-so' look and says, "I'm not saying the cause of the improvement is good, it's not, and we're going to discuss the options from here on in, but I just want you to feel hopeful. Because there is hope."

That...is incredibly nice to hear.

Sam's eyes blink open again, and Dr. Walsh smiles at him, "And now, down to business. We should discuss medication."

Steve sits up straighter, brows furrowed and listening. 

"I will have a prescription for an antidepressant and an anti-anxiety drug ready for him as soon as I can. I know the word medication and drug sound scary, but I promise you that it's as simple as just working it into your routine every morning." she assures them, "And if he has trouble sleeping, we will take it from there, but for now let's start with the two biggest issues. The antidepressant will limit suicidal impulses and just help with the stress of day to day healing. Anti-anxiety will do just what the name implies."

Steve nods and Bucky knows that he'll take care of the details and the concerns, "What about side effects?"

"In most cases the side effects are minor," she says, "but I promise we will discuss the medication in depth when we have selected them according to what Sam needs. Then we will adjust them however we need to."

Steve seems cautiously satisfied with that.

Dr. Walsh's face goes a bit somber before she says, "Sam, now we'll have to discuss what's happened."

Steve tenses. Sam was actually comfortable and doing okay and he isn't sure if this is the time. Bucky gives him a somewhat frightened look and takes the risk of rubbing Sam's arm in comfort, without knowing how Sam will take the new physical interaction.

Sam sniffles, "Okay."

His voice is small but they can't see any telltale signs of panic. Not yet, anyway. Steve relaxes, but only the tiniest bit. He's still on guard.

"Can you tell me what happened that made you to try to take your life the night before last?" she asks gently.

Sam curls into Bucky and goes quiet. The silence is long, and no one pushes him, so maybe that gives him the strength to say, "It...was a lot of things."

She nods understandingly, "Can you list them for me?"

Sam hesitates.

"This is a safe place, Sam. Everyone here cares about you very much. It's okay." she assures him. Steve gently squeezes his hand in reassurance. Bucky gathers him closer.

Sam bites his lip, wincing at the bitter taste of the liquid bandage they applied to heal the wound he bit into it, and he takes a shaky breath. He can do this. He can do this. No one is going to hurt him and no one is going to leave. They're still here all throughout his craziness so they're most likely here to stay.

Sam clenches his eyes shut. 

He's not scared.

He's not scared.

He's not scared.

He's not scared.

Maybe if he thinks it hard enough one day it'll be true.

But right now he's terrified.

Sam takes another breath and fixes his eyes on Bucky's shirt. It's maroon. Soft. He can focus on this and just let the words flow. Just don't look at them. Just don't look at them. Just don't look at them. He can do this. He's not scared.

Right?

Wrong.

"I-I..." he starts, shuddering, "I kept thinking it was my fault. A-and that I deserved all of it. That I'm hurting everyone just by existing because I'm making them upset. And I was hearing them again...and tasting them. Him."

Steve tenses and Bucky fights desperately to not let his muscles lock up like they want to. He can't let Sam know he's angry. It would scare him. 

Bucky is going to be paying the warehouse a visit very soon. And someone is going to die.

"I completely understand, Sam." she says softly, "You've been under a lot of stress, and no one is upset with you." 

Sam gives her a disbelieving look.

"Why do you think someone would be upset with you, Sam?"

He shivers, "I keep thinking that I'm doing something someone...won't like. And...and when that happened, he usually...he..."

She nods, "I can see that you're uncomfortable, Sam." she prods gently, "But can you tell me what happened?" 

Sam shivers again, taking a shaky breath and biting the inside of his cheek, trying not to panic. He can do this. He can do this. It's okay. It's okay. He's okay. He's not scared--

"I...he would make me get on my k-knees and suck him." Sam stutters out quietly, face growing hot in shame as Bucky tenses under him, "It hurt. I couldn't breathe and he would just hold me still so I couldn't pull away when I was c-choking. He would come and make me swallow it. My throat a-always hurt badly afterwards."

Steve is crushing the armrest of the chair he's sitting in, trying to control his anger and not lash out. Or leave to go rip Krause's dick off. He has to be here for Sam. He has to contain himself. He can't make himself the reason Sam feels like he can't talk about this.

Bucky is biting the inside of his cheek and taking very deliberate, slow breaths, jaw clenching. Trying to keep himself contained as well.

"I see." She nods, "That is very understandable, Sam. I can see where you're coming from." 

It feels weird, being validated. Sam just looks at Bucky's shirt. 

"But can I offer an idea?" she asks, looking at Sam imploringly.

Sam slowly looks at her again and nods. 

She raises her eyebrows at him, "Has anyone here ever done that to you?" 

Sam shakes his head. 

"Would they?" she asks, "Speaking realistically?" 

Sam shakes his head.

"Is it even in the realm of possibility?" she asks, "Given the personality and character of the people around you?"

Sam shakes his head.

"So," she says slowly, "Statistically speaking, and according to even your calculations, there is a 100% chance that this will not happen."

Sam gives her a knowing look.

She grins softly at him, "And I know that is hard to remember in the moment, but we will work on becoming a bit more assertive so you don't feel trapped by those limitations, okay? And have you relearn that it's alright."

Sam nods.

"Okay, so back to what we were discussing." she says before looking at Steve and Bucky, "Some of this will be difficult to hear, but please do not interrupt Sam's answers or react too emotionally, okay?"

They brace themselves and nod. 

"You're all doing great so far, okay?" she assures them, looking each of them in the eye, "You're all doing very, very well. Especially you, Sam."

He feels like a child being encouraged but it helps a bit, strangely enough. He shared something awful and it turned out to be okay.

"Can you tell me more about what you were feeling that night, Sam?"

Sam takes a breath and is spurred on by the fact that Bucky is tightening his arms around him in comfort.

"I was remembering bits of what happened when I was...away." he says softly, knowing what she's going to ask next, and not looking forward to it.

"I know this is uncomfortable, Sam. But again I must ask you to please tell me what happened."

Sam hesitates again, and he just accepts that this is always going to be hard to talk about. But maybe one day it'll get a little easier.

He can only hope. So he clenches his eyes shut and takes the plunge. Like jumping into a cold pool.

It'll knock the breath out of him at first, but maybe he'll adjust.

"I-I remembered the guards." he stutters, trying not to fumble over his words as he attempts to get them out, "When he left and went somewhere they would come in and...and wherever I was they would hold me down and...it hurt, and I couldn't move or breathe sometimes. A few of them said a lot of...stuff. Racist things, calling me a whore, a slut. Uhm, one always forced his tongue in my mouth, and one spat on me when he was finished. Uhm--"

Sam pauses and is hesitant to continue. He can hear Bucky's heart rate picking up in his chest, and Steve has gone pale (what he doesn't see is Steve mutilating the chair he's in and bending the metal with how tight he's gripping it). But she just nods and looks him in the eyes before she says, "Go on, Sam. Everything is okay."

He takes a shaky breath and decides to trust her.

"Uhm, one always chose to pull out and come on me, I-I think he felt a sort of power when he did that." he says, "I would just clean myself up and...sometimes there was blood." and when Steve--pale with his hand fisted in the cushion of his chair, ripping it--inhales quickly, jaw clenching, Sam panics and quickly blurts out, "But not all the time, sometimes it was just come."

It's only after he's said it that he realizes that probably isn't really helping. The doctor gives Steve a terse look, non-verbally telling him to settle down, and he looks down in his lap. Bucky has gone tense under him, and Sam can't see it, but he's clenching his jaw and biting his lip in fury.

"Go on. It's okay." she says.

Sam shrinks a bit, "Uhm...and then he would come back and usually do what they did." he finishes awkwardly.

"What else was on your mind that night, Sam? It's okay to tell me all of it." she says gently.

Sam moves to bite his lip again before he remembers about the liquid bandage.

"I also remembered the first time, with all of them." he sniffles, "And how much it hurt, and how they wouldn't stop. None of them would stop. How I passed out and every time I'd wake up it was...was someone new. He made me take a bath with him. He t-touched me and it...it hurt because of the...tearing. O-once I punched him and he was really rough with me because I lashed out. And then I remembered what he used to say to me. A-a lot of it was actually nice stuff so...so I think I'm confused now." He knows he's rambling, he just can't seem to stop.

"We'll help you with that." she smiles, nodding at him to continue.

"Uhm I...I don't think I have anything else to say." he tells her quietly.

She nods, "That's okay, Sam. I have another question, is that okay?" 

He nods.

"Did you not wake up your partners because you felt as if you would be bothering them? Or because you didn't want to be stopped?" 

Sam thinks quietly for a moment, refusing to look at Steve or pay attention to Bucky's heart, beating fast.

"Both." he tells her.

She nods, "What were you hoping to achieve, Sam?" 

He shudders, "I just wanted it to stop." 

"What?" 

"Everything. Hearing them, tasting them, feeling them." he says quietly, "And...and I just wanted quiet. To not be afraid or depressed anymore. It was...it was stupid."

"That's not stupid, Sam." she tells him, "That's not stupid at all, it's completely valid and understandable. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about right now?"

Sam thinks for a moment, before he shakes his head. He's tired, and he feels like this is all the three of them can take for today. He just wants to feel them close and go to sleep.

She smiles, "Okay then. How are you feeling?"

Sam is quiet for a long moment, trying to pick through what's going on inside his head and give her an answer. He guesses he feels...a little lighter. He tells her so, and then quickly adds that he isn't sure if that makes sense (and then adds a hasty 'sorry' after that).

She shakes her head, "There is absolutely nothing to be sorry for, Sam. That is how I was hoping you'd feel. Talking about things helps us process them sometimes, and it's nice to talk to people who will listen. It's not good to keep it all inside. Talking to others makes it so you aren't carry it all alone."

He nods. She picks up her bag and smiles pleasantly at all of them before saying goodbye and that she'll be back tomorrow for another session before taking her leave.

The door clicks behind her and another nurse comes in and smiles at them, taking a seat by Sam's bed. Right. He's still on suicide watch, and the staff member only left because Dr. Walsh was here. And doctor-patient confidentiality, he guesses.

Anyway, they seem intent on having all his watches be women. He guesses they got a hold of his medical file and saw the rape kits and treatment for his injuries. And the STD tests.

He's quiet as Steve and Bucky breathe--trying to calm themselves after what they've heard--and he can't help but feel ashamed because now they now about them using his mouth and the fact that they took turns--

They don't know everything, but they know more of Sam's humiliation now than they did, and that's enough to have him not be able to look Steve in the eye when he softly says his name. Sam just tries to breathe and looks at Bucky's shirt.

He feels Steve come closer, and he also feels Steve hesitate (maybe silently communicating with Bucky) before he uses Dr. Walsh's tactic and slowly says, "I can see you're uncomfortable. Can you tell me why?" 

For some reason the acknowledgement of his current mental state is oddly comforting. The fact that Steve knows the general emotion he's dealing with means a lot, all he's missing is the why. Sam still doesn't look up because he's still so embarrassed and ashamed-- 

"I didn't want you to know." he says shakily, "I just...it's humiliating and I didn't want you to know." he finishes weakly, voice cracking at the end.

"Oh, Sam." Steve says, and Sam can hear the sad smile in his voice, "You have nothing to be embarrassed about." Sam feels him take his hand, "Nothing at all, you hear?"

Sam just stares at Bucky's shirt. 

"Sam." Steve's voice is extra soft, like he's trying to make up for the fact that he gently lifts Sam's chin so he can look him in the eye, "No one thinks of you any different. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. None of this is your fault, and you didn't do anything wrong. There is nothing at all for you to be ashamed of." 

"Hear that, doll?" Bucky asks, pressing a kiss to his temple. 

Sam nods, though he doesn't fully believe them yet.

~

It turns out that the food they ordered has been delivered a while ago, and didn't get to them of course, because of the therapy session. They had no clue how long it lasted, but Steve decides that he maybe should have planned better and ordered before. He just takes it and warms it up in their break room before watching Bucky gently nudge Sam awake. He needs to eat. It's been too long. 

Sam grumbles at him, and Bucky laughs lightly because when is the last time Sam grumbled at someone? 

Steve smiles around a mouthful or vegetables. 

Sam picks at his food, clearly tired and only barely keeping himself from falling asleep, but he finishes about one third of his food and decides that he's done. Steve is still concerned at how long it takes Sam to get through such a little amount of food, but he reminds himself that Sam is just getting used to eating consistently again, and that it'll improve.

And then night has fallen and Sam is only able to close his eyes when Bucky returns from the bathroom and takes his place next to him. Sam reaches for Steve after that, so he ends up on Sam's other side, grinning at Bucky over where Sam sleeps on his chest, looking comfortable.

~

The morning brings talk of plasma transplants and medical examinations (Steve is the one that talks to the doctor) and inquires as to the care of Sam's bandages. Sam wakes up very slowly, and misses most of it, but he's mostly awake when he sees Natasha walks through the door...backwards?

And clearly Sam and Bucky are missing something, because the doctor opens his mouth to protest and Steve blurts out, "What are you doing?!"

Natasha just grins at him, "Taking a calculated risk."

Steve is only halfway through saying her name before she spins and faces Sam's hospital bed and plops the wiggling, fluffy white dog on it. Before Sam can process anything the puppy recognizes him and bounds up to him, panting ecstatically and shaking his tail. Sam freezes, and Bucky picks up on that and quickly moves to take the puppy away but Sam reaches for him. He softly touches the happy dog's fur, trying to decide how he feels. But then the puppy cuddles up against him and Sam--still sleepy--realizes how much he missed the little thing. This puppy was Sam's only comfort when he was there.

Sam slowly takes the dog in his arms. The little thing was there for him, and Sam loves him.

It's a long silent moment, Sam trying not to think of the man who gave him the dog and just be happy that he has the pup back.

"Thanks, Nat." Sam says, looking at her in gratitude.

She grins, "No problem. He's a therapy dog now, and you'll never guess what I renamed him."

Sam pauses, "You...renamed him? And had him trained?"

"Yeah. His former name was garbage, to be frank, but you'll never guess what his new name is." she grins, "It's super clever and I thought of it myself."

Sam looks down at the puppy and doesn't know what to say. He doesn't have call the dog by...his name anymore. That's...he has no reason to say that word anymore. His name. It might be a small thing but it helps...oh god, it helps so much.

"What is it?" Bucky asks, watching Sam hug the puppy to him. Sam looks content in a way he hasn't in a while. It's beautiful to see, and Bucky never wants to look away.

"Milkshake!" she beams, looking proud of herself.

"You're kidding." Bucky snorts.

She folds her arms, "No. Something funny, Barnes?"

Bucky raises his hands in surrender, "Nope. No complaints from me. Milkshake it is."

Steve is watching Sam, looking for any hint of distress or discomfort, but he seems okay. He's still recovering and can't be too active, but the puppy doesn't require much, he just looks happy to be with Sam again. He also notices how the puppy stays away from Sam's IV. Like he knows that isn't to be messed with because it's important.

"How trained is he?" Steve asks, impressed.

Natasha grins, proud, "Ready for anything."

Chapter Text

Milkshake doesn't expect anything from him.

The puppy isn't upset with him for not healing fast enough, and he doesn't care that after a while Sam stopped fighting. He doesn't think Sam is disgusting or revolting or any of the awful things he calls himself in his head. Milkshake doesn't care that Sam tried to kill himself four days ago, and he'll never see Sam as any different. He still happily wags his tail whenever Sam scratches his head, and he stares at Sam is adoration no matter how Sam is feeling about himself in the moment. Sam could be ass deep in self loathing but Milkshake doesn't know, care, or agree with his dark thoughts. The puppy clearly thinks Sam is the best thing ever, and is ecstatic to have his attention. Sam dips into dark thoughts in the hospital every now and again, in bed with Steve or Bucky or both, and Milkshake seems to sense this even when they don't, or when Sam doesn't want to talk about it. The dog is smart as a whip, despite being a silly, clumsily little thing (and clearly he thinks he's a bigger dog than he currently is, which is quite amusing) and notices whenever Sam goes from okay to 'everything-is-awful-why-am-I-alive' and reacts accordingly. Which means he bounces into Sam's lap and makes that soft yipping sound to draw him out of his own head before shoving himself under Sam's hand for head scratches or rolling over for belly rubs.

The puppy's presence helps so much, even if the staff aren't thrilled that there's a dog on premises. Steve inquires as to whether Milkshake is a health hazard, what with the machines and such, but they tell him no, pets just aren't usually in hospitals with their owners, is all. But as soon as he's assured that having the puppy here won't mess with Sam's health in any roundabout way, he merely shrugs at the doctor's hesitance about the puppy being with them. They also don't seem too thrilled about Steve and Bucky always being there either, but he they'll just have to deal.

The next day is spent with Sam sleeping on Steve and trying not to panic whenever nurses have to touch him to adjust the IV or replace the outer bandages. Bucky has a hand on his back, rubbing soothing circles, and Milkshake is wiggling in his lap while Steve speaks to him softly. Sam ends up actually being okay as he fixes the bandage, and Steve says something about how well he's improving already (though that statement is bittersweet because now they'll expect this sort of reaction every time, and Sam knows he's going to disappoint them and shatter the entire illusion, the only questions is whether it'll be sooner or later). Dr. Walsh comes back and Sam tells her about that. The expectations he feels pressured by when they said he was improving. How he doesn't think he can live up to it, because yeah, he's fine now, but what about two minutes from now? An hour? He isn't put together yet, and he knows it. Sam doesn't want to disappoint them. Not again.

Then she tells him that they're not disappointed in him, they're scared for him. And that there's a difference, he shouldn't confuse the two. She says that she'll have a talk with them after to relieve some of Sams stress, but that he shouldn't think such a thing when they say he's brave. That seeing the negative in a positive and reaffirming statement is detrimental to his mood, mental health and healing. All in all the session is pretty lighthearted, and she meets Milkshake, impressed with the dog's training. He rambles about Milkshake, and how Natasha is supposed to be bringing his service vest around at some point today. She doesn't push him to talk about anything heavy, and she asks him to rate how he feels today on a scale from one to ten. One being worst and ten being best.

He thinks about that for a while. The black cloud that has settled over him ever since...being away...is ever present, and the sadness is always there. But he didn't cry once today, and he was able to handle the nurse touching him. And he was able to be in the same bed with Steve, and felt comforted by his touch, even if there was a bit in the middle where he froze up and started to panic. So he gives the day a solid four. And she asks how he would have rated the average day before his he was hospitalized, and he says probably about a negative two. He doesn't mean to dramatic it was just...it was bad. It still might be bad. He isn't sure yet. (He's almost positive it's still bad). But she just looks him in the eye and tells him that that's improvement, and that he should be proud of himself.

He doesn't tell her this, but he can't really be proud of himself for something as simple as getting through the day without self-harming, having a panic attack or bursting into tears. Things he should be able to do anyway. All he's done it make it through the day, albeit a little less beat up by panic and pain than usual. He doesn't see any cause for celebration.

The next two days are the same, though Sam wakes up and immediately flies into a panic, his disoriented and trauma-wrecked brain mistaking Bucky's body for Krause's. And then all of a sudden he's there, and he hurts between his legs. It hurts so fucking bad, and Sam can hear him and taste his lips. It's all so hyperealistic, the sounds and the smells. The colors. His mind fabricates touches and tells him they're real. That he's being hurt again. That after Krause is done the guards will walk into the room and hurt him more. That it'll never stop and he'll be here forever and god he can't breathe--

The feeling of fur brushing against his arm is what makes him slow down and he grabs blindly for Milkshake, still unable to see anything other than his attacker's faces. Just needing to be grounded and safe. And right now, what's safe are not human touches. In his panicked mind all human touch is out to hurt him right now, but this? This thing is fuzzy and warm and nuzzling into him providing innocent comfort, and that's what has him breathing again, and has his head clearing enough to hear Bucky and Steve's worried voices, breaking through the terror. It takes a long moment, but he's back. Shaky and winded, but he's back. Steve and Bucky fuss over him for a bit before they settle, and Sam quietly ask if they would hug him, just for a little while. They're happy to oblige, happy that Sam is initiating touch and asking for what he needs. They hold him until he falls asleep.

On the fifth day they're told that Sam is due for a transfusion the day after, and Sam tenses for some reason until Milkshake wiggles into his arms. That's the same day Dr. Walsh comes back with his prescriptions. Two antidepressants (which Steve asked a lot of questions about, mostly worried ones about how many pills are going to be involved in Sam's daily routine, and fretting about side effects) and one anti-anxiety medication. Sam asks them to stay for this session, his flashback yesterday making him a bit clingy, so they spend the time talking about what Sam felt and heard. Sam stutters a bit, not wanting to add more horror to Steve and Bucky's minds, but he eventually gets it out. After that she suggests some comfort items.

"Comfort items?" Bucky asks, tightening his arm around Sam.

She nods, "Yep. Things like sensory blocking hoodies and weighted blankets. Things like that."

Steve straightens, going into mother hen mode. Bucky fondly rolls his eyes at him. 

They talk a bit more about that as Sam dozes, not exactly listening.

Before she leaves she asks him to rate the day again. He says it's a two. 

The next day is tougher because of the transfusion scheduled, and he isn't allowed to have Milkshake in the room with him. That immediately puts him on edge. What if he panics? Or disassociates?  

Bucky and Steve are going to stay, obviously but...Sam fidgets nervously when the doctor takes his arm to insert the needle that's attached to the blood bag, and he has to sit there for about three hours and try not to panic. Steve just climbs onto the bed next to him and asks if he can hold him  (which Sam realizes he would like very much) and that's how he spends that time, his head on Steve's chest and Bucky holding his hand, kissing his fingers every now and again. 

They're so fucking perfect. Sam can't help but think he doesn't really deserve them.

After that he's relieved of the needle once the blood bag has been emptied into his bloodstream, and he can't flinch when the doctor comes near him because he's fallen asleep, and they don't wake him up until after the needle has been taken out of his arm and the doctor has patched him up and distanced himself. Sam realizes that they did this on purpose, and while he's somewhat disturbed at the fact that a stranger was touching him while he was asleep he's also grateful that he wasn't conscious for it. 

Small mercies.

And then it's like an odd exchange. He gets Milkshake back, but Steve has to leave to go fill his prescription, so Sam just curls up with Bucky who has taken to stroking his cheek with the cool metal of his hand, and Milkshake seems to know to become a solid weight on his chest to ground him. He didn't consider one of them leaving would be something that put him on edge, but he feels a little less safe without the both of them there. He doesn't say so though, he's acting like enough of a baby as is.

Steve's gone for a bit, and while he's gone Bucky orders them something to eat while Dr. Walsh comes into have a session with him. She asks how Milkshake is helping with everything, and she listens as Sam rambles about how he's been helping him and seems to know exactly what to do. She grins and tells him that she researched his breed and it turns out he'll grow to actually be quite big, which is not something Sam has ever thought about. He's already significantly bigger since...everything, but Sam hardly thinks ahead these days. The present is hard enough. She asks how his body feels today. Sam is quiet for a moment, trying to gather his thoughts before he says that he doesn't really know. Whenever he tries to think about his body he seems to hit a mental block, and he can't get past it without the fear of what's on the other side. He has an idea what will happen, and honestly Sam's entire thing is that he wants to avoid the triggers and flashbacks, not go looking for them.

"I totally understand that, Sam. And that is completely valid and makes a lot of sense," she says, "but I must add that getting in touch with your body again will help you process what's happened to you, and help you reclaim it. It won't be pleasant, but it will be worth it."

Sam shrinks into Bucky, Milkshake realizing he's needed and plopping down in his lap, nudging his cold nose at Sam's hand. 

"I...I really don't want to." He says somewhat desperately, "It's too much."

"And you're strong, Sam." she says, smiling reassuringly, "I have no doubt that you can brave this, but we'll take it slow, okay? And talk more about it before we decide to do anything. That sound good?"

Sam nods.

The next day Sam takes his meds for the first time. He isn't sure how he feels, because he doesn't feel any different. 300 mg of Wellbutrin and 20 mg of Prozac and Xanax. He guesses Steve wanted him to start when he's already in the medical ward, just in case something goes wrong. But Sam is actually just a bit...neutral. Not awful, not great. Which is actually an improvement, seeing as he'd be on an emotional roller-coaster that ranges from 'meh' to 'I-want-to-die' most days. Dr. Walsh asks how he's feeling that day, and Sam tell her that he isn't sure. She tells him that medication will help, but it won't solve everything. It will also take a few weeks to start working fully. Work is still required if he wants to heal.

Sam isn't even all the way sure if healing is an option, but he chooses to believe her best case scenario, if for nothing else than assuring Steve and Bucky that he isn't going to try to open a vein again. She asks how his body is feeling, and he shrugs, honestly unsure. It's just...there. There's still a part of him saying that his body isn't his own, even if that part is a bit smaller now, it's still there. And he doesn't know how to make it go away. Or if he even cares whether he is able to mentally take charge of his physical being again. What does it matter? As long as he isn't sawing his wrists open he's basically fine.

Right?

The next day Sam is told that he, Steve and Bucky have moved to another floor in the tower.

That causes him to panic for several reasons. Every floor of the tower is different, which mean this new apartment will be different and he doesn't know if he can adjust to that without some sort of adverse reaction or meltdown. Another reason is the thought that they've had to go through all of this trouble--all the trouble of having their things packed up and moved--because Sam was selfish enough to taint the place with what he's done. Another reason is the fact that yet again, they're adjusting their lives in a big way because of him. Sam doesn't know how to take that other than hate himself because he doesn't know how to not fuck up. Sam fucking ruined their home, and now Bucky--who took long enough to feel comfortable in that apartment without compulsively checking every night for security loopholes--will now have to get used to a whole new place to sleep.

He fucked it up he fucked it up he fucked everything up--

"Sam?"

"Hey doll, breathe. Hey, it's okay."

Sam is calmed down before the episode even starts, which is....good, but he still has the horribly familiar ache between his legs. He knows it isn't real, but it's still enough to make him want to lay down and not talk to anyone for a while. 

He's so fucking pathetic. Afraid of ghosts.

But he is. He is still afraid. Blindingly afraid at times. He can't think of the last time he wasn't.

He tells Dr. Walsh this the next day. Steve looks at his lap, obviously having an emotional reaction to Sam's words but trying to hold it inside. Bucky rubs his back.

"I understand what you mean, Sam. And it's definitely valid. You're not wrong for being afraid." she says, and Sam looks at her like he doesn't believe her (because he doesn't), so she says, "Do you know what fear is, Sam? It's the body and brain's natural response to danger. Fear is what keeps us from walking down certain paths at night or going certain places. That little bit in your brain is telling you what it needs to to protect itself. You're afraid and being afraid is what your brain is doing to protect you. You have been in an abusive situation, and fear is what kept you alive through it. That doesn't sound at all wrong to me. It sounds quite brilliant, actually."

Sam pauses. He...hasn't ever thought of it like that. Maybe it's not so pathetic after all. That's a thought.

"But now that you're safe, your brain is still on edge, waiting for danger. The goal is to heal enough to process the fact that you were in danger, and the fear was necessary then, but it is not a sense or a tactic that you need on a daily basis anymore."

That makes a lot of sense, actually.

Sam never considered that being afraid is what kept him from attempting to escape or react violently and getting himself killed.

(And even then, there's still a part of him that kind of wishes they would have, but it's not as loud as it used to be.) 

But it still doesn't erase the shame of the fact that he just laid there and took it. Every time. He let them just spread his legs and do whatever they wanted. He didn't do anything to stop them he just...took it. And the most humiliating part is that he was glad that he wasn't being beaten or hit all that much. He was so fucking grateful at the time that all they did was fuck him, and not peel the flesh from his body, set him on fire or dismember him like they did to their prisoners. Maybe that was Krause's plan. Make Sam watch what they could do so he was grateful when he was spared. All he had to do was lay there like a good little slut and take it. All he had to do was open his mouth and let him use it. 

That's all he had to do.

He remembers when he first broke down and he fucking sobbed into Krause's chest as he used him. He fucking sought comfort from the man who was hurting him repeatedly because Sam is so fucking weak. He just cried and submitted.

The shame will never go away, but it's what he deserves.

~

They let him go home on the tenth day after his suicide attempt. (And isn't that a morbid milestone in his life. Now it's 'before Krause' and 'after Krause', then it's 'before trying to kill himself' and 'after trying to kill himself.')

Yeah. Great milestones. Rape and suicide. Amazing.

Suddenly he's hesitant to leave. He was actually somewhat stable here. If he moves...what if he starts losing it again?

The new apartment is on the top floor. It used to be Tony's but after his anxiety peaked he realized that being so high up probably wasn't the best thing for him, so he moved to one of the middle floors.

The windows reach from floor to ceiling, overlooking New York, and the kitchen is a lot bigger than the other one. The bedrooms are already set up and all of the books and vinyl have been put away. There are five bedrooms. Steve had to tell him this, because Sam is clutching the happily yipping puppy and standing by the apartment door, looking around, and for some reason he's afraid to go in. It's just...it's different and they've moved and Krause moved him too and it's stupid but his body locks up and his breath quickens and why isn't this medication helping--

"Sam? Doll?" Bucky's voice is soft and he makes sure not to stand too close as Milkshake presses his cold wet nose against his cheek and starts wiggling in his arms, trying to get him to focus on his motion than the panic.

It works. For such a silly and clumsy little thing he is definitely good at his job, and takes it seriously. 

Sam doesn't move though. 

"Is it okay if I come closer?" Bucky asks, and Sam hates that he has to ask at all. 

He nods.

Bucky takes the few steps to his side as Steve looks on, looking both concerned and helpless.

"We just...we didn't think you'd want to return to the old one because..." Bucky trails off, lips pressed together. 

Sam trembles slightly, and Milkshake is the only thing keeping him from disassociating entirely, "I...I didn't mean to ruin the other apartment for you. I-I--" 

Steve's eyes wide, "No, no. Sam, you didn't--" he takes a shaky breath, "We just know that sometimes being in the same place where something traumatic happened really doesn't help." 

Sam bites his lip, expecting the bitterness of the liquid bandage. It's not there. It wore off days ago as the injury healed. The bandages on his wrists are still white and obvious though, and Sam can feel the pull of the stitches whenever he moves. They'll have to replace the bandages regularly, and they'll be reminded each time of what Sam tried to do-- 

"Doll, it's really not as a big a deal as you're making it." Bucky says, smiling teasingly, the corners of his eyes crinkle, "And honestly, I like this one better anyway." 

The fact that Bucky hasn't met his maudlin statements with gloom and doom, but instead teasing humor, makes him feel a little better.

Sam takes a few steps in, and looks around. It's so much bigger. That's both comforting (he doesn't have to be close to anyone all the time) and anxiety inducing (more space equals more danger). They show him the bedrooms and ignore the question hanging in the air.

Whether they can all sleep in the same bed again or not. 

Sam...isn't sure. He's kind of okay now, a little shaky but okay, but he doesn't know how he'll feel two minutes from now. He's a time bomb that goes off randomly, and he has no idea when the next blast is coming.

So the question hangs in the air.  

Sam puts Milkshake down, and the dog doesn't go to far. It takes a while for Sam to fully realize that he's keeping an eye on him.

"Milkshake." Steve says, when he starts to wander, "Close."

The dog returns to Sam's side, and Sam looks at Steve in surprise.

"He has a bunch of words that he's trained to understand." Steve tells him, "Natasha gave me the full list, so I ah...memorized it. Just in case. Bucky learned a few too. The list is on the fridge if you ever need it."

They...fucking memorized his service dog's commands so they can help him even when they could just leave the job entirely up to the dog. 

"It's just...if something happens and he doesn't know what to do or ya know, anything, we'd just like to be able to help." Steve says, smiling lightly.

Sam hugs him. Well kind of, it's more like leaning in and allowing the blond to wrap his arms around him as he hides his face in his neck. Steve reacts immediately and enthusiastically.

Sam can feel Steve's heart beating fast, thrilled that Sam is initiating contact. That he's comfortable enough to do so. Sam just tries to sap as much comfort as he can from them before he's seen as clingy and annoying. For some reason the panic that shot through him when they touch him isn't nearly as strong as it was, not today at least. He has no idea what to think about this, honestly. Of course sexual touching is completely off the table and he would fall apart if they ever tried but...hugs are getting easier.

Sam eventually realizes he's probably being annoying by now so he lets go. He doesn't see the flash of disappointment in Steve's eyes. It's so nice to be able to hold Sam again, even if it's only sometimes. Sam's face heats up, unused to being so tactile of his own accord.

The rest of the day is spent getting acquainted with the new space, and Sam trying to remember the few simple words that he feels like he'll need to command Milkshake day to day, should he need to.  

Steve explained to him what a few of them meant if the meaning wasn't clear by the command alone Apparently telling Milkshake 'meds' will have him sprinting off to get the cloth pack that Sam's medication is in, and "lead' is used to tell him to tug on his leash to get Sam somewhere safe, should he have an attack in public or anywhere that's less than ideal. 'Guard' is so he knows not to let anyone near Sam (no matter who it is, Steve and Bucky included). 'Ground' means that he uses sensory tactics to bring Sam back from a disassociative state, if need be. There are a lot more.

They test them out, and Milkshake, when they command him to 'lead'--without the presence of a leash to lead Sam by--chooses to press himself to the side of Sam's leg and force him to walk with him, nudging his legs in the proper direction. Even when he's panicking the pressure of Milkshake against him is one he'll recognize, so the dog can still nudge him and get him somewhere to calm down. He sits on Sam's feet so Sam knows to stop walking when they've arrived somewhere he's deemed safe, and immediately starts his grounding techniques. He doesn't have to be commanded to do so.

It's so incredibly helpful that Sam doesn't even really know what to say. Of course, Milkshake doesn't need to be commanded to do any of these things, because he can look at Sam and figure out what he needs. But for the sake of familiarizing Sam with the commands, Milkshake followed them though he saw no distress from his charge. 

Later on in the day Sam has a brief disassociative episode, and Milkshake is there before both Bucky and Steve are, pressing his cold nose to Sam's cheek, making small noises and applying pressure to Sam's side. He shoves himself under Sam's hand, making him feel his fur. Sam recovers and blinks. 

The first thing he sees is Milkshake's dopey little dog face, tongue lolling out of his mouth and his tail wagging. 

Sam fucking loves this puppy. So much. 

Sam ends up taking a bath.

He's still on suicide watch, according to Steve, so the bathroom door is open, but Sam just sits in the hot water with his knees to his chest and his cheek rested on them. He doesn't know why he went for this instead of a shower, but he guesses everything is just going along the vein of how weird he's been acting lately, trying to kill himself and actually being able to touch Steve and Bucky and all that. Plus it's still and quiet and he can see everything in the large bathroom from the tub, so he feels okay. Milkshake is curled up on the grey fluffy rug, his head on his paws, blinking at Sam.

"You okay?" Sam says quietly, looking at the dog. Milkshake perks up at the fact that he's being addressed before his tongue lolls out of his mouth and his tail wags. 

Sam manages a shaky smile for a moment, "I'll take that as a yes."

Milkshake closes his mouth but continues wagging his tail.

The water smells nice. Clean.

Sam wishes this is all it took for him to feel clean.

Chapter Text

When the prospect of sleeping arrangements comes up, Sam immediately panics to the point where Milkshake has to lead him away.

He ends up recovering in a secluded part of the large living room, Milkshake on his legs and licking his fingers, trying to ground him. It takes a long time, but soon he's breathing and blinking himself back to reality and he shakily asks if he can sleep in a separate bed tonight.

"God, doll. Of course." Bucky says frantically, "You can sleep wherever you want, ya know that, right?"

"Yeah, Sam." Steve smiles, looking him in the eyes, "You know we aren't demanding or expecting anything from you, right? You don't have to do anything you don't want to."

Sam nods and tells them that he's relearning that, and his heart sinks when he realizes he wants to give them a hug or something but he can't. He'd have another attack, and that has tears of frustration welling up in his eyes once he closes the door to the separate room. Sam sniffles and leans against it, sliding down to sit on the floor. He'd never considered this. How he could want to be held by them but not be able to handle it. His brain betraying itself by wanting something it knows it can't have or be comfortable with. They'd tenderly gave him 'good night's and 'I love you's, and Sam couldn't even physically embrace them.

Sam brings his knees to his chest and rests his head on them, sniffling miserably. Something is very, very painful about this, but he feels like he isn't too sure what it is exactly. Maybe the fact that his trauma is still taking away his choices. That Krause and the guards are still taking away his choices, albeit indirectly. And that's so fucking discouraging because his mind gets away with him and runs in circles of...what if he'll never be free? What if he'll be restrained by the confines of the fear they put in him forever? 

Milkshake heard Sam's first sniffle and pressed himself to his side, and now that he's starting to sob quietly the dog is licking at him and shoving himself under Sam's hands, trying to distract him from whatever pain he's currently in. There's a moment when Sam tries to tug at the bandages at his wrists, only for Milkshake to quickly nudge his hands apart, stopping him from hurting himself. Sam can't even have his arms anywhere near each other for at least ten minutes with the dog nudging them away from each other, and Sam realises that Milkshake was waiting for his self-destructive urges to pass, and until they did the dog was keeping Sam's hands from harming himself. 

What did he do without this dog for so long?

It takes a while, and Sam is still miserable, but he eventually is able to change into the clothes he brought into the room with him and curl up under the covers, feeling somewhat defeated. After that he stares at the wall in the dark, and Milkshake is only curled up on the spot he chose on the bed until Sam feels that lingering sadness slam into him and he's crying again. Milkshake drapes himself over Sam, making sure to keep his fur within skin contact of the human in case he starts to disassociate. Sam sniffles, thinking about how Steve and Bucky are most definitely curled around each other and safe in the same bed, and Sam wants that. He wants that back. He wants to be able to sleep with them again. He wants to be able to be a part of their relationship again.

Right now he feels like an outlier. A peice that doesn't fit. May never fit again.

Is he even dating them anymore? He...is he a cheater?

Sam sobs, curling in on himself under the blanket as Milkshake assesses the situation and presses his cold nose against Sam's neck. He kisses the dog's head, just to tell him that he's doing well and that Sam's distress isn't a failure on his part so much as Sam realizing how awful he really is. 

That kidnapped or not he still had sex with multiple other men while still in a relationship with Steve and Bucky. The thought settles in his mind like a lead weight. Then his brain kind of just runs with it. He's a fucking cheater. He cheated on them and now he's making them take care of him. Sam cries harder, unable to catch his breath. It feels like the walls are simultaneously closing in and expanding, leaving him with the feeling of claustrophobia mixed with the feeling of feeling so fucking small that he barely takes up any space at all. 

He can't breathe.

He fucking cheated on them he cheated he cheated he cheated he's awful and horrible and terrible and everything is all his fault--

Milkshake takes the end of Sam's black shirt in his mouth and tugs him out of bed. He follows the dog dumbly in the dark, not feeling attached to his limbs or his body, simple moving on autopilot and not caring what is going on. Like a puppet being pulled along he lets Milkshake nudge him in the proper directions, brain disconnected from anything happening in the present other than the self-hating rambling in his head. He doesn't remember opening the door when Milkshake lead him to it and looked up at him expectantly, and he only recalls the feeling of Milkshake pressing against his legs to lead him where the dog thinks he should be safe.

Sam ends up sitting against one of the large windows in the living room, overlooking New York with Milkshake applying a steady pressure to his side. Sam presses his cheek to the cool window, eyes drooping as his breath evens out, taking in how high up he is. He looks down. 

He has no doubt that the windows are thick and reinforced so they don't break, but he can't help thinking it's a long way down, then imagining himself somehow falling out of it. The thoughts aren't colored in fear, but more...he wishes that would happen. Not even because he wants to die, he just...doesn't want to deal with this. It's so tiring. Everything is a situation with multiple layers and he's confused and exhausted. 

Sam isn't sure he wants to die anymore, he just wants some fucking peace for maybe ten minutes.

And then comes the anger. It's aimed at no one in particular, but it's there so suddenly and he finds frustrated tears springing in his eyes because these days there's always a problem with him. Why can't he get the fuck over this? Why is something always wrong?

Milkshake sees his tears and makes that little yipping noise before he presses himself under Sam's hand, forcing him to pet him, and leans against his chest. Sam is distracted, scratching the dog behind the ears and kissing his head before he realizes, after a long while, he's no longer crying. Which is probably what Milkshake was hoping would happen. Distract Sam from those dark thoughts.

"Thanks buddy." Sam says, voice small and shaky.

Milkshake just settles across his lap, and Sam leans on the window, looking at the glittering city below.

~

He probably shouldn't have fallen asleep there though. 

While he thought about the prospect of him plummeting out of the window, he wasn't counting on it, and wasn't trying to make it a reality.

That's difficult to explain and for Steve and Bucky to believe when they find him pressed against the glass of their top floor apartment after having tried to kill himself not even a fortnight ago.

Steve checks Sam's room first, just to make sure he's sleeping okay, but his pulse starts to race when he sees that Sam isn't there. The blankets are tossed aside and the room is empty. Bucky appears behind him, eyes widening and mirroring Steve's terrified expression before they both spring into action frantically checking the other rooms before sprinting into the living room, all heavy breathes and messy hair, completely terrified that history is repeating itself--

Those fears aren't put to rest when they see Sam sleeping pressed against the window while they're on the top floor of the tower. If anything, the sight is just as terrifying, and yeah Sam isn't bleeding out in the bathroom but he's seemingly tempting death by leaning on a window that--while they assumed might be stable--could also give way.

And that's why Steve does what he does next without thinking. 

He's at Sam's side blindingly quickly yelling his name in alarm and wrapping his arms around him to lift him from the precarious position and get him to a safer one. 

This does not work out very well. Sam is startled awake by a yell of his name, and before he can process what's happening or tamper down the initial confusion and panic that bubbles up his throat he's being grabbed and moved.

But more terrifyingly, he's being grabbed.

He hears Milkshake growl and bark angrily, and his mind isn't telling him he's at the tower anymore. His brain doesn't accept the possibility that this is most likely Bucky or Steve holding him as he cries out and tries to push them away to no avail. It's telling him that he's in that bland, grey room, where Krause woke him up by taking a hold of him. Startling him awake with rough hands. Hands that wandered further and further down every night and day and groped, probed, left trails of shame in their wake. Hands that killed people and hands that held him in place to make him watch. Hands that hit him and bruised him and pressed against his stomach--

"Our family will be perfect, Sammy."

He hears himself cry out, clenching his eyes shut and trying to push away from the person who holding him, confining him. Because in the moment he's sure it's Krause, or one of the guards. The blond one, or the one who held him too tight...but either way they're taking him and going to hurt him and he'll be in the bathroom cleaning come and blood from between his legs before Krause comes back and does the exact same thing--

Milkshake's distant barking and growling gets closer, but Sam can't breathe and he can't get away. He thinks he hears Bucky yelling Steve's name, but he's still caught in a memory. Of day in and day out being forced on his back or on his knees. That pain between his legs and the bruises on his skin throbbing because of rough hands. Krause's fingers against his skin and the feeling of the blond guard shoving him cheek down on the rug by the fireplace when he hurt Sam for the first time after Krause left. Sam is fighting. He's fighting as hard as he can but it's not working and he can feel the tears running down his face and that space between his legs hurts so badly he can't take it for one more second--

Then he lands on something. Hard.

But the hands are gone. For now, at least. What if they come back? What if he is forced to open his mouth and accept what he knows Krause is going to put in--

The flashbacks are muddled together and Sam cycles through several memories at once, reliving them in a montage of things he wants so desperately to forget about. How Krause hummed old German songs sometimes. How the blond guard would smoke outside the front door as he kept a lookout and the smell would waft under the door and make Milkshake sneeze. The red of the wallpaper in the bedroom that he blankly stared at when they were on top of him.

Then a cold nose is pressed against his neck. Then his cheek. Fur under his hands. A familiar yipping noise that gives him pause as the flashback shivers, losing focus because...this isn't how it went. There was no fur under his hands while...while they....Sam shakes and the illusion breaks, splintering into a million pieces before it all starts to come back.

It's the sensations of his body, first. Not hands, or being forced to his knees, but the feeling of a cold, wet thing against his cheek. Some fuzzy under his hands. A weight on his chest. A sound. Not human. Not Krause's moaning or the other men's grunts. A...a...bark?

Smell is the next sense the seep back into him. The air smells like dog breath. Sam wrinkles his nose, trying to turn away from the hot air blowing in his face.

And then he opens his eyes.

He's on the floor, pressed against the bookshelf on the other end of the room with Milkshake doing all he can to ground him. To bring him back to the present. Sam's brain moves through molasses to process what's just happened. He was by the window...and now he's here.

Milkshake spins and growls at someone, teeth bared and stance poised to bite. The dog's growl is so unlike anything Sam has ever seen from the happy, clumsy fuzzball, and he's still trying to catch his breath and not spiral into a panic again when he regains enough strength and will to look up.

Milkshake is in front of him, growling and baring his teeth at Bucky. Steve sits about a foot or two away from where Bucky is trying to approach Sam, stress, shock and fear clear on his face. The blond is hunched over, shaking with his head in his hands, chest heaving.

Milkshake is in guard mode, and won't let anyone near him until he deems it safe, and Sam trying to get the dog to stop guarding doesn't work. Milkshake just stands protectively in front of Sam, growling and ready to inflict damage on anyone who comes close enough to harm him.

"Milkshake." Sam croaks, voice shaking, "Meds."

The dog actually listens to that.

He seems torn between growling at Bucky and doing as he's told, but in the end he takes off, running to the coffee table and taking the cloth pack in his mouth before sprinting back over to Sam and pressing it into his shaking hands. Then--much to Sam's confusion--he takes off again, and Sam only hears the sound of the fridge opening and closing before Milkshake runs back with a water bottle in his mouth before pressing that into Sam's hand as well.

Jesus fucking Christ. Where did Natasha get this dog trained? 

He takes the pills and tries not to start crying again. He doesn't know why, but the scare is enough to have him pretty emotionally unhinged. Milkshake takes his place back in front of Sam, and Sam finally gathers himself to look up once more.

Bucky has a hand on Steve's shoulder, and the blond is still curled in on himself, shaking like Sam has never seen.

"Steve?" Sam sniffles, "Are you okay?" 

Steve just tries to make himself smaller, and Bucky just gives Sam an apologetic look, "Sorry doll, it's just...he kinda lost it. Thought you were gonna fall out the window, kinda like how I..." 

Fell off the train. Steve thought he was going to lose Sam like he lost Bucky ages ago. And that...that probably...

"He had a panic attack." Sam says, eyes wide and on the blond, who doesn't say anything or look at anyone, "A flashback."

Bucky gives him an apologetic look before he asks, "You okay, doll?"

Sam looks at him, then at Steve, and nods. The he turns to Milkshake, who has taken to looking at both of the super soldiers suspiciously.

"Milkshake." Sam says, voice still harboring a tremor, "Help." he commands, pointing to Steve. The dog looks at him in alarm, tilting his head. Sam nods at him, and the dog reluctantly trots away, nuzzling up to the blond and licking his hand before squeezing himself through his arms and into his lap. 

Sam stays a safe distance away, still shaky and jumpy. But he can breathe easier now, so that's good.

Steve takes a moment, petting the dog and letting him anchor him before he looks up, eyes a bit hollow. He sees Sam and his eyes go wide before he sputters, "I'm sorry Sam, I-I didn't, it wasn't my intention to...I'm so fucking sorry I--"

Sam manages a smile, "It's okay. You were looking out for me. Sorry for triggering you."

Steve shakes his head, "No, it's not okay I should have known better. I'm so sorry, Sam. I...I hurt you, I'm sorry."

"You were afraid. I understand, really."

Steve's face falls and Sam knows that there isn't anything he can say to alleviate his guilt. And that makes him wilt because he knows Steve hadn't meant to and if Sam wouldn't have freaked out this would have never happened.

Bucky looks between them, sighing. 

"C'mon you disasters," he grumbles, "I'm making breakfast." He takes Steve's hand and pulls him to his feet before extending a hand to Sam. 

Sam's compliance isn't all that quick, because his muscles lock up as soon as physical contact is requested again. 

"You don't have to, doll." Bucky says softly, "You can say no." 

In the moment, Sam doesn't believe him. The flashback has weakened him to the point where he's docile and ready to do anything anyone wants. They didn't listen when he said no. When screamed no at the top of his lungs--

But Sam takes his hand and his mind leaves him as soon as their skin touches. It's the sort of disassociation where one is still functional and seemingly okay, but their consciousness is not all there. He's a functional shell, and he doesn't say anything or ask for help because he can't seem to connect enough to do so. Milkshake senses what's wrong and is running through all of his grounding techniques, but he can only do so much. And there are some things he can't help with, really.

It's like he's on autopilot all day, but he's whatever broken version of himself he was with Krause, just going along with everything in an effort to make things safer for himself, as opposed to resisting. Steve apologizes to him over and over again throughout the day, guilt raging behind his eyes, but after about the third time whatever entity is currently controlling Sam's useless meat-sack of a body doesn't know what to make him say. His first thought is, 'what will make him stop being upset with me?', and that's when the day really starts to head downhill.

Sam, brain retreating back to that place where it rotted and died over and over again for six months, gets on his knees. 

It's a familiar position, his knees meeting the ground with someone in front of him. Steve freezes, confused until it hits him about a moment later. Bucky stands behind Sam, frozen in horror at Sam's automatic response, the automatic urge to submitsubmitsubmit so maybe it won't hurt--

Then he's on the couch with Bucky wrapping him in a blanket while Milkshake licks his face in an attempt to break his current haze. Steve is on the phone, voice thick as he paces, speaking fast. Words Sam can't understand right now. He can't identify the expression on Bucky's face because he can't concentrate long enough to work it out. His mind is floating in some unfamiliar place that Sam has never been before. It's blank.

It's quiet here. And isn't that what Sam wanted? Quiet?

But he...he doesn't like it. It's too...empty. His eyes stare forward but see nothing. He decides he hates it. He hates this blank nothingness. And to think about three weeks ago he would have cherished it, wanted to spend every second this detached.

He wants...he wants...he wants Bucky to hug him and he wants Steve to hold his hand. He wants to see Natasha. He wants to see Peter and check up on his grades. He wonders what Wade is up to? Storm? Rhodey? Tony? Bruce? Pepper?

Sam has things that he wants...that he really, really wants. He wants to be able to kiss Steve and Bucky again. He wants to be able to press his body close to them and feel the heat of their skin. He wants to run his fingers over their bare chests and wants to let them kiss his neck. He...he wants.

He wants so badly.

~

He snaps out of it when the strong smell of acetone burns his nose as he inhales it. 

It's jarring and quick and Sam's head immediately starts to hurt when it all comes back to him at once. The entire world, yet again, in 1080p and surround sound. He spends a long moment not being able to process what's going on around him because of the dizziness and vertigo that slams into him as well. He suddenly feels nauseous, and like far too much is happening. 

"Okay, you two out. I'm gonna chill with Sam for a bit."  

The female voice is familiar. Very familiar. He immediately relaxes.

"Nope, no discussion. Get out, you dopes." 

Sam blinks and looks around. 

Natasha pushes a rambling and worried Steve and Bucky out of the door before closing it, rolling her eyes and looking at Sam, "I had no idea you actually had three service dogs, instead of one." she doesn't seem perturbed when Sam just looks at her in surprise, "Seriously though, Rogers and Barnes are super protective of you." 

Sam sniffles. 

"Oh, don't be like that," she smirks, "It's cute." 

Sam, to his own surprise actually huffs out a quiet laugh. Because so much has changed but Natasha is still Natasha and she's still snarky, sarcastic and a bit weird. Milkshake is still leaning into his side, and Natasha picks up a large bag he's just now noticing and sitting, legs folded, on the coffee table, looking at him.

She's quiet for a moment, and Sam is nervous because he doesn't know what's happening.

"After the red room," she starts, "I had issues reclaiming my body, who I was. I would go into killer mode and not be aware of myself or if I was causing myself harm or even considering my body at all. But I learned a few tricks."

Sam sniffles, "Really?"

"Yep." she says, "So, wanna hang out with me and try them out?"

And Sam is hit again with the realization that he misses her. So much. They were so close, attached at the hip, almost. And now...this is the first time he's really spending with her since he came back, and even as jumpy as he is, women seem to be safe, in his mind, simply because his captors were all male. That's why he could trust Jessica a bit easier than even the tower medbay doctor.

Dr. Walsh as well. Natasha.

He smiles and nods, wiggling out of the blanket wrapped around him. Milkshake sits in the middle, happily looking between them. He notices that Natasha doesn't pet him or distract him from Sam. She smiles at him and the dog wags his tail like he's been trained to know that also means hello, in place of a head scratch. He wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that Milkshake knows people can't touch him, and will also take friendly looks in the place of physical greetings.

"Okay, so," she says, grinning as she pulls the bag between them, "This is all the stuff I use."

She takes everything out while Sam watches, interested. He surprised by the contents of the bag, but then he remembers whose bag it is, and he's not surprised at all. There are finger paints, clay, some sparkly jello mush that Sam is instantly drawn to, some squishy foam shapes, scented bubble bath and bright blue goop.

Natasha grins, "Choose whichever one you want."

Sam looks at her, a ghost of a smile on his face as he reaches for the sparkly jello. Natasha reaches for the squishy foam.

The jello also smells like bubblegum, and Natasha said she found it in F.A.O Schwartz while she was in a disassociative panic, just trying to find anything to ground herself with. He looks up, alarmed and worried for her, but she just grins and waves him off.

The mush is cool in his hands, and smooth to the touch despite the fact that it molds and slips through his fingers as it melds and stretches in his hands. He feels how his fingers are moving, and he processes how the goo feels, cool and malleable. The sparkles are purple and silver. He can feel them through the mush.

"How do you feel?" she asks, rubbing the foam on her cheek thoughtfully.

The thought crosses Sam that the only reason he doesn't feel like a baby is because Natasha is doing this too. And apparently utilizes this method to bring herself back and reacquaint herself with her body all the time. 

Sam thinks, staring into the mini galaxy in the mush he's handling, "I feel...kinda hyper-aware, I think."

She beams, "Nice."

They sit there for a long time, just testing all of the sensory items for a while, before Sam asks, "What's the bubble bath for?"

"For you, actually." She says.

Sam blinks at her, "Why?"

"Because, bubble baths are just dumb things people do to make their bodies feel good. Just sitting in warm, bubbly water will work wonders, trust me."

She hands the first bottle to him, and he inspects it, Milkshake perking up at the foreign object in Sam's hands. Sam did take a bath last night, so it's actually within his realm of possibility to do this. The thing is is if it will help him like it does Natasha. Sam hesitates, but nods.

They talk idly for a while, cycling through the sensory materials until Natasha asks if he wants to keep a few of them. His first instinct is to refuse because this is her stuff, and these are things that make her feel better, he couldn't possibly take any of it. And maybe she knows what he's about to say because she says, "I have tons more." 

He asks to keep the sparkly jello. She also offers him a foam shape, along with the finger paints. He has no idea what he'll use the paints for, but he accepts them, feeling somewhat....excited? He isn't sure. He just...after some quiet time with his best friend playing with something that makes him feel more connected to his body than he has in a while, he feels...pretty okay. He wouldn't dare say good, but he's okay. The high end of okay.

And when she leaves it's hours later and the sun is starting to go down, and he asks if she wants to come over and watch a movie with him tomorrow. She beams and accepts.

Then Steve and Bucky are back and grumbling about being kicked out of their own apartment and that actually kinda makes Sam laugh. He and Bucky sit at the kitchen island while Steve tries to offer up suggestions for dinner before opening the fridge, narrowing his eyes and turning to Bucky.

"You ate all of the chocolate?" Steve scolds, "By yourself?"

Bucky blinks at him before he puts on the hood of his sweatshirt and slowly pulls on the drawstrings, tightening the hood and obscuring his face as Steve lectures him. Soon Steve is glaring at him and Bucky's entire face is covered by fabric. Steve grumbles something about 'running away from his problems' and Sam laughs.

And not the small, tentative laughs he's been prone to on a rare basis, but an actual laugh. The scene is just really funny to him, and even he's surprised by his carefree response. He settles down and notices that Steve is looking at Sam like he just gave him the world, and Bucky fixes his hood and beams at him.

~

He considers using the bubble bath that night, but decides against it. Enough has happened today, and he chooses to leave that experiment for tomorrow. 

His mental and emotional state is volatile as is, and who knows what too much sensory input will do. 

No, better to wait until tomorrow. 

Sam tries to take a shower and almost passes out from the combination of standing, the fact that he's still recovering, and the fact that for some reason the warm water coming from the shower head gives him an odd feeling of nausea and vertigo. So he takes another bath, if for nothing else than for the sake of  preventing Steve and Bucky from having a heart attack because he lost consciousness in the shower. That would be embarrassing, and he's been humiliated enough.

It's been a...topsy-turvy kind of day, and Dr. Walsh is going to ask him to rate it on a scale of one to ten.

Sam sits in the warm water, knees to his chest and cheek on his knees as Milkshake watches him from where he lays on the rug, and weighs the events of the day.

He had a serious sensory flashback and panic attack, which was awful and terrifying, but he got to help Steve draw himself out of his own flashback. That was nice, to be able to help someone he loved. But then he disassociated for a good chunk of the day, then fell to his knees rather embarrassingly, expecting Steve to use him like Krause did. Milkshake couldn't bring him out of his haze, but he got to hang out with Natasha and reconnect with his body, albeit in a silly way. He just laughed for the first time in a long, long time.

The lingering sadness and fear are still there, but that's nothing new. Then there are the thoughts that pop up every now and again calling him a cheater, because of the fact that he's been with other men when he's still with Steve and Bucky. 

Is he even in a romantic relationship with Steve and Bucky anymore? Do they even want him like that anymore? Are they all still dating or are they just looking out for him as a friend? Can they ever want Sam in that way again? How could they?

Sam remembers the sex, and the kissing. The touching. But it's like he's watching a silent film starring people he doesn't recognize. And the very thought of them touching him like that makes him want to drown himself (though it would be quite impossible seeing that he still has to have the door open because they don't trust him with his mortality anymore than he trusts himself). But he...he wants.

He can't say it out loud. Not yet. But he wants to feel close to them again. He wants to feel like he's a part of them again. He wants them to want him. To think he's desirable even though he's dirtied by repeated violation. He wants to be wanted. He wants them to hold him and call him all the things they used to. He wants to be able to stand touch so they can.

Sam wants so many things, but he knows he'll never get it.

Chapter Text

Sam's days become either long hours of struggling to not let his mind run away from him and lead him down winding corridors of self-hatred and flashbacks, or consist entirely of him being a crying, crumbling mess at random intervals during the day and not allowing anyone but Milkshake near him. Or a mix of both.

He and Natasha watch a movie, pressed close under a blanket and Sam leans his head on her shoulder when she positions him to do so, accepting the comfort of his best friend. Jessica pops by during the end of the film (it's Alice In Wonderland again, simply because Sam knows this a movie he can actually handle, and the fact that Natasha hasn't seen this version). So by the end Sam ends up between Jessica and Natasha, feeling pretty okay for a guy who can barely handle physical touch being sandwiched between two people. He actually has a good time, and smiling isn't as difficult as it usually is. Jessica nudges him and deadpans that him trying to kill himself isn't going to get him out of helping her with cases, and Natasha throws her skittles at her, telling her not to be rude. Sam just manages a tiny laugh at them both, just content to watch them snark at each other. Jessica ends up playing with the sparkly goop Natasha gave him, and Natasha asks about the bubble bath. He tells her he hasn't used it yet, and is thankful when she nods and doesn't push him.

He enjoys their company, and Milkshake actually got to relax for most of the day, seeing as Sam wasn't in distress every other second. 

They all decide to set another date to watch some more movies, and Sam actually feels somewhat hopeful. He sat close to two people almost all day and didn't panic. He tries not to think about the fact that this isn't anything special seeing as he should be able to do that anyway, and that they're women, and thus not associated with his abuse in his mind. 

After they leave is when it gets a bit rocky.

He starts fading in and out, disassociating and hyperventilating at odd times for no apparent reason. Bucky and Steve speak soothing words to him, and tell him that he has a session with Dr. Walsh tomorrow, and that he'll be okay and just needs to breathe.

After he calms down he then gets that usual bone-deep sadness that settles over him when he realizes he can't bear to touch or be touched by them today. And when the dark cloud that hangs above him starts raining and thundering on him all he knows what to do is seclude himself so they don't have to see. But he's still on watch, so he still feels like a bug under a telescope. Sam knows he's hurting them, being in such obvious pain but not being able to let them help, and the day doesn't end without one breakdown on his part.

One minute he's sitting in the middle of the floor with Milkshake in his lap, just trying to stave off the depression, and then the next he's in tears and can't be consoled even by Milkshake's constant love. Sam's vision blurs and his pulse skyrockets, his head immediately starting to hurt as he goes from quietly sad to hysterical. He's saying something, but he doesn't know what. He just knows that Steve and Bucky are close, eyes soft and voices soothing as he rambles.

He clearly says something disturbing, seeing as the blood drains from their faces and their eyes widen in horror. They both look so fucking heartbroken that Sam is just thrown into more distress. He keeps doing this to them.

"Sam, hey...hey..." Steve soothes, "You know that's not true, right? That's not...Sam you have to know that's not true..."

Sam just keeps talking, face wet and head pounding until he runs out of words and only has sniffles.

Steve and Bucky look like they just heard him say that he's swallowed arsenic, and he distantly wonders what he's said. 

"Doll," Bucky starts, sitting on the carpet, far enough for Sam to feel comfortable, "I know you're feeling a lot and...and...but you gotta know that those thoughts are lying to you, babe."

"You were hurt, Sam." Steve says softly, eyes pained, "There's a difference between being forced to have sex with people and cheating, and...and Sam, please tell us you know that."

Sam's stomach plummets. Right. He guesses he told them about his guilt because he feels like he cheated on them. How fucking embarrassing. He can't even hold it together for a few hours without spilling his guilt everywhere like a morbid fountain. Sam just looks down, humiliated.

Bucky sighs, "Sam...rape and cheating are two completely different things and circumstances. You aren't a cheater, you were taken and people hurt you. You're not to blame for anything that happened." 

Sam still doesn't look at him.

"Doll, please." Bucky whispers, sounding so fucking hurt. Sam can't stop hurting people. He hates himself for it.

And of course, in his usual fashion of being incredibly weak and pathetic, Sam cracks. He draws his knees to his chest, ignoring the dog that's trying to get his attention to distract him. 

"I let them." Sam says quietly, like he's confessing to murder (in a way, he is. His own.), "I let them. I...I stopped fighting and...and I let them...and there were time I was g-grateful for it because they weren't torturing me like they were doing to other people. All I had to do was lie there and take it. And I did. I-I didn't stop them and I didn't fight hard enough."

"Sam--"

Bucky's voice immediately unlocks that anger that Sam forgets is there every now and again. His voice is so full of love and comfort like Steve's eyes are, and all Sam can think is that they don't fucking get it. They don't understand. They aren't listening.

"No." Sam snaps, voice shaking and cracking, "You're not fucking listening, neither of you are listening! I let them. I let them do everything to me and I gave in so easily. I...I let them. It's my fault. It's all my fault--"

"Sam, please." Steve says desperately, "You were hurt, you had to let them do what they wanted to stop yourself from being killed. You had no other choice and I swear we don't think of this as anything other than those monsters forcing themselves on you."

Sam shakes his head. They're still not listening. They still won't listen.

"Why can't you see how fucking amazing you are?!" Bucky cries, "Why can't you just accept the fact that we love you and that you did nothing wrong?"

Sam curls in tighter on himself as Bucky's voice rises. Milkshake bares his teeth, guarding Sam.

"You're so fucking valuable, Sam. Jesus, you're worth the fucking world and you think something like this going to change that?!"

"Bucky, lower your voice--!"

"Shut up, Steve!--nobody can take your value away from you because you're fucking brilliant, Sam. For fuck's sake, you're the best out of all of us, and I'm going to keep saying it until you finally fucking believe it! We love you, we love you so fucking much that we couldn't ever let you go--"

Sam throws himself into Bucky's arms with a sob. Bucky's arms automatically encase him like a barrier of safety, and Sam just buries his face in his neck and tries to breathe. He trembles, but doesn't let go, letting Bucky call him sweet things like 'beautiful' and 'lovely' as he sniffles in his arms. Bucky kisses any bit of him he can reach, his cheeks and temples, trying to press all of the wonderful things he thinks of Sam into his skin to replace the shame that is currently there. Where it shouldn't be.

"I can't get them out of my head." Sam says after a long moment, "I...I'm trying, I'm trying really hard, but...but I just-I..."

"It's okay, Sam." Steve soothes, pressing a soft kiss to Sam's cheek, "You're healing, and you're doing so well. You've come so far already, and we're here with you through it all."

Sam is able to sleep in between them that night. 

Milkshake drapes himself across their legs.

~

The next day Sam opens the finger paints before he asks Steve if he can paint on his arm. 

His voice shakes as he does so--he's still not used to requesting things--but he'd woken up a bit panicked and put off of physical touch. Not to mention the fact that he's kind of zoning in and out, and Milkshake brings him out of it only for Sam to drift again.

So maybe this...this can help with both of those things? If he's lucky?

(When was the last time he was lucky?)

Steve beams at him, "Yeah, sure Sam. Anything." and he looks so happy as he changes into a tank top, sitting on the couch next to Sam and giving him a smile full of so much love that Sam has to look away. Steve looks like Sam has given him the world, and he doesn't know how to accept that. That something so small is enough for Steve to smile like that simply because it came from Sam. Because it's Sam offering it.

Sam sits cross legged next to him, almost awkwardly far away, wearing the sensory blocking hoodie Steve got for him and Bucky, trying to keep his hands steady as he opens the paints. He tries to choose a color, and ignore his pounding heart. He looks at them all. Red, purple, blue, yellow, pink, baby blue, orange, green, lavender...

Sam dips his finger in a bit of the blue paint before turning to a smiling Steve and hesitating for a second, suddenly unsure if this is a good idea. What if touch is just too much today? 

Sam bites his lips--Steve watching him, eyes soft--as the emotions cross his face.

Sam presses the blue to Steve's skin, both of their breaths hitching as they touch, even through the cool, slick, slide of the paint. Sam blinks, trying to breathe as he trails his fingers down Steve's bicep, leaving a streak of blue. Vibrant against pale skin. Sam knows Steve is watching him, but he doesn't look up, not sure how to face the inevitable adoration that he knows is in Steve's eyes. 

Sam feels...he isn't sure, but it's not negative, fearful or panicky so he haltingly continues, pressing his fingers into more cool blue paint and pressing it to the warm skin of Steve's muscled arm. Something about the coolness of the paint and the feeling of Steve's warm skin under his fingers makes him feel more...present, somehow. And the fact that he's touching someone isn't tripping all the alarms in his head because the sensation of the paint seems to cross his brain's wiring, deeming this activity harmless, for some reason. His heart is still beating hard, but more so because Steve is so close, and Sam is just venturing into new territory altogether.

He isn't painting anything in particular, just trying to get used to what he's doing. He has no specific portrait in mind, and Steve clearly doesn't care, just content to watch Sam like he's currently hanging the moon and putting the stars in the sky. 

His stitches itch. He ignores it. He's due to have the bandages changed tomorrow. 

Sam chooses green next, moving on from straight lines into spirals and loops winding down Steve's bicep, and eventually he ventures further down Steve's arm with purple zigzags and yellow squares. 

Bucky eventually comes to sit on the adjacent couch, a grin on his lips as he quietly watches. Sam gets a kind of tunnel vision, so absorbed in what he's doing that he doesn't notice Dr. Walsh arriving and taking her seat in front of him, quietly observing. 

It takes startlingly long for Sam to notice that she's there. The feeling of Steve under his fingers and the look of the random paint doodles on his arm are completely absorbing Sam's attention. When he notices shes there he snatches his hand away from the blond's arm like he's been caught doing something wrong.

She immediately waves off his shock and just easily says, "Oh no, Sam. Please continue whatever you were doing. It's perfectly fine. This is your session, you can do whatever you want."

Sam looks at her for a moment, not fully believing her until she takes out her electronic pad that she uses for taking her notes and actually doesn't seem to care. He isn't sure why he felt like he got caught doing something wrong, but he bites it down and tries to keep his fingers steady as he returns to what he's doing. She asks if he'd like Steve and Bucky to stay for his session. 

Sam nods. 

He can basically feel the happiness rolling off of Steve is waves. Bucky beams from his place on the couch, pulling up his hood and getting comfortable.

If he's painting on Steve's arm he doesn't have to look at her as he speaks, and that means he can get more out. It's easier.

"How are you, today?"

It's such a simple question but Sam doesn't know how to answer it. 

He shrugs.

"Okay, on a scale of one to ten." She amends, trying to get some sort of answer out of him.

Sam draws a purple rectangle on Steve's wrist, "Uhm... five?"

She smiles, "That's quite an improvement!"

Sam shrugs, it's only halfway to a ten. Not so spectacular, "The day isn't over yet, though." he tells her, "It...it could go down."

She blinks at him, smirking, "But that doesn't mean that five didn't happen. You still felt okay, and that's still valid and relevant even if it changes later on."

Sam shrugs again. He guesses so.

"So, today I want to establish what you want to work on. At least for the near future. Goals, I suppose."

Sam glances at her in mild confusion before he continues his work.

"Well, what I mean is I want to know your short term goals. What issues you want to tackle in our upcoming sessions. If we set a game plan we can stay organized and make sure we get you on the path to turning every day into a five. Then a six, then a seven and so forth."

Sam thinks for a moment, finger stalling and pressed to Steve skin before he unfreezes and nods.

"So, these choices are all yours, Sam. No one know you better than you. Anything in particular?"

Sam thinks, brows furrowing as he takes a bit of orange paint.

Then he remembers his longing from the last few days. Wanting the touch of people he loves but being unable to accept it. 

"I...I think," he starts, taking a deep breath, "I want to work on touch."

She nods, "Good start. So what exactly about touch?"

"Uhm, being able to accept physical comfort consistently without having sensory flashbacks would be...would be nice." Sam says quietly, and Steve's eyes go soft in that way they do when he just wants to wrap Sam in his arms and protect him from everything, even his own fear.

She gives him a reassuring smile, "Of course. Remember, Sam. You're in charge here, okay?"

He nods.

"So what next?"

Sam thinks for a moment, "I would...like to be able to believe everyone when they say it wasn't my fault." he says, voice shaking and quiet, Bucky's hands itch to hold Sam and kiss him again. He stays in his seat, of course. 

She nods again, eyes warm as she gestures for him to go on.

"And...I would like to be able to work on going outside. And...and maybe seeing some of my other friends and being able to handle it?" He finishes on a self conscious and unsteady note.

"Sam, you know you're not requesting these things, right? This isn't a matter of if I'll help you achieve them. You're not asking me for permission." She says softly, "You're establishing your parameters and I'm following what you say. You're the boss here, not me."

Sam freezes.

"I can see you look uncomfortable." She tells him, "Can you tell me why?"

Again, the acknowledgement of what he's currently feeling is reassuring in a way he doesn't know how to articulate.

"I'm not used to that." He says uneasily.

"What?"

"...consciously making choices." He says, "When...when I was with...him, I didn't get any choices. Not with food or where to go or when to sleep. He decided everything and I didn't have any...options."

Steve tries to keep himself from tensing in anger and startling Sam, but it takes an exercise of will that he's hasn't had to use in a while.

Bucky is sitting rigid, jaw clenched and breathing through his nose in a steady manner so as not to lash out.

"Ah, so you're not used to having any power to do as you please." She observes.

Sam nods, painting on Steve's arm with the baby blue paint, "And when I disobeyed or rebelled he...didn't take it well."

And they all know what that means.

Steve swallows silently.

"I understand, Sam. You aren't used to doing what you want without the fear of being hurt."

He nods again, "And I know that it's different now and it won't be like that but it's hard to convince my brain of that when I'm panicking and used to it ending in one way. It's stupid."

"That's not stupid at all, Sam. Though I disagree, can you tell me why you think such a thing?"

"It was only six months." He says, frustration in his voice, "I shouldn't still be so broken up about this. It was only like, half a year and I'm not with them anymore. I don't understand why I can't just get over this."

Steve startles and takes a breath to say something, to assure Sam that not the right train of thought, before he's silenced by Dr. Walsh's stern look.

He clenches his jaw shut and tries to breathe.

"Sam." Dr. Walsh starts, "Can I speak plainly with you for a moment?"

Sam hesitates, then nods, very deliberately trying not to look at her as he makes more of a mess of Steve's arm.

"You were constantly and relentlessly attacked so viciously for an extended amount of time. You see it as just six months, but let's consider what that six months consisted of." She says, "It consisted of brutal sexual abuse from one man repeatedly every day, usually multiple times a day. It also consisted of a traumatizing and incredibly damaging gang assault. Then sexual abuse from several other men constantly. You were also forced to witness several horrific murders. Now add in the mind games and emotional, mental and physical manipulation, and the fact that you were not allowed to interact with anyone but your captors, while also being fetishized, objectified and treated like a possession for sex and vanity. Plans to permanently modify your body without your consent. Everything being controlled down to what you wore, ate, drank, and you were confined to places your captor's kept you--"

"He also made me get on my knees during his meetings sometimes." Sam says quietly and shakily. He doesn't know why he says it, maybe because some part of him needs reassurance that his trauma is valid and not because he's being weak or going crazy. All of it.

"Can you tell me about that?" She asks gently.

Sam just shrugs, "It was just...a bunch of guys in suits who would come around every now and again. Uhm, a few times he made me...they laughed, usually."

Bucky bites the inside of his mouth until it bleeds.

"It's okay, Sam." She says, "You can tell me all of it. This is a safe space, remember? I'm here to listen to you."

It's not even her he's wary of telling. It's Steve and Bucky, who already know more than he would like about his humiliation and he isn't sure he can give them more to add to it all. But he can't imagine having this session by himself, either.

Sam is quiet for a long, long moment before he tells them about Krause coming down his throat and the rest of them saying that they should be able to use his mouth too. About him coming on Sam's face and staining him as he knelt there while they laughed and said he looked good like that. Come stained and on his knees. He trips over the words and chokes on them in some parts, and by the end he doesn't remember his exact wording, but what he does know is that he stares at Steve's arm and just says it.

Steve goes pale and Sam stops painting.

"I ran out of space." Sam says miserably, looking at Steve's arm--a mess of paint and random shapes.

Steve takes a shaky breath before he quietly says, "Is it okay if I...wash it off so you can start over?"

Sam blinks for a moment, looking in his lap before he nods, his face heated in shame.

Steve scrambles away and bolts out of the room. Sam feels Milkshake press against his side, trying to distract him, but Sam can't pet him because of the paint on his hands. It's quite obvious he's officially brought down the mood of the room. Quite drastically.

Steve basically ran away to be able to dry heave or something. He doesn't dare look at Bucky. 

"Sam, I can see you look embarrassed," she says softly, "can you tell me why?"

Sam shivers, hands going a bit numb, "It's...I didn't want anyone to know. I never wanted anyone to know about any of this."

"What are you afraid will happen?"

Sam fidgets, "That they'll think I'm...disgusting--"

Bucky sits up at that, eyes wide as he opens his mouth to say something before Dr. Walsh looks at him sharply out of the corner of her eye, a silent and firm reminder to stay quiet. Bucky wilts and settles down, snapping his mouth shut even though it looks like it hurts him to do so.

"Go on, Sam."

"A-and I guess I'm afraid that they won't want me anymore? I know it doesn't make any sense, but I can't get it out of my head. That I'm never gonna be able to be loved...physically again. Ever. Because they won't want to. And I would understand if that's how it ended up because I don't even really want to be stuck with myself either."

Steve walks back into the room just in time to catch what Sam has said, eyes red and arm a blank slate. He sits next to Sam and offers his skin up again with a shaky smile.

She nods, "It makes sense that you would feel that way, but it is not in the realm of your reality. Do you really believe they find you as unattractive that you find yourself?"

Sam shakes his head.

"How you see yourself and how others sees you seem to very, very different. You don't see yourself how Steve and Bucky see you. And though logically, you know how they feel about you, trauma will not let you fully believe it. It has warped your perception of yourself."

Sam nods, painting on Steve's skin again.

"Now I want to have Steve and Bucky respond to that, if they don't mind." She says suddenly, and Sam freezes. 

Steve gives her a grateful look before he takes a breath, "I know you're afraid of not being seen as valuable or attractive to us anymore." he starts, and Sam flinches in embarrassment, "But Sam, you're still Sam. You're still our Sam and you're still as amazing and gorgeous as you always were. What's happened to you doesn't change that in the least. It couldn't make any less of a difference. And I know it's hard to believe, but please trust us with this. Because we mean it."

"Yeah, doll." Bucky adds, "You're really precious to us, there's honestly nothing that could ever change that."

Sam doesn't know what to say. He just looks down at his lap, sensing when Bucky comes to sit on Sam's other side. Steve's hand reaches for his, pausing in question, and Sam nods, heart stuttering as Steve gently takes his hand, not caring about the paint. Sam wiggles into his arms and rests his head over Steve's heartbeat, reaching out for Bucky's hand.

She clarifies that Sam's recovery is not to be rushed, even if Sam himself has thoughts that he should just get over it. She tells him that recovery is not linear, and there will be days where his recent progress is apparent and some days where he'll feel like he's back where he started. That's normal. Then she asks what Sam was doing, with the paint on Steve's arm.

He shrugs, "I just...it was a way to be close to him in a way that didn't really feel threatening."

She smiles, "Well, that's a very good tactic, and approved by me. I suggest you keep doing that, and try different parts of the body as well. Now, let's work on regaining your comfort when it comes to touch, so you're most consistently stable. That's not to say you won't have days where you can't really do it, but maybe just help with the roller-coaster aspect of it."

Sam nods.

"Now, I think a good place to start is getting reacquainted with your own body. Generally and sexually."

Sam tenses and his face goes hot.

"Don't get weird on me, Sam." she giggles, "You had the exact same look on your face the last time."

"Well, yeah,"  Sam protests, "but that's because it's...it's weird to talk about."

"I suppose," she shrugs, "but I don't really think so. I think that this will help you reconnect on a subconscious level. So, touch yourself."

Sam makes a mortified noise, and she stifles a chuckle.

~

The session ends and Sam paints on Steve's arm a bit more, until Steve is told by an apologetic sounding Friday that Fury called and wants to see him, and won't be kept waiting. Steve looks pretty much furious, because this was...he was close to Sam and Sam was touching him and getting comfortable with being near him. And it just felt nice, Sam trailing fingers over his skin. He missed that.

As furious and annoyed as he is, he's all soft eyes and smiles for Sam when he says that being his canvas was honestly really wonderful, and that-if Sam is comfortable-he would be thrilled to do it again. Sam gives him a small smile and agrees. Then Steve is gone and Sam is feeling a little less safe. It's stupid, because it's completely untrue, but he wants both of them here all the time.

He's such a fucking baby.

Bucky asks if he'd like to do something, and Sam thinks for a moment before he quietly asks if he can paint on him.

The happiness on Bucky's face is completely disproportionate to what Sam has said, but Bucky looks honestly happy to be spending time with Sam. 

"So, where do you wanna paint, doll?" 

Sam thinks, not exactly sure. He's okay enough with physical contact in the moment, and he has an idea where he wants to paint, but he doesn't know if he can ask. Bucky smiles softly at him, eyes bright as he offers, "My arms? Like you did with Steve? Or my back--"

Sam nods, blinking at him and hoping Bucky got the message. He beams, "Got it."

And that's how Sam finds himself sitting cross-legged on the carpet with the paints open next to him, and Bucky, shirtless on his stomach with his head on his arms, head turned to watch Sam's face as he puts purple loops across his shoulders. Sam focuses on how his body feels as he does it. The fear is there, but it's always there. And it's quite faint right now. He focuses on how close they are, and how Sam is still safe even though he's so close to someone who is stronger than him. He focuses on the cool slip of the paint on warm skin, firm and muscled under his hands. Bucky's hair almost gets in some of it, and Sam has to slowly brush it away with his clean hand. He paints blue stars under the swirls, and then a few pink hearts after that before he sees Bucky smiling at him. He almost wants to look away, because the absolute love on his face is something Sam isn't entirely sure what to do with. Bucky doesn't stop looking at him like he's the sun and the stars, even as Sam glances away to finish the next heart and try some green lines, next. Sam's eyes always return to Bucky's face though. 

And soon Sam is able to give Bucky a small smile as well. Shaky, but genuine.

Chapter Text

Shout out to tumblr blog fandomshatepeopleofcolor for encouraging people to send me awful comments on this story.

I, a black rape victim who identifies most with Sam Wilson and am simply trying to cope with my attacks! Thanks for that you guys! Doing great by black people here by attacking us when we try to speak about our experiences. Basically like how everyone else attacks us. Keep it up!!!

Here's the thing, I got a shitty comment by someone with the username maliciastarling (same on tumblr) about how this story is just senselessly hurting a black character, and it turns out they've rallied other people into attacking me, and this fic. I think they're also a mod at fandomshatepeopleofcolor

So thanks yall. Awesome. Also.

Go fuck yourselves.

Chapter Text

Sam doesn't ask why Fury wanted to see Steve. He doesn't need anything else on his mind right now, and if it was something important he figures Steve would have said something.

The odd thing is that, the next day, it's like Sam's brain has decided that since sampling touch again with the paints yesterday, Sam wants more of that contact today. It's such a weird feeling, wanting to be held and pressed close to their bodies. He's unused to this need, but it's raging and he doesn't even really know what he wants, but he knows he wants it. So badly. An odd mantra of 'please be near me' running circles through his mind. Sam wakes up with that ache for physical contact that makes him feel safe, but he isn't sure how to ask for it. It's like every day he has to start from scratch to build up the courage to ask for anything. It's tedious and frustrating. He makes a note to mention this at therapy.  

Steve and Bucky watch him closely as he gathers Milkshake close and buries his face in the dog's fur, seeking comfort and love and all the things he's currently afraid to ask them for. It's not as difficult with Milkshake. He doesn't have to be asked to shower Sam with love, he just does. It's his default setting. For people...it's harder. And Sam doesn't do too well with things like that these days. 

Sam shrinks into himself because he's too afraid to ask for what he wants. He knows they suspect something, but he can't articulate his thoughts, so he just stays silent and simmers in that quiet sadness he knows so well. In the end it's them standing by the bed as he sulks with Milkshake in his lap that breaks the silent longing that he's been carrying since he woke up that morning. It's like they know. Like it took them a while to figure out, but they know now. Steve sits down on the edge of the bed, looking at Sam in a silent question before he extends his hand, giving him the option to accept or refuse. Sam skin buzzes as he takes Steve's hand, their skin connecting before Steve gives him another questioning look.

Sam doesn't know what he's asking, but he nods because he just needs them close. As close as possible.

Sam is pulled into Steve's arms as Bucky takes his hand, and Sam just relaxes into the firm body against his, exhaling in relief. They're here, and they're close.

It's like Sam can breathe again.

He falls asleep.

~

Sam finally uses the bubble bath. He ignores the thoughts that ring through his head telling him that this is dumb and childish and will do nothing. Natasha said it works for her, so Sam figures he should give it a shot too. 

His stitches still itch, and Steve said that he's going to change them when Sam is finished, so he doesn't wet new bandages. The door still has to be open but Sam doesn't really notice anymore. He's used to it. Until, of course, he remembers exactly why he can't close the door. Then he feels guilty about his suicide attempt all over again. That's been happening a lot. Sam will be just trying to get through the day then he'll remember and be embarrassed and upset all over again.  

Milkshake takes his usual spot on the rug, watching Sam happily as he takes out one of the bottles Natasha got for him and without looking at it, pours it into the bathtub, under the tap for the water to churn out the bubbles. He doesn't bother to check the scent until he smells something sweet and is curious enough to look.

Creme brûlée. Hm.

It smells nice. Other than that Sam has no opinions about it, not yet anyway.

He sits in it for a while, just trying to breathe and not let his mind go back to that first day with Krause. Of being in the tub with him. This is one of the few things Sam enjoys these days, being in the warm water. He won't let awful memories ruin it. 

Milkshake looks at him, gauging his reactions, and Sam idly notes how much the dog has grown, even since Sam got him back. He's getting bigger every day, though no less dopey and silly. Sam glad he won't lose that quality though. It's so uniquely Milkshake. 

He sits there for a while, blinking slowly with his cheek rested on his knees as he tries not to let the warmth lull him into a doze. If he falls asleep in here he knows they'll think he was trying to drown himself or something. Instead he tries to focus on how the warm water feels on his skin, or how the bubbles feel as they fizzle and pop around his body. He remembers the task Dr. Walsh assigned him, but he can't really help thinking that it's completely stupid to do such a thing. He touches himself all the time. He just doesn't like to think about it.

But he also considers how she hasn't steered him wrong yet. How what she says usually ends up being the truth, and how her methods usually end up working. 

Sam fights with himself for a long moment before he presses his hand to his chest, just focusing on the feel of his own skin. His first instinct is to rip his hand away and recoil from himself, but he guesses that that's why she gave him this assignment in the first place. Because that shouldn't be his reaction. He bites down the panic and discomfort as he runs his fingers over his collarbones, heart pounding as he explores. He's regaining the weight he's lost, so they don't protrude nearly as much as they used to. Sam actually didn't even notice the change, before this. 

He stays there for a while, at his collarbones, where it's safe and he doesn't have to try and process his own touch any lower on his body. He knows that's what she wants him to do, but he's unsure if he'll be able to do it.  As soon as he tries to go any lower his fingers start to shake, but he pushes on. Maybe she's right. Maybe this will do....something.

Sam leans back and clenches his eyes shut, trying to keep his breathing steady and forces himself not to stop when he grazes his nipples and has to bite his lip to keep that startled sound inside. He doesn't know how he feels, exactly. He just knows that his heart rate is picking up and he's breathing slightly heavier. The smell of the bubble bath does keep him grounded though. It's a strong, sweet smell that he doesn't ever remember having come in contact with before. He spends a good amount of time on his lower abdomen, stalling before he gets any lower. Sam is incredibly hesitant to go any further, because giving himself a panic attack now is a new low he isn't sure he wants to reach, but he just takes a deep breath of sweet, warm fragrance and shakily continues. His touch is feather light, the opposite of what he's been subject to at the hands of his captors (it feels almost unrecognizable), and he trails his index and middle finger across his skin through the water, lower...lower...lower...

He brushes over his cock, soft and foreign under his fingers, and he realizes something. And it's absolutely telling of how put off by sex his brain is that he's never considered this before.

When...whenever they fucked him slept with him...raped him...(and Sam's heart rate spikes once he thinks the word for himself as opposed to someone else saying it in reference to what happened to him) they never even really touched his dick. They grabbed at it carelessly to steady him or to just get their hands all over him, but they've never actually...

Clearly none of it was ever about Sam's pleasure, because of course they didn't care about that, but not even Krause was interested in trying to get him hard, or get him off at all. 

Sam doesn't even remember the last time he's been hard. Or aroused in general. Not even if he didn't want to be. He doesn't even really remember what it felt like, but distantly...Sam thinks he might miss it. He wants to be close to Steve and Bucky again, and he wants to be as desirable to them as he once was. He wants to be able to kiss them and touch them and be close to them in the way he used to.

He also realizes that this is the first time he's ever thought of them fucking him as rape in his own mind. Using that defining word. He usually just says that they had sex with him in reference to what happened, but doesn't acknowledge the dark aspect of it despite the fact that he's still feeling the affects of it every day.

The fact that he didn't want it, and they knew that, but they held him down and did what they wanted anyway. 

The word makes Sam uncomfortable. But that's what it was. He'll have to accept that sooner or later. He'd rather never think about it again though, honestly. A part of him knows that he doesn't like the word partially because if he attributes the words 'rape victim' to himself he can no longer blame himself for everything that's happened. Because the words 'rape victim' clearly tell both the person saying it and hearing it that whoever was hurt was hurt because someone did it to them. All of his guilt is not justified, and for some reason the thought of not being able to blame himself for his own assault is scary to him, because then he'll have to face what's really happened in a more complex way. That no matter what he did it couldn't be stopped. He feels like he needs to blame himself because if he can't...

He swallows down the fear and gently runs his fingers along himself, confusion coloring his thoughts when he feels...something, as his fingers brush along his cock. The touch is foreign, and he has no idea how he's feeling other than the fact that his pulse has quickened and his breathing is a bit heavier. He isn't sure he's even feeling anything, or if his body is and his brain just can't pick it up. How is he supposed to be feeling as he touches himself? Sam isn't sure.

It's all too confusing, and he decides that he's done enough for today.

~

After that he's a bit on edge for the rest of the day. Sam tells Steve this when he asks if Sam is alright, but he can't go into too much detail because he's generally just a bit tired having to always spill his guts whenever he's feeling anxious or just...wrong. He's getting sick of spouting his own humiliation all over the place, and he doesn't doubt that Steve and Bucky are tired of hearing it.

(Actually no, he knows he's lying to himself with the last part, he just wants to believe that they no longer want to hear it because he no longer wants to talk about it.)

He spends the rest of the day curled up with Steve watching Bucky play video games. It's the same one with the little cloth people, and Sam finds himself liking it quite a lot. He tries not to think about the bath or his body or any of his recent revelations because honestly he's tired of his brain constantly being on overdrive. He'd just like to not think for a bit and be able to enjoy this moment of calm closeness with people he trusts. Who love him. He still flinches when they move too quickly around him, but he counts his blessings because he's able to still accept their touches, even if it's only sometimes.

It's better than never.

Steve has his arms around him, and Bucky is biting his lip while trying to create some sort of aircraft in the game while Milkshake presses his cold nose against Sam's hand.

It's nice, being able to accept Steve's touch. His comfort. 

A while later, when Steve comes back to where Sam sits with supplies to change his bandages Sam purposefully looks away as Steve unwraps his stitched wrists. He doesn't know what he wants to see less, the look he knows is on Steve's face (and Bucky's, even though he's acting like he's absorbed in his game and not watching out of the corner of his eye) or the morbid sight of his flesh stitched closed. Sam isn't too eager to fully face what he's done to himself. Not yet.

Steve's hands are gentle, handling Sam like he's gold as he cleans and wraps those precious veins that carry blood through Sam's precious body.  And soon he's all wrapped up again and Sam can finally stop holding his breath. He immediately reaches for Steve, that warmth of safety wrapping around him as Steve's arms do.

Sam falls asleep.

~

The thing is, Sam is starting to think maybe life is moving a bit too fast. What with everything happening lately he also finds himself getting dressed to tag along with Steve and Bucky to the store. The first time he's been out and about since trying to cut his life short.

Initially Steve was going to go, but Sam hates when one of them leaves, and today he feels like he can't really stand that feeling of being somewhat less safe with one of them away from home, so he ends up holding Milkshake's leash and strapping on the dog's service vest--which is orange and says things like 'please don't pet me, I'm working!'--and holding tight to Bucky's hand with his free one. Steve walks on his other side, watching Sam for any hint of distress, and even though he's about to be out and about with a lot more people than he's used to he doesn't feel too nervous until he actually steps outside and remembers how big the world is. How much danger there probably is everywhere. How him leaving the tower is what started the mess that was dumped on his life in the first place. If he would have stayed at the tower he would have never come in contact with Krause at all.

Sam is aware that it's a dumb thought--because a lot more went into being kidnapped than him just leaving the tower--but his brain is pretty much convinced that leaving the tower is the most dangerous thing he could do as soon as he steps out of the apartment, and when he freezes Milkshake is alerted to his spike in anxiety and fear as well as Steve and Bucky. Sam thinks that Bucky might be trying to say something to him, but the ringing in his head is too loud to hear over it, he just knows that he's gone faint and dizzy. And that at some point Milkshake has pulled him to the ground via his leash, and Sam is brought back with the feeling of fur against his face.

Steve is a solid barrier by his side though, and Bucky gently squeezes his hand.

And like always, he panics but he recovers. Sam of course, isn't thrilled that his first instinct is for his brain to capsize in fear and terror, but he guesses the fact that he can even get past his anxiety attacks at all says more about his recovery than the credit he's willing to give himself.

"Sam?"

Steve's voice is soft and reassuring, as is Bucky's presence next to him and Milkshake's weight against his chest, so he immediately takes a deep, shaking breath, tries to push all invasive and unhelpful thoughts away and stand on shaking legs.

"You don't have to, doll." Bucky says softly, "Steve or I can go and be back really quick. You don't have to--"

Sam grips Milkshake's leash, "Yeah, but...I think...I think this is something I should do." he stutters, still unused to requesting things, "Getting outside is supposed to be a good thing, right?"

Sam ignores how his voice cracks on the question.

"You don't have to, doll." Bucky repeats, voice softer. Sam sighs, kicking himself for worrying them further before he says, "I want to. I need to...I..."

Sam stutters, face growing hot as the words struggle to tumble past his lips. Eventually he gathers himself and is able to quietly say, "I need to start living again. I can't let this ruin everything forever."

He's aware he sounds a bit vague, but he hopes they know what he means. How he can't just be content to be broken and afraid forever. 

Is he moving too fast and trying to take on too much at once? Maybe. But he can't stay stagnant. He has to be able to go back to normal at some point.

Or at least try. Isn't that what this is all about? Trying to get better until maybe one day he is? Or close?

And if anything used to be normal for him it's going grocery shopping with Bucky and Steve, so he figures that's a good place to start. It's not like he's running out of the tower to go on a mission or anything. It's just grocery shopping. 

So why does he still feel like his heart is trying to escape his chest?

Anyway, he's made up his mind and holds onto that small pebble of courage until he can breathe steadily again. Steve still looks like he wants to wrap Sam in bubble wrap, but he stays as quiet, silently reassuring and comforting as Bucky does while Sam breathes, trying not to let his mind run away from him in fear. There is nothing to be afraid of, not realistically anyway. Not right now.

They stand right outside the door to their apartment while Sam gathers himself, trying not to be embarrassed that it's all taking so long. Bucky looks at him in question and Sam nods, taking Bucky's hand again and relishing in the comfort of having Bucky's hand in his own. Steve-though Sam is holding Milkshake's leash--takes Sam's other hand when he reaches for him, and they just take it one step at a time.

Sam isn't sure what he's expecting when they step outside, but other than the fact that it's a cool day and Milkshake is nearly breaking his neck trying to look around at everything at once (and Sam immediately feels bad for not taking him outside regularly) Sam just tries not to look at any strangers and just keep calm.

He can do this.

He's not afraid.

He can do this.

It's okay.

He's safe.

Steve and Bucky are here.

He tries to ignore how he was with Steve and Bucky when he was taken the first time, too. And he immediately feels guilty for that train of thought because Sam feels like he's blaming them. He doesn't mean to, but as soon as that thought enters his head he remembers that he...he does blame them, even if it's the slightest bit.

It's a dark part of his brain that Sam makes a point not to visit often, but there is a dark, awful corner of his mind that rages at the fact that he wasn't even safe with two fucking super soldiers. That even after all the good Sam has done, he's still been subjected to something so awful. For so long. That they didn't find him until he was already so broken and messed up that he didn't know which way was up.

He knows it's not fair, and that it makes him a fucking horrible person, but that little dark corner of his mind exists, and he hates it. He hates it so much, because Sam knows it wasn't their fault. That it was no one's fault but Hydra's. Maybe his own, but he's still unsure about that.

But he still can't help the intrusive thoughts that wonder if they were even trying at all. The thoughts that ring through his head saying that six entire months were able to pass with Sam in the grips of monsters, and yet somehow with all of their superpowers and high IQs it wasn't enough, and they were still too late to stop the horrors. But then again no one is responsible for Sam but himself, so it all goes back to it all being his fault, doesn't it?

But the thing is, Sam isn't really buying that anymore. That it was his fault. He can't believe it as absolutely as he once did.

Sam makes the mistake of letting these thoughts float through his mind, and it's only because he knows that he's in public (and doesn't cause a scene) that stops him from disconnecting from them both and shrinking away.

Because honestly, how dare he? They did all he could, and fucked up in the head or not, Sam knows that the fact that he's having those thoughts at all means that he's a grade A asshole. What the fuck is wrong with him? And even if they didn't bother searching too hard, they had no reason not to assume he wasn't dead, so it doesn't matter. Sam hates himself for even considering being upset with them over this. It's not their fault. Not in the least.

Sam is awful, and now he's hand in hand with Steve and Bucky while thinking awful thoughts and feeling sick.

He hates himself.

The guilt has him looking at the ground as they walk, and the fact that Steve and Bucky are like pillars of protection on either side of him makes him feel even worse. Because even though Sam is being terrible they're still protecting him. Even though a small, fragile and sad bit of him blames them for the fact that he was hurt to begin with.

Sam tries not to give away how suddenly distressed he is, and tries to ignore the fact that he's on a crowded NYC sidewalk with so many people around. 

He doesn't look up. He just keeps his eyes on Milkshake--taking in the dog's excitement--and tries not to trip over his own feet or have some sort of reaction that will draw attention to them. 

He wonders if anyone does a double take as they pass by, or if they know who they are. Sam hopes not, sudden social interaction might end up being too much for him today. Sam kicks himself for not considering the fact that they're all pretty much famous before stepping out of the tower, and that there's a good chance they'll be recognized and swarmed--

The grocery store is cooler than outside, and Sam snaps out of his thoughts when Bucky gently squeezes his hand and gives him a quiet, "You okay, doll?"

Sam nods and takes a breath. Steve grabs a basket, and Sam holds tighter to Milkshake's leash. 

Sam isn't really sure what he's expecting,  but the store is pretty empty and after a while he stops staring at the floor and deems it safe enough to move a little more freely. He holds onto Steve and Bucky,  and stays close while trying to remember what foods he likes that he can see, and overall feels like this is all going pretty well, anxiety aside. He's still on edge, but he didn't expect anything different, and he's able to keep it together, for the most part.

That is, until a few different things happen. 

The first thing that happens is actually quite charming. When they're in the bread aisle Milkshake is approached by a small girl, and Sam immediately freezes, but before the girl does anything she looks at Milkshake's vest, and her little brows furrow while she slowly reads it. She can't be more than maybe six years old, but she stands there and tries to pick her way through the words, and when she does she nods and merely gives Milkshake a smile before she returns to her mother, who is examining some bagels about a foot away. She still looks at the dog in obvious interest, but she doesn't approach him again or attempt to pet him or distract him after having read on his vest that he's currently busy and shouldn't be disturbed. 

Sam feels like an idiot for freezing like he did, but he does so whenever someone he doesn't immediately recognize gets close to him, child or not, and that's why Steve and Bucky silently stay as close to him as they possibly can. They see that Sam is still a bit jumpy and uncomfortable. He is thankful that the little girl didn't disregard Milkshake's vest and distract him, because Sam constantly has to be grounded when he starts to drift or panic, and Milkshake is on high alert and pressing himself into Sam's legs and ready to yank him away from whatever is causing him distress should he need it. 

Sam fidgets while Steve quickly tries to choose a peanut butter, and he isn't sure why he's so anxious until he realizes that it's the choices that the store allows that has him unable to know what to do with himself. When he was with Krause he never had choices. For anything. If Krause wanted sex Sam was forced to comply, of Krause wanted seafood for dinner then that's what they ate. If Krause wanted Sam to wear pink then he did. The very purpose of the grocery store is to allow for choices and preferences, and now that Sam is standing in front of several kinds of teas he doesn't know what to do.

It's pathetic and yet very daunting. Sam takes a shaky breath and Bucky gently squeezes his hand as Steve returns to Sam's side, looking concerned. 

"Sam?" Steve asks softly, leaning close. "Are you okay? Do you want to go? We can go--"

Sam shakes his head. He's anxious, not straight up afraid, and until he has some sort of embarrassing attack he's willing to force himself to get through this.

It's just grocery shopping, and he has to learn how to be a person again.

He can't let them take everything. He can't let them continue to win, no matter how afraid he is. He's fully aware that yes, even though he's terrified and more than a little wounded and scarred that if he lets this stop him from living his life he's let them beat him. More than they already have.

Sam can't let Krause beat him. He can't let the guards hinder him from living his life and making strides to be a part of the world again, even if he's not even sure if he wants to be a part of the world again. But even then, it has to be his choice. Not theirs. They took his body, they can't take his soul as well. 

Even if he can't take his sexuality and physical form back, he can try to make a grab for his soul and his mind, at least.

Sam has to try to be okay again, because honestly he's getting bored with the fear and the shame. He's getting bored of being in this dark place, and of feeling so alone in it.

If he doesn't try he immediately loses.

And then come the scarier questions. Without this fear, shame and all these new, deeply rooted issues created by his kidnapping and assault, who is he? 

Who is he without the pain? Does he even remember? Can he go back to some semblance of how he was? Or must he craft himself from scratch?

Sam doesn't immediately know the answer to that anymore.

He knows who he is on paper. A son (and god, he hasn't even thought about what he'll say to his mother about everything, or if he'll be able to face her at all, but he doesn't think about it because he can't, and because no matter how often his brain starts to punish him every now and again these days he can't ever seem to bear thinking about it), a friend, an avenger (though he isn't so sure about that last one anymore). But in regards to who he is to himself?

Sam has no idea.

At all.

"I'm fine." Sam stutters, pulling himself out of his thoughts, "I just...there are a lot of choices here and I'm not really...used to it."

He doesn't miss the flash of dark anger in Steve's eyes, and he knows it isn't directed at him. His heart still clenches though. He still isn't thrilled with the fact that what he says holds so much weight in terms of how much it effects Steve and Bucky's emotions.

Krause never cared what he said, and while Sam feels like garbage for even comparing them, it's true. Krause couldn't give less than a shit about whether Sam bid him good morning or what his tone was like if or when he spoke. But here, with Steve and Bucky all those little things matter. They pick up on his subtle anxieties and quirks and while Krause was more of a cold-blooded monster Steve and Bucky are warm and receptive and they care. They're even emotionally swayed by Sam's emotions in a way Krause never was, or could ever be.

Sam has no idea why he's thinking so much today, but he wants to stop.

Too much is happening at once.

"Okay." Steve says softly, looking him in the eyes and trying to relay his reassurance, "Just tell us if...if anything--" 

Sam nods and tries to manage a smile, "I will." 

They watch him a bit closer after that, and not even the little boy staring at Bucky's arm distracts them from looking at Sam from the corners of their eyes. 

Sam sticks close to Steve as Bucky examines some apples to put in their basket, and the little boy isn't noticed by Bucky at first, but Sam sees him a split second before Steve does.

"You've got a friend." Steve smiles, getting Bucky's attention and gesturing to the wide eyed little boy.

Bucky pauses, turning from the apples to glance at Steve in confusion before he catches on, turning to the child.

Sam's trickles of anxiety start up, but he just shyly slips his hand into Steve's, savoring the weight of Milkshake against his leg. The dog whines, trying to get his attention, and Sam scratches behind his ears, trying to send the canine a silent message that he's still somewhat okay.

"You have a robot arm!" The little boy says in awe, missing two front teeth as he beams up at Bucky.

Sam feels Steve tense at the child's words. Bucky is still slightly insecure about the prosthetic. Though honestly it's more along the lines of shame. His arm symbolizes everything he lost, and how he was a pawn and a killer for decades.

But Bucky just smiles lightly at the child before he says, "My mom was a robot, actually."

Steve rolls his eyes, huffing a laugh. 

The boy gasps, "For real?"

Bucky nods, "Yep, for real. I'm half robot."

The cute thing is that the child actually looks like he believes him, and has questions. It's so cute, and he looks at Bucky like he's a superhero as he opens his mouth to excitedly say something--

"There you are," a woman sighs, looking more than a bit annoyed as she comes up behind the little boy, "what have I told you about running off?"

The child looks up at the woman guiltily, "Sorry mom."

She sighs before looking at Bucky, eyes going soft, "Sorry if he was bothering you--"

"Oh no, it's fine. He wasn't, don't worry. He seems like a good kid." Bucky says.

He smiles, and the woman does as well, until she catches sight of Sam and Milkshake.

And that's when the entire encounter goes sideways. And by sideways Sam means 'straight to hell'.

He's used to the look she gives him, that suspicious glance that--being a black man--he's received a lot of for no reason other than people's racism and prejudice. But it's still enough to make his anxiety immediately skyrocket, because he knows something is coming. Something awful. Confrontation.

"You're not supposed to have dogs in here." She says, tone harder than before as she looks at Sam.

And he's sure she doesn't see how Steve's hand is wrapped in his own, because she looked at Steve and Bucky with a warm politeness that one reserves for strangers they have no negative feelings towards, but she's glaring at Sam and pulling her son closer, even as the child (oblivious to the hostility his mother radiates) stares at Milkshake, obviously wanting to interact with the dog in some way.

Sam feels himself freeze, and he feels his breath quicken. And he's beginning to panic because he wasn't even doing anything. Sam is sure he didn't do anything wrong, and that whatever her issue is isn't his fault. He was honestly just standing there, and now he's being targeting and attacked for no reason. The staff at this store didn't look twice at Milkshake.

"He's a service dog. I'm reasonably sure you can read his vest." Steve says, eyes narrowing and polite smile slipping off his face only to be replaced by annoyance and tension, "It's fine. Stop." 

She doesn't turn to Steve, but merely continues to give Sam a dark look, "That thing could have bit my son. Or someone else." she argues, "And you don't even look disabled, so what are you doing bringing your dog in here?" 

Sam blinks, mind starting to work itself into overdrive because he has no idea what spurred this on, or what to do about it. He expected to only have to talk to Steve and Bucky, not get into a fight with a stranger, and clearly he's being profiled by this woman because she was very nice to his white partners, but seems to only have harsh words for Sam, the only one quietly standing here and keeping to himself.

Steve steps in front of him, giving her a dark look, but she's already halfway through a rant about 'you people taking advantage of the system' and 'how there are real Americans who fought for our country who actually need service dogs'. Sam doesn't catch a lot of it, but that's only because he's too busy panicking, trying to breathe and also scolding himself for one, thinking this outing was in any way a good idea and two, for letting this trigger an attack when it's just some angry woman who clearly wanted someone to yell at. Steve is snapping something at her, keeping Sam behind him and out of her sights, but the nature of the situation just makes everything sound a bit scary, and that's when Milkshake goes into guard mode, baring his teeth.

Sam can't hear what's being said anymore, but he knows that both Steve and Bucky are giving her a piece of their minds because he can make out their voices, indistinct but clearly venomous.

Milkshake starts to lead him to a quieter place where he can collect himself, and Sam is partially afraid of being away from Steve and Bucky's side but also desperately needs to be away from the harsh voices and hostile anger because he's starting to drift and remember the yelling in the house in Estonia when Krause would be angry at him or when he would be yelling at another one of his victims before he killed them-- 

The cool, outdoor air doesn't begin to register until Sam is able to wipe some of the frustrated tears away, his face growing hot with embarrassment. Why the hell can't he do anything without crying like a fucking child? Why is he incapable of differentiating between stupid situations and ones that actually require panic and tears? This incident isn't anything he hasn't dealt with before, but because he's so fucking weak and jumpy it spawned a panic attack strong enough to give him the headache he can feel building behind his eyes. He isn't sure if the voice echoing in his head is the hateful woman he just encountered or Krause, and he isn't sure who the words belong to, but they're there and Sam is caught in a blank and terrifying space until he finally is able to really feel Milkshakes fur under his fingers or his wet nose against his hand.

God, his head hurts, and he doesn't notice that Bucky is next to him until his head clears enough to hear his voice, whispering soothing words and apologies while Milkshake licks at his hand and presses himself to his legs. Sam sniffles, but the world comes back bit by bit, and then he's just frustrated and embarrassed by his own reaction, because now that the all consuming panic has faded he realizes that it wasn't even that big a deal, and that he's just being a fucking baby--

"It is a big deal, doll. It's understandable that you panicked." Bucky says as he wraps his arms around Sam after quietly asking if it's okay. Sam leans his head on Bucky's shoulder, exhausted.

"She had no fucking right to do or say any of that. At all. We took care of her but--" Bucky says, still sounding pissed, "I'm so fucking sorry, doll."

"It's okay." Sam says shakily, because he still had Steve and Bucky with him, and they still protected him. So it's not nearly as bad it could have been. And again, it hits Sam how much these two love him. The fact that they protect him so fiercely, and without a single thought.

He guesses Steve is still inside purchasing the groceries.

"It's not okay." Bucky says, "But I know what you're trying to say." 

Sam just leans into him, and Bucky wraps his arms tighter around him.

"We won't let anyone hurt you." Bucky says softly, and something about the quiet, earnest fierceness of the words makes Sam tuck his face into Bucky's neck and inhale, just letting that familiar, safe feeling wash over him.

~

He was supposed to have a session with Dr. Walsh today, but after the grocery store incident he doesn't feel like talking too much. He's shrunken back into himself a bit, and just wants to sleep when they get back, and Steve looks on in obvious worry as Sam plops onto the bed with Milkshake and closes his eyes. Sam was quieter than usual on the way back, and Steve doesn't know what he expected, but he still didn't like it. At all. And he's still furious. How dare someone attack someone like that? Steve replays their argument with the woman in his head over and over again, and he's aware he said some harsh (and incredibly unpatriotic) things, but he can't find it in himself to care. Captain America or not, Steve doesn't like people who try to use this country founded on inequality to harass people that are different than them. And he sure as hell isn't going to let someone target Sam. 

In the words of a certain Ororo Munroe, they must have got him fucked all the way up if they think he's going to stand for that nonsense.

But it's over and Sam is quietly asleep while Milkshake diligently keeps watch--the bedroom door open so they can make sure Sam is okay.

"It was a racist attack, Steve. 'You people taking advantage of the system'? Isn't that what she said? Let's not act like we don't know what she meant by that, or when she said 'real Americans'. For fuck's sake, come on." Bucky says, throwing his hands in the air, "I'm some weird stranger with a metal arm talking to her kid and that was fine because I'm white as string cheese, but Sam was just standing there with a dog and that was enough for her to go off like he just set fire to the fucking building!"

"I know, Buck." Steve sighs, leaning his elbows on his knees and rubbing a hand down his face, trying not to get angry all over again, "I know."

Bucky takes a breath after a moment, looking at where Sam lies on their bed, curled up--emotionally exhausted and asleep--with Milkshake on his chest. He's finally stopped shaking.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you." Bucky mumbles, still angry about the situation, "I'm just...he doesn't deserve any of this, and I'm pissed because all the bullshit won't fucking stop so he can have some fucking peace for ten fucking minutes."

"I know." Steve sighs, "Me too."

Bucky stops pacing, taking a breath and running a hand through his hair. They're quiet for a moment, just trying to calm down and breathe before Steve asks, "So what did you say to her?"

Bucky blinks at him, "What?"

"You said something that scared her. That's the only reason she she walked away. She looked terrified."

Bucky is quiet for a moment before he just decides to say it. It's not like he didn't have a good reason for the viciousness of the statement, anyway.

"I told her that I really didn't want to have to tear her apart in front of her son." Bucky says, "But I would if I had to."

 "If it meant protecting Sam." Steve adds.

"Yeah."

~

When he wakes up he's actually feeling...pretty okay, honestly. He can hear Bucky's video games in the living room, and he smells something that signifies that Steve is cooking, and Milkshake is looking at him adoringly with his dopey little dog face, like Sam being awake is the best thing that could have possibly ever happened to him.

And Sam is actually feeling pretty good.

He isn't sure if he's even supposed to be waking up optimistic yet, but he doesn't want to think too hard about it before he shatters his own good mood. They're so rare that he intends to enjoy it.

The feeling is foreign, but it's welcomed and so nice.

And when he finally rolls out of bed and pulls on his sensory blocking hoodie his mood is only made better when Steve looks up from the stove and beams at him like Sam put the stars in the sky.

"Sam." He breathes, smiling wide.

Milkshake happily looks up them both as Steve pulls Sam into a gentle hug when he sees it's okay to do so.

"You okay?" Steve asks, worry coloring his tone, "About what happened--"

Sam shrugs in Steve's arms, "It's not like it was even my fault or anything. She was just an awful person." he says moodily.

And Steve has no clue what sort of magic Dr. Walsh is working, but Sam just admitted that something wasn't his fault, and he'd said so in a way slightly tinted with annoyance and irritation on his own behalf

Steve hugs him tighter, pressing a kiss to his cheek, "Yeah, I definitely agree."

Progress is progress, even when it's forged out of a shit situation. 

The rest of the day is spent with Bucky playing video games while Sam paints on Steve's arm, and yeah, Sam is still quiet but they get a few soft laughs out of him.

And Sam figures that maybe everything can be okay after all. Or at least halfway there.

Chapter Text

The next day Sam wakes up crying and can't stop. 

He also can't find it in him to move from where he lays on the bed, just stagnant and on his side, staring at the wall as tears dissolve into the pillow under his head. 

Steve and Bucky woke up as soon as he started sniffling, and Sam knows the reason they were so quick to regain consciousness is because if his suicide attempt they're on high alert for anything and everything, and they try to talk to him and soothe him back into a more ideal state, but today just isn't a day where that will work.

Sam can barely find the will to talk, much less get up and participate in life and therapy. Milkshake whines at him and brings the cloth pouch that holds his meds without having to be told, at 10 am right on the dot, and Sam feels awful that he can't soothe the dog's concern and actually bother to get up and take them. Milkshake presses the pouch into Sam's limp hands, but he just...can't move. Everything is so dark and hopeless that he can't see what difference anything will make. No matter what he does everything is just so breathtakingly fucked.

Milkshake whines at him, trying to shove his med pouch into his hands, and once Sam shows that he isn't moving, the dog gives Sam one last confused glance before running off and pressing the pouch into a worried Steve's hand, knowing that if Sam won't take his medication himself then Steve will find a way to have him do so.

Sam realizes Milkshake snitched on him when Steve ends up kneeling by the bed and presenting a cup of water and the two pills, looking heartbroken and worried and all those emotions that Sam feels guilty about putting on Steve's face.

Sam can only give Steve a dead, teary-eyed stare, blinking slowly at him as the seconds tick by in a slow and boring parade. He wants to get up, and he knows he should. That he has a reason to get up. That if he gets up there's a chance that today could be an okay day. A good day, even.

But he can't will his body to move, he can't even summon the required fucks to give to speak

Steve sits with him for a long time, and Bucky stands by the door, looking at the scene in concern with sad eyes, but Sam is just...dead, basically. He can't make himself get up and live life today. It's too hard, and he physically can't summon the strength, or the mental strength to try.

He hopes the look in his eyes gives Steve the apology he deserves, but Sam can't move. He can't speak. He just...wants to sleep. He wants to stare at the wall until unconsciousness takes him under again. The very act of breathing is so fucking hard that he's already exhausted. He's so tired, and emotionally he feels like a wet rag that's been rung out too many times.

"It's okay, Sam." Steve says quietly after a while, looking from the cloth pouch in his hands and into Sam's eyes, looking so fucking sad that Sam just silently cries harder, "It's really okay. You have the right to feel however you want, and we know it gets tough. It's okay. Just...just know we're here."

Sam sniffles and Steve wipes a tear away with his thumb as Milkshake drapes himself across Sam, making those little yipping noises he makes when he wants Sam to pay attention to him.

And then the tears come quicker because Sam misses them, especially today. He misses Steve and Bucky and he knows it's stupid because they're right there, but this is a day where he feels so fucking distant and alone that he can hardly breathe through the sadness.

Dr. Walsh warned him about days like these. That they'd be hard and a chore to get through, but that it doesn't mean that he's not improving, it just means he's reacting to what's happened to him because recovery isn't linear and there will be dips and down days. It's normal.

He can't help but think that none of this is normal in the least, but he trusts her. She must be telling the truth.

Sam still hates this. He still hates this feeling of being isolated even when he's surrounded by people who love him. His head hurts, and his eyelids feel like sandpaper. 

Steve presses his hand to Sam's wet, tear stained cheek and rubs his thumb over soft skin, offering what comfort he can.

Sam would ask if he could just hold him until this passes, but for one, he can't really say anything and two, he has no idea how long it'll be until this passes. He can't hold them hostage like that, they aren't like him. They don't have moments, hours, days where they're stagnant and frozen in time and staring aimlessly into space until the life fills them again. It wouldn't be fair to them.

But the thing about love is that you don't care about the fact that you'll be stuck on a bed for the entire day, because the person you love needs you and you'd brave so much worse for that person. So Steve reads Sam's expression and crawls into bed with him, pulling him close so he can lay his head on Steve's chest and just holds him. Let's him know he's there. 

Bucky joins them not too long after, and they don't move for hours, with Milkshake laying across their legs.

~

So Sam misses therapy again. 

He also wakes up with an IV in his arm, though he's still in their bedroom, and not the medical bay. But then he remembers Steve gently nudging him awake and asking if--since he couldn't take his pills--they could call the doctor and find another way to get the medication in his system. Sam remembers being so tired that he barely was able to answer, but he guesses he gave them the green light, because there's an IV bag hanging from the stand that has been placed next to the bed.

Sam wakes up and sniffles, still lethargic and a bit sad, but it's not as crippling as before, so he's able to sit up while Steve carefully removes the needle in his arm once the bag has been emptied. 

Sam is getting really familiar with medical equipment lately.

~

After that Sam is able to function again. Somewhat.

He's still incredibly morose, but that's not unusual these days.

The day doesn't end on this note, though.

He finds himself sitting cross legged on their living room floor with Bucky at his side, both of their hands covered in paint as they decorate the skin of a very content looking Steve. The evening is full of blues smeared on Steve's shoulders and dashes of lavender on his neck, and Bucky trying to keep Milkshake out of the paints as he curiously sniffs at them.

Sam smiles as the overexcited dog wags his tail so hard he loses a bit of balance and topples over before bouncing back up again and shoving himself into Sam's side.

Sam smiles, "Little doof."

~

And then, the next morning, the worst thing happens. 

Sam realizes what's wrong with him when his mood is colored with irritation and anger when Steve asks him what he wants for breakfast and what he wants to do today.

It's a terrible thought, but it still tags itself to the forefront of his mind and refuses to budge, like it's trying to be a constant reminder of how fucking twisted and horrible a person he is. How much of a heartless and terrible mess he's become. That they made him.

Sam...misses...the house and the hotel room. With...them. 

The realization tastes like bile in his mouth.

Sam freezes on the stool he sits on in the kitchen, as it hits him that today he wishes he was back there. Where he didn't have to make choices or try and keep it together for Steve and Bucky's sake. He'd already woken up with a headache, and so the day has already tripped and broken it's neck before it even started, and he doesn't want to choose what he wants to eat, and he doesn't want to choose what he wants to do today. It's immediately all too much and Sam finds himself looking at his lap in annoyance, hoping that if he doesn't make eye contact everyone will leave him alone.

It's sick, ugly and twisted but Sam guesses that's what he is now. That's what they made him. Because he wants to be back where he was where he didn't have decisions and every day came with clear instructions. Do as you're told, lay on your back, spread your legs, open your mouth. Lick this, suck that.

He fucking hated it and he rotted from the inside out whenever Krause or the guards did that to him, but at least it wasn't complex in terms of what Sam had to do. He just had to lay there and shut up. Stay still. Accept everything you're given and try not to make a sound.

Here? At home? Everything is complicated. There are no instructions to follow from day to day. Every day is a mixed grab bag of experiences, and today he doesn't know how to deal with it. Here it's meds, talking to people, making sure to smile a little, don't worry them, don't cry too much, try not to upset Milkshake, don't throw up, don't flinch. It's just...so much. With Krause it hurt, everything hurt so badly and he was dying inside but at least he didn't have to actively think from minute to minute. He could sit and stare at the wall and no one cared until they wanted to fuck him again. Krause didn't care if Sam ate or not. And he didn't care if Sam just stared blankly and didn't move for hours. He could check out of reality and no one gave a fuck unless their dick was interested in him at the moment.

Here he can't zone out, and he can't just drift and be stagnate until he's wanted next.

Here there are too many choices, and that overwhelms him, and makes him angry sometimes. He knows it's wrong, and that he shouldn't be feeling this way. That he should be happy to have choices and free will, but he just wants everyone to stop asking him things. He just wants them to let him be quiet and distanced and leave him alone.

At least, sometimes. 

Sam swings from needy to annoyed and stand-offish. 

He doesn't answer when they ask if he's okay, or what he would like to do. He doesn't have an answer, and Sam just wants to be left alone right now.

And an hour later, when Sam is on the couch with Milkshake and very pointedly ignoring Steve and Bucky--who he knows are looking at him from where they stand in the kitchen, whispering to each other and trying to figure out what's wrong--there's a knock at the door.

Sam doesn't care who it is until he hears a familiar voice give Steve a dry and slightly annoyed, "Move, Rogers." And that's when he looks up to see Jessica pushing past Steve into the apartment.

And that wouldn't be so weird if Natasha, Ororo or Pepper weren't trailing after her. Or if they all weren't carrying various dvds, blankets and plastic bags of...snacks? Sam barely has time to open his mouth and ask what the hell is going on before Jessica nudges him with a smirk, "Move over, you can't have the couch to yourself."

"You," Ororo says, pointing to where Bucky stands, incredibly confused at the fact that their apartment has been suddenly overrun by women, "order the pizza. Two cheese, one pepperoni and two vegetable. A soda, too."

And Bucky, because he's smarter than Steve and knows when he's beat, raises his eyebrows and nods at the weather goddess, quickly grabbing the phone and doing as he's been told.

Steve however, is not as smart as Bucky it seems, because he's still trying to get some sort of answer as to what's going on.

"Hush, go get pillows." Natasha says, waving the blond away, and when he opens his mouth to protest he only earns a raised eyebrow and a glare from the redhead.

"Uhm." Sam says, looking around as they all start rearranging the entertainment space, pushing the coffee table slightly to the left. He looks up to Pepper giving him a smile before she unceremoniously dumps a fuzzy blanket on him, "Hey, we're here for movie night."

Sam blinks up at her, hands running over the blanket (and wow, it's so soft), "Movie night?"

Pepper nods, "Yep."

"I told Friday to tell me when you've been feeling shitty for longer than the usual period of time, so here we are." Jessica tells him, sloppily overturning the plastic bags and letting the snacks spill all over the coffee table next to the alcohol Sam can see they've brought, "I told her to actually say the words 'feeling shitty' too, it was amazing. You have to hear it."

"So here are the movies," Ororo says, dumping them all onto Sam's lap, "we tried to pick ones that weren't too intense, seeing as Natasha and I have the same triggers and Jessica says you and her do, so hopefully these are ones that won't send any of us into a rage or a crying fit."

"And if there's nothing there there's always Netflix." Pepper offers.

Sam is still in a state of shocked silence, but he takes a breath and asks, "You guys are here for me?"

"Of course." Ororo says, like he should know this.

"Speak for yourself," Jessica smirks, "I'm here to gorge myself on pizza and booze. I mean," she nudges Sam teasingly, "I guess Sam is a bonus, but..."

Ororo huffs a laugh, rolling her eyes.

And Sam...actually laughs. And it's genuine.

Ororo lights up at his response, and Bucky leans around the corner, shyly poking his head into the living room.

"Uh, pizza should be here soon." he says, sounding somewhat intimidated.

"Thank you." Ororo says kindly.

Bucky nods, about to turn and get the hell out of all of their sights (because Sam is clearly in good hands) before Natasha chirps, "Now both you and Steve, get out."

~

They end up abandoning the movies and start off watching New Girl on Netflix.

And Sam ends up having so much fun. The show is really funny and he's surrounded by his friends, eating pizza and generally just taking it easy. He still has his moments that make Milkshake perk up from where he sits on his doggy bed on the floor to look at Sam in concern, like he's gauging whether he's needed or not, but they pass in the blink of an eye because he's being distracted by then shoving pizza at him or something. He spends most of the night with one of the sensory toys Natasha gave him in his hands, and he finds himself grounded and present with only minor blips in his focus.

They don't treat him like glass. They joke with him and Jessica snarks at him, Ororo ends up braiding Pepper's hair into some intricate design, and Natasha ends up claiming all of the m&ms until Pepper winds up tussling with her to get a few. 

They do get around to movies at some point, and they all end up on the couch, Sam with his head on Natasha's shoulder, Ororo with her head on Nat's lap with Pepper holding her legs and Jessica sitting cross legged on the ground petting Milkshake, with her eyes on the screen.

"Ugh, this is why I don't watch musicals," Jessica grumbles, "too much singing."

Pepper throws her head back and groans, "Oh my god, I hate when people say that," she says, throwing skittles at Jessica, "it's a musical. The operative word being music."

"Yeah, smartass." Jessica grumbles, snatching the skittles from the redhead, "I got it, geez."

"I like it." Sam says. He hasn't spoken much today, but they don't seem too concerned about that, seeing as its clear he's enjoying himself. And that's nice, not being forced to talk.

Pepper beams at him.

~

The night ends with Sam feeling a lot better and Jessica opting to carry Ororo back to her floor of the tower instead of waking her up.

Pepper leaves Sam with a kiss on his temple, saying he can call if he ever needs anything, and Natasha gives him a tight hug and a quiet, fierce "Call me if you need to me to come over again. Doesn't matter when."

~

Sam lays awake between Bucky and Steve that night.

He feels a tiny bit anxious about the arrangement, but he really didn't want to sleep alone tonight, so this will have to do. He can handle it.

He needs to stop being afraid of things he knows aren't going to happen.

He knows they won't hurt him, and he just needs to be able to convince himself of that before he panics or causes one of his scenes. Sam hates the fact that he's on such thin ice all the time. That he can be okay one minute and falling apart the next. He hates it so much. 

He's tired. And angry. And so bored of being scared and so fucking volatile--

"What're you thinking about, doll?" Bucky's voice says quietly, cutting through the dark silence of the apartment, "What's going on? You okay?"

Sam takes a quiet breath and looks at Bucky--to his right and laying on his side, looking at Sam in the darkness--and curls on his side as well, sighing in contentment when he wraps his arms around Sam and pulls him close.

Steve is asleep, all deep breaths and that rare peaceful expression on his face. They know Steve worries constantly about them both, so they leave him to rest, and curl close together in an effort to not wake him up. He deserves some undisturbed sleep.

"I..." Sam starts, pausing as Bucky kisses his temple gently, "was just thinking a lot today. I think I..."

Sam clenches his eyes shut, cursing himself for making such a big deal out of saying some simple fucking words--

"It's okay." Bucky soothes. "Whatever you say is okay, Sam. Really. What's going on, baby-doll?"

Sam smiles, "Haven't heard that one before."

Bucky huffs a soft laugh, "Really? Guess I can't really shake the 40's lingo."

Sam rolls his eyes, "Ugh, did you just say 'lingo'?"

And Bucky can't help the happy laugh that pops out of him as he holds Sam closer, pressing a kiss to his cheek because slowly but surely Sam is coming back. He's returning to himself. He won't be the same, he never will, and Bucky doesn't expect him to be, but there's still a bit of that old cheeky humor slipping through every day and Bucky feels like sweeping him up, laughing and holding him tight every time he witnesses these little moments of Sam sassing him or just being...unafraid.

Bucky loves him so much he could burst.

God, he loves him.

"Yeah, I did." Bucky smiles, "So what's going on?"

Sam sobers a bit, and Bucky is partially kicking himself for bringing down Sam's mood but determined to have him confide in him if he wants to. Sam needs to get this stuff out, he needs to not hold everything to himself.

Bucky knows pretty well that even voicing ones thoughts can really help. Even if no solution is presented. Just the fact that someone knows what is weighing on you sometimes does wonders.

"I was angry today." Sam says quietly, "I...you guys ask me what I want to do or eat or watch and sometimes I don't know what to say. And it's just...a lot."

Bucky blinks in the darkness, "We overwhelm you with questions, sometimes."

Sam doesn't say anything, and Bucky can basically feel the unnecessary guilt radiating from the man in his arms.

"Sam, hey. That's totally understandable. And now that we know, we'll try not to do that."

Sam hesitates before he nods.

They quiet down for a moment, and then it's like that one small confession starts a steady trickle because a few moments of silence later Sam whispers, "I missed not having choices. It was easier, then. I just had to do a few things. I didn't have to participate in life because they wouldn't let me and I got used to it, so now..." 

"Now it seems like too much." Bucky finishes softly, understanding. "I'm sorry, doll. Now that I know I'll make sure we do better to not overwhelm you. I promise."

Sam hides his face in Bucky's neck, like if he does that this conversation would be easier.

"I hate that I miss it, sometimes." Sam mumbles, sounding so guilty, "It was horrible and I hated every second but it was simple."

Bucky holds him closer and nods. After a moment of silence Bucky tells him, "Sometimes I miss where they held me, in Serbia."

Sam looks up at him, eyes wide.

"And sometimes I miss the chair...and the cryotube." Bucky says quietly, voice steady, "And when they would wipe my memories. It was easier. It's what I knew."

Sam doesn't know what to say. He partially feels like an idiot for saying anything because Bucky has had it so much worse and for decades, but Sam shakes that thought away because he knows that's not the right thing to think. Bucky isn't saying this to make Sam feel like an idiot, that's Sam's brain doing that to itself, and Sam needs to stop that self sabotage in it's tracks before it spirals out of control and causes him to clam up and panic, further delaying his progress.

He knows Bucky is telling him this so he knows he isn't alone. That he's not crazy or awful for thinking those things today because Bucky has had those thoughts too. 

It's comfort via association.

Sam has started second guessing every negative thought that crosses his mind. He wonders if that's a good thing or not.

Sometimes it's not enough to fight them off, but at least he knows a few of those ugly thoughts aren't true.

"I'm telling you this so you know you're not alone, Sam." Bucky tells him, "And you're not bad for having those thoughts. It's normal, and you're not doing anything wrong by having them. When you're in a situation where everything is dictated for you it's scary when you're tossed back into the world of free will. It's hard not to miss the simplicity of being a hostage."

Sam hesitates before he says, "I didn't know you...you felt like that too." 

Sam fists a hand in Bucky's shirt, needing...something. He can't articulate it. Bucky just smiles softly at him, and Sam can feel Bucky's heartbeat and he smells like safety and home. Something Sam yearns for that he can't quite find words to describe.

"Can you kiss me?" Sam asks quietly, "Please?"

Bucky's heart begins to bang against his rib-cage as soon as he hears the words because he knows what Sam means. He doesn't mean one of the temple, cheek or forehead kisses that Bucky has been showering him with.

Bucky knows what Sam means.

And god, he wants to. He wants to so badly, but he has to be careful to not scare him. To not overwhelm Sam or shatter this new, fragile trust he's placing in him.

Bucky makes a point not to hesitate, because he doesn't want Sam to start worrying or get the wrong idea, but he is aware that he needs to be very, very careful here. 

He wraps his arms around Sam's waist, heart pounding before he slowly leans in close, giving Sam a chance to tell him to stop if he needs to. And the closer he gets he realizes that Sam's heart is beating against his own and Sam's breathing has quickened, his hand tightening in Bucky's shirt the closer he gets.

"You sure, doll?" Bucky breathes, their lips just barely touching.

Bucky's skin is buzzing because it's been so long and there's nothing he wants to do more than be close to Sam in every way he can. To remind him how this feels so good when it's not an attack. 

So he can remind him that he's safe in their arms and their bed. 

Remind him of how it used to be.

Sam nods, a slight and subtle movement that Bucky catches, even in the dark.

"Tell me if you want me to stop, okay? Tell me to stop and I will. No discussion." Bucky says quietly, voice shaking because he wants to kiss him so badly--

"Okay." Sam breathes.

And Bucky only takes a moment to make sure Sam hasn't gone tense or is silently telling him that he's changed his mind, and when he confirms that Sam is relaxed and looking at him with wide eyes in the dark he pulls him close and slowly closes the gap between their lips.

Sam's breath hitches and Bucky fights to keep the kiss gentle as he can despite the fact that his blood is racing because he finally has Sam's soft lips pressed to his own. He finally gets to connect with him in this way.

He's missed this.

And Sam clearly has too, because he makes this delicious little sound at the back of his throat and melts into Bucky, trusting him and reveling in that warmth and safety that he's getting used to be being surrounded by again. 

And this is the sort of intimacy Sam has missed. It's not aggressively sexual, but it's romantic and soft and Sam wants that again. He wants to be able to do this all the time. He wants to be able to press his lips to theirs with no fear or hesitation. 

Sam sighs, his lips pressed to Bucky's.

His heart sinks the slightest bit when the kiss is broken. He wants more.

He wants so much more, and he misses this so much he could cry because it hurts

But it's like Bucky knows, because he kisses Sam again, and again Sam falls into it, pushing away the dark thoughts that attempt to color this experience in an unfitting shade of gray.

Every kiss that has been forced upon him under Krause had been rough and demanding. Harsh. Entitled.

This is not that.

This is soft and trusting. Bucky is letting Sam set the pace. This feels good, and like he's a participant. Not just a body to be used.

He and Bucky are equals here. They're equals and they love each other.

Bucky is solid against him, a protector and a lover and Sam opens his mouth ever so slightly, allowing him to deepen it, which Bucky does with a quiet groan. He tightens his hold on Sam and Sam cherishes it. He wants more. He wants so much more.

Bur for now, this is perfect.

They lay there kissing for a long time.

~

In the morning Sam kisses Steve.

Bucky is still asleep, and Sam finds himself on the couch with Steve, under the blond's arm after having just taken his meds. Milkshake lays on his bed on the floor, blinking at them every now and again, and Sam just sleepily dozes against Steve while the sun comes up outside the large tower windows.

He knows Steve is looking at him with that little grin he puts on whenever Sam is close and trusting, and Sam just leans up and kisses him.

He isn't sure why, he just wanted to. Steve just looks so content and happy sitting here with him that Sam felt that intense rush of love and he just...kissed him.

Steve, however, looks like Sam just gave him a unicorn or something. There's shock, but there's also that boyish happiness that spreads across his face as he gathers Sam close and kisses him again.

Milkshake perks up, taking in the situation, but then settles down once it's obvious Sam is fine.

Sam makes a desperate sound as he melts into Steve, heart hammering when the blond cradles his jaw in his hands, handling him like he's the most precious thing to ever be held between his hands.

When the kiss breaks they're both breathing heavy and Sam feels...he wants...

Sam kisses Steve again.

~

"So why did you kiss them?" Dr. Walsh asks during his session later that day, "Did you feel pressured to?" She adds, a somewhat protective edge to her voice 

"No, I wanted to." Sam assures her, "I really wanted too."

"Alright, Just making sure." She smiles, "Now, how did you feel as you kissed them? Do you remember?"

Sam fidgets, embarrassed, "I think I...wanted more. It's been a really long time since...I think I miss them, physically."

She nods, "That makes complete sense, Sam. Physical closeness and intimacy, including sex, was a part of your connection and relationship with them. And while that wasn't all of it, that was a factor, so it's normal that you would miss that part of it."

Sam folds his arms and takes a breath, gearing up for what he's about to say and trying not to overthink it.

"I think I miss that too." Sam says quietly, looking away.

"Sex?" She asks, and he flinches when she says the word, though he nods and continues looking away.

"I can see you look uncomfortable, can you tell me why? "

Sam takes a moment, chewing his lip. He can almost still feel their lips on his. Bucky and Steve's kisses still linger there.

"I feel like I shouldn't." Sam mumbles, "Want it, I mean. It was used against me for so long that now I feel like there's something wrong with me if I want it."

She nods, "Your attacks have made it so you associate sex and your body with shame and violation, even if you find yourself wanting safe sex with people you love."

Sam sighs. That makes sense.

"There is nothing wrong with sex, Sam. There is nothing wrong with wanting sex, or not wanting sex. It's about it being safe and consensual for all parties involved." Dr. Walsh says. 

"I know. I think."Sam says, "I just don't know if I can handle it enough to want it as much as I do. The...the kissing was nice but I want to feel desired I guess, even though I'm a mess after what happened."

"Do you think they don't find you desirable?"

"No, I know they do, it's just...nevermind, it's one of those annoying thoughts I have. I know it's not true but sometimes I forget to remind myself of that before I say anything. I guess I just want to be able to associate sex with something other than fear." Sam explains quietly, "I'm also starting to remember how it used to be and I want that." 

"I think you should try talking to your partners." She says, "So you three can come up with a safe way to ease you back into it all, at your own pace."

He sighs again. He knew she would say that.

"I want to go back to something else you said, for a moment." She tells him, "About being desirable."

Sam bites his lip and looks away.

"Does a part of you think that you're not desirable, sexually, because of what happened to you?"

Sam knows the answer to that, but he isn't sure he wants to go down the road this conversation is going. He may as well tell the truth though.

"Yeah." He tells her, still not meeting her eyes, "How can I be? I'm...I'm not..."

He groans lightly and rubs a hand down his face. 

Milkshake plants himself on his lap, and his stitches start to itch. Steve says they need to be changed today.

"How can you not be?" She asks, "What makes you think you're not?"

Sam sighs, "You know what."

It's a cop-out and he knows she's going to want him to talk about it.

"Can you articulate it for me, Sam?"

Fuck.

Sam bites the inside of his cheek for a moment before he says, "I know you're going to say that it's not true but I'm...a lot has happened to my body. A lot of people have used it and I just don't see how I could ever be...wanted in that way, again. Unless it's an attack. And...and then there are the scars the stitches will leave when I can finally take the bandages off, and I'm sure Krause left more than a few marks on me..." he sighs, "I'm just not what I was. And who wants that?"

She takes a deep breath and looks him right in the eye, "So let's say you find a diamond. Just, anywhere, on the ground or in a cave somewhere, and it's tarnished and crumbling and just altogether maybe not in the best shape. Maybe it has a few scratches, some deep and jagged and some just skimming the surface. Does it mean it's not a diamond?"

Sam shakes his head.

"Does that mean it's not beautiful or valuable? Worth millions?"

He shakes his head again.

"Exactly. A diamond with a few scratches is still a diamond, and still gorgeous and worth so much. People will still appreciate that diamond, no matter what scars are on it because for one, it's still a diamond and thus inherently something valuable, and two, because it actually is gorgeous anyway."

Sam takes a breath and runs his fingers through Milkshake's fur.

"Sam, they don't care what has been done to you, and they don't care about who's done what with your body. I've seen how those boys look at you, and Sam, you're definitely a diamond to them."

He startles and looks up from where he's petting Milkshake, looking at her in surprise.

~

Sam spends the rest of the day painting on Steve while Bucky wraps an arm around Sam's waist and presses kisses to his cheeks while he trails paint over the blond's skin.

This is one of the moments when it really occurs to Sam how much he's progressed. How even though it's all still very much a roller-coaster, he's improved.

A while ago this would have been just a distant wish, being held by them. But now here he is, hands on Steve's back as he paints on him, and Bucky kissing him as Sam sits between Bucky's knees.

And he feels safe.

This is really, really nice.

He tells them so.

~

Bucky is needed for a mission.

They don't tell Sam at first, but they both knew that at some point this would happen. That's why Fury wanted to see Steve the other day. To tell him that. That they couldn't put off being avengers forever.

But they tried to, as long as they could.

They actually want Steve for the mission as well, but that would include leaving Sam alone, and that's completely out of the question. Not even an option. 

Either way, someone has to go, and Steve and Bucky hastily talk and argue about it under their breaths, trying to come to a decision. One that would hurt Sam the least. But if either of them leave it's less than ideal, so not much can be done.

Fury asked for Bucky, but they're sure that that's negotiable, and Steve isn't even sure why they asked for Bucky specifically, but knows they'll take Steve if they have to.

In the end it's Steve that calls in, saying he'll take the mission, and after that they just have to tell Sam.

He's due to leave in a few hours, and who knows how long he'll be gone, but he curls around Sam in bed and whispers the words, apologizing and vowing to come back as soon as he can.

Sam turns in his arms to look at him with wide eyes before he asks where he's going, and how dangerous it is.

"It doesn't matter, Sam." Steve soothes, "I just promise I'll be back. Please don't worry, okay?"

Sam doesn't say anything else. He just buries his face in Steve's chest and lets the blond hold him close.

He tries not to panic. But he really, really doesn't want either of them to leave. He doesn't know why he's afraid exactly, he just knows that he is, and when he wakes up with Steve gone, he honestly could cry. Milkshake curls around him, yipping at him and nudging his hands apart when he starts anxiously picking at the bandages on his wrists.

Bucky crawls into bed with him and wraps his arms around Sam, kissing his cheek and pulling him close.

Sam calms almost immediately, with Milkshake and Bucky close.

A few quiet moments later, Sam kisses Bucky.

~

They both wake up in the middle of the night. The apartment feels empty with one of them missing, but Bucky asks if Sam would like to paint on him or something, just to ease some of the worry.

They both know Steve is fine, but it's still daunting to not have him in their sights. He's only been gone for a few hours and they miss him. Sam is taking it better than even he anticipated he would though, and ends up painting the smooth silver of Bucky's metal arm.

Sam writes his name over where Hydra's star used to be.

Bucky gets a soft, happy look in his eyes when he sees it.

~

Bucky changes Sam's bandages, and this time, Sam looks.

The skin of his wrists is knitting itself back together, and is almost finished doing so, but the scar it'll leave will be deep and jagged.

It simply looks gruesome. 

Sam stares at the wounds, blinking slowly and trying to force himself to accept that he did it to himself and can't really mope about it, until Bucky--who he guesses was watching him the whole time--gently takes his wrists, scars and all, and kisses both of them, holding eye contact the entire time, like he's trying to show Sam how little the scars matter to him. To Steve.

Then he wraps them back up and Sam wiggles himself into Bucky's arms, and that's how they sit on the couch for a while.

"Thank you." Sam whispers.

"Never a problem, doll."

~

Sam decides recovery can go fuck itself.

He'll have maybe a few hours of reprieve, and then he'll be back on a roller-coaster of emotions that he can't get off of. It's exhausting, and it's starting to take its toll. 

He starts sleeping a bit more. It's tiring to be awake, and it's all catching up with him. Bucky doesn't mind once he explains, and he sets Sam up in the living room, on the couch so he's not in the bedroom alone.

Sam figures Bucky just doesn't want to leave Sam alone for any extended period of time, which is fine with Sam since he's usually in need of company more often than not these days.

So he lays on his side on one of the living room couches, eyes drooping and Milkshake draped over him as he watches Bucky play video games.

He dozes and naps on and off for a few hours until he's woken by a nightmare.

And this is why recovery can go fuck itself. One second he's fine, the next he's crumbling, his brain capsizing in panic and fear.

The nightmares seemed to have gone away before this, but at some point during his slumber he started seeing every single corpse flashing behind his eyelids and he jerks awake, terrified and with a scream on his lips.

Bucky has a hand on his shoulder and his other holding Sam's, and Sam has to calm down before he can hear anything Bucky is saying.

Then he realizes he's crying.

Then there's  a sharp flash of pain in his head and his nose starts bleeding. It all happens at once and Sam's brain can barely catch up before he finds himself being held by Bucky who's pressing a tissue to his face, trying to stop the bleeding.

"Sorry." Sam mumbles, tired.

"Don't apologize," Bucky says, "you have nothing to apologize for. What happened? Nightmare?"

Sam nods. He knows what Bucky is going to ask next, and Sam knows that he'll tell him the truth. Telling the truth is getting a bit easier each time. Being open about what's going on with him isn't as hard now as it was.

"What was it about?" Bucky asks softly, like he has an inkling about what Sam might say. That it'll be awful and will make him want to tear everyone who hurt Sam to bits.

Sam sniffles, inhaling the coppery smell of blood and wincing, "The...bodies."

Bucky tenses, but he doesn't need any more information than that because he gets it. Sam is happy he doesn't ask for details. He just wants to forget the dream as soon as possible, or at the very least, push it to the back of his mind.

Bucky makes sure the bleeding has stopped before he sighs, deflating and leaning his forehead against Sam's shoulder, the bloody tissue in his hand, "I hate that this happened to you. I hate this so fucking much. I'm...I'm sorry, Sam. I'm so fucking sorry."

Sam blinks, thinking for a moment before he winds his fingers through Bucky's hair, tangling in the strands.

"It wasn't your fault." Sam says quietly, "And I...I survived, didn't I?"

Bucky bites his lips, "Yeah, yeah you did. But...but still, I hate that this happened."

Sam manages a small, humorless smile, "So do I."

~
An hour later Sam can't stand to be touched.

It's like a switch that goes off. One minute he's fine, and the next he's pulling away from Bucky with an apology and a guilty gaze as he looks at the man while he retreats to the other end of the couch.

Bucky completely understands, of course, and isn't upset, just concerned, but Sam still manages to wind himself up and convince himself that he hurt Bucky somehow, by pulling away from him.

Milkshake is in his lap before he can disassociate or cause damage to his bandages as he tugs at them, subconsciously trying to reopen wounds.

And while Milkshake doesn't let him do so, he still ends up biting his lip and pulling his hood up to hide his face and hide the fact that he's crying like the pathetic thing he is. Again.

He isn't sure why he's crying, actually. Well, he knows why, there are just a lot of different reasons. He's crying because he's so fucking tired and worn out from the emotional roller-coaster that is everyday life, and he's crying because he was having a nice time with Bucky before his brain decided to dredge up memories of being touched against his will. He's crying because he wants to be able to go back to normal. To when everything wasn't so fucking difficult.

He's crying because he misses Bucky almost immediately, but he can't do anything about it because he can't stand to get close to him right now.

Sam is just...tired.

And god he's lonely. 

~

He calms down in time to be able to curl up in bed next to Bucky and sleep peacefully. 

Chapter Text

"I need to get over this." Sam says at his next session. 

Dr. Walsh furrows her brow, crossing her legs and asking, "Get over what, Sam?"

"This." He says, "All of it."

She looks at him intently for a moment, blinking thoughtfully, "I think you know that is not really the proper way to approach recovery."

Sam sighs, biting the inside of his cheek, "It's boring."

She raises her eyebrows in amusement, "This session?"

"No." He assures her, he actually really likes his sessions with her. That's not it. "I mean being scared and...in pain." He clarifies, "It's boring."

"Ah," she says, nodding, "I understand. Do you not think you're making progress fast enough?"

Sam thinks for a a moment before he says, "No, it's not that. I'm just tired of them having this effect on me. It wasn't...nothing that happened was my fault." He grumbles, angry all of a sudden, "I didn't do anything to deserve it but I'm paying for it. And I'm just...tired."

She smiles at him brightly for a moment, and he isn't sure why she's smiling at him until he registers what he's just said.

"Seems like you're progressing just fine." She smiles, "You've finally gotten through to yourself and know it wasn't your fault. That you didn't deserve it." She takes a breath, a happy look in her eyes, "I know recovery can be slow and feeling this way can be tedious, but you won't be in this state forever, Sam. You're changing a bit day by day, and we all can see that you're working very hard and making great strides because of it. Next week you won't be in the same place you are now. You're moving forward every second of every day. I promise you that."

~

Sam is bored. He's so, so bored.

Bucky is watching him out of the corner of his eye, and that's honestly not a problem, but Sam is getting a bit antsy and anxious due to seeing the same apartment day after day.

Steve comes back in two days.

Over the course of the day he gets more and more uncomfortable and closed in until he realizes what it is. Sam is leaning on Bucky as his lover rubs his back with his metal hand, the both of them just enjoying the silence when the answer strikes him.

He's been in this apartment for too long. It's like when they wouldn't let him go outside or leave the hotel room or the house, except this time Sam is doing it to himself. The realization makes him feel vaguely sick, because even after everything that's happened he's still letting them control him.

"Doll?"

Bucky's voice is laced with worry, and Sam knows Bucky is looking at him with that expression on his face, and suddenly everything is too close. Way, way too close.

He sits up, simultaneously relieved and saddened at the fact that he's pulled out of Bucky's arms, and he doesn't think when he says, "I need to get out of here."

Sam bites his lip, looking down at Milkshake as he licks Sam's hand, trying to get his attention.

Bucky looks at him in alarm, opening his mouth to say something only to be cut off when Sam says, "I just need to walk around."

Bucky looks at him, and Sam can see the battle behind his eyes. He isn't sure whether to let Sam go or not. Sam knows it's not a controlling thing, he just doesn't know whether he should let Sam go walking on his own, even in the tower. And clearly he wants to go alone, and understandably Bucky is concerned.

Sam stands on shaking legs, taking a breath, "I won't leave the tower, I just...I need to see somewhere different."

And then Bucky immediately understands. When he was with Hydra they never let him leave, or wander. They always kept him confined. 

And now Bucky gets it, because he remembers when he got away from them too. The need to move that would take over him at odd times. It still does. And now that he knows what's going on, he just stands and gives Sam a reassuring, gentle smile before he leans over to the coffee table and hands him Milkshake's leash.

It's a silent request. Bucky's non-verbal way of saying 'I know you want to be alone, but please take him with you'.

Sam takes the leash, and a part of his brain is quietly asking him what the hell he's doing planning on going wandering around like this, but he pushes the thoughts back. He can't stay in here all day. He just can't.

The leash is a solid weight in his hand, and he watches Bucky clip the other end to Milkshake's collar.

"Be careful, okay doll?"

Sam nods, rubbing a hand down his face. It's just the tower. He has no idea why his heart is pounding like it is. Ridiculous .

"I will." He says, and before he turns to leave he pauses before taking a step toward Bucky and pressing a soft kiss to his lips.

~

Sam doesn't remember the floors in the tower as well as he did before...everything. He used to know it forwards and backwards, but that was a long time ago. Sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago. He kind of wants to leave the tower, but he definitely wants to take all of this one step at a time. If he overwhelms himself he'll feel like an absolute idiot, so it's best to take it slow.

He has to start taking care of himself. And that means not moving too fast if it could be harmful to him. Sam wants to get better. He really, really does.

He has an inkling of anxiety as he steps into the elevator, hand tightly wound up in Milkshake's leash. The dog seems happy to be travelling somewhere, even if it's just a few floors away. Sam has no idea where he's headed, and he doesn't remember the floors anymore, so he just chooses a button and presses it, shushing that ever fearful voice in his head. He has to stop being afraid. 

He's fine.

He's fine.

He's not afraid. It's just a walk. That's it.

It occurs to him about halfway there that the chances of him running into someone and having to engage in social interaction are pretty high, and that almost makes him want to go back, but he just takes a breath and tries to calm down enough to think rationally. The people here are his friends, and they've all dropped everything to look for him. Steve didn't really divulge too many details about the day Sam was rescued, but Sam is reasonably sure that it was a group effort. And in return Sam has barely spoken to any of them.

He feels bad about that. He should have at least called them all to say thank you.

But of course he was too busy trying to make it to the next minute to worry about being grateful. 

The door opens and Milkshake perks up at the sound of the familiar 'ding!' the elevator makes, and then Sam is faced with the sight of the library.

Oh, right. Floor 23 is the library. He'd forgotten. He...remembers really liking it here. He remembers spending hours in here just reading the day away. Sometimes with Natasha or Steve. This is one of the few quiet places in the tower. Sam feels that familiar ache in his chest as he remembers how things were. How he used to be, and how life had a completely different feel than it does now.

But this is his life now. The wreckage in the aftermath. So he has to try and forge something out of what it has become.

He has to try.

So even though he feels that tug of sadness as he walks along the many shelves of the large library, hands trailing them, he tries not to let it upset him too much.

It's hard though. His memory of this place was so bright, and now--looking at it through the lens after everything that's happened colors it in the usual grey in which Sam sees life now.

It's incredibly sad.

Sam doesn't see the figure watching him silently from next to the adjacent rows of bookshelves, but he hears the sound of a book being closed.

Sam flinches, brought out of his thoughts and thrown into the present. His first instinct is to give into the panic that rushes through him, but he bites down on his lip (maybe a bit too hard) before he holds his breath in an effort to stop any hyperventilation in it's tracks. No. He won't panic. And he won't give in to it. He won't. Sam has had enough of that.

He's not going to let himself be afraid. And maybe that decision is partially fueled by his anger and indignation at the fact that Krause still dares to have this impact on him, but it's as good a method as any for biting down the panic attacks.

No. Fuck this. Fuck panicking for every single little thing. He can't live like this. He won't. Nothing that happened was Sam's fault. He was taken and hurt and now he's just trying to get back to some semblance of being a person.

So he bites into his lip, taking a shaky breath and clenching his eyes shut, turning to the voice.

He opens his eyes to Loki standing there looking at him evenly, with a book in his hands. The trickster stands a good distance away, and Sam is relieved only for a second before he warily looks at the demigod, not knowing what to say. He's never interacted with Loki before. And all he knows of him are the stories Thor has told him, or the reports on the attack on Manhattan. 

Other than that he has no idea what to think of the tall being before him. Sam shifts where he stands, having no clue what to do. He knows that Loki helped find him, but other than that...

"You are Samuel." Loki says, eyeing Sam in interest.

 "And you're Loki." Sam says quietly after a moment, keeping his distance due to his usual wariness of people he doesn't know very well, "Thor told me a lot about you."

Green eyes dim, "I am sure he did."

Sam blinks at him, "Not the awful things you think. Stories, mostly. From when you two were kids."

Sam's voice doesn't shake like he thought it would.

Loki pauses, obviously caught off guard, "Oh. I see."

Sam is quiet for a moment, trying to think about what to say next, or if he should say anything at all when Loki says, "You were the one who told Thor to have mercy on me."

He does remember that conversation. He can't recall all of it, but he can remember enough. He nods.

"But you do not know me." Loki says slowly, carefully, "You know of my crimes against your people, but you do not know me."

Sam shrugs, "You just seemed like a little brother who lost his way." Sam summons his courage and his hold on Milkshake's leash tightens before he says, "What you did was still awful and caused a lot of people a lot of trouble, uhm, not to mention the lives lost, but the way Thor talked about you...you didn't seem evil. Just angry and lost, I guess."

"So you advised that he go easy on me."

Sam shrugs again, "I didn't know if he'd take it, but I guess that was kind of my point. For him to try and get through to you as opposed to writing you off in anger. No one likes being given up on. It's...sad."

Green eyes follow Sam around the library as he walks along the shelves, Milkshake bouncing along beside him. The trickster still looks somewhat confused, but eventually he nods, brows furrowed.

"And you did help find me." Sam adds a moment later.

"I failed the first time." Loki corrects him, an edge to his voice, "Do not thank me for that."

Sam glances at him before he looks back at the shelf, "You still got them close. And then you helped find me a second time." he says, "Are you always this hard on yourself?"

Loki looks at him in what looks like indignant alarm, "When I fail, yes. Though I could ask you the same thing."

And that's when Sam stops and blinks at him. He thinks that maybe he should be nervous or afraid of the tall, pale being that radiates magic that stands before him, but honestly Sam is too tired of being startled and afraid that he simply can't muster the reaction. This entire day has been one short series of Sam thinking 'eh, fuck it' before doing whatever he feels like doing while shushing that voice in his head that tells him he should be afraid. So here he is, talking to someone who managed to destroy most of Manhattan in less than an hour in the Tower library like this is the most normal thing in the world.

"I am more in tune with the auras of others than I let on, even to Thor." Loki says, "And you seem to have the dull grey of self loathing shrouding your person. It is...very light, but it is there."

Sam looks at him for a moment, biting his lip before he takes a breath and shrugs, "You should have seen me before."

Loki seems to actually enjoy his dark attempt at humor, and manages a ghost of a smirk. 

"You are not as incompetent or infuriating as other midgardians. I can tell." Loki says.

Sam blinks at him, "Uh, thanks?"

"You're very welcome." Loki says, completely seriously.

They're silent again, and this time Sam can see Loki looking at him from the corner of his eye. The trickster looks like he wants to say something, but he isn't sure if he should. It's strange to see, the same magician who brought hell down on everyone heads standing there looking at Sam and looking so uncertain. Sam doesn't push him, and he doesn't say anything, instead focusing on Milkshake, who looks at Loki with obvious suspicion.

Sam is pretty sure that if Loki comes any closer the dog will bite him.

Loki takes a breath, eyes hardening before he says, "I am telling you this--" Sam turns to look at him, "--because I believe that everyone has a right to revenge."

Sam's blood runs cold.

What?

"The midgardians who took you--"

Sam's stomach lurches and he suddenly feels sick enough to throw his breakfast up onto the floor, "I really don't want to talk about it--" he croaks.

"I am not asking you to." Loki says, an edge to his voice, "I am no stranger to dark matters. I am not asking that you revisit them. Merely take the information I am trying to give you, and do what you please with it."

Sam takes a sickened and shaky breath, biting the inside of his cheek.

"They are being held by the Captain and Barnes in a warehouse by your former employer's headquarters." Loki says, face blank, "Do as you will with that knowledge."

And then he's gone. Loki's visage shimmers away like a mirage and Sam is left alone in the library before he doubles over, gasping for air and trying to breathe.

No.

They're all still--

They're still alive and they're so close they're too close--

Milkshake barks softly, nudging at his legs before Sam collapses, pressing his back into the bookcase and trying not to throw up.

Krause is still out there somewhere. The guards are still out there somewhere. And free or not that's still so much more terrifying than Sam can say. They're still breathing and alive and no, no, no that's so dangerous why are they still in New York? Why are they still alive?

Sam is never safe, he'll never be safe. No one is. Not while they're still breathing.

He doesn't notice he's tugging at his bandages and gasping for breath before Milkshake makes a disapproving sound and pushes his hands apart, resorting to licking his face.

Sam doesn't know what he expected. He doesn't know whether he thought they were alive or not, or where he thought they were, but he was happy to just never think about them again. He never wanted to know.

He never wanted to know anything about what happened to them other than the fact that Sam was no longer at their mercy.

They're by the old SHIELD building. A warehouse. Why didn't they tell him? Why didn't they tell him that they were so close and that Sam was still in danger?

Sam bites his lip, clenching his eyes shut and trying to breathe around the taste of bile coming up his throat.

Then he runs.

~

He's on his way to making his way right back to Bucky, ready to have the breakdown he knows it coming, but of course that's not how it goes.

Sam--gasping for breath and trying his damnedest not to cry--rushes past an elevator right as it opens and crashes straight into T'Challa.

Milkshake barks, and Sam only stumbles back after having run into another body with his own, not registering who it is. Sam takes a shaky breath, taking a step backward in an effort to put space between himself and whoever he's crashed into, and T'Challa takes an instinctual step away from the dog, looking just as anxious as Sam feels.

He looks up and their eyes meet.

T'Challa blinks at him before looking down at a suspicious Milkshake. He takes a large step away from the dog, eyeing the canine warily before looking back up at Sam.

Sam tries to breathe and not look like a psycho or the mess he currently is--

"Sam." T'Challa says, finally snapping out of his surprise, "It's so nice to see you."

Sam takes a breath, looking at his friend before he manages a shaky smile before blurting out, "You too, I'm sorry I haven't called or--"

"No need to apologize." the King says, brightening (though Sam notices he keeps a wary eye on Milkshake), "We all understand. We're just very relieved you're okay."

Sam manages an actual smile this time. Even in his current panic he remembers how much he missed T'Challa. He hasn't seen him in ages, and he knows that he funded more than half of the resources used to find Sam. He heard Steve say something to Bucky about it.

Sam is really happy to see him.

"I...thank you." Sam says after a moment, looking at his friend, "I know you've done a lot to help when--"

"Sam." T'Challa smiles, "Really. It's fine. I'm just glad you're in one piece."

The thing about T'Challa is that his entire deposition is so calm that after a moment Sam is feeling a lot more stable himself. T'Challa just has that calm and collected air about him that rubs off on whoever he's around, and right now that's what Sam needs. He also really missed him, the last time Sam spoke to him was not even a day after T'Challa lost his father, and Sam is saddened yet again at the fact that he was abducted and thus couldn't be there for his friend. Sam really regrets not being there to make sure he was okay. T'Challa is the type to put on a brave face and not talk to anyone when things like this happen, so Sam bets that to this day he hasn't even bothered confiding in anyone.

"How are you?" Sam asks quietly, and he catches T'Challa's minor flinch at the words.

T'Challa collects himself before he waves him off, "I believe I should be asking you that."

Sam blinks at him, knowing him well enough to know exactly what he's doing, "I asked you first."

T'Challa always tries to deflect when he doesn't want to answer something, but that's never worked with Sam. 'Annoyingly perceptive', that's what T'Challa said the first time this happened and when Sam made him tell the truth.

"I'm...adequate, I suppose." T'Challa says.

Sam gives him a look that says 'You know I won't let you off that easy', and T'Challa quickly says, "I have something for you, I've almost forgotten. I was going to leave it with Stark, but since I ran into you..."

And Sam would nag him for deflecting yet again, but T'Challa reaches into his suit jacket pocket and pulls out a box, no bigger than a CD. Sam looks at the box in T'Challa's hand before he realizes that T'Challa is looking at Milkshake warily, like he's thinking about whether stepping closer to hand Sam the box is worth getting closer to the dog as well.

"He doesn't bite." Sam tells him, a bit amused. The man is the King of an entire country and probably the greatest warrior there ever was and yet he's eyeing a fluffy white dog like the thing might kill him. This is why Sam likes T'Challa. He's so royal and composed in some aspects and yet such a disaster in others.

T'Challa blinks at the dog, worried, "I don't get along with dogs, unfortunately." he says, but he forces himself to take a few steps closer and hands Sam the box.

Sam can't help but huff a laugh when he sees Milkshake and T'Challa stare at each other, like they're both offended at the fact that the other is in their personal space. T'Challa steps away the dog and closer to Sam, still in his staring match with the canine while Sam opens the box.

Under a layer of wrapping paper is a bracelet. Sam pauses, looking at it.

It's beads are a glossy, somewhat holographic black. All except for the one in the middle, which is an eerie silver, and not perfectly round like the other beads. It's an odd shape, almost jagged but with rounded edges, though the shape is peculiar and unlike anything Sam has ever seen, or knows how to describe. It's actually kind of gorgeous. Very, actually. The colors are stark and deep, and Sam is entranced by it. He thinks he's seen it before, but he's not sure.

"T'Challa?" he breathes, "What is this?"

The King tears his eyes away from the dog and blinks at Sam, "Oh, right. I know it must seem strange, but it's a kimoyo bracelet." he explains, "Every person in Wakanda has one that they're given from birth. This bead," he points to the silver, oddly shaped one, "is a sensor that monitors it's wearer's vitals and stores all of their health records and information. Identification and such. It's also a distress beacon that can be sent to both myself and Stark's computers if activated. It cannot be hacked because in Wakanda we do not use the binary code that the rest of the world runs on, so you'll never have to worry about your information or distress signal falling into the wrong hands, or not getting where it needs to so you can get help. You can activate it by either tapping it five times or simply let it read your vitals and send the alert itself. Once it is put on it adjusts to your wrist size, and cannot be taken off. The other beads can be programmed to do whatever you like, so you can tell me if you'd like to utilize them and I'll customize it for you. The bracelet is yours if you want it."

Sam blinks at the gift, and he doesn't know what to say.

He doesn't know what to say because this is Wakandan technology that T'Challa is giving him despite the fact that he isn't a citizen. He's giving him something that will make it so nothing like what's happened will ever happen again.

"I am sorry if I've overstepped." T'Challa says after a few moments of Sam's silence, "You are not obligated to accept it, and I apologize for--"

Sam hugs him. Tight.

The King startles before he hugs him back.

"Thank you." Sam says, and when they let go T'Challa looks him in the eye, his face serious and an edge in his voice. "You," T'Challa tells him, "will never be lost to us again."

And he knows T'Challa doesn't know the half of what happened to him in the months he was away, and he knows that at most T'Challa just assumes he was tortured, beaten or starved or something (Sam knows he has no idea about the hotel room or the repeated violation and murder), but this gift means more than Sam can say, and more than T'Challa will ever know.

"I don't even know what to say." Sam says after a moment, voice small and heart clenching. It's like at some point he'd forgotten how much everyone cared about him, and how much he loved them in return.

T'Challa smiles, "You don't have to say anything. Just know that you always have a place. In Wakanda--should you need it--and of course here, with your team. For this bracelet, in return all I ask is that you take care of yourself, and contact me if you need anything."

Sam can't help the watery laugh that escapes him. Of course it's T'Challa that comes up with a foolproof and long-term way to assure that Sam will never be abducted again. Sam nods, and T'Challa gives him one more embrace before he smiles, "Ororo is waiting for me in the lobby to drag me to some store she has been telling me about. Talk to you soon?"

Sam grins, "Definitely. Thanks, T'Challa."

He waves off Sam's thanks and squeezes his shoulder in assurance before he turns to leave. Sam watches him go, the box in his hand and the bracelet gleaming in the light.

"T'Challa." Sam calls. T'Challa turns, looking at him in question. "We're going to have that talk." Sam assures him, because really, T'Challa can deflect all he wants but Sam will get him to talk about how he's doing after his father's passing.

T'Challa smirks, "I am not looking forward to it." he says, throwing Sam one last smile before he rounds the corner. Sam snorts, looking down at the bracelet and how the light bounces off of the beads.

He doesn't even have to think about whether he'll put it on or not. Of course he will. But for a moment he just stands there staring at it in awe. Then he picks it up, the smooth beads cold in his hands before he slips it on his wrist. 

The response is immediate, and the beads light up in black and blue circuitry as the bracelet tightens around Sam's wrist, leaving enough room for it to be comfortable while still being secure. He really won't be able to take it off. But that's fine. If millions of Wakandans can have this on their wrist for a lifetime so can he.

He doesn't move for a long time, instead just watching the lights zip around the inner circuitry of the beads.

When he can move he heads to the elevator, the bracelet snug on his wrist.

~

He unclips Milkshake from his leash and tries to think through everything that happened today in the span of hardly an hour. 

"Hey, you're back." Bucky says, coming out of the bedroom and smiling at Sam, "How was it?"

Sam freezes, not knowing what to say. A big part of him is yearning to shove himself into Bucky's arms, but a larger part wants answers.

And Sam goes with that part.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Sam says quietly, standing in the middle of their living room and gripping Milkshake's unclasped leash tightly in one hand.

"Doll, you okay?" Bucky asks, "Tell you what?"

Sam takes a breath, eyes on the floor.

"About the warehouse." He says, "Why didn't you tell me?"

Sam doesn't see so much as feel Bucky go from concerned and confused to on edge and pissed.

"Who told you?" Bucky asks, voice clipped.

Sam sighs, "Why does it matter--"

"Who told you?" Bucky asks again, and that's when Sam finally looks at him.

"What does it matter?" he asks again, hands starting to shake, "You kept them alive and so close to where we live this entire time and you didn't tell me--"

Bucky clenches his jaw, "We didn't want to bring any of this up and scare you. You should have never have even found out."

"Bucky," Sam says a tinge desperately, "why...if you have them why are they still alive?"

Sam isn't sure why he asks, and he isn't even sure why he started this conversation because he's sure he really doesn't want to know, but now that he's started he's in need of answers. Sam has never thought about them being killed, but know he's curious as to why they're still breathing if Steve and Bucky have gotten a hold of them.

Bucky takes a breath, nostrils flaring as he tries to keep his voice level.

"So they can suffer." he says after a moment, voice dark.

And Sam isn't sure what to think of that simply because the thought has never crossed his mind before.

"Bucky." Sam says quietly, "You don't..either of you...you didn't have to do that."

He's not saying that for Krause's sake, or the guard's. He's saying that for Bucky. He knows Bucky struggles with the Winter Soldier all the time, and is constantly conflicted and terrified of falling back into that apathetic killer headspace. Sam doesn't care about the Hydra agents, how can he? They ruined him. He couldn't give less than a shit about them.

But Bucky...Bucky doesn't need to do this to himself. He doesn't need to let the Winter Soldier invade his mind and body again (when he worked so hard to get him out) for Sam, or for some revenge for Sam's sake.

He won't let Bucky hurt himself for him, and with this that's exactly what he's doing. The impact whatever interaction with Krause in that warehouse has had on Bucky's mental health--

Bucky has worked so hard to get here, where he is today. Sam can't let him undo all of his own progress by going back to that dark place he's clawed his way from.

"Yeah, I do." Bucky says, eyes dark.

Sam shakes his head, "Bucky, please. It's not worth it. It's not...it's not good for you."

"It's not about me." Bucky tells him, looking Sam right in the eye.

"You being okay means more to me than--"

"Jesus, Sam." Bucky snaps, tugging a hand through his hair, "Do you always have to be so...so..."

"So what?" Sam asks, blinking at the distressed man, "So what, Bucky?"

Bucky throws up his hands, "So fucking good, all the time? Can't you be just a little self-serving? A little selfish and let me do this for you?"

"What would that solve?" Sam asks.

"Don't you want them to hurt?" Bucky asks, eyes desperate, "Like they hurt you? Don't you want them to...fuck, pay for what they did?"

Sam bites his lip before the sighs, throwing the leash onto the coffee table and approaching Bucky, brown eyes on his blue. And it really goes to show how much progress he's made, because his hands only shake the tiniest bit as he gets closer to Bucky, who is obviously angry. A while ago he wouldn't have been able to get close to him while Bucky was so riled up.

But now Sam just stands in front of him and presses a hand to his chest, looking at his fingers where they meet Bucky's navy shirt.

"Not at the expense of you." Sam says after a moment. Bucky's heart pounds underneath his fingers.

"I can't just let them die without paying for it." Bucky says, "I'm sorry Sam. I can't."

Sam sighs, shaking his head, "Please don't--"

"I have to." Bucky tells him, wrapping his fingers loosely around Sam's wrist before pressing his forehead to Sam's, "I'm sorry."

"Bucky--"

"You're worth it." Bucky says fiercely, "You are."

"Not worth you hurting yourse--"

Sam doesn't get to finish that thought before Bucky kisses him, deep and desperate. Sam falls into it, feeling firm arms wrap around his body, and he pulls Bucky back into their kisse when he tries to break it and apologize for kissing Sam in a whim.

Sam doesn't want his apology. It's not necessary. All he wants is Bucky's lips on his and his body exactly where it is, pressed close. And Sam isn't afraid, Bucky actually feels good against him, and Sam feels so fucking safe right here in his arms. He opens his mouth ever so slightly, letting Bucky lick inside and taste him while Sam does the same to him, wrapping his arms around Bucky's neck. 

He freezes when he feels Bucky's hardness against his leg. And as soon as Bucky feels his muscles tense he pulls away, face red and guilt written all over his expression. Sam refuses to let him go, though. And he won't let Bucky apologize.

"Shit, doll. I'm sorry, I--"

"It's okay." Sam says, pressing closer, "I...I like this."

Bucky looks at him, distracted by Sam's kiss bitten lips before he looks back into his eyes, "Are you sure? If you want me to stop I will--"

"No." Sam breathes, biting his lip, "Don't stop. Please."

Sam's heart is hammering in his chest because this feels so good, having Bucky against him, and Sam is starting to feel the gentle stirrings of something he hasn't felt in a very long time. Something he thought he'd lost.

Arousal. Want.

Chapter Text

Bucky holds him tight, and Sam has hands on Bucky's chest, pressing into his kisses. Bucky pauses every now and again, asking him if he's okay or if he wants to stop, and every time Sam says no, because it's true. He doesn't want to stop. At all. Even when his eyes are closed he doesn't slip back into that dark space of panic and fear. 

It's because Bucky tastes different and he feels different from everyone Sam has been hurt by. All those Hydra guards were harsh and everything was painful when they got a hold of Sam. Everything hurt so much, and with Krause it still hurt, just sometimes in a different way.

But this...doesn't.

Bucky doesn't hurt.

He handles Sam differently. They used to grab at him like he was nothing but a doll for them to enjoy and then discard, but Bucky kisses him so softly and carefully, and loops one arm around Sam's waist--not possessive or in an obvious ploy to demonstrate ownership, like Krause did, but in a protective way that says 'I'm here, and I'm going to keep you safe'--gently as his other hand cradles Sam's face, the cool metal a reminder that he isn't in the arms of someone who will hurt him, or use him and throw him away. That he isn't in the arms of someone who would abuse him or pin him down and just take what they want.

That he's in Bucky's arms. Bucky, who's hard and pressed against Sam with a pounding heart but still pausing and asking Sam if he's okay, or if he wants to stop. Who isn't using this as a sign that Sam is completely and 100% ready to give him his body, but instead thinking of what Sam needs while ignoring his own.

Sam thinks--distantly--that maybe he's moving too fast, and that maybe he should be scared or something. But he isn't. He wants Bucky to kiss him. He wants Bucky to touch him and want him. He wants...

He isn't sure, he knows he just wants more.This feels so good. Safe.

Bucky doesn't feel like Krause. Bucky doesn't feel like the guards. Bucky doesn't feel like anyone but himself, and Sam's brain recognizes what that means. It means safety and love. Adoration. Someone who would tear anyone apart to protect him. Someone who loves him unconditionally, even when Sam feels like he's a broken, ugly and ruined mess. Even when he thinks he's dirty and soiled, Bucky will never agree with him. He'd take Sam's hand and tell him he's wrong while pressing words of love into his skin every chance he got.

God, Bucky loves him. And sometimes it's like Sam forgets because for six months he was in a place where love didn't exist nor was it an option, and when he came back he didn't see how anyone could love him, but now he's reminded all the time.

Bucky fucking loves him.

"Y-you love me." Sam breathes against Bucky's lips, voice quiet and cracking. Bucky presses his forehead to Sam's, looking him right in the eyes with no hesitation.

"I love you." Bucky says, holding him tight, "I love you, Sam Wilson."

And maybe Sam lets a sob escape his lips, and maybe Bucky kisses him deeply after that, his hands running over Sam's body and Sam wrapping his arms around Bucky's neck, not even blinking when Bucky gently lifts him--Sam's legs wrapping around his waist until he feels his back against the sheets of their bed. Bucky shifts like he's about to pull away, but that's the last thing Sam wants.

"Please don't." Sam breathes against Bucky's lips, "Please."

He knows Bucky gets the wrong idea because he freezes and looks down at Sam, eyes wide, "Don't what? Did I--"

Sam knows he's on the way to panicking and Sam speaks before Bucky can pull away.

"Please don't leave." Sam says quietly, face heating up at the raw, emotional words.

The words come out of his mouth but his very skin is pleading for Bucky to touch him and love him and pleasepleaseplease--

Bucky looks at him, expression open, stunned and wanting. "I would never, doll."

He kisses Sam again, and Sam whimpers in need, all thoughts of disgust and violation far from his mind and replaced with longing. He needs Bucky's hands on his skin, and he wants his lips against his and his body close. 

Sam needs his body to be his again, and he needs Bucky to replace the feeling of unfamiliar, unwanted, wandering hands and intrusive, poison kisses. 

Sam knows that Bucky knows this.

"Are you sure, doll?" Bucky sighs against his lips, his body a comforting weight pressing Sam into the mattress. Sam nods, heart pounding as he bites his lip.

"Please."

"C’mere." Bucky says lovingly, pulling Sam into his arms and Sam is so caught up in the feeling of Bucky holding him and moving against him that it takes him a moment to realize that Bucky has moved them so Sam is on top, in his lap while Bucky sits leaned against the headboard with his hands on Sam's hips.

"Any time you want to sto--" Bucky starts, looking him in the eye.

Sam nods before he kisses him, pressing their chests close and pressing fingers to Bucky's hair.

And maybe he should slow down, but right now...he isn't afraid. Any fear is far from his mind, and he isn't sure why he has no inklings of discomfort, but he isn't thinking about that right now. The only thing he can focus in is how warm Bucky is, and how he smells and feels so safe and familiar. How he touches Sam gently and doesn't rush him, how he knows how slow to go and just how much pressure to put against his lips.

He can feel Bucky under him, hard against the front of his jeans and pressed to Sam's.

Sam isn't sure if he himself is hard, and he barely spares that a thought.

"S-Sam." Bucky moans, breaking their kiss but keeping their lips close, "I...we should go in the bath."

Sam takes a shaky breath, licking his lips and still tasting Bucky on them before he looks at the other man, giving him a questioning look. And that's when his high seems to dip right into a low, even if it's for a moment.

Does Bucky not want him?

And with that one thought Sam tenses and moves to pull away because of course Bucky doesn't want him Sam is so stupid--

"No, no, sugar, hey. Sam, please--" Bucky pleads quickly, catching on to Sam's train of thought and taking his hand, "It isn't what you think, doll. I want you, God, I do. I...just trust me? Please."

Sam pauses, heart pounding for a different reason. That endless loop of everything they called him is on repeat, running through his mind and now Bucky has stopped kissing him and that can only mean that he thinks Sam is disgusting and a whore and--

"Doll." Bucky says gently, reaching for Sam and gently pulling him close, "Look at me."

Sam can't. He can't.

He doesn't.

"Sam, please." Bucky asks, "Please look at me?"

Sam does. It hurts to do so, because he doesn't want to turn and see disgust in those eyes--

He doesn't.

Bucky gazes at him like he's the world, and Sam blinks, his mind slowly coming back down from the panic as Bucky starts to speak.

"Listen to me," Bucky starts, "I want you. So badly, Sam. Of course I do...I just...I have an idea. Can you trust me?"

Sam takes a breath, finally shaking himself out of his self-loathing panic, and after a moment he feels like an idiot. Once he's taken a breath and paused to think through his brain's fabricated feeling of rejection it gets through to him that he's overreacted. Again. Sam sighs, rubbing a hand over his face and trying not to feel like a moron. 

Why does he keep jumping to this conclusion? They don't think he's disgusting or soiled or anything of the sort. Why can't he seem to remember that when he panics?

"I--I'm sorry." Sam says quietly, miserably, "I'm such an idiot I know that's not what you--I know those thoughts are lying to me--"

"You're not an idiot." Bucky says firmly, pulling Sam back into his lap and pressing a kiss to his lips, "Don't call yourself that. You're working though so much, and I know you panic sometimes and it's completely understandable, doll."

Sam grumbles, "I can't keep flying off the handle like this."

Bucky gives him a small smile before he presses his forehead to Sam's, "You're not flying off the handle." he says, "You're recovering, you're getting better and you're working hard. Steve and I are so fucking proud of you, Sam."

He doesn't know what to do other than let out that shy laugh and look away, face burning.

Bucky grins and him, "C'mon.

Bucky kisses him, pulling him close as Sam leans into him.

Sam, in the back of his mind, still thinks he's should be wary of such a physical connect so soon, but Sam is so peacefully disconnected from that dark part of his brain. For now, at least. The slip-up in the bedroom has passed and Sam realizes he's getting better and better at moving on quicker from those small moments where trauma wells up and can't be ignored.

He isn't afraid when they get to the bathroom and Bucky runs the tap before pressing his body to Sam's, asking him for the millionth time if this is okay. He isn't afraid when he says yes, still breathing heavy from their kissing. He isn't afraid when he presses his lips to Bucky's, breathing in that familiar scent and focusing on his hands and how softly he touches Sam. Krause touched him in a way that plainly showed how entitled he felt to Sam's body, but Bucky...Bucky touches Sam like he knows that the fact that he gets to touch Sam is a gift of trust all by itself. Because he does know that, and Sam knows that if he wanted Bucky to stop right now Bucky would, immediately. Without hesitation, question or annoyance. Because he knows that Sam's body is his, and is happy that he just gets to be close to him.

Bucky groans, kissing him deeper while Sam takes Bucky's hands and places them on his sweatshirt, before looking into Bucky's eyes and nodding. Bucky looks him in the eye for a moment, his fingers rubbing against the fabric of Sam's sweater, looking at Sam and making sure he wants this and isn't inadvertently hurting himself.

Sam knows he isn't, but he's thankful for the concern.

Bucky undresses Sam, and himself and he can't help but think about how different he does that too. Krause and his guards merely pulled and tugged at Sam's clothing, trying to get at his skin underneath, but Bucky undresses him slowly, gently, like this part of the process matters just as much as any other part.

He takes it in stages. Shirts first. And Bucky traces his fingers over a scar that Sam is sure he has on his collarbone from those six months. Sam moves to shrink away, but Bucky looks him in the eyes.

"You're perfect." he says.

And he looks into Bucky's eyes the entire time, even when he wants to look away because being stripped is vulnerable in a way he's still not fully comfortable with. Bucky takes off Sam's pants, then his own, pulling Sam close and pressing kisses and comforting words to his cheeks and lips. Being naked in a lover's presence has slight trickles of anxiety rushing down Sam's spine, because he has no idea how he looks now, or if he looks as mangled as he feels sometimes, but even this isn't the mind numbing fear that would rise up sometimes. This isn't terror, it's self consciousness of the completely shallow and self deprecating sort. Like what if Bucky looks at him, really looks at him, and doesn't want him anymore--

Bucky kisses his cheek and pulls Sam close, hesitantly pressing their bodies together. Sam's breath hitches when he feels Bucky against him, well muscled as usual and so firm. 

Is this what wanting...this is like? Is this how wanting physical intimacy feels like? Does Sam remember

His heart is pounding and Bucky is so incredibly close that he can feel the heat in his skin with the cool air caressing his own. Bucky takes his hand and they step into the warm water, and Sam finds himself not being able to look away from Bucky's eyes, so reassuring and never leaving Sam's.

"You okay, doll?" Bucky murmurs, eyes scanning Sam's face as he gently pulls Sam into the warm water of the large tub. Sam nods, words stuck in his throat. The water soothes him, and he's sure that's why Bucky had them do this in the first place. A place that is filled with sensory grounding objects, such as the water itself or the smell of the soap. So he doesn't disassociate. 

Bucky squeezes his hand lightly as they settle in the water, and Sam--to his own surprise and Bucky's--doesn't hesitate before he presses in close to Bucky chest to chest and lays his head on his shoulder. 

He can feel so much of the body against his, naked, hard and wet. The other man's length is pressed to his stomach but Sam doesn't immediately notice. All he can hear are Bucky's soothing words and fact that his fingers are gently ghosting over Sam's shoulders. That, and warmth of the water with the faint scent of strawberry rising from the bath.

They stay like that for a long, long time.

"I...I want to...but--" Sam stutters then stops, burying his face in Bucky's neck, "I...I don't want to hurt myself..."

Bucky clearly doesn't know what he's talking about for a good second and a half, but Sam knows when he gets it because he just hums, "We have all the time in the world, baby-doll."

Sam inhales, feeling his lungs and chest expand, pressing he and Bucky closer. He remembers how Bucky's body felt over his. How Bucky felt inside him, his ragged breaths pressed to Sam's skin as he made love to him. How Bucky's arms wrapped around him as he buried himself into Sam, groaning about how beautiful he was and how he was making him feel so good.

He wants that.

He wants Bucky's in him and around him and--

Sam just desperately doesn't want to hurt himself. He doesn't want to push himself and then break himself and end up pushing Bucky away.

But he also wants to feel that again. How good it can feel when it's not an attack.

Bucky is obviously alert and watching Sam, making sure he isn't tensing in fear or disassociating due to terror. Bucky is going to be on high alert no matter how many times Sam says he's alright, and a part of that is incredibly comforting as Bucky gently runs his hands all over Sam's body. Sam exhales, comfortable and savoring Bucky's touch. 

It's hard to disassociate when one of the hands in his body is obviously metal. Bucky places his hands in Sam's hips for a while, letting him adjust to the feeling and the closeness before he trails fingers down Sam's spine. 

This is so quiet and gentle and calm and perfect. There isn't a sound other than their breathing and the water, warm and scented. The faint smell of strawberry keeps Sam grounded. 

Metal fingers slide over his ass, slowly and oh-so hesitantly. Sam--from where he rests his head on Bucky's shoulder--kisses his neck in an effort to convey his wants, and how he's okay. How he wants Bucky to touch him.

"Fucking perfect, Sam." Bucky breathes quietly, like he's trying not to break the serenity of the moment with words that disrupts the silence. Sam knows he isn't perfect, he feels like the most imperfect thing on the planet, but he knows that Bucky will only argue if he tries to refute the man's exclamation of his value.

Plus, maybe Sam is soft and sensitive and needy for positive affirmation but he soaks up the attention and the love with an eagerness that makes his face heat up and causes him to shrink in further towards Bucky's body. Metal fingers stroke the soft skin of his ass for a while, and Sam bites his lips, willing himself not to show how much more he wants because he doesn't even think he's hard or know how much he can even take. 

He just knows he needs to feel close to Bucky right now. And that there are the heated, gentle stirrings of some distant feeling he's thought he'd loss at the contact between their bodies, and now that Sam is thinking about how he used to to give his body over to Bucky and Steve and let them take care of him, make love to him.

He's remembering what it was like to crawl into Steve lap and end up with the blond's arms around Sam's hips as he used to ride Steve while the blond kissed him and chanted his name like a prayer. How he used to lay under Bucky with his legs around the man's waist as he pounded into Sam while he moaned and arched into Bucky's body.

Sam lets out a moan that's so small and pathetic to his own ears but makes Bucky groan with want as soon as he hears it. Sam knows with how he's sitting in Bucky's lap that he's completely exposed, and that his entrance is right under Bucky's hands, but he still gasps when one or Bucky's fingers prods at him and runs over the puckered skin.

Sam jumps a bit, his lip between his teeth, subconsciously still expecting...something.

It takes him a moment to realize he's expecting pain. That's the only thing he's felt when it's comes to that part of his body for so long that now...he doesn't know what to think. But when Bucky touched him it didn't hurt. Sam expected the usual sting of abuse and improper lubrication or care for his well-being...

Bucky does it again, and Sam clutches him closer, an involuntary moan breaking past his lips. He wants...something.

Sam can't speak. The sensations washing over his body are too much, but it's like Bucky knows what he wants and what he's thinking because he does it again and instead holds his fingers there, massaging the muscle and tightening his hold on Sam when Sam moans brokenly into his neck again, squirming in Bucky's lap.

"Okay, doll?" Bucky asks, voice husky from arousal and having Sam in lap and starting to feel again, in this way.

Sam can only nod, pressing a kiss to Bucky's neck as he starts to breathe heavier. Bucky continues, his other hand pressing to Sam's skin. His hip. His spine. Collarbone. Wrists--

Sam startles, "N-not my wrists." he gasps, tensing ever so slightly. Bucky releases him before Sam even finishes the sentence, looking up at him and trying to gauge how he--

"I'm fine. Really, Bucky." Sam tells him, catching his breath, "Just...not there...please."

Bucky nods immediately, face serious, "Of course, doll. Remember," he says, looking at Sam, so perfect in his lap, "you're the boss. What you say, goes. Anything."

Sam takes a breath, nodding. Bucky doesn't move a muscle until Sam bites his lip and looks at him through his eyelashes, shifting in Bucky's lap and emitting the tiniest gasp when their bodies rub together. Bucky's still hard. Sam is...he isn't sure, and he's not about to touch himself and find out.

He leans into Bucky until they're chest to chest in warm, strawberry scented water and puts his head on Bucky's shoulder, savoring that familiar feeling of metal against his cheek. Bucky merely trails gentle fingers down Sam's spine while Sam takes in feeling of Bucky's naked, wet body against his. Sam is feeling...something, and he isn't sure what it is until he realizes it's the inklings of anxiety that he's been spared of before. It's not exactly fear, though. It's just..it's like his body is trying to juggle the sensory memory of the Hydra agents while also trying to rationalize the fact that Bucky feels different and isn't hurting him. 

He can feel Bucky's muscles, and Sam takes deep, grounding breaths, his cheek pressed to the metal of Bucky's shoulder. Milkshake pads in, plopping down on his doggy bed on the bathroom floor, looking at Bucky suspiciously before he puts his head in his paws and closes his eyes. The bathroom is quiet, just the sounds of their breathing and the sound of water being displaced. The lights are low and the sun is going down, painting the room in an orange-pink glow.

It's beautiful.

 ~

They crawl into bed, warm and content.

Sam couldn't...do...that, but it was still so nice, and it felt good. Really good. He'd like to do that again. Soon. He and Bucky lay face to face,Bucky's arms around him and Sam snuggled into his chest, just quietly enjoying being close and breathing each other's air. Bucky asks about Sam's bracelet. Sam tells him about running into T'Challa. They talk a bit, and kiss and then they're drifting off to sleep.

Sam wakes up some time later.

Sam listens for Bucky's evened breath and waits for a few moments, staring at the ceiling and making sure the other man is truly asleep before he slips from under his arm and out of their bed, pulling on his clothes.

Sam knows that Bucky would absolutely hate what he's doing, but Sam can't leave things how they are. He knew what he had to do since his talk with the trickster in the library. He almost wishes he could ignore it, what Loki told him, but he...he can't. If he doesn't do something it'll be a source of fear forever.

Sam can't bear being afraid. Not anymore.

He has to ask Friday where the cars are located since it's been so long and he doesn't remember. The ones in the garage are for any of them to use, and Tony doesn't care which one any particular person uses since he's more into his pet projects of fixing cars than driving them. Sam even has the odd thought that he might not even remember how to drive, but he pushes it away with the reasoning that it's probably like riding a bike. You don't forget.

He doesn't think too much about what he's doing, because thinking too much doesn't work out for him these days, but thankfully he doesn't run into anyone and thus doesn't have to explain what he's doing heading to the garage at 3 am. He's thankful for that, because if he had to say his plan out loud he'd definitely see how awful it is and turn back. And he isn't even sure he wants to turn back. He's both terrified in the face of what he knows he's going to find at the warehouse while also being tired of being terrified. It's an odd cocktail of emotions that leave him trying to not think about anything at all. Milkshake, of course, pads behind him because the dog refuses to let Sam go anywhere by himself, which is probably due to his training. Sam isn't annoyed or anything, though. Milkshake is company he can always seem to manage. 

The garage is large and very...chrome, but Sam is able to snatch a random key off of the assortment of hooks by the entrance and make his way through the dimly lit parking spaces to the corresponding car. The garage smells like concrete, gasoline and cold metal, and Sam takes steady breathes to ground himself because yes, he's terrified but this is something he desperately has to do. He can't even fully articulate why, but he has to do it. Milkshake presses himself to Sam's legs, looking up at him and whimpering, keeping him present and causing the denim of his jeans to press against his skin, providing extra sensory stimulation.

"I'm okay." Sam says quietly after a moment, "I'm okay. Thanks, buddy."

He unlocks the door, hands shaking ever so slightly before he takes another deep breath and opens a door for Milkshake, who plops himself into the passenger's side, keeping an eye on Sam.

The car is black and probably has a bunch of luxury and fancy features Sam can't find himself to care about right now. He gets in and closes the door, taking a moment to adjust to the space and reacquaint himself with the controls (because if it turns out Sam's brain is more scrambled than he thought he could kill both himself and Milkshake completely by accident which--of course--would be a million shades of awful) before taking a deep breath  (the car smells like leather and pine), putting the key in the ignition and turning. 

The car springs to life, engine purring with a slight vibration under Sam's hands, where they rest on the steering wheel. Milkshake perks up in the face of something so interesting going on.

"You ready?" Sam asks him, though he knows the shaky question is more for himself than the dog.

Milkshake just pants and shifts happily in his seat.

"I'll take that as a yes." Sam mumbles, flexing his hands on the steering wheel.

Okay. He can do this. Pull the car out of park, a little pressure on the acceleration and one foot always hovering above the brake. Fix rear view windows if needed. A little more pressure on the accelerator...remember to steer...don't zone out...

Warehouse by the old SHIELD building used to be. He thinks he knows the exact place.

He's actually managing the driving pretty well, but that could be because it's so early in the morning that not many people are on the road. Not in this part of the city at least. He does feel the usual trickles of anxiety whenever someone's car gets close to his own. It's also still dark, which doesn't help.

The old SHIELD building is now a crater cut off by construction tape and scaffoldings, but Sam can still basically see the place, towering and imposing.

The warehouse is three blocks away from it, tucked into a desolate corner of a construction yard that looks both dangerous and boring all at once, probably in an effort to discourage anyone from poking around. He's willing to bet Natasha picked the place. There's a slim area where he can ditch the car and have it be obscured from the street view, and he cuts off the engines, heart pounding in the dark of the car in the cold night as Milkshake nudges at him in concern.

"I'm okay." Sam says quietly, voice wavering, "I'm okay."

He's unsure of whether he's saying for Milkshake's sake or his own. Probably both.

He sits in the car for a few more minutes, Sam trying to calm his breathing and resist the urge to jump at every little sound, trying to gather up the courage required to open the door.

God, what is he doing? Why is he doing this to himself? Who knows what seeing them again will do to him or how far it'll push him back. What if Sam ends up hurting himself? What if he ends up fucking up and they get free? And take him again? What if--

Sam feels a cold nose pressing against his neck and his hand reaches for fur as Milkshake shuffles closer to him, starting his grounding exercises. Right. 

Right.

He has to do this. Why? Closure, maybe. But he opens the door and inches out of the car, shivering in Steve's large, black sweater that Sam has commandeered for the night. He really likes wearing Steve or Bucky's clothes more than his own. They're bigger for one thing, and they smell like them and that...helps.

He wraps his arms around himself as Milkshake happily bounds out of the car, and he's about to reach for the car door to close it only for Milkshake to nudge it closed himself before looking back up at Sam, panting and wagging his tail.

"Thanks buddy." Sam says, shivering and realizing he left Milkshake's leash in the car.

Sam doesn't bother retrieving it. It's not like the dog wanders too far from Sam anyway.

Milkshake presses himself to Sam's legs, and Sam takes another deep breath and nods, fiddling with the keys in his pocket before looking toward the warehouse. 

There it is. They're in there. 

This is his last chance to decide whether he really wants to do this. God, he doesn't even know what he'll do when he gets in there, and Sam realizes he has no plan. Is he planning on speaking to any of them? Asking them why? What they got out of it all?

Sam's skin crawls at the thought of even having to lay hands on them to deliver the punches that he should want to inflict on them, but honestly, Sam doesn't want to feel their skin against his no matter what. Not even to torture them. He never wants to be close to them again.

And yet here he is.

What is his plan?

Sam just knows that Bucky is planning on killing them at some point, and the the only reason Sam doesn't get in the car and drive back home and burrow himself under the blankets with Bucky is because he has the thought that he doesn't want them to die without seeing his face one last time.

Without seeing that he's alive and functioning. That while they're dying he's well and where he belongs, a constant when they'll be at a permanent end soon. 

He wants them to look at him and see that he's okay, despite what they did to him.

Sam is okay, isn't he?

He is.

Sam makes his way to the warehouse (there's a gate with a lock that is clearly Natasha's, and Sam examines the contraption and punches in the code he knows Nat uses for her devices, feeling proud of himself when the gate unlocks and he's free to go through it), Milkshake at his side and the sound of gravel and glass crunching beneath his boots. The air is cold and Sam hugs himself, shivering and looking down at Milkshake, wondering if the canine feels the cold at all. He just looks up at Sam with his usually dopey, happy dog expression and Sam decides that he probably doesn't.

They're halfway to the door and Sam is trying very hard to not let any fearful thoughts get to him when Milkshake growls, tensing and stepping in front of Sam, stopping the human in his tracks. Sam freezes, startled and immediately afraid because of the dog's sudden aggressive behavior and the fact that he went into guard mode, obviously detecting danger to shield Sam from. 

"What is it?" Sam whispers, like Milkshake can answer him. The dog growls again, bristling and sniffing the ground, looking around suspiciously. Its takes Sam a few minutes of standing in terror an bracing for someone to grab him or something before he considers that maybe the danger isn't out here so much as...inside the warehouse. Milkshake looks at Sam sharply in his own equivalent of 'What the hell are you doing?' when Sam steps around the dog guarding him and slowly continues to make his way to the door. Milkshake is at his side yet again, this time bristling like he's waiting for something to happen. And like he disapproves of how Sam insists on approaching the danger.

Sam bites his lip, staring at the wood plains of the door before he grabs the cool handle, rusted metal even colder in the night.

He holds it for a while, gripping it tight before he gathers himself and pulls it open. He feels like he's about to step into a forest of wild animals, and he has no idea what will attack him first.

The door opens with a groaning noise, indicating how old the place is, and Sam's first thought is that it's filthy.

Because it is. There's dust and grime and some wet spots due to leaking from exposed piping all along the walls and ceiling. The smell is terrible, and that's what hits Sam next. It smells like rot and the metallic scent of old blood. Not to mention the air is stale and it's even colder in here than outside. Sam shivers again, stepping inside and taking in what he can see of the place without moving too far in. Milkshake was hostile before, but now he's even more wound up, pressed to Sam's leg and looking every which way, ready to bite into anything he has to.

Sam gives him a scratch behind the ears (that the dog clearly enjoys but doesn't let distract him) as a small gesture of gratitude for always watching his back. They take it slow, Sam because he's admittedly more than a little afraid, and Milkshake because he's suspicious watching everything.

It's when they get to the sectioned part of the warehouse that Sam sees the cells.

Cages, actually. All bloodied, twisted metal and wire fused to the walls, all in a row. It's too dark to see, so Sam isn't sure if anyone is in them--

Sam moves to step closer and get a better view, but Milkshake stops him by blocking his way before giving Sam a rather...pointed and sharp look for a dog and trotting off toward the cells himself. Sam's brows furrow in confusion as he watches the dog walk ahead of him, and he tries to follow Milkshake only to get a small yip of protest.

Oh. Milkshake wants him to stay here. While he investigates the cells.

Every now and again Sam wonders where the hell Nat had him trained because he doesn't think this is normal for a service dog. Plus, Sam is sure that these programs don't train dogs to be as bossy as Milkshake can be sometimes.

He starts to bark as he sniffs the first cell, growling and baring his teeth as he bites at something Sam can't see. He strains to try and make out exactly what Milkshake is doing, but he can only see Milkshake walk to the next cell and do the same thing, minus the biting. Then the next, then the next.

When he allows Sam to move without protest (and Sam pats his head with a little jibe of, "Bossy furball.") he sees what Milkshake was reacting to.

His stomach turns and he involuntarily dry heaves, doubling over. He doesn't know whether it's the sight of the guards or the fact that they're as mangled as they are, but he doesn't recover for a long moment.

The first cell contains a brunet, and his ear is gone, as are the majority of his fingers. He's beaten very badly, but he's conscious, stirring due to the commotion of Milkshake's barking. He shifts, a lump on the floor of his cell and Sam sees his face.

 

The next guard forces his tongue into Sam's mouth as he forces his length into him over and over again, ignoring Sam's quiet tears and sobs. His saliva is disgusting. Sam is forced to taste it.

Sam shudders and gags. It's him. Sam can still faintly feel all of it.

He dry heaves again, doubling over in front of the guard's cell, senses overtaken by nausea and the fact that he remembers it all. Every little thing. How the blankets felt under his back and how the clock chimed when he pinned Sam down. Milkshake is at his side, on his hind legs and licking Sam's face, trying to distract him from whatever is going on in his head.

Sam shudders again, straightening and gathering himself, trying to calm his racing heart. He knew what to expect when he walked into this place. He knew they were here. He needs to keep it together.

He moves to the next cell.

The figure's face is swollen and bloodied, but he remembers the blond guard. How could he ever forget him? Sam will probably remember him for the rest of his life, unfortunately.

 

Sam can only clench his eyes shut as the man wrenches his pants down. Sam hears the man's zipper and can only lay still and hope it doesn't last too long when the man shoves himself inside him.

And the entire time he holds Sam down whispers things like "fucking whore.", "nigger.", "slut", "colored garbage."

Sam can only cry silently as the man pounds into him, gripping him too tight and calling him so many horrible things that Sam doesn't want to remember. 

He finishes, his come filling the trembling body under his before he pulls out, gives Sam's hip one last painful squeeze and leaves.

He's missing a hand, and he's already awake, looking at Sam with hate-filled eyes. Sam looks at him, his stomach violently turning, but he doesn't look away, and he doesn't break eye contact. Sam just looks at him blankly. No reaction. He feels sick to his stomach and all he can feel is the ghost of the guard's hands on him but Sam just blinks at him. The man shifts from his place on the ground, squirming closer to the bars before he tries to open his mouth and say something. Sam flinches, taking a step back, when he sees that the reason the man hasn't said anything is because he has no tongue. Or teeth. His mouth is full of blood and only blood.

Whatever he's trying to say only comes out in a garbled, bloody and pathetic sound, and Sam says nothing to him, just moves on.

He recognizes the next one immediately.

 

The next one repeatedly calls Sam a harlot and a tramp. He laughs at his tears and pulls out just before he comes, coating Sam's thighs with it.

This one is quite obviously dead. The guard doesn't move, and Sam can see his face, streaked with blood and dirt, sunken in from malnutrition. He remembers that face as it laughed and hovered over him. Sam guesses he died of starvation, and the deep knife wounds he can see peppering the man's body surely had a hand in it as well.

Sam moves on.

The next one is also awake, but not strong enough to lift his head from the dirty ground.   

 

This one doesn't talk. He just holds a quietly crying Sam down and pounds into him, looking at him with that murderous glint in his eyes like when he's done he's going to kill him.

Sam wishes he would.

The man grips his wrists so tight he feels like his bones are crushing together, and when Sam sobs and tries to pull a hand out of his grip the man slaps him--hard--before continuing his painful thrusting.

It hurts.

He finishes and looks at Sam with disgust as he tucks himself back in his pants before leaving.

Dull eyes look up at Sam from their place on the ground, and Sam doesn't say anything, just gives him a look of disgust not unlike the one he gave Sam so long ago.

He moves on.

And this one. The last guard that came into rooms whenever they...visited him. 

 

The next one spits on him when he leaves.

He's dead as well. His eyes stare blankly at the ceiling.

The next cell is empty, and Sam's stomach turns yet again. 

Krause.

Did he--has he somehow gotten out? Sam bites down the rising panic and tension, trying to think.

No. He couldn't have. That wouldn't make any sense. The rest of them are beaten and immobile, so wouldn't Krause also be?

Sam spots the interrogation room, dark but visible when he catches a glint off of the doorknob. His eyes have adjusted to the dark, so he can see the door pretty clearly before he gets too close to it. There's smudges of blood on the knob, and Sam really wants to forgo touching it if possible.

It's not.

At least it's dried. The door opens with an ominous creak, and Sam doesn't need to turn on the light to know who that figure chained to the table is. 

He turns on the light anyway. The room floods with the brightness and Sam's eyes throb from the sudden exposure as he squints, blinking rapidly to get his eyes to adjust so the pain fades away. The bulb flickering to life draws a hissing sound out of the figure, and Sam takes a step back, heart rate spiking in fear--

Until he looks at him. 

Krause is unrecognizable. Well, Sam would know him anywhere, but in the sense of how he usually holds himself and liked to dress--neat and proper with not a hair out of place--he's nothing like himself.

His hair is no longer slicked back as Sam is used to seeing it, but instead sticking up at all angles and thinning in places due to malnutrition, Sam guesses. His face is swollen, purple in places and caked in blood and dirt in addition to his nose looking quite broken and his lip busted and healing into his front teeth, the skin fusing to the bone. One of his eyes is oozing pus and obviously infected. He doesn't doubt there are more injuries he can't see. He's hunched over and groaning at the sudden flood of light and Sam is still as a statue by the door, Milkshake steady at his side, eyeing the figure in suspicion and hostility.

The suit Krause loved so much is so torn and bloodied that if Sam didn't know that suit he'd never guessed it ever looked as high end as it used to.

Krause is handcuffed to the desk by one hand, and his other is chained behind his back. There's a gash in his hand, like it was punctured with something.

Krause opens his good eye and zeroes in on Sam, who looks at him blankly.
He hopes he looks more calm than he feels. One half of him is bristling in fear but the other half is morbidly fascinated and pleased the fact that Krause looks as terrible and close to death as he does.

And Sam is pleased. Krause deserves this. Sam doesn't have that faux modesty that others do in this case. The whole 'I-don't-want-to-sink-to-their-level' rhetoric never suited him. Bad people deserve the bad things they have coming to them. Simple. Sam won't beat Krause or the guards into the ground because he doesn't want to touch them. That's it. Not out of some weird sense of fake self righteousness.

Krause tries to twist his mangled face into something that looks like a grin, "Sammy."

His voice is rough and both dry and wet with what Sam assumes is blood, and as soon as he speaks his stomach lurches and Sam shudders out a disgusted, "Ugh."

It was completely involuntary, but it goes to show how disgusted by the man Sam is. 

Krause looks like he's struggling to breathe, and every breathe looks like it takes so much effort.

Good. That's how Sam felt when he was crushed under his body every night.

"Little Krause has grown." The man says, and it's been so long that Sam has even thought about the fact that Milkshake used to be named after Krause that he has no idea what the man is talking about. Until he does.

Rage coils in Sam's stomach when he snaps, "That's not his name anymore."

Krause tilts his head, looking like a diseased, aggressive animal, "What the fuck did you do?"

"Krause is a shit name." Sam says, "The dog deserved better."

"Watch how you talk to me--"

"I'll talk to you however I want." Sam says, cutting him off and pushing down the instinctual fear at Krause's raised voice, "You don't mean anything to me."

"Oh, you'll regret that Sammy."

Sam ignores his words and gets right to the point, the question popping up in his head and demanding an answer. He sits in the chair across from Krause, and Milkshake bounces into Sam's lap before stepping onto the table and sitting down there, still guarding Sam with his back rod straight and his eyes set on Krause.

"Why me?" Sam asks, heart in his throat and stomach turning, "Why pick me?"

Krause laughs, a harsh sound, wet with blood. He knows exactly what Sam is talking about. "I liked the look of you, Sammy."

He cringes at the nickname, forever tainted by the monster in front of him. And then he can't help but think through everything that Krause has done to him, and let be done to him, and the damage and trouble it caused.

All because Krause just 'liked the look of him'. He shook Sam's life down to the foundation, simply because he liked how Sam looked. Sam can't help but scoff and look away, biting his lip in anger.

"Because you 'liked the look of me'. Wow." Sam grits out, shaking his head, "Unbelievable. Just because you could? All the heat taking me would rain down on Hydra and you still did it. Because you felt like it."

Krause grins at him, and Sam can see he's missing teeth. And now, with his face a mess of blood and bruises and his suit ripped, bloody and his entire visage altogether horrifying, Sam can't help but think that this is how he's always looked to Sam. 

"Do you know how good it would look for us to have an Avenger next to us?" Krause coughs out, "Hydra is still on its way to taking over the world--"

He's always looked like some horrifying figure from a terrifying movie. He's always looked like he was draped in death and to Sam, he's always been the most ugly person alive.

It's just that now that Krause actually looks like this, the rest of the world can see what Sam sees as well.

"That's a cute little dream." Sam snaps, trembling slightly and furious "So what, I was supposed to be a trophy?"

"You would be up there with me, and everyone would know. That we won. That we have one of the all powerful Avengers to tote around like a doll. You're the one they like best. You could have been a symbol. That Hydra is superior. The right way." Krause spits, single eye blazing, "And they'd all know what I was using you for and why I kept you alive, and that you spent most of your days on your knees or your back with my--"

Milkshake barks at him. It's a rough, angry sound that cuts into the air and effectively cuts off the lewd and graphic description Krause was about to give, and Sam's heart stutters in his chest from the crippling fear of sitting here in front of the man and remembering how he used him. Krause jumps and his head snaps (and Sam can hear a sickening cracking sound coming from Krause's body) to look at the dog in sick, startled surprise.

The canine sits there, on the table with his eyes trained on Krause and his teeth bared in a steady and ragged growl from low in the dog's throat. This is the most hostile and frightening Sam has ever seen him. He's usually this fluffy, bumbling little playful ball of fur but right now he's on par with a rottweiler or an angry wolf.

He realizes that Milkshake most likely understands and remembers. How Sam would show visible fear in Krause's presence. The pained sounds that would come from Sam under the bedroom door whenever Krause locked Milkshake out to use Sam during the day. He remembers Milkshake being so small and yet still scratching at the door, trying to get to Sam when he heard Sam's distress.

Sam remembers how Milkshake always stayed away from Krause unless Sam had to be near him. How he never accepted the man's head scratches or attempts to feed him. Milkshake was always on Sam's side.

And he still is, except how he's bigger and rougher and understands more.

Krause looks at the canine, and Sam fights the urge to let out a humorless laugh. The very gift Krause tried to use as a tool to control Sam is now defending Sam from Krause's cruelty, even now.

"And you were the weakest." Krause spits, "All you had were wings."

"All I have are wings." Sam snaps, eyes glaring into Krause's only visible eye, "I still have them. And I'm not weak."

"Oh really?" Krause wheezes, cracked lips breaking into a smile, "You seem pretty weak to me. You'll never fly again, I've broken you, Sammy."

"Which one of us looks broken, Krause?" Sam asks, anger bubbling up under his skin, "I beat you."

God, Sam hates him. He hates him so much. He hates the fact that Sam was forced to kiss him and share a bed with him and get on his knees for him and let this despicable asshole into his body--

No, not 'let'. Sam didn't 'let' him do anything. His choice was ripped from him with acts of brutal violation. 

Krause laughs, "You didn't beat me, Sammy. You never could."

Sam clenches his jaw, looking down his nose at the man, "I would kick your ass for even saying my name, but honestly, I don't even want to touch you."

That makes Krause angry, and he glares at Sam and spits, "You had no problem touching me when I--"

"I had a problem with it then too." Sam tells him, cutting him off, stomach churning, "You just didn't care. You're an animal. You know how desperate and pathetic you have to be to break someone down and try to make them love you like that?"

"You did love me, Sammy." he says, and Sam cringes at how low and pathetic he sounds, "You know you did."

Sam rolls his eyes, shaking his head before he sighs, "No one loves you, Krause."

Krause freezes as Sam continues, "How could anyone? You're a monster. Whenever you were near me I wanted to vomit because your very presence is disgusting. I would rather die than let you touch me again. You're nauseating and revolting to look at and share a bed with. You make my skin crawl because being near you is like being in close proximity to the most foul, stomach-turning trash on the planet. You are the scum of the earth, and of course you ended up having to kidnap and force someone to stay with you because you're an ugly and despicable person, inside and out. And now you're locked up and dying and no one is looking for you or cares." he pauses, his resolve slipping as small sensory tastes trickle back to him before he shakes them off. "You had no right." Sam chokes out, taking a shaky breath and willing himself not to wilt or wither in the monster's gaze, "You're a murderer, and a rapist, and you couldn't destroy me no matter how hard you tried. You're an animal, and from the look of it, you're dying like one. Which is still better than you deserve." 

Krause bares his teeth at Sam, looking like a starved, feral wolf. "I'm the one who took care of you, you f--" 

Sam laughs, surprising even himself at how dark and humorless it sounds, "Took care of me? Is that what you call it? Everything you did to me was 'taking care of me'? You're so fucking delusional and disgusting, my god."

Krause sobers, looking at Sam with so much hate that Sam can only shake his head and glare, trying not to cry due to how much Sam hates the man sitting in front of him. "I'm going to pay you a visit as soon as I get out of here, Sammy. I promise you that, and you'll regret all of this shit you're--"

"And what?" Sam deadpans, "You'll rape me again? Have your goons do the same and take turns?" he shrugs, "Do you really think you're getting out of here? Ever? You're going to die here, and honestly, I'm surprised you haven't bled out already." he gives Krause a steady look, "That eye looks infected, so that'll probably be what kills you first."

"You're still mine, Sammy. Did you know my favorite part? When you cried. So pretty. Made you feel even better." Krause grins, and Sam looks at him in revulsion and fights the raging nausea back down, "You're still mine, and I've still got a hold of you."

Milkshake bites him.

And Sam starts at the canine's sudden, darting movement and needs a moment to take in what's happened and how the dog went from sitting beside Sam and steadily growling at the man he remembers hurting Sam to hopping from the table, dashing under it and sinking his sharp teeth into Krause's leg.

Krause's resulting gurgle and bloody scream makes some dark part of Sam cheer. It's like the dog knew that Sam was loathe to touch Krause himself--partly due to trauma and partly due to the fact that he doesn't want Krause to derive any kind of sick pleasure from Sam touching him--even to hurt him.

So Milkshake chose to take care of that himself. 

"I think the dog disagrees." Sam says, "I belong to no one, and certainly not you. I never did. Never will. Still don't." 

Krause chokes and coughs in pain.

"I'll never understand your reasoning." Sam says, ignoring his pained gasps, "What the hell does someone get out of hurting someone like that? What's the point? Why would you even think of--?"

Krause glares at him, chest still heaving as his body reacts to the sudden shock of pain from Milkshake's bite.

"But I guess that's why we're different." Sam murmurs thoughtfully, "And that's why I'm here and you're there."

"And what--" Krause spits out, fresh blood staining his lips in his fury, "And what will b-become of you now, Sammy? Now that you're all rainbows and cherry blossoms?"

Sam stands, and Milkshake trots over to his side, eyeing the prisoner.

"I can do anything I want. I have options. You didn't take my life from me." Sam says, feeling oddly calm and strong, "You just put it on hold for a while. I still have my home, my family, my partners, my friends. I still have a team and paths to choose. Maybe I'll go back to doing what I did. Maybe I'll find something else. Hell, maybe I'll travel or pick up a new hobby or something. It doesn't matter because I'll be fine, and happy. There are possibilities for me. None for you."

Sam pauses for a moment, before he casually adds, "No matter what you did to me, I could never be as broken, desperate, pathetic and sad as you are. You're the ugliest type of person, and I'm going to move on and forget you, because I'm healing, and I'll be happy. You'll be nothing but a blip in my life that one day I'll never think about again. In the end you're nothing. But then again you always have been. And so your life amounts to a zero sum. How...shameful."

Sam takes a breath, looking at Krause before glancing around and deciding he's had about enough of this place. There is nothing else he needs to hear from Krause, and he simply doesn't want to be here anymore. This is the first time he gets to leave Krause's presence of his own accord. Simply because he wants to. This is also the last time he'll see him.

Good.

There is no more closure he needs. No more questions to ask or things to say. Sam came here for...something, and he's gotten it. And now that feeling of finality has draped over him.

There's nothing else to do here.

Krause is...nothing. He's just a man who was warped into something hideous, pathetic and venomous. Same with the guards. They are just men (not even monsters, they don't have the strength to be on par with monsters). They're just weak, sniveling and pitiful men who took power wherever they could find it to fill whatever empty space they had within themselves. Seeing them like this made that all click into Sam's mind. 

They can be killed. They can be made to bleed.

Sam won't waste anymore of his time with them. With Krause.

He has a life to live. Bucky is waiting for him in a warm bed right now, and soon Steve will be back too. And Sam has things to do, people to see and friends to catch up with.

A life to live.

And he won't give Krause anymore of his precious time.

Sam could have died. So many times in Krause's company and once by his own hand, but he survived. He survived and he has people waiting for him at home. People who care about him, people who've dropped everything to run all over the globe looking for him.

Sam thinks about Steve. 

Sam thinks about Bucky. 

Sam thinks about his mom. 

Sam thinks about Nat...Ororo...T'Challa....Jessica. 

Peter. Tony. Rhodey. Clint. Pepper. Bruce. Fury. Jane. Loki. Wade. Thor.

Sam turns to walk away.

He doesn't think about it, he just turns his back on Krause and on every lie he tried to pour into Sam's head. Sam turns and walks away even when Krause starts swearing a him and shouting.

"You fucking get back here!"

Sam walks past the cells--not bothering to look at the guards at all simply because he couldn't care less about them, they mean nothing--wondering if Steve will make those banana pancakes he's so good at when he gets home.

"Where the fuck do you think you're going, Sammy?"

He pets Milkshake as he makes his way to the door of the warehouse and wonders what movie he, Ororo, Jessica, Nat and Pepper will watch next.

"I'm all you'll ever have!"

While Krause's screaming continues and gets farther and farther away the closer he gets to the door, Sam wonders if Bucky is still asleep.

Krause's screams--bloody, ragged, cracked and hoarse--continue, but Sam barely hears the man. He doesn't care. Sam thinks about his warm bed with Bucky--and Steve, when he comes home. How, when he crawls back under the blankets with Bucky, he'll wake up every day next to to men he loves and how he'll drink coffee and have therapy and maybe paint a bit, if he feels like it.

On the way out he spots one of Natasha's switches. It's a small little device, mounted onto the wall a few feet from the cells, and Sam looks at it for a moment before he realizes what it is.

A demolition switch. 

Of course Natasha was involved in all this, and of course she thought eight steps ahead and made a backup plan to destroy all evidence. If someone finds this place they'll find Steve and Bucky's fingerprints everywhere. Nat's too. And the only way to ensure that nothing can be traced back to the people he loves is to--

Sam looks at the device and takes in the gravity of what he's about to do.

Then he flips the switch.

~

The fire starts slow. A steady heat coming from the warehouse, carried on the cool breeze of the night. And Sam guesses that Nat went for the more subtle approach. As opposed to an explosion that would draw attention, the warehouse slowly burning from the inside out could fly under the radar for a little longer. 

Sam made it outside a few minutes before the fire even started, and he sits a good distance away, legs folded on the ground and Milkshake next to him. He pets the dog as the first flames lick at the windows and blacken the wood panels, embers starting to fly off and be carried by the wind before they cool off and disappear. The fire is a blazing orange, yellow and red. The sky is dark blue, and the moon is a full one.

Sam watches the fire rage, bits of wood panels breaking off and plunging into the dust and ember that consume the building. The heat from the flames is a stark contrast the air that causes Sam's shivers. He swings between too hot from the fire and too cold, but he doesn't move. Milkshake's ears perk up, his eyes on the flames like he understands the significance of what this means, and Sam wraps his arms around himself, Steve's sweater around him like an embrace. 

Sam takes a deep breath, brisk air entering his lungs like a shot of ice meant to wake him up, and he watches the building crumble to the ground ever so slowly, licked apart by flames and turning the hell that has been thrust upon him for half a year...to ash. And despite the general darkness of the situation at hand, he feels...quiet. Stable. At peace.

They sit there for a long time. 

This is it.

It's over.

Truly over.

They're dead. 

They'll never hurt anyone again. They'll never get the chance, and somehow Sam feels like he's avenged those people he's seen killed. The innocent ones. Himself, too.

Though it's too late for them, it's not too late for Sam.

He survived. He survived and he's healing and growing stronger every single second of every single day. And Sam knows he's going to be okay. He's going to be better than okay, because he's strong enough to work for it. He's strong enough to try.

And when he feels two sets of familiar arms wrap around him as Bucky kneels beside him on one side and Steve on the other, he doesn't jump in alarm or move his eyes from the flames. He actually can't help a small smile. 

Steve kisses his cheek, pulling him close, and Sam rests his head on Steve's shoulder and Bucky takes his hand as he watches the warehouse crumble.

"You're back early." Sam says, voice even and light. Steve holds him tighter, and Sam doesn't look at him but he knows the blond is doing his damnedest not to go into full blown mother hen mode. Sam knows he will anyway, Steve can never help it. He distantly wonders when Steve got back, and if Sam had already left the tower by then.

"Yeah." Steve says quietly, watching the warehouse burn, "Yeah, I am."

"How was it?" Sam asks as he gazes at the burning wood.

"Hm?"

"How was it?" Sam repeats, finally looking away from the warehouse and at Steve, taking in the way the light of the flames illuminate certain planes of his face, "Your mission?"

Steve pauses for a moment, looking at Sam with soft eyes and tightening his hold, "It was easier than we thought. I just got back about two hours ago and I went home and you were gone--"

"Yeah." Sam hums, "I'm okay. I promise."

Steve presses his face into Sam's neck, exhaling a relieved breath, "God, Sam."

"I had to." Sam tells him, voice soft, "I had see it through to the end."

Steve nods but holds him so tight and Sam leans his head on his shoulder and whispers a steady stream of "I'm okay. I'm okay."

Eventually Steve calms the slightest bit, and when he can talk he whispers a relieved, "Never do that again." as he cups Sam's face and looks him in the eye. Steve's eyes are wide and panicked, and his hair is sticking up. Sam can't help it. He giggles.

The blonde's brow softens at the sight of Sam's gap-toothed smile, and Steve sighs again, all of the tension seeping out of his shoulders before he presses a kiss to Sam's cheeks, then his lips. Bucky has an arm around Sam's waist and a hand in his, silently watching the warehouse crumble.

Milkshake trots up to Bucky and whines for ear scratches.

~

"I should see my mom." Sam tells them that night, laying between them with two pairs of arms wrapped around him.

They still smell like smoke and fire, but they're all too tired to care, especially Sam. They'd simply let Steve call Fury and explain the fire, then Sam dozed on Bucky on the drive home with Milkshake lying across his lap. He'd woken in a panic when Steve shook him awake, his entire body coiled and his heart in his throat until Milkshake managed to calm him. And now they're in bed, exhausted, emotionally and physically, Sam in the middle with their arms around him. Tight enough to be comforting but not too tight as to trigger a panic attack upon waking.

Bucky kisses the back of Sam's neck, "Sounds great, doll."

~

Sam wakes up and has a panic attack anyway. Most likely due to the stress from last night. It doesn't last long though, and Milkshake doesn't have to do too much to bring him back. It's like Sam is bouncing back a little better and a little quicker every time. He finds himself a bit tired, but he's still able to handle touch and being close to them. After his meds and some water he's feeling pretty good.

Bucky went back to sleep after he made sure Sam was okay, and now Sam's in the kitchen with Steve, watching the blond move around the space. They'd had a light breakfast, some toast, coffee and a fruit for Sam (and while he isn't eating as much as he should yet he's definitely getting there, according to the calorie plan Steve wrote up for him), and some cereal for Steve.

The blond has a bruise on his arm, and Sam fusses over him for a bit until Steve gently assures him it'll be gone by noon, because of the serum. Sam still kisses him, so glad to have him back and in one piece. Steve wraps his arms around Sam's waist, pulling him close and they stand like that for a while, kissing deeply and Sam savoring being close to Steve again.

"I love you." Steve breathes against his lips.

"And I love you." Sam smiles.

~

"What does...what did they--" Sam starts, biting his lip and looking down at the marble of the kitchen island, "What does she think happened to me? My mom, I mean."

Steve tenses, putting the dish onto the drain board and looking at Sam with hesitance and caution clear in those blue eyes.

"Steve?" Sam asks, looking at the blond before he quietly adds, "Please tell me."

Steve reaches over the counter, taking Sam's trembling hand and leaning over the counter to look him in the eye, winding their fingers together.

"She thinks you're on a long, low-risk mission in Wakanda."

Sam nods, he expected something like that, and as far as confidential cover stories go, Wakanda is the perfect cover. Remote and isolated enough that no news slips passed its borders, not to mention that not enough is known about the country to investigate in the first place. 

"We...we--Bucky and I--didn't make up the story." Steve tells him, never breaking eye contact with Sam as he soothingly rubs the back of Sam's hand, "It was Fury and his team. I wanted to tell her, but...she...Darlene's stress issues and her health...she would have worried herself sick and we couldn't lose her too--"

Sam could kiss Steve. Right now. Because Sam knows his mother, and he adores her, and he knows that had she known how much danger he was in and for how long...she would have made herself sick with worry. Her health isn't at it's best, and hasn't been for a while now, and Sam being the reason it worsens? That's his worst nightmare. He already stresses her out enough with being an Avenger (is he still an Avenger? Sam is almost too scared to ask) and then with the fact that he's dating not one but two white boys (though she's met Steve and Bucky and absolutely loves them even if she is still a bit wary). He'll keep as much of his shit under wraps if he can. For her peace of mind. 

She's already so scared and concerned for her black, queer, self-sacrificial son that's out and about in this intolerant and cold world, and rightfully so, but if Sam can keep his mouth shut about some things and make her feel like he isn't on the edge of death every second, he will.

A part of him feels awful for not going to visit her sooner, or for not calling her, but he knows he wasn't in the right shape. And had she seen or spoken to him when he was the wreck he was immediately after, everything Steve and Bucky have done to keep her in the dark--and thus, without worry--would have been for nothing. 

He knows his mother will always see her baby boy when she looks at him. That she'll always see that child that helped her bake cookies on Sunday afternoons and the little boy who had a crush on Stevie Wonder, sang along to his records and begged her to buy him vinyl and cassettes. Who she took to baseball games and ice cream shops and toy stores, when she had the money. 

There's also the all-too prevalent shame that Sam felt (and still feels) for what happened to him, and he doesn't want to have to look his momma in the eye and tell her that he's been hurt in such an awful way. Sam doubts her heart could take it, and he won't do that to her. Burden her like that. He can't do it to himself, either. As much as he knows what happened isn't his fault, he still wants as few people to know as possible. There's still that humiliation and mortification that follows him around and he can't help but feel it.

"Steve." Sam says, "Thank you."

Steve looks at him, brows furrowed in confusion, though he doesn't stop running his fingers over Sam's hand, feather light.

"For looking out for her." Sam says, "Thank you."

"Of course, Sam."

Sam looks at their hands, intertwined, "I should go see her soon. I don't...I don't think I can tell her...but...I should tell her something. And just...maybe stay with her for a day or two."

Steve tenses at the thought of Sam being away from them both for any significant chunk of time, but Sam knows that's just Steve's overprotective nature shining through. He's used to it by now. This is something Sam needs to do. Plus, he's sure his mom wants to see him, he always feels like he doesn't visit her enough. It's hard though, he doesn't want to visit too often that he can be tracked and bring trouble to her doorstep.

He would never forgive himself if something happened to her. And now that he's thinking about it, really thinking about it, he realizes he needs his mother. His heart aches for one of her hugs or for her to tell him everything will be alright. For her to say what she always does.

"I didn't raise a quitter. Things'll hurt, baby. But we gotta be tough, in this world. That don't mean you go it alone, you got people who love you. You got me."

Steve nods, "Yeah...sounds like a good idea."

"Steve?"

"Hm?"

"Thank you." Sam says again, "For...for not telling her."

Steve nods, looking down at their hands for a long moment before he says, "She's an amazing woman, Sam. And she raised an amazing son."

Sam smiles, squeezing Steve's hand.

"We felt awful for lying, and...part of me can't help but think we shouldn't have let Fury craft the story in the first place but...Buck and I...we didn't want her living with that, you know? Knowing her son was abducted and--" the blonde stops, visibly steadying himself before he continues, "And with her health and everything--"

Sam leans over the counter and kisses him.

~

The phone is a weight in his hand and he shuts the door to the room even though he can feel Steve bristling at the fact that he does so from the other side of the door. Steve and Bucky are still wary of locked doors, especially with Sam, and Sam has the feeling that his suicide watch is going to be an extended practice even though he hasn't exhibited any self-destructive behavior in a while.

He hears a scratching noise at the door, and he opens it a bit to let Milkshake though before closing it again. The dog gives him a slightly betrayed look for locking him out until Sam scratches behind his ears.

"Sorry about that, buddy." he says, before plopping a kiss on the dog's head (which Milkshake seems to love), "Wasn't intentional."

He sits on the bed, wearing Bucky's black sweater and Steve's sweatpants (both of which are too big for him) and he takes a deep, shaky breath and looks at Milkshake--who has hopped onto the bed next to him and laid his head in Sam's lap, looking at him with big eyes.

"You ready for this?" Sam asks, scratching behind the dog's ears as he gathers his courage. He presses the screen and opens his contacts, scrolling down to one profile and pressing the number.

He clicks call, his free hand in Milkshake's fur and his heart pounding. It rings a few times until she picks up. And as soon as Sam hears his momma's voice, that familiar tone answering the phone with a "Hello?", Sam makes little wounded sound as his heart clenches.

God, he's missed her. He's missed her so, so much. He takes a shaky breath, his heart aching just from hearing her voice and he knows she knows it's him because her next word is what has him crying.

"Baby?"

Sam smiles through his tears, so happy to hear her voice, "Hey, momma."

Chapter Text

The next day Sam packs his bag.

He's decided to only bring one, because he has no idea how long he's staying, but he's shoved as much clothes and things as he thinks he'll need in it as he could. At some point, Bucky (who looks sad that Sam is leaving, if only for a few days though he's trying to hide it for Sam's sake) presents him with two of his black sweaters, knowing how Sam prefers to wear Bucky's clothes.

Steve gives him two of his black t-shirts.

Sam loves them both so much he doesn't think he can handle it sometimes.

Even he is hesitant to leave, but then he remembers where he's going and who he's going to see and he knows he has to do this. He needs to see his mother, and she nearly cried when she heard him on the phone, and when he asked if he could visit and stay for a few days he got quite a scolding for even thinking he had to ask.

He knows she suspects something. Darlene Wilson is as perceptive as they come.

Sam just has to keep it together. He can't tell her.

He can't.

She may want to know what's wrong with him, but Sam is sure she really would be better off never knowing. Or just thinking he was tortured, at the most. He can't tell his mom about the repeated rape and mental and emotional manipulation and...everything.

He knows she'll ask about the bandages on his wrists. They're not as thick as they used to be, and a lot of them have been taken off as his wounds healed, but there's still a thin white bandage that Sam assumes is more for his mental well-being than necessity for keeping the wound safe and clean. He heard Steve on the phone talking to Dr. Walsh today, in full mother hen mode.

Something about Sam not seeing the wounds and triggering himself, which is valid, he guesses, but the bandages remind him they're there too. 

And of course, after Steve's talk with his doctor he suddenly has an appointment for later today. Steve really should just retire the shield and become a nurse, at this rate.

It's a cloudy day and Sam is having those stirrings of anxiety with the fact that he's going to see his mom soon. As much as he's looking forward to it he can't help but think that she'll be able to see it all on him. Everything Krause did. Everything the guards did. Every detail. He has a hard enough time convincing himself that Steve and Bucky aren't always thinking about his violation when they look at him. Something like that colors how people see someone forever. Will his momma think he can't take care of himself? Will she suspect at all?

The thoughts makes him fragile enough that he curls up into Steve--who's laying on the couch and immediately wraps and arm around Sam to pull him to rest on his chest, his heart beating under Sam's ears as he gently rubs fingers over Sam's cheek--for a few hours while the blond reads a book. 

Milkshake sulks at the foot of the couch, jealous that Sam is hugging someone who isn't him.

"You okay?" Steve asks quietly, after they've been laying there for about an hour in comfortable silence.

"What if she finds out?" Sam asks, turning his face further into Steve's chest so he doesn't have to face the world. His words come out muffled when he adds, "What if she finds out what really happened?" 

Steve is quiet for a moment before he says, "Then you should tell her that the people who did it are dead. And that they died painfully. Because then she'll be a woman on a mission, and god help whoever tries to stop her from tearing into whoever hurt her son."  

Sam actually manages a small laugh at that. Then he kisses Steve. The blond drops the book, preoccupied with kissing Sam, who is crawling on top of him and straddling him before pressing their chests together. Steve has hands on his hips, eagerly tasting him.

"S-Sam," he stutters, "tell me if--" 

"Yeah, I know." Sam says, somewhat impatiently because Steve is safe and warm and won't hurt him.

They kiss soft and slow.

~

He doesn't tell Dr. Walsh about the warehouse. He just says that he found closure.

She's curious, he can tell, but respects the fact that he won't say more. She instead asks how he feels about seeing his mom.

"I'm really excited." He tells her with a soft smile, "I haven't seen her in a really long time."

She smiles brightly, "I'm sure she'll be so happy to see you. She has probably missed you a lot."

Sam nods, "Yeah, I'm...I'm just worried that--"

He pauses, not knowing how to phrase it. Dr. Walsh just waits patiently for him to gather his thoughts. It's gotten a lot easier to share things with her.

"I think I'm afraid that she'll somehow see me and know everything that happened." Sam says quietly, "And I know it wasn't my fault and I shouldn't be ashamed or embarrassed because nothing that happened was anything I...I wanted, but still. What if she finds out?"

"Your mother finding out about your sexual abuse is a concern for you." She says, brows furrowing.

Sam nods. 

She looks at him for a moment before she asks, "Do you fear that she'll see you differently?"

Sam nods again, "What if she thinks I can't take care of myself, or that I'm weak or...or something?" he trails off, his heart breaking a bit at the thought.

"Put yourself in you mother's shoes." Dr. Walsh says, "Picture how you looked as a baby, then a toddler, then a small child. How you looked as a teenager, then a young adult. How she was there for every step of your childhood and you becoming the person you are today. If you were her, and you found out your son had been hurt in such a way, would you think that he was weak or incapable of being an adult?"

Sam sighs, "No..."

"Then she won't either." she tells him, "Trust her."

~

Sam wakes up, sees his bag, remembers that he's leaving today then has a panic attack. A crying one.

And he's so fucking frustrated and angry with himself because he doesn't even really know why. He has an inkling, but there's no reason for this. Steve runs fingers softly over his face and Milkshake starts his grounding techniques so it doesn't take long to calm down, but the force and intensity of the attack leaves Sam shaken, and even more hesitant to leave the apartment. He feels...raw, shaky and vulnerable.

"Doll?" Bucky appears at his side with a cup of water, eyes soft, "Here, sip that. Do you still want to go today?"

Sam takes the water and takes small sips, getting his breath back. He knows what they're thinking. He doesn't even have to look at them to know that they're wary of letting him leave after an attack like that. It was the strongest one in a while. 

But he has to go, he needs to see his mother. She's also already expecting him and refuses to let her down.

Steve appears at his other side, taking his hand as Sam nods.

"Yeah. I have to." he tells them.

They don't look thrilled, but Steve gives him a soft, 'Okay' and Bucky nods. They both look like they want to wrap him in bubble wrap and stand guard around him for a few hours.

This is something he needs to do. Something he wants to do.

He sips at the water and gathers himself, feeling a lot better--if a bit tired.

Sam leans on Steve in the back seat of the car while Bucky drives, like he's trying to sap all of the strength and comfort he can from him before he leaves. Milkshake wags his tail excitedly, obviously knowing that something is happening even if he doesn't know what. 

Steve's thumb strokes Sam's cheek, his heartbeat steady and soothing.

Sam feels a lot like he's about to throw up. One, from excitement, because he's missed his mother dearly and is so, so happy he's okay enough to see her, and two, from the fear of what she'll say when she sees him. Will she know? Just by looking at him? Sam feels like she'll be able to see everything.

He knows she'll love him fiercely no matter what, he just...doesn't want her to know. If he can hide this forever then he will. Without hesitation. 

It's mortifying. He has a feeling the humiliation is what will be  one of the hardest things to recover from. Too many people already know.

He can't have his mother be another one.

Milkshake whines at him, nudging at his hand with his cold nose. Sam absently pets him, trying to breathe. The world passes outside the window in a blur, Bucky driving a bit slower than anyone else because he's still new to driving in this decade. He's also terrified of hurting anybody, and if he has to drive like an old man to avoid that he will.

Sam is grateful for the fact that they're not going too fast though. He wants time to gather his thoughts, whatever they happen to be.

His momma still lives in the house she raised Sam in.

Sam started using his Avengers paychecks to expand the house for her pretty early on, adding a sewing room and a larger garden and greenhouse. His mother didn't want to move but that didn't mean he wouldn't give her everything she talked about. She always talked about getting it repainted too, a light, easy pink, and Sam took care of that too. 

He feels better knowing his mother is comfortable. She doesn't have to work anymore, and she spends her days gardening and at her book clubs with her friends in between dance classes and anything else she wants to preoccupy herself with.

Sam is lulled into somewhat of a daze because of the movement of the car, so when they stop and Bucky leans towards the back seat and smiles gently at him, Sam takes a bit longer than usual to shake himself out of it and get back to the present. 

"We're here, doll."

Sam nods, sitting up and taking a few deep breaths. 

Milkshake presses his wet nose to Sam's hands, and he scratches the dog behind the ears in thanks. 

And then Bucky is out of the car extending his hand to Sam while Steve presses a kiss to his cheek and takes Sam's bag. Sam takes Bucky's hand and lets him pull him out of the car.

The air is cool and the sky is cloudy, which Sam didn't notice before. He guesses he was too busy panicking.

The house looks exactly as Sam remembers it from the last time he visited. Pink, with flowers. There are some new roses planted, but that's the only difference he can pick out. Milkshake hops out of the car next to him, pressing himself against Sam's legs, sensing his anxiety as he sniffs the ground, trying to determine whether this place is safe or not.

Bucky is taking the key out if the ignition and Steve is closing the trunk when the door opens.

Darlene Wilson is every bit as brown and beautiful as Sam is, though she's shorter and has a head full of grey curls that probably looks more fashion forward on her than it would on anyone else. She clearly just finished gardening judging by the fact that her hair is up, ringlets escaping it's messy bun and her boots are still on. 

As soon as she opens the door Sam's anxiety seems to vanish because it's like his brains just calms at the sight of her. Mom.

She opens the screen door and waves, smiling wide and making her eyes crinkle at the edges like they do when she's as happy as she is right now. Sam is halfway to her before he even realizes he's moved, and she opens her arms to him with a, "Hey, baby." as he he hugs his mother for the first time in so, so long.

She still smells like rosemary, and she still hugs him so, so tight, like she can push all the infinite love she has for him through his skin. She probably can. She definitely is.

And something about that makes Sam breathe easier. That while everything has changed his mother still hugs him the same. She's a constant. Always there, always loving. No matter what.

"Hi, momma." he says, voice muffled by tears that are barely being held back.

Safe.

"Aw, my baby boy." She coos, holding him tight, "I missed you."

He means it with all his heart when he tells her he's missed her too.

She doesn't let go of him for a very long time, and he  doesn't even think to pull away because he's missed her so much, and a hug from his mother is so much more therapeutic than he could imagine.

When they finally pull apart she cups his face in her hands, smiling wide as she looks at him, just happy to see him and be able to hold him. He can see the concern in her eyes but Sam tries to smile at her while Milkshake breaks away from Bucky and bounds over to Sam. 

"And this must be Milkshake." Darlene says, bending down to pet the dog. Milkshake sniffs her and wags his tail, excited to meet someone new and so willing to give him head scratches.

Sam almost forgot to tell her about Milkshake at all when they were on the phone. The dog is just a part of Sam now. Like his arms or legs. He's an extension, and Sam almost didn't say anything about the dog at all until he remembered at the last second.

He knows she'll ask about the service vest, but he'll cross that bridge when he gets to it.

"Yeah." Sam says with a small smile, "This is him."

"Oh," Darlene grins, petting a happy Milkshake, "He's wonderful. So sweet."

The dog only wags his tail faster, like he knows she's praising him. 

"He's a little attention hog, too." Sam tells her.

She laughs, and Sam's heart clenches. He's missed the sound of his mother's laughter.

"Ah, he's spoiled ain't he?" she smiles, taking Sam's hand in her free one.

Sam nods, squeezing her hand and smiling, "Yeah. Like you wouldn't believe."

She hugs him again. Milkshake glowers at the loss of attention.

Sam pets the dog in an effort to soothe him. 

"Now I know you boys are gonna get over here and give me a hug." she says, raising an eyebrow at Steve and Bucky, who stand a distance away by the car, not wanting to intrude.

Steve goes red and bashful while Bucky strides up to her and throws himself in her arms with a muffled, "Hi, Ms. Darlene."

Bucky adores Sam's mom, and Sam has a theory that Bucky misses his own, or what he remembers of her. So he showers his mom with love instead. Sam thinks it's the sweetest thing.

"Hey baby." Darlene smiles, patting Bucky's back and hugging him tight. She took the same liking to Bucky.

Sam's mom knows a lost soul when she sees one, and Bucky is fussed over almost as much as Sam is whenever they visit. Sam remembers being so fucking happy when he saw how Bucky and his mom developed that relationship. 

Steve hugs her next, "How are you?" he asks after they part, holding her hand in his own.

"You boys worry too much." she chides, "I'm fine." 

Steve smiles, "It's really great to see you."

Darlene takes the blond's other hand as well, "You too, baby." 

Steve goes red at that, like he always does.

"Oh, I packed up some food for you boys." Darlene says, "C'mon in and get it. I know you two will be living on takeout and I don't like that."

She leads them into the house while Steve tries to stutter out, "You didn't have to do that, that's so sweet of you." 

"There's more than enough." she says, waving off Steve's thanks, "Go on, you take these to the car."

She hands them four large containers. They smell wonderful, and Bucky tells her so.

"You're a charmer." she says, giving Bucky's cheek a gentle pinch. Bucky lights up at her words.

The food is placed in the car and Bucky and Steve are kissing Sam goodbye and giving him longing looks they try to hide before they hug Darlene again and head down the pathway of the house to the car.

"You boys drive safe." She calls after them, "None of that texting and driving you kids like to do so much." 

Sam waves. Steve blows him a kiss.

~

Everything looks the same as the last time he was here. There's still the soft carpet and the vases. The African art and statues from his mother's trip to South Africa last year. The house still smells like flowers and the food she made.

Sam feels like the only thing that has changed. 

"Come on, you're gonna eat." She says, "I should give Steven a good talking to, letting my boy get this skinny."

Sam actually laughs at that, because his mom is forever the same and he adores her.

She takes his hand and gently tugs him into the kitchen, sitting him down and waving him off when he offers to help.

"No, you sit there, I got it." She tells him.

Milkshake however doesn't take the order and instead stands next to her, looking up at her expectantly.

"Oh, alright." She concedes, giving the dog a chunk of chicken, "Here you go." 

The dog gives her a happy look as he munches on his snack.

Sam watches them, smiling. He knew his mom and Milkshake would get along.

"When did you get this sweet little thing, baby?" She asks, and Sam freezes.

He never anticipated this question ever coming up but he should have he's an idiot--

What does he tell her? The man who was holding me hostage, abusing and raping me every day for half a year gave him to me as some mental ploy for me to love him?

Hell no.

"I got him after I came back." Sam tells her, petting Milkshake with shaking hands, "He's really helpful."

"What does he do?"

Sam breathes against sigh of relief for the subject change. Well, it's kind of a subject change.

"Uh, sometimes I forget where I am, or I panic. And he uh, he helps ground me." 

She nods, and Sam knows she's analyzing that with her mother-vision and trying to glean what she can from it.

"Well, he seems more than capable." She smiles, setting the plate in front of Sam, "You're in good company, it seems."

Sam gives her a small smile, starting to pick at his food. 

After a quiet moment she softly says, "You weren't in Wakanda, were you?"

He knew this was coming. Sam pauses and his appetite dissipates in less than a second.

Before Sam can stop himself he's looking into his plate, shaking his head.

No. He wasn't in Wakanda.

Sam fidgets, unsure of where this conversation is going. Whatever happens, and no matter how she asks or how often, he can't tell her.

He can't.

Sam also never decided how much he would tell her. That he was kidnapped? Maybe. Mentally manipulated? Maybe.

He has no idea.

"What happened, baby?"

And Sam can't help looking at her, his throat closing. 

God, she looks so sad. Darlene sits across from him at the dining table and takes Sam's free hand.

She looks heartbroken and Sam never wanted her to worry and now he's worrying her--

"It's just--" Sam croaks, willing his voice not to crack, "It's a long story, momma. And you don't want to hear it."

"You can tell me anything, Sam."

"I know." He tells her, "I know, I just--I c-can't."

He chokes on his words and looks down at his lap, somehow ashamed despite the fact that he hasn't said too much of anything.

Her eyes go hard as she says, "Did Steven or James hurt you?"

"No, momma." Sam assures her.

She looks at him steadily, "You sure?"

"Yeah."

"Alright." She says, giving his hand a squeeze, "Go on, eat."

Sam does, but he knows the conversation isn't over.

~  

His room is exactly how he left it all those years ago. His Jackson 5 and Run-D.M.C posters and his vinyl. His childhood toys still litter the tops of dressers and the nightstand. His telescope is still pointed outside the window. This entire room feels like it belonged to him in another life, to another Sam. How is he still the same little boy who read the books on that shelf or slept in that bed? That lived in this house? How has life taken so many turns that he doesn't even recognize himself or who he used to be?

And more importantly, why is Sam overthinking everything to death?

Sam turns and sees the stenciled lettering on his blue painted wall, spelling out 'SAMMY' in big red letters.

'On your knees, Sammy.'

Blood runs cold and rushes to his head as his heart rate spikes. Sam shudders violently at the sight of the nickname--

'Open up, just like that Sammy. Yeah.'

and the next thing he knows he's hunched over the toilet in the upstairs bathroom, vomiting up everything he's eaten. It doesn't matter that after a minute he's vomiting up acid that burns his throat and causes his body to shake. He can't seem to calm his stomach and stop heaving, and he feels his mother's hands on his forehead as she fusses over him, frantically saying something he can't hear over his own beating heart. He jumps at her touch, his brain capsizing in confusion and terror before he remembers it's her. He's safe.

He's okay. 

He's not so much terrified as he is frustrated. He can't even see his old nickname on the wall? Ridiculous. 

Milkshake yips and nudges at him, trying to shuffle into his arms. Sam shakes him away while Darlene rushes back upstairs with a glass of ginger ale.

"Not now, Milkshake." he says, "I'm puke-y and gross."

Milkshake just glares at him and presses to his side anyway. Bossy fucking dog. 

"Drink this." She says, handing him the glass and going into full mom mode. Then she reaches in the cabinet, yanks out a thermometer and takes the glass, shoving the device under Sam's tongue before he can even think about it.

His mother did always work fast.

"Momma, I'm not sick." Sam tells her after the thermometer beeps and she checks it.

Darlene's brows furrow before she turns it off and presses the back of her hand to Sam's forehead.

"Momma--"

"What happened to you, baby?" she asks softly and sadly, worry and hurt in her eyes. Sam can't tell her.

He just...can't. 

He won't burden her with it.

"I'm alright, momma." he tells her, hoping he sounds reassuring. She doesn't look convinced in the least.

She sighs, "C'mere, child." and opens her arms to him. And this is one physical interaction he doesn't have to think about.

He hugs his mother tight, accepting her comfort and trying his damnedest not to cry. 

Sam cries his heart out anyway.

~

He knows she wants to ask. That she wants to pry. Tears are still drying on his cheeks.

They're on the couch watching Jeopardy, of all things, yelling out answers and trying to keep track of points to beat each other with the most amount of right answers.

Milkshake sits in front of the television, head cocked and ears perked, trying to make sense of it all, and why they're so into it.

"I draw the line at Wheel of Fortune." Sam teases, "I love you but I cannot handle that."

She nudges him, "Afraid I'll beat you again?"

"You didn't beat me!" Sam protests, "You've been around longer so you know more of the answers!"

She fakes a look of exaggerated offense, "Are you calling me old?"

Sam just gives her a teasing look.

"I can't believe you!" She laughs, still trying to act offended, "My own child. What a betrayal."

Sam leans his head on her shoulder, laughter making his stomach ache.

God, he's missed her. 

~

Sam avoids the stenciled word on the wall and sleeps on his other side, his back facing it.

It feels like a monster staring at him during the night, though. Milkshake is a solid weight across his legs, and he tells himself that this fear he's feeling is his brain trying to lie to him and sabotage him like it always does.

Sam takes deep breaths, looking at the shadows of the room, the same shadows he's stared at when he was a kid. The little army men making a line in the dark. The outline of his telescope. 

Telescope. 

Sam nudges Milkshake off of him and slips off the bed, Steve's t-shirt a welcome comfort in the dark, then he makes his way to his window where the telescope points out of it.

It was really powerful, and he could always see quite a lot out of it. He always used to do this.

He'd been a skinny, gangly child who whistled when he spoke because of his gap. Oddly enough, he was never made fun of for it. Momma always said it was because Sam's so cute and likable. Sam didn't even think there was anything different about him until someone else pointed it out. It's been rather innocently, a friend comparing their front teeth and how they sounded when they spoke.

It didn't make Sam insecure, it just made him notice.

He has no idea why he's remembering all of this.

Sam got the telescope when he was in fifth grade, and almost every night from then to graduating high school he'd stayed up later than he was supposed to (and he always suspected his mother knew what he was up doing, even when he wasn't supposed to be) peering out the window through the lens and to the stars.

Sam had dreamed of flying. Maybe even touching the stars that he gazed at from his window every night.

And he did. He did fly.

Sam puts his eye to the lens like he has so many times before. 

He realizes he still wants to.

~

Sam only discovers the phone Steve and Bucky must have slipped in his bag when the thing starts vibrating early in the morning. 

Milkshake perks up and goes tense, leaping off the bed to investigate, sniffing the bag until Sam is startled awake by the dog's lack of presence and identifies the sound.

He has four text messages.

Two are from Steve, two are from Bucky.

Sam looks at their names and wonders how he can feel so much love for them just by seeing the little black letters that make up their names on the screen.

It's early morning and the sky is still streaked with pink and yellows of sunrise, and Sam sits on his childhood bed, reading the texts from the two men that love him.

Hey sweetheart <3 miss you. Hope you're having fun with your mom. We're a call away if you need anything, big or small, okay?--Steve 

Love you so much.--Steve

hey baby doll, steve told me not to spam you with texts but i'm probably going to anyway because i miss you.--Bucky

<3 <3 <3--Bucky  

Sam stares at the messages for a good few minutes, wondering how he got so lucky. And he is isn't he? Lucky?

There are people who go their entire lives without finding one person who loves him like Steve and Bucky do, and yet Sam found that kind of love twice over.

He's been through a lot, some awful things he wouldn't wish on anybody, but in the end he's here. Still around.

Still loved.

~

"I was wondering when you'd wake up." Darlene smiles, watching Sam come down the stairs with Milkshake, "I was about to come get you."

Sam smiles and presses a kiss to his mother's cheek and takes the dish she's washing from her, taking over.

"I heard you up last night." she smiles, "Looking through your telescope like you always used to?"

"You always knew, huh?" Sam grins, "That I was doing that as a kid?"

"When you were supposed to be sleeping?" Darlene says, raising an eyebrow, "Of course I did." 

He helps her make breakfast.

They don't talk much, Darlene is humming and Sam is still a bit sleepy, really. There's a comfortable silence between them, and Sam remembers so many Saturday mornings spent like this, at his mother's side in this exact kitchen.

"What are you smiling about?" she teases, nudging him.

"I was just remembering how we used to do this every weekend."

Darlene smiles, "That was fun, wasn't it? Remember when you burned the sausage? The entire kitchen, filled with smoke."

Sam can't help a little embarrassed laugh, "I looked away for two minutes--"

"A long two minutes." Darlene smirks at him before her face goes soft and thoughtful, "I always cherished those times with you. You kids grow up so fast."

Sam smiles, a lilt of sadness tugging at him, "Growing up is absolute garbage, honestly."

Darlene chuckles, "Well, you were a kid for as long as you could be, and I'm very proud of the man you've become, baby."

And Sam feels his face drop because if she only knew. She wouldn't be proud of him at all. Sam can't help thinking he isn't the guy she thinks he is.

Maybe he was, but he isn't now. What would she think of him if she knew that he stopped fighting? That he let them do whatever they wanted to him? That he chose to give up--not once, but twice? What if she saw the bandages he has hidden under his sleeves?

What would she think then?

"Sam?"

He realizes he's frozen in place.

"I-I'm okay." he stutters, feeling Milkshake press against his legs, tail wagging as he looks at Sam. 

"No, you aren't, baby." She turns to face him,

And god she sounds so fucking heartbroken and worried. Sam is worrying her because he can't fucking control his reactions. But even so, Sam doesn't know what to say to her. What can anyone say to their mother in a situation like this?

She takes his face gently in her hands, and he's forced to look her in the eyes. 

"Did someone hurt you?" 

It's such a short sentence--only a few words--and yet he can't respond.

He also can't lie. He's never been good at lying to his mother, and he'll either have to outright deny what she's just said or confirm it.

Sam chokes, but his silence and widened eyes say enough.

"Oh," she says, and Sam's heart crumbles a little more at the pained look in her eyes, "My baby." 

She hugs him tight and Sam tries not to fall apart.

~

He takes his meds in the bathroom. Sam should have actually taken them before he had breakfast, but he doesn't want to pop pills in front of his mother. She's frightened enough for him as is.

In a morbid way he wonders what she thinks happened to him.  

He finds her on the patio bench swing outside. She's knitting and wearing her sunhat, a pensive look on her face. He sits next to her and leans his head on her shoulder, smiling lightly as she takes his hand and squeezes it. She puts down her needles and they sit in the calm quiet for a while, the soft wind blowing through the garden and the steady movement of the swing lulling Sam in relaxation.

"You know I'm okay, right?" he tells her, "A lot of...bad stuff happened, but I'm...I'm okay. And getting better." 

She's quiet for a moment, "A mother never likes to know that they can't protect their children from everything. That's what they don't talk about, when people have kids. How you want to wrap them in bubble wrap for their entire lives, so they're never hurt." 

Sam squeezes her hand.

"And I know you're strong, baby. You're a fighter, and you keep getting back up. And I'm so proud of you. You grew up to be someone strong and kind and I couldn't be prouder. You help people, you save lives, even when I can't stand the thought of you out there with those wings of yours. I couldn't have asked for a better son. And I hope you know, no matter what happened, you're still every bit as wonderful as you ever were. Nothing could make me love you less. It's impossible." she smiles at him, "You're a miracle, baby."

Sam smiles.

They sit out there almost all day.

~

"Well then, what do you want?" Darlene asks, looking down at Milkshake. The dog makes a little sound, tail wagging as he looks up at her.

Of course even his dog adores his mom. Everyone does.

Sam is fresh from the shower, in Bucky's sweatshirt and laying on the couch, his arm dangling over the edge, watching his mother paint. The easel is on the far side of the living room, and the windows are open, drenching the room in the oranges and pinks of the sunset. His mother's record machine is softly playing motown hits, the music floating through the room, gentle.

Sam takes a deep, calming breath, the comforting scent of his mother's home and Bucky's sweater making him feel steady. At ease.

This is one of the most calming moments he's had in a very long time. Sam could almost fall asleep. 

Eventually he does.

~

He wakes up with a blanket draped over him and a cup of water on the coffee table. Milkshake is curled up on the floor next to the couch, snoozing happily, and the room is mostly dark, save for the dim light the cable box drapes the room in.

Sam rubs at his eyes and sits up, yawning. The house is quiet so his mom must have gone to bed. Sam could fall asleep again, but he ends up standing and stretching, eyes falling on the photo album on the bookcase not too far from him.

He steps over a snoozing Milkshake and walks over to it, picking it up and opening it.

A smile spreads across his face almost immediately.

It's a picture of him, no more than three, with curry sauce all over his face and a bowl in front of him. He's looking up at the camera with wide eyes wondering why his mother is giggling like that. 

He actually remembers that. Sam didn't understand what was so funny at the time. He was just eating.

The memory makes him laugh.

The next picture is him on a slide, grinning ear to ear in a pair of overalls. The next is him and his cousin hugging tight and smiling. 

And then he remembers that he is this kid. That disconnect and that hesitance vanishes a little bit with every picture he chuckles at, and every page he turns. One of him in his mother's arms. One of him and his mother at a water park.

This is him. He's different, but all these Sams he's looking at were still him at some point. Still are, in a way.

Sam isn't sure what conclusion he's even trying to come to, but he feels like he made some sort of progress.

Even if he doesn't know what it is.

~

Darlene softly nudges him awake, heart warning at the sight of her son curled up on the couch, having fallen asleep over the photo album.

"Mom." Sam mumbles, eyes cracking open.

"Morning sleepy head." she smiles, kissing his forehead, "C'mon, get on up. You're helping me in the garden."

Sam rubs at his eyes, yawning and rolling off the couch to stand. Now that he's awake he finds himself rushing to take his meds and change into something more appropriate for helping his mother in the garden. It's been so long since he's been able to garden with her, and he suddenly realizes that the smell of earth and the feeling of dirt under his hands and sunshine on his face is something he'd like very much.

Sam takes off Bucky's sweater and freezes, looking at the bandages. He'd have to wear long sleeves, even though he's outside in the sun. That, compounded with the fact that Sam only wears black now (and that's non negotiable, he only wears black, no colors, never colors) means he'll be burning up. The thought isn't exactly appealing.

Sam bites his lip. He could just wear his t-shirt, but then the bandages would just be obvious and bring up questions.

He could just say he was injured, but the placement of the wounds--right on his wrists over the veins--would make it obvious exactly what the injury implies.

Sam takes a deep breath and resolves to be brave.

He puts on a t-shirt. And then he steps outside, looking at his mother, already kneeling and pulling up weeds in her sunhat and gloves before he kneels next to her and tries to ignore his stark white bandages.

"What do I do?" he asks, watching Milkshake chase his own tail on the grass, happy as can be.

Darlene looks at him, her eyes glancing at the bandages and back into his eyes. It's so quick that he wouldn't have been able to catch it if he wasn't insecure enough to look for it.

"You can plant these bulbs." she tells him, smiling at him, "Right over here."

Sam sighs in relief, getting to work and forgoing gloves. He likes to feel what he's planting. Until he touches something slimy.

"Ew." Sam mumbles, eyeing the worm making its way through the dirt. It curls in on itself after Sam touches it, like it's offended that he disturbed it.

Darlene chuckles, "Worms are a gardener's friends. They help the soil." 

"They're gross." Sam says somewhat childishly.

That makes her laugh, loud and happy, the corners of her eyes crinkling.

~

They work late into the afternoon, planting a row of roses and bell peppers before picking the ripe tomatoes. 

Darlene tries to put a worm on Sam's arm more than once, for her own amusement. Sam wiggles away and protests while his mother laughs.

By the time they're done they're all happily exhausted, even Milkshake.

Sam showers, washing away dirt and sweat before changing into Steve's sweater, picking up his phone and sitting on the couch. Milkshake curls up next to him and snoozes.

He checks his messages.

love you-Bucky 

Thinking about you-Steve 

oh my god steve won't stop singing that stupid song from that commercial i hate. i miss you so much.-Bucky

Is Bucky complaining to you about me? I feel like he is.-Steve

steve is dancing now. i'm running away from home-Bucky 

He's lying, he loves my dancing. EVERYONE loves my dancing.-Steve

Sam laughs for ten minutes straight.

~

He goes home tomorrow.

Sam spends the last night in his mother's house on the couch with his head on her shoulder, watching some old, black soap opera from the 80s. He has no clue what's going on, but it's entertaining enough, and Milkshake seems to like it. He's blinking at the screen with his ears perked up, like he's trying to follow the plot as much as Sam is.

His mom is a long-time watcher, and it shows.

"Wait," Sam mumbles sleepily, "if he's really her brother then who's that?"

"Their father." she says.

"Really?" Sam asks, blinking at the screen.

"Yep." Darlene chuckles.

"This family is giving me a headache." Sam grumbles. Darlene laughs, kissing his forehead.

~

He wakes up the next morning and looks right at the stenciled lettering.

'SAMMY'

His stomach turns, and his mouth suddenly tastes like ash, but he forces himself to look at it. It's just a word. Just a word.

It can't hurt him.

It's just a bunch of letters.

He's safe. He's safe.

~

Milkshake whines and whimpers when he catches wind of the fact that they're leaving. He leans on Darlene's leg and looks up at her with sad eyes as she scratches behind his ears.

"I'll see you soon, Milkshake. I promise." she coos, "I need my house for my book club this week but you can come back anytime." 

Sam giggles, watching Milkshake guilt trip his mom. She does have a book club coming to her house all week though, and while she said that didn't mean he had to leave (she would have him over forever if it was up to her) Sam knows his mother has her own life, and her own friends and activities.

He'll definitely come and visit soon, he promises her. 

Sam doesn't bother clipping Milkshake's leash on, and he wonders why he even bothers at all. It's not like the dog runs off, he hardly leaves Sam's side. When Steve and Bucky pull up in the car the dog perks up though, seeing people he recognizes.

The first thing Bucky does is sweep Sam into a hug and kiss him breathless. Sam is halfway between swooning and being embarrassed because his mom is right there--

Steve does the exact same thing, and Sam just hears his mother take a picture on her phone.

"Hi, Ms. Wilson." Bucky smiles, wrapping her in a tight hug. 

"Hey, baby. How are you? Did you like the food?"

"Yeah, it was amazing, thank you."

Steve and Darlene talk and laugh about something while Bucky complains to Sam about Steve being annoying while he was gone, and Sam's face hurts from smiling and laughing so much because he loves his family.

He loves them so much.

He's so lucky.

"Bye momma, I'll come back soon." he says, voice muffled as he hugs her tight.

"You better. You boys should come over for dinner." she says, pressing a kiss to Sam's cheek.

"We would love to." Steve grins.

~

On the way home Sam leans on Steve in the back seat as he tells them about how he spent the last few days.

Milkshake adds in a few barks here and there, like he's contributing to the story.

~

When Sam gets home he unpacks his bag and then curls up with Steve on the couch.

In a show of perfect symmetry, Steve is reading a book and Sam has his head pillowed on his chest with one of Steve's strong arms around him, a lot like before he left.

"Were you really annoying Bucky with your singing?" Sam asks, smiling lightly.

Steve looks at him, face pink, "Maybe. He's such a baby though, he loves my singing."

Sam giggles and Bucky yells, "No, I do not." from where he's shaving in the bathroom.

Steve rolls his eyes before he whispers, "He's lying, trust me." to Sam so Bucky can't hear.

Sam presses his face into Steve's neck, feeling so completely at home, and smiles.

Chapter Text

Sam wakes up the next morning before Steve and Bucky, and lays there in the sunlight between them, just breathing. The breeze whistles against the window, and Sam curls up, Bucky's sweater warm and Steve's arms around him, a solid, comforting weight.

The city hums outside, loud and familiar as he pets Milkshake who lays across his legs. Sam inhales, exhales...and feels...light. 

Unburdened. Calm.

~

"So seeing your mom went well?" Dr. Walsh asks, looking at him knowingly. 

Sam nods.

"Good." She chirps, eyes bright. 

"I think....she might suspect what happened, but I...I couldn't tell her." Sam says quietly. He's not stupid, he knows how sharp his mother is, she probably gleaned all of the information she needed from Sam's few PTSD fueled psycho moments.

"And what do you think she's thinking?" Dr. Walsh asks, brows furrowed like what Sam is saying is the most interesting thing in the world. She has a way of making him feel like everything he says is important. And after being unimportant for six months to the point of abuse becoming a normal occurrence, it's nice.

"She says nothing could make her love me less. She's worried, but doesn't think of me any differently." he says, and it's the truth.

She nods, "Your mother loves you, and she simply wants you to be okay, Sam. Whatever shame you're feeling is exclusive to you, no one is disgusted by you, but we'll get you around to knowing that soon enough."

"I do know that, I think." Sam says softly, "I think I just forget sometimes. Sometimes I still feel so disgusting that I can't imagine no one else thinking of me in that way."

"I understand what you mean." she assures him, "And we'll work on sorting out those feelings in a healthy way."

Sam nods, looking down at his hands, "Okay. Thanks."

He has no idea what he'd do without her, really. She smiles at him, obviously fond.

"No need to thank me. I should be thanking you for trusting me." she tells him.

Sam manages a soft, huff of a laugh before another thought strikes him. Right, he meant to ask her about this.

"I...I was wondering..." Sam starts, looking down at his fingers before he trails off.

"Hm?" 

Sam sighs, looking away and not knowing how to phrase this, or if he should say anything at all.

"Sam?" She asks, "What's on your mind?"

"D-Do you think...that I..." he takes a breath, trying to gather his thoughts, "I...I was wondering if...if you thought it would be....be..."

She doesn't push or pester him to speak faster, because he guesses she knows that he's trying to work it out.

It takes Sam a moment to realize he's embarrassed. This question is not one he feels like he should be asking so soon.

But then he remembers how he felt with Bucky that day, in the bath. How it felt when he touched him, and how sweetly both of his lovers handle him. How it feels when Steve kisses him, hands on Sam's hips. They'd never hurt him, he knows this like he knows the sky is blue or that water is wet. 

He pulls himself together. He can do this.

"I...think I want to try and have sex again." He blurts out, trying not to be too mortified.

Sam doesn't think he's doing too well there.

Dr. Walsh nods at him, face serious, "May I ask what prompted this? You're not being pressured, right Sam?"

Sam shakes his head, "No, I'm not being forced or anything I just...I really think I want to."

"How do you feel about that?"

Sam fidgets in his seat, thinking.

"I'm scared, but I...really want that connection again. With both of them. I just don't want to freak out in the middle of it--"

"You might have to accept that that might happen." She says, her gaze comforting, "Your body is learning how to accept touch and intimacy again. There are most likely going to be some bumps in the road, and honestly there may be times when you have to stop, or when you're triggered. It's a slow process, but if you communicate with your partners and accept that it won't happen all at once or super smoothly, you'll be fine."

Sam nods. She's right. If he wants to do this then he has to be realistic. He'll probably freak out a few times. Most likely will, actually.

"Can you promise me something, though?" She asks.

Sam nods, looking at her curiously.

"Make sure that whenever you do have sex, that you enjoy it. That's very important." She says sternly, "So many survivors try to throw themselves back into sex for their partners and do more damage to themselves because they don't gain anything from it. So..."

"Enjoy it." Sam finishes for her.

She nods, smile spreading, "Enjoy it."

~

Sam spends the rest of the day with a handful of the glittery jello that Natasha gave him and Milkshake in his lap while he and Natasha watch some silly musical they found in Netflix.

It strikes him how everything is getting easier. How he's here, and alive and happy, sitting here with one of his best friends while they cringe and laugh through this cheesy musical from the early 2000s.

God, this movie is so bad.

"You think this did well when it came out?" She asks, smirking. 

Sam snorts, "Maybe, it was 2002, and we were all a mess back then. We thought denim on denim looked cool so who knows."

Natasha grins, "Speak for yourself."

Sam laughs.

~

It's like they planned this when Sam was away.

He's so grateful for it.

The day after he and Natasha watch that movie, Ororo--her white curls in a messy bun and stylishly sporting a too big t-shirt--shows up with lunch (from Sam's favorite soul food place, no less) and basically kicks Steve and Bucky out while they eat and talk. His boyfriends protest as Ororo shoves them out the door while Sam giggles--the sight of two large super soldiers being bossed around by a svelte, petite framed woman proving itself to be very amusing--before they gather plates and utensils, crashing on the couch side by side and giving Bucky's video games a try. They end up playing that same one with the little cloth people, and by the time Steve and Bucky are allowed back into the apartment he and Ororo are halfway through the game and have managed to build both a rocket-ship and some other questionably shaped hovercraft. 

The day after that, Pepper shows up with some TV show box sets. They end up making it through two and a half seasons of Scrubs, and Sam's stomach hurts from laughter by the end of the night.

The day after that, Jessica barges into the apartment and finds Sam, plopping down next to him on the couch and asking if he can help her listen to all these messages for potential cases and advise her in which ones she should take because she apparently, 'couldn't give less than a fuck'.

They end up goofing off more than picking potential cases, though. Neither of them are surprised, really.

It's mid-afternoon when Sam thinks to ask her.

"Uh, can I ask you something?"

Jessica looks at him, eyebrow raised, "Yeah, sure."

Sam stuffs his hands in his pockets, Milkshake pressing against his leg.

"When what happened...happened, when did you start being able to...to..." Sam stutters, kicking himself because he should be able to articulate this--

"Be able to let dudes and their peens anywhere near me?' She finishes.

Sam nods. And again he's thankful for Jessica's give-no-fucks attitude. How blunt and brazen she is.

She thinks for a moment, jet black hair falling in her face as she contemplates an answer to his question before she says, "It actually wasn't too long after. A few months, maybe? I guess I was trying to prove to myself that he didn't beat me, and that I was really fucking fine, you know? And then I met Luke...why? Thinking of getting some of that sausage?"

Sam cringes, "Ew, god. Don't call it that."

She grins, knowing Sam is more embarrassed and exasperated than incredibly uncomfortable. She chooses to tease him a bit.

"What? I'm just asking if you're thinking if sampling some of your boyfriends' 100% all American beef--"

Sam groans, face burning, "You're so gross."

She smirks, "Honestly, I think the best thing anyone who's been through the shit we have can do is just...do whatever the fuck you want. There should be no second guesses in my opinion. If you were raped and then wanna fuck someone once you're ready, do it. Freedom to do whatever the hell you want is the best medicine. Therapy, ya know? That's how I cope."

Sam nods, thinking. It's not a matter of if he wants to try being intimate with Steve and Bucky again, it's a question of whether he'll let himself, or overthink it until he sets himself back.

"I guess closure helps too." She adds, more like she's talking to herself than him, "To really know it's over.Like...Kilgrave is...gone. That helps."

Sam looks down at his fingers, nodding again.

"I...I've gotten closure." He tells her, "I think...now I just have to move forward."

She snorts, "Always forward. That's what Luke says."

Sam looks at her, taking in her fond look when she says her boyfriend's name.

He hesitates before he asks, "What's he like? Luke?"

Jessica looks at him in surprise for a moment, like she wasn't expecting the question.

"Luke is...better than I deserve." She grins after a moment, and Sam can't help but smile when he sees her love laced expression on her usually apathetic face, "He's built like a brick shithouse, but he's the most gentle guy I've ever fucking met. Hates fighting, but he'll do it if he has to. Loves dogs. Hates bullies. He always says 'sweet christmas' which I pretend drives me crazy but honestly, I actually fucking love it." She gets quiet for a moment before she adds, "He knows I'm fucked up and hurt...but he doesn't care. He loves me even when I've tried to make him stop. Even when I hurt him so fucking badly that even I would have left me if I could. Shit."

"He doesn't try to change you." Sam says, suddenly feeling emotional and so happy that Jessica has someone like this. Who loves her for her.

Some would say she's difficult, and difficult to love, but this guy, this...Luke, doesn't think so, and refuses to let her think so.

And Sam can't help thinking that she deserves that. Jessica is a bit prickly and rough around the edges, but she's a good person, and an even better friend. She fits with people who would otherwise have no one. People who have been hurt, used and abused.

She was the first person to talk to Sam like a person, and invite him out to do something useful and have fun. To drink and talk shit behind a bar counter.

"Nah." Jessica says thoughtfully, "He's never tried to change me." She then adds--with a dry smirk--"Like he ever could."

Sam laughs.

"He's a lot like your guys." She says, "Just...trying to understand. To help."

He nods, happy for her. They're quiet for a moment, and he guesses he has a contemplative look on his face because she looks at him in question.

"I...found them." Sam blurts out suddenly, unsure why he's suddenly decided to say so. He guesses he just needs to talk about it to someone. Someone who gets it and isn't going to be alarmed or afraid.

"Found who?"

"The men who...had me. Where they were being held after I was rescued."

It feels like a relief, being able to tell someone about the warehouse. She freezes, eyes hardening in anger.

"It's okay I...I finished it." he says quietly, a burden lifting. Someone knows. Someone who understands. It's freeing, having someone (who isn't Steve, Nat or Bucky) know. Someone who has been in the same position.

"Finished it?" she asks, blinking at him and shuffling closer. Their voices have gone quiet, and it's like a secret he's giving to her. To be shared between the both of them.

He nods, shakily, "They're...gone. Like Kilgrave."

He feels like he should say more but he can't. He feels like those words basically sum it all up. Maybe he's moved on, the slightest bit, and he can't even summon the energy to dwell on the past. Just the future. That night solidified the fact that he won.

They lost.

Now it's time to move forward, as much as he can.

Always forward.

She looks at him, and he can feel her eyes on him, but he doesn't see her expression until the silence stretches a bit longer than he's used to.

Then he sees her.

Her face open, a sly grin on her lips, eyes a bit shiny. Sam stops, heart clenching.

"You fucked them up, huh?" Jessica smiles, "You won."

Sam looks at the ground before he looks at her, and doesn't know what to say. She looks like he's given her something. Like he did something amazing. He nods, unsure of what exactly her reaction means.

She laughs. watery, loud and proud before she attacks him with a hug, wrapping her arms around his neck as she grins in a rare show of carefree affection she could only manage for another survivor, "I knew you could do it. I fucking knew you could."

Sam doesn't notice he's crying until he hugs her back just as tight and tries to speak around the happy sob in his throat. He can't say anything, but they hug and cry and the tears aren't the ones filled with shame or sorrow like they've been for so long. This is relief for them both. Jessica allows herself to crack and Sam allows himself to accept her camaraderie.

This feels like relief. Flying, almost. They both made it. They're safe and loved and they made it.

"We won." Sam says, his voice muffled into her shirt, like he's assuring her that they're okay. They're both okay. And they'll get better, every day.

Jessica sniffles. They're tears of happiness.

"We won." She clarifies, voice watery and light with relief.

~

She convinces him to go down to the training room a day later. She doesn't know if she's staying at the tower for too much longer, but she shows up at their door, barges past Bucky and pesters Sam into coming with her. It's not the easiest decision (Steve is still wary of her and Bucky just gets antsy when Sam is away from them), because the training room means fighting and fighting means pain and Sam has had enough of that. But she assures him it's not what he thinks he is, and he trusts her. If he's safe with anyone that's not Steve, Bucky, T'Challa, Nat and well, the rest of the team, it's Jessica.

He still balks at the punching bags though, and the fact that Jessica asks him to trust her as she wraps his hands. He's in his usual all-black, and he's completely covered--as he prefers--and this isn't really ideal training gear, but she says nothing of it.

She just puts him in front of a punching bag and holds it still, looking at him around the bag, blinking at him.

"Go on." Jessica says, "Punch it."

He gives her an uncertain look. He and violence haven't been on the best terms for the past year. Milkshake sits in the corner, watching intently.

"You know," she tells him, "It's okay to be angry."

Sam looks at her, not knowing what to say. He's heard a lot of things, that it's okay for him to be scared, to be sad, to be terrified and feel alone. 

Not so much that it's okay for him to be angry.

She holds the bag steady for him, her eyes peering around the punching bag, "They took something from you. They thought they could just walk in and grab you and that was their right. You're pissed."

Sam bristles. She's right actually, he is.

"Let it out."

He does.

Every hit does something even therapy cannot. Jessica holds the bag, speaking his outraged thoughts and throwing them at him.

He's angry. Of course he is.

How dare anyone do that to anyone? What gives anyone the right?

The flex and burn of muscles he hasn't used in a while fuels him, his heart pounding and his breath quickening because he is angry.

He has a right to be.

He knows that now.

~

They stay down there for two hours.

By the time Sam comes back his knuckles are bruised, but he's tired out in the best way, the punchbag not only being a suction for his anger and frustration but also giving him that flex and burn of muscles he's though he'd lost. Sleepiness sets in and he's relaxed. As much as he can be, anyway.

It was therapeutic. He feels...stable. It was a good day anyway, with very few issues in terms of anxiety, but something about the physical exertion helps a lot. Steve fussed over him, radiating disapproval at Jessica's tactics, and Bucky just took Sams's hands and unwrapped the wraps his hands are in.

"You okay?" he asks, and Sam nods, eyes drooping as exhaustion tugs at him. He leans into Steve, head on the blond's shoulder as he takes deep breaths, wrapped in the two of them. He stays like that for a moment, and then after a shower they pull him into bed between them. Sam is a bit more awake now, the water of the bath making him a bit more alert, but his fingers are still slow and steady as he traces the lines of Steve's face and grips Bucky's hand. he presses closer to them, slowly so as to not overwhelm himself or trigger an unwanted reaction.

He wants this.

It's like punching that bag made him remember that he isn't this helpless little thing, even when he feels like he is. He can protect himself, not from everything, no one can, but he has the ability to be his own protector, in a way.

~

Sam calling Peter's aunt May isn't really something he planned or thought too hard about. It's getting a little easier to make decisions without have to overthinking it to death due to fear. 

Though he's sure the modifications made to his meds definitely help. And the fact that Milkshake is always by his side. And just the wonders of recovery in general.

So he's standing in a two family house in Queens, hands in his pockets and Milkshake at his side sniffing the ground curiously as Peter's aunt May moves around the kitchen making tea, happily chattering.

She's always appreciated how Sam looked after Peter, making sure his grades were up to par and just generally being there for him. Sam doesn't even know how much she knows, and whether she's even aware of her nephew's superhuman abilities. She probably just thinks that Peter only spends time being tutored by Tony Stark, and since Sam is Tony's teammate, Peter met Sam at some point and took a shine to him.

That's fine, she knows Sam is Falcon, after all, so it's not like Sam is keeping any secrets. Peter's secrets are his own.

(He hasn't thought of himself as Falcon in a while, and he isn't sure if he even is anymore. Can he be? Can he get back to that place? Being able to brave a battlefield?)

He hears Steve and Bucky slowly and hesitantly pull off in the car they brought him in. They wanted to stay, but Sam shooed them away, saying that he needs this time with Peter. The kid might even think Sam is dead or something, so he wants to spend some time with to assure him that he's okay. And that Sam hasn't forgotten about him, and even though Sam was away for a while, nothing about their relationship has changed, and Sam is still there to be that annoying big brother figure that bugs him about his homework and getting to school on time.

He's months late, but he hopes this trip to the science museum can get that point across. He promised to take him before...everything. And now Sam is well enough to finally make good on his promise.

He's just sad it took so long.

May seemed happy to see him, her face brightening as she opened the door before taking his hand and squeezing it in that sincerely thrilled way she does, greeting him before she pulled him into the house.

"Peter!" May calls, smiling happily at Sam, "There's someone special here to see you."

There's a commotion upstairs, and Sam hears something fall and Peter exclaim loudly while May fondly rolls her eyes.

Then there he is, in rumpled clothes and bedhead. He stands at the top of the stairs, looking down at them both, and Sam can help but grin. 

A lot has changed, but Peter hasn't.

"Sam?"

"Hey, kid." 

"Sam!"

The kid moves fast. Sometimes Sam forgets how fast he is.

Peter throws himself at him, arms wrapping around Sam tightly, nearly squeezing the life out of him. May has a hand over her mouth, smirking. Sam gasps, breath knocked out of him, because of course Peter is strong as hell, and sometimes doesn't know his own strength. Usually, actually. Sam is sure his ribs are cracking this very second.

Sam wouldn't trade this for anything though. Milkshake sniffs at Peter, concerned but clearly not overly so, and Peter doesn't let go for a really long time. 

Air is getting a bit hard to come by, but Sam is loathe to move him. The kid eventually loosens his hold and steps back, eyes wide and a bit red.

"Hey, Pete." Sam smiles, a hand on his shoulder, "You okay?"

Peter nods eagerly, sniffling the slightest bit but trying to hie it, "Yeah, yeah, I just...I missed you. You okay?"

Sam hesitates before he nods, "I'm definitely better."

It's the truth.

"So, I was thinking," Sam says, trying to change the subject before he thinks himself into a panic, "I'm a few months late on taking you to the museum, so if you want to go today--"

"I'll go get dressed." Peter grins, "Be right back." 

And then he's sped up the stairs.


"He looks up to you so much." May says after a moment, smiling at him, "After...after Ben, it's just..." she pauses, "It's nice that he has a good role model." she finishes.

Sam gives her a soft smile, "I can't think of a better role model for him than you," he tells her, completely serious (and how could he not be, the fact that Peter adores his aunt May as much as he does is enough for Sam to know that she's a superwoman all of her own, and is doing an exceptional job), "But thank you. I'm always here if you two need me, for anything."

May huffs a watery laugh, nodding, "Thank you, Sam. Same to you."

Yeah, the kid moves fast. Sam isn't even partially halfway through the cup of tea May makes him when Peter is at his side again, his book-bag slung over one shoulder and his converses untied. He's clearly dressed in a hurry. Sam raises an eyebrow in amusement.

May gets a few more words in before Peter drags Sam out the house, chatting a mile-a-minute as he always does. Sam is thankful for that though. It's so...Peter. Plus, he gets the update on how the kid is doing, and Sam doesn't have to talk too much, which means he can't slip up and say something that worries or burdens the kid.

They take a cab. Sam doesn't want to chance a panic attack or flashback when he's with Peter. He doesn't want anything to ruin this. He just wants to be able to spend a nice day at the museum with the kid without...what happened ruining it.

"Sam?" Peter asks, cutting off midway through a rant about this idiot kid named Flash Thompson.

"Yeah?"

"Are you okay?"

Sam tries not to let the question and the movement of the cab make him nauseous. He just takes a breath and nods, "Yeah, I'm alright."

Peter nods, looking at his hands, "They wouldn't let me see you, so I...I didn't know if you were okay for a while." 

Sam's heart splinters a bit. Peter lost Ben, and his dad, and then the one male figure in his life that he trusted randomly disappeared and then was out of commission for ages. Sam feels guilty, like he abandoned the kid. It wasn't his fault, but...still. He promised Peter he'd never leave, but he did. Not by choice, but it still happened.

He broke his promise.

"Hey," Sam says, trying to keep the sudden guilt out of his voice, "I'm okay. I promise. I'm not leaving again, okay?"

Peter looks up and nods. They're silent for a moment before Peter says, "Was it really bad? Where you were?"

Sam flinches.

And then nods.

"I'm sorry we weren't faster." Peter says quietly, Manhattan streets zipping past the window behind his head. Sam tries not to zone out in a subconscious effort to escape the conversation. 

"It's not your fault." Sam tells him, trying to keep his voice steady, "It's no one's fault, Pete. I'm here, I'm alive and I'm okay."

Peter nods again, eyes back on his hands.

Sam bites his lip, heart pounding.

"Hey, let's have fun today, okay?" Sam says, taking a breath, "I came to have a good time, don't ruin it for me." he teases.

Peter laughs and the somber mood breaks.

Sam can breathe again. 

~

Sam is examining some bacteria under a telescope with Peter in an exhibit he's forgotten the name of (because really, there are so many and Peter wanted to see them all) when a little girl runs up to him and hugs his leg so suddenly that his breath hitches and he almost jumps out of his skin. He makes a noise of surprise--his mind registering that it's a child before he looks down at her--and he looks down only to find a little dark skinned girl, no older than six looking up him with big brown eyes.

Wearing a little outfit that looks just like his battle gear, pack and all. Sam probably would have noticed her before if he wasn't trying to avoid looking at anyone too hard for fear of triggering himself. He's just kept his head down and only interacted with Peter, which was fine by the kid seeing as he wanted Sam's full attention anyway.

"I'm so sorry!" a woman's voice cuts in, and Sam sees the girl's mother looking at him sheepishly, trying to collect her daughter, "I, uh. Sorry, Mr. Wilson, she just--"

Sam snaps out of it, shaking his head before he says, "Oh, no. No, it's fine, really."

The woman laughs shyly, looking down at her daughter as the little girl looks up at Sam adoringly. "She's uh, a big fan of yours." her mother says, smiling down at her daughter, "You're her favorite Avenger." she tells him before gesturing to the girl's outfit, "Clearly. She kind of refuses to wear anything else at the moment."

He can't help it. He manages a small smile, his heart rate slowing a bit.

He's not in danger. The only danger is being hugged to death by a small child. Peter grins quietly from beside Sam, like he's thrilled that someone thinks he's as cool as he does.

"You saved us." the girl's mother says after a moment, clearly shy but determined to get the words out, "In Central Park, those robots..."

Sam remembers. Doom's robots wreaking havoc all over Manhattan a while ago. Sam isn't sure he remembers this woman and her daughter specifically, he was a bit busy, and--not to brag--but he's saved too many people to remember just two.

But they remember him.

"I was with Tanya," she continues gesturing to the little girl, "One of them fired at us and I...I thought we were going to die. I thought my little girl would..." She takes a breath, "But there you were. Using your wings and shielding us. You saved us."

Sam doesn't know what to say. He was doing his job, and he doesn't do it for praise but because it's what's right and Sam is both dumb and noble enough to make a career out of that sort of thing. This has happened before, people coming up to him with stories like this, and he never knows what to say. Even less so now, after what's happened to him and how utterly awful and useless he feels sometimes.

It's odd, seeing that in the eyes of the public, not much has changed about him. They still approach him like he's the same person they've always spoken to. They've always known as Falcon. Like he's not completely different.

Maybe they'll notice he's quieter, but even that isn't even one eighth of how much he's changed in a year.

This little girl dressed as him and looking up at him like he's the moon and stars doesn't know or notice that Sam sometimes feels like he's been ruined so irreparably. That he has panic attacks and guilt and shame.

She just sees Falcon.

And that's comforting. That people still seem him how he was. He isn't the same, he never will be, but it's still nice to know that he isn't wearing everything he's been through on his face for everyone to see.

"Glad I could help." He says, taken aback and a bit thrown for a loop, "I'm just really happy you two are okay."

He means it. He's happy he wasn't too late to save them. The woman smiles, and Sam turns his attention back to the little girl hugging him.

"Hi there." he says, smiling down at her.

It's getting easier, smiling. 

Her eyes go wide, like the fact that she's hugging his legs is made all the better by the fact that he's spoken to her, "Hi! Falcon!"

Sam grins, "Yep, that's me. You look just like me though, are you sure you're not Falcon?"

The little girl gasps, brown eyes widening comically. It makes him laugh.

He can see her mother taking pictures from where she watches their encounter. People have stopped and are looking on, some filming on their phones, some snapping pictures. And yet Sam doesn't feel suffocated.

~

He calls Natasha that night.

"I want to start training again." 

Chapter Text

Sam closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, the feeling of Bucky's lips on his neck a soft, wet press of skin.


He's sitting between them, straddling Steve's lap with Bucky behind him, and god, they're truly fucking amazing because they talk the entire time so his brain can't fuck up and confuse them with anyone but them. And he feels...something. And it’s not anxiety or disgust and this feels like a step in the right direction.


They've been doing this for a week. Just steady touching, kissing, intimate closeness. Sam is more receptive some days than others. Sometimes he's able to engage all the way through, and sometimes he disassociates three minutes in and has to be brought back. Dr. Walsh says it's normal, that there are steps to these kinds of things.


At least he hasn't thrown up yet. That’s not sexy.


Sam knows he shouldn't be frustrated with himself, but he kind of is. He wants to be with them, like how he remembers. Having the memories and not being able to act on them is like having something you want right in front of you while being unable to reach out and grasp it. It's frustrating, and he knows he shouldn't push himself, but as his body is waking up he feels...different. Like he needs some things.


Positive touch, for one. Like this.


"You okay?" Steve sighs against his lips, and Sam nods, Bucky pressing lips to his neck.


It doesn’t go on for long because Sam gets nauseous, but he still feels a bit...cautiously happy with how it went. It was actually comforting, having them close. It didn’t feel like too much and when it got close to feeling it was they dialed it right back down.

 

It's slow going, but it's coming along.


~


Taking up training with Natasha has been what takes up most of his time during afternoons on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and he finds himself looking forward to it every week. It's nice to be able to focus on his body without disgusting things being associated with it, which is new for him. He can feel the soreness in his muscles and chalk it up to exercising and getting strong again. And nothing else.


It also serves to get him out of his head, which he's sure Natasha knows that, which is why she still works him moderately harder than he's sure Steve would like. Granted, it's all easy stuff, like stretches and basic combat he learned when he was a kid in the army, but he's grateful to her for it, though he is a bit frustrated at how things that used to be so easy wind him now.


It's time to get back into shape. He's lost too much muscle and strength.


"Okay we’re gonna do stretches this week, and some light core workouts." Natasha says, all business.


She looks at him with obvious pride, and Sam revels in that. It's nice. He thinks again about how lucky he is to have her.


She's been starting him in with the easy stuff for longer than he would like, and like the intimacy with Steve and Bucky he feels a bit frustrated with this too. He wants to jump right back to where he was but he knows he can't.


He's lost too much muscle, for one. And he's out of practice. Sam wants to strap on the wings and fly but he can't operate the pack unless he's up to par. It's motivation though, and that's good. Sam needs that. Motivation.


He’s just sick of all the slow aspects of recovery. He’s safe now, and a part of him feels like he should just be able to get back on the ball. Like there’s no reason for this. For him to be so...stuck. He knows Dr. Walsh would argue that he isn’t but he can’t help feeling like he’s been stagnant for a while.


Sam tries to focus on taking it one step at a time. One foot in front of the other. He can do this.


~


It’s the worst day Sam has had in awhile. Everything culminates in him feeling cornered and hysterical and like spaces are too close. He carries this feeling of foreboding and sickness deep in his stomach and he doesn’t know exactly what’s wrong so he can’t fix it and Milkshake hovers around him, grounding him and bringing him his meds, his sensory toys, his water.


Steve and Bucky are too close. Everyone is too close. Even Milkshake seems more intrusive than helpful today, and then Sam makes the idiot fucking mistake of trying the coffee in the cupboard (in an effort to escape both Steve and Bucky who have crowded him into the living room, wanting to watch a movie in an effort to cheer him up when their presence is the very problem--though it's not their fault--, while also knowing that his stomach can’t handle anything other than tea or coffee or something just as light due to the nausea he's been feeling since he woke up) and nearly pukes when he notices it’s french coffee, which is a bit too close to what Krause used to smell like, and he finds himself throwing the mug right in the sink, not caring if it shatters and then curling up beside the counter, the smell of the coffee making him sick but his legs unable to take him anywhere else. So he’s stuck there, inhaling one of the many scents of his attacker and unable to move because his shitty fucking body won’t cooperate. He trembles and sits there and tries to breathe, tries not to panic and tries to fucking think. Frustration and anger crawl up his throat, choking him.


He’s fine. He’s not there. He’s okay. He’s fine.


I am fine. I am okay. I am home.


And he repeats it and repeats it and repeats it and before long Milkshake is sitting next to him, trying to nose into his arms (which he’s crossed on top of shaking knees and placed his forehead against, curling in on himself and trying not to do something they all regret, like claw at the scars on his wrist, though he has the sudden urge to do so.)


In the end it’s Steve who finds him and kneels next to him, his eyes level with Sam’s, soft and blue in concern and love that Sam finds stifling.


Sam knows Steve wants to help, but he feels like a wet paper towel being stretched too thin, almost ripping. He feels tired and angry and irritated and wants some quiet. For everything to be dark and still and silent. He just wants to curl up under the covers and try to breathe, but of course, instead of being a functional human being and just saying that, Sam just waves the blond away with some biting remark (that he feels so, so bad for when he walks away, but God, he needs to breathe and try to get some space around him again) and goes to lay down in the spare room. They get the hint that he doesn't want to be disturbed, but Sam still hears Steve talking to FRIDAY outside the door and there’s little to no doubt that he’s telling the AI to inform them if Sam tries to do anything harmful to himself. That’s fair, he assumes.


After a moment Steve also opens the door a crack and lets Milkshake in, and Sam grumbles as the dog curls up with him, nosing into his space and trying to pull him out of his own head.


This is one of the rare times when Sam refuses to let him. He turns his back and faces the wall, shaking Milkshake off.


He feels guilty for that too, and Sam lets it eat at him. He's sure he deserves it.


~


That night Sam puts away the dishes on the drying rack (and he doesn't know why, maybe he just needs something to do, something to focus on since he feels like he’s been drifting all day with nothing to tether him to earth) and his eyes linger a bit too long on the kitchen knife.


It’s long.


Sharp. Gleaming under the low-lights of the kitchen.


And then Sam remembers the glass. How it bit into his skin, how it hurt and hurt and hurt until he couldn’t feel it anymore, until he couldn’t feel anything. Until everything went so dark. And Milkshake perks up as Sam goes still, hand hovering over the sharp utensil before grasping the handle. He remembers how he got dimmer and dimmer until the world was awash in dark grey, the dark, cloying lilt of death pulling him under. Sam remembers it vividly. All of it.


He hates it. It was fucking terrible.


It really, really was.


And to think he longed for it as it was happening. He’s not doing great today, but he’s not at that place again.


And maybe Sam is suffering from something Dr. Walsh calls sensory overload, the feeling of the knife, cool in his hands, Milkshake’s sudden, sharp barks and the light in the kitchen lights--bright and bearing down on him--and then Bucky’s arms encircling him from behind and pulling him close, further irritating him with his presence so close and the fact that he pulls the knife out of Sam’s hands.


“What are you doing?” Sam grumbles, trying to wave the man off. He's fine. Fuck. He just...needs a moment. Jesus. Why won't everyone leave him be?


“Helping you.” Bucky deadpans.


“Don’t need help.” Sam snaps, folding his arms, “I’m just putting the dishes away.”


Bucky gives him a bland look, “Were you?”


Sam huffs, “Yeah,” he says, reaching for the knife in Bucky’s hands, “I was. Now let me do it.”


“I’ll put this away.” Bucky tells him, stepping away.


And for some reason that makes Sam blow up, the frustration of the day bubbling over and making him sick, mean and angry--


“I can do it myself.” Sam demands, “Give me the knife!”


He swipes at it, hoping to take it back and show that no, he's not a psycho, he just wants to put the fucking knife away like a normal person, and as a normal person, that particular task doesn't require supervision. He's not a fucking baby. Christ.


“No.” Bucky says calmly.


That makes Sam even more upset. The fact that Bucky is calm and in his way and won’t leave him alone makes Sam want to scream, and he knows he’s being unreasonable and Bucky has every reason to be suspicious of him seeing as he traumatized them both when he sawed both his wrists open not too long ago, but dammit, Sam is just trying to do chores without being reminded of every single dark time he’s had to endure this year and if Bucky could stop accusing him and assuming things--


With everything he does someone has to bring up something from when he was kidnapped or in the medbay or on the bathroom floor and honestly, Sam was there, he knows what happened in all instances so one would think that everyone would stop reminding him--


“I’m not going to stab myself in the face.” Sam cries.


“Then you wouldn’t mind if I put it away then?” Bucky asks, and Sam fumes when he sees what he wrongly perceives as self-righteousness on Bucky’s face. Granted, Bucky simply looks indifferent but firm, but Sam is defensive and angry and just wants to curl up somewhere dark and slip out of consciousness.


“Oh, aren’t you?” Bucky says, “You were looking at it pretty damn hard, doll.”


Sam freezes, horror and bile souring his mouth, suddenly.


The words rip from his throat before he can stop them and think--


“I hate you.” Sam sniffles, voice cracking in a hiss (and maybe, just maybe a hint of tears are welling up) as he tries to curl away, “I hate you--”


“Hate me all you want, Sam.” Bucky says, “but you’ve come too far to slip back that far. So you hate me? Fine, but don’t expect me to let you hurt yourself.”


Sam wants to scream and yell and cry but all he can do it bite his lip, keep in a sob and hightail it to his own room, slamming the door. It doesn’t have a lock, and he guesses after his...incident he doesn't deserve one, but right now he wishes he had one for petty reasons. It feels like he’s being punished, in a way. For things he couldn't control and didn't really mean to do. He feels raw and selfish and ugly, for making them hurt like this.


The room is blessedly dark, and Sam curls up under the blankets and shivers until sleep takes him.


He dreams about Milkshake scratching at the door of the hotel room. Then the house in Estonia.


Sam doesn't leave that room for a day and a half.


~


On the second day he wakes up to Steve sitting on the bed next to where Sam is laid curled up in blankets, and Sam flinches--full bodied and violent--before Steve stands quickly, worry marring his features as he raises his hands in surrender.

“Sam? It’s me.” Steve rushes to say as Sam gasps for breath, “Hey, it’s me. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”


Sam sniffles, still feeling raw and sad from everything yesterday, “I know. Sorry.”


“Hey.” Steve says, a light smile on his lips, though the worry doesn’t leave, “No need to be sorry. It’s okay.”


Sam trembles, leftover nerves firing off. The blond looks at him, concerned gaze scanning his lover before he softly says, “I made breakfast. You hungry?”


Sam shakes his head. He’s not. He’s sure if he tried it would all come right back up. His stomach feels like it’s full of acid. Steve gets that sad, kicked puppy look on his face, and Sam sighs, feeling like shit in more ways than one, but deciding that maybe he can handle something light. A fruit maybe? He says so before Steve can try and beg him to eat something more substantial.


The blond nods, relief in his eyes. Sam guesses he’s given him a good scare, no doubt Bucky told Steve what happened, along with how shitty Sam felt. He barely spoke all day yesterday.


He told Bucky he hated him.


God, he feels terrible. He hasn’t had a day that bad in...a really long time. He thought he shook off the darkness, but he guesses not. Not completely. He feels like a failure. Like he may as well be back to how he was months ago. Like he hasn’t progressed the slightest bit.


“Is Bucky okay?” he asks quietly, guilt crawling up his throat.


Steve smiles at him, “He’s worried about you, but yeah he’s fine.”


“I said I hated him.” Sam confesses.


“He told me.” Steve says, “He knows you didn’t mean it.”


“But I still said it.” Sam mumbles looking away, “I hurt him. I didn’t mean it, but I still said it.”


Steve gives him a long look before he takes his hand, “Then talk to him. Tell him that you didn’t mean it. Communicate.”


Sam nods. Right. Steve stands, holding his other hand out for Sam to take.


“C’mon, let’s go get you your fruit.” the blonde says, looking at Sam in adoration that--in the moment--Sam isn’t sure he deserves. Sam takes his hand, Steve’s warm in his own.


Sam takes a breath.


Okay.


Okay.


~


Sam is sure maybe he had something in particular he wanted to say to Bucky in the ways of an apology for acting like an ass yesterday, but when he sees Bucky--on the couch and playing his video game, clad in a soft sleep shirt with his hair in a terrible bun he clearly fashioned himself--he just curls up next him, wraps his arms around Bucky’s shoulders and rambles things like ‘I’m so sorry’, ‘I don’t hate you’, ‘I love you’, ‘You didn’t deserve that’, ‘I know you were trying to help’, and ‘I didn’t mean it, I really didn’t mean it I promise I didn’t.’


And maybe he’s crying a bit, and maybe his eyes are clenched shut as he rambles, breath coming in short, panicked bursts. He just….he needs him to know.
Bucky cuts him off with a kiss, and when he opens teary eyes he’s faced with Bucky smiling at him, looking both amused and a bit...sad.


“You’re so dramatic.” Bucky chuckles, “I knew you were just distressed, and I didn’t take it personally, I promise. It’s okay, doll.”


Sam sniffles, then repeats Bucky’s own words from so long ago right back to him, “It’s not, but I know what you mean. Thanks for forgiving me. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Bucky presses a long kiss to his temple.


~


The rest of that day is spent painting on Steve and trying to recover from his breakdown yesterday. Granted, he doesn’t feel like he should need a whole day for this, but Steve figured he could skip a day of training with Nat and Sam begrudgingly agreed.


He’s exhausted. Milkshake sits on his legs and he cleans off his hands and pets the dog, lavishing the canine with attention. An apology for the dog as well.


By the end he feels somewhat like himself again. He's grateful for that.


~


"I told Bucky I hate him." Sam stutters the next day, looking at his doctor with tears burning behind his eyes, "I didn't mean it. I don’t hate him. But I said it. I thought I was getting better."


She takes his hand, hers small, soft and gentle before she says, ”You are, Sam. You are getting better. Every day. Look at where you are now? If it weren’t for all your hard work you wouldn’t even be here. Think of everything you’ve overcome.”


He knows she’s right, and that Bucky thought nothing of it, just knew Sam was lashing out, but he still feels completely awful. His stomach goes hot in shame like someone dumped acid in it. He feels how he did the day after his suicide attempt. Like a total asshole who’s so absorbed in himself and unable to think past his own face. To think of everyone he affects. And he doesn't want to be that person.


“But that’s not the point.” Sam says, “The point is that I’m still lashing out at people I love. Who just want to help. That’s the problem. It’s not about my feelings or how hurt I am, it’s about the fact that I hurt someone I love because I’m hurt. And I...I don’t like that. At some point everyone is going to have to hold me accountable for how I treat others again. You all can't keep excusing what I say and how I lash out forever just because of what happened to me, I'm not a baby.”


“I am simply reminding you of what part trauma has had to play in how you react to things. You got defensive, you snapped at him. Did you apologize?”


Sam nods.


“And was it sincere?”


Sam nods again.


“Did Bucky feel good about your apology? Did he know you were sincere?”


He nods again.


“Then you’re on the right track.” She says, like it’s the easiest thing in the world, “You don't have to pay for the wrong you do someone with blood, Sam. You're not in Estonia or Germany anymore. There's no debt to pay. You just have to apologize and make sure you're more considerate next time. They love you, and they understand.”


Sam sits with that for a bit, trying to let the guilt go.


By the end of the session, he can.


~


“Okay, today--” Natasha says, “We’re firing guns. Gotta get your aim back up to par.”


And this feels a lot like they've gone from zero to a hundred in terms of the intensity of their training, but then again this is Natasha, and firearms are about as much a part of her arms as her fingers are.


Sam nods, eyeing the weapon in her hand, trying to get the sudden taste of bile out of his mouth.


It’s just a gun.


It’s just a gun.


He makes it through the training session, but he’s sure that’s only because Natasha doesn’t leave him in silence or to think long enough for him to spin himself into a panic or a flashback. He’s grateful for that.


Still, he feels good about it once it's over. He held and fired a gun, and pretty well too, and he didn't have a mental break.


He allows himself to feel happy about that.


~


Jessica visits Sam the day after that, and they sit in a corner of the living room talking in hushed voices. They don't talk about anything much, Jessica laments her recent boring cases and Sam tells her about training.


Jessica opens her mouth, her gaze slipping to the bandages on his wrists before she says, "So when do those come off?"


Sam shrugs, "I've kind of...avoided thinking about it. But I think the doctors are making me keep them on so I don't see the scars and freak out or something like that."


Jessica gives him a bland look, "That doesn't seem necessary."


"I'm not complaining...I hate the scars and don't really want to see them.” Sam admits, “They're fucking ugly, Jess.”


The woman thinks for a long moment, eyes on Sam's wrists before she offers him an idea.


“I’d say get a tattoo.” Jessica shrugs, “That’s what I’d do.”

Oh.

Oh.


Sam considers that, “That’s...not bad.”


Actually it’s a great idea, and the thought of covering these scars with something he chooses and likes is...appealing to say the least.


Maybe he could get a few. One on every mark they left on his body. That would be nice. Little images he likes decorating where he was branded by abuse.


Birds, maybe.


They're free, and if Sam needs anything these days, it's freedom.


~


“I want a tattoo.” Sam tells them, ”Something to cover the scars.”


Bucky is about to ask him which scars he means, but he snaps his mouth shut when his brain catches up with him. Right.


“You know which ones you want?” Steve asks, a small smile on his face. Sam runs fingers over Steve’s cheek before he murmurs, “No, not yet. I’m thinking about it. I want something colorful. Pretty.”


Bucky sets his head on Sam’s lap, looking up at him, “Did you ask Google?”


Sam laughs. He hasn’t, no, but god, Bucky is so cute and still getting used to the fact that he can ask the internet things and get a factual answer and that makes Sam want to kiss him.


The term ‘did you ask Google’ is something Bucky has said a lot since he discovered it. Even for things that--theoretically--he can't get a good answer from the internet for.


~


He thinks about the tattoo he wants. He can get matching ones on both wrists, or different ones.


There are so many options that Sam feels a bit overwhelmed, but when he talks to Dr. Walsh she says that he has all the time in the world, and he can take his time.


He forgets that sometimes. That he can take his time.


~


“There's this guy I know,” Jessica says, scribbling on the paper, “He's great with ink and colors.”


“Is he skilled enough that it'll actually show up on my skin?” Sam asks, and she gives him a look that says ‘don't you think I’ve thought about that?’


“Yeah,” she answers, “He specializes in color for deeper tones. Gimme some credit, I wouldn't recommend some pasty unqualified asshole.”

 

Sam huffs a quiet laugh.


“I'm the only super pasty asshole you have to deal with, I promise. Well, including your boyfriends.” she smirks, handing him the paper, “Anyway, c'mon, we have a case.”


“Which one?”


“The usual cheating bullshit.” Jessica shrugs, “But I'm dragging you with me.”


Sam snorts, “Fine, but you're buying the coffee.”


“Deal, and I'll also throw in some donuts.” Jessica confirms, “Now let’s catch us a lying asshole.”