Sam Wilson does more than he’s credited with. A few days ago he’d gotten back from a SHIELD mission with Steve, Clint and Nat. It’d left him exhausted in more ways than one. As a new agent, he’s had a lot more ‘excitement’ in his life.
Aside from being a fairly new SHIELD agent, Sam Wilson was also deemed, “an honorary avenger.” That title had been bestowed upon him by none other than Clint. Sam loved them all, he really did. It’s just that, they were a very “close” group of friends. Just last month Tony had busted through his window just “to check in,” because he wasn’t answering his text messages. It was a good thing, he supposed- he had someone looking out for him. Being an Avenger was rewarding, but it was draining.
Not only that, but he had been hosting the group therapy back at the hospital. The last thing Sam needed was another job, and yet that’s just what he assigned himself. Recently, he’d volunteered to be an administrator for the new suicide hotline. Between four till nine, on every other weekend he would occupy himself with answering calls and offering whatever help and resources he could.
There were a few times when he almost couldn’t handle it. There were times when his emotions got the better of him, and he would finish the call just to sob alone afterward because of those he couldn’t help.
But there would be none of that tonight. Tonight, Sam he would relax and try to focus on himself for the first time in a long time. He sprawled out on his couch, elbow deep in a bag of pretzels, ready to binge watch Game Of Thrones until he threw the remote at the tv, that or until he cried.
He was about three episodes in, on the verge of passing out when his cellphone rang. He paused the episode and groaned. One night, all he wanted was one night… . The screen of his phone only showed a number, he recognized the area code as one close by. “Hello?” Sam answered.
There was no answer. The only indication of anyone on the line was the soft breathing, one of hesitation. Who the hell?... “Hey?’ Sam repeated. He was met with the same breathing. He rubbed a hand across his face.
“Listen man, it’s been a long week, I’d really appreciate if you’d just say what you have to say.”
There were a few more seconds of silence. Sam readied himself to hang up when a raspy voice finally answered back. “Uh, is this the suicide hotline?” Sam’s stomach dropped. He sat up, now fully awake.
“No sorry, but I can help-”
“Fuck sorry, I shouldn’t have- thank you anyway.” The man hung up. Sam’s heart raced.
Sometimes people would call the hotline, only to hang up regretfully. He wasn’t allowed to call back at the hospital. He was suppose to give people standard resources, tell them professionally, what to do, and hope it worked out. But this wasn’t an afternoon of volunteering at the hospital. This was some guy calling him personally, seeking out help he probably wasn’t going to get otherwise, and that shit didn’t fly with Sam Wilson. He clicked the redial button.
“Hi,” Sam hadn’t thought about what he had to say back. “You called for the hotline, right?”
“Can I ask, where did you get this number?”
“Uh, this nurse wrote it down for me, said to call if I needed to.”
“She said to call this number specifically ?”
“Yeah, she said you knew about this stuff. About uh, stress and recovery.” Recovery? ...Oh.
“You’re a vet.” Sam stated more than he asked. There was silence on the other and, and for a second he thought he’d lost this guy again.
“Yeah, I’m a vet.” Good, this was something.
“Well thank you for your service. Did you wanna hear about the group therapy?”
“No.” he said quicker, with fear in his voice. “No, that’s not it.” He sounded like he was talking to himself, like he was struggling to remember what he had to say.
“Did you want to talk with a therapist?”
“No I don’t think so. Maybe this was a bad idea...”
Sam said this as comforting as he could manage. “You’re seeking out help for something you can’t deal with alone, right?”
“So it’s okay to not know what you need right now, you’re trying, that’s what’s important.”
A few seconds went by before Sam heard, “yeah, I guess you’re right. It's just, I’ve never tried talking to anyone about...trauma. I’m not so sure how to talk to a professional.”
“Talk to me like you would any other of your friends. My name is Sam.” He hoped this would prompt this other man to talk.
“I don’t have friends. So I’m not sure how to...”
Oh Sam Wilson, you absolute fucking genius.
“How about we start small? You got a name?” For a second the other man seemed as though he were hesitating before he said, “James. I-my name is James.” Sam smiled and sat back into his couch.
“Okay James, so how come you called?” he tried to keep it as casual as he could.
“I’m not sure, I don’t remember.” James sounded lost.
“It’s okay.” Sam assured gently. “Can you retrace your steps for me James?”
“I’ll try. Uh, I before I called I was on the floor, must’ve fallen out of bed or something. I think I had a nightmare.”
Sam thought for a moment. “Can you remember what happened in the nightmare?”
James took a few seconds before answering. “There was a tank in front of me. It was like I couldn’t move...” A tank huh? “Then this explosion just wiped us all out and I don’t remember what came after.”
His voice grew shaky, not like he was crying, more like he was struggling to speak- as though his air was restricted. “...But then I woke up. Not for real, in the dream- and someone was calling me, shaking me…he was begging me to wake up.”
“You’re doing great James.” Sam said with a smile. What happened after that?”
“I saw him smile, he was...glad I was awake?” James trailed off and Sam picked up immediately.
“What are you confused about?”
“I- why would anyone,...why did he want me?”
Sam couldn’t answer him, he didn’t know enough to speculate. “He was happy you were okay?”
“No, it was more than that,... but it doesn’t matter. I shot him.” Sam’s eyes widened. Had he heard that right?’
“James,” he said, trying to hide the alarm in his voice. “What do you mean you shot him.” Sam inhaled.
“In the dream.” He exhaled with relief . “It wasn’t exactly me then, it was me now .” James sounded like he had more questions than Sam had.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I’m not the same anymore. I haven’t been ‘him’ in such a long time.”
Him? Sam brushed it off and put his therapist hat on. “Everyone changes, over time- through experiences. It’s natural- it’s okay.”
“No, not the way I’ve changed. It’s not okay- what they did, what I am. I can’t even recognize myself anymore...but he did.”
“James, who is he?”
‘Who is this other man, what is he to you?” Clearly if he dreamt about him, about hurting him- then he meant something. Just as he asked there was a sharp intake from the other man. “Fuck!” There was a crash in the background, like the other man hit something.
Sam had to pull the phone from his ear as James swore. “James! Talk to me man, are you okay?”
“Nonono I can’t…”
“No, I can’t forget him.”
“You don’t have to-...”
“They tried to make me forget him, and I almost did- oh my god I almost did.” Then there were sounds like he couldn’t breathe? Oh boy . Sam closed his eyes and rubbed his head. This James guy wasn’t just not okay, he wasn’t stable.
This wasn’t the usual call. This wasn’t a depressed teen, or a suicidal businessman or an insecure kid or anything Sam had dealt with before. Sure, there were times when patients had breakdowns, but that had always happened in group therapy. Sam wasn’t sure how exactly to calm this man down, much less through the phone.
It reminded him of a few months ago. Sam remembered sitting beside Steve, who slept his injuries out in the hospital bed. Just when Sam was nodding off Steve had woken. Not more than seconds later he’d sat upright, despite the bandages around his middle, and shouted a loud “Bucky no!”, before turning to Sam and begged to know where the Winter Soldier had gone.
Sam shuddered at the memory.
Steve had fought with the doctor, who insisted he stay in bed. It wasn’t until Sam had grabbed his shoulders, shook him and yelled, “he’s gone!”, that Steve stopped. Though, he didn’t just stop shouting, he stopped everything. Sam had instantly recognized that thousand yard stare overtaking his friends face. When Steve ‘came back’, Sam had watched as his face crumpled and he sank to the floor. In a few seconds, he was in tears. Sam hadn’t known what to do then.
Sam didn’t know what to do now. So he sat and did what he had a few months ago. He stopped and listened to James, offering whatever comfort he could.
“I hurt him, oh christ I could’ve killed him. He told me he wanted to help, but I know he couldn’t. They hurt me for just remembering, and I was all they had. If they got their hands on him, if they got to him…”
James cut himself off with a strangled sound. This sounded like PTSD in Sam’s head.
“I need to see him. But I need to know who I was first.” James hesitated. “And I’m getting tired of fighting it all.”
Alarm bells went off in Sam's head. “It’s okay to be tired James. It’s fine to be hurt, but please don’t let that make you give up.”
“That doesn’t make me want to give up.”
Sam hesitated. “Then what does?”
“Just-everything, I’m not strong enough- I’m not.” His voice was shaky.
“You are strong enough, you can do this.” Sam still had no idea what this man had gone through, but it sounded too familiar. “Sam I let him down. They hurt him, they ruined him. It’s all my fault.”
Before he could stop himself, Sam began telling Bucky everything he’d wished he said to Steve.
“You are enough. You can do this. You didn’t fail anyone, not him, not yourself. You didn’t let anyone down, this isn’t your fault.” Sam knew it sounded rehearsed. Maybe that because he’d heard it so many times after Riley’s fall. Riley. His stomach was instantly in knots. Maybe this was how James felt, like he’d let both himself and his best friend down.
The man on the other line had breathed heavily. “I- I shouldn’t be alive. Sam I don’t want to be here anymore.” He sniffled and gasped. He was losing control of his breathing.
“James I need you to breathe.”
“Breathe in, close your eyes and just breathe.”
“Sam…” he practically whimpered while on the verge of a panic attack.
“It’s okay- you’re okay, just let it pass.”
Oh my god. Sam swallowed a lump in his throat as he listened to the other man’s breakdown. He opened his mouth to respond when James cried out. “I’m not clean.” Where had that come from? “Can you understand that? I’m fucking filthy, I’m stained, I’m used.” he was in sobs. “I’m not meant to make it on my own.”
Just then Sam blurted out, “You’re not on your own!”
“I am, Sam. I’m fucking alone and you can’t tell me otherwise.”
“Dammit James! I’m here aren’t I?” It was exactly what he’d told Steve months ago. “I’m here, I’m listening to you.”
James laughed, but there was no humor in it. “You wouldn’t be here for me, not if you knew what they made me do. What they did to me.” He sounded so hopeless, so sure it was over. Sam’s heart broke a little more.
“Let me help you.”
There was silence on the other end, until finally, James spoke. “You can’t help me..’
Sam shook his head, “You don’t believe that.”
“I know that.”
“Then why did you call me.”
“...I don’t know.”
“Yes you do.”
Sam left it at that. He knew the type of person he was dealing with. There wasn’t anything he could say, he just had to wait. It was well over a minute when James finally asked a question.
“What am I supposed to be fighting for?”
He wasn’t suppose to put thoughts in someone's head. He was told when he first volunteered that he was to let the other person speak for themselves. They had to draw their own conclusions, make their own decisions and ultimately help themselves. But damn those rules.
“You’re fighting for you.” Sam said this wholeheartedly.
“I’m not sure I’m worth it.”
“Hardly anyone is sure of their worth.”
“Sometimes, and sometimes not. But you have to learn to take care of yourself, pull yourself outta the bad times. Create something worth fighting for. Become someone you want to save. That’s life.” Sam said.
“I-I wish I could do that.” James said honestly.
“You can.” Sam assured him, and he meant it with every ounce of his being. “And you won’t be in this alone, I can promise you that.”
“I hope you’re right.” I hope so too, Sam thought.
“How are you feeling now?”
“I’m...lost.” He sounded tired, as though he were on the verge of passing out.
“When you hang up the phone, what will you do?” Sam asked him.
He didn’t answer.
“James, what will you do?”
“I don’t know.” He finally said.
“Are you okay on your own?”
“Uh-no I don’t think so.”
“Are you going to hurt yourself?”
James made a sound like a wounded animal. Guess that’s a yes.
Sam sigh and looked at his wrist watch. It read ‘two forty-five am.’ Sure it was late, but it’s not like exhaustion was something new to him. He got up and grabbed his keys, throwing on his jacket and shoes.
“Where are you?” He asked.
“I told you, you aren’t gonna do this alone.”
“You don’t have to…”
Sam thought back to Riley, how he couldn’t stop him from falling. He thought of Steve, and how he was sinking lower and lower to the point where it frightened him. Then he thought about James, he thought about how little he actually knew about his guy. Nonetheless, he knew he couldn’t just let him suffer alone. In that moment he promised himself he wouldn’t let the other man down.
“I need to.” He said, more to himself than James “Tell me where you are, I’m coming to help.”