Sam woke up lying in the sand. It was a red sand, a sand soaked with the dying and the dead. He’d read somewhere once, probably in one of his dad’s magazines as a kid, that glass was made of burning sand. Maybe he could see that now – the sand scraping through his arms and legs, the heat scorching his already parched skin. He breathed deeply, in a way trained into instinctual memory: Wait for help. Wait for help.
Unless, of course, you were a Falcon, and you’d already seen all the other Falcons shot down or captured. In that case, spit the blood out of your mouth, roll onto your knees, and crawl if you have to.
So that is what he did, and the sun was boiling and the sand was scathing, and of all the things he thought about while crawling out of the wreckage of his wings, was that he really missed his little sister. They used to play in the community pool during the summer. They batted each other with foam noodles and threw water-heavy sponge balls at one another with terrifying accuracy. He hit her once, just a little too hard, and she slipped and fell into the pool. He was there before she even started to cry, looking for wounds, hands shaking from fear and guilt. They still played after that, not then but other days, because it was just a ball and it was just water. He missed playing with Sarah. He missed when they could go home at night, exhausted in a good way, excited to wake up and do it all over again.
He missed Riley , but those were old words drummed into his heart. Riley was the one who made him look forward to waking up again, and as he rolled over to glare at the angry sun, he thought he could hear Riley’s screams in the distance. He knew he could hear helicopter blades, coming to pick him up, when he should’ve just died there .
But those were old thoughts. Tread upon for weeks and months and years.
He woke up and didn’t scream, didn’t even shiver, because by now waking up from the war was like waking up from a bad arthouse film. It was a movie he’d seen too many times to count, and though the landscape changed and the faces blurred over time, he’d been trained to view them like a case study. He told so many men (young men… old men… didn’t matter) that they would probably have those dreams for the rest of their lives. But, as those men came to learn deep down in their bones, humans could get used to just about anything.
He woke up, and there were hands resting on his arms, gently soothing the tense muscles. His breath hitched, and he sat up, eyes adjusting to the dark. On either side of him lay Steve and Bucky, each blinking up at him in concern.
He let out a shaky sigh, “I’m fine, just a dream.” As if it wasn’t blatantly obvious to the two men in his life who had even more nightmares than he did. Usually nights like these ended with Bucky screaming in his sleep, or Steve waking up with sleep paralysis. They were the ones who needed his help, he was supposed to be the one who had healed; the one strong enough to carry his partners’ hurt.
“Don’t start thinking that.” Steve murmured, wrapping an arm around Sam and pulling him into his warm embrace.
Sam huffed, “Since when’ve you been a mind reader?”
Steve glanced over at Bucky, who had at some point retrieved a glass of water from the bathroom. Sam took the cup in still-shaky hands, and he winced when a little spilled over the rim. A metal hand settled onto his thigh.
“The both of you are like that,” Bucky gave a small smile, “You think you gotta be responsible for everyone else’s well-being and safety. Steve may be more obvious about it, but I know you too well, babe. You’re both a bunch of damn martyrs.”
Sam chuckled, settling back into Steve’s arms. He never quite believed it when people told him straight up that he wasn’t responsible for others, because he was . That was his job and he took the health of the veterans in his care seriously. But Bucky was too damn smart and knew that Sam couldn’t argue with him when he would say the exact same thing to Steve.
He tentatively reached his hand out, and Bucky gripped it with his right hand, warmth mingling between them.
“Do you wanna talk about it?” Steve asked, pressing light kisses along Sam’s ear. Sam shuddered and curled in on himself, letting them snuggle up to him in a little cocoon of warmth. He shook his head, not really wanting to dig up the nightmare he’d just gotten out of.
Steve nodded, and the three settled back into bed, Bucky pulling the blankets closer around them. The night was quiet, and Sam heaved a shuttered sigh. He felt like he’d gotten way too lucky having these men in his life. Sometimes he wondered what would’ve happened had he not flirted with the massive, practically-shirtless blonde man on his morning job. What his life would be like if he didn’t openly accept Steve back into his life, exhausted and dirty and on the run from the government. It had always been some level of attraction with Steve, but with Bucky… that had taken time. Which in their case was a good thing; they both needed the space. For Bucky to begin recovery and for him to separate the assassin from the sweet, if incredibly grumpy, man beneath.
“Dear, my arm’s falling asleep.” Steve whispered.
Sam grinned and proceeded to mash himself further up against Steve’s arm, giggling when Steve just rolled his eyes and settled back onto his pillow. Sam let off his arm and snuggled close between Steve and the already-asleep Bucky.
“You know,” Steve murmured next to his ear, “for the record, we think we got pretty lucky to have you in our lives too.”
Sam grinned, shaking his head, “You sure that serum didn’t give you telepathy?”
Steve cracked a smile, his eyelids already heavy, “I don’t need to read your mind, dear. Just need to know your heart.”
“Romantic.” Sam teased.
Steve hummed in contented agreement, and together they joined Bucky back in the world of sleep, safe and at peace.