Sam wakes up to knocking.
The soft kind, that is - the kind that screams “I’m trying not to wake anyone else up but you.”
He sighs, sparing a glance at the clock perched ever so menacingly on his nightstand.
The knocking continues with a vengeance, the volume increasing incrementally until it threatens - another - headache.
“Alright, alright,” Sam says, stretching out his aching muscles and making it to his feet. He finds Cass standing behind his door with a cheerio-encrusted mouth and a smile plastered on his face.
Sam raises an eyebrow, trying to suppress a smile of his own. “Stealing food again?”
His nephew frowns as the realization dawns, then quickly proceeds to wipe at his mouth with his shirt sleeve. “Your boyfriend is here again.”
Cass’ smirk returns. “Your boyfriend is here again,” he repeats, putting special emphasis on one word in particular.
“He’s not my....” another sigh escapes his lips. He squeezes his eyes shut - only briefly - in a sad attempt to ward off another migraine. He could hear Cass chuckling beneath him.
“Where is he?” Sam finally asks, reaching around for his shoes.
“The docks. He looks....sad.”
Sam nods slowly, fumbling around with his laces. “Go back to bed, Cass.”
“Now,” Sam interrupts, head still pounding. “And maybe I won’t tell your mother that you’ve been rooting through the kitchen at two in the morning.”
Cass groans, turning back towards his bedroom. “You’re no fun anymore, Uncle Sam.”
Sam steps into the living room, grabbing for a jacket that was hanging off the couch. It was that time of year now - the time when chills would start permeating the nighttime air. He had to admit it wasn’t too bad tonight, at least weather-wise, though it was colder than he would have liked.
Bucky sits - almost statuesque - on the docks, legs hanging over the side, almost as though he was looking at something only he could see. He had that look in his eyes quite often of late - the look of a man trying to find his place in his world, his purpose for existing.
And it stings, seeing him like that.
He was newly bruised as well, probably the result of a fist fight earlier on in the day. Bucky attracted violence like a magnet, whether or not it was his intention to do so. The bruise spread across his cheekbone, a deep purple that was almost hard to see as it blended into the nighttime sky.
Bucky doesn’t say a word when Sam approaches, nor an utterance when he sits down beside him.
This wasn’t the first time Bucky ended up outside his doorstep.
He could see Bucky’s hand shake - only slightly - a movement borderline impossible to sight with just the naked eye unless one was looking for it. And Sam knew Bucky well. He knew where the trembles came - the darkness and horror that they were born from, rooted in. He knew what Bucky sees every time he closes his eyes. He knew that there were good nights - normal nights, perhaps - where he was able get through a couple of hours floating in the realm of the unconscious without seeing the faces of his victims.
This was not one of those nights.
The docks have a soothing effect, Sam thinks. They won’t stop the nightmares, but serve to at least mitigate the damage.
(or maybe Bucky wasn’t coming for just the dock. Maybe there was something else. Maybe there was someone else. But Sam doesn’t think of these things, not yet.)
“You alright?” he finally asks after several moments of silence.
Bucky clenches his fist, then unclenches. Sam could practically see the cogs turning in his head as he tries to formulate something that could be considered a response. He knows it’s a dumb question - clearly Bucky was not okay and hadn’t been in some 70 years. But this wasn’t a question that was asked in the expectation of receiving a satisfying answer. It was asked because it shows he cares. And Sam does care. There’s nothing he hates more than seeing friends in pain.
Another moment of silence passes. Then another.
Bucky finally sighs, running his fingers through his hair. “Got any hot chocolate?” There was a slight glaze in his eyes, exhaustion marking every feature.
This was definitely not a good night.
Sam nods, giving Bucky’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. It was a small touch, but it was enough to ground him into reality - at least for the moment. To let him know that he wasn’t alone.
(He didn’t want him to be alone.
He wanted...what did he want?
He wanted Bucky to stay for once. For the night. For the whole night.
Because Sam didn’t want to be alone, either.)
They were out of milk, so Sam had to settle on making the hot cocoa with just water. He cringed at the thought, wondering if this was something people actually enjoyed - hot cocoa without the actual milk. He heats the water up in the microwave, fumbling around the kitchen for the hot cocoa packets that he swore were somewhere in the drawers. Bucky lies on the couch, staring at the ceiling.
“I know where they are,” a small voice says from behind him.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in bed?”
Cass’s smile practically stretches from ear to ear. “I’m not tired,” he proclaims, crossing his arms.
Sam resists the urge to roll his eyes. “Fine. Where’s the hot cocoa?”
“Promise you won’t tell mom that I’m...”
Sam exhales slowly, rubbing at his temples. “I won’t tell your mother,” he interrupts. “Where’s the hot cocoa?”
Cass surveys him for a moment, as if debating whether or not Sam was telling the truth. “Behind the red pepper flakes,” he finally says. “Top of the pantry.”
Sam grunts something that could be considered an acknowledgment, reaching up to grab the container just as the microwave starts beeping.
“Your food is d-”
“Why are you making hot chocolate anyways?”
Sam lowers the steaming mugs onto the counter, ripping open the packets of cocoa mix. “Bucky asked.”
Perhaps that was the wrong thing to say. Cass’ eyes practically lit up the moment the words left his lips. “So your boyfriend...”
“He’s not...” Sam starts, before lowering his voice, “....my boyfriend.”
“But you’re making him cocoa.”
“At three in the morning.”
“And he sleeps on our couch, like...all the time.”
“And also mom thinks that you guys are dating in secret or something, so...”
Sam nearly drops the mug. “Your mother thinks what?”
“Oh yeah,” Cass nods enthusiastically. “‘Cuz he’s always over here and hanging out and stuff. And he looks at you all funny...”
“Who looks at who all funny?” Bucky cuts in from the doorway, trying to stifle a yawn. Cass’s smirk returns with a vengeance as his gaze fluctuates between the two men. Sam groans, continuing to rub at his temples. “Nothing,” he says tiredly, mixing in the hot cocoa. “Cass was just going back to bed.”
Sparing one last glance towards Bucky at the doorway, his nephew accepts defeat. Cass makes his way - slowly, mind you - back to what was presumably his bedroom. “Are you going to stay the night?” he asks Bucky from down the hall.
Bucky shrugs in response, but Sam could see a smile - if small - forming on his face. He finds himself liking Bucky’s smile, especially since it is such a rare occurrence. “I just might,” he answers in return, eyeing the hot cocoa situated on the countertop. Sam can’t see Cass’s expression since he exited the room, but he imagined his nephew was smiling.
“Here,” he says, handing one of the mugs to Bucky. “Had to make it with water this time. Out of milk.”
Bucky frowns to signify disappointment, but takes a sip anyways. “It tastes like....chocolate water.”
“You get what you get.”
They make it back to the living room, steaming mugs of chocolate water in hand. Bucky lays back down on the sofa, apparently having lost interest in his beverage. Sam can’t say he blames him.
Silence once again permeates the room - it wasn’t an awkward silence per day, but it was clear that whatever problems Bucky was dealing with weren’t going to be addressed tonight. His friend absentmindedly rubs at his bruised cheek. Sam never sought to push him to talk, lest he drives him away. Bucky would share what he was willing to share, and that would have to be enough.
Sam finds himself drifting, eyelids growing heavy as slumber beckoned him into its grasp. It was just in this moment, however, that Bucky finally spoke.
“Your sister thinks we’re dating.”
That woke him up.
He says it so matter-of-factly, with nothing in his tone that would suggest any sort of emotion one way or another. Sam could feel his heart quicken for reasons he wasn’t fully able to understand.
“Look,” he starts. “Whatever Cass says....”
Bucky raises an eyebrow, lifting his head up from the couch pillow. “I’m not talking about Cass. Your sister made some...comments...”
Sam sighs, holding his head in his hands. It was too early for this, surely?
“Sorry about that,” he mumbles. “She tends to get...enthusiastic about this stuff. Trying to set me up for ages. If it makes you uncomfortable I can...”
“Never said it does,” Bucky interrupts, smile still present on his face. Sam could feel his gaze lingering, maybe a bit too long. After about a minute (or was it only a couple of seconds?) Bucky lays his head back down. “Night, Sam.”
Wait....what just happened?
Sam shakes his head, pulling a blanket over his shoulders. He could feel his heart in his throat, brain cluttered with so many conflicting emotions that he didn’t know how to process. Sleep wouldn’t come easy for him tonight, but what else was new?
He spares a last glance at Bucky, snoring softly on the couch. There was a pulling feeling in his chest that confused him, but Sam found he didn’t mind. Just a new feeling for him to explore in the coming days, perhaps.
He finally closes his eyes, hoping to dream of the stars as a gentle smile tugs at his lips.