Author Notes: This was a scene that twigged at me for a while. Near the end of Even When I Had Nothing, Sam mentions that Steve came to his house one morning kind of messed up. Since EWIHN is from Natasha's POV I had no intention of writing that scene, as it's between Steve and Sam.
...aaand then I did :)
This is NOT a standalone, by the way. It will make zero sense if you haven't read EWIHN, as it references stuff going on in that story.
Steve walked quickly down the street through the dark early morning of New York, his jaw clenched, stubbornly refusing to let himself think too hard about anything at all and failing miserably.
There had been a few hours of peace from all the confusion and obsessive regrets that had plagued him ever since Bucky had tossed him out. For a few hours, he'd been mostly free, and he'd almost forgotten there was such a person as Bucky Barnes. And then as soon as it was over...
He was worse off than before.
He stopped and drew in a deep breath, the cold air stinging his lungs. He'd gone home and showered until he couldn't feel his skin any more, and it hadn't made any difference. He still felt filthy.
And all he could think was how he and Bucky had been raised to believe that what they did together was disgusting and perverse and it had often made him feel guilty and weak, but never as dirty as he felt now. Even though nowadays all of this was just natural and healthy and sex of all kinds was everywhere. Being with Bucky had - almost always - been intense and full of love despite the confusion and guilt. Something he treasured despite everything. Last night...
He couldn't think of Bucky. Christ, he couldn't. Not now.
Sam. He'd go to Sam's, and talk to him, and maybe they could talk about the upcoming hearings, talk about Sam's VA work, maybe even talk about whether Tony was serious about Steve moving into the Tower and whether that would be a good idea or not...
Anything. Anything to stop the thoughts about what he'd just done. Block out the memories of a stranger's hands on his body, a stranger's cologne in his nostrils, a stranger's lips nibbling down his chest. Block out the sensations that came with his body feeling well-used, the all-over ache that only came after a good hard fuck, the feel of an absolute stranger coming inside his body-
God damn it. He sped up. Damn it, he could not keep thinking about this, it was intolerable, he had to get to Sam's house and all right, it was a little early but Sam often went for a run fairly early in the day and he'd been alone with these damn thoughts since he'd left that man's apartment, and feeling like he was gonna puke or step in front of a car just to get away from his utter revulsion at himself and what he'd done.
And get away from the memory of the relief he'd felt while it was happening. Utter relief. Because for one damned night he hadn't lain in bed for hours, refusing to cry, his eyes burning and heart aching for what he'd lost. For one damn night he hadn't felt like he was drowning in grief and doubt and regret over Bucky.
He checked his watch. 7:30. Late enough. He knocked on Sam's door, waiting impatiently.
Sam came to the door - good, at least he hadn't woken him up - and peered at him. Sweats and socks - looked like he was ready for a morning run.
Now that he was here, part of him felt ridiculous. Even though most of him felt like he was drowning and grasping at a lifeboat. While trying to look completely casual.
Sam's eyebrows went down. "You OK?"
"Yeah, sure. I was just - uh, in the neighborhood-"
"Come on in," said Sam, and Steve reflected that Sam could do nonchalant like nobody else. This was the same guy who'd accepted Steve and Natasha into his home with barely a blink when everybody was trying to kill them; he was taking Steve showing up unannounced at his home in the early morning like it happened every day. "Glad you showed up," Sam said over his shoulder. "I was gonna give you a call today. Wanted to ask you something."
"Were you about to go running?"
"No, not really. I was gonna make breakfast. You want some?"
"Yeah, sure. What did you wanna ask?"
"Help me make breakfast first. It's not a yes/no thing." Steve followed Sam into his kitchen and Sam opened the fridge. "How are you settling back in?"
Steve shrugged. "Fine. I'm a little nervous about Tony's people not getting me out of testifying live, but otherwise, fine."
"Natasha's been worried about you," said Sam casually, passing him some mushrooms and a cutting board. "Omelets OK?"
"Sure." He moved to the sink and started washing the mushrooms, feeling slightly steadier now that he had something to do. "How's your job?"
"We got a new group started. Some older folks." Sam opened up a package of bacon. "Actually that's what I was going to ask you about. Remember I brought up counseling work at the VA?"
"Have you given it a thought?" Sam asked, ignoring Steve's unenthused tone.
"I told you, I'm not so sure I-"
"There's a position starting up," Sam insisted. "It's not full-time, but-"
"I don't know how useful I'd be. My war was a lot different from anybody else's-"
"And you went right back into war in this century," Sam pointed out. "Hear me out, OK? You barely gave me a chance to say anything last time before you shut me down." He put a pan on the stove and started some bacon frying, and started chatting about the counseling position, and Steve realized that really, Sam was just chatting to fill the air. He probably had no real need to get Steve to lead any kind of VA counseling group; he just wanted to make Steve feel like showing up at his house near at daybreak was perfectly reasonable.
His throat tightened and he felt a surge of gratitude to this man who had done so much for him - along with a surge of guilt for using him as a crutch once again.
"Dude, are you OK?" asked Sam quietly.
Steve started to nod. Shook his head instead.
"I-" his throat seized up and he swallowed hard. He cleared his throat. "Nothing. Bad week." He finished chopping the mushrooms and reached for the broccoli. Sam nodded calmly and continued frying bacon, picking up the counseling thread again - really Steve had no idea what he was talking about, and hoped he was nodding in the right places as he kept chopping. He finished the broccoli and went to wash his hands, grateful for Sam's soothing chatter but still feeling like he was balanced on a knife's edge, barely in control of his emotions.
"So, you do anything last night?" asked Sam, and Steve continued to dry his hands, and for some reason the towel was suddenly looking blurry. He blinked, clearing his eyes.
"I went to a bar and had sex with a guy I'd just met," said Steve, and his voice broke on the last word as a sob tore from his throat. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to hold it in but it was no use, he brought his hands to his face to cover it as his body started to shake and all of a sudden it felt like every regret he'd had since he'd left that man's home - hell, since he left Bucky's cell - was overwhelming him, washing over him in a torrent and oh shit-
And then he was bowing his head and sobbing helplessly. All those nights he'd pulled himself together and refused to give in to his grief at being sent away, all those times he'd forced himself to be strong and push it down and bury it all - and now he was powerless.
"Steve," Sam's voice was quiet and he was right next to Steve and Steve could barely hear him over the wrenching sobs tearing him apart. Sam's hand was on his shoulder, and Sam's voice was calm and soothing. "I'm gonna put my arm around you, is that OK?" he said quietly. Steve nodded, unable to speak, and then Sam was circling his shoulders and keeping him steady.
God, what had he done. What had he done, how could he have been so weak. Just because he'd lost Bucky again - even though he'd told Natasha it was fine, even though he'd told himself it was fine, just Bucky needing to recover his own way and nothing they hadn't done before, they'd been apart so many times - but it wasn't the same, wasn't the same at all, for so many reasons. The main one being that Bucky wasn't really Bucky any more. Much as Steve had tried to accept the changes in him, it was impossible. It wasn't Bucky's fault, none of it was, but he wasn't Bucky any more and as much as Steve wanted to accept that, it broke his heart every time, and everything he felt about the whole mess was coming at him, everything-
There was nothing he could do, no way to hold back, the tears were running down his face and his body was shaking. He'd never thought what he had with Bucky was right - he and Bucky had been so scared in their time, so alone against the world, but at least they had each other, even though they'd tried so hard not to want to be together that way - but then Bucky was gone and it had hurt more than anything Steve had ever believed possible. He'd felt dead inside and nothing could be right again and he'd woken up in this insane time and felt dead for two years, mourning Bucky - and then Bucky was alive. And he'd told himself not to hope, so many times, forced himself to read Bucky's file even when it literally made him puke, and he'd told himself he was just hoping to help his best friend, that he wasn't looking for his lover back, but he had-
Sam was speaking calmly, telling him to breathe, and he was falling apart. Eyes burning with tears, body shaking so hard he couldn't breathe, just like after Bucky died and his men had gathered around him-
"Steve," Sam was saying. "Let's go sit down, OK?" He nodded wordlessly and let Sam lead him to the kitchen table and sit down next to him, an arm still around him, now cautiously reaching around with the other arm to hold Steve in a protective hug. Steve shook and tried in vain to settle himself.
"Dude, let it out," Sam said quietly.
Let it out. Like that would help make anything right. Like what he'd done with that man could be washed away with his tears, like he hadn't just betrayed everything he was and everything Bucky had been to him, like he didn't have images of being in a man's bed with no love, no tenderness, nothing but animal need - and not even clean animal need for touch and sex, but the need to do something, anything, to blot out the memories of Bucky.
And not just the memories of himself and Bucky in tenderness and love, but memories of Bucky mixed in with pain and fear. The memory of his heart breaking for Bucky even as Bucky was on top of him and hurting him. Because his Bucky, the man he'd loved, would never have done anything like that. His Bucky had been rough sometimes, because Steve got a bit of a rush out of being manhandled, but it had always been Steve's choice. And the monster on top of him had even thrown that in his face, saying,"You always did like it rough, didn't you?" and it had made Steve want to puke then and it made his stomach spasm even now, through his helpless sobs.
And then - then afterwards, in that cell together, Bucky had been hesitant and almost scared to touch him, had refused to top, and last night Steve had needed to feel someone inside him again so his last memory of a man taking his body wouldn't be that particular memory of Bucky.
Because it wasn't even really Bucky. Bucky was gone, and he wasn't coming back, and a stranger stared out at him from Bucky's eyes. The man he'd fallen in love with when they were thirteen was gone and nothing would bring him back. Glimpses of him were there, times when he was almost the same - and even times when the man he was now touched Steve's heart... and then a horrible stranger took over. The Winter Soldier, taking the man Steve had loved with all his heart and twisting him into something almost unrecognizable. Almost.
If only Bucky had died for real, had died cleanly-
Steve shuddered away from that thought, horrified at himself, hands tightening on Sam's shirt. No, not even here could he ever think that. No way.
Sam's hand was rubbing a comforting rhythm on his back, and he felt like he was being wrung dry of every grief he'd ever had. Images and emotions battering him, his stomach cramping from convulsive sobs.
The Bucky he had known was gone. And, much as Steve had fucked up, even if he hadn't, there was nothing he could have done to help Bucky become who he had been. But he'd promised to be there to the end of the line and not even been able to do that, because his need to bring his lover back had probably held Bucky back from getting better on his own terms. Steve had been there, so easy to manipulate - and knowing it, too. Knowing that Bucky was probably playing him, that he was probably holding Bucky back from making progress, and still unable to wrench himself away.
Damn it. He'd cried so damn much over Bucky, not just today but over all the years they'd known each other. Every time he'd broken down since boyhood, it was because of Bucky.
The bacon had long gone cold and the silence in Sam's kitchen was absolute except for Steve's weeping. Sam had to be getting cramped and uncomfortable but he was still waiting patiently for Steve to get a hold of himself.
Damn it, he'd mourned Bucky for two years. Dreamed about him all the time, wanted him back so badly, cried himself to sleep aching for him. Missed him so much he couldn't breathe. And then he'd had him back, and lost him again, and as much as he told Natasha that at least this time Bucky was alive and nothing compared to when he'd actually been dead, it didn't make it any easier right now.
Nothing made this any easier. All he could do was grit his teeth and keep hoping things would get better somehow.
Finally he was calming down, the tears flowing more slowly, his breathing slowing. His chest and stomach ached and his face felt hot, but he was in control again.
He slowly sat up. "Sorry," he said, his voice hoarse. Sam nodded, keeping a hand on Steve's shoulder.
"OK, let me piece it together, OK?" Sam said gently, and Steve nodded. "You went out last night and picked up a guy from a bar. Right?"
"And you had sex with him."
Sam hesitated, then plunged on. "Did everything... was everything OK?" Steve blinked. Sam couldn't possibly want the details... "I mean, everything that happened, you wanted to have happen?"
Steve felt his face flushing, and he nodded quickly.
"And nobody got hurt, but now you're not feeling too good about it?"
Steve nodded again.
Sam sighed. "Steve. Jesus." He rubbed a hand across his face. "OK. OK, let me get us something to drink. Thanks for - thanks for coming here."
Steve shook his head. "I didn't wanna talk about it," he said, his voice hoarse. "I just didn't wanna-"
"Didn't wanna be alone with your thoughts all messed up and obsessing, I know. Been there."
He got up and went to the stove, opening and closing drawers and puttering around as Steve slowly pulled himself together, wiping his face. Finally Sam came back to the table.
"Drink up," he said, handing Steve a mug.
Steve nodded obediently and swallowed, almost choking in surprise. For some reason he'd expected either coffee or some sort of alcohol, never mind that Sam knew neither would have any physical effect on him. "Hot chocolate?" he said skeptically.
"It helps," said Sam shortly. "How've you been, other than last night?" Steve opened his mouth. "For real, this time."
Steve closed his mouth again. The shoulder of Sam's shirt was damp, he realized, from where Steve's tears had soaked in. He averted his eyes and shrugged. "Not great, I guess."
Sam snorted. "No shit." He took a sip of his hot chocolate. "You been sleeping?"
Steve shook his head. "Not a lot." He took a shaking breath. " Can't. Can't seem to... turn it off."
"Yeah." He took a sip, feeling the chocolate warming him all the way down. "I... I keep thinking, I didn't do enough. Keep wondering how Bucky's doing."
Sam nodded. "I'd tell you if I could, man. You know that. Bucky needs-"
"I know, I know. He needs space. I'm not arguing." Damn it, he felt as shaky as he used to after an asthma attack.
"You looked like you were doing OK," Sam said cautiously. "For a given value of OK."
Steve nodded wearily.
"You tend to do that, though. Stiff upper lip. I wondered."
"Yeah, I guess so. I told Natasha I wasn't gonna fall apart." He rubbed a hand over his face, his eyes still feeling hot. "Guess I was wrong."
"What do you think about? When you can't sleep? Is it just about Bucky?"
Steve shook his head. "Just... everything. Wishing I could've done better. Wishing I could've helped him."
"How bad does it get?"
Steve shrugged. "Bad enough that I can't sleep. It just feels... hopeless."
"Just about Bucky, or life in general?"
"No, just Bucky."
"You're OK otherwise?"
Steve frowned. "Why?"
"Just... are you looking at other jobs, moving back in, all of that?"
"Yeah. Trying to pick things up where I left them." He sighed. "It's kinda hard, though. Bucky was my life for so damn long. Trying to find him, then being involved in trying to help him..."
Sam nodded sympathetically. "Feeling like you got no purpose now?"
"Pretty much." Steve sighed. "I'll figure something out. I just... it's hard."
"That's part of why I was asking about the VA thing."
Steve raised his eyebrows. "I thought you were just making conversation."
"That too," said Sam without skipping a beat. "But I also know that you put everything you had into Bucky's life and you need something else to do now that you're not involved in it any more."
Steve felt his eyes welling up again and looked down. Damn it.
"It's OK, man," said Sam, putting a hand on his shoulder and giving it a brief squeeze. "You're gonna be shaky for a while. Don't worry about it. Not here." Steve wiped his eyes and nodded. "Are you OK with finding something else to do, though?"
"Yeah, I am," said Steve. "I mean, what's the alternative? Sitting around and doing nothing but obsessing?"
"Some people go that route." Sam looked away. "I spent about six months doing that after my second tour. It's not a good place to be. You end up wondering why you're even here."
"You mean, as in... why you're alive?" Steve asked. Sam nodded and Steve swallowed. "Jesus."
"Yeah, I went pretty low," said Sam. "Needed a lot of help to pick myself back up."
Steve shook his head. He'd had no idea. Sam seemed so well-adjusted...
"Nothing like that for you, then?" asked Sam, and Steve quickly shook his head. Sam gazed at Steve a moment. "Can I ask... why the hookup?"
Steve shrugged, still feeling raw.
"Think about it. You went out and did something pretty out of character for yourself, that's making you feel pretty shitty right now. Why?"
"Wasn't that out of character," Steve muttered, looking away.
"Really?" Sam said, skeptical. "You have a sordid past with one-night stands that didn't make it into the comics? How's that work with you saying you'd never done anything except for with Bucky?"
"No, not - I'd never done anything, but I went out. Twice. Before Bucky came back."
"I just... I was lonely," said Steve uncomfortably. "I... I didn't know how to... I'd been alone since Buck died. Two years. I thought, maybe I couldn't - couldn't have what I had with him, but I didn't wanna be alone."
"But you didn't go through with it."
"Couldn't." He'd been horny as hell, he remembered, and touch-starved, but somehow it hadn't seemed right to go from the love of his life to a stranger.
So much for that. He felt his stomach flip over.
"Why did you, last night?"
Steve sighed and put his head in his hands. "I dunno." He looked back up at Sam and swallowed hard. "I guess... I wanted to stop thinking."
"And I guess it's not like you can drink it away or anything," Sam mused. "Why else?"
"It helped with not thinking any more." Except that afterwards he'd felt like shit. For those hours, though...
"Any other reason?"
Steve thought a while. "I wasn't... I wasn't scared of him."
Sam took a deep breath. "You were... you were scared of Bucky?" asked cautiously.
Steve swallowed. "It - no, not most of the time."
"But some of the time."
"No. I mean. Yeah. A couple of times." He felt his throat tightening up and cleared it impatiently. "I - I was never scared of any of the bullies who beat the crap outta me when I was a kid. And I wasn't scared of Bucky when he fought me, before. But. But after-" He swallowed. "It wasn't fair to him. He didn't do anything - I was the one who came to him, when we were at the safehouse. I never told him no, and if I had, he would've backed off so fast..."
"But you were still scared."
"Sometimes. He's stronger than me, Sam. And I can't hurt him, but he doesn't always have that... that restraint. He could do whatever he wanted."
"But you still slept with him. And you hid the fact that you were scared of him."
"Steve... you're not wrong for being afraid of someone who assaulted you. You know that, right? I know that's not how you think about it, but-"
"He did," Steve interrupted, looking away. "I know that."
There was a profound silence.
"I didn't consent," Steve said, his voice trembling. "I know that. He knew that too. He just didn't care." He steadied himself, impatiently wiping at a tear that trickled down his cheek. "And what kind of sick bastard does that make me, for going back to him after that? Never mind going out and hopping into bed with a perfect stranger - what does that say about me?"
Sam sighed deeply. "It says you're normal, man. Totally normal." He shook his head. "I've dealt with a lot of rape survivors and they do some messed-up shit. It's only human."
Sam hesitated, then put a hand on Steve's shoulder. "Dude, I'm gonna ask you something and please, please hear me out before you say no, OK?"
Steve frowned, tensing, but nodded.
"Please. Can you please... go to a counsellor?" Steve stiffened and Sam's hand tightened on his shoulder. "You went after you were defrosted, you told me." Steve nodded. "What's different about this?"
Steve opened his mouth, then shut it.
"You think maybe you'll have to work through stuff you don't want to work through, right? Like how you feel about Bucky, and what he did, and what you let him do? And what he's like now, and whether you still feel the same way about him." Sam was gazing at him, his eyes dark with compassion and understanding. "Might even have to deal with how you feel about the fall of SHIELD, and a lot of other stuff you don't wanna deal with."
Steve blew out his breath.
"You're not a coward, though. You've faced some really tough shit in your life and fought some pretty tough battles. This is just another battle."
Steve nodded wearily.
"Will you go, if I set up an appointment for you?"
"Look, I don't wanna tell you what to do. But... Steve. This isn't just about losing Bucky, you know that, right? I mean... I've known you for a while, and you're... you've gone through a lot, but... I've never known you to be happy. One of the first conversations we ever had, I asked you what made you happy and you couldn't give me an answer."
Steve looked down into his cup of hot chocolate. Damn it. Damn it, he was going to cry again and he'd had enough of that. He took a deep breath and held it.
"Natasha thinks you were on your way to getting better. Adapting. Getting over Bucky's death. Now that's all been thrown outta whack and you aren't dealing with it so hot. Please. Just go."
Steve nodded wearily.
Steve took a sip of his chocolate, steadying himself. "It's probably better than going out to a bar."
"Hey, whatever helps." Steve frowned and Sam gazed at him earnestly. "You didn't do anything wrong, Steve. You know that, right?"
Steve shook his head. "I always hated when Bucky did that - went out with all those girls. It wasn't just being jealous; I wanted him to find a girl he could fall in love with, not girls he'd just use." He sighed. "And now I've done the same thing." Abruptly he wondered if Bucky had ever felt the way he had this morning, after a night with a girl he barely knew, and felt a surge of regret at having pushed him into it, so many times. He wiped his eyes impatiently. Damn it. This was getting annoying.
"Whoever you were with last night knew what he was getting into," Sam pointed out. "And I'm betting he got exactly what he was hoping for - and a lot more." He smiled at Steve. "You're not exactly hard on the eyes."
Steve shook his head. "It still wasn't right."
"You're not gonna get any judgment from me," Sam insisted. "Though it won't be pretty if the press ever gets wind of it. Like I said, whatever works." He ran a hand over his head. "I do feel like a bit of an idiot, though. I mean, I thought it was too soon..." Steve gave him a puzzled glance and Sam waved his hand dismissively. "Nothing, nothing - just, I know this guy, I thought you might hit it off, but I figured, you know, in six months or so if you were maybe ready for dating..."
"I'm not," said Steve. "This wasn't dating, it was fucking."
Sam winced. "Yeah, suppose so. Besides, I didn't know if - I dunno your stance on dating a brother, so that was part of it..."
"A black guy." Steve's eyebrows went up and Sam put out his hand again. "Hey, I'm not judging, just trying to be culturally sensitive, man. You were raised in the 30s-"
"Yeah and I also had one of the only integrated units in the War, Sam," said Steve, annoyed. Sam didn't usually pull the "you must be old-fashioned" card with him, but feeling as raw as he felt right now...
"I know that," said Sam patiently. "I'm not accusing you of anything. Attraction's a funny thing, though. Some people only like blonds, some people only like people with big noses, whatever. You should hear my sister talk about white guys who do date black girls and are racist assholes anyway. No shame if you're just not interested, man-"
"Sam," Steve snapped. "Race isn't a problem. The first guy in this century I ever went up to talk to was you, remember?"
"Yeah, but that was just-" and then Sam's eyes widened slightly and Steve wanted to bite back what he'd just said. Shit. Shit and damn and good job, Rogers, now Sam was going to feel like Steve was staring at his ass every time they were in the same room, and he remembered the crawling discomfort of being around the Commandos when they'd found out about him and Bucky, being so damn careful to not say or do anything that would make one of them think the wrong thing, never mind that he'd never been the least bit attracted to any of them - and he hadn't thought of Sam in that way for ages-
"Wait hold on, hold on," Sam said slowly. "You mean... that day, when you came up to me after we were running, that was... what, flirting?" Steve could feel a flush starting up his neck and he opened his mouth to backtrack, but stopped as Sam gave him a slap on the back and grinned at him. "Damn, son!" he laughed. "OK, I'm sorry, hang on, hang on-" he waved a hand at Steve and took a breath. "You're gonna have to gimme a minute, dude. Captain America thought I was hot. My inner fanboy just about exploded." He laughed again.
"God damn." Sam shook his head, incredulous. "And I asked you to come to the VA to help me impress the girl at the desk. I got half a mind to ask you to do it again so I can say, Girl, Captain America wanted some of this. What's wrong with you that you don't?"
Steve found himself chuckling, completely unexpectedly. "You don't mind?"
"Mind? Shit, son. I'm flattered as hell." Sam grinned at him and then took a deep breath, trying to school his face back to seriousness, but his eyes were still bright with amusement. "Sorry, man. Totally inappropriate. Let's just pretend I never said any of that, OK? You didn't come here so I could fanboy all over you like a twelve-year-old girl squealing You like me, you really like me." He chuckled again and composed himself. "All right. So, not ready to date yet, but if you ever are, I'll keep Lee in mind."
"No, no don't," said Steve automatically. "I can't - I don't want to-"
"Not now, obviously. Dude, that's natural. You're getting over one of the most screwed up relationships the world has ever seen, courtesy of 1940's homophobia and HYDRA mindfucks. You're not ready for anything. I'm just saying, you know. Possibilities. For the future."
"Fine." And as if he needed any more proof that this century was an alternate reality to his own, here he'd admitted to having been attracted to Sam - and rather than making things awkward it had actually markedly improved the mood.
"OK. Come on, man," said Sam. "Let's finish making that breakfast."
"I can - I can go home-"
"I'd really rather you didn't," said Sam, his tone turning serious again. "Have you slept at all since last night?"
Steve shook his head.
"If you don't mind, I'd really prefer it if you had breakfast, maybe slept for a while, before going home."
"I don't need-"
"Please? Do me a favor?" Sam gave him an apologetic smile. "Look, you can take the boy out of the VA but you can't take the VA out of the boy. I'm asking as a counsellor who's gonna worry all day if you go home right now. I know, it's stupid, I did a suicide assessment and I know you're not-"
"You did a what?"
Sam spread his hands. "Look, I'm not trying to be your shrink, I swear - it just comes automatically, I just asked a couple questions. Sorry."
"I know you're not gonna do anything dumb if you go home, just... indulge me, OK?"
Steve nodded again.
"OK. Let's go finish making those omelets and then you get some sleep. And I'll call Alan."
Steve bit his lip, then nodded, getting up and heading back to the stove.
Sam hesitated, then put a hand on Steve's shoulder, stopping him and meeting his eyes seriously. "Steve. Seriously, thanks for coming here."
"I didn't mean to-"
"I'm really, really glad you did. 'Cause the stiff upper lip crap you pull all the time? Not cool, man. Doesn't do shit for you, and it's hell on the people who care about you." He clapped Steve on the shoulder. "Come on, dude. Let's get you some breakfast."
Author's Reminder: So, uh, pretty depressing but if you've read EWIHN (and if you read this one before that one, don't say I didn't warn you) you may remember that this is pretty much the nadir of the whole thing. Remember, it gets better. Not perfect, but a hell of a lot better than this.