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"It can be relieving to imagine PTSD as a fear-based disorder

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"It can be relieving to imagine PTSD as a fear-based disorder. Fear, while painful and limiting, is also generally understood to be manageable through pharmacological therapies and specialized interventions such as exposure therapy. Shame, however, is more complicated. There is no anti-shame pill. There is no way to gradually acclimate yourself to your self-loathing. But despite its more complex nature, there is an antidote to shame: compassion." -Elisabet Kvarnstrom

The motion activated lights clicked off, plunging the room into darkness. Bucky didn't move, didn't even blink. It was black now, in the darkness, but it had been black before, too.

His eyes were open and unseeing, aimed up at the high ceiling. The couch cushions felt wrong, unfamiliar against his back— it wasn't his couch. This one was flat, sad, smelled of commercial-grade cleaners. No throw pillows, no fuzzy blankets. He checked the time; his phone screen was painfully bright, and he quickly clicked it off again.

Only a few more hours until he could call Pepper. It was the middle of the night in Berlin, and the last thing Bucky wanted to do was panic anyone. He didn't want worried phone calls from his friends, or god forbid, an unplanned flight home to check on him— this was going to be hard enough without having to fend off all of that attention and meddling. And waiting gave him time to plan, to think about how the fuck he was going to explain this mess to everyone else.

He didn't want to wait in the gym, but every step he took toward the tenth floor was a battle. That uninvited voice in the back of his mind screamed at him so loudly it was deafening— he didn't deserve comfort, he should've stayed downstairs, sat on the cold floor, got in the shower and drowned. Normally he would agree, normally the voice was right— but this was just residual guilt, leftover from when he had been lying. He did the right thing and told you the truth, so the guilt would fade— those thoughts would go away soon. They had to. He did the right thing. Right?

But there was a new guilt gnawing on him. The TV reporter's words still echoed through his mind, playing over and over again in the silence of the common area. And there was something else there, too, swirling through the list of his atrocities, taking root somewhere deep in his brainstem—

Treason, kidnapping, torture, and murder. Treason, kidnapping, torture, and murder. Treason, sweet, torture, and murder. Victim, kind, torture, and selfless. Why not? Victim, sweet, kind, selfless. Bucky shook his head.

Instead of the ceiling tiles he watched your eyes welling with tears, saw how you stormed out of the bathroom but lost momentum halfway through the gym. Bucky had followed you at a distance, watched you stumble and pause, then continue with unsteady fawn steps into the safety of the elevator. He watched you cover your face, your shoulders curled in as you hit the button for the fourteenth floor. He watched you leave.

The noise of the elevator had been jarring in the silence; the shuddering mechanical sound of finality. That sound played on loop in his head, too— the whirring belts, cables and pulleys, the slight clinking as it took you away. The sound grew louder, threatening to take over all of his thoughts, even drowning out the reporter— it was real, he realized. He was actually hearing it. The machine had started up again, descending in its shaft from where it had rested on the fourteenth floor. He only had to turn his head to see the automatic doors, but they remained closed as the elevator continued past his level, going further down. Bucky closed his eyes, and after only a few moments he heard it again— it climbed back up, continuing past him.

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