There was music playing to his right, and beyond the music a shushing static sound that seemed to come from every direction. Beyond the static, he could hear nothing.
Steve kept his eyes closed and his breathing shallow and even. The music was classical, sharp and clear. It must be a digital player, not a slave barracks radio from the forties. He breathed in the smell of antiseptics and clean floors and recycled air, a hint of blood and soap off his own body--not the least trace of piss, and no sweat stink. No smell of plywood and plaster and fresh paint, as if the space around him had been freshly built to deceive him.
He was propped up at a comfortable angle. There was some kind of loose garment covering him as well as a blanket; it seemed safe enough to move a little, twitching his muscles to feel things out. His feet were warm. There was something thin and soft--cloth, maybe paper towel--laid across his belly, tucked right up against the rings of his infib. He would wet it if he pissed, but it felt dry against his skin, and his dick and balls felt clean too.
He had to piss, but not urgently, and he was hungry, but not starving.
His eyes opened as he registered how startling it was not to be starving anymore, and the mass of white in his peripheral vision made him turn his head. His left arm was bandaged and immobilized in a strange lightweight brace, an airy plastic latticework covering him from armpit to elbow. It was visibly anchored to the bedrail, keeping him from moving his arm, but the position wasn't uncomfortable. He flexed his fingers; they moved, but he could barely feel them.
He raised his right hand--not restrained at all, though there was an IV taped in at the crook of his elbow. The tube led up to a nearly-depleted bag of clear liquid. Moving his arm made the needle shift uncomfortably, but otherwise it felt fine. He could make a fist without difficulty; his fingers faithfully reported the soft cotton weave of the blanket covering his body, the cool smoothness of the bedrail on that side. There was a plastic box attached to the rail with a button on it, glowing green and unnecessarily illuminating a line drawing of a bell emitting soundwaves.
He hesitated with his hand beside it, looking around again. He was in what looked like a hospital room, small and private with a single bed. There was an armchair to his left, thinly padded in easily-cleaned blue vinyl. The walls were pale yellow, the floor tiled in gray and white. There were no windows except a narrow reinforced one in the door; another door, half open, led into a bathroom, and the other closed door was probably a closet. The music player was on a cart to the right, beside a stack of paper towels and a couple of squeeze bottles. On shelves below that there were plastic bins holding various medical supplies--gauze, tape, gloves.
None of it looked threatening.
He'd never seen any of it before, which made it automatically dangerous. He felt clearheaded, no trace of a hangover, but that meant nothing. He felt dread and danger, but that also meant nothing.
His mind caught, finally, on the memory of Coulson kneeling in front of him, fastening thin strips around his legs. He had put on a tuxedo. The straps had turned out to be remote-controlled restraints.
Both his fists clenched without thought, the left weakly. Stark had drugged him. Called him Grant like he had the right.
Tony Stark had walked him out of the site of what should have been his execution. Here he was, alive, clean, even fed after a fashion, and...
Steve looked over at his left arm again. They'd done something to it, obviously. Surgery? Was the numbness nerve damage? He'd heard a thousand rumors of what chips did if you tried to cut them out--uncontrollable bleeding, electrocution, poisons released, the chip burning on exposure to air like a magnesium flare...
He flexed his fingers again. They were still attached; they worked, even if he could barely feel them. There was pain in his upper arm where it was braced, but nothing like a burn.
He'd been under a death sentence, and now here he was. Alive, but it was obvious his chip had been tampered with. He was completely in Stark's possession, and now not even the people who'd kept him under a suspended death sentence for the last few years knew he was alive. How long was Stark going to draw this out? Long enough for Steve to escape?
Long enough to kill Stark on the way out? The certainty of that plan boiled up from his hazy memory of the night before--Stark had been talking on the phone, he thought. He didn't remember what about, but he remembered being absolutely determined to kill Stark for it. It would only be justice, wouldn't it? All the slaves Stark had made disappear as if they'd never been, to say nothing of whatever he was about to do to Steve.
What was a slave owner but the biggest bully on the block? And Stark was the biggest slave owner in New York, with the swagger to match.
There was no sign of Stark in this quiet hospital room, though. They were evidently in no hurry to start in on whatever they meant to do with Steve.
He waited a little longer, looking back and forth. He squirmed in the bed, which was the limit of his range of movement with one arm immobilized. No one--certainly no female slave in an inaccurate attempt at an Army Auxiliary uniform--came in to tell him what they wanted him to believe about why he was here.
"Fine," he said aloud, and realized that his mouth wasn't painfully dry. "I'll bite."
He pressed the green button.
Nothing happened for long enough that he got irritated by being made to wait for whatever lies, threats, or manipulations were coming. Did they mean to leave him stewing here? Make him beg or scream before anyone would come in?
He squirmed in the bed a little more. Regardless of what they meant to say or do to him when they finally came in, the need to pee was edging past his ability to ignore. Flat on his back with only one hand free, he wasn't going to have any choice but to make a mess if they left him there long enough. He'd think it served Stark right, but no doubt it would be some slave doing the laundry and mopping the floor.
Steve was flexing the fingers of his left hand and trying to decide whether to risk figuring out how to unfasten the restraints himself when the door opened.
The woman who stepped through--a petite Korean woman in a lab coat--looked dimly familiar, an impression that got stronger when she spoke. "Hello, I'm Dr. Helen Cho. I operated on you last night--I'm afraid you were already pretty strongly sedated by the time we met. Do you remember that at all?"
He remembered the getting-sedated part, the metallic taste of water from the flask Stark had given him. Forced on him. It belatedly occurred to him that, other than the arm that had just been operated on, he wasn't restrained at all, not like he had been the night before.
He thought he remembered Dr. Cho standing over him, but the memory wouldn't stay. It morphed into a half-remembered dream of Tony Stark--or was it Howard?--one dark-haired man who was both of them, somehow, standing at the foot of his bed.
How could you? Steve had asked, feeling foolishly, miserably betrayed. How could you?
Howard had pulled him out of the lab he'd been locked up in after Erskine died, when no one knew what to do with a prototype super soldier with no army to be made on his model. Howard had made the marks of slavery stick on his new and improved body, for whatever shield they might be if he were captured in combat. Howard had made him his actual shield, as well as what he'd cheerfully called the little shield, which would've been even more useful right about now.
He had thought sometimes that Howard was his friend--and now Howard--no, Tony, but in Howard's shoes--stood by, watching that damn StarkChip in his arm tick toward his death, sweeping him up in a devil's bargain that would let him cheat that death for something even worse. And what Tony stood and watched was the least of it--there were StarkChips in the arms of thousands, millions, of other slaves, controlling them, terrorizing them, all for profit and that sleek suit, private planes and weekends in Switzerland.
How could you?
Steve snapped back to awareness of the woman beside the bed--Dr. Cho, who had operated on him. Regardless of what they meant to use him for, this woman had saved his life last night.
"Or is there another name you prefer to use?" She prompted gently. "Mr. Coulson made us aware that what information was in your file was inaccurate, though he felt it should be up to you what to divulge to us about your identity."
Steve blinked at her, considering his options. But, hell, if he was going to die under torture, he'd like to have his own name back first. Maybe it would even mean something to Stark, if Howard had ever spoken of him. He hated the thought of being spared whatever tortures Stark had planned as a matter of family favoritism--Stark would only find other test subjects--but he could do more alive than dead. Maybe Stark would be inspired to come and have a look at him in person; that might give Steve a chance.
"Rogers. Steven Grant. Would you like my grade and serial number as well, ma'am?"
Dr. Cho tilted her head slightly, but said, "If I had to guess, your grade must be... X, isn't it? For experimental?"
Steve tilted his head right back, acknowledging the point. She must have known that; that would be the reason they'd acquired him. And they'd known enough to starve him and go to great lengths to sedate and restrain him. They obviously knew something about what he was.
"Which means your serial number must be..." She raised what he'd thought was a clipboard, but now saw was a tablet. "12044, is that correct? Which registry office did you surrender to?"
"12044's just the file number," Steve corrected her, with a lightheaded surreal feeling from talking about it so matter of factly after keeping quiet for so long. "My full serial number in Army records was 12044-BR-SGR. Brooklyn registry."
She nodded. "That explains the next thing I was going to ask you about--I expect you'll want to relieve yourself, and unfortunately we need to keep your arm immobilized. We weren't able to fit a catheter, and even a bedpan is a challenge given the style of your infibulation. Is there a way we can make this easier for you? Would you prefer a male orderly to assist if you need an extra pair of hands?"
Steve wasn't sure what his being from Brooklyn had to do with his infib--nobody else from Brooklyn had one like his, as far as he'd ever seen--but he couldn't spare a thought for that oddity, given everything else she'd said. He had to focus on not blushing, because there was a part of him that was still categorizing her as a lady and a doctor, and not his captor.
And she was asking him how he wanted to piss, which was definitely not the tack he'd expected this to take. Honestly, now that she'd said it, he didn't know why they hadn't just forced a catheter in. They couldn't care that much for whether he bled into it, even if they didn't know how quickly he'd heal.
"I, uh." Steve struggled to think of what to ask for. When was the last time he'd been in a position to ask for anything and imagine he'd get it, rather than having to sneak or steal or suffer in silence? He was all out of practice.
Even Howard had never made him ask; Howard just presented him with things, like--
"I can manage a bedpan if someone'll hold it for me," Steve said. "It'd be easier if I could have a piece of tin foil."
Her eyebrows lifted, and he added hastily, even as he hated himself for the cringing impulse, "I can do without it, I just--"
"No, it's fine," she said quickly. "I was just thinking of where to find a roll of foil. Is it all right if I assist, or should I get an orderly for you?"
Steve refused to bite his lip or squirm where she could see, but the urgency was much worse now that he was being offered relief, and he could feel his face getting hotter. "Whatever's quickest, ma'am. Please."
She nodded. "I'll be right back."
And just like that she was gone.
When the door opened he caught a faint burst of sound from the hallway, but when she closed it behind her he had nothing but music and the shushing white noise behind it. They must be deliberately blocking him from hearing anything else from nearby rooms. He stared at the ceiling and wondered what screams and cries were being drowned out and why they were being so careful to isolate him.
Then Dr. Cho reappeared with an entire roll of aluminum foil in hand, and he couldn't really think of anything but the sharp, desperate pain in his bladder.
Dr. Cho tore off a generous square of foil and handed it to him, turning away to the cart with the music player and its boxes of supplies. Steve set the foil on his thigh and doubled it over, then folded a lip at the top for his fingers to fit into, curving it to his hand as best he could while avoiding making grooves between his fingers.
When Dr. Cho turned back, she had the bedpan in one gloved hand. It was shaped and rimmed like a toilet seat, made of smooth hard plastic. She glanced at the foil he'd fitted over his hand and nodded, setting the bedpan down beside his foot.
"I'm going to uncover you now," she said, moving slowly as she brought her hands up toward the blanket tucked over his chest. "Okay?"
Steve nodded, lifting his right hand out of the way and steeling himself for humiliation. Her motions were brisk and matter of fact as she folded the blanket down, revealing the hospital gown that covered him to his knees. It had a very orderly pattern of blue dots in a diamond grid.
"I'm going to raise your gown," Dr. Cho informed him, but she didn't actually do it. "Can you do this while you're on your back, or do you need to turn?"
"Back's fine," Steve said, his voice coming out tight with desperation, his cheeks hot.
Dr. Cho gave the appearance of not noticing any of that. She folded his gown up neatly, revealing his cock and the shiny rings of his infib. Two silvery rings were set into the head of his cock, plus one at either side just past the glans, and each one had its other side set into his abdomen. The rings held his cock folded back against his body, the head pressed just above his pubic bone.
It meant that the only direction he could piss was straight up, but he hadn't minded giving up the pivot a single ring allowed for the likelihood that he would never again feel a single ring tear through the head of his cock when his new body proved to be too strong to be stopped by one point of contact. Howard had been kind of green around the gills designing this setup and checking up on it after, but he'd known as well as Steve did that the infib was necessary.
"All right," Dr. Cho said. "I'm guessing I should hold it about here?"
She held the bedpan upright straight ahead, giving him an easy angle of reflection and a short distance to cross. Steve smiled slightly, pleased that he didn't have to explain how it worked, and she smiled back.
"Fire at will, Rogers."
Steve snorted and tucked his foil-covered hand behind the head of his cock, taking a deep breath for control. "Yes, ma'am."
He let rip with the practiced hard stream, and he only had to adjust the curve of his hand a little to get a clean bounce into the bedpan. He sighed in relief, letting his eyes go half-shut as he pissed steadily, keeping an eye on the bedpan in case it held less than it looked like it should behind that rim. He could actually see the liquid by the time his bladder was close to empty, but it wasn't in danger of overflowing before he was in danger of not being able to keep up adequate pressure. He pushed out one last hard burst and then stopped neatly, twisting his hand around in an accustomed motion to catch the inevitable last drips.
"All right." Dr. Cho set the bedpan aside and then took the foil from him, deftly tilting it to keep the drops cradled in it before she dropped it into the bedpan. She offered him a damp towelette, and Steve wiped off his dick, checking for drips and not finding any.
It was only now that he realized that his belly was covered with a thin paper towel--not unlike a dry version of the wipe--with odd thickened patches at the edge near his cock.
"Those are moisture sensors," Dr. Cho said. "So we knew when to come clean you up while you were sedated, since we couldn't find any more sanitary way to deal with it."
Leaving him in a puddle of his own piss until someone happened to check on him wasn't an option, apparently. He felt an uneasy curl of suspicion.
What if it wasn't torture? What if Stark had some other use for him, and wanted to win his cooperation? Steve hadn't been willing to dance to the Army's tune while they kept him enslaved, no matter how often they came around to ask and threaten and bargain. He had taken his chance to run when Coulson--who wasn't even proper military, Steve knew that much--had started making noises about finding more interesting work for him to do. He wasn't going to do it for Stark, either.
He wouldn't make any deals. He wouldn't agree to any quid pro quo. He'd accept humane treatment--that was his goddamned right--but not special favors. He couldn't control what special treatment Stark inflicted on him any more than he could have told Howard to quit supplying him with special gear, but he wasn't going to be bought.
And if Tony Stark thought Steve was going to be any more compliant for him than he'd been for the Army, or the string of affiliated owners he'd been shipped around to for the last four years...
Well, he'd find out what Steve was made of, and Steve would use any chance he could get to make Stark pay for everything he'd done.
Dr. Cho had covered him up again while he was second-guessing her motives. She carried the bedpan to the bathroom to empty it and wash her hands, and when she returned she said, "Okay, next most urgent need?"
Steve glanced at his left arm, twitching his numb, weak fingers. He braced himself against the urge to fight the restraint, to move, and touched his stomach with his right hand instead.
"I could eat," he offered tentatively. He didn't know how long he'd been starved, but he knew somebody owed him at least a couple dozen square meals.
Dr. Cho nodded. "Could and should. I'm afraid it's not going to be much just yet--your stomach will need to readjust to solids, and we have to manage your intake until we know your body isn't going to overreact. You can get very sick if you eat too much when you've been starved."
Steve pressed his lips together and didn't point out to her that he'd gone hungry before, and he knew full well that it'd be a waste of a meal if he tried to eat one now. He'd just puke it up like that deluxe meatloaf dinner from Horn & Hardart that he'd fantasized about through an entire week on gruel rations for back talk.
That had wound up all over Bucky's shoes. Bucky hadn't even ragged him about it, though he'd suggested the chicken soup about a hundred times while they were walking to the automat.
Good work making it to the gutter, pal. You sit, I'm gonna get you some tea.
He closed his eyes, wanting Bucky so badly that it was a pain in the center of his chest. For the space of a couple of labored breaths he couldn't think of anything but missing him. He'd thought he would be with Bucky again by now, and instead--
"Orange, strawberry, or grape?"
He opened his eyes, blinking quickly, to discover that Dr. Cho had opened a small cooler and was holding up three wrapped popsicles.
His mouth watered painfully. "Strawberry."
That didn't count as asking for special treatment, did it? She meant to give him one of them anyway. He wondered whether he should ask for grape instead and suffer through the nasty artificialpurple flavor as a reminder that he didn't owe them anything.
But Dr. Cho had already dropped two of them back into the cooler and ripped open the wrapper of the third. Steve could smell it--sweet but not cloying, and something like actual strawberries, instead of just cheap artificial red flavoring. Owners' food, not a slave's.
Steve took the popsicle before he could think too much more about it, biting off the end and gingerly chewing the frozen mouthful. It really did taste like strawberries.
"I didn't exactly get to perform a proper medical history last night," Dr. Cho said.
Steve realized he had closed his eyes to savor the sweet-tart summer taste of strawberries melting on his tongue. He looked and found that Dr. Cho was now sitting in the armchair by the bed, her tablet propped on one knee. Her gaze was directed down at it as she tapped on it.
"Do you have any allergies to food or medication?"
Steve swallowed. "No, ma'am."
Dr. Cho nodded. "From what I observed, Mr. Coulson's description of your resistance to sedatives was accurate. Can you tell me anything about that? Is anything markedly more or less effective?"
Steve twitched the fingers of his left hand and kept his expression neutral. He couldn't laugh, couldn't snarl that he wasn't going to do her job for her. "Seemed like whatever you gave me did the job. Other than that, all I really know is I can't get drunk and a standard dose of morphine makes me sort of distracted and dizzy for about three minutes."
"Hm." Steve had the distinct impression that she'd taken that as a challenge, even though he'd sounded as polite as he knew how. She'd probably been the one to brew up his drink last night--why was he thinking it would have been Stark?
Something more your speed. Howard had told him that, promising to help him get drunk after Bucky died.
Steve took another bite of his popsicle and didn't think about Bucky, or Howard.
"You didn't have a scar on your arm from your original chip implantation," Dr. Cho said. "How old were you when you were first enslaved?"
"Sixteen. I, uh..." She knew he was Grade X, but she hadn't mentioned Erskine, or the serum. Had Coulson? How much did she know? "I did a lot of my growing after that."
"You would have," Dr. Cho agreed, her gaze coming up to touch briefly on his head and toes. She smiled a little when she met his eyes, and despite knowing better he couldn't suspect her of looking at him like a toy or a piece of meat. She was looking at him, actually at him. "Even without any interventions, it's normal for men to continue growing into their early twenties. But you went beyond normal, didn't you?"
Steve nodded. That would be obvious to her.
"How old are you?"
"I'll be thirty in July." No hesitation, no calculation. He'd worked out the safest answer a long time ago.
Dr. Cho nodded. "But you were born a long time before 1985, weren't you?"
Steve went still.
"Coulson didn't tell me that," she added. "But you should probably know before you speak to anyone else that military slaves haven't been assigned grades instead of ranks since sometime in the early 1950s, and the practice of infibulating slaves other than those convicted of a very limited range of violent sexual offenses was ruled unconstitutional in 1968. Furthermore, Howard Stark died in 1991, but when you said his name while partially sedated it sounded like you knew him pretty well. I'm betting you were more than six years old when he died."
Steve dropped his gaze to his hand, still holding the popsicle. He took another bite; it still tasted like summer on his tongue, despite everything.
"What I'm wondering is whether you age very slowly, or whether something caused you to effectively stop aging for quite a long time," Dr. Cho went on. "Given that I don't think you knew to claim a rank instead of a grade, I think you weren't in the military anymore by the fifties, and you also haven't had much access to information since then. I think, given your escapist tendencies and your obvious physical strengths, you would have either gotten away or gotten yourself killed before now if you'd been trying for the last sixty or seventy years continuously."
Steve closed his eyes. What did it matter, really? What did anything matter? They had him. No one knew he was alive except Stark's people. He was going to disappear like all the rest or die fighting his way out. What did it matter what he said?
"I was missing, presumed dead." He opened his eyes and met Dr. Cho's gaze defiantly. "From 1945 until four years ago. I crashed a plane into the North Atlantic. I was under the ice for the better part of seventy years, and when they thawed me out--"
Dr. Cho's eyes widened, the first loss of composure he'd glimpsed on her. She controlled her expression in the next second, looking down, her body stiff.
Steve looked at his arm again, looked back to her. "Doc?"
"I had meant to wait until you were in a position to understand that I was being sincere," Dr. Cho said, dragging her gaze up to Steve's, tilting her chin up. Steve was abruptly aware that he was looking down at her, propped on the high hospital bed while she sat in the visitor's chair.
"Unfortunately, it looks like the time is now. Mr. Rogers, I can't offer you any meaningful recourse, but I have to offer you my deepest apologies for the unethical nature of the medical treatment I and my team administered last night."
Steve blinked. Was she getting cold feet about saving his life just for Stark to torture him? Would she be inclined to help him?
"Your case was extremely urgent, medically speaking, by the time you were delivered into my care last night," she said quietly. "But I participated in the strategic decision that prioritized adequate sedation over keeping you clear-headed until you were able to have the procedure explained to you. Well, and Tony and Coulson both agreed that you weren't likely to cooperate with being removed into Tony's custody if you weren't encouraged to be docile--"
Steve snorted, and Dr. Cho's gaze on him sharpened for a moment, her lips twitching toward a smile.
"Still," she said, forging ahead again seriously. "Still. The fact is, I decided on a course of treatment for you without your consent, without even attempting to inform you of what was going to happen, which means I had no idea how this would sound to you when I explained it afterward."
Steve looked down at his arm. "You... you did something to my chip."
"We convinced your chip that you had died," Dr. Cho corrected. "In the medically safest way available, to prevent it from activating an execution order."
Steve's whole body tensed--Dr. Cho's eyes flicked up past his head to where there had to be a monitor readout--and for a second the nightmare closed in around him. The shattering pain of the impact that still somehow hadn't killed him, the drugging cold, the water lapping higher. His hands closed into fists, with nothing to hold on to.
At least he'd had his damn shield in his hands, last time.
"You froze me."
Dr. Cho nodded slightly, her eyes on him still wide and concerned. "Immersion in very cold water is used in some cases to bring a patient to a state very close to death while preserving--well. I'm sure you're aware."
Steve huffed out a little breath and stared up at the ceiling, reaching over for the first time to touch the bracing around his left arm with his right hand. "Yeah. I'm aware."
There was a little silence, and Steve struggled to grasp what she'd said beyond the nightmare images she'd called up. She was sorry for that, somehow--for bringing Steve's worst nightmare into this cheery yellow hospital room. Not for anything that was going to happen next, not for anything that made any difference to how she'd done her job. For this, for the way Steve was struggling to keep his breathing even.
That didn't make any sense, so he latched on to something else.
"Execution order?" Steve tried. "The chip would've..."
"In very rare cases, on government orders, slaves are implanted with specialized chips which can actually carry out an ordered execution remotely. Coulson thought yours was one of those, but we didn't know for sure until we opened up your arm and got a look at it; we had to proceed on the assumption that you were in immediate, critical danger."
Steve hooked his fingers into the bracing surrounding his arm and didn't let himself wonder what they'd replaced the original chip with. He was in Stark's own home base; they had to have chips available here that did things Stark hadn't even peddled to the government yet. "Was it... How? How would a chip..."
"It was that kind of chip, yes," Dr. Cho said. "It was primed. By the time we had it out of your arm we had about six hours to spare before it would have activated. Those chips use small electrical impulses to cause a heart arrhythmia, severe enough to be either fatal or disabling."
Steve laughed and found he couldn't breathe, a familiar ache clutching his chest. He didn't stop laughing, either, the sound coming out hoarse and reedy between his gasping breaths.
He was aware, distantly, of two hands prying his right hand loose from whatever it was clutching at, rubbing painfully hard over his fingers. And a voice, faraway, saying his name, telling him to breathe.
Something icy cold and wet pressed over his mouth and he jerked away from it with a gasp before he noticed the smell of strawberries; he licked his lips and tasted the sharp sweet flavor. He finally looked at Dr. Cho, holding the melted remnant of a popsicle like a weapon between them.
He dragged in a breath. He forced a smile while his lungs heaved like he'd just come up for air.
Dr. Cho smiled back slightly and held the popsicle a little closer. Steve took it from her to eat the last tart, sticky bites.
When he gave her the stick and wrapper, she offered him a wipe, and he cleaned his face and hand before he said, hoarse but no longer hyperventilating, "Heart arrhythmia almost killed me a few times when I was a kid. Just--funny to think it could've got me now, after..." Steve waved vaguely at his body, the room, the future he'd never imagined for himself, "after everything."
Dr. Cho's smile shrunk down, but she quietly poured him a glass of water, put a lid on it and stuck a straw in. Steve took a couple of sips and let his hand sink, the cup resting by his hip as his head tipped back against the pillow. Every breath felt like it pushed against a weight on his chest. The last of his adrenaline from waking up in a strange place and confronting a strange person while he was at such a disadvantage was deserting him, and he felt the weakness of his uncounted days of starvation settling in.
Which raised another question. He thought, after all of this, he might get an honest answer to it. Any answer, true or not, would be something to work with.
"Doc?" He had to open his eyes to look at her, and was surprised to find her on her feet, tablet held defensively to her chest.
Still, she gave him an attentive look, silently inviting his question.
"What day is it?"
Her eyes widened slightly, and she actually glanced down at her tablet. "It's 8:13 AM on the 24th of June, 2015. It's been five weeks--thirty-eight days--since Phil Coulson's car accident."
"Oh." Thirty-eight days since he was condemned to death for the results of his last escape attempt. Thirty-eight days spent in windowless rooms. He... really hadn't thought it was that many. He'd lost track pretty badly there.
He felt something about it for a second, scared or angry or just lost again, but he was too tired for it to last. His eyes were already closing again. "Thanks, Doc."
"No problem, Mr. Rogers. Get some rest, and press the call button if you need anything."
He tightened his grip on the cup of water, meaning to raise it to show he had everything he needed. He just had to close his eyes for a moment to gather his strength.