Steve puts a hand on the soldiers shoulder. He’s allowed to touch the soldier, because he’s his new handler, he understands. The hand isn’t guiding or firm, he doesn’t understand the point of it, but he says nothing. It isn’t his place to question.
“So, you can have the couch, or I have a room set up too,” he explains, and the soldier focuses on his handler carefully. He cannot miss any instructions. “It’s completely up to you, I didn’t know which you’d prefer, so I set up both.”
The soldier stares, blank. He can’t begin to fathom why where he rests might matter. The couch is small, but it would hold him nonetheless, and he has no guarantee there’s a bed in the room. Maybe this is a test. He has clearer access to windows and doors from the couch, too. “The couch.” He says, looking at his handler, Steve, for a reaction.
Steve smiles, but it looks wrong. “Okay, that’s fine.”
The soldier nods but he doesn’t understand. Has he made the wrong choice? This handler is so different from the others. He isn’t sure what’s the right answer. Surely he’d be punished if he’d made the wrong decision?
“I’m gonna go grab a few more blankets and pillows for you, Okay?”
Steve offers another smile, still wrong. “Uh, bathroom is down the hall on the left, Incase you forgot, and feel free to look around while I’m grabbing the stuff,” Steve says and the soldier is confused.
Incase he forgot? Has he been here before? He doesn’t remember, but that doesn’t mean anything. He nods anyways. He has to pee, he has since before they even got in the van for the torturously long ride, but he isn’t sure if that was permission or not. He’s also hungry, but neither of these things are particularly urgent, they will not affect the soldier, so he says nothing.
His handler leaves then, when the soldier stupidly, doesn’t respond.
He stays where he was left, standing with his feet planted firmly in the carpet and his hands at his sides. He won’t move, he won’t do anything without an order. He’s determined to be good. He hasn’t been here long enough to be malfunctioning already. He will behave.
His handler returns after only minutes, and The soldier isn’t even stiff. He’s silently grateful he wasn’t made to wait for hours, like he has before. His joints get stuck and they ache. The look on Steve’s face falters when he looks at the soldier, though he thought he’d complied.
“Are you thirsty?” Steve asks, clearing his throat finally as he starts to stack the blankets by the couch. “Hungry?”
“I am hungry.”
Steve looks at him and smiles, which looks less wrong, this time. “Yeah? Let’s get you something to eat then, huh?” Steve asks and the soldier nods.
Steve makes real food, with cheese and oil that smells hot and amazing in a pan. It isn’t for Steve, in the end, it is for the soldier. He doesn’t understand that, because the soldier eats a grey paste, not this, but he eats it anyways, but he gags down every bite. It feels wrong and too full in his stomach. Too greasy, too much, too much-
“Still hungry? I can make more.”
“Okay, um, do you wanna rest...?” Steve asks. The soldier doesn’t understand why Steve cares, frankly. His other handler never asked his preference in things. This must be a test.
“I have not slept in 34 hours,” the soldier offers, because he isn’t sure what the proper answer to the question is. His superiors usually put him to sleep or tell him when he can rest.
“What?” Steve says, eyes wide. “Didn’t you sleep on the plane ride— or, or in the van on the way here?”
Steve stills, but he isn’t stiff, he doesn’t look angry or tensed up, he sags instead. He looks deflated. “Buck, you don’t have to call me that.”
“What would you prefer?”
“What? Steve— I’m Steve.”
The soldier knows that, but he had thought the name was too informal. He was wrong. He was already making mistakes. He was flawed. They needed to wipe him and reprogram him. That was fine. He would be good.
The next time he will know the answers to his handlers— Steves questions. Next time he won’t be-
Steve gently touches the soldiers face. It’s soft and strange. He doesn’t understand its purpose. “Hey, you in there?”
“Yes.” Where else would he be?
“The winter soldier,” it offers.
Steve sighs and presses his forehead against the soldiers chest. He breathes out heavily, like he’s been holding it all in for so long, and then he nods, pulling back to face the soldier again. “Okay, it’s okay, Buck.”