The incessant squall of the alarm dragged Steve out of a deep, peaceful sleep. Unwilling to let go just yet, he kept his eyes closed and stretched his arms over his head.
“Get that alarm, will you Buck?” But when the alarm continue to blare, Steve cracked his eyes open. “Buck?” The bed, he found, was empty. “Bucky?” Sitting up, Steve felt a dizzying sort of dread wash over him. Not only was Bucky not there, Steve was not in their bedroom. Before he let panic set in, he began to take stock of the situation. White pyjama-like scrubs: a shirt and pants, white sheets, four white walls, and a white chest of drawers with an alarm clock blaring 6:03 at him and blood red numbers.
Steve crossed the room in two quick strides and slammed his fist down on the clock to stop its alarm. The resounding silence left behind was deafening. Predictably, the door to the small room was locked. To Steve’s surprise, however, it did not give way, even when he applied his shoulder. Must’ve been reinforced. Steve searched the dresser next, but all he found was more white scrubs.
No sign of his shield.
At 6:15, another alarm buzzed—shorter, this time—and the door opened. With nothing to arm himself and no other options, Steve stepped out into the hall. He found himself in a sort of common area like a dormitory. There were two other doors, neither of which would open, and one that led to a bathroom (sink, toilet, no shower, not even a bar of soap). Nothing he could use as weapon. There was no door to the common room, just a doorway that led to a hallway down which Steve could see was lined with doorways like his. Above each door was a copper faceplate with a number. His was 626. Other people dressed in white scrubs one were meandering out of their dorms. Steve followed them down the hall. They looked normal enough, not zombified, but they gave him strange looks when he tried to ask where they were or where they were going.
“You must be new,“ said a girl with long dark hair.
“I’m looking for a man named Bucky.“
“That’s a weird name.“
“James Buchanan Barnes. He goes by Bucky.“
“Well, with a name like that, I would, too. I‘m Red.“
“So is that who put you in here? Bucky? My mom committed me after I tried to kill myself the second time. Turns out you have to mix the pills to get better results.“
Steve nodded and filed that information away for future use. The only way he was going to get out of here was if he could find a way through.
He and Red lined up along with the others. As Steve’s shuffled to the front of the line, he was met with an unexpected surprise. “Sam!” he exclaimed the man holding a clipboard and handing out pills.
Sam scanned the barcode on Steve’s wrist and handed him a cup containing three pills. “Rogers, Stephen Grant.”
Steve frowned into the cup. “Sam, it’s me.”
“Take your pills, Rogers.”
“Sam,” Steve tried again, but the other man reached for the radio on his hip.
“Wilson the base. I’ve got a twenty-two forty-nine.”
“Sam, it’s me, Steve,” he continued, even as Thor—or at least Thor dressed in blue scrubs—appeared out of nowhere.
Steve switched tactics. The line of patients behind him was starting to grumble. “Thor! Thor, buddy, I don’t know what’s going on, but you’ve got to get me out of here.“
The nametag he wore read “Thorisin,“ and the look he gave Steve was withering.
“Oh, I’ll take care of you, Rogers.“ With no work further ceremony, Thor wrenched Steve’s arms behind his back.
“Thor–“ Steve sought out Sam’s eyes again. “Sam?“ A sharp pinch at his neck was all Steve knew before his world went black to the thought of “They shouldn’t be able to…“
When Steve woke up again he realised quickly that he was strapped down. Like the door to his room, the straps must’ve been reinforced because he couldn’t break them, no matter how hard he strained.
“We’ll remove those once you’ve decided to cooperate.”
Steve couldn’t see him, but he knew that voice. And considering the reactions he got from Thor and Sam got him in this predicament, Steve commanded himself to keep his lips sealed.
In a white lab coat, Bruce came slowly into view. “Nothing to say now? Odin said you were pretty mouthy when he dragged you in. Refused to take your pills. You know what happens if you refuse to take your pills.“
Steves mind race with possibilities, but he was too afraid to ask. They stared at each other in silence for a few minutes until Bruce said, “Either you’re learning or you don’t want me to take away your visitation hours. No can I unbuckle the straps or do I need to bring Odin back in here with his syringe? “
Silent, Steve continue to stare at him. With an enigmatic smile, Bruce began with the buckles on Steve’s ankles.
When he could finally sit up, Steve saw that he has been placed in a small room, not unlike an exam room that was bare but for the gurney on which he sat and Bruce’s wheeled doctor’s stool. His nametag, Steve noticed, said Dr. Banner.
“Alright, Steve. Are you ready to chat? “
The pointed look Bruce gave him told Steve it was time to talk. He cleared his throat. “Yes.”
Bruce took a pen light out of his pocket and shined in each of Steve’s eyes. “Why wouldn’t you take your pills this morning? “
Steve scramble for a lie. “I’ve got a headache. I asked Sam for some aspirin, but he wouldn’t give me any. “
Bruce has eyes narrowee. “Mr Wilson didn’t mention that. He said you were calling him by his first name. How did you know his first name was Sam, Steve?“
“I overheard you guys talking,“ Steve replied automatically.
Bruce didn’t look convinced, but he let it slide. “What else is bothering you, Steve? You seem agitated.“
The look on Bruce’s face was so honest, so genuine that Steve wanted to give in.
“My head really hurts.” He hadn’t had a headache in over 70 years, but his childhood in Brooklyn has given him plenty of experience dealing with pain, and more importantly, how to act like he was in pain.
“Okay, let’s swing by Mr Wilson to get your medication and some aspirin before I take you back to your room. “
Keeping a pitiful look on his face, Steve just nodded.
The next morning, Steve stood in the morning pill line behind Red. When it was his turn, Sam eyed him warily. Steve took the paper cup, tossed his pills back, and lifted his tongue so Sam could verify they were gone. Next, he was shuffled off to the mess hall for an on unappetising breakfast of scrambled eggs followed by “rec time.” Most of the residents crowded around the single television turned the daytime soap operas. Steve opted for a seat at the rickety plastic table so he could think and possibly construct a plan. So far, Sam, Bruce, and Thor were not his friends. No one seems to know who Bucky was, and Steve were stuck in a hospital where they thought he was the crazy one. Perfect. Red sat down at the table, jarring Steve out of his thoughts.
“How was your vacation?“
“My what?” His last vacation had been to Wakanda with Bucky.
Red nudged him like they were sharing a secret. “Your visit to see Dr. Banner yesterday. He’s a tough nut to crack, right? “
“Oh.” Steve forced a laugh. “Yeah. Real tough. I’d hate to see him mad.“
Red gave him a look but said he really would hate to see that, and Steve couldn’t agree more.
“Rogers!” The voice of one of the nurses rang out across the rec room. “Let’s go. You have a visitor. “
Red gave him a thumbs up. “Good luck!“
Steve‘s heart pounded as he was led down the hallway and into a glass-walled room that required a key card to get into. Steve spotted his visitor instantly. “Nat,“ he sighed as she pulled him into a hug.
“How are you holding up, big guy?“
“Better now that you’re here.“
They sat down across from one another at a table not unlike the one in the rec room. “Everyone in here thinks I’m crazy, and until you got here, I was trying to think maybe I was. “
Natasha gave him a tight smile. “You know I’m always fighting on your side.”
Steve lead over the table and lowered his voice. “How is Bucky”
Steve wanted to roll his eyes, but he also knew they couldn’t risk the nurse overhearing them. “James Barnes? My better half?“
Natasha‘s expression turned to one of pity—a look he’d never seen on her face before. His stomach fell.
“Steve.” Natasha licked her lips and took Steve’s hand across the table. “Honey, James Barnes died when you guys were 12. There was, uh, an accident. You were playing near the railroad tracks, and James got hit. I know you don’t remember, but what is bringing this up all of a sudden? You hardly ever talk about him. “
“No.“ Steve scrubbed his hands over his face. “No, no, no–“
“Steven,” Natasha hissed, snatching at one of his wrists. “You need to calm down or they will sedate you.“ Nat isn’t Nat, either, and Steve felt his lungs closing. Maybe they should sedate him. “Steve. Steve, look at me.“ It took every ounce of his energy for Steve to drag his gaze back to Natasha‘s face. She took his hands again. “You’re going to get better, get out of here, and we’ll finally be able to get married.“ It was then that Steve noticed the rock on her finger. Oh, God. Slowly, Steve slid his hands out of her grip.
“I think I need to go lie down. My head has been hurting.”
Natasha‘s face pinched in concern, and Steve became certain she wasn’t his. They stood up and Natasha pushed herself against his chest. Automatically, Steve’s arms wrapped around her body, but he was unsettled by the way she snuggled against him.
“I can’t kiss you here, you know, but I’m imagining what it’s like. “
Steve forced another smile. He had to find a way out of here.