Hazy sensations dominate Steve's recovery after the failure of Project Insight.
In his first flash of consciousness, he registers touch. Someone's gripping him by the straps of his bloody, torn uniform, dragging him out of the wet, cold water and dropping him face-up onto the soft, damp ground. Steve's head is pounding and his sinuses are full of pressure, and his gut and shoulder throb with hot, persistent pain. It hurts to even move his eyes—especially his swollen right eye—beneath his eyelids. Still, he knows there's only one person with both the strength and will to pull him out.
Steve doesn't get the chance to utter the name before the world slips away again.
The second thing Steve registers is taste—and it's not a pleasant one.
Brackish water coats the inside of his tongue and his throat. If he focuses, he can distinguish additional flavors: ashes, blood, gasoline. He wonders vaguely if he's swallowed so much that it's now in his stomach. Maybe even in his blood, because—he has holes in his body, from the bullets, because Bucky shot him.
He still can't see. Can't hear anything, either, except for his own sluggish heartbeat.
Steve tries to inhale. He only succeeds in retching. Then there's a warm hand on his skull, gently turning his head so he can safely vomit into a—plastic pan? The pan disappears, and his head is turned back to its original position. A strong, warm arm slips underneath his—bare?—shoulders and presses a plastic straw against his lips. Steve sucks on it instinctively, and cold, clean water flows onto his tongue, trickling down his throat in a steady stream.
Steve sighs as the arm supporting him slowly dislodges from its position so that Steve is lying back down.
Bucky? Steve tries to mutter—but he thinks that's not right. It's someone else—
The thought drifts away into nothingness as he slips back into the darkness.
The sharp smell of iodine jolts Steve into wakefulness.
For a wild moment, he thinks he's back in the war—his war. He thinks Morita—but no, he's lying on a bed, which means he's not in the field, he's in some sort of hospital. He wonders what injuries he sustained this time. Morita's field medicine is of the highest caliber, but sometimes even it isn't enough. Bucky is going to ream him out when Steve gets out—
Steve's thoughts come to a stuttering halt. Bucky. Reality crashes down on Steve, then—all the years Bucky suffered while Steve slept unaware in the ice—how long he must have waited for Steve to come get him—
Sharp metal pierces his skin, and a gloved hand—warm even through the latex—gently pushes on his shoulder until he lies back down. The sedative floods his veins with cold, and Steve gasps helplessly, eyes fluttering as he's pulled under the ice—
It's the piano and the drums that first reach Steve's ears.
By the time he really becomes conscious, saxophones and brass have added themselves to the mix in a pleasing, off-beat rhythm that all builds up to one loud, discordant chord. The track switches over, and faster-paced drumbeats pepper the space, mixed in with synthesized notes and a pleasing, jazzy saxophone solo.
Steve lets his mind drift with the music, breathing steadily as he assesses the rest of his body. There's a cannula in his hand—he can feel the tape and the plastic tubing resting against his knuckles. There's a thick bandage wrapped around his gut, and another around his chest. The third circles his skull, with one large patch resting on his right eye. Steve tentatively reaches up a hand and prods at it, and pain flares along his cheekbone, sudden and hot. His left eye waters, fluttering as it tries to open. The sliver of light that seeps in instantly gives Steve a piercing headache.
Steve grits his teeth and swallows down the moan threatening to escape his throat just as "Poor Abbey Walsh" echoes throughout the room, the falsetto from the recorded track not quite blending with the live male voice to Steve's right.
Bucky had always liked to sing, but he could never have reached that note.
"Hey, Cap," says the voice tentatively, "You awake?"
Steve wants to answer "Yes," but all that comes out is an unintelligible croak as a full-body shudder wracks his frame. Loud, urgent beeping suddenly cuts through the music, and Steve's heart jumps to his throat. He needs to be out there suiting up—
"Oh, shit," says the voice, "Hold on, Cap—"
Steve wakes to quiet jazz music.
The air is stale, and his mouth is dry, and his body is sore all over, but when he opens his eyes, he can see.
He blinks the tears out of his eyes, letting his vision adjust to the light, and then he turns his head.
"On your left," he mumbles.
Sam Wilson looks up from his book and smiles.