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The Doll

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Steve slept away twenty-four hours in a hospital bed.

Sam was able to tell the doctors as much as Steve could about what combinations of painkillers and sedatives had any useful effect on him at all. Whether it was the drugs or the fact that Sam and Natasha were always there, near enough for him to register their presence, Steve managed to sleep almost without waking until he was healed well enough not to fuss over.

He hadn't told the doctors much about how it happened--bad guys captured him, kept him in a dark room, asked him some questions, didn't like his answers--and he didn't think Natasha's translations had embellished much. With his healing factor he'd really only needed a place to clean up and rest, but he did appreciate everything they pumped down the IV line.

Still, after a day he was done, and he checked himself out, or let Sam and Natasha render him checked out.

"Where next?" Sam asked, walking away from the hospital.

"Home," Steve said quietly. "He obviously knows how to find me if he wants to see me again. Chasing him isn't helping anything."

The most efficient combination of flights left them with a twelve-hour wait. Natasha found them a hotel.

Steve didn't want to sleep anymore. Lying down on any surface at all seemed like an unwelcome proposition when no one was pumping him full of sedatives faster than his body could process them. He took all the covers off one bed and wrapped them around himself--he couldn't get warm, it was just like the old days--and sat in a hard chair in the corner.

Sam and Natasha took turns napping in the other bed, and while Natasha was asleep Sam said quietly, "You wanna tell me what happened? Broad an outline as you want."

Steve shrugged, forcing himself to hold Sam's gaze, which was kind and warm and patient and unflinchingly present. "What you saw. He didn't strip me naked for the view."

Sam nodded slowly. "And he cut up your arm to match his."

Steve shrugged again, mostly with his right shoulder, now healed almost without a trace. Only a shrinking irregular raw patch remained of the star. "He was acting out some memories. Doing things to me that they'd done to him."

Sam winced at that. Steve nodded and let himself look away.

"It wasn't even always--mostly--it wasn't like he was doing it to me. He didn't really see me for hours. Not me, Steve, or me, Captain America, or even me, the annoying American who'd been chasing him. I was just a--a prop. Like I was a life-size doll, and he was..."

"Showing you on the doll where--"

Steve looked up when Sam spoke, and he saw Sam's expression shift into a kind of blank horror before he cut himself off. "Oh, Jesus fucking--"

Sam stood up and took a few stiff strides away. He leaned his forehead against the wall and gave it a couple of open-handed slaps that Steve thought would have liked to be punches.

Steve wasn't really aware that he was pressing himself back into the chair as hard as he could--rocking it back on two legs, his shoulders pressed to the wall, his hands clenched in fists--until Nat said, "Stop that, you're scaring him."

"I'm not," Steve said, except every muscle in his body was tensed.

Sam turned at the same time, offering his hands palm out and saying, "I'm sorry, man, I'm so sorry, I just--"

Sam looked over at Nat.

"Show me on the doll," Nat repeated, in a flat, hollow voice, holding Sam's gaze.

"What the hell do you keep saying that for?" Steve snapped. "Yes, I was--"

"No," Natasha said. "Not you--it's a cultural reference that one of us is going to have to explain to you, because you're going to run into it at some point and it's going to have a lot more resonance for you than it does for most people."

Sam and Natasha both sat there staring at each other, and Steve summoned up a glimmer of bleak humor to say, "I could Google--"

"No," they both said in unison, both looking his way at once.

"I'm American, I lived through the cultural referents," Sam said. "I'll do it. Steve, in the eighties there was this rash of accusations--basically all false, as it eventually turned out--that various people had sexually abused young children as part of some satanic cult."

Steve blinked, and his stomach sank. Kids, God.

"No, hey, no," Sam said. "I am definitely not saying you shouldn't complain about being raped and tortured because worse things have happened to kids. But these accusations were big news, and there were movies and TV shows dramatizing the events, and after that the idea of children being sexually abused was--" Sam winced. "Kind of fair game, as a plot line in fiction. There got to be tropes--cliches--about the way that kind of story would unfold, and one of them is a cop or a social worker talking to a kid, trying to help them communicate what happened to them when they maybe don't have the words to describe it, and the stock phrase is--"

"Show me on the doll," Steve said, suddenly able to envision it, and feeling sick. More sick.

It was horribly apt, in a way. But there hadn't been anyone to ask Bucky that question. Bucky was having to figure it out for himself. Including supplying his own goddamn doll.

"Yeah," Sam sighed.

"And once it was a cliche it became kind of a joke," Nat went on, and Steve looked up, horrified.

"If Stark's never asked you to show him on the doll where the 21st century touched you it's only because that exact phrase didn't happen to pass through his head while you were present. It's a form of language people use, and they mostly don't think about what it implies. And sooner or later someone is going to say it, very casually, in your hearing. That's why you need to know."

Steve opened his mouth to say that he didn't like the 21st century very much, and gagged on his next breath instead. He crumpled out of the chair, curling over on his knees with the cheap, scratchy blankets still wrapped around him. When he'd won his battle not to throw up on the hotel carpeting he looked up to find Sam and Natasha both on their knees watching him from about three feet away.

He had a bad feeling that he was going to be seeing them in that position, with that exact helpless expression on their faces, more than he'd like in the days ahead.

"Thanks," Steve said, and the word tasted exactly like bile.