Who: Steve Rogers & Bruce Banner When: June 30 Where: Steve's hospital room and Bruce's lab What: Talk and eat cheeseburgers
All his life, Bruce had never felt more at home than when he was in the lab. High school had been years of extra credit chemistry and physics like a love affair with the Bunsen burner, then college, lab coats and computers and a weekly game of D&D with the guys from Psychology and Applied Mathematics. He loved the smell of it, the way the equipment felt, knowing what he was doing or not having a clue about it but of course, finding out was the majority of the fun. Everything was a riddle. Science was his life.
Of course, everything was a riddle. The supersoldier serum - he'd seen the formulae, knew what it was meant to do, knew how spectacularly it had failed, knew what the military had wanted from it. But he knew it had worked, because there was living proof of it about a hundred meters down the hall. He checked his watch; a couple of seconds later he abandoned his microscope and headed out down the hallway. It was time to check on the Captain.
He opened the door to the recovery unit, nodded to the duty doctor and gave the nurse a small smile, then made his way to the door through into the smallish, utterly sterile-looking room beyond. He knocked; he knew he could technically walk straight in but he knew, but for a simple twist of fate, that could have been him in there, everyone's favorite not-quite-patient.
"Come in!" Steve called absently. He was fairly certain who it would be - when Fury knocked it was much louder - and so he didn't bother to get back in bed. There would be a lecture about how he'd pulled out all of his IVs and monitoring devices again, which he would endure with good humored silence. He and Banner had managed to develop an interesting working relationship during the days of his secondary captivity.
Steve turned as the door swung open. There was a polite smile on his face, but it didn't extend to his eyes. He was growing slightly tired of Banner's insistence that he remain in recovery. He would have been fine to leave two days after he woke up and they all knew it. Hell, even that vicious headache had died down.
"Doctor Banner," he murmured.
"Captain." Bruce opened the door and stepped into the room, surveying the damage - the IVs were out, which honestly he'd expected from the doctor's reaction when he'd walked in. Apparently they couldn't keep the man under control and that was something he understood. "You know those are there for a reason, right?" He smiled faintly, nodding at the stray tubes.
"No, I don't," Steve answered mildly. He remained next to the window; if Banner wanted to poke and prod at him, he would have to cross the room to do it. "I'm fine. There's no need for any of this." He wouldn't go quite so far as to say that he had never felt better, but he had certainly felt worse. "I'd like you to release me."
"Hmm." Bruce paused by the door then shut it behind him - there was no need to put on a show for the intrigued doctor and nurse outside. It seemed like everyone there wanted to get a piece of Captain America. "We're just trying to look out for your health. Trying being the operative word here, I don't think the IVs helping the table." He crossed the room - he'd tried not to look at the man with that kind of fascinating-experiment expression on his face and after the first couple of meetings he had to admit it was easier. It was unexpected that Captain America turned out to be a good-natured if stubborn kind of man. "I don't mean to sound callous, Captain, but if we release you then where are you going to go?"
"Please, call me Steve." He said it only very absently, not expecting Banner to listen. He'd been trying to correct everyone he spoke to for the past week, and the only one who had listened was Tony Stark. "I've been thinking about that, actually. General Fury tells me that S.H.I.E.L.D. is prepared to provide me with a generous living allowance." He ducked his head, brushed soft blonde hair out of his eyes. "I think I'm going to buy myself a house."
"Steve, then," he repeated, though he had a feeling he'd go back to something more formal almost the next time he had to address him. He supposed that was the scientist in him - easier to work when everything was formal, when he wasn't involved. He raised his brows, leaning against the wall with his hands in the pockets of his long white coat as he watched the man he was currently employed to... well, if not take care of then at least watch. Closely. At the genetic level. "I should be jealous," he said, with a small smile. "Believe it or not... Steve, you're getting better treatment than I am."
Steve wasn't entirely certain what to make of that statement - what did Banner need treatment for? was he talking about his salary? - so he disregarded it, acknowledging the man with a nod and a sheepish smile. It had become his default expression when someone said something that he didn't understand. That seemed to happen quite a lot lately, but it hadn't gotten to him yet. He was just stubborn enough to plow through the strangeness in an attempt to assimilate it.
"I just... I'm sick of being here. It's so. Well." He waved a hand, indicating the dull white of the walls, the polished tile floor, the steel frame bed. "I think we can both agree that it's depressing. I want out. I want to live my life again." Steve's lips twisted slightly, bitterly. "Even if it won't be the same life I left."
Bruce nodded, a little stiffly. "It's probably not my place to say it but you're right," he said, glancing about the room then letting his gaze settle back on the captain with his sheepish smile and sad expression. He knew a little something about loss himself, not that he was going to venture that for the moment, but that didn't mean he understood even a little of how the man must feel, out of his time, washed up in a new millennium. "But it's not the same out there at all. It's going to take time for you to acclimatize. That's one reason we've been keeping you here, giving you time to adjust."
"I can't adjust in a hospital room, Doctor," he said, his tone dangerously close to snapping. "I need to go out and see what's different. I want to track down my old friends and ask them what's happened to them..." That, he knew, was a terrible idea. There was a certain sickness to it, a morbid sort of curiosity, but he had to see them. He had to know if they'd had good lives, if Gail had ever married. He was sure she had; a girl as pretty as her wouldn't stay single for long, but deep down he hoped it wasn't true.
"I'll make a deal with you, Doctor," he said suddenly, pulling himself away from his thoughts with an effort. "I'll stay here for two more days if you find out what happened to a couple of people for me."
"Okay." The fact that he'd said it actually surprised him, and he frowned slightly before he shook his head. "Okay, Steve, you have a deal. Two more days and if your condition improves I'll arrange for you to get out of here." He paused, looking at him closely. "You want to know about your fiancée, don't you."
"My condition is fine. And yes. I do." He was quiet for a moment, head ducked down. He liked Banner well enough, but not enough to let him see the naked emotion that crossed his features whenever he thought about Gail. It was going to hurt to find out about her, but he had to know. "Bucky, too."
Bruce paused, quiet, watching the man for a moment before he turned his eyes away. Bruce Banner was a scientist, first and foremost, and that meant he did his research; S.H.I.E.L.D had files, extensive files on everyone who'd ever been involved in the life of Captain America, and Bruce being Bruce, he'd read them. All of them. Everything he could get his hands on to understand the man and not just the All-American Hero. He just hadn't imagined that he'd have to be the one to tell him about it. To be honest, he'd hoped he'd be able to talk Stark into it, maybe even the general. He sighed, glanced to the door then back to Steve Rogers with his bowed head. "Come with me," he said. "I have something to show you."
Steve was surprised by that. He'd expected Banner to agree, to leave, and to return tomorrow or perhaps the day after to tell him where Gail and Bucky were buried. Because, yes, truthfully he expected them to be gone. It had been such a long time, and as strong as both of them had been, he didn't ever expect to see their faces again. He wasn't even sure he wanted to. How badly would it hurt to see his old friend and the love of his life aged, elderly, possibly infirm. But he swallowed and nodded. "May I have some clothes?"
It took a second for that to register - well, of course he'd need something to wear, the gown was barely appropriate for the room, let alone elsewhere in the building. "Just... give me a minute," he said, and disappeared out the door, purposely leaving it open behind him. It couldn't hurt to at least try to build some trust. He knew there was a bag waiting in a closet in the area outside, clothes that someone had decided would fit if he ever got out of there in one piece, and Bruce retrieved it before heading back into the room. "There should be something in here that fits," he said, setting the bag down on the bed with a small smile. "I think the nurses are responsible so I can't vouch for the fashion sense. I'll... I'll be waiting outside when you're ready."
Steve nodded and began to rifle through the back as soon as Banner exited the room. All of the clothes seemed foreign to him. The fabrics felt wrong, the colors were strangely bright, the cut was all wrong. He put it down to the fact that he hadn't worn proper clothes in almost sixty years; styles couldn't have changed so drastically since he'd been frozen.
Eventually, despairing of ever finding anything normal, he selected a pair of jeans that were only too short by an inch or two and a plain, navy blue t-shirt. It fit snugly across his chest, but it was either that or a monstrosity of a thing with flowers and parrots all over it. Zipping the bag closed again, he stepped out into the little common area, managing a small smile for the doctors and nurses who were staring at him as though they expected him to sprout wings and fly away.
It was strange seeing him out of the gown, Bruce thought. He'd seen the costume, too, and the image had stuck in his head - two extremes, and then the strange normalcy of Steve Rogers in jeans and a shirt. He smiled to himself, even as he felt like chastising the medical staff. The man wasn't an exhibit. He wasn't even an experiment. "This way," he said, ushering him out of the small room and into the corridor where he immediately shut the door behind them both, cutting off the wide, prying eyes. Then he led on down the too-white hall, toward his lab. "I want you to tell me if you feel any weakness or shortness of breath, okay?" he told him, purposely taking the walk maybe a shade slower than usual, though he had a feeling that Captain America wasn't the kind of man that needed to take things slowly. Even if he'd been frozen for the better part of a century.
Steve resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He knew it was Banner's job to look after him, but everyone involved in this seemed to have forgotten that he was, essentially, a lab-created superhuman. There was no shortness of breath, no weakness, no lightheadedness, nothing. The worst he'd had was a wicked muscle ache for the first two days, fatigue for three, and a headache that had gradually loosened its hold on him as the week crept by. He was fine now, as good as he had ever been.
But he didn't say anything, just nodded. None of this was Banner's fault, and he understood the man's desire to make sure everything was right with him. Maybe it made him uncomfortable, but he would have endured any amount of discomfort to be out of that damned ice.
The lab wasn't far, thankfully. Bruce wasn't looking forward to this little excursion, he had to admit, and had a feeling that Steve - it was disturbing how quickly that was how he was starting to think of him - was more than a little tired of having the kid-glove treatment. The problem was, no one knew exactly how he was supposed to react to being thawed out of solid ice, it just wasn't the kind of thing that happened every day. And who, these days, really knew the limitations of what Captain America could do? All subsequent experiments with the serum had failed spectacularly, and what little data they'd had from Steve's transformation wasn't a great deal of use.
He opened the door and held it, gestured for Steve to head inside first, then stepped in behind him. Almost everything in there, the slides, the notebooks, that was all data on the supersoldier program. Not that that was why they were there. "Take a seat," he said, gesturing to a high stool by the workbench, and moved to open his laptop.
Steve sat obediently, folding his hands in his lap and staring around with his mouth slightly open. There were notes tacked to bulletin boards, papers spread out across various surfaces, equations scrawled on whatever happened to be at hand, and it was all about him. Even if only peripherally, every single thing in the room came back to him and to the serum flowing in his veins. It was intimidating, and he resisted the urge to hunch down under the weight of the expectations in this one room.
He'd left the laptop on standby - a quick press of a button later and it sprang to life with all the files he'd been working on, and he set it down on the worktop just off to Steve's left. A couple of clicks and he brought up what he was looking for. "This is everything I've found out about your fiancée," he said, quietly. "If you... press this button it'll show you more."
For a moment, Steve could only stare. There, on the bright little screen, was a picture of Gail as he remembered her. Red hair, red lips, big blue eyes, a brush of freckles across her pretty little nose. His chest seemed to constrict, and he swallowed and pressed the button Banner had indicated.
The history of her life was here. Where she'd been born, the schools that she'd attended, the day that the two of them had announced their engagement. Steve stared at the picture accompanying that notation, the two of them smiling hugely and he with an arm around her slim waist. He made a strangled sound in his throat and scrolled past. He read about his death, about her mourning, and about how the nation had mourned with her. And then, seven years after he had been declared officially dead, she had become engaged again, and this time she'd made it to the altar. Steve had to read the name of her husband three times before it finally sank in.
"Bucky?" he said, and his voice was louder than he'd intended. "Gail married Bucky?"
Bruce took a breath, glancing at the screen before looking at Steve. It couldn't be easy, he thought - if Bruce had felt even a fraction of what Steve felt then, seeing Betty with... he took another deep breath and nodded, tightly. "I'm sorry," he said. "You wanted to know."
"Yes," Steve answered, dazed. He pushed the laptop away, but not before noting that the two of them had children - four children! - and that they were both still alive. This was something that he would have to process before he could allow himself to make any decisions. "Thank you, Doctor..."
"Bruce." He reached over and closed the laptop. "Call me Bruce." It was all he could think of to say, really, and he couldn't think of a reason why except for that look on his face. He couldn't imagine.
"Bruce," Steve repeated. He forced himself to look up, and to smile. None of this was Banner's fault, after all. He'd just been trying to help. Steve cleared his throat and stood. "Do you want me to go back to my room now?" In his dazed state, he would have allowed Banner to put the IVs back in his arms and he might actually have left them there for once.
"I thought you might want some time away from the medical staff," he said. "I might have been able to smuggle in some real food, too. Well, cafeteria food. There's a lot for you to catch up on." He winced slightly at the thought of it - he'd eaten worse, had gone hungry more than once, but sometimes even that seemed preferable. "I'll take you back if you'd prefer."
Steve smiled faintly, touched by Banner's concern. "Real food would be nice," he admitted. He tucked his hands into his pockets, an old self-conscious gesture that he had never quite managed to be rid of. "What kind?" He knew not to expect too much; judging by the look on Banner's face, the food wasn't exactly worth getting excited over.
"I think the safest thing might be the cheeseburgers," he said, mulling this over. "At least it's solid, and might actually have seen a cow at some point." He gave a small smile and took a seat.
"I like cheeseburgers," Steve answered, relieved that he at least recognized his food options. He sat next to Banner and fell silent for a moment. It felt awkward, though, just sitting in this strange little room and not saying anything. He dragged his foot across the floor and leaned back, searching for a topic of conversation.
"If I can get you to keep the IV in tonight, I promise I'll have someone bring in the best cheeseburger you've ever tasted." He chuckled a little, quietly, shaking his head. It was the worst attempt at bribery he'd ever made in his life. He leaned over to the phone and dialed the internal operator, asked for a couple of cheeseburgers and Coke then turned back to Steve, quiet for a moment before he spoke again. "I hear you met Tony Stark."
"I did!" Steve said, perking up slightly. He'd only talked to Stark that once, but he had enjoyed the man's company completely. Tony was the first one who'd treated him like a human being, the first one who'd talked to him as Steve Rogers instead of as Captain America, and there had been a sharp amusement in his eyes that Steve found strangely reassuring. "I enjoyed talking to him. He seems like a great guy."
There were a few things Bruce could have said about Tony Stark, but he bit his tongue. He'd never liked gossiping and that was what it would have been, he knew. "He's interesting. From what I hear. The doctors tell me he promised to get you out of here." He smiled ruefully. "Then I had the monitoring equipment disconnected. I know you feel like a lab rat, Steve, but that's not true."
Steve bowed his head and held his tongue. He didn't want to argue with Banner; aside from Tony, he was the nicest person Steve had met thus far, and he liked the guy. Besides, it was up to Banner when he got to leave, so he might as well stay on his good side. "I just get bored in that room," he said, propping his chin on his hand and staring at the wall. "There's nothing to do."
"I know," he agreed, with a look that said he really did. And he did - his employment with S.H.I.E.L.D hadn't been an easy affair. There'd been tests. There'd been a room just like that one. He shook his head. Suddenly he couldn't believe he was putting someone else through that exact same experience. "We'll find something to keep you occupied," he said. "Educational." He had a game console in mind, something that would help him acclimatize and keep him busy.
"Some books would be great," Steve said hopefully. One of the nurses had been loaning him trashy romance novels and, for lack of anything better to do, he had been reading them, but if he had to stomach the phrase 'turgid member' one more time, he thought he might go mad. "History books and stuff. So i can get caught up."
We'll see." He looked up as there was a knock on the door and went over to it, taking a tray through the space he left between door and frame just big enough to bring in food but block off the tray-bearer's line of sight. Then he closed the door again and moved to set the tray down on the worktop. Perhaps it wasn't the most hygienic idea he'd ever had but they were at least eating across the room from any of the more functional worktops and he had a feeling that a) his own body was already more or less as infected as it was going to get, b) Steve was the subject of all the research anyway, and c) the cheeseburgers were quite possibly the most deadly article in the room. He passed over a Coke and nudged a plate bearing a burger that he had to admit looked pleasant enough. "If this is terrible, just don't let it put you off this decade."
"I'll try not to," Steve answered, laughing softly. He didn't expect the burger to taste horrible. It had a heavenly aroma, and just sitting there with it in front of him was making him drool like an old hound dog. Grinning, he picked up the burger and took a huge bite.
It wouldn't have been fair to judge it against all of the other burgers he'd tasted in his life, but at that moment he wasn't feeling particularly fair, and he thought that it was probably the best meal he'd ever had. He made a brief, exultant noise in the back of his throat and nodded happily at Banner.
Bruce gave him a somewhat skeptical look and took a bite of his own burger - now there was actual food in the room his body took the opportunity to remind him that he hadn't eaten in something like eighteen hours and running on a mixture of decaf from the machine down the hall and bottled water wasn't doing him any favors. And actually, the burger wasn't bad. Not great, he was half convinced Burger King did better, but it certainly didn't taste like he was leaving himself open to food poisoning. "I think the catering staff might've found a cookbook," he said, putting down the burger and reaching for his Coke. "You're very lucky."
Steve swallowed and laughed slightly, shaking his head. "You have to remember, it's been a long time since I tasted anything," he said. It was a strange thing to think; he hadn't been aware that time was passing while he was frozen, but now that he was awake, he was certain that he could feel every single one of those years weighing down on him. "This is a damn sight better than those IVs you had me on."
Bowing his head slightly, almost but not quite conceding the point, Bruce nodded. "I think as long as you don't collapse after this, and that's more a reflection on the cafeteria than you, we can see about getting you decent food in your room." He took a sip of his Coke and tapped his fingers on the table. "We should get you to the gym, too. There are a couple of tests and honestly, I think you'll feel better if you're more active."
"I would definitely feel better," Steve said, eyes growing slightly wider. He'd never been much of a fan of gyms, but that was just one step away from being allowed to go for a run. A nice long jog had always cleared his head and made it easier to focus on the various problems of the day. "Could we do that today? I feel kind of useless just sitting up in that room..."
"I can't see any reason why not," Bruce said, checking his watch. It was early enough to fit in the tests they'd planned, so he took a second to page the doctors to make the necessary preparations. Honestly, he was looking forward to seeing how Steve would perform - he'd seen all the pre-ice data, of course, and the scientist in him said that was more than enough to get a clear picture, but on some level at least he wanted to see it with his own eyes. "We'll take you down there after lunch. They're getting everything ready."
"Fantastic," Steve said warmly, then turned his attention to the burger resting in front of him. His mother had always told him not to eat too fast or else he'd be sick, but he polished off the burger in less than five minutes and felt perfectly, wonderfully fine. "I could eat a whole stack of those," he said, grinning. Now that he had solid food in his stomach, he felt much more inclined to socialize.
Bruce chuckled. "I don't think I'd want to be responsible for the look on General Fury's face when you inevitably threw up all over his gym," he said, and shook his head, "but I'll see what I can do about getting you some real food in for dinner." Who knew, maybe the cafeteria staff would up their game if they knew they were cooking for Captain America. Bruce left half of his food - he'd never had much of an appetite - but polished off his Coke. The caffeine helped. "Ready to go?"
"Sure," Steve answered, standing and reaching over. He swiped the rest of Bruce's burger and downed it in three quick bites. Now that the initial rush of having actual food had worn off somewhat, he was ready to acknowledge that these were not the best burgers in the entire world. Still, they were far from horrible, and they scratched an itch that he hadn't even known he possessed. "Lead the way, Doc."
Bruce blinked at the incredible disappearing burger then just chuckled quietly as he made for the door. Considering the fact that the man hadn't technically eaten in over half a century, he might have thought to order him two.
The gym wasn't far - apparently whoever had designed the place had functionality in mind or at least had a pathological hatred of walking because a turn down the corridor opposite the one that led to the recovery rooms led straight to the gym. Another white room, as Bruce was suspecting every room in the place was, full of state-of-the-art fitness equipment and a small team of doctors with clipboards standing by the window who hushed up the second they entered the room. "He's all yours, gentlemen," Bruce said, gesturing to Steve who should really have known this was going to entail yet more poking and prodding and probably a date with a treadmill.
Steve stifled a sigh and nodded his head, forcing a smile for the wide-eyed scientists. At least they weren't prodding at him in a bed this time. At least he'd get to work his muscles somewhat. He glanced reproachfully at Banner and stripped off his shirt, allowing one of the doctors to apply electrodes to his chest and temples. It wasn't much of a price to pay to be allowed to actually do something for once. He allowed one of the scientists to lead him over to the treadmill and, as he began to run, he tipped Banner a quick salute.