His eyes opened slowly; the pleasant dream he was having subsided, and for a moment, he didn’t know where he was.
Then one word entered his mind; hospital; and with that the nightmare of his reality came flooding back. The attack, the pain, the fear, going into cryo and coming out a week later as half a man.
He looked down at the sheets where the lower part of his left leg should have been and saw the void. He turned his head away and looked out the window where dusk was just settling on the city. He let the grey fog settle on him again.
“Don’t think about it, Steve.” he said, under his breath and the grey fog settled deeper. But, if it wasn’t there anymore, he thought, why did it still hurt?
He closed his eyes and felt tears prickle the insides of his eyelids. He squeezed them tighter to stop the sensation and let the fog begin to take the pain away.
There was a tentative knock at the door and a pretty voice asking, “Captain Rogers, Steve Rogers?”
Oh, God, he groaned, not a fan! Where’s security?
He opened his eyes and turned toward the voice to see a big pair of light brown eyes under a shock of purple hair!
“I’m so sorry if I woke you. I was supposed to be here earlier, but I was detained by another client.” She looked very openly awestruck.
Who was he supposed to see today? Shrink? No. More doctors? Constantly, but this wasn’t one of them. Physio? Yes! That’s who she must be.
She held out her hand to him as she introduced herself.
“I’m Ginny St. Pierre and I’m here to get you back on your feet.” she said with a smile.
“Foot.” he corrected, sullenly, and turned to stare back out the window.
“Well, it will be feet once we get your prosthetic fitted. My dad is so excited to be working with you and Mr. Stark on this new design for you! He talks about nothing else.” She stopped when she realized that his eyes are focusing on nothing out the window and she was babbling.
She walked to the side of the bed and laid her hand on his arm.
“You’re still in a pretty dark place, aren’t you?” she asked, squeezing his arm.
He slowly turned his head towards her and the corner of his mouth turned up at the grossness of her understatement.
“Not really dark; just grey and dull.”
He waited for the look…that sympathetic, pitying look…but that’s not what he saw.
She held his eyes as she said, “It won’t be the last time you’re here.”
She squeezed his arm again and let go.
“But you’ve lost your leg, not your life, and the sooner you come to terms with that, the better.”
She’d moved back around to the foot of the bed and she was checking his chart.
“And what if I don’t.” he challenged her.
She looked up from the chart and held his eyes again.
“Then you’ll be spending a lot more time in this dark place.”
It’s him that broke eye contact first to look again at nothing out the window.
“You know, if you’re not up for this,” she said, after a long pause, “we can wait. It’s really soon after an injury to be starting rehabilitation, but you heal so quickly, they thought they’d get a head start. I don’t think they took into consideration the psychological healing needed.”
Another long pause and then he sighed and said, “No, they’re right. It’s probably all the laying around that’s gotten me down. What do you need me to do?”
She looked at him for a moment longer.
“Nothing.” she said. “Tonight, I was just going to take a look at your legs to get an idea of musculature and what we need to work on to get you on your FEET.” she said, putting the extra emphasis on the plural and daring him to contradict her. Then she smiled…and she changed from a pretty girl into a radiant goddess! He blinked at the transformation, but she was already working at pulling the covers back from his good leg.
“I want to take a look at your uninjured leg first. Everyone’s muscle structure is a little bit different and we want to make sure that you have an even gait when this is done.”
She ran her hands down his leg from the knee, taking time to examine where muscles and tendons attached before having him bend his knee so she could follow them down to his heel and his foot. He was watching her hands, but when he looked at her face, he was surprised to see her eyes closed.
When he asked her why, she said, “It helps me to focus on the structure and commit it to memory so I can easily feel what’s different in the other leg.”
Her touch was soft but firm and he discreetly moved his hand over his crotch, just in case his baser instincts decided to assert themselves.
She finished with his good leg and started to uncover his injured leg. He turned his head to look out the window again.
Her hands were on his knee when she noticed that he was looking away.
“Have you even looked at your injury yet?” There was a slight shake of his head.
“You know you’ll have to eventually. This is part of you now.” His head was still stubbornly turned away, so she started her inventory. This time she spoke it out loud, naming the different muscles and tendons and noting the injury, how well it was repaired and healing and musing on how best to move forward.
His sudden tensing and hissed intake of break told her that she’d found a sore spot. She opened her eyes and was pleased to see that he was watching her and not looking away.
She pressed again.
“Right here?” she asked.
His lips were pressed tight together but he nodded. She ran her hand up the connecting muscle to see what she was dealing with. There was still a little swelling and there was still tenderness; they may have to go a little slower than anticipated.
He saw the concern on her face as she worked and it must have been mirrored on his because she smiled reassuringly at him and said, “It’s nothing to worry about. Tendons heal more slowly than muscles and this one just needs a little more time.”
He found himself looking at his injured leg for the first time.
It’s not so bad, he thought.
He’d seen other stumps that were poorly mended and badly scarred in the war, but his was smooth, once he got over the horror of what was missing.
“They did a really nice job.” she said, when she saw he was looking.
“The bone end is smooth and well-padded, and as far as I can tell, all the muscles and tendons are well anchored. Blood flow is good, and you’re weeks ahead of anyone else I’ve seen as far as healing goes.”
As she spoke, her hands continued to move over his leg, indicating where he should look.
She looked up and gave him a half smile.
“Not so bad?” she asked
He found a half smile on his own face as he answered, “Not so bad.” He continued to look at her hands lying just below his knee.
“Thanks.” he said, quietly.
As she pulled the covers back over his legs, she was talking about the next day.
Tomorrow, he thought. So soon?
“Are these your crutches?” She was looking at one of the crutches that had been leaning against the wall.
“That’s what they gave me, but I usually find it easier to just hop.” he said.
“Well, no wonder.” She was examining one of the crutches. “These need to be adjusted.” She tucked it under her arm and he could see that the crutch didn’t even reach her armpit.
“These are too small even for me!” She started unscrewing the wingnuts and adjusting the crutch. “How tall are you? About 6’3”?”
“Give or take.” he said, watching her with interest as she continued to adjust the bottom and then the hand grip.
She stood the crutches up finally and said, “That should be better. If they need to be adjusted more, I’ll do it tomorrow when you’re standing up, then we can head down to my gym and get you working out again. My dad should be along with Mr. Stark around noon to fit you with your first prosthetic leg.”
“How does 9 sound?” she asked.
“Perfect.” He answered. “It’ll be good to be out of this bed.”
As she tried to pull her stylus out of her tablet to make herself notes for the next day, her fingers felt clumsy with his eyes on her and she managed to flip it across the room.
“Merde.” She swore under her breath as she went to retrieve it.
When she stood up, he was looking at her in an odd way with a half-smile on his face.
“What?” she said, thinking she must have dust on her face or something.
“Did you just swear in French?”
Crap, crap, crap…he speaks French!
“Oui.” she said, tentatively. “Parles-tu français?”
“I picked up a little bit during the war; mainly vulgarities and curse words. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard anyone speak it.”
“I guess I’ll have to be more careful what I say, then.” She smiled to dull the intensity of her words. She was drawing some diagrams to make sure she didn’t forget what she had felt in his leg, especially that sore spot.
Suddenly, he realized that he didn’t want her to leave, that he didn’t want to be alone. He hadn’t felt that way about anyone, even Bucky, since he’d come out of cryo.
“Where did you learn French?” he asked, hoping to delay her leaving.
“I was born in France. My dad’s French and my mom was Canadian.” She responded absently, as she continued to make her notes.
“We moved to Montreal when I was 2, so I went to school in French. Even when we moved to Toronto, I continued in French.”
“Then my dad got this offer in New York about a year ago, so here we are!” she said with a flourish.
“And your mom…?” he asked. “You said she ‘was’ Canadian.”
She hesitated for a long moment, looking down at her hands until he was sorry he asked.
“There was a car accident when I was 8.” she said, in a hushed voice. “My mom was killed and my dad lost his leg.”
She paused, deciding whether or not to tell him the rest.
“My dad spent 2 years in the dark place, so I know something about how hard it is to get back.” She glanced up at him and then packed her tablet away in its case.
“I’m sorry, I’m prying.” he said, looking down at his hands, his long eyelashes casting a shadow on his cheek.
Oh, my, she thought. Those should be illegal on a man!!
“It’s okay. Fair is fair. It feels like we know everything about you. You have a right to know a little something about us.”
He smiled at this. “Hopefully, not everything.”
“Well,” she said, “if you surprise me, I’ll let you know.” For instance, they never told me about those eyelashes, she thought.
The silence lengthened, so she took her leave.
“I’ll be here at 9. Dress for a work-out.” She thought for a second and then added, “And don’t have breakfast. I don’t imagine what they serve here is great anyways. I’ll take you to the breakfast grill across from the hospital for real food!”
“Sounds good.” he nodded.
“And don’t be late, eh? 9 am sharp!” she said in her best mock-stern voice.
Tracing a little salute at her, he said, “I’m army trained, ma’am. Can’t sleep past 06 00.”
“Okay, sleep well, Cap.” she said with a smile and a wink.
“See you tomorrow…Ginny.” He raised his hand in a wave as she disappeared out the door.
Well, that was interesting, he thought, and he turned his head towards the window, expecting the grey fog to envelope him again…but it didn’t.
He thought about her purple hair and noticed that his tablet and cell phone were on the side table. He reached for his phone but realized that he wasn’t ready to talk to anyone just yet. So he pulled the tablet onto his lap and scanned the news for the last 2 weeks.
When Bucky came for his nightly visit an hour later, he found his friend relaxed and full of questions about what he’d missed. They talked a little bit about the girl with the purple hair but mostly relived old memories. He had just gotten Bucky back and realized how much he needed someone in his life who remembered!
When Bucky left, it was late. He curled up and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.