1964-11-10 - Bigger Bang For The Buck
Summary: Taking matters into his own hands, the youngest of the Bucklings doesn’t find SHIELD hospitality so bad.
Related: Project Virgo plot
Theme Song: Dusty Springfield - Wishin' and Hopin'
bucky wanda 

They didn’t play music much in SHIELD medical facilities. Ever since the hack on their communication systems, management invoked radio silence except for the occasional announcement. Darkness emptied out the ward except for a rare few patients and their three to one prescribed staff ratio.

He really would have liked music. Not that Orel could sing a song to save his life, nor knew the first place to begin making any coherent noise. But he remembered something about the catchy hymn he heard once over the high speakers, and longed to hear the beat again.

“Wi…. Wish. Wishin’.“

He tapped his finger on the metal railing beside his bed. Three notes, he remembered, and then it all faded away into cobwebs and ashes.

The orderlies muttered every haunted ward felt the worse after sundown. Deep into autumn, the oppressing walls crushed in and no one wanted to make a run for additional cleaning supplies in the basement. Not a soul passed the double doors to a ward with a patient count of one, separated by seven separate cameras and three locked portals.

The young man wrapped in bandages and a crisp white shirt sat up in the creaky metal hospital bed. He flexed his fist, pleased to watch muscles bulge into sharp definition along his pale forearm. A leather cuff chafing his wrist pinned down plastic tubes winding from a flimsy metal stand. The other end of the thong wrapped around the bed railing in fat coils.

He longed to itch at the metal needle plunged into his vein, but removing it twice before angered the bald orderly and upset the pleasant, blonde nurse who smiled on him sometimes when delivering his meals. He regretted his next meal tray missed the green wobbly gelatin that tasted of nothing he could name.

No tray in arm’s reach waited. The empty dishes disappeared while he slept, replaced by the nameless man wearing green cotton clothes. He missed the glaring, impatient orderly watching over everything; a miserable presence like the stories of the Motherland’s champion they whispered in the training cells.

Fine, that his older brothers chattered about, some of them. Never the Hunter, though, he never spoke.

The thought of the avenging comrade, a dusty figment of stories shared in the dark December night, heartened him for a moment. Calm eased the stone blocking his throat.

He wouldn’t stay sitting in bed with work to be done. Neither could Orel, then, not if the champion wouldn’t. Not with things to do.

“Hello!” he called out, voice pitched to travel over industrial grey machines clustered along the wall and through the secured door. The lone window in his chamber pierced the thick metal barrier.

Neither orderly or nurse looked happy to see him trying to do push-ups on the floor on previous days. Orel smiled to himself. Today would be different, he decided. No more escort to the cavernous bathroom where two men stood by the door as he washed himself down and performed those distasteful duties. The idea pushed him into action.

“I’ve got it! Just food, please.” They would listen. They always did, even when he spoke to bare grey walls and grey tile floor.

Hope cultivated a white smile through tawny cinnamon growth deepening to mahogany at the roots. Ticklish sensations surprised him as stroked his rough whiskers. Where had they come from?

He ran a hand through his dark hair, rubbing the greasy slick against his stiff shirt. Shaking his hand out prompted one of the monitors wired to his back under thick gauze bandages to utter a recriminating beep. Another miniature window spiked out of a flattened graphical range, feeding its truths to a distant technician.

Possibly someone might answer now? He strained to hear, but neither the patter of footsteps or the comforting metal creaking of wheels on linoleum greeted him. Another hoarse shout rippled through the hospital room. “Hello, I’m awake now! Is it time for my training sessions?”

He threw aside the scratchy blankets bleached within an inch of their life. Chlorine wafted into sweat and the dull peroxide bloom. Orel swept up out of bed, yanking along the IV on its tripod wheels. He pulled the overstretched leather and metal cuff clasped to the metal crossbar of his bedframe.

When it split along a ragged edge, the force knocked him forward a step. He rubbed his abdomen at the protesting throb, pleased to find little pain as he reached the door.

Orel peeked through the pane to confirm what he already suspected; no one ghosted outside, hesitant to reveal their presence. He’d prepared a smile anyways. Comrades enjoyed company, but they weren’t trying to be rude here. Adam said so the last time they sat together in the gym, days and days ago.

Orel bit his cheek harder. No good thinking about Adam, wherever he might be. A good punch dislodged the metal lozenge replacing a door handle, sending the apparatus skittering across the ground into an abandoned trolley.

He hoped for a plate with more orange wiggly tubes or better yet, the bread and meat the nurse brought to him once. A few bowls full of fuzz didn’t look much like food. He poked something round that crumbled in, emitting a foul whiff that stung his nose.

The machines whirred. Fans turned. His stomach ached in a dull, distant way while his body chewed through the pain relievers and medications that flooded in through his vein. Getting his own food was no trouble. The facility was laid out simply enough. Go straight and turn twice, and he knew he would end up at the big room with the cold boxes full of food.

He passed a few boxes, the empty chairs where guards sat day and night.

Muscles twitched at disuse and he chewed his inner cheek, finding none of the silence of the mind the men in stern grey suits counselled him all the time to seek. He didn’t have headphones, either, and no music, anyways.

“Wishin’ and…” He tried again to repeat the song he’d heard. The IV stand lagged behind while he trotted up to the first set of metal doors, the ones that burst open like a train billowing steam. The needle slid out and hung by a plastic cord. Orel pushed on the locked door. Sometimes they got stuck, but he leaned in until the very frame crumpled against the thick rubber seal in a cacophonous groan.

“Plannin’ and… And… And dreaming?”

Was that right? Had to be. He wound around the spilled cloth and debris cluttering the hallway, his bare feet slapping against the cold linoleum. The lights buzzed overhead, humming too loud. Nudging one tore the cage that imprisoned the bulb, and sent the tubes skittering away in so many pieces.

The orderly wouldn’t be happy but how could the guards work that that awful noise? Orel hugged his arm to his side as he moved into the next corridor.

The guard didn’t answer him but this one didn’t slide out of the way, melting back into his shallow niche. He rested against the desk, staring at the monitor or the very important papers fed into funny machines that clinked and clanged when prodded.

Orel knew he shouldn’t touch it, but he slid up behind the portly fellow. Ghosting along the wall required extra care not to step on the glass or metal mosaics sprayed in loose formations, but he placed his feet just so.

Kyr liked to say the champion walked above the ground, creeping fog and snow-mist, but Orel couldn’t imagine that was true. He had feet, he walked. Those boots must be heavy and even mesh and leather hissed a little bit.


For all his size, the patient could sometimes fail to draw any attention at all. He froze, throwing wary looks around the hall.

No, the guard had not moved at all, still turned to the sticky glass screen showing different rooms in the facility. No one was doing much moving there. The orderly complained loudest about the late hours when everyone smart was in their bed, not watching over a Russki Marvelous Toy.

He stuck out his finger to one of the round keys. It depressed under his touch, and a metal prong flew up to punch a shape on the white paper in neat black ink. The warm click spread a warm frisson of excitement through his guts, and Orel bit his lip hard to suppress a grin. Just one wouldn’t hurt.

He bolted then before the guard would shout at him and the boxes on the walls crackled alive. His path skirted the hallway and cut sharply left through a funny round room full of corridors, past the station where pretty ladies in white coats drank from white mugs and shuffled papers around. He didn’t see any of them now, but sometimes they all went into a little room and shut the door.

Orel didn’t really understand SHIELD’s routines. He preferred to follow whatever the men in their grey coats barked, and the quiet blonde repeated in her way. At least she smiled. No one ever asked and smiled except her, but he always smiled back.

Another short wing brought him to the door for the food room. He pushed it open enough to see a few people with their backs turned, heads all close together around the big table. Just like Adam and Kyr would, when Evgeniy wasn’t growling at their watchers and trying to put the cutlery up his sleeve. So long ago, now.

Orel chuckled.

He thought to call out to them, but checked himself. No, he wasn’t supposed to or they would walk him back to his bed and press the buttons or pull on the leather bracelets until his wrists ached.

Just a quick dash in and out. He imagined the champion floating over the floor, and tried to slip along. Not really the same as he needed to move around the fallen spoons and broken bits left on the ground, cold and sharp and hard. The champion did important things on farms and streets, and he most certainly would never have to use the countertops for balance to swing his boots over the puddles on the ground.

Next time, he’d tell Kyr there was no way the champion of the Motherland sprouted eagle wings or turned into mist. After he had something to eat and his hands stopped shaking.

Good thing someone thought to leave out the funny long bread rolls. See, being nice did achieve things and asking the pretty nurse nicely for more of those sandwiches worked. Orel grinned the wider at the sight of hot dogs in a plastic bag under metal cabinets. He grabbed it and tore open the plastic, grabbing a stale bun.

He’d meant to wait and find the squishy meat fingerling to put inside. Instead, he crammed the whole thing in his mouth and chewed, cheeks puffed out. None of the men huddled around the table looked out, and he only saw the thick orthopedic soles of a nurse poking out from around another table. Well, he’d be gone in a few moments and sneaking back into his room soon enough with no one the wiser.

The bun stuck in his throat as he swallowed but he dragged out another, wincing when his bandages pulled on his knuckles. He tucked the bread into the waistband of his pants. He couldn’t figure out why no one wore things with pockets or pouches here. Americans did everything differently.

He crept up to a dented metal door and opened the fridge. Cool air slid out and kissed his face. Stepping free for a better view put him against a nook where he hadn’t noticed an agent standing. Orel started as he met the eyes of a man staring at him, mouth in a fixed scowl.

“Oh! You scared me,” he blurted out. “Just getting dinner. Someone forgot, and… And…”

The agent kept glaring. So rude. He couldn’t even be bothered to talk.

Orel frowned. The sooner he was out, the better. Rule one, never let anyone see you. How could you forget that? Stupid Yasha. Think, Yasha! Think!

A tray ahead of him on the shelf beckoned, pink and glistening, with only a little muck. That could be wiped away easily. He pulled the sausages to him. His fingers juddered and the plate skewed at a drunken angle, sending two or three to land in the tacky puddle at his feet.

Orel sucked his breath in. He waited.

And waited.

They’ll never lift a finger against you if you get mad. Evgeniy talked real big. He hit too hard. The younger man never thought much of him before but it seemed he was right.

They didn’t raise a finger or shout.

The place was too still in the winter dark, even when everyone gathered for a meal. Even if ghosts didn’t really exist, the bad stories robbed Orel of a smile after all. He looked at the assembled agents and nurses and orderlies, and some stared back for too long.

No one shouted for him to get back to his room, though he knew they would soon.

He might have enough time to get clear before someone pushed open the doors and shouted at him to do things, forgetting their words sounded like rocks rattling in a bowl.

The fridge door rattled shut after he elbowed it, and the man in the corner slid drunkenly to the floor. His coat hissed on the way down across a bumpy, dried smear. Something dully crunched when his face impacted tile.

Orel didn’t care so much about getting his feet dirty as he hugged the hot dogs and bun to his throbbing belly. Bandages tugged too tight. Something else to fix in his room. Back where it was safe. Where no one would come.

Back. The room was good.

Hurrying back past the guard stations, he scattered casings in his wake. Tremulous melodies rang off cracked baseboards and walls.

Dee, dee, da da, dee.

That was it. That was the beat…

Eleven. Midnight. Safe. Good. He’d be waiting, a good boy, always a good boy.

In their trilling cadence, he remembered: Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and—

And then he didn’t remember very much any more.

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