This is going to be in the Hour of Our Death series at some point, or is in that continuity, anyway, but I just can’t figure out where or when. It came to me kind of entire a little while ago, and I wrote it, and I’ve been sitting on it, and I just– it wants out, so I’m posting it here, at least temporarily. (For anyone not reading that series, Full of Grace has as one of its major plot points that Bucky’s trying to avoid disappearing into a basement after his inevitable recapture by making a series of videos that go viral on the Internet, so– there’s none of his POV in the story, except the videos, which he mostly narrates.)
It’s A Funny Story, 2400ish words, tw for descriptions of gore and depersonalization: The Winter Soldier tells the viewer all about cryostasis.
“I got a story,” the Soldier said without preamble, sitting back from the camera. He was shirtless, illuminated by silvery natural light from an offscreen window to his left. “I got a story I gotta tell. I don’t got names or dates or nothin’, I just, I gotta tell it. I was thinkin’ about this and I just– I don’t know if there’s a point, lemme tell it and I’ll figure it out.”
He sat back in the rickety wooden chair he was in, which creaked in protest at his weight, and crossed his arms across his chest, metal over flesh. “So here’s the thing with– I was readin’ documentation on this, I know now I’m the only one ever to survive cryo, and I know people been, like, debating it. Like, it could help real people or something, and I gotta tell you, no. Just– no. It’s– no.” He sat forward. “In the docs it talks about some stuff that sounds all medical and sterile and boring and whatever.” He gestured with the metal hand, a flyaway gesture. His hair was loose and fell in his face, and he shook it back absently, a practiced gesture. “Subject experienced tissue damage, organ function compromised, acclimatization period blah blah. Skin sensitivity, I remember that phrase. So like– the only reason I survived thawing was that I got amped tissue regeneration. I got a healing factor. And it’s like– it’s a doozy. Okay? I know they tried to duplicate it, it gave all the subjects like–” He closed his eyes, shook his head quickly, “fast-acting face cancer or some shit. Don’t fuck with it.” He grimaced. “It’s not– actually a picnic. Is the thing. Anyway.”
He sat back a little, shoving his hair back more with his skin hand. “I could try to tell you how fuckin’ nasty it was, but I’m gonna tell you a story instead. So imagine– I don’t know what year it was. I don’t know how long I’d been in cryo. I know it was some kind of party. Whoever had me in his department, he was having some kind of shindig, showing off for other people, right? So you know how sometimes nowadays– well, everybody’s got a freezer. And you see it on sitcoms and memes and things.” He glanced up. “You see like, Mom asks the kids to take the chicken out of the freezer to defrost it so she can make dinner when she gets home, right?” His eyes were very blue in the indirect light, a cloudy hazeled blue, and he cocked an eyebrow. “And the punchline is, the kid forgets to take the chicken out and then the mom is super mad.”
He gestured. “Whoever was in charge of getting me out of cryo didn’t leave enough time.
I don’t know the details, I was never awake for this, but it takes a while for the tank to come up to temp, and then I gotta be on a respiration machine dealie, my lungs were flooded with PFC fluid during stasis and had to switch out to air, it’s this whole process, and you can’t like microwave me to hurry it along because I’m still wrapped in foil.”
He grinned, and brandished the arm. “Ding! Somebody made that joke and I been waitin’ to repeat it forever. Anyway.” He looked down, then brushed his hair back. “Ah. So like, some schmoe fucks it up and I’m not defrosted in time for whatever this fuckin’ party is, and they’re like, trying to hurry me along. It takes, like, a while for me to come up to speed outta the cryo tank. I’m not sayin’ how long, because like, I don’t need that info out there but also I don’t know, see. Because I’m not in great shape and it’s not like I can possibly understand what’s going on for that first, y’know, couple hours or whatever.” He shrugged, rolled his eyes a little. “To put it mildly.”
He sighed, blew his breath out through his mouth, clearly collecting himself to tell the story. “So I guess the deal was, they were gonna have me fight, like a prizefighter, show off how good I was at fighting, right? So they got some– some guys, soldiers or convicts or whatever, I’ve no idea to this day what the deal was. Only I’m, you know. I got organ failure, not everything comes back in the right order, my skin is sloughing off, I’m shitting out my intestinal lining, I’m puking blood and stomach lining and what have you, and I can’t stop screaming. So there’s your image, that’s what cryo is like. That’s what defrosting is like. I got this crazy regeneration thing that’s keeping me alive, I’m held together internally by microfilaments– I don’t know, I can’t find any documentation, I still got it and it unnerves the fuck outta me every time. But I’m like, I should be dead, okay? And so I’m– I can’t bear anything touching my skin, my skin is splitting and bleeding. My nerves, it’s like I’m in boiling water, there’s fire, there’s ice, I’m screaming. My vocal cords aren’t working right, they’re half-shredded, I’m making these awful fucking noises, I’m like howl-groaning and puking while I do it.”
He tipped his head back and made a wavering, half-voiced, awful hoarse noise, Wookie-like. “I sound like Chewbacca in a blender. I’m bleeding from the fuckin’ eyes. I’m just, shitting out like, body parts. It’s horrifying. It’s disgusting. It’s– it’s monstrous. It’s fuckin’ horrible, is what it is, and it’s like, the boss’s like, big party for the muckety-mucks like, he’s reapplying for funding or something, they really really need me to go out there and show ‘em what I got, right. Puking. Shitting. Howling. And they’re like–”
He cut himself off, shaking his head. “Up and at ‘em, tiger!” He gestured with one hand, a gung-ho clenched-fist gesture. “They’re just– totally trying to ignore what a disaster I am, like, I’ll snap out of it if they just believe hard enough, right? They’re trying to psych me up. And I’m drooling, my eyes are pointing opposite directions–” He held up his hands in front of his face, fingers pointing out in opposing directions as if to indicate the directions of his gaze. “I’m like, totally incoherent. And naked, don’t forget that. There’s just– I’m shitting blood, I’m drooling puke. It’s fuckin’ horrifying. I don’t know who I am, I have no memories of anything, as far as I know I’ve just been born, this is the first thing that’s ever happened to me. And I’m in goddamn agony. And these jackasses, they know they’re gonna get fired or killed or whatever, so they just–” He grimaced. “Like, if they just pretend this is fine, we’ll be okay, right?” He rolled his eyes, and sighed, and shook his head.
“Yeah. They hose me down, which is fucking agony– even the water splits my skin, I’m just a fuckin’ mess. And they get a pair of, like,” he gestured, holding his hands out in front of his belly. “Shorts. Big ones. Like boxers wear. Big shorts on me. Red, I remember that. And like, the waistband is just ripping my skin. It’s agony. I’m too uncoordinated to fight them off. But they can’t get shoes on me, they just can’t, no matter how hard they fuckin’ ignore my screaming and flailing. They’re like, I remember one guy being like, it’s okay! He doesn’t need shoes! This is fine! Like, massive denial.”
He closed his eyes a moment, shook his head slowly, gestured with one hand, a helpless palm-upward half-curled-finger gesture of resignation or supplication or giving up. “So I got no shoes on, just these shorts. I’m droolin’. I’m probably still shittin’ blood. And they get me up on my feet, and it hurts everywhere they touch me, it’s agony to stand, my feet are like, fucked-up. And I can’t balance. I’m staggering around. My arm,” and he gestured at the metal shoulder. “The metal arm is glitching, I don’t have control, it’s just like, twitchin’ around, and it’s jerkin’ me off-balance.”
He paused, looking down, and crossed his arms across his chest again. “Thing is? I think it had been like, a fancy dinner party. Military types, politicians, etc. And this is, like, out back, or somethin’. The wives and everybody else, they’re inside with like, cocktails or dessert or whatever. And the men come out to this– it was like a gym, and there’s a ring, and all these guys are in their dress uniforms and suits. It’s a fancy fuckin’ party, they got drinks and cigars and whatnot. And they’re here to see a display of, I dunno.” He shook his hair back, glanced over at the camera. “I think they were supposed to be seeing my fighting prowess. I’ve surely been talked up, right? Like, I’m this mystical shit, I’m some kind of magical super-soldier weapon. And they have– the guys they have to go up against me are just random guys, I think. Convicts maybe? I dunno. I probably was supposed to kill them. I don’t know. I can’t think about it too hard. They were just a random assortment. And they’d kind of sorted them, right? I think?” He screwed up his face, gestured at his head. “Again, my memory of all this is a little hazy. They had a little guy, a kid really, to face me first, and then a slightly bigger one, on up, and there were at least half a dozen of them and the last one was this big meathead scary motherfucker. If I’m remembering right. Which– I might not be.” He waved a hand near his face, the metal hand as it happened, and it was bare and glittering in the light. “It’s kinda not the point of the story, but I mean. It’s relevant.”
He shook his head. “So they must have announced me or something, and there’s all this frantic he’s not ready and somebody’s like, well make him ready come on, and I’m like, still trying to scream because I can’t– to say I don’t know what’s going on is a huge fucking understatement. I just, like, I don’t know what reality is. I’m not competent to walk. I’m not even breathing right yet, I’m coughing up lung tissue. There’s just, it’s all blood. I know I couldn’t bear the light, it was like knives in my eyes, and everything was red. That’s why I remember the shorts, because later they were still red. But then everything was red. And I couldn’t stand up.”
He paused, looked up. “It’s a funny story,” he said, “I guess, it’s supposed to be, but I mean, I was in agony. So I’m only guessing how funny it was to the people there. Because I know it was funny, I heard the story told later, which is the only reason I’m able to reconstruct it as well as I am.” He glanced straight into the camera. “I’m assuming the people who told it again in my presence are dead of old age. I can’t recall specifics well enough, but it was a very long time ago.”
He cleared his throat, and pushed his hair back. “So they must’ve announced me, and my handlers get me on my feet and point me the right way, and one of ‘em lightly socks me in the shoulder. Like,” he makes a big cheesy grin, “go get ‘em. And he probably barely touches me but it splits the skin and it fuckin’ hurts. So I fuckin’ deck him.” He gestures, a punch, with the left arm, swinging wide. “Only I got no coordination, no control at all. So I think I broke his jaw. Maybe his neck. He goes down like a sack of bricks. Scares the shit outta me, I didn’t mean to do it, it was reflex, and I don’t know how my body works at all. I don’t know what’s just happened. They’re all freaking out. They shove me out the door. So I come out into this bright room, this boxing ring place– so bright, knives, in my eyes– and I’m bleeding and shitting myself and puking and howling, and there are all these people and I don’t understand what’s just happened, so I’m standing there like, fuckin’, bellowing, because everything hurts and I don’t know where or who I am and I’m fuckin’ terrified. And– it’s just– there I am, staggering, I look like I’m drunk, I’m a mess.”
He gestured. “That’s the punchline, kind of, I think. Here, this super-soldier secret weapon, and I come out and I’m this horrifying monstrosity, blood down my cheeks, puking and staggering and glitching and making this inhuman noise.”
He paused a moment. “That’s the part where everyone laughs,” he said, with a horrible sad smile and an encouraging gesture, a little nod. “When the person telling the story is impersonating me, staggering and flailing like Frankenstein’s monster, groaning– that’s always when everyone laughs.” He let the sad little smile thin out into something unmistakably bitter, then looked down and away from the camera. “Later one time my handlers all sat with me and watched that movie, the Frankenstein movie, and I remember it because I was so hurt.” He turned his head to one side slightly, tilting it, mouth pulling sideways. “And I remembered having seen the movie, I think, I know I saw it when I was a kid– and I was so confused, and they were laughing because it was me. I recognized it. I was the monster.” He curled into himself a little, left arm across his stomach and right holding it in place, and let out a tiny, shaky breath; a profound little noise. “I didn’t have any context, but I got it. I mean, now, I understand. I was a monster. And if you’re just some kid, you signed up to be a soldier and they make you work with this fucked-up thing, you gotta deal with that somehow. So you poke fun at the monster, a little, to try and kind of. Have some control, I guess. But I just. I was so hurt.”
He twisted his mouth to one side, and glanced up at the camera, raising his eyebrows to look up without lifting his head. “It’s a funny story, I’m told.” He looked back down. “I don’t remember what happened, really. That’s the– the thing is, I know, I killed the guys I was supposed to kill. I got out there, I’m screaming and bleeding, they made the kid come at me to fight me, and he’s sort of laughing, like is this for real, and he comes up and just sort of hits me, not all that hard, and I just, I straight-up took his head off.” He shrugged. “I just– I didn’t remember anything, I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew I was supposed to fight, I kinda picked that up. So I just, I think I just punched their heads off.” He shrugged again, still looking down. “I don’t know if it illustrated what it was supposed to. I was in so much goddamn pain, and I was so fuckin’ terrified. I don’t remember what happened, I just remember I was so fuckin’ scared and everything hurt and I didn’t understand. And then later when they told the story, I just–”
He stopped, and was silent for a moment, breathing in sharp, breathing out slow. He didn’t raise his head, shoulders hunched, staring down. “It’s a funny story,” he said again, muffled, and sat like that for a moment, and then the video cut out.