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Title: Two-Day Interval
Authored by: [livejournal.com profile] vanillafluffy
Pairing/spoilers: Mention of prior Winter Soldier/Alexander Pierce
Rating/Work-safeness: PG-13 for language, consent issues
Approximate word count: 4,000
Disclaimer: All rights belong to Marvel
Betaed by: [livejournal.com profile] hermit
Summary: Like the title says, what happened to the Winter Soldier between the time he left Steve on the riverbank and the Easter egg at the end.
Special guest appearance by Sabretooth (aka Victor Creed), probably familiar to most from the "Wolverine" movie. My interpretation of him owes more to the comics version than the film; in graphic canon, he's had a long career as a soldier/mercenary-type.


Two-Day Interval


Leaving his mission alive on the riverbank, the Asset is pursued by doubts. He knows his targets will say anything they think he wants to hear in hopes that he’ll spare their lives—but he’s never done so before today.

He’ll be punished, he knows, for violating orders, for not completing his assignment, for not saving the Insight platforms. The thought of it makes him shiver. If he returns to the programming facility—no, he can’t. They won’t answer his questions, they’ll strap him down and hurt him and he’ll be cold again….

No, his only hope for reprieve is to go to Aleksi and beg him—but even that may not help, so spectacular is his failure. Sometimes Aleksi is kind to him, but it seems as if that happens less and less often in recent activations. He has been faithful for many years but more and more often, the Asset fears that he has been a disappointment. Today…quite possibly, Aleksi will terminate him, or have him terminated. To die in battle would be a fitting death, but to be put down?

“Finish it,” his mission had said, and been calm in the face of his rage. The Asset hopes he will have much courage when his own death is looking back at him. Perhaps it won’t happen today. He’ll go to Aleksi’s home, wait for him and ask his forgiveness. Perhaps he’ll show mercy—whatever happens, it is the will of Hydra.

First, he needs some kind of disguise. S.H.I.E.L.D. may be in chaos but he knows their surveillance is thorough, and he can’t rely on handlers to convey him to his destination.

Someone’s unlocked car on a quiet street gives him an old hooded jacket—thankfully, it’s stretchy enough to go over his prosthetic. At a bus stop a few blocks away, some guy is so busy on his smartphone that he doesn’t notice his gym bag walking away in the Asset’s custody.

The gym bag, when he investigates it in a convenience store rest-room, has plain grey sweats and a pair of running shoes. The Asset wets his hair and slicks it back from his face and exchanges his uniform for the stolen garb. He stares at his reflection in the mirror. He’s so used to wearing armor that these ordinary garments feel indecently light. The shoes, in particular, are feather-weights after his heavy boots. Still, he should be able to pass for average with his bionic arm covered. The fingerless glove doesn’t provide full coverage, but he can keep that hand in a pocket.

In the jacket, he discovers a small wad of cash—the previous owner must have broken a twenty and stuffed the change in his pocket—which means he can afford lunch and public transportation to the suburb where Aleksi resides.

The edge of adrenalin has worn off, and he’s gnawingly hungry. He finds a diner that proclaims itself The Hot Spot, with multiple televisions tuned to breaking news stations, even if the civilian media will only have a fraction of the real story.

It feels good to sit down. He’s shaky—probably low blood sugar, because he honestly can’t remember the last time he ate—and a little nauseous.

Maybe coffee will help, although that brew, when it arrives, is a bitter echo of the rich beverage Aleksi sometimes shared with him. He is just thinking that, when he picks out the name “Alexander Pierce” from the murmur of the nearest TV.

“…dead in a terrorist attack which has decimated the international security agency S.H.I.E.L.D.. In addition—“

Dead? Aleksi is dead? Shocked, the Asset stares at the image on the screen. The announcer is talking about a massive release of classified information that indicates Pierce was not the noble man his public image suggested—but all the Asset can hear is the buzz of static that precedes another mind-wipe, a certainty now that Aleksi is not there to intercede for him.

Aleksi has been the one constant in his life for as far back as he can remember. Handlers and technicians have come and gone—it doesn’t matter who they are; as long as they have the correct codewords, he is bound to do as they say. But Aleksi has commanded him for more than five decades, briefing him, debriefing him, offering support and encouragement…the Asset remembers when Pierce was young and golden, impossibly handsome and charming.

Hydra indoctrinated the Asset, made sure that he knew everything that was his was theirs, and Aleksi had been ardent about making use of him, both for Hydra missions and for his own pleasures. But Aleksi was Hydra, so that had been all right…and the Asset had enjoyed it. Aleksi held him, caressed him, provided human warmth between episodes of cryo-stasis.

The Asset stares into his coffee cup. In the beginning, they’d both been of a comparable age. Little by little, that had changed. Pierce had gotten older, while the Asset’s face is no different today than the night five decades ago when he’d returned from Dallas to Aleksi’s ebullient greeting. He remembers that first joyful kiss, how Aleksi had sent the handlers away and taken him to bed. Taken him, the first of many times.

Never again; Aleksi is dead. The Asset mourns him. The anxiety churns up his lunch, because imagining Hydra without him is unthinkable. Guilt, too, is part of the mix, because so often in the last dozen awakenings, his lover has been impatient with him, more often prone to striking him, to telling him that he isn’t enough.

He’s a little less shaky once he’s had soup and a sandwich, but the world around him seems too loud, too bright. When he stands up to leave, he sways a little, as if gravity is not what it was an hour ago. It seems so, now that Aleksi is no more.

Walking down the street, the Asset tries to process what it all means. His concentration bounces like a hard rubber ball, hopping from one vector to another. Sirens of emergency vehicles echo through the streets.

The jacket he wears isn’t warm enough; he’s shivering continually. No, of course he isn’t sickened from his brief time in the river. He’s in dry clothes, and the water hadn’t been that cold anyway. Certainly not as cold as cryo…it must be the shock about Aleksi, that’s all.

The tremors are even affecting his prosthetic arm, which spasms and twitches with involuntary movement. In addition, he feels phantom pains in the arm that’s no longer there, giving him the strange sensation of having three arms. He’s off balance and light-headed. He has to swallow repeatedly to keep his lunch from returning.

In the distance, he can see the S.H.I.E.L.D. building, still wreathed in smoke, gaping and twisted where the Insight platform collided with it. A helicopter is air-lifting people from the roof, likely whoever was in the floors above the breech.

All this, because he failed.

His body wants to shut down. His vision is hazy and his heart is racing so fast his whole body is throbbing, fiery agony everywhere. It’s crushing him, his bones splintering…he manages to stagger toward a gap in the buildings, knowing there’s no refuge for him.

Hydra is doing this, he’s sure. There must be some kind of remote kill-switch. They’re killing him, or incapacitating him, so they can retrieve him without risk to themselves. That’s worse; they may not kill him, just put him back into service, this time with no one who cares about him at all.

He retches, unable to fight the nausea and searing pain. Well-worn work boots stop in front of him. A rumbling voice sounds familiar. The Asset manages to focus, and sees a massive man with a mane of yellow hair, one of his former handlers. But it can’t be him, that mission was more than forty years ago, he’d be an old man now, like Aleksi.

The man reaches down, seizes his left hand and looks at the metal fingers. “Well, well, if it isn’t the Anvil,” he growls.

‘Anvil’ had been the code-name for that mission, the Asset remembers through a fresh bolt of agony. They had made an incursion into southeast Asia, and this man had talked to him in Russian, he’d said…

“If you’ve seen one rice paddy, you’ve seen them all,” he repeats to the handler.

“That’s right, Anvil,” the big man agrees. He reaches down, and without effort, scoops the Asset up as if he were a child. It’s humiliating that he can’t do anything to defend himself. He doesn’t want to go back, but since when have his wants ever mattered?

Each step hammers his nerve endings like a blow. He struggles weakly, but the man has a firm grasp on him. There’s a shriek of static in his head, then everything goes away.

When he opens his eyes the Asset is on his back, looking up at a room that is definitely not Hydra, unless they’re using shacks for safe-houses. There’s a welter of reused pallets, cardboard and random glimpses of a blue tarp overhead. He writhes against another muscle spasm and tries not to cry out too loudly. They are punishing him, like he’d known they would….

“Here, knock this back,” his handler says, and holds a flask to his lips.

It’s some kind of alcohol and it burns going down. He chokes, swallows again and again. When the Asset finally takes a deep breath, his heart is no longer fluttering like a hummingbird, and the fog of his thoughts has cleared somewhat.

“Better?” his benefactor asks.

The Asset nods cautiously. He doesn’t trust the other man, but right now he’s helpless. “I remember you,” he says, “but I don’t remember your name.”

“Call me Victor.” That doesn’t seem familiar, but the conquering hero image suits him—his shoulders nearly span the width of the shack, and he looks like he could take on a small army for recreation. The Asset is pretty sure he remembers them doing just that.

“Please, Victor, don’t take me back,” he says, knowing how pathetic he sounds and hating himself for it.

“Back where, kid?”

“Back to Hydra.”

Victor hawks up a gob of phlegm and spits it in a corner. “Them? Bunch of sheep feeling superior, you ask me. Soviets weren’t much better, but at least they paid good and the propaganda wasn’t as extreme.”

He speaks with such contempt that the Asset relaxes a little—or it might be the liquor working its way through his system. His left arm jerks and knocks loose a slat from the wall. “Sorry—“ he apologizes, but his arm hasn’t gotten the message.

“Let me see what I can do about that before you tear the place down,” Victor says, looking at the broken lathes. “Wait here, I’ll be back in a little bit.” He exits the shack and the Asset tries to rise, but he can’t get his feet underneath him and collapses back onto the bedroll, exhausted.

Every joint and muscle feels as if it’s been replaced with molten glass. He hears himself whimpering like a wounded dog, kicked again and again by a cruel master.

The tarp rustles and Victor is back with a Styrofoam cup and a brown pill bottle. “Here you go, take these.”

“What…?”

“Xanax. Oughta take the edge off.”

The Asset hesitates, then swallows the two small pills. If it can bring relief, he’ll risk it; the pain is a greater enemy than Hydra at the moment.

It still hurts, he discovers soon, but the spasms have eased. Mostly because his limbs are too heavy to move. His bionic arm seems to weigh 200 pounds, and his other limbs aren’t much lighter. Heaviest of all are his eyelids, which stubbornly refuse to stay open.

The world darts in and out of reality. Aleksi stroking his hair, a black SUV billowing smoke, tumbling out of control and missing him by inches. Victor giving him pills and water, Aleksi striking him for asking questions, asking about the strangely familiar man on the bridge, “Your name is James Buchanan Barnes”, a bespectacled man in a lab coat, a warrior-woman with red hair, sun flashing off the mission’s shield as it tumbles away into space….

At one point during his convulsions, he’s sure the battle on the Insight platform is going on again, but this time it’s Victor holding him down, the creaking of the shack blending with the explosion aboard Insight.

There is a desert. The Asset is roasting in the sun’s glare. Victor gives him water.

It’s going to be all right. Victor says so.

The young man awakens clear-headed, alone in the shack. From the brightness of the blue tarp overhead, it’s daylight, but it no longer burns his eyes. He moves cautiously but his body doesn’t protest, and he sits up without difficulty. Concentrating, he becomes aware of a new stillness, as if a layer of white noise in his head has been silenced.

Hydra’s kill-switch has failed to kill him, and whatever control they may have had over him is gone. His loyalty to them died with Aleksi; he is no one’s asset any longer.

He looks around the shack with curiosity, seeing its details for the first time.

The space is longer than it is wide, about two-and-a-half meters by five. The bedroll he occupies is midway along one of the long walls. There’s a narrow aisle, and a row of crates, wooden and plastic on the opposite wall, serving as storage to an assortment of canned goods, books, tools and a pile of rags, or maybe they’re Victor’s wardrobe. At the foot of the bedroll is a battered blue armchair, and a hanging light fixture within easy reach. Pictures are tacked up at random—naked women, polar bears pulling a barbarian’s chariot, a landscape of a forest with distant snow-capped mountains.

To his right, beyond the head of the bedroll, he recognizes his stolen gym bag under a small dining table with a folding chair beside it. Above the table is tacked a map of North America. There’s a crude door on that narrow wall. It’s all fairly primitive, but orderly, painting a picture of a solitary man.

At the sound of approaching footsteps, he bounces up, ready for any conflict that may present itself.

It’s Victor, and he’s carrying a pail. “You’re looking better this morning,” he rumbles. “Good. Means you can take your own bath.” He indicates the bucket, which has steam rising from it. Going to a plastic crate, one of several lined up along the far wall, he retrieves a sponge and drops it into the water.

For the first time, the young man becomes aware of how rank he smells. He mutters, “Thanks,” and strips off his soiled clothing so he can cleanse himself.

As he washes, he can observe his host clearly for the first time. Even in ordinary jeans, a flannel shirt and battered work-boots, he’d stand out based on size alone. He’s a full head taller than his guest, and outweighs him by at least 30 kilos of solid muscle. He appears to be in his late thirties, the same as he did so many years ago.

Victor prowls past him to settle into the old armchair.

“Let me tell you what’s been going on,” he says. “Big news is Hydra taking down S.H.I.E.L.D., although there’s a lot of debate about who really took down who. Big leak of classified intel, somebody dumped it onto the web while the battle was going on. They were getting ready to launch some kind of security platforms—“

“I know about those.”

A snort from Victor. “Kinda thought you might. Anyway, they’re still mopping that mess up. Probably will be for weeks. This morning, they arrested some senator who was in Hydra’s pocket, and it sounds like they’re going to ground to lick their wounds for a while.”

“Good,” says the young man. He remembers the cause of all this, the man whose life he spared. “What happened to…Captain America?” No one ever briefed him on the man’s real name —no way is “Captain America” written on his birth certificate.

“Hospital. He was in a coma, but they were saying on the news a little while ago that he’s come out of it, gonna make a full recovery.”

“That’s good. How long was I out of it?”

“Since the day before yesterday. You were out of your head for almost forty hours.”

He pays attention to the heat of the water and the rubbery texture of the sponge as it glides over his skin. It isn’t exactly hedonism, but it feels pleasant to be clean, to be able to do this simple thing for himself. “I’m not going back to Hydra.”

“I don’t think there’s a hell of a lot of Hydra left to go back to, but yeah, I think you’ve got the right idea,” Victor agrees. “Every time I’ve ever joined up with some outfit or other, I’ve gotten screwed over. No more. I’m an independent these days.”

One of the most striking things about Victor are his very prominent canine teeth. That, combined with his abundant sun-gold hair, makes him look like a lion, or maybe a bear. The thought sparks a faint memory, something to do with that elusive code-name. “Grizzly,” he says out loud.

“Say what?”

“Your old code-name. Grizzly? Something like that.”

Victor laugh booms, and it does sound like the roar of a wild animal. “Are you still worrying about that? For what it’s worth, Anvil, they called me Sabretooth.”

The name brings a jolt of recognition.

“Of course, I never knew you as anything but ‘Anvil’.”

“If I knew my name, I’d tell you. But Hydra had me for a long time, and I’ve been called a lot of things.”

“Yeah, I’m amazed you’ve lasted this long. They had a standing kill order in case you went off the rails, did you know that? Before we landed in the Delta, that guy in charge gave me a gun loaded with tranquilizer darts. Said if that didn’t work and I couldn’t knock you out, I should cut your fucking throat.” He grins, a feral show of teeth. “Pierce—matter of fact, he got wasted the other day. Don’t suppose you know anything about that…?”

“I heard about it.” He shakes his head, trying to clear it, to deny what he’s hearing, to make it fit somehow. “But that was back in 196—?“

“Sixty-eight, sixty-nine, thereabouts, why?”

Muddled though it is, his memory insists that those were good years with Aleksi, that he’d cared, wouldn’t have disposed of his greatest asset so casually. “I don’t believe you! Aleksi wouldn’t—“

“Aleksi, is it? The affectionate diminutive of Alexander…sounds like there was something going on there.” Getting no response, he chuckles knowingly. “So he was a ruthless bureaucrat, a traitor to his country, and he liked boys. What a guy!” Victor sounds gleeful, as if this intel confirms every theory he has about human nature.

For decades, the young man has done what was demanded of him, worked hard to please his superiors, especially Alexander Pierce. And all these years, he’s been no more than a serviceable tool, a disposable thing used sometimes for recreation. The feelings were all a sham; he meant nothing to Pierce.

“A word of advice,” Victor says, watching him. “That anger you’re feeling right now? Use it. It’ll help keep you alive. It’ll remind you to be careful about who you trust, it’ll keep you going when you want to quit, it’ll keep you warm at night. It’s a good thing.”

He finishes his sponge-bath, and Victor directs him to the pile of rags on top of the crates. They aren’t rags, just a pair of thread-bare jeans, a black tee faded to charcoal-blue, a dark denim jacket and a ballcap

“You need to get the hell out of Dodge,” Victor tells him as he dresses. “D.C. isn’t a safe place for anyone associated with Hydra right now. If the feds aren’t looking for you, whoever is left will be. Maybe to kill you, maybe recapture you to use against their enemies.

“When shit like this goes down…you know how they’re always saying, if you cut off one head, two more are gonna pop up? Well, they’re still just people, and they’re gonna be fighting about which head is in charge. Somebody’s sure to want you to be their loaded gun, and you already know what that’s like.”

All too well.

Victor has advice about the best ways to travel, where he might want to go, places to avoid. Ways to make money, legitimate and otherwise. He buys them breakfast, and when they come out of the diner, says, “Don’t come back here. I’m off the grid these days, and that’s just the way I like it. You’re too high-profile. Here…call it start-up money.”

It’s two hundred dollars of assorted denominations. “Can you afford this?”

“I live this way because I want to, not because I have to. It ain’t exactly Walden Pond, but it’s a lot more interesting. Take care of yourself, Anvil.” The big man walks away.

There’s one thing he wants to do before he leaves town. He’s seen posters for the Captain America exhibit all over town, and he wants to know more about the man who called him ‘friend’.

The first thing he finds out is the man’s actual name, Steven Grant Rogers. He’s from Brooklyn, New York. Used to be sickly, volunteered to be a test subject and got cured and then some. The narration that drones on in the background talks about what a hero he was and still is.

Heroes are only men; they can wear masks to look noble and still be callous within. Rogers may be a hero, but for sure he’s a good fighter and hard to kill. That’s worthy of more respect, he thinks, than such a nebulous title as ‘hero’.

Then he rounds a corner and comes face-to-face with a grainy film clip of himself in an American uniform, clean-cut and standing next to Steve Rogers, studying a map. They’re bantering back and forth, it’s obvious from the nods and grins. Except…this guy is a little younger than him and a lot more relaxed. Easy to see why Rogers called him Bucky—there’s a hell of a resemblance.

There’s a whole wall devoted to James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, but the only thing that sounds at all familiar is their mutual prowess at marksmanship. He stands staring, trying to remember anything about the life that was Bucky Barnes, but his brain keeps flinching away. Whatever Hydra has done has blocked that information, and there’s no telling whether he’ll ever get it back.

Finally, he turns away from his doppelganger. It’s time to go find a place for himself in the world. He needs to make a life. He needs to make a name for himself.
***



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