It isn’t until late October before they finally have a solid plan in place. They have somehow, Stark and Fëanor have a very goodly amount of influence, acquired an icebreaker to take them over the polar icecap and several soviet military trucks, so as to not raise suspicion. The plan is to get as close to the base as possible and remove the sentries before surrounding the base for a full assault. They would leave no survivors to tell HYDRA that their precious Assets have escaped, and no one would know about the base’s destruction until it was too late. Everything was set. The only thing they had to do know was to contact the Commandoes and tell them the news.
It was not a conversation that any one of the team was looking forward to having, but they had put it off for as long as they logistically could. Now they had no time for delay, and to put it off any further would be detrimental to their plans. Stark was outright dreading the conversation, and opted to let Peggy and Arion do all of the talking. They called each of the former Howling Commandoes and had them convene at Joyous Guard. Fëanor and Joshua gave them a small tour of the house, once more, catching up with them, and buttering them up before they were brought to the war room and Arion dropped the bomb on them.
Needless to say they did not take the news of Bucky and Steven’s survival and subsequent enslavement to HYDRA and The Red Room well.
Peggy had calmly asked them to not speak until they had finished talking and briefing them on the intelligence they had gathered. Arion spoke first and instead of tact and finesse, he dove right in and struck to the heart of the subject like a well-aimed bullet to the chest.
“The reason you have been asked here is because we have just uncovered the identities of the Winter Soldier and the Winter Knight,” he said bluntly. He closed his eyes to the stab of pain in his chest from the emotional agony his soul had been put through, before he continued with a quavering voice: “it’s James… James and Steven; my love, my heart, and my son.” He opened his eyes and saw the shock and outrage on the retired Commandoes faces. Arion looked to Peggy, when he opened his mouth and couldn’t force the words out again. With a nod, the female founder of SHIELD took over.
“Sergeant Barnes survived the fall from the train, and was found by Captain Buchanan, shortly before they were captured by a faction of HYDRA working in the Soviet government known as the Red Room,” She said primly her gaze sweeping over each of the commandoes before stopping on Dugan. “Dugan, I do believe you and I became acquainted with some of their work, and their methods of brainwashing and mind control techniques?” the graying red bearded man looked as if he had physically crumpled at the mere mention of that place, his eyes going soft and sad. “they used their methods on Sergeant Barnes and young Steven, as well as spearheading a few new techniques while using them as test subjects.” The Commandoes faces became grim and shocked and Peggy hated herself even more, because she had the unhappy task of telling them the worst of the news. “You all know to some extent what the Soldier and the Knight did on behalf of the Red Room and the KGB,” nods of numb shock answered her query. “Steven came to Arion a few months ago with time sensitive intelligence: the Winter Soldier and the Winter Knight have been slated for decommissioning and termination in August of next year,” she paused seeing the horror grow with fear and outrage, “after Barnes gives birth to Steve’s child.” That little tidbit cinched it. Dugan leapt to his feet with a wordless cry of outrage and denial; the rest of the Commandoes were not far behind.
“Like Hell they are,” he growled. Arion gave the burly man a watery smile of gratitude. Dugan nodded back. “Sorry, Pegs, but we aren’t gonna just let those red bastards kill Bucky, or Steven.”
“And neither are we, if we have any say in it,” Peggy said primly but a small smile tugged at the corner of her lips.
“How the Hell did they even get a hold of Rogers’ spunk,” Morita asked. The Commandoes had a moment of silent communal discussion before all eyes turned to Howard Stark. Stark didn’t even look them in the eye, just took a hefty swallow of his drink.
‘We cannot let this happen to Bucky and Steven,’ Jacques raved, and Gabe agreed.
“Yeah,” Gabe said, “Barnes saved our skin hundreds of times. And Steven kept those bullets off us on Omaha beach, risked his own life to protect us time and again.” Falsworth shook his head in agreement.
“We cannot let them just kill them like a pair of rabid dogs,” he said. “Whatever help you need for this rescue mission, you will have it for my part.”
“Same here,” Dugan cheered, a wild grin growing on his bushy mustached face. “Let’s show these slimy Red bastards what happens when you mess with the Howling Commandoes!” All of the Commandoes leapt up and let out a cry of harmony, each one’s hearts filled with the same resolve to see this plan through to the end.
“We all owe the Captain this much, Carter,” Falsworth said calmly, “I don’t there is any one of us here who would want to see Captain Rogers only child be raised as a killer.” Peggy gave her fellow Englishman a tight and watery smile. The room went solemnly silent for a moment as the reality began to sink in.
“Sometimes I think that if we had just listened to Steven and had gone back lookin’ for him, we would have found Barnes,” Dugan said softly his eyes filled with regret. “To think that he’s been alive this whole time, and with those Snakes, it makes my blood boil!” the Commandoes all nodded in silent shared regret for what they had lost.
“He was so close to us and we didn’t even know it,” Gabe said as he looked over the combined dossier on the Winter Soldier’s hits, and shook his head solemnly his brown eyes filed with sadness. Jacques nodded and looked at the most resent photo of Bucky. It was blurry and distant, but they could distinctly see the flash of silver where a left arm should be.
“Bucky took care of us in that factory,” Morita said as they laid the files and plans out on the war room’s table. “Barnes saved more lives that day by taking our place in that back room, and now… the least we could do is bring him and his kid back home.” he looked up at his friends gathered around the map and found them all nodding in agreement. Silence reigned again, as the contemplated the past and future.
“Some days,” Dugan said softly after a moment of contemplating the map, “I can still see the look on Cap’s face when we finally met back up with him at the station. I don’t think I ever saw a man more devastated in my life until we told Steven and Arion what had happened.” Battle weary eyes looked up and found the elf in question. Arion smiled back sadly. Nods came from each of the Commandoes as they found themselves caught up in the memories of that horrible day.
“I still wake up at nights hearin’ Bucky’s scream,” Game said softly, his eyes distant as he looked at the map, thoughts drawn back to that train. “I didn’t even know it was Bucky’s scream until I went back to the compartments and found Cap still clinging to the side of the train. I’ll never forget for as long as I live the look in his eyes when he told me Barnes was gone.”
“I sometimes hear Steven’s voice screamin’ at us,” Morita said as he brushed his fingers over Steven’s careful drawing, “tellin’ us that we left his Ada out there to die. He was right,” he said and looked up, eyes filled with sorrow, finding the gazes of the Commandoes, Peggy, Howard and Arion’s eyes on him. “We did leave him there, only it wasn’t to die; it was a fate worse than death.”
It had taken almost forty years for these thoughts to become voice, such was the struggle that kept them bottled up inside, but finally they were bringing voice to the thoughts and memories that haunted them for all those years. Morita’s eyes hardened and he glared at the red pin on the map indicating the base that held their two friends captive. His clenched fist struck the table and he bowed his head.
“Let’s get these sons of bitches,” Dugan growled, his soft blue eyes gone as hard as diamonds.
“Here here,” Falsworth said with a vindictive and cunning smile growing on his lips.
Arion smiled a soft and watery smile in response, touched by their mutual outrage on his beloved’s behalf. He turned to the plans set up on the table and explained their situation.
“We are to be broken up into two teams,” he said pointing out the positions of where they would be assaulting the base on the map. “Team one will be Fëanor, Huan, Joshua, Maedhros and myself; we are to take out the exterior guards before the alarms are sounded. This will ensure we are unopposed when we enter the base. After that is done, we will split up and launch our assault from these two points.” He said pointing out the two entrances to the base. He looked up at the group and saw them studying the map intently, just as they did for Steve during the war. Arion felt warmth of fondness flow over him; realizing that, save for the graying hair and slightly more aged faces, this could have been any one of their battle plans during their blitzkrieg on HYDRA during the war. Arion gave himself a mental shake and pressed on.
“Team one will take the main entrance, while team two, composed of the Commandoes and Adrian, will take the second entrance. Their job is to gather up files in the base and to join up with Steven. Once we have converged in the base we will need to make our way to the ‘prep room’ where James is being held while not on a mission, or being prepared for a mission.” Arion’s face turned to steel and his eyes as cold as the bitter wastes of Helcaraxë. “The prep room is where they hold the conditioning device Steven called ‘the Chair’. I want it destroyed and all schematics of it erased from existence!” he said and the Commandoes nodded, quietly agreeing. “Fëanor has set up a mockup of the base nearby, and we will be practicing our separate assaults on the base with British armed forces playing the part of the enemy.” At this Arion gave up the briefing mantel to Fëanor. The Noldorean lord stepped forward and cleared his throat before speaking.
“The soldiers who will be taking part in this think that this is nothing more than a training exercise; War games, and Special Forces training,” he said. “Most of the soldiers you will be interacting with are special forces that I have hand selected for this. We will be working with a rather recreational system that is being tested for mission prep, using lasers and special clothing that detect when you have been shot and ‘killed’.” Fëanor smirked and looked at Howard from the corner of his eye, “One of your inventions in weapons development, if I am not mistaken, Mr. Stark?” Howard grinned and shrugged, quietly preening under Fëanor’s subtle praise.
“I may have had a hand in converting the laser tag equipment and sensors for military use,” he said offhandedly, nonchalantly inspecting his nails. Fëanor and Maedhros rolled their eyes, and continued the briefing.
“The point is,” Fëanor continued, “that they don’t know this is a trial run on our plan. Their instructions are to hold the base against a possible enemy assault, and to keep us from obtaining two prisoners. We can’t factor in Steven’s abilities into these test runs, so they will have to remain passive members. Steven has told us he will be waiting for our telepathic signal to initiate the attack, so that is what we will try to replicate. We need to find the holes in our strategy and plan, so that when this happens for real, there won’t be any foul ups that haven’t been taken into account.” The commandoes nodded and grinned.
“Alright then,” Dugan said, “I only got one question.” Peggy rolled her eyes.
“And what exactly would that be, Mr. Dugan,” She asked.
“What are we all standin’ around here for?” he asked and the Commandoes erupted into raucous laughter. Maedhros chuckled and Fëanor tried in vain to suppress his smile.
“Very well then,” Fëanor said, “get some rest and a good hot meal. The first assault trial run starts in the morning, 0800.” With that, Fëanor turned and took Joshua and Adrian with him to get supper ready. It was going to be a long few weeks before the Commandoes were back into fighting shape, but everyone agreed that for old times’ sake, they deserved to be there to rescue Bucky and Steven from the clutches of HYDRA once more.
Failure; He failed. There was no reason that the mission had failed. Everything was going perfect, and then he was made, they all were made, and it all turned into a big SNAFU.
‘Strip him,’ a guard ordered a technician. The man quickly stripped Steven of all his clothes, even his undergarments, carefully setting them down on a table for cleaning, before scuttling away. A guard grabbed his arm and roughly pulled him towards the training room and the Post. Steven quaked like sapling leaves on a spring tree, naked as the day he was born, as he was dragged into the training room for punishment.
The Post meant he was in deep trouble, and he knew it. Everything had gone wrong, and he was terrified what Misha was going to concoct as punishment for this transgression. Misha had always dealt out harsh punishments for Steven, but as time progressed since the attempted escape by his Ada, and his failure to bring him in, he had become callous to the punishments; barely feeling it, just enduring. But his mind, no… his mind was fragile and weak, on the precipice of some great tipping point. Steven could feel the fractures in his psyche becoming greater with every mission and every punishment, and every time he had to watch them strap his Ada into the Chair and see the terror in his eyes as the head gear descended to take away his memories in white hot agony. As electrical pulses wiped everything away, with every scream from his Ada’s throat, Steven was brought closer and closer to the breaking point.
Petrified as he was over the thought of whatever punishment was created for this, he willingly submitted for punishment and allowed himself to be restrained to the Post. He was numb, with both fear and confusion. The mission was perfect, the planning flawless, and yet the execution was so flawed it had not only cost them the mission, but had also killed one of their handlers. The Commander was strict to the point of abusive, and was a control freak. He had planned the mission with Steven, and had wanted in on the execution. Steven didn’t know what went wrong. He played the incident over again and again in his mind trying to find where they had made a mistake, where the flaw had been, and came up blank. Nothing sparked in his mind, but Yelena had said that one of the guards had spotted him and raised the alarm.
Steven looked up blankly as they restrained Yasha to his chair. He felt numb and apathetic to what was happening. Too many punishments over the years had made him callous to the fear and pain that a flogging would bring. Movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention and he looked up just in time to see the Controller approach with the lash in hand. Steven felt only a tremor of fear before he buried his face in his restrained arms. Misha’s booted footsteps were heavy and loud as he prowled around Steven’s form, looking for the best place to lay his first strike. The first always set the tone as to how brutal and vicious the punishment would be, and Steven knew that this one was going to be more brutal than any before. After all, the Commander was killed as a result of their failure, and the target had escaped. Steven looked up for a brief second and saw Yelena’s restrained form over his left arm. She was defiant, as usual, and surprisingly she had a look of unrepentant triumph in the quirk of her mouth. Steven felt his mind go blank with shock just before the first blow landed down from shoulder to curve of his back and to his sensitive side. Yelena was the one that had caused the alarm to go off. She had this done as revenge.
Steven arched and sucked in a sharp breath, at the unexpected blow, before he clenched his teeth and sank into himself to escape the pain. He held on tight and clung to the Post, sinking into the rhythm of the blows; all the while a constant mantra kept flowing through his head.
‘Just take it. It’s for Ada. Just a little longer,’ he thought, ‘just a few more, and it’ll be over.’ The blows came fast and hard across his back, crisscrossing and never in the same place twice. Steven suddenly felt as if his back was on fire, as a blow struck the same place twice in quick succession. He gasped and choked back his scream, as tears welled into his eyes. But he steeled himself and clenched his teeth again, keeping him from crying out in pain again. ‘Just a few more,’ he promised.
Screams and shrieks of agony became high-pitched whines, or whimpers, as skin finally broke open and he began to bleed. After a while, the blows stopped and Steven allowed himself a moment of reprieve before it would start again. He looked up through pain blurred vision and saw his Ada, pale with fright and shaking with silent tears. Suddenly his head was wrenched back as Misha grabbed a tuft of his hair from his forelock and pulled him back up.
‘You don’t get to hide from me, little Knight,’ he hissed in Steven’s ear. Steven hardened his gaze and resolves not to show further weakness to him and checked his grip again on the post. This only seemed to incense Misha further. He pulled Steven’s head back again and forced him to look at his Ada. ‘You are mine, now; both of you! Now and forever, and I will do with you what I see fit!’ Misha threw off his grip on Steven’s scalp, causing Steven to knock his head against the Post, and stood behind him. Steven looked at his Ada’s form and saw Yasha’s disgust and fear, roiling with shame and sorrow. Steven closed his eyes and waited for the blow.
Suddenly there was blinding agony, and his eyes few open as his world whited out. For a moment he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, and couldn’t do anything but arch his back in tortured agony, mouth agape, choking on his screams, before something finally gave way and shattered in his mind. The last thing he saw was his Ada’s horrified face streaming with tears before the world went black.
August 23rd, 1985
The ovum exposed to the sperm has been successfully fertilized and will be implanted in 10 separate females. If implantation fails with the female subjects, we will implant the last embryo in the Soldier.
The risk of failure is too great to risk the Soldier rejecting the embryo due to trauma if wiped, so the Soldier will remain out of Cryo in a containment cell with the Knight until after the risk period has passed and the child is born.