Chapter 1: 1.
Because of the events that split the team apart, Natasha doesn’t realize right away that something went wrong in Lagos and it wasn’t civilians dying.
Not a chunk of Crossbones’ body is ever found. Given the type of the explosives he used and the size of the explosion, he should’ve been torn to shreds. Tony assures her that even if he evaporated, there’d be something left behind—if not of his body, then at least the metal parts of his armor. Meanwhile, a thorough forensic examination of the area reveals absolutely no trace of him. It’s crazy to even consider, but it’s possible that somehow, Crossbones survived.
Lightyears away, Crossbones wakes up in Avengers Tower. He screams.
Chapter 2: 2.1
“Are you okay?” a man asks.
No, he’s not okay . His whole body is on fire. His every cell is being ripped apart.
Only… they’re not.
He stops screaming and stares down at himself. He’s sitting in a bed in a room he doesn’t recognize. He’s hyper aware of not being in pain. It feels odd; makes him want to dig his nails into his forearm and scratch until the skin’s raw. Speaking of his skin, it’s unfamiliarly even. He touches it with his un-melted fingers, feeling the smoothness, the warmth. He rests both hands on the white sheets and revels in their softness.
What’s going on? Maybe he died and—he’s not in Heaven. Guys like him don’t go to Heaven. Maybe it’s just a fantasy of his dying brain.
He looks up and tenses. It’s Falcon standing in the doorway. He’s not wearing his armor anymore, just a polo t-shirt in an absolutely hideous shade of olive green, and a pair of jeans. It means some time must have passed since Brock blew himself up in Lagos—of course it has; no matter what these crazy fuckers did to him, third-degree burns don’t just disappear in the span of a couple of minutes. And he’s positive that wherever he is now, it’s not Lagos.
“Are you okay?” Falcon asks again.
Brock nods sharply. Falcon isn’t acting hostile so there’s no reason to panic, but he should be on high alert in case he needs to fight him off. With just Falcon here it should be easy, but the last time he was surprised by a helicarrier, so it’s best if he doesn’t get too confident.
“Is it because of yesterday?” Falcon continues. “I told Steve not to ask you.”
“I’m fine,” Brock responds in a voice rough from sleep and screaming.
He scrambles out of bed and looks around to try and mask how completely clueless he is. It’s an ordinary bedroom, nothing special, but nice enough. Maybe a little rough-and-ready around the edges. Definitely not what Lagos motels look like. It’s the kind of bedroom he could live in. He slowly walks up to the windows. They must be on a high floor because he can see a whole city below. A very familiar city—he’s back in New York.
What the actual fuck is going on?
Falcon’s eyes are watching him curiously, but all he says is, “Breakfast’s ready.”
Brock latches onto those words. Breakfast means coffee, and coffee is his priority first thing in the morning. He’s sure he will be able to figure this all out after he has a cup or two.
They walk through a bland corridor towards an elevator. Brock tries not to look around too much, but he can’t help locating all the doors in his sight in case he needs an escape plan. Falcon doesn’t seem to notice, so it’s all good.
It’s the most awkward elevator ride he’s ever experienced, including the one where Captain America threw him into the ceiling. Falcon keeps throwing glances at him and smiling when Brock catches him red-handed. It makes him… well, ‘uncomfortable’ doesn’t begin to cover it.
It seems to take an age, but the elevator does eventually stop, and Brock follows Falcon into a spacious kitchen, where a loud group of people are already occupying a table set with various kinds of breakfast foods. Brock tenses even more when he realizes they’re all Avengers. In an instant, he’s ready for a fight, but no one reacts to the ex-Hydra mercenary casually entering their kitchen. James Rhodes is stuffing his face with pop tarts like there’s no tomorrow while Romanoff is buttering a slice of toast and listening to Scarlet Witch go on about hamsters of all things. It’s like it’s just another morning to them.
The smell of coffee hits Brock’s nose as Falcon pours himself a cup, and he shakes off his stupor and reaches out for the pot. Coffee first, life later.
Falcon passes him the pot and, thankfully, Brock doesn’t have to try the many cupboards for a mug because there’s one standing right there on the counter, white with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s logo. He pours himself coffee, takes a sip and closes his eyes in bliss. Maybe it’s not the best coffee he’s ever had, but it’s close.
When he opens his eyes, Captain America is standing in the doorway. Brock’s hands tighten around the mug and his jaw sets. He really wants to throw the mug at his head—just a warm-up before he tries to kill him.
Cap looks him up and down with a slight frown, like he knows exactly what Brock’s thinking, and Brock bites down on his lower lip. Cap’s no less intimidating in a tight cotton t-shirt and a pair of washed out jeans than he is in his uniform.
“Brock, can I talk to you for a second?”
That makes the other Avengers go quiet, their eyes moving from Cap to Brock and back. Brock feels like he’s acting in a play only he doesn’t have a script for. “Sure,” he drawls and pushes away from the counter.
Cap turns and leaves, and Brock follows him out to the corridor.
“How did it go?” Cap asks when it feels like they’re a good mile away from the kitchen. “Last night.”
The ability to quickly adjust to new circumstances, even when one isn’t sure what they are exactly is a skill every Hydra agent picks up quickly if they don’t want to kick the bucket. Brock stopped questioning how easily it comes to him years ago. “It went fine.”
“I need a little more than that.” Cap stops just few steps away from the elevator. “I don’t have to tell you how important this is. We haven’t been this close since… well, ever.”
Brock stares at him, calculating the odds of succeeding in killing Captain America with a mug full of cooling coffee. They don’t look promising though, so he shrugs and takes another sip. Maybe some other day.
“I really don’t want to watch the footage, so don’t make me,” Cap continues when Brock doesn’t reply. “I don’t care what you do. I care about results.”
“Don’t worry about results. You’ll get what you want, you have my word.”
Cap nods and turns towards the elevator. It’d be so easy to put a gun to the back of his head and pull the trigger. Would he be quick enough to defend himself?
Cap presses a button. “Are you ready for round two?”
Brock’s almost sure it’s supposed to be a joke, but neither of them smiles. “Sure, Cap.”
The door slides open and he enters the cage. Cap doesn’t follow him.
“Rollins is already waiting in the room. Once again, I don’t care what you do. Just get it out of him.”
Brock blinks, his grip on the mug tightening again. He must have heard wrong. Cap couldn’t have said Rollins. And even if he did, he can’t mean Jack Rollins. Jack’s dead.
Cap frowns. “It’d be best if you changed first, though. Friday?”
The door closes and the elevator goes up. Brock stares at nothing, his mind empty.
What the fuck?
He’s pleased with the clothes he finds in the closet he assumes is his. Most of them are black, which is his favorite color. He feels good in black. Comfortable. Secure.
There’s a mirror hanging on the inside of the door and he takes a minute to study himself. There are no burn scars on his face which he had already suspected from the lack of them on the rest of his body as well as the lack of pain. There aren’t any scars, for that matter. He’s clean-shaven, and his hair is cropped short and lying flat against his head. He looks—he snorts—he almost looks like a shorter and darker version of Captain America himself.
He shuts the door, wondering what he’s supposed to do now, when he notices a laptop lying on the desk. As an old Hydra saying goes; in times of trouble, lie. Jack had always thought the saying sucked. ‘You can’t lie well without research,’ he used to say, ‘It should say research.’
Jack could be really boring sometimes.
Brock smiles fondly at the memory and opens the laptop. There’s a picture of an M4A1 Carbine set as a wallpaper. Yes, this is definitely his laptop.
He opens the browser and hesitates for a second before taking a deep breath and, his fingers shaking ever so slightly, he types in Jack’s name.
The most recent article is from last night: EX-HYDRA OPERATIVE ARRESTED BY THE AVENGERS. The picture right at the top of the page leaves him in no doubt; it is his Jack.
He skims the article. Jack was captured in Lagos while trying to steal a biological weapon. His history is summarized: […] Jack Rollins, ex-commander of STRIKE and a Hydra sleeper agent responsible for the deaths of 15 people including S.H.I.E.L.D. Director, Nicholas Fury, was badly injured after the failed launch of Project Insight and hospitalized for 6 months before escaping and forming a criminal organization engaged in weapons trafficking. He was seen on more than one occasion in the company of the Winter Soldier, the infamous Hydra agent linked to numerous acts of terrorism […]
Brock stops reading. What the hell is going on? The story’s familiar, painfully familiar. It is his story, basically, apart from one thing—the Winter Soldier. Brock hasn’t seen him since Insight.
It becomes clear what Cap wants from him. Brock snorts.
“I didn’t take you for the type,” he murmurs as he types his own name into the browser, “though I really don’t know why.”
He clicks on a Wikipedia article. If Jack is living Brock’s life, whose life is Brock leading?
Brock Rumlow, better known as Crossbones is an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who after the failed launch of Project Insight joined the Avengers […]
Brock leans back in his chair.
He did what ?
Brock is done with this shit.
Sure, it’s nice having no burn scars. It’s nice not being in pain. Feeling strong and capable again is nice, too.
Getting lost in the tower is not, and neither is being startled by a disembodied voice talking to him. Stark built the Tower though, so he should have seen it coming.
The AI, Friday, sends the elevator to an underground floor, but after Brock exits he doesn’t know where to go. He decides to take the safest path, which is straight ahead. He passes the many doors slowly, waiting for sudden flash of genius to strike when one opens, and Romanoff exits with a slight frown on her face.
Bingo. Brock rushes her way and she gives him an unamused look.
“He’s not talking,” she says. “Don’t go easy on him.”
Brock nods at her and enters the room. Jack is sitting in the middle of it, his wrists chained to a metal table. Seeing him feels like a punch to the gut.
Brock had expected the burns. But there’s a difference between knowing what to expect and facing reality. So, he knew there would be burns, but he didn’t expect Jack’s face to be this badly disfigured. His stomach clenches painfully at the sight of him. His throat’s tight as he slowly approaches the table, feeling like he’s walking through water. He becomes aware of his face and tries to school it into something neutral. Jack would hate to see pity on it.
Only it isn’t pity Brock feels. It’s far deeper, uglier, and darker than that; he knows what it’s like to look like this, he knows how much it hurts. It’s not Jack’s face to wear, not his pain to bear. Only… the alternative is far worse. Just yesterday, Jack was dead, and deep down, below all the grief and sympathy, Brock’s relieved.
It’s not fucking fair. It feels like fate’s cruel joke.
He sits down across from Jack. Jack regards him with a cold gaze, his frown pulling at his scars. Brock wants to reach out and smooth it out, like he used to. What he does instead is sit stiffly like a statue, staring at Jack, trying to pull himself together and stop his eyes from watering. Just treat it like a mission , he tells himself. Gathering intel. Espionage. Just do that.
Jack doesn’t move either, doesn’t change his expression, doesn’t speak. It doesn’t feel quite real. Maybe it isn’t.
“I just passed Black Widow,” Brock says finally, his throat dry. He could do with some water, but he doesn’t know where to get it apart from the kitchen about twenty floors above. “She was pissed. Her tricks don’t work on you. She cracked a Norse god once, but not a peep out of you. But, of course, her tricks only work on the talkative ones. They always let something slip. They just can’t stop boasting, can’t stop listening to themselves. She relies on that.” Brock’s guilty of it himself. If he had knocked out Falcon all those years ago instead of running his mouth, he wouldn’t be in this mess. “But you ain’t like that. You ain’t giving her anything. You were trained not to, but even if you weren’t, you just ain’t the type.”
He leans away and looks around. Cap mentioned footage and sure enough there is a camera at the far end of the room. There’s a silver case lying on another table. Brock stands up and walks over to open it. He raises an eyebrow. All it holds is a pair of stun batons. He glances back at Jack who is still staring straight ahead. He is injured enough; it makes sense that, as an Avenger who was never with Hydra, Brock wouldn’t want to further damage him. Electrocution had to be enough.
Avenger Brock is a goody two-shoes, it seems. He also knew fuck all about Jack Rollins if he thought stun batons would faze him in any way.
Brock closes the case with a scowl of disgust. “Whose idea was this?”
Jack doesn’t respond, not that Brock expects him to. It’d be nice though. Brock turns to fully face him.
“Hey, maybe you can’t talk.” Unlikely, but a wave of fear washes over him, anyway. “Did anyone give you a checkup? Are your vocal cords even intact?”
No reaction. Brock walks around the table and behind Jack, stopping just by his left side. He tries not to assess the damage, but it comes so naturally he can’t help it. Jack’s wearing a short-sleeved V-neck t-shirt, and every visible patch of skin is a ruin of raised and twisted scars. At least his hair seems untouched, but it’s messy and longer than Brock’s ever seen it, falling to his shoulders, with lighter streaks here and there from the sun.
“Why are you like this?” Brock asks quietly. “If you ain’t with Hydra still,” and he knows Jack isn’t because why would he be if Brock wasn’t, “why stay loyal to them? Why protect their intel so much? They ain’t gonna come here and thank you. They don’t care what happens to you.”
Brock sighs as he realizes just how pointless this is. Working his ass off for intel he doesn’t want to gather from a man who won’t share, not because he cares about Hydra so much but because it’s a matter of principle. Brock would do the exact same thing.
“Maybe you’re under the impression this little piece of information is the only thing keeping you breathing.” He shoves his hands in his pockets, resuming his stroll around the table. Maybe it’s pointless, but he’s not passing up on an opportunity to talk to Jack. Even if he’s the only one doing the talking. Even if he’d rather talk about anything else. Even if this is not, technically, his Jack. Not the one Brock knew. “That that’s the only use we—I—have for you, and that once you give it up to me, it’s off with you. To a cell, or a hole, or whatever.”
He sits down with another sigh and pinches the bridge of his nose. When he looks up, Jack’s eyes are again on him, but just because he happens to be in his line of sight, and not because Jack cares to look at him.
He wonders what their relationship was like. If Avenger Brock was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, they had to have known each other at least in passing. Jack was the commander of STRIKE; was Brock even on the team?
“Do you remember me, Jack?” he asks, his voice rough and quiet. He could really use that water. “From before? We were friends.” That’s a massive guess. It’s also the truth. It’s also a massive understatement.
Jack’s looking right through him. Like Brock doesn’t even exist.
Brock springs to his feet so quickly he almost knocks his chair over and darts out of the room.
At least Stark keeps good whisky.
Brock’s sitting on his bed with his knees drawn up to his chest and his ankles crossed, a bottle of Glenfiddich in his hands. It burns his throat and it reminds him of swallowing rubble. It feels oddly good.
He still doesn’t know what happened back there. It shouldn’t be that difficult, he just needs to get in the zone. He needs to… compartmentalize.
He was trained for many things, but that was always the hardest; keeping his emotions and personal views separate from work, and keeping work separate from his life. Keeping first the ‘Commander’ and then ‘Crossbones’ separate from the real Brock Rumlow.
He raises his head when he hears a knock; Falcon’s leaning against the doorframe again, like he’s Brock’s fucking friend or something.
He probably is.
Maybe this is Hell.
“Natasha said you left the room awfully fast,” he says. He’s smiling, but he watches Brock with attention, like he wants to read him. “She said you sped out of there like a wasp bit you in the ass.”
“Hilarious,” Brock murmurs and takes a long sip. It numbs his mouth.
Falcon walks inside and closes the door, like Brock fucking invited him. He sits down beside him on the bed, which Brock also didn’t invite him to do.
“You don’t have to do this,” he says, his playful smile gone. “Nobody’s forcing you.”
Fuck you , Brock doesn’t say, because until he figures out what the best course of action in this FUBAR situation is, it’s best for him to keep up appearances. He takes another sip of whisky instead and doesn’t say anything.
“I know you don’t wanna let Steve down, but he won’t be disappointed if you say you’re out. He’ll understand.”
Fuck Cap , Brock also doesn’t say.
And why is Falcon treating him like he’s made of glass, or like he’s some sort of delicate flower or something? Brock narrows his eyes. This morning, when he woke up screaming, Falcon assumed it was because of yesterday. One thing that Brock knows for sure happened yesterday was his first ‘session’ with Jack.
“Why would I want out?” he asks.
“After what you went through, it’s normal to feel… disturbed by these things. No one will blame you if you think it’s too early.”
Oh fuck. Just what did he go through?
“I’m fine.” He takes another sip.
In fact, this is good. Avenger Brock apparently experienced some kind of trauma, possibly directly connected to torture. No one will question him if he acts weird.
This is perfect.
Falcon smiles softly and pats him on the shoulder. “Of course you are.”
His hand stays on his shoulder, so Brock shrugs it off. Talking to Falcon is one thing, getting touchy feely with him is… ugh.
“So, what happened down there?” Falcon asks.
Brock licks into the bottle as he thinks. It’d be nice to talk to someone about this stuff. It’d be great, if that someone wasn’t Falcon.
He used to talk to Jack whenever shit like this bothered him. Well, not ‘I-don’t-know-where-I-am-and-I-don’t-know-what’s-going-on’ shit… although it’s not that far from what, as agents of Hydra, they usually went through.
Jack used to talk to him about shit, too. Sometimes literally. Shit isn’t a bad conversation topic; it’s something everyone can relate to.
“Brock?” Falcon’s hand is on his arm again.
“Can you stop touching me?” Brock almost growls.
Falcon takes his hand away. “Sorry.”
Brock can’t tell if he looks more offended or surprised. He sighs. He has a feeling Falcon’s not leaving until he has been fed some scraps. Just his luck.
“I don’t know what happened down there. I freaked out. I didn’t even start properly,” he says. Falcon turns attentive. “Stun batons don’t work on him.”
“You’re afraid you’ll need to use harsher methods,” Falcon guesses.
“I don’t wanna use harsher methods.”
Falcon nods and gets up. “I’ll tell Steve. I’m sure Natasha will be enough to open him up.”
Brock doesn’t want Romanoff to open Jack up. She uses psychological tricks. She knows just the right thing to say to hurt you. She drills a hole in your mind until it cracks, and it’s irreversible. Brock used to envy her, because that is a useful skill. He prefers more standard methods. Waterboarding, electrocution. Physical pain is his thing.
“No, I’ll be alright. It’s just the initial shock of it all. I’ll get better. I know I can break through to him.”
If he can’t, no one can.
Falcon shrugs, but he doesn’t look happy about Brock’s decision. “If you say so.”
He sits bolt upright in bed, the sound that rips itself out of his throat more of a growl than a scream. His skin is aching from scars that aren’t there, his insides burning from the explosion that isn’t pulling them apart.
The room lights up and Brock squints. Falcon is standing in the doorway. Why is it always him who comes running to his room? Brock would prefer literally anyone else. Maybe apart from Cap.
He watches Falcon with a scowl as he scrambles out of bed. He pulls off his sweat-drenched t-shirt and drops it on the floor. Neither say a word as Brock walks into his private bathroom. He has a private bathroom now.
He doesn’t take a shower; just washes his face and leans against the sink for a while, waiting for his skin to dry off. He returns to find Falcon sitting on his bed, watching him closely. Brock ignores him. He walks straight to the nightstand where the opened bottle of Glenfiddich stands and drinks until his throat smarts.
“Go to sleep,” he tells Falcon in a rough voice.
“Stop,” Falcon mutters.
Brock raises an eyebrow. “What?”
“Pushing me away.”
What the hell?
“It’s 3 am,” Brock says, looking at his alarm clock. “Go to sleep.”
Falcon heaves a sigh as he pulls himself up, stalling on his way out. Brock watches him until the door closes behind him.
What exactly is his relationship with Falcon here? Does he even want to know?
He lies down in bed, staring up at the ceiling. The explosion. Something went wrong. Obviously .
He tries his best to remember the events from Lagos. He taunted Rogers, pressed the button, but instead of dying instantly, he had lasted. And lasted. And lasted. He had felt his brain slowly evaporate, cell after cell.
Then he woke up here.
He remembers the fire, but there was something else, too. Something redder. A force field. He was trapped in his own explosion.
Scarlet Witch did something. She had wanted to save Rogers and she somehow saved Brock, too.
Hydra had confirmed parallel universes existed. It was fresh research, but they had proof.
He gets up and brings his laptop to bed. He finds the Wikipedia article about himself and reads his biography, the S.H.I.E.L.D. part. It says he was in Special Service.
Brock had considered applying for Special Service back in the Academy. But then he had met the then-commander of STRIKE, Masters, who had turned him away from that path. He had wanted Brock on his team, but if Brock had stuck to his original plan, this would have been his life. An excellent S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, away from Hydra, skilled and trusted enough to become an Avenger.
He flexes his arm, feeling the strength trapped in his muscles. He’s still enhanced. But if he wasn’t Hydra, who did this to him? S.H.I.E.L.D.? He wouldn’t put it past them. They weren’t all angels; Hydra was a parasite growing inside a parasite.
He scrolls through the article until he gets to the torture part: […] kidnapped and held hostage by Hydra operatives, he survived two months of brutal torture before he broke himself out [source]. During the Hydra Uprising, he was recovering […]
So, he wasn’t even at the Trisk when Insight failed. If he was kidnapped by Hydra before that even happened, it meant he was a danger to them. Maybe he had even discovered them. Maybe he was on his way to tell Fury. Why not kill him off then, why not send the Winter Soldier? Why keep him and torture him? For information? What kind?
Was Jack in on this?
If so, why is Falcon so worried about him? Why does he think Brock shouldn’t want to do this? Shouldn’t Brock be all for this? Want to serve some justice?
Or is he triggered by torture tools? Is that why he only used stun batons?
He brings water with him the next time.
“Are you thirsty?” he asks as he fills two glasses. “I’m thirsty.”
He slides a glass across the table until it’s within Jack’s reach. Jack doesn’t react. Brock grabs his glass and walks towards the table with the silver case. He leans against it and sips slowly.
Jack looks worse than he did yesterday. His eyes are circled and empty. It makes Brock wonder what happens to him when he’s not in this room. He must sleep sometimes.
“It ain’t poisoned,” he says. “Drink.”
But Jack barely blinks. Brock puts his glass down and walks around the table, the same route he took yesterday.
“You’re extremely loyal. Almost blindly so. Devoted to the bone. I admire it, you know.” He shoves his hands into his pockets as he walks behind Jack’s chair. “But what’s it worth when you have no one to be loyal to? You left Hydra, Jack, you’re alone.” He squats down by Jack’s left side, his eyes never leaving his face. Jack’s not looking at him, his gaze fixed on a point straight ahead of him, just like last time. His lips are dry and cracked. He must be thirsty. “Drink your water. You need to stay hydrated. Come on, don’t be shy.” Brock pauses. “Do you even get enough water? Food? They can’t feed you too well here. Or maybe you’d rather have something else. Coffee? Hot chocolate?” He smiles. “I knew it. You’re a hot chocolate guy.”
Jack’s expression doesn’t change, but Brock knows inside he’s got to be panicking. How does Brock know that? Did Jack let him know somehow? Did he twitch? Did his eyes flutter? His pupils enlarge?
Mind games aren’t Brock’s strong suit, but it’s different when you know the person you’re playing with through and through. It’s even easier when that person doesn’t know you do.
“I’d like to have someone as loyal as you,” Brock continues, “and you need someone to belong to. Why not belong to me? I’d take good care of you. Wouldn’t let them waste you when you finally crack—and trust me, Jack, you will. I’d keep you safe.”
How he wants this. How he wants to just grab Jack and run. He smiles as bitter nostalgia hits him. He had a similar urge before, back when he wasn’t yet too old to care. Of course, there had been nowhere to run then, just like there isn’t now.
He gets up. “I see you’re too shy to drink your water. Ashamed, maybe? There’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s okay. I’m gonna leave for a while, but when I get back, I wanna see that glass empty.”
It occurs to him, as he leaves the interrogation room, that he might have just dared Jack to not even touch the goddamn glass. He sighs, shaking his head. He has a couple more aces up his sleeve anyway. There’s no way Jack’s winning this. Jack never won with him.
Besides, it’s for his own good. Brock understands that Jack’s a stubborn sonofabitch; he would be, too, if it were him. But Jack should also know to take better care of himself. He needs to stay strong. He’s being held prisoner and he doesn’t know he has a person on the inside. He doesn’t know this person is his so-called torturer.
Brock shuts himself in his room and tells Friday to play the live footage from the interrogation room on his laptop. He can only take forty-five minutes of watching Jack just sit there, unmoving, until he shuts it off again.
He makes the drink himself. He melts a chocolate bar he finds in a cupboard with some cream and milk, and even adds a vanilla pod. Jack loved this stuff. He hardly ever made it for himself because it was ‘too messy and bothersome’. He was more likely to eat the chocolate bar straight away. But Brock watched him do it once or twice, then they had a cup together. Once at Christmas, when Brock had been terribly sick and unamused, and another time… It hadn’t exactly been Valentine’s Day because it’s stupid, but it had been in February, three years later. Half of Brock’s cup had ended up over his body…
He pours the chocolate into the white mug with the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo. Jack won’t like it, but Brock doesn’t care. The chocolate is dark and so thick Brock can see his own reflection in its surface.
It’s awkward to carry it twenty floors down and then half the length of the corridor. When he finally enters the interrogation room, Jack hasn’t changed his position, but he tenses when the heavy and sweet aroma fills the air. Brock sets the mug by his hands where it’s impossible for him not to sense the warmth or look at its lustrous surface.
“I made it myself,” Brock almost purrs. “Hope you like vanilla, too.”
Jack swallows thickly and Brock knows he’s won. Jack won’t be able to help himself. A cup of hot chocolate like this is a rare luxury for him. He won’t pass it up.
Brock leans in to murmur right into his ear. “Don’t be shy. I know you want to.”
Jack shuts his eyes, goes paler beneath the gossamer of pink lines. His hands fold into fists.
“Is it so bad if I do something nice for you? You want the chocolate. It’s right there. Going cold. Why fight it?”
Jack opens his eyes. His fists unfold and his hands wrap around the mug. He draws it closer but doesn’t raise it to his mouth. He must hate himself for cracking over a stupid cup of hot chocolate.
It’s not stupid, Brock thinks as he walks away towards the table where he left his glass, letting Jack have some privacy. That chocolate holds sentimental value for him. For Jack, too, surely, even if in this world, they don’t share these memories. Perhaps they don’t share any memories. The Wikipedia article doesn’t mention them ever having been friends, but even if they had been, why would it? Jack’s ex-Hydra and Brock’s an Avenger. No one wants to think about them being friends.
Brock shakes his head. Why is it so hard for him to accept that there’s a universe where he and Jack aren’t close? There must be plenty of universes like this out there; universes where they never meet, where they barely say hello to each other, universes where they hate each other, even. Did Avenger Brock hate Jack? Possibly. Was the reverse true?
He looks at Jack who is drinking the chocolate in little sips. Is it possible this man hates him, just like he does every other Avenger? Would this man kill him if he had a chance? When Brock lost Jack under the ruins of Triskelion—his chest still aches when he thinks about it, even as he watches Jack being alive and mostly well—he blamed Captain America for it. Still does. Still plans to kill him. What if Jack lost someone, too, and blames it on Brock?
No, Brock wasn’t even there. But if Jack hates Cap—and he probably does; hell, his Jack hated Cap long before Insight, though it might’ve had something to do with the jealousy he repeatedly denied—then he likely also hates Brock by extension.
Well, Brock intends to change that.
Jack puts the empty mug down, reaches for the glass of water and drains it. He sets it down next to the mug. Brock pushes away from the table he’s been leaning on, refills the glass with what is still in the water bottle and takes a seat across from Jack. Jack doesn’t touch the glass again.
“Wasn’t that nice?” Brock asks. “You could have that and much more all the time if you joined us. And by ‘us’ I mean me. You know I ain’t the toughest Avenger. There’s the Hulk and a Norse god on the team. There’s Romanoff.” He smirks. “I’m just a man trying to do what’s right. Would love to have someone like you watching my six.”
Jack goes back to not moving and staring right through him. He’s so close and yet so far away. It’s hard for Brock to stay seated, to keep his hands to himself, to stop himself from leaning forward to catch Jack’s lips with his. His mouth must taste so sweet.
His voice drops when he says, “Let me help you, Jack.” He clenches his hands together so hard his knuckles go white. “Let’s help each other. I need that stupid intel from you.” Great, if somebody does watch the footage, he’ll be questioned about calling this oh so incredibly important blah blah blah who cares intel ‘stupid’. “And I’m betting what you need are some painkillers. That must hurt like a bitch. Electrocution’s nothing compared to that. Hell, maybe it helps even, numbs the pain.” He pauses. “I don’t wanna hurt you. I don’t want you to be in pain. Why force me to torture you? Why not just make a deal? A scrap of information for care and protection from yours truly. Not a bad deal. I’d go for it.” And maybe he really would.
Jack apparently would not, if his silence is anything to go by. Brock sighs and leans back in his chair in defeat.
“Is there anything else I can do for you?”
He doesn’t expect an answer this time either, but Jack must be considering his offer because his eyes finally focus on him, and then he does speak.
“Yeah, suck my dick.”
Brock doesn’t expect a rush of emotions to overwhelm him, either. Shit, it’s not a love declaration. It’s supposed to be an insult, if anything. It’s supposed to rile him up, not melt his fucking broken heart.
But Jack is looking at him and talking to him, and he’s alive, and they’re together in this room, in this universe, and this is really happening, and—
Compartmentalize, Brock. Compartmentalize.
He hopes Jack can’t tell his eyes are a little wet when he grins. “Maybe later. When you mean it.”
Jack gives him a nasty smile in response, but doesn’t say anything else as Brock goes on about his offer. Brock doesn’t think of it as a defeat. They made contact. There’s the start of a tentative connection developing between them. He’d say it’s a win.
Chapter 3: 2.2
He lets Maria Hill lay one on him only because he’s taken by surprise. Brock Rumlow isn’t supposed to be taken by surprise, but it happens.
“Maria,” he greets awkwardly.
“Brock,” she mimics his tone, biting back an amused smirk. “Why so formal?”
He wants to ask what she’s doing here, but then he’s not 100% certain this corridor in the Avengers Tower isn’t exactly where she’s supposed to be, so instead he asks, “What’re you up to?”
“I thought we could go out. Unless you have some pressing Avengers business?”
“I do! I do, in fact, have some very pressing Avengers business.” He rests his hands on her arms and steers her back to the elevator. He presses the button and the doors slide open. He pushes Maria inside. “Friday, let Maria out. I’ll call you?” he finishes awkwardly.
Maria watches him in confusion, looking like she’s about to say something, but then the doors slide closed and the elevator goes down.
“Wow.” Brock turns on his heel; Romanoff is leaning against the wall with her arms crossed, standing next to a big potted plant that Brock’s positive she was hiding behind. “What’s that business, Brock? You planning to bake Rollins a cake next?”
Brock buzzes his lips. “If it makes him keep talking to me, sure. What does he even eat?”
She shrugs. “Happy orders something for him. It’s not Lobster Thermidor for sure. Does it matter?”
Brock doesn’t respond. He wants to ask where Jack is kept, where he sleeps, but he has a feeling it’s something Avenger Brock was already aware of, so he bites his tongue.
And who the hell is Happy?
Romanoff hesitates. “It was impressive,” she admits. “But we want him to share intel, not proposition you.”
“You don’t say.” Brock rolls his eyes and walks away towards his bedroom. Romanoff pushes away from the wall and follows him. “I’ll get there. You don’t have to worry about it.”
“How did you know?”
Ah, there it is. She’s curious and bitter because she’d never tell herself.
“I made a guess. We were colleagues,” he reminds her. “I know a thing or two about him.”
“Well, well, well, Brock. Make more guesses like that and we might get what we want.” She smiles.
“We will.” They reach his door and Brock rests his hand on the knob. “I’d like to shower, so…”
He locks himself inside, falls into a chair and buries his face in his hands.
He’s dating Maria Hill? Why ? Was Avenger Brock insane or something?
But after he gives it more thought, he can see why. Maria is the strong, silent type. She can be vicious when it’s necessary and sweet when there’s the time. She’s a good leader, and loyal. She can also be boring, so boring.
She’s a female version of Jack Rollins, basically.
He rests his elbows on his knees and wipes his face. “Friday? I’m gonna need footage of me doing stuff. Like, chunks of it. Stuff I usually do. Typical Brock month. Throw it all together. Make a music video out of it or something.”
He can’t be surprised by something like this again.
“It’ll take a while,” an electronic female voice says.
“Sure, take your time.”
“Do you have a preference for a song?”
“No, pick whatever feels right.”
Brock playing pool with Stark, Rhodes and Falcon. Brock giving Stark a noogie while he’s protesting wildly. Brock doing shots with Rhodes. Brock sparring with Cap on the mats of the gym. Brock training Wanda and a guy he doesn’t recognize. Brock laughing at the dining table. All of that to “Bad Boys” by The Inner Circle.
“Good song choice, Friday.”
“Thank you, sir. I picked it from your library.”
Brock and Maria in his bedroom. Brock and Maria on the pool table. Brock and Maria enjoying morning coffee. Brock and Falcon making out in a corner of the living room.
Brock pauses the video. The footage of him and Falcon was just a flash and he has to rewind a couple seconds. The video is greenish, indicating the room was almost completely dark when it happened. Maybe Brock didn’t know it was Falcon he was kissing? Maybe they were both drunk?
Because, seriously, even if they were friends? Captain America was right there. Right there . Brock can’t believe Avenger Brock would ever go for Falcon with Captain America around.
Unless Cap wasn’t interested, which might be the case.
He shakes his head. He doesn’t know what the circumstances were. No point in overthinking it. He’s with Maria. The kiss happened, and it’s good he knows about it, but it probably didn’t mean anything.
“Does Stark have access to all of this?” he asks.
“In theory, yes, but I was programmed to be discreet.”
“So he doesn’t know about my little make out session with Falcon?”
“Mr. Stark isn’t interested in seeing his friends engaged in sexual activities, sir.”
“Wait.” Brock glares up where he suspects the camera is. “Sex? I had sex with Falcon?”
Does he want to know?!
He realizes too late he just gave away that he doesn’t exactly remember everything he was doing in the Tower, but if Friday notices, she doesn’t react in any way.
“I was rather referencing the footage of you and your girlfriend.”
Brock raises his eyebrows. “That’s an evasive answer.”
“Yes, it is. Do you suspect you have been molested, sir?”
He hides his face in his hands. “My privacy has been molested…”
Friday doesn’t respond to that.
When Friday tells Brock about Happy, he remembers Stark’s grumpy head of security. His nickname must be ironic, sort of how Brock’s team called him Warm-And-Fuzzy on one occasion. They had begged him to stop after Brock showed them just how warm and fuzzy he could be, claiming it was creepy. He never heard the nickname again.
If he were to guess the exact moment Jack fell in love with him, he’d point to that one.
Happy isn’t too happy ( hehe ) when Brock calls him on Skype, but he’s happy ( hehe ) to ‘remind’ him where Jack is being kept. Turns out it is on the same floor as the interrogation room, at the end of the corridor.
When Brock enters the room, the lights are so bright he has to squint to be able to see. It’s like looking straight into the sun and it’s only after he blinks a few times that he can take a good look around. The room is just a narrow passage and a cell, three walls of which are made of bulletproof glass, so the inside is visible from nearly every angle. The cell itself is tiny; just large enough to take two steps forward and to the right. There’s a bunk, currently empty, something that can only generously be called a nightstand; a sink, and a toilet.
Jack is curled on the floor in a corner, holding his head in his hands, trying to take up as little space as possible. Brock’s heart sinks the minute he sees him.
“Unlock,” he says.
There’s a click and then the door slides open. It closes again as soon as he’s inside. Jack looks up. His eyes are red and baggy which, considering the brightness of the light here, is hardly unsurprising. Brock swallows thickly.
Jack heaves himself to his feet using the wall for support, and then throws himself at Brock.
It takes Brock a moment to realize that it’s supposed to be an attack and not a sudden outpouring of emotion. Jack is weak and in pain though and Brock easily blocks his blows, twists his right arm up behind his back and shoves him into a wall. Jack groans in pain.
“That was stupid,” Brock says directly into his ear.
Jack has his eyes tightly shut, and Brock wishes he could do the same.
“Friday, can you do something about the light here before I go blind?”
The light dims significantly, but something’s still wrong. Brock feels oddly uncomfortable. Something about the room irritates him, makes his skin crawl, but he can’t put his finger on it.
“Infrasound.” Jack’s voice is rough and tired. He cracks his eyes open.
“Jesus,” Brock hisses under his breath. “Friday, turn it off, and don’t put it back on. I don’t care what Happy says.”
He lets go of Jack when the uneasy feeling passes. He’s still plastered against the wall, breathing heavily, still refusing to look at Brock.
“It’s been like this the whole time?” Brock asks. Jack doesn’t respond, which is enough of an answer. “Have you had any sleep?”
He grabs Jack by the arm, leads him to the bunk and makes him lie down. He sits down on the bed beside him, unable to help himself. Jack buries his face in the pillow, either not wanting to look at Brock or not wanting Brock to look at him. Or both. Brock wants to reach out and run his fingers through Jack’s hair, but he knows Jack wouldn’t like it. He stands up and exits the cell.
The room is plunged into darkness, letting Jack finally get some rest.
Old footage of his doppelgänger and Cap sparring is playing on the laptop, but Brock’s long since stopped paying attention.
He used to spar with Cap a lot at the Trisk. They had led STRIKE together for over a year, and Brock was the best combatant on his team. Enhancement helped, but it was his skill that counted. When Cap joined there was finally someone who could make him tap out.
Jack had hated whenever it happened. He used to be Brock’s favorite sparring partner, and he hated when it was Cap that got Brock all hot and sweaty. He knew how Brock reacted to fighting, that he liked being manhandled a little too much. He would wait for Brock in the showers afterwards, knowing Cap didn’t use them because he simply didn’t break a sweat. He’d shove Brock into a wall and keep him there with a heavy hand on his shoulder, crowd in on him, press his open palm against Brock’s half-hard cock and growl ‘ mine’ into his mouth.
Brock’s hand finds its way to his erection. Jack’s here. In this building. Thirty floors away. Lonely…
Ten years of being together, another two of Jack being dead, and he’s still the only one Brock ever fantasizes about. It’s sad.
He hopes Stark really doesn’t watch the footage, because him rubbing one out to a video of him and Cap sparring might raise some questions.
After he’s cleaned himself up in the bathroom, he returns to the laptop and asks Friday to play live footage from Jack’s cell. He’s lying on the bed with his eyes open. He has nothing else to do there.
A knock on the door makes him turn in his seat.
“I see you’re taking this very seriously.” Falcon nods at the laptop.
“I don’t have to tell you how important this is,” Brock repeats Cap’s words. He even mimics his self-righteous tone for a better effect.
“But not time-sensitive, as long as Barnes isn’t running around causing trouble.” Falcon shrugs. “You’ve been working your ass off, you deserve a break. Come on, we’re having a movie night.”
Sharing team-bonding experiences with his mortal enemies isn’t something Brock has ever dreamed about, but he spends so much time thinking about Jack and worrying about their future that he could do with some escapism. He closes the laptop and stands up.
“Sure. What’re we watching?”
“Haven’t decided yet, but it’ll be more interesting than that.” Falcon waves at the laptop.
The Avengers gather in a common room. Vision, Rhodes and Stark take the couch. Romanoff curls up in an armchair with Cap sitting in an identical one on the other side of the couch. Falcon, Wanda, and the man—a boy, really—Brock saw on the footage Friday used to make the music video settle on a blanket spread out on the carpet.
“Brock!” Stark points at him with a glass filled with whisky. “C’mere.”
Reluctantly, Brock squeezes in between Stark and Rhodes. Stark fills an empty glass standing on the coffee table with whisky from a decanter and hands it to him. Everyone argues loudly about what they want to watch. Brock suggests ‘Road House’ because he can and gets a chorus of groans in response.
Eventually Wanda proposes ‘It Follows’ and they go with that. Brock settles a bowl of chips onto his lap and swats Rhodes’ hand away whenever he tries to steal some from him. Stark keeps plying him with whisky. Falcon and the boy—now that Brock can take a closer look, he recognizes him as Wanda’s brother, the one Hydra made fast—make fun of the movie whilst Wanda tries to shush them.
When was the last time he did this? Just sat with friends and had fun? Before Insight, certainly. They had had a lot of fun in STRIKE, just talking and drinking. Mercer had had her own party cabin and she’d invite them every summer for a weekend. The amount of stupid things Brock had drunkenly done in that cabin… Hell, he and Jack had had their first time there. He wonders what happened to it after Mercer—
He crushes a handful of chips in his fist and glares over Vision’s shoulder at Captain America. It’s his fault; Brock’s friends are dead because of him, and what is Brock doing? Watching some stupid movie with him.
Something spills over his hand and he glances down. Stark tried to refill his empty glass and missed.
“Oops,” he mumbles. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s okay.” Brock takes the decanter from him and fills the glass himself.
Stark throws his arm on the top of the backrest behind Brock’s back but without touching him. A small smile plays on Brock’s lips. Jack used to do that a lot; it was casual and comforting at the same time. His attention returns to the screen where one of the kids is being murdered in a creatively gruesome way. He needs to cut himself some slack. He can’t work on getting Jack out of here and killing Captain America simultaneously. One of those things is more important than the other and he needs to focus on it.
They watch ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ next, which engages Brock a lot more, and they talk and drink some more after that. Brock’s positively drunk when he decides to retire for the night. Stark slings an arm around his shoulders and asks him to help him back to his room, so Brock hauls him to his feet and they stumble out into the corridor. It takes longer than it ought to get to Stark’s quarters because he keeps trying to tell a joke while laughing his ass off, so Brock can’t follow but Stark’s hysteria makes him double over in laughter. When they finally get there, Brock drops Stark unceremoniously onto his bed, and he stops laughing.
“Haven’t seen you in a while,” he says. “Been missing ya. My bad. Should visit more often.”
Brock doesn’t know what to say to that. Back in his world, they never officially met; Brock passed him a couple times when he had some business at the Trisk, but that was it. He’s certain Stark didn’t even know who he was. But out of all the Avengers, Brock hates him the least.
It wasn’t Stark’s fault Insight went down. Sure, he had been involved in the production of the ships, but he did that for Hydra. Hydra had been grooming Stark for longer than they had Brock. Before the whole Iron Man bullshit, they had seriously discussed recruiting him. After he donned the armor, they had deemed him a threat and tried to kill him.
Hydra screwed them both over.
“Is everything alright?” Stark asks.
“Is it ever?”
“Hey, if you ever wanna talk. Or… If you need me, for anything. I’m here, you know?”
Brock stares at him. He must be talking about the whole torture trauma thing.
“Sure you are. But it’s okay if you’re not. It’s okay to need somebody to talk to.” He pauses. “You’ve been awfully quiet tonight.”
Brock shrugs. The movie night made him nostalgic, but it’s not something he’d like to discuss with his enemies.
“It’s okay to not want to talk,” he says resolutely.
“Sure. Sure.” Stark closes his eyes. “Thanks for the help. Now, off with you. Gonna sleep.” He waves Brock away.
Brock wakes up the next morning with a pulsating headache. He sits in bed with his head buried in his hands, trying to remember how much he drank. He and Stark had emptied the whole decanter and then Stark had opened a new bottle during ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. He doesn’t remember if they finished it, but he remembers the ‘I’m here for you’ talk afterwards. What was that about?
Wait a minute.
“Friday?” he croaks out. “Did you tell S—Tony I was molested?” He’s holding his breath during the very long second Friday takes to answer him.
“I might have suggested it to him.”
Brock buzzes his lips in annoyance. “I wasn’t molested.”
“Happy to hear that, sir.”
“You tell him that.”
“As soon as he wakes up, sir.”
Right, Stark must be still passed out.
Brock scrambles out of bed gracelessly and discovers he slept in his clothes. He changes into fresh ones, slowly and incapably. He needs coffee. A lot of coffee.
Suddenly a thought crosses his mind, and he pauses halfway through pulling his pants on. He loses his balance and falls on his ass with a curse.
“Does anyone else think I was molested?” he asks, rubbing his bruised bottom.
“No, sir. Mr. Stark programmed me to be discreet.”
Thankfully, Friday is a computer program and can’t be amused by his inability to get dressed like a normal, sober person.
“Discreet my ass,” Brock mumbles as he gets back on his feet.
The kitchen is quiet at this hour. Romanoff’s drinking tea and Rhodes is lying with his head on the table, looking like he’s dying in agony. Falcon is standing at the kitchen counter, pouring himself coffee. Brock takes apple juice out of the fridge to wash the foul taste out of his mouth before he reaches for the coffee pot. Falcon pushes a bottle of pills into his hands instead. Brock takes one and washes it down with juice.
“You’re a lifesaver.”
Falcon smiles. “Us normal guys need to look out for each other.”
Brock stares at him.
“What?” Falcon asks when Brock just keeps staring at him incredulously.
“Normal guys?” Brock repeats.
Doesn’t Falcon know?
“Ordinary guys,” he corrects with a nod. “Don’t make me say powerless.”
Brock takes the pot and pours himself coffee.
Sure, the enhancements were confidential, but after S.H.I.E.L.D. went down, Avenger Brock wouldn’t have had to keep them a secret. Right? Maybe he didn’t include them in his résumé, but living with the Avengers, something like this would have come up. Why is Falcon acting like he doesn’t know about them? Why isn’t anybody correcting him?
Maybe Avenger Brock had thought there was nothing to boast about. The enhancements just made him a little stronger, a little more resilient, and he healed a little faster. They were nowhere near the Super Soldier Serum, but enough to let him survive a building falling on his face.
He freezes with his mug at his lips as realization hits. Jack survived a building falling on his face.
He takes a long sip with his eyes closed. He’s not worried about Jack posing a threat; he’s too injured, too weak for that. But if his enhancements are the same as Brock’s—and he’s willing to bet they are—it means they come from Hydra.
What if Avenger Brock had been enhanced during the two months Hydra held him hostage? They had kidnapped him not because they thought he was a threat, but because they had wanted to recruit him. No wonder he’d kept it a secret. Hell, if they had used the Memory Suppressing Machine on him he wouldn’t even have known he had them, and if he was brutally tortured afterwards, like the article claimed, after recovering from that he wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.
He shakes his head with a small bitter smile. He’s distracting himself; it’s good to know what the Avengers do about him, but otherwise he doesn’t care about Avenger Brock’s past.
It only now hits him that if his Jack had been enhanced, if Hydra had seen his potential—and now he’s sure they would have if only he hadn’t been in Brock’s shadow the whole time…
Don’t blame yourself. It wasn’t your fault. Captain America killed him. Not you.
“Are you okay?” Romanoff asks him.
Brock snorts. “You know, I’d really appreciate it if everybody stopped fucking asking me that.”
She raises an eyebrow in surprise but doesn’t respond.
Jack doesn’t look away from the ceiling when Brock enters his cell.
“You’re doing better, huh?” Brock asks. No reaction. “You could at least say thank you.”
“For keeping me a prisoner?”
Brock offers a wan smile. He walks over to the nightstand and puts three books down, titles he knows from Jack’s bookshelf. “Brought you something to pass the time.”
Jack glances at them and then looks away. “Already read those.”
“So I guessed your taste right.”
Jack frowns but doesn’t respond. Brock’s smile becomes warmer.
“You can read them again. Beats staring at the ceiling.” He shrugs. “Or, you can destroy them if you’d rather. Whatever, man, they’re yours.”
“You think you can buy my compliance?”
“Why, is it working?” Brock chuckles. “If I was going for that, I’d buy you a diamond.”
Jack snorts, unamused. “What would I do with a diamond?”
Brock’s surprised when Jack keeps the conversation going despite his standoffishness but on second thought it’s not that weird. He’s bored out of his mind. So long as it’s not about Barnes, he’ll talk. Good. That’s exactly what Brock wants.
“Look at it. You like pretty things, don’t you?” he quips.
Jack throws him a glance. “Look at you, thinking you know anything about me.”
“I’m good at reading people.”
“Can’t read much from this face anymore.”
“Quite the opposite,” Brock says, seriousness sneaking into his voice. “I know what it’s like.”
“Yeah.” Jack waves at Brock’s face. “Obviously.”
Brock has no delusions. He knows this Jack is different from his Jack, and his situation is different from Brock’s. When Brock opened his eyes the first time after Insight, in the hospital, and realized what had happened and that there was no way Jack had survived… He’s been dead inside since.
Right up until Cap had said ‘Rollins’ a few days ago.
But nothing had changed for Jack when they met in the interrogation room. As much as Brock doesn’t want to consider it, there might have been someone else who meant everything to him, and who isn’t coming back. If that’s the case—and hell, let’s face it, why else would Jack let Cap track him to Lagos, why else would he be there but for revenge—then he’s as dead inside as Brock was. He doesn’t care what happens to him.
But he is all Brock has now, and so he will fight for him to his last breath.
“It ain’t a trick.” Brock nods at the books. “I got them for you because I’m nice, not because I want you to feel you owe me.”
“Because Special Service agents are so honest all the time.”
“I almost joined STRIKE, you know? Finished the training.” Avenger Brock probably didn’t, but Jack most likely doesn’t know that. “I had that opportunity. Think what would have happened to me if I’d taken it. We’d have been friends.”
“You’d have died.” Like all my friends did hangs unspoken in the air.
“I’d have joined Hydra.”
Jack glances at him again before turning back to the ceiling. “Then you’re as stupid as the rest of us.”
Brock shakes his head. “Not stupid, Jack. Hydra knew what they were doing. They knew what to say, who to go after. Don’t feel bad for being lied to.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Trust me, I do.”
Jack snorts. “You’re talking about… before Insight? You didn’t buy into it.”
So, Brock had guessed right; the captivity was about recruitment.
“I was kidnapped. You weren’t. You were groomed by a friend. Somebody you trusted with your life.”
Back in his world, he had been that person. Who had it been here? Masters? Garrett? Hell, it could have been Pierce himself.
“So what? I should work with you because they lied to me? Like your agenda’s any better. You’re just saving the world, right? Well, guess what, that’s what they said, too.”
“You should work with me because your situation sucks balls, and I can make it better.”
Jack frowns but doesn’t respond.
“Look, if it was up to me? You’d have all the time in the world to decide what’s good for you. Though I’d rather you spent it somewhere nicer. I’m doing what I can.” Brock gestures at the books. “But I ain’t questioning you with stun batons because it’s up to me. It’s Captain’s orders. And his patience’s wearing thin.”
“You’re all just his puppets, aren’t you? Captain America and the Avengers.” Jack snorts. “I worked closely with him. He’s not so super.”
“I know exactly what he’s like. But it’s him calling the shots. Unless he and Stark have a lovers’ spat.” Brock shrugs. “You say I don’t know you, but you have the wrong idea about me, too. You think I’m here because I’m some starstruck fanboy who thinks it’s a game of Steve Says? S.H.I.E.L.D. fell, what was I supposed to do? I’m in it for the action; as simple as that.” He pauses, but Jack stays silent, and if Brock says anything more, he might blow his cover. He’d love to; he wants Jack to know the truth. It would make everything easier. But even if nobody’s watching the footage, Friday is always listening. “Unlock.”
He leaves the cell and the door slides closed behind him.
Jack’s reading one of the books.
Brock’s phone buzzes and he looks away from the laptop to see who’s calling. It’s Maria Hill. He sighs. If he keeps ignoring her calls, she’ll come looking for him in person and alert Stark or whoever. He’ll have to break up with her in front of everyone and it’ll be a mess. They’ll be even more concerned about him and it’s just not worth it.
“What’s the silent treatment for?” she asks when he picks up.
“Sorry, I… I’ve been busy,” he replies, not untruthfully. “This Avengers business I told you about?”
She sighs. “Pepper warned me not to date an Avenger but I didn’t listen.”
“Maybe you should.”
“Don’t be silly. You can make it up to me. I’m going out for coffee tonight with Cynthia. Come join us? If you can. We can go back to mine afterwards.”
Brock blinks in surprise. “Cynthia?”
“Yes, Brock, and please, no comments. I’m tired of you two being at each other’s throats. You could at least pretend to get along. For me?”
“Uh… yeah, sure, uh… I’ll see you there.”
Brock puts the phone away and stares at the laptop screen with unseeing eyes. Cynthia is a popular name. There were at least five Cynthias in S.H.I.E.L.D. Or maybe it was only three, but still. It’s unlikely Maria was talking about Cynthia Mercer.
But if Avenger Brock was never Hydra, everyone else could have chosen different paths. He opens the browser and types in Cynthia’s name. There aren’t any articles, which makes sense if she’s just an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. What the browser does throw at him though, is a link to a Facebook profile. He clicks it and a pretty, blue-eyed blonde smiles at him from the profile picture.
Mercer’s alive. Furthermore, she’s his girlfriend’s best friend, if the number of pictures of them together is any indication.
The discovery makes him curious about the rest of his team. Westfahl did join Hydra and died under the Trisk; that guy is unlucky no matter the universe it seems. McKinnon’s officially a wanted fugitive, but if her life went the same way it did in Brock’s universe then she died in Sokovia a year ago under a fake name. Murphy never even attended S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy. He works for Stark Industries and is in a happy relationship with some guy. Good for him.
So in this world, only two of his teammates are dead instead of all of them.
Maria and Mercer are already there when Brock enters the coffee shop. He feels like he’s underwater when he approaches them, all noise around him muffled. Maria looks up at him and smiles then stands up to hug him, but Brock’s eyes are fixed on Mercer’s cold blue gaze.
“How are you?” he asks when Maria lets go.
Mercer raises an eyebrow. “Fine, how are you?”
“We already ordered.” Maria gestures at their mugs; hers is filled with hot chocolate. Of course . “You want anything?”
Brock nods and walks away to the counter to buy coffee, breathing deeply to calm his racing heart. When he gets back to the table, Maria and Mercer are engrossed in conversation. He sits down, not even trying to listen.
At some point, Maria goes to the restroom, leaving Brock and Mercer alone.
“So… what’ve you been up to?” he asks, cradling his empty mug.
She snorts. “Please. You don’t have to pretend to like me when Maria’s not around.” She clears her throat. “Asshole,” she mutters, loudly enough for Brock to hear.
He raises his eyebrows in surprise. “I ain’t pretending.”
“Good, because you’re doing a shitty job.” She leans away in her armchair with her arms crossed over her chest, looking at him with disdain.
Why do his friends hate him in this world? Even when they’re on the same side? What could Avenger Brock have done to Mercer to make her hate him so much? Or is it just because he’s dating her best friend?
Maria comes back from the restroom but Brock pays her no mind, wondering how to fix this. He came here to break up with her, but if he does then Mercer will hate him even more. He can’t stay with Maria though. He doesn’t want to.
He sighs. He’s glad he’s got a second chance in this world, he is. But why does his new life have to be so fucked up?
Mercer leaves soon after and Brock suggests they go, too.
“So, where’s the next stop?” Maria asks once they’re outside. The sky’s gone dark and the lamps bathe the street in an orange glow. “My house?”
Brock stops in his tracks. “Actually…”
She turns to face him and her smile disappears. “You’re busy.”
“There’s this thing I need to do.” He breathes in deeply. “This is not the best moment for me to… be in a relationship.”
She stares at him. “You’re breaking up with me?”
Maybe he can fix his friendship with Mercer later, or maybe it’s unsalvageable. He can’t focus on that right now; he has another, far more important relationship to fix.
“Let me guess: it’s not me, it’s you?”
“Pretty much.” He shrugs.
She sighs. “It’s this Avengers business ,” she uses air quotes, “isn’t it? Sam told me about it.”
“You talked to him?” Brock frowns; he’d figured she and Falcon would be rivals but perhaps the relationship between the three of them is more complicated than he’d thought.
“Yes. We’re friends, too, you know?” She holds her arms like she wants to hug herself. “I know it must be hard for you, what you’re going through. And I’m sorry I couldn’t help you. I’m sorry you feel you need to break up with me.”
“I’m sorry, too.”
“You never liked to talk about your problems, but it’d do you good if you stopped closing up. No one will blame you for feeling bad. You’re human. Humans feel bad sometimes.” She pauses. “If you ever want to talk, don’t hesitate to call me. I’m still your friend.”
“You know I won’t.”
“Can’t help but have hope.” She looks away. “Well, I better go. My pillow won’t get wet from tears by itself.” She smiles bleakly and starts walking away but hesitates and turns. “You know you can stop? If it’s so hard for you. No one will see it as failure.”
Brock smiles. “It ain’t that I don’t wanna do it. It’s that I do. ”
She spreads her arms helplessly. “If it’s any consolation, I don’t blame you for it.” She turns again and finally walks away.
Chapter 4: 2.3
The interrogation room smells of the chocolate tea the men who escorted Jack from his cell and back left on the table. Brock smiles when he sees it, drops a warm pizza box beside the two cups, picks up the teapot and fills them. He sits down sideways in the chair across from Jack with his legs stretched out in front of him, opens the box and takes a slice. He pushes the box closer to Jack.
Jack looks inside reluctantly. “There’s pineapple.”
“So? Pick it off.”
Brock expects more comments, but Jack just silently takes a slice and brushes the pineapple pieces off.
“How are your books?” Brock knows Jack’s already read them twice. He should get him a new one. Jack is still preoccupied with his pizza though and doesn’t respond. “What are they even about? I picked them at random, didn’t bother to check.”
“You’re welcome to take them. I’m done with them.”
Jack is finally satisfied with the state of his slice and takes a careful bite. He doesn’t seem keen to keep the conversation going, like he had back in his cell. Brock frowns. What’s changed since then? They’re in a different room, but there are cameras in both, so it shouldn’t make a difference.
And then it hits him: it’s his own fault. He fucked up bringing Jack books. Before he got them, Jack talked to him because he had nothing better to do. It was a break from staring at the ceiling, an opportunity to get out of his mind for a moment.
But he’s not bored anymore, and he doesn’t want to talk to him. He never did.
Brock swallows down his disappointment but can’t do anything about the ache in his chest.
“Fine, since you don’t wanna talk about books, we’re gonna talk about something else.” He drops his untouched slice into the box, straightens in his chair and schools his expression into a serious one. “Where is Bucky Barnes?”
Jack isn’t exactly smiling but he looks smug as he munches on his pizza, and Brock is tempted to take him up on his offer and take his damn books away. See how much time it’ll take him to come crawling back.
But it won’t be real. Jack still won’t like him. Mercer hates Avenger Brock even though they were on the same side; how much must Jack hate him? I am not him, Brock wants to say, I am not that person.
Maybe there’s nothing he can do to change Jack’s mind about him. He can try—he will try—but there’s no guarantee this Jack will ever see in him what his Jack did. But even if he doesn’t, Brock wants to take care of him, even if he gets nothing in turn. Even if the only thanks he ever gets is a punch to the gut. Because Jack deserves it. He deserves better.
Brock stands up. He swallows, but his throat stays tight and dry.
“You can have it,” he mutters, waving at the pizza. He turns to leave but stops at the door. “I’ll bring you another book.”
“Bring me a diamond. Maybe that’ll work,” Jack mocks.
Brock flips him the bird. Before he steps through the door, he catches Jack’s ugly smile.
Attraction to assholes will be his doom.
Brock can’t sleep; he’s been slacking off these past few days and now he has too much energy and he’s anxious. After hours spent turning from side to side, he gets up with the sun. He gets dressed in a compression shirt and a pair of sweatpants he finds in his closet, takes an iPod, and heads out to the jogging area behind the Tower. Avenger Brock had a similar music taste, so it doesn’t take him long to find a song he likes. He puts the earbuds in, leaves a water bottle on a bench and starts running.
It’s the middle of May, but the air is chilly so early in the morning. The sun is still orange above the horizon and Brock squints whenever the rays hit his face. If it weren’t for the music blasting in his ears, it’d be quiet. He’s enjoying the solitude more than the run itself. Out here he can pretend he’s not being supervised, that Friday can’t see him. She probably can but playing pretend is what he does in this universe.
In every universe, come to think of it.
He’s halfway through his third lap when the door opens, and Steve Rogers comes out; Brock grits his teeth and slows down. It’s like Rogers knew where to find him; like he came to watch him, only Brock knows Rogers runs every morning. The last time they talked properly was on that first day, so it’s not like Rogers is keeping tabs on him.
Still, running with Rogers hanging around does not count as solitude, so he stops at the bench he left his water on. He takes a few gulps and sighs. Such a huge tower but somehow, he can never find a way to be alone. When it’s not a computer program watching him, it’s one of his teammates.
“Morning.” Rogers smiles at him.
Brock nods. He knows his smile looks fake, but he can’t help it. He hopes Rogers will just leave him alone, but he stops beside him for a chat.
“I’m sorry about you and Hill,” he says.
Brock nods again; he was so preoccupied with Jack’s indifference that he completely forgot about that. No one expects him to be all smiles. Good.
“Bad news travels fast, huh?” he mutters.
“She called Sam. She’s worried about you, wanted to make sure you’re okay.” He pauses. “We’re all worried.”
Brock barely stops himself from rolling his eyes. All the Avengers suddenly care about him, but the only person he actually wants to care, doesn’t. Just his luck.
“I’m fine,” he says.
“Look, Sam suggested that you shouldn’t be interrogating Rollins, and maybe he’s right. If you need a break—”
“I can deal with Rollins. It’s fine.” The last thing Brock needs is Captain fucking America keeping him away from Jack.
“I know. You’re doing a good job. But I don’t want this to affect your life.”
“I broke up with Hill because I don’t wanna be with her. Okay?” He gives Cap a defiant look. “Rollins has nothing to do with that.”
Cap frowns. “But she said—”
“I lied to her. How do you tell a woman you ain’t into her no more?” Brock raises his eyebrow. “I’m making progress with Rollins. He’s talking to me. We have a connection,” he adds bitterly, because it’s a sad, sad lie.
He freezes as Cap looks at him sadly. Can he… can he tell something’s wrong? That Brock isn’t really Brock anymore? Not the one he knows, at least?
“Since we captured Rollins,” Cap continues, “you’ve been sitting in your room all the time, barely talking to anyone. Even on movie night, you were so quiet.”
“I have a lot on my mind right now.”
“I used to do that a lot after I was thawed out.” He sighs. “Sam told me you were scared. That you didn’t want to interrogate Rollins.”
Brock frowns. Yes, they had talked about it few days ago, but Falcon apparently completely misinterpreted what Brock had said. But will Cap believe him if he accuses his precious friend of lying? “Sam should mind his own business.”
Cap smiles bleakly. “He cares about you.”
“Oh, I know exactly how much he cares, alright. Forget it,” Brock adds when Cap looks at him quizzically. “I ain’t scared. I’m close, I can get it outta him. I just need a little more time.”
Cap nods, his eyes distant. “We’re not in a hurry so long as Bucky’s not causing any trouble. He must know we’re looking for him, so he’s lying low.”
“What if Rollins doesn’t know where he is? If the Winter Soldier doesn’t want to be found, then…” Brock shrugs.
“But he’s not the Winter Soldier anymore.”
“We don’t know what—who he is. We don’t know what he remembers.”
“He pulled me from the river. He remembers something . I gotta have hope.”
Brock shakes his head. “Listen, I meant to ask you… Later, when I have something, I think we can use Rollins for more than just this one piece of information. Commander of STRIKE, Pierce’s right hand… Come on. He’s a diamond. You don’t lock diamonds up.”
“You do in safes.” Cap smirks but it fades quickly afterwards and then he’s serious again. “He’s useful when he talks.”
“He will. And…” Brock bites his lip. No, it’s too early for that, Cap will laugh in his face. “Have fun,” he finishes awkwardly, waving at the track.
Brock’s not surprised by the sight of Falcon in his doorway again, but the whisky bottle and two glasses is new.
“You’re not off to Rollins, I hope?” he asks with a big smile.
The whisky is the only reason Brock waves him in instead of telling him to fuck off. “Don’t tell Steve this,” he says, “but I’m stuck. Every time I think I’m breaking through to him, he proves me wrong. I’m running outta ideas.”
Falcon walks in and closes the door. He puts the glasses down on the nightstand, fills them both and sits down on Brock’s bed. Brock gets up from where he’s been sitting at his desk, downs his glass in one gulp, refills it and then sits down beside him.
“How are you?” Falcon asks. “I was shocked when Maria called me.”
“That’s why the first thing you did was to tell everybody about it.”
“No. Steve was just in the room at the time.” He shrugs. “What happened, man? You two were so good together.”
Brock snorts. “You know exactly how good we were together.”
He had checked; the kiss between them happened three months ago. He’s still unsure about the circumstances but something was obviously going on. As if he didn’t hate Avenger Brock enough.
Falcon looks down at the glass he’s cradling, obviously not expecting Brock to allude to what happened. Why would he, when it’s not Brock’s style; he and Jack had danced around each other for four years before they even thought about admitting something was going on.
“Steve said you didn’t want to be with her,” Falcon says.
“Wow. News really travels fast.” Brock takes a sip of whisky. “Or did you send him to talk to me?”
Falcon frowns. “Why would I do that?” He finally takes a sip himself.
“Oh, I don’t know, reconnaissance, maybe? I mean,” Brock gestures at the bottle and the two of them, “why are you here? What is this supposed to be?”
“I’m checking up on you. Like friends do.”
“Are you sure? Because it looks like a date to me.”
He finishes his whisky and fills the glass again. Falcon looks like he just swallowed an ice cube.
“I don’t know what kinda dates you’ve been on, but people usually go out somewhere nice for those.”
“Yeah, no, of course, but you wouldn’t ask me out right after I broke up with Maria, right? You’d wanna test the waters first. Learn what really happened, see if I’m ready for a new relationship… Or am I misinterpreting things? Now that I think about it,” he raises the glass up to his face, swirls the whisky before downing it, “maybe your plan is to get me drunk and comfort me.”
Falcon’s eyes widen. “N-no, Brock, that’s not what I—”
“You mean you don’t want a piece of this?” Brock leans in close enough to feel Falcon’s breath on his face. “You don’t wanna take a spin in these sheets?” He pats the mattress.
Falcon leans slightly away. “No, Brock, you got it all wrong… I mean… Yes, but—”
“Yeah you do,” Brock says through gritted teeth. “Just my luck. So, what’s it gonna be, babe? You gonna ask me to suck you off? Gonna bend me over the bed? The desk? Or do you wanna take me into your lap and watch me bounce on your dick?” Falcon’s expression gradually changes from baffled to hungry as Brock talks, and he starts to lean in. It makes Brock’s stomach turn. “Yeah, that’s what you want. Tell me, Wilson, will you get over me if I fuck you?”
Falcon freezes and his eyes widen again. “What? N—”
“Will a fuck every once in a while keep you outta my hair? Will you stop eyefucking me during breakfast? Running to my room at night, acting like you’re just a good friend ?” Brock says it like it’s an insult.
“Brock—” Falcon grabs Brock’s arm and Brock digs his fingers into his thigh in turn.
“Or do you want more? How greedy are you? Do you wanna walk around holding hands? Do you want me to kiss you and whisper sweet nothings into your skin? You think you can ruin my world and keep me as your prize?” His voice starts to tremble, but his hands are steady when he reaches out to hold Falcon’s head, keeps it so close their lips almost brush. “You make me sick,” he hisses.
He springs to his feet and leaves, slamming the door behind him. He shakes his head at himself and goes back, grabs the whisky still sitting on the nightstand and he catches a glimpse of Falcon’s face looking like a fish out of water, his mouth opening and closing with his eyes bulging, before leaving again.
“Friday, I want Rollins in interrogation,” he snaps on his way to the kitchen.
He grabs a clean glass before going underground. Jack’s already in the interrogation room when Brock enters, sitting in his chair as stoically as always. Brock slams the glass down next to his chained hands and fills it.
“You’re having a drink with me,” he says.
Jack looks up at him defiantly, making no move to touch the glass. Brock nods with a bitter smile. He walks around Jack’s chair and grabs his jaw from behind. Jack tries to jerk away, but Brock’s hold is firm.
“I’m done being nice to you,” he says, as he pulls Jack’s head back and digs his fingers into the burns on his cheeks that he knows are painful to force his mouth open. “You’re gonna be what I need you to be.”
He upends the bottle and Jack thrashes, causing whisky to pour down his throat and his nose. He’s choking and spluttering when Brock decides he’s had enough and lets him go. He steps beside the table to reach for the glass and downs it as Jack coughs up alcohol, then refills it.
“You’re having a drink with me,” he repeats, his voice firm and steady despite the rage bubbling beneath his skin.
Jack takes the glass in one hand, his eyes not leaving Brock’s face. He raises it, seemingly to his lips, but then throws it at him. The chains on his wrists limit his range and he can’t aim higher than Brock’s chest; the glass bounces off him, drenching his t-shirt, drops to the table, rolls off and falls to the floor without breaking. Brock smirks. He grabs Jack’s nape and slams his head on the table. He raises the half-empty bottle like a weapon, ready to strike.
One scared eye looks up at him from between strands of hair, and Brock hesitates.
“Too good a whisky to waste on you,” he mutters.
He lets Jack go and unscrews the cap to take a few sips. It takes Jack a moment to straighten in his chair again.
“Do you know what this relationship between us has been lacking from the start?” Brock asks. Jack goes back to ignoring him and staring straight ahead. “Order. And do you know what that order is? You do what I say. That’s how it always was, that’s how it’s supposed to be. What brings order, Jack?” He doesn’t wait long for an answer because he doesn’t really expect one. He leans in to talk directly into Jack’s ear. “I know about your pain training. You think you can survive so much and it’ll only remake you into something stronger. That’s what the purpose of the training was: to take a cowed rookie and destroy him, bit by bit, to build a better man. A man who ain’t afraid of torture because what’s a couple of broken fingers to being torn down?” Brock smiles. “Do you know what the difference is between that training and what I can—and will—do to you, if you won’t submit to me? During the training, someone held your fucking hand and patted you on the head and told you how well you were doing. Told you to be proud of yourself and of just how much you could take. You think I’m gonna hold your fucking hand as I slash your face and gouge out your other eye, Jack?”
He walks around the table, picks up the glass, fills it again and sets it down by Jack’s hands. “You’re having a drink with me.”
No reaction. Brock stands behind Jack and pulls his head back again. Something’s burning in Jack’s eyes as they lock with Brock’s, but he can’t quite put his finger on it.
“You know what the funny thing about torture is? It leaves a mark.” He thumbs the scar on Jack’s face, now almost lost amongst the burns. “But it’s a mental one. It ain’t as bad the first time as it is the second because after the first time, there are certain things you really don’t want them to do to you.”
“Speaking from personal experience?” Jack snarls.
Brock grins. Now they’re getting somewhere. “Do you know why it’s me here? Not Romanoff, not Rogers, but me? Because I’m really fucking good at this. Most people, they treat this all impersonally, use the standard methods that always work.” He snorts. “I imagine Romanoff was fucking baffled when she didn’t even get a peep outta you. See, me, I do research. I know everything there is to know about you. I know what you went through. I know what left a mark.” He presses the scar. “I think I’ll start with drowning before I bring in the knife. It’ll be a long, long trip down the memory lane for you.”
“What about my diamond?”
“I am your diamond. Admire me.” He pours whisky down his throat again, but this time Jack tries to swallow as much as he can before he starts coughing and choking. “Talk to me, Jack,” Brock mutters to his ear when he lets him go.
“I’ll tell you something if you tell me something,” Jack rasps.
Brock raises his eyebrows. “Go on.”
Jack chews his lip for a few seconds before he blurts out, “Barton.”
“Barton?” What does Jack want from Clint Barton?
“He was with me in Lagos. I wanna know what happened to him.”
Brock stares at him, stunned, as realization dawns on him.
He hasn’t seen Barton in the Tower. No one has ever mentioned him. He didn’t even see him in the old footage.
Barton was Hydra. Not only that; if Avenger Brock, Murphy and Mercer never joined STRIKE, somebody had to replace them. Somebody had to be Jack’s second in command, and it certainly wasn’t Westfahl. Who better than Clint Barton?
Brock swallows. What if Barton… What if Jack and Barton…
He takes a step back, clenching the bottle so hard his knuckles go white. “I don’t know about Barton. I’ll have to check.”
“If I tell you that, you’ll tell me where Barnes is?”
“I just said.”
Brock sighs. He did it; in a matter of hours he’ll have what Rogers wants, and then he can work on getting Jack out of his cell. And once he’s free, they can just walk out without anybody stopping them and never come back.
But what’s the point of that if what Jack wants is to reunite with Barton?
Brock sets a pen and paper down by Jack’s hands. He recalls a body of an ex-teammate under the showers in the locker room with a pencil lodged in his neck. He hopes the pen isn’t sharp enough for Jack to hurt any of them. He can’t reach Brock’s neck, but his own? Hydra agents carry suicide pills around in case of capture. But Jack’s not Hydra anymore, and the information he has isn’t worth dying for.
Brock looks down at Jack, who looks up at him in turn. He’s wearing that little expectant frown Brock adores so much. He used to get that look whenever he thought Brock wasn’t paying him enough attention. Which was often.
He can lie about Barton; say he’s dead and there’s no one to come back to. He would , if it would guarantee Jack staying by his side. But he can’t foresee what Jack will do, no matter what he says.
“No one knows where Barton is.” He tells the truth because there are already enough lies in his life he needs to remember. “He’s in hiding. Which is good news, for you at least.”
Jack nods. “I want cigarettes.”
“You’ll get a whole tobacco plantation, but first,” Brock taps the paper with his forefinger, “I want the exact location.”
Jack takes the pen and starts writing something down. “I haven’t seen Barnes in months. After Insight went down and Pierce died… he stayed with Barton because he had nowhere else to go. Nobody else to go to. He helped with some work, but his brain heals fast, like yours. He got worse and he didn’t want to keep doing it. So, I sent him here.”
He puts the pen down. Brock leans on the back of his chair with one hand to read his writing. He recognizes the address; it’s a Hydra safehouse in Bucharest, used for solo missions only. He’s never been there himself, but it’s somewhere he’d send the Asset to if he were Jack. Probably.
“Wasn’t so difficult, huh?” Brock smiles, his hand still on Jack’s chair, Jack’s back pressed against it. “You better not be playing us because…” He shakes his head.
“I don’t know if he’s still there.”
“I can’t discuss your future until we check the location, but I think I can get some painkillers for you, for now. And cigarettes, of course. But tell you what, if the—Barnes is still there and Rogers gets what he wants… I might just get what I want, too.”
“Me?” Jack looks up and Brock swallows hard at the want in his eyes.
That’s it; he cracked, gave in, did what they wanted of him. Masks are shed, inhibitions lost.
“I wanna keep you,” Brock mutters. “We’re a good team. Just look at us, cooperating so well. You’re a good leader, but a natural follower. We could achieve so much together, you can’t even imagine.” There was a reason they had been the most efficient team in STRIKE’s history. “Wouldn’t you like that?” He leans in a little closer, unable to help himself. He looks into Jack’s eyes, a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “It’ll be hard to convince Rogers though. Maybe I’ll be made responsible for you. Maybe I should mark you, so they know you’re mine. So you know who you belong to and won’t disobey me anymore. Won’t leave.” I ordered you to live; how DARE you disobey a direct order from your commander?
“Like I marked you?” Jack whispers, and—
Jack must notice his confusion because he continues in that same raspy voice, “I was so shocked when I saw you here. Couldn’t believe they’d let you anywhere near me. Your brain always healed too fast for you to be of any use to us, but I’m glad to see some of the programming stuck.”
Brock’s hands start to sweat, his heartbeat rising in his ears. “Not programming,” he says as his mouth goes dry.
Jack raises an eyebrow. “Stockholm Syndrome, then. Fine, I’ll take that.”
He doesn’t believe it’s real. He thinks it’s conditioning; he can’t believe Brock really does want him.
It’s okay, Brock tells himself. He can convince him later. If everything goes according to plan, he’ll have all the time in the world to convince him. Right now, the most important thing is that Jack wants him, too.
“Not that, either. I just wanna serve some justice.” He glances at the camera above Jack’s head, hoping he will catch that. They can’t talk more about it with eyes and ears everywhere. Maybe Cap doesn’t watch the footage, but he knows for a fact Romanoff does.
He straightens up, takes the piece of paper, and leaves the room. “Friday, where’s Steve?”
“The kitchen, sir.”
Rogers isn’t alone; Falcon looks away the moment Brock enters the kitchen. He doesn’t bother to try and hide a satisfied smile.
“Cap.” He hands him the piece of paper. “Barnes’ address. Or, well, it was, a few months ago. Maybe he’s still there.”
Rogers reads the paper with his brow furrowed, then looks up at Brock. “You sure it’s real?”
Brock shrugs. “I didn’t make Rollins desperate enough to lie. You can watch the footage; I just talked to him.”
“Natasha told me. She found it questionable.”
“It worked.” He points at the piece of paper in Rogers’ hand. “Guys like Rollins, standard methods don’t work on them. They’re trained. If they can’t control the situation, they control themselves. To break him, I’d have to cross a line I don’t ever wanna cross. Once you do it, there’s no going back. I just convinced him cooperation was a better option.”
Rogers nods with understanding. “Suit up,” he tells Falcon.
Falcon throws Brock a glance on his way out that he pretends not to notice.
“You coming with us?” Rogers asks.
“Hunting the Winter Soldier down?” Brock raises his eyebrows. “Nah, thanks. I think I’ll just have a drink, watch a movie, take a nap.”
Rogers’ small smile fades away as soon as it appears. “I gotta ask you… When they held you, was he there?”
Brock holds his gaze for a couple seconds before looking away and shaking his head. He knows it must be true; Hydra didn’t show off their super-secret weapon to just anyone, and especially not to recruits, no matter how valuable.
“They kept him to work for them, not to have fun.” He shrugs and fakes a smile. “I just spent a week interrogating Rollins; I have had enough of Hydra bullshit. No offence.”
“No, I get that.” Rogers forces a smile back. “Have fun.”
He’s crossing the threshold when Brock asks, “What will happen to him?”
Rogers pauses, looks over his shoulder with a quizzical frown.
“He only talked because I made some promises,” Brock explains. “I’d like to keep them.”
“We’ll discuss it when I get back.” Rogers turns away again.
“Could we at least—”
“When I’m back, Rumlow.”
He’s out the door already when Brock mutters a ‘sure’ in response.
Chapter 5: 2.4
Brock stands naked in front of the bathroom mirror. He’s grown out his stubble during the past week, and his hair has grown an inch since he woke up in this reality, enough to keep it up. This body is starting to feel more like home every day.
It’s the first time he’s studied himself properly. The painful burns are gone, and that’s what ultimately matters to him. Whenever he looks down at himself in passing, he catches sight of a familiar round scar from a bullet and unfamiliar long white lines along his collarbones, looking like the result of a torture session. The first time he’d noticed them, he’d stared at them for five seconds with his mind blank before simply accepting their existence.
Now he scans his body from all sides, his hands studying places his sight can’t reach, feeling smooth skin and uneven surface here and there, new scars and ones he remembers having before. It’s when he turns around and inspects the reflection of his back that he finally finds what he’s looking for. He breathes in sharply, fingers reaching to the small of his back to make sure. He makes out three raised lines forming a letter.
His hands drop and he stares at it in disbelief.
Jack gave him a tramp stamp.
He lets out a shuddering breath when he traces it again with his finger. This can mean only one thing. He closes his eyes.
They fucked. A relieved laugh tears itself out of his throat.
They were fucking. They were together . They do have a connection. Maybe there are universes where they aren’t close, but this isn’t one of them.
“Coulda given me something less obvious though,” he mutters as he opens his eyes to look at it again.
That’s when it hits him he’d never have allowed this. Back in his world he had marked Jack—with his permission. It had been an X in the middle of his chest; a simplified version of crossbones which Brock had been using as his sign long before Insight. Jack had wanted to mark him, too, but Brock hadn’t let him. ‘I own you,’ he’d said then, ‘not the other way around.’ He’d be lying if he said he’d never dreamed about it, but if he had let Jack do it, it’d never have been a tramp stamp.
Not to mention that, technically, this isn’t his body. The Avenger version of him wouldn’t have wanted Jack to so much as touch him, let alone mark him. How old can this mark be? Even if there was a chance they were close before Avenger Brock found out about Hydra, Brock knows the answer. The mark is two years old and it was forced on him during his two months as Hydra’s recruit . And it wasn’t the only thing. He shivers and wraps his hand around his hardening cock.
He bets Jack forced him to like it, too.
“There’s the dead man,” Romanoff calls out when Brock passes the open living room door.
He peeks inside with his eyebrow raised. Romanoff, Wanda, and Pietro are sitting on a couch watching TV, though Wanda’s eyes are fixed on the tablet she’s holding.
“What?” he asks.
Romanoff waves at him to come closer, and when he does, she points at the TV and turns up the volume.
“—identified the burned body found a week ago as Brock Rumlow, better known as Avenger Crossbones—” the reporter says.
“What the hell?” Brock murmurs.
“That’s what we’ve been wondering,” Romanoff says, looking at him suspiciously.
Brock doesn’t answer her, listening to the summary of how a burnt body was found earlier in the week in a crater in Central Park. His stomach turns. Whoever identified the corpse is right; it must be Brock’s old body. He never bothered to wonder what had happened to Avenger Brock’s consciousness, but this is most likely the answer; it was transported into his old body seconds before he died.
Sucks to be him.
“Your fans are freaking out right now,” Wanda says. “You should make an official statement: ‘The report of my death was an exaggeration’ or something.”
Pietro snorts. Brock looks at her dumbly. He has fans?
He’s an Avenger. Of course he has fans.
“Yeah,” he mutters. “Yeah, I’ll do that.”
“We should find out what happened,” Romanoff says, dialing the volume back down. “Meet the coroner, see the body.” She stands up. “I’ll contact Tony.”
Brock nods absent-mindedly as she passes him on her way out. This isn’t good. He can’t play it off as a terrible mistake forever. Someone will eventually realize there are two Brocks in this universe and he’ll be compromised. He’s running out of time.
“Did Steve say when he’s coming back?” he asks.
Wanda shakes her head, her eyes still fixed on the tablet.
“It’ll be fine,” Pietro says. “You don’t look dead to me. Someone made a mistake. Nothing to worry about.”
“I ain’t worried,” Brock lies, throwing a last glance at the TV, and leaves the room.
The mattress dips beside his right hip. There are hands on him, humid breath sweeps across his neck, a nose pokes his cheek.
“Jack?” Brock whispers.
Jack shushes him. Brock cracks his eyes open and makes out Jack’s face hovering over his in the dark. Jack throws one leg across Brock’s hips, brackets his head with his hands. Brock frowns up at him.
“How did you get out?” he croaks out.
“What do you mean?” A hand caresses his cheek. “Brock, are you okay?”
It’s not Jack. It’s Falcon. Brock tries to pull away, but his wrists are chained to the basement floor. His bruises are almost black in the dim light. He’s shaking from cold, though there are places where his skin is burning. A layer of sweat collects on his brow, a stream of something else drips down his chin – blood?
There are footsteps and then he feels hands, warm where he’s cold and cool where his skin is stinging. His instinct is to curl in on himself, but his body leans into the soothing strokes instead.
“Should never let them touch you,” Jack says. “Should let them know they’ve got no right.”
Searing pain flares across the small of his back and he moans. Jack shushes him.
“I got you.”
“Jack, let’s just get away. Far away. I miss you.”
Jack’s firm body presses him into the mattress, his left hand cups his face and they kiss for the first time. The helicarrier crashes into the wall, rubble falling around them, but Brock is safe, protected by Jack’s unmoving body. Blood and fuel mix in with their saliva. They fall through the floor, land on the elevator floor. Jack’s face is scraped when he gets up and throws Brock up against the glass wall. Brock reaches out for him, curls his fingers in his black S.H.I.E.L.D.-issued shirt. The world burns behind them, flames reflecting in Jack’s green eyes. The glass is cool against his bare skin, Jack hot between his thighs, the elevator shakes with their thrusts, the air fills with their moans.
When he opens his eyes, he half expects to feel Jack’s hands clench around his wrists, but he knows this time he’s back in reality. He sits up and peels off the clothes stuck to his sweaty body, his raging erection rests against his stomach. He can still feel the lingering touch on his hips, Jack’s heat between his thighs, his breath on his neck, his racing heartbeat against his chest.
God, he misses him.
He’s been awake for nineteen months and not a day goes past where he doesn’t miss him. This world’s knockoff is a poor consolation, especially now that Brock doesn’t have an excuse to see him. Two days without contact and he’s already becoming needy, his mind tormenting him with dreams of Jack constructed of memories and fantasies, while all he has is his own right hand.
After cleaning himself off with a bunch of tissues, he gets up and brings the laptop back to the bed. He calls up the live footage from Jack’s cell—he learned to do it himself, so he doesn’t have to ask Friday all the time; it gives him a comforting illusion of privacy—and is momentarily blinded by the screen’s brightness. He shuts his eyes and rubs them for a moment, trying to get rid of the colorful spots dancing underneath his eyelids, before carefully cracking them open.
The lights are set to maximum intensity again. Jack’s bed is empty and only after a moment does Brock spot him curled in one corner of the cell. He sets the laptop aside, gets out of bed, and pulls his sweatpants on. He almost runs to the elevator. The thirty-floor ride is torture, but eventually the elevator stops, and he rushes down the familiar corridor, the cold floor underneath his bare feet barely registering. His anger and anxiety grow when he finally bursts into the cell, squinting against the light, and he realizes the infrasound has been switched back on.
“Friday, what the fuck did I tell you? No infrasound, no matter what Happy says!” He squats down in front of Jack and rests his hands on his knees. “Jack.”
“The infrasound was requested by Ms. Romanoff, sir,” Friday replies.
Brock forces himself not to crush Jack’s knees. He takes a couple of calming breaths. “Romanoff has no power here. He’s my prisoner. Now, turn it off. The lights, too.”
The cell dims but the change in the air isn’t immediate. He swallows, trying to remain calm.
“Jack,” he tries again, gently.
Jack raises his head, peers at Brock through strands of hair. “You’re dead,” he croaks out.
“Do I look dead?” Brock whispers, and then louder, he asks, “How long has this been going on?”
“Thirty-three hours, twenty-five minutes, sir,” Friday replies.
“Romanoff showed me… the news… they said you were dead,” Jack breathes. “You said you’d protect me, but you left.”
“I’m here now. Come on, let’s get you back into bed.”
He pulls Jack up to his feet and Jack moans in pain as he supports himself on Brock’s shoulders, his knees buckling under him. Brock wraps one arm around his waist to keep him from falling, gathers him closer until he’s pressed against his bare chest. His breath turns shallow; they haven’t been this close in such a long time. Ever, technically.
“Are you getting painkillers?” he asks.
“Once,” Jack mumbles against his neck. Brock’s spine tingles as Jack’s lips brush his skin.
“They were supposed to be a regular thing.”
He walks Jack the two steps that separate them from the bed and helps him lie down. He brushes his hair off his face, revealing a round crimson bruise on the side of his neck. It looks familiar; stun batons leave ones just like that.
“Who did this to you?” he asks, tracing the bruise with his fingertip tenderly.
Jack doesn’t respond. Brock runs his finger up his neck and stubbled chin to his lips, pale and dry and cracked. “They withheld water from you, too? Food? Friday?”
“The last meal came in forty hours ago.”
“Wait, don’t fall asleep yet, okay? I’ll bring you something to eat.”
He takes a step back, but Jack reaches out and grabs hold of his wrist. He stays silent though, and just looks at Brock with an unreadable expression.
“I’ll be back,” Brock promises softly.
He covers Jack’s hand with his, half-heartedly trying to break free. Jack looks at him for several more seconds before letting go and fixing his eyes on the ceiling.
Brock returns with a big bottle of water and somebody’s Caesar salad he found in the guards’ break room. Jack pulls himself up to drink and eat, and Brock sits down on the bed beside him. He watches him for a moment, then looks about the cell. Jack puts the empty bowl down on the nightstand, bringing Brock’s attention to it. He frowns.
“Where are your books?”
Jack shrugs. He takes a few sips of water, screws the cap back on and holds the bottle close to his chest, like he’s worried Brock will take it away. Brock’s stomach clenches painfully. It’s Romanoff, it must be… She took everything from Jack when he already had so little… Made him believe Brock was dead… And for that, Brock will kill her. It’ll be easy; he already almost succeeded in Lagos.
“I know what you’re playing at,” Jack says, his fingers clenching hard around the bottle. “I won’t fall for it.”
Brock blinks in surprise. “Jack, you already gave us what we wanted. Why would I be playing games with you?”
“What Rogers wanted. What do you want?”
“I want you to be comfortable.”
Jack shuts his eyes and shakes his head. “You want revenge.”
Brock lowers his voice. “Yeah. That, too.” His words are laced with a hint of a promise.
Jack snorts and opens his eyes again to look at him with resentment. “Won’t fall for that. Won’t fall for you . No matter how undressed you are when you come in here, flaunting the marks I gave you.”
He reaches out to run his fingers along the scars under Brock’s collarbones, and Brock sucks in a hissing breath.
“You think I care when you threaten to leave? Think I was worried even for a second when you took down my men, broke out and left me behind? You can say and do whatever you want, but I know the truth. You have no control over me and you never will.”
Brock bites his lip in a failed attempt to suppress a smile. “First of all, Jackie, if you didn’t care, you wouldn’t try so hard to convince me. And secondly, I already told you: you’re wrong about me.” He pulls Jack’s hand away from his scars and stands up. “I’ll get you something new to read.”
He lets go of Jack’s hand but Jack grabs him by the wrist again, tries to pull him back down onto the bed. And Brock wants to let him. He wants to lie down with him, no matter how narrow the bed is; wants to hold him in his arms and brush his hair with his fingers, and to kiss his neck, chest, stomach. Wants to take his cock in his mouth and suck until he comes.
There was a time when Jack was strong enough to manhandle him; to pin him down onto a mattress and pose him however he liked. Now though, Brock doesn’t budge, even when Jack’s pulling becomes desperate.
“Jack. Jack, look at me.”
Jack does, and Brock mouths, “Cameras.”
Jack takes a moment to understand before he lets Brock go, his eyes flicking to the camera behind Brock’s back before he glares up at the ceiling.
Brock doesn’t want to leave, but there’s nothing more he can do for him, and he needs to get even with Romanoff.
The rays of the rising sun reflect in Romanoff’s hair, making it even redder as she opens the fridge and pours herself a glass of orange juice. In his imagination, Brock grabs her by the arm and throws her out the window. Her petite body falling twenty floors down would make quite a spectacle.
Instead, he shuts the fridge in front of her face and crosses his arms over his chest. “Why are you sabotaging my work?”
She looks up at him and raises one perfect eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“I just came back from Rollins’ cell. Can you tell me what the point is of tormenting him? He’s cooperating. Is this your idea of a reward?”
“He gave us Barnes’ hiding spot! Or did you miss that? Did you somehow not notice Cap and Falcon going to Bucharest to find him?”
“We don’t know what he gave us. It might have been a trap.”
“So you decided to starve him?!”
Brock’s seething with anger. He grabbed her arm at some point, strong enough to bruise, and he only clenches harder when he realizes. She’s watching him defiantly.
“Why do you care?” she asks quietly.
“Because I’m an Avenger, not a monster.”
They both turn at the sound of Cap’s voice. He and Falcon are standing in the kitchen doorway, both still in their gear. They look from Romanoff to Brock and back, trying to make sense of what’s happening. Brock lets Romanoff go and takes a step back.
“Steve, finally. We have a lot to talk about.” He frowns. “Where’s—” he bites his tongue just before calling Barnes an ice cube, “Barnes?”
Cap gives him a grim look. “He wasn’t there.”
“Told you so,” Romanoff says.
“He definitely used to live there,” Falcon adds. “But we were too late; he’s gone.”
Brock shoots Romanoff a triumphant look. “So he was telling the truth. He warned me Barnes might not be there.” He looks back to Cap. “I want him out of that godforsaken cell.”
“You would,” Romanoff scoffs. “What were you even doing there?”
“Is that really what we’re questioning now? Not why you kept torturing him after he’d shared his intel with us? Is this how we treat people helping us now?”
Cap frowns. “Natasha.”
“Brock,” she says calmly, “I have good reason to suspect you’ve been brainwashed by Hydra.”
A nervous laugh escapes him. “That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” But Cap and Falcon aren’t amused. They are both watching Brock suspiciously. “Come on, guys.”
“You’ve been acting strange ever since we brought Rollins in,” Romanoff says. “You resigned from interrogating him, switching to feed him chocolate and pizza. Things you said to him go beyond standard emotional manipulation—”
“What you call interrogation didn’t work! My methods did, so I can’t see why you’re complaining—”
“You want him out of that cell because you want to free him, and he confirmed it,” she continues like he hadn’t said anything. Her eyes turn sympathetic. “It’s not your fault.”
“What do you mean he confirmed it?” Cap asks.
She walks out of the kitchen, waving for them to follow. She leads them to the living room and turns on the TV.
“Friday, play the footage. You know the one.”
The screen lights up and they’re looking at the inside of the interrogation room. Jack is sitting with his back to the camera, Brock leaning over him with his hand resting on the back of his chair. Brock tenses as he realizes what they’re about to hear.
“Maybe I’ll be made responsible for you. Maybe I should mark you, so they know you’re mine. So you know who you belong to and won’t disobey me anymore. Won’t leave.”
“Like I marked you? I was so shocked when I saw you here. Couldn’t believe they’d let you anywhere near me. Your brain always healed too fast for you to be of any use to us, but I’m glad to see some of the programming stuck.”
Romanoff pauses the footage and looks at Cap expectantly.
“No, no, keep playing,” Brock says. “I deny it right afterwards.”
“Brock,” Cap says gently with a pained expression, “you might not even remember it.”
“That ain’t what happened!” Brock glares at the three of them. “I am not brainwashed!”
“What did happen, Brock?” Natasha asks.
Brock blinks. “What?”
“What exactly went down there? You never told us.”
“Natasha,” Falcon protests.
“Don’t you want to know?” she snaps at him. “Don’t you think we deserve to know? He was in Hydra’s hands long enough for them to turn him into their puppet. What if he’s not who he claims to be?”
“This is downright insane,” Brock says.
“Then tell us. What did they do to you? Why did they even keep you? There are no prisoners with Hydra, isn’t that what Rollins told you, Sam?”
“He’s under no obligation—”
“He raped me.”
Falcon trails off, staring at Brock with wide and horrified eyes.
“He raped me,” Brock repeats louder, glaring at Romanoff who keeps her face blank. “Every day for two months. Sometimes it was the whole team. Four men doing whatever they pleased, for hours on end. Sometimes it was just him. They kept me because he asked. He has this weird, creepy thing for me. I was his favor, his reward. That’s what you wanted to know?”
“Jesus, Brock,” Falcon whispers.
Brock sighs. “I wish they’d wiped my mind clean. But that ain’t what happened. What Rollins is referring to, it ain’t what it sounds like. It’s his… sick game.” He scowls. “Thanks for making me relive these memories, it’s been fun.”
Falcon and Cap are both glaring at Romanoff by the time he’s finished with his little show, and although she has enough decency to look guilty, Brock is willing to bet she didn’t buy it. Not all of it.
He levels Cap with a professional look. “Can we finally discuss Rollins’ future now? I believe we have more intel we can get outta him.”
“Natasha’s right,” Cap says as they sit in the armchairs in his room, all browns and beiges, as old-fashioned as it’s possible to get. “You have been different since that fight in Lagos.”
“Can you blame me?”
Cap shakes his head. “How can you stand being near him?”
“I have to be near him. I have to know I can . That I’m in control. It’s cathartic.”
Cap looks at him with understanding, like Brock made actual sense instead of simply spewing out the first bullshit that came to mind.
“And he ain’t…” Brock sighs. “He ain’t completely evil. He was in his twenties when I met him, straight outta the Academy… He was an overeager rookie who fucked up a lot, utter shit at combat… I trained him.” He can’t suppress a fond little smile at the memories. “He reminded me… Well, not of me. I was different, more troubled, more guarded, but he was just like most of the other rookies, you know? Then he changed. Something just happened, and I didn’t know what, but now I have an idea… There’s something else I didn’t wanna say in front of Romanoff.”
Rogers straightens in his chair, focuses on Brock entirely.
“It’s like she said: Hydra doesn’t keep prisoners. I wasn’t their prisoner, I was a recruit.” He pauses to let this revelation fully sink in. “Yeah, that’s how they recruit people. He went through the same shit, too, only he was young and not as strong, couldn’t break out on his own… Maybe he was convinced he was doing the right thing by an authority figure, someone he trusted and respected—”
“Pierce,” Cap says with a frown.
Brock nods. “He was a normal guy once. What became of his life, what he’s become… It ain’t entirely his fault. I don’t wanna torture him because he’s already been through a lot. I wanna help him. We have a connection—a twisted one—but nonetheless, if there’s anyone that can help him, it’s me.”
Cap smiles at him sadly. “You always want to save everyone. But not everyone can be saved.”
Brock rolls his eyes. “You’re one to talk. Look at you, hunting down the Winter Soldier. Not to arrest him or make him pay for his crimes but to help him. If we can do that for Barnes, why not for Rollins?” He frowns. “There might be things about Barnes you don’t wanna find out. Things that cannot be redeemed.”
“That’s different. He wasn’t in control of his actions.”
“Were any of them, really?”
Cap raises his eyebrows. “You’re suggesting Rollins wasn’t in control when he… did that to you?”
“I ain’t saying he didn’t have fun doing it.” Brock scowls. “But I don’t believe it was his idea.”
Cap sighs and spreads his arms in a helpless gesture. “I know I can’t stop you from trying to turn his life around. And I wish you luck, even if I don’t really believe you can.”
“Thanks, Cap,” Brock says bitterly.
“We need a list of all the places Bucky could go to. He could be anywhere but Rollins has the best chance of guessing correctly.”
Brock nods and stands up. “I’ll get right on it.”
“Did he get everything you promised?”
“Painkillers, cigarettes. But I wanna get him outta that cell. Have you seen it?”
“We have nowhere else to keep him. For now.”
“He can’t stay there if anybody can just change the environment inside. Romanoff almost completely ruined all my hard work. Hell, who knows if he’ll share anything else with me now?” Brock shakes his head. “If we torment him, then we ain’t any better than he is.”
“You’re now the only one in control of the cell. Nobody else can change the settings. How does that sound?” Cap smiles bleakly. “I can’t just let him room with you.”
Brock nods, clenching his teeth. Sharing his room with Jack… It would have been too good to be true.
“Friday, did you copy that?”
“Yes, Captain,” Friday responds.
Brock is at the door when Cap says, “Don’t be mad at Natasha. She’s just trying to protect you.”
“I don’t need to be protected.”
“Of course you don’t. Doesn’t mean we’ll ever stop.”
Cap smiles fondly at him and it makes Brock so uneasy that he leaves the room in a hurry.
He slows down when he spots Romanoff leaning against his door. She’s looking at him expectantly but otherwise her face doesn’t give anything away. Brock keeps his own expression neutral.
“I only accept apologies between seven and eight,” he says.
“In the evening,” he specifies.
“Good, because I’m not here to apologize.”
She straightens up and tries to stare him down, which is difficult considering how tiny she is. Brock remembers throwing her into the truck and dropping a grenade down after her. She’s not as much of a threat as she thinks she is. Neither is Cap. The only person here powerful enough to beat him was also created by Hydra; if it wasn’t for Wanda, all of them would be dead. She should be under his command, not theirs.
“ Sputnik .”
Brock raises his eyebrows. “That some Russian insult? Should I be offended?”
“Who’s the dead man?”
“The corpse they’re saying is yours.”
He spreads his arms helplessly. “How should I know?”
She narrows her eyes. “Maybe you’re not brainwashed, but there’s something wrong with you. And I’ll find out what.”
“Good luck.” Brock opens his door.
“You can’t break Rollins out. Steve will never let it happen.”
He looks at her over his shoulder. “You know what? I’m starting to think there’s something wrong with you. ”
He shuts the door in her face and turns around to see Falcon getting up from his bed. He sighs. “What do you want?”
“I’m sorry,” Falcon says with the expression of a kicked puppy.
Brock rolls his eyes. “For what?”
“I didn’t realize I could be making you uncomfortable. If I had known, I wouldn’t have pressed on.” He takes a deep breath. “How are you holding up?”
“I’m great. Apology accepted. I’d rather be alone now though, so…”
“You gonna interrogate him? Steve asked you even after what you told us?”
Brock crosses his arms. “I asked. I ain’t fragile. What happened in the past means nothing to me; we gotta think about the future.”
Falcon nods. “Well, if you need anything, you know where to find me.” He smiles without meeting Brock’s eyes and walks past him towards the door. He opens it but then pauses. “For what it’s worth, I think Rollins knew we wouldn’t find Barnes there. He knows he’s somewhere else. I think he knows far more than he’s letting on.”
“Thanks for your insight.” Brock just about manages to keep a straight face, so Falcon won’t pick up on his sarcasm.
Brock’s jerked awake by a loud piercing alarm coming from the walls around him. He looks about wildly, barely able to see anything in the dark.
“The hell is this, Friday?!” he yells in a rough voice.
“Rollins is outside his ce—”
Both Friday’s electronic voice and the siren cease, and Brock’s ears ring in the resulting silence.
“Friday?” Nothing. “Great.”
He gets up, takes a handgun out of his nightstand drawer, and leaves his room. If Jack has broken out of his cell… If he leaves the Tower… Brock might not ever find him. He can’t let him escape.
The power’s down and the elevators don’t work, so he enters the stairwell. Running down twenty floors feels like an eternity, but when he reaches the fifth floor, he bumps into someone. He’s shoved up against the wall and he feels the cold muzzle of a gun pressed under his jaw. He looks up into familiar green eyes.
“Jack,” he hisses, automatic relief fading as soon as he realizes that in this world they’re enemies. “What are you doing?”
Why is he here? Shouldn’t he be on the first floor, looking for a way out?
“Collecting my diamond,” Jack mutters. He cups Brock’s face with his free hand, his thumb brushing his cheek. “Thanks for the meds. Wouldn’t have been strong enough without ‘em.”
Brock can’t help but melt. Jack was coming for him. He could have just left and never looked back, but he decided to get Brock first. Jack thumbs his lips and his eyes flutter close, but the cold gun in his face keeps him sober.
“Gonna admire you for a really long time.” Jack’s hand drops and dives beneath Brock’s top, fingering the J-shaped scar. They both shiver; the scar is ten times more sensitive when it’s somebody else touching it. “Why not start now?” Jack’s voice turns raspy. “Even that stupid AI can’t get in my way now, Stark really should check who he hires.”
“Murphy,” Brock breathes. So, he was Hydra after all.
He opens his eyes when Jack doesn’t respond right away; he’s watching him closely with a frown.
“Yeah,” he says at last. “Enough talking, time to put that mouth to better use. Dogma. ”
Brock’s body goes numb in an instant; his fingers relax and his gun clatters to the ground. He wants to look down to see what’s happened but can’t, his body won’t respond to his will. He stares at Jack in rising panic.
Jack grins and drops his gun, too. Brock doesn’t even flinch at the unexpected clatter. Jack rests his hands on Brock’s shoulders and pushes him down until his knees hit the concrete. Brock wants to grunt in pain—his knees must have scraped—but he can’t make a sound. His chin is pulled down and his mouth falls open easily. Jack lowers his pants and pulls out his cock.
No, no, no. Not like this.
Brock’s lips don’t even twitch as Jack strokes himself to full hardness before grabbing his face and guiding it to his crotch, but his mind screams in protest as Jack feeds him his cock. His eyes sting and water, but he can’t blink, can’t look away from Jack’s face.
“Missed your mouth,” Jack mutters, burying himself up to the hilt, the muscles of Brock’s throat giving in easily as the head of Jack’s cock pushes in. “You have no idea how many times I wanted to shut you up like this. Always fucking yapping. A man’s gotta have nerves of steel to deal with you.”
Brock’s head stays immobile as Jack fucks his face and he hates how he can’t even press his tongue to the underside of Jack’s cock, can’t tease the tip of it, can’t suck on his own. Can’t show him how much he wants this, how much he missed his cock. His eyes overflow with tears that do nothing to soothe the sting, and they stream down his cheeks. Jack makes a mocking cooing noise and thumbs them away.
Brock tries to calm down as Jack picks up the speed, quiet grunts escaping his mouth. It’s okay. There’ll be plenty of time to show Jack just how much he’s wanted and prove to him that he doesn’t need to rely on trigger words. For now, Brock’s glad they’ve been given this opportunity; for Jack to take pleasure from him and claim him like this. They’ll sort it out later. Brock will tell him the truth about who he is and how he found himself in this alternate world, and they’ll be together, and Brock will never let him die again. And Jack will be free to use his mouth whenever and however he likes.
Jack lets out a quiet moan, his hips stutter, and then with one last deep thrust he spills down Brock’s throat. He braces himself against the wall with one hand as he comes down off his high, his breathing still shaky even as he pulls out of Brock’s mouth and wipes his cock on his stubbled cheeks. Brock remembers that Jack liked the prickling feeling of stubble on his oversensitive flesh; he’d manifest masochistic tendencies like that sometimes. Hell, being with Brock was a masochistic tendency.
Jack tucks himself away and pushes off from the wall. He tangles his hand in Brock’s hair and his eyes crinkle at the corners as he smiles down at Brock, his fingers stroking his scalp and his cheekbones, wiping the spit and traces of semen from his chin. Brock is still looking up with tears running down his cheeks, but inside he feels calm, pleased even. The stinging is annoying, and he wishes he could blink, but otherwise he’s happy to enjoy this quiet moment between them. A new beginning.
The door flies open and in walks Falcon, a gun in his hand. He pauses, his eyes moving from Jack to Brock. He takes in Brock’s wet face and open mouth, and the way Jack’s hands are tracing his features, and he doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger as he puts two and two together.
Jack sees it coming; he dodges the first bullet and makes a dive for the stairs, but in his hurry, he trips over the gun Brock dropped. He doesn’t fall, but it slows him down enough for Falcon to hit him with his second shot. Brock’s heart leaps when Jack’s cry breaks through the ringing in his ears from the gunshot and he falls. This time Brock’s body twitches as he tries to force himself to get to his feet and run to Jack’s side, but that’s all he can do.
It’s just Jack’s knee that was hit; the light material of his pants is soaked red. Inconvenient, but not fatal. Brock breathes a little easier but doesn’t stop trying to get his stubborn body to cooperate. Falcon advances on Jack and he tries to crawl away but it’s a lost cause. Falcon kicks Jack in the ribs, receiving a choked groan, and then again, harder, in the head. Brock twitches again when he hears something crack and Jack’s head flies back. Falcon aims his gun.
A forced out “Nnnooo!” mixes with the gunshot.
Falcon turns on his heel and crosses the distance between them in a split second. The next thing Brock knows, Falcon is kneeling in front of him, gathering him into his arms. He whispers something into his ear in a soothing manner, but Brock can’t hear him through the ringing.
He doesn’t look at Jack; his eyes are fixed on the ever-growing stream of blood flowing across the concrete floor and dripping down the stairs like a small, red waterfall.
Brock never saw Jack dead in his world; he learned about it from the news six months later, by which time Jack was long underground. He never saw him with a gaping hole in his head and his eyes wide open and glassy, his chest unmoving and his body unnaturally twisted. It was a blessing. He wants to keep it that way.
He finds he can blink again, but the tears keep coming and his body shakes with sobs. Falcon rocks him in his arms and Brock lets him. His chin rests on Falcon’s shoulder as he watches the dark red stream glisten in the dim light. His heart withers and dies, despair spreading from the center to the edges of his being. The screaming inside his mind slowly quiets down until there’s nothing left, not a single thought or emotion, and he sags against the bulk holding him up, shutting down.
He can talk. He can move. He chooses not to.
He’s placed on a bed in the Tower’s medical bay, propped up on at least three pillows. His scraped knees are cleaned and dressed, his face wiped clean of any fluids. The Avengers surround him with various levels of concern etched across their faces. They’re unaware of Brock’s true state; they think he’s still under the power of the trigger word and they discuss their options in quiet, strained voices.
“I told you he was brainwashed,” Romanoff says from where she’s sitting in a plastic chair next to the wall, as far from Brock as possible. “I had proof . But you didn’t listen.”
“Thank you, Natasha.” Cap frowns, not looking at her, barely keeping his frustration in check. “That’s very helpful right now.”
Stark stops shining his tiny flashlight into Brock’s eyes and takes a step back. Cap looks at him questioningly, and he shrugs.
“Looks like only a specific trigger word will snap him out of it,” he says. “Hopefully, it will wear off with time.”
“You shouldn’t have killed Rollins.” Pietro glares at Falcon, who glares right back.
“If you had seen what I did, I guarantee you’d have done the same thing.” Falcon’s hands clench into fists. “Fucker had it coming. He just deserved to die slower.”
Everybody looks up when the heart monitor alerts them that Brock’s heart rate has picked up.
“At least he can hear us,” Stark says.
“There must be something in the Hydra files,” Cap says. “Right?”
“I already tried a trigger word on him.” Everyone turns to look at Romanoff incredulously. “For proof. But nothing happened. Rollins must have come up with one of his own. It won’t be in the Winter Soldier files.”
Cap sighs and rubs his tired eyes. “I can’t just sit here and do nothing. I’m going to go and sift through the rest of those files.”
“I’ll see if I can work something out on my end,” Stark adds. “Meanwhile, somebody should sit with him, watch him at all times. We don’t know exactly what shit we’re really dealing with.”
“I’ll stay,” Falcon says.
“Pietro will change you,” Cap says.
“You better not mention our ex-prisoner in front of him,” Stark warns.
The Avengers slowly exit the room, leaving only Falcon behind. He leans down to catch Brock’s gaze. Brock doesn’t focus on him, so his face is nothing but a blur.
“I should have known,” Falcon whispers. “The other night, when you—it wasn’t really you. I should have known. I’m sorry I failed you.”
His fingers brush through Brock’s hair and he barely manages to suppress a shudder of disgust. Falcon is standing close enough that Brock could wrap his hands around his throat and squeeze the life out of him, but he doesn’t have it in him to even move a finger.
Falcon straightens up and walks away to take the seat Romanoff vacated and Brock breathes a little more easily as he relaxes against the pillows. After a while of staring at the white sheets covering him, once the bubbling anger and disgust start to subside, his eyelids grow heavy and he lets them fall.
When he comes to again, the sky outside the windows is dark. The room is dimly lit by just a single tall lamp in the corner. The plastic chair is occupied by Wanda. She’s holding a tablet, and her eyes stay focused on it even when Brock sits up straighter in bed.
“Wanda,” he rasps, his throat sore from abuse.
She looks up, blinking back to reality. “Brock.” She stands up and puts the tablet down on the chair. She approaches him, and he lets her take his hand in hers. “How are you feeling?”
“Wanda,” he repeats, curling his fingers around hers. “Can you send me to a parallel universe?”
She blinks several times and smiles nervously. “What?”
“They exist. Multiple realities. With other Wandas and Pietros and Brocks.” And Jacks . “Can you send me to one?”
She throws an anxious look at the door. “I should call Steve…”
She goes to take a step back and Brock clutches her hand tighter. “Please, stay. I need you.”
She saved him once, she can do it again.
She stills, looking down at him with a doubtful expression.
“What if I said you can? You can send somebody to a different universe with just a thought. I need you to do it for me.”
“I don’t know how.” Her voice is breaking and she shrugs.
Brock feels her hand trying to slip away and he holds onto it tightly. “Just think you want to. Imagine doing it. Have I ever asked anything of you?” She shakes her head. “I need you now more than ever. Trust me. This will all make sense later.”
She sighs. “I’ll try, but I don’t actually know what I’m doing. Just so we’re clear.”
“It’s alright. I know you’ll do well. I’m so proud of you, Wanda.”
A memory flashes before his eyes; Jack sweating and writhing in pain on a concrete floor, Brock’s steady voice praising him. You’re doing so well, Jack. I’m so proud of you, and you should be proud of yourself, too. He blinks it away.
Wanda presses her free hand to his forehead and a warm sensation seeps from it down his face, tingles in his cheeks. The red glow is soft on his eyes, but he closes them, anyway.
Chapter 6: 3.
Wanda takes her hand away from Brock’s forehead, but he still doesn’t open his eyes. He’s no longer gripping her hand. She swallows thickly. She should have called Steve. She should have done it right away.
“Did it work?” she asks softly.
Brock’s eyes flutter open and he gives her a confused look. “Did what work?”