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Litany of Self

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My name is Edward Charles Allen Brock, US Service number 36992619.  I am a Private Second Class, stationed in Second Platoon, Able Company, 142nd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, VI Corps, U.S. Fifth Army.

My name is Edward Charles Allen Brock…

He kept the words coming as well as he could.  Sometimes, the kraut scientists would come in and poke at him, and the words would falter, and he couldn’t remember which ones followed which, but then they’d leave, and he could start the sequence over from the beginning, and shut out what they were doing to him.

My name is Edward Charles Allen Brock…

The krauts had captured his regiment while they were attacking a fortification in… Italy, he thought it was.  Didn’t really matter where, honestly. He just went where his sargent told him, who went where his louie told him, who went where his Major told him, who everyone hoped to God had some idea of what he was doing.

My name is Edward Charles Allen Brock…

He’d been strapped to an operating table for God only knew how long.  The krauts had brought him up here with a group of eight other men from his regiment, and he’d been able to count the groans as they all lay here.  Count the screams as the krauts brought out their syringes. Count the gasping breaths, and then the silences, and he knew he was the last one left of his batch.

My name is Edward Charles Allen Brock…

After so long, he held a dubious place of honor among the test subjects, and the scientists.  He knew about the former because they’d started bringing in new batches, slotting them in around him, and in the dark hours when the krauts were busy elsewhere, they’d hold whispered conversations.  The prisoners had noticed that the guards had dropped the batch number by one, which meant that one place was still filled from batch to batch. Granted, it could mean that a different soldier was still alive after each batch, but they all hoped that it was the same poor sucker.  Hoped that they’d be able to join his esteemed company in bloody-mindedly refusing to die. He’d snorted a bit loudly when he’d heard that one - most of the time, he lost the world outside those words, just trying to keep his own thoughts in order, and spending exactly zero effort as a role model for anyone else.  If they could gain solace out of the thought that he was valiantly spitting in the face of the kraut oppressor even though he was doing nothing of the sort, more power to them.

The place of honor with the eggheads he knew about because they saved the best tests for him.  His head was strapped facing towards the ceiling, but he could see in his periphery that every time they came to him, they brought a different tray.

My name is Edward Charles Brock…

He didn’t remember how long it had been since he had eaten.  The krauts had hooked an IV into his arm and the cold trickle into his vein provided a constant, familiar companion.  He assumed that the liquid carried enough water and nutrients to keep him alive, but they did nothing for his dessicated cotton-mouth or for the raging, needy, empty hole that was his stomach.  Honestly, at this point, the hunger was another familiar companion, reminding him every so often that no matter what pain surged along his nerves or what fire rolled through his veins or electricity crackled across his skin, his body still operated on its own without the intervention of syringes.

My name is Edward Brock…

He could feel the words start slipping away, but they were all he had, so he kept repeating the ones he had left in the vain hope that he could recover some of the rest.  He couldn't let the krauts take who he was, erase his name in the torrents of agony that kept flooding over him. The hunger worked against him, there, as another pressure, another distraction from repeating the words.  God, what he would give for a K-ration right now, or even a packet of battery acid, even though the artificial `lemonade` powder was better used as industrial cleaner. Anything with flavor, anything that he could put in his mouth and bite and chew and swallow.  Anything more than the meager bits of spit he could summon when he fruitlessly swallowed.

My name is Edward…

He lived the last of the latest batch, again .  He didn't know when the next batch would be brought in, but the eggheads sounded excited about something anyway.  For all he knew, their mess could have gotten new spices for the mashed potatoes or the krauts could have outright won the war - he didn't speak a lick of German.  Didn't bother to learn before he was drafted from Chicago, and didn't have the time or opportunity afterward, and laying in a laboratory being tortured wasn’t exactly conducive to language study.  None of what he could learn was conversational, either. He imagined what they could be talking about; was it mundane observations and recordings? A betting pool on their test subjects’ survival? “Hey, Fritz, I’ll bet you three bucks that subject Stubborn Fucker finally kicks the bucket today.”  Weekend plans? Did they even observe weekends? He never got a day off from his testing, but they could be rotating people through the days.

My name is Eddie…

They were excited about him.  They wheeled his stretcher out of the now-empty room he’d been in, the only room he’d been in, and into another empty room with an odd, cylindrical container in the middle.  Everyone left, which he thought surprising, because they hadn’t done anything to him yet, and then he heard a hiss and solid thunks as the door sealed, which bumped the situation into ‘deeply concerning’.  What were they going to be testing on him now? Maybe something that would finally kill him.

My name is…

The words stopped completely when the container unlocked with a clank and fell open to reveal a writhing black mass inside it.  He could only see it out of the corner of his eye, but Instead of slopping out and falling to the floor, the thing raised inquisitive tendrils, almost sniffing the air of the room.  Then, to his horror, it climbed out of the container and out of his sight. He felt his heart thumping in his chest, trying to escape, spurring his body to try the same. He struggled against his bonds, dimly thinking that this was the first time he struggled since the first round of ‘tests’.  But too quickly, he felt movement by his hand, then his arm, and he snapped back trying not to make contact, but the thing touched him anyway, a warm, pulsing, fluid touch, both stringy and smooth, and then it went inside him, traveling up his arm and into his chest and moving around under his skin and it grasped his lungs slithered up through his neck and he was screaming, screaming, he couldn’t help it, and then it was in his head and the most overpowering hunger that he had ever felt worse than anything in this hell pit an empty abyss of need all-consuming ravenous voracious starving dying

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...Eddie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Eddie woke up to explosions.

He lifted his face off the cold, concrete floor and tried to figure out where the hell he was.  Unfamiliar grey floor, unfamiliar wooden cabinets, unfamiliar peeling off-white wallpaper… He turned over and sighed in relief at recognizing the ceiling.  Or, well, a section of the ceiling. The specific area of ceiling that he was familiar with was a yard or two over, look, he could see it there, just over his gurney where he…

Where they…

 

Gunfire pattered in the distance while remembered restraints wrapped their way around him.

 

Another explosion rocked the building, and he jumped, shattering the spell.  “Ok, Eddie, time to get up and hope no one’s coming to strap you down aga - aargh ,” he said as he started to stand up and then every muscle in his arms and legs cramped.  Guess laying on a table without moving for God knows how long is pretty disagreeable to quick movements, huh?  He decided to just slump back down and ride out the pain - while not fun, it was still only about a four in terms of how much pain he suffered through in that exact spot .  He decided he hated that spot, and that gurney, and if he could find anything that would do the job, he would burn them both with fire.

As he waited, he realized that he felt... full.  He had no idea how that could possibly happen, so he blamed the eggheads.  It was a safe bet.

The cramps only lasted a few moments, and then he tried to get up again.  Much more cautiously, this time, despite the faint panic over potentially being captured again and the klaxons going off through the entire building screaming ‘We have no clue what’s going on, but something big is FUBAR’.  He propped himself up on his hands and knees, grabbed the gurney he was next to, and heaved himself to his feet. Verticality established, he took stock of the situation.

Windowless concrete room, check.

Eight gurneys with associated IV stands, check.

Wall of cabinets, assumed equipment storage, check.

Stagger over to cabinets, confirm assorted medical paraphernalia, check.

Mug of scalpels, check.  Shitty shiv acquired! Hip hip hooray, he had a weapon now.

Pants clenching terror at noticing big, fuck-off metal containment door busted wide open? Check and double check.

One flattened gurney with associated flattened IV stand inside containment room?  Complete with shattered remnants of cylindrical container strewn about? ...Check?

Tracing trail of destruction through glass into observation room, check.  Massive claw marks across walls and ceiling, check. Tracing trail of destruction through glass again back out of observation room, and noticing claw marks on floor near him?  Back to pants clenching terror, but check.

No blood or guts anywhere, including in the observation room that a bomb would have made less of a mess in?  ...Check?

Refusing to look for any more big monster signs, check.

Finding a fist-sized chunk of concrete, perfect for pitching?  Check, check, and check. Ranged weapon acquired.

Still talking to himself, because it was better than continuing to run through those words in his head?  Also check.

Eddie didn’t think he would find anything more of use in here, and also very much wanted to get further away from the thing he wasn’t thinking about.  To that end, he took in everything he had learned about the room, checked that his dog tags were still around his neck, and used the door.

It opened into a wide, dark hallway that went off in both directions.  He turned right, not having a reason either way, and immediately about-faced when he heard people talking through the next door over.

And not just talking.  Talking in American .

“What happened to you?”  That guy did not sound good.  Groggy, maybe, and definitely winded.  Maybe another ‘test subject’?

The other voice was a lot stronger, and he said, “I joined the army,” like it really wasn’t a big deal, is anyone going to get up in arms about that?  Because it’s honestly not worth fighting about.

Eddie ran toward their door and shouted, “Hey!  Don’t leave without me!”

Two men came out of the door and turned to him, surprised.  The first one slumped heavily on the other, but he was still on his feet, which was a good sign, especially for a GI who had obviously been experimented on.  He hadn’t been in there long, but the marks were still noticeable - eyes so used to staring at nothing that they now had trouble focusing, new stubble, salt rings on his uniform from sweat, and the undeniable way that his legs didn’t hold much truck with the rest of his body, wanting to go their own way and not carry any heavy things, like torsos, thank you very much.

The second one didn’t even notice the weight of the other, standing straight even as he half carried, half dragged him out the door.  He wore a blue helmet, oddly enough, and an unmarked brown leather jacket. Maybe he was a Ranger? Sneaking around, rescuing people, if he got caught, “Oh, can you prove he’s one of ours?  No? Then he wasn’t. Shame about all that stolen information - maybe you should work on your operational security?” He didn’t know anything about the Rangers though, other than that they were badasses.  Maybe he’d have the opportunity to learn more?

Ranger, still supporting Slumpy, turned to Eddie and asked, “Who are you?”

Eddie finished jogging up to them and said, “Eddie.  Private Brock. God it’s good to see you.”

Ranger said, “I’m Steve Rogers,” gesturing to Slumpy, “this is Bucky.”  Slumpy was a better nickname than Bucky, and not only because Eddie had come up with it.  “We’re getting out of here, follow me.”

The group turned and continued down the hallway.  Steve turned to Eddie and asked, “Do you have any weapons?”

Eddie held up both hands, his right with the scalpel and his left with the concrete chunk.  “Just these, sir. They were the only things I could loot from the testing room I was in.”

“Well, you’re better off than Bucky is.  Wait, you were being tested on?” At Eddie’s nod, he continued, “Were you strapped down in there?”  Another nod. “How did you get out?”

Eddie’s tone took on an edge of fear.  “I don’t rightly know, sir, but whatever it was was big, didn’t give a shit about broken glass, and had claws like knives that could cut through concrete.”  Steve and Bucky wore mirrored expressions of what could politely be called ‘interested concern’. “And as far as I know, it’s still lose in here somewhere.”

“Ok, we need to pick up the pace.  Buck, can you walk?”

Slumpy nodded gamely, and showed better recovery than Eddie suspected when he took a staggering couple steps away from Steve’s side.  His mind, however, was somewhere else, especially when it came to topics of conversation. “Wait. Hey. Hey, Steve!”

“Yeah?”

“Did it hurt?”

“A little.”

“Is it permanent?”

“So far!”

Did these two know each other?  What were they talking about - had something happened to Steve?

"Did it also get - "

And then the world exploded.

A massive percussive blast erupted nearby and shoot the entire building.  All three men had to stop and lean on a wall or else fall flat on the floor.  Boxes stacked against the wall shifted and fell, and dust rained down as cracks broke their way through the ceiling.  Then the next blast detonated, and the shockwave rolled through the building, doing even more damage than the first one as cracks spidered out along the floor.  By the time the third bomb blew, they were dodging chunks of concrete falling out of the ceiling, and they decided as a group, without saying anything (as only the desperate can), that they needed to be running even if the floor was still bouncing around.

The group burst through the next doorway into a massive chamber.  Eddie thought it might have started out as a factory assembly floor of some flavor, but now it was doing an excellent impression of one of those fiery circles of hell.  He assumed the floor was concrete like the rest of the building, but he couldn't confirm that because every last inch of it was covered by fire. Gouts of flame burst forth from the raging inferno, almost reaching the metal platform they stood on.

They took in the picturesque scenery, and again collectively decided to run for higher ground.  To that end, Steve led them up the stairs to a higher catwalk, Slumpy pulled himself up the railing, and Eddie went last to catch Slumpy if he lost his grip.

They got to the next level, and Eddie saw a bridge across the room that led to what looked like an elevator.  Problem was, two men stood between them and the door - a tall man wearing a long black leather coat whose bearing screamed ‘I am in command here’, and a short man that, by taking in his hunched stature, his nervous disposition, and generally his entire appearance, could have spouted off Newton’s laws before he even left the womb.

Kommander Kraut had seen them, too.  “Captain America! How exciting! I am a great fan of your films.”

Wait.  Which one of them was Captain America?  Eddie hoped he would know if it was him, and also hoped (really really hard) that it wasn’t Slumpy, so that left Steve.  Steve, who, now that Eddie was looking at him, looked more than a bit buff, and would explain the blue helmet and jacket with no identifying marks of any kind, because why in God’s green earth would you send your golden boy behind enemy lines with flags on his shoulders that shout ‘Shoot me first!  I’m important!’?

For that matter, why was Captain America behind enemy lines anyway?  Wasn’t he just a showgirl?

Oh, and but of course the idiot showman left his companions behind to step out on the bridge above the lake of fire, resolutely facing down Kommander Kraut.  Who, beyond all reason, was still monologuing .

“So, Dr. Erskine managed it after all.”  He ran an eye up and down Steve’s form, and said, “Not exactly an improvement, but still.  Impressive.”

He had to give Steve credit for the punch he threw, though.  From the looks of it, Kommander Kraut didn’t expect it at all.  He barely caught Steve’s muttered retort after the swing, when he said, “You got no idea.”

Then Kommander Kraut stood back up, and Eddie thought something looked off under his right eye, but then the German growled out, “Haven’t I?” and threw a punch so fast that Steve’s shield was up and blocking it before Eddie had noticed that they were moving, and that guy’s fist had dented the quarter-inch thick shield?!

Steve wisely took out his pistol, but the Kraut’s next blow knocked him down and sent the pistol tumbling into the depths.  The Kraut advanced on him, but Steve planted both his feet into the Kraut’s chest and pushed .  The Kraut flew backwards, almost off the bridge, and the Egghead on the other side pulled a lever to retract it.

As the two brawlers were carried away from each other, Kommander Kraut started ranting again.  “No matter what lies Erskine told you, you see, I was his greatest success!” Then he wrapped his fingers under the skin of his face and pulled up.

Steve, Eddie, and Slumpy watched in stunned revulsion as Kommander Kraut peeled his face off, revealing a second, emaciated, red skeletal face underneath the fake face.  Full firetruck red, and not just because the fires were only putting out red light. None of them really knew what to do about that, except for Slumpy’s mouth, which, apparently without input from anything else, asked Steve, “You don’t have one of those, do you?”

Kommander Kraut started blowing air again, and Eddie knew that he had had enough.  This Nazi fuck didn’t even have a proper face, and here he was, insulting Steve and not even acknowledging the other two.  Hell, he might have been in charge of those eggheads who tied him up and tortured him! So Eddie, who grew up in mob-run Chicago, and who had a heavy rock in his hand, knew exactly what to do about blowhards.

“You are deluded, Captain.  You pretend to be a simple soldier, when in reality, you are afraid to admit that we have left humanity be - “

The concrete chunk impacted directly over his right eye and sent him staggering into the wall that he had been walking past.

The Egghead grabbed Kommander Kraut’s hand and started pulling him into the elevator.  The Kraut, on the other hand mostly just looked surprised. Maybe even full-on befuddled.  Like he had successfully been savaged by a stuffed animal.

Steve and Slumpy stared dumbfounded at Eddie, who shrugged and said, “Didn’t like the way he kept jawing.”

Kommander Kraut pulled himself together and stood up, re-assuming his domineering posture.  This time, he looked at Eddie with interest. “And who do we have here?” The Egghead tugged at his sleeve and muttered up and him, and he said, “Ah, our most promising subject.  I am glad to see that the resources put into you were not wasted. You are looking well, considering the circumstances.”

Eddie felt a sinking in his gut as he realized the Kraut might be right.  He felt much better than he probably should be - fantastic, even. Though he didn’t want to think it, he should have been panting and supporting himself on the railing like Slumpy over there, or even worse, but he felt energetic, ready to take on the German army all by himself.

He really wanted another rock right now.  Or a good brick.

Projecting bravado, he shouted back, “Maybe, but at least I don’t have your ugly mug!”

“You are not so far off from the Captain and I.  I expect to see you joining our ascended ranks quite soon.”  And then he pressed a button, and the doors slid closed.

Eddie looked at Steve and asked, “What the hell is he on about?”

Steve looked around the room, and said, “I’ll tell you later, we need to get out of here.  C’mon, up.”

They scrambled up the next staircase, trying to get to the only door out - which was, as was typical of their luck, on the other side of the fire lake with only a supportive I-beam as a way across.  They had a tiny fight about who would go first. Slumpy wanted Eddie to go, and Steve and Eddie wanted Slumpy to go because he needed the most help. The beam held up under Slumpy, despite him taking so long that Eddie would have sworn the war could have ended before he got across, and then it was Eddie’s turn.

He made it about to the middle just fine, arms held out to both sides, wobbling a little as the building rocked, but fine.  He was fine. Then he looked down, and fear surged up within him - fear of the fire. Sure, he knew that if he fell from this height he’d die anyway, but the fire provoked a special kind of terror that he had never experienced before, even in the depths of his combat in Italy.  He froze on the spot, but then the girder shifted and fell a couple inches, and his legs swung into motion without his brain, taking him closer to the other side.

Then the girder started falling for real, and he lept wildly, frantically, desperately trying to grab hold of the railing, the walkway, anything , but he knew he was still too far away even as Slumpy reached out to grab him and all he could think about was the fire , burning him, consuming him out of existence…

And then his shadow grabbed Slumpy’s hand for him.

That was the only way he could describe it.  Something black came out of his hand, latched on to Slumpy’s, and pulled, so that Slumpy was suddenly holding on to Eddie’s hand, dragging him over the railing, then turning back to look hopelessly around for anything to throw to Steve.

“There’s gotta be a rope or something - “

“Just go!  Get outta here!”

“NO NOT WITHOUT YOU!”

Eddie took a moment off from wondering what the fuck had come out of his hand and where it had gone to in order to recognize the first moment he might have been willing to call him Bucky.  He’d need to ‘buck up’ a bit more to really earn the name, but Eddie could finally see how it fit.

He was still on his ass looking at his hand when the catwalk rocked under a massive explosion, and then it rocked again as Steve landed on it.  Eddie looked up at him, then the other side, then the fire, then the gap which very clearly had no means of traversing it, then back at Steve, and he pulled himself together enough to ask, “Wha…?”

“I have a really good long jump, apparently.  Come on, we need to get out of here.”

Eddie moved his ass and followed Steve and Slumpy out the door into the cool night air.