Rumlow walked at his left elbow, and the agent shrugged with a feigned indifference. The agent carried a black plastic case in the left hand. “They had to reset his legs again.”
“Nah, he’s a soldier, so he toughs it out like the rest of us,” Rumlow drawled before glancing over at Rollins who was walking at his right elbow. “At least mine is functional.”
Rollins didn’t deign to respond, but he smiled at the corners of his lips. For the powerful and often silent second-in-command of STRIKE, the trophy was worth far more than what it could do. It was a miracle that Hill had survived the brain-panning from Insight, but she would never be more than a drooling vegetable. Rollins held an appreciation for her even amid all those life-support wires and hook-ups. She would make a very handsome coffee table at least.
Alexander couldn’t fault his soldiers in the revolution from their spoils, knew better than to deny them what they had all rightly earned with their efforts. They were the front line of the new world order, and it was up to them what sort of reward that they wanted.
His own prizes awaited just ahead, and the smile became far more genuine as he thought of them. His aging hands reached up and adjusted his green Kiton cashmere necktie, smoothing it down as if preparing to entertain the most prestigious of guests. Appearances mattered, now especially when the world was changing for the better.
He stopped just outside of the sealed titanium vault door, crossing his wrists behind his back as he simply stared at the door. Agent Rollins eased around him without even brushing his Kiton pewter suit and typed in the keycode, causing some of the heavy duty locks to slide open with a resounding ka-chunk. Two keys were required to open the rest, but the result was the same with locks hissing open.
Both Rumlow and Rollins were required to pull the six inch thick door open despite it having smooth heavy hinges. He stood impassively until there was enough space for him to simply walk forward into the large cement room that hid the thick titanium sheets behind each one. Cement left a better impression after all, a cold futility that was excellent for this room.
A ginger cat immediately came over, and it was only Rumlow’s quick hands that caught the tabby from rubbing against his legs. This was a truly friendly specimen, which took clear enjoyment from licking at Rumlow’s fingertips and kneading front paws against the cold cement floor as if it were the perfect texture to lay down and have a cat nap.
There was a second cat, a prim wary black creature that was seated off in a corner watching the introduction to new people with a baleful suspicion. If the lights were out, the cat would disappear entirely. Its tail flicked with only the barest hint of annoyance as it regarded its far more friendly companion.
The Winter Soldier stood next to the black cat, thick arms folded behind the asset’s back, as close to parade rest as the asset could assume. The Soldier’s head was bowed forward, blue eyes intent on the floor, but the uniform was crisp and clean.There was only the peak of a blackened bruise on the Soldier’s left cheek hinting above the mask, the only sign of a previous struggle.
Alexander turned eyes on the only other occupant of the room who looked, by far, the least comfortable. Naked, blood dried along legs, belly and chest, Captain America presented the image of disagreeable desperation. He was pleased with the scene, a patriotic figure bound and chained to what some might have considered an old electric chair used in prisons. It was far more hardy and designed to be uncomfortable, especially with the way that Rogers arms were forced around the back of it and restrained.
He glanced at Rumlow and nodding his head to the agent. He watched as smelling salts were practically rammed up Rogers’ nose, causing the blond to inhale sharply and jerk backwards. It was a good thing the chair was bolted to the floor.
“Is he stable,” he asked Rumlow casually.
“The shot collapsed a lung on its way through, but his healing factor is dealing with it and the other injuries,” Rumlow said, casting a single curious glance at Steve. “I’ve been informed that he’ll heal.”
“Are we prepared for the procedure,” Alexander asked.
“On your word,” Rumlow said before retreating back to the only door.
The ginger tabby, clearly sensing that someone new was cognitive enough to perhaps provide petting, immediately bee-lined to Captain Rogers and rubbed up against the blond’s restrained calves. The sound of purring filled the otherwise silent room.
It took several moments of disorientation for his reward to come to understand the nature of the current surroundings. The cats no doubt added confusion to the mix, but it wasn’t difficult to know where Steve’s attention would eventually go once the room was investigated with a flick of glassy blue eyes.
The Winter Soldier didn’t move or blink. That had been the single stipulation to ‘rewarding’ the Soldier with being here. From beside the asset, the black cat tilted ears back as if offended by the call.
“Bucky please, I need you to hear me,” Steve persisted as if he and two HYDRA members weren’t in the room at all. No, that wouldn’t do at all.
Alexander padded forward and backhanded Rogers’s across the face, opening up the long jagged cut by the corner of the blond’s mouth. He made certain that his body filled Steve’s line of sight, and he smiled at the glare was upturned towards him. It was a look that might have, at one time, ruined the dreams of HYDRA and the million or so who were part of their great cause.
“The Soldier’s hearing is impeccable,” he said, his eyes traveling over Rogers’ face. “However, you have no words for my asset that will draw response.” He put particular emphasis on ‘my’ to watch Captain America’s glare darken.
It was beautiful. Like a fine work of art that should be immortalized on his wall. Soon enough, it would be.
“Are you going to kill me?” That probably was a very important question for a prisoner of war.
“No, my good Captain, you will serve,” Alexander replied, his smile filling his craggy face almost completely. “You will serve with honours as you have always served, as any good soldier serves the cause that they justifiably believe in.”
Steve looked incredulous for a moment before snarling, “I don’t believe in any of the principles of HYDRA.”
“You will,” Pierce remarked as if that were a guarantee. “But even right now, it doesn’t matter. You see, I believe enough for the both of us. The Soldier believes. Agent Rumlow and Agent Rollins also believe. You’re simply the odd man out who hasn’t yet accepted the invitation you’ve been granted.”
Alexander reached out and touched on the weeping wound at the hollow of Steve’s throat, the single shot from the Insight gun that had targeted the man and failed to destroy Rogers after the Soldier had thrown the man clear of the helicarrier into the Potomac. A single shot that would have killed a normal human being; he was going to work on that little problem.
“Let Bucky go… you can do whatever you want with me, just… let him go,” Steve murmured softly, no doubt uncomfortably close to trying to bite his wrist as he probed the injury.
He ignored the plea because his prize and his reward would look best together, like twin sphinx outside his door. He must remember to track down the Moreau oil painting; it would look quite dashing in his spacious living room. He’d have the pair of them lounging on the sofa just below it; a picture worth so much more than a mere thousand words.
His fingers caught on Steve’s chin so he could tilt the super-soldier’s face up for his complete viewing. “Insight has run across a small snag, which is entirely unintended but not unfixable. You are proof enough of that, Captain.”
He dug his fingernails into Steve’s face as if expecting to be questioned. Clearly he was going to have to get used to speaking to himself with the glare but lack of verbal response. So disobedient and unrepentant. It was breath-taking, but it still earned Rogers another backhanded blow.
The ginger tabby issued a fretful meow that no one appeared to be getting along and hopped up onto Steve’s bare legs. A sleek tail flicked against his suit in hopes of resolving their dispute with an old fashioned ass patting. He didn’t bat the cat aside but instead gave in and pet the soft orange fur. Rogers’ face showed signs of discomfort as the cat began to knead on bare thighs, one of which had already suffered from a bullet wound previously.
“Agent Rumlow, please inform your commanding officer our current problem,” he said as he continued to pet the cat who had begun to drool happily.
Rumlow snorted softly as if the designation of commanding officer was now offensive. “Insight is designed to discharge a single shot at a target and replace that assumed dead target with a new one in the cue.”
“Agent Rollins,” Alexander said, glancing over at the normally silent man.
Rollins glanced at Rumlow once before frowning. “Specialized humans are surviving the targeted shot.”
Alexander smiled and folded his hands behind his back. “And that means that, while Soldier’s role has become relatively obsolete in our current time, I have use of his skills. There are plenty of wounded individuals that require his… specialized attention.”
“Haven’t you made him kill enough for you,” Steve snarled at him, now craning to try to see around him to the unmoved Winter Soldier. “HYDRA will never truly....”
He backhanded Rogers again, cutting off whatever tirade the blond was about the launch into. No, his reward was not going to ruin his moment here. He had control of this situation, and if he needed Rogers’s contribution to the conversation, he was indicate that he was listening for it. There would be some serious obedience training in the man’s future.
“Have you ever lived on a farm, Captain?”
“...no,” Steve replied warily, no doubt expecting another slap.
“Neither have I,” Alexander said, stepping away to gesture at Agent Rollins. “However, Agent Rollins has some experience with it. Did you have cats, Agent Rollins?”
“Yes sir, barn cats to keep the mice down,” Rollins said with moving from parade rest at the door.
“Between four and twelve at any one time, sir. Eagles, owls, and coyotes picked them off,” Agent Rollins drawled, looking towards the ginger tabby who was lounging on Steve’s lap. “The black ones survived the longest. The light coloured ones, not so much.”
Alexander nodded his head, as if this was all very educational. He could see that Steve was only suspicious as to where this was all going, that brilliant mind playing over no doubt more horrid scenarios than might happen here. “I do like cats. They are survivors to the end, and they don’t need their master as a dog does. Cats are reliable; dogs are helpless once bonded.”
He gestured with a hand at the rows of waterproof overall galluses in the corner by the door. Beneath the hanging overalls were neat rows of gum boots, clearly used for cleaning up the room. There was a thick hose coiled around a metal wall mount; they couldn’t have health and safety hazards after all.
Rumlow moved from the wall with one of the larger boots and set it down next to him. He ignored it and smiled at Rogers. “There is something unique about a cat. They are both a predator and prey.”
“And they make a mean overpopulation problem,” Rumlow added, standing close to Steve’s chair, leering at the blond. “Four litters a year.”
“What’s this about,” Steve growled dangerously. The Captain’s eyes dropped to the cat purring in the man’s lap as if the ginger tabby was about to drop a litter right then and there.
“Agent Rollins, would you like to show Captain Rogers how farms control their population that doesn’t involve relying on birds of prey and coyotes?”
There was a momentary struggle from Steve, but the chair only creaked. However, the ginger tabby was dislodged and ran over to rub up against the Soldier’s legs and approach the statuesque black cat, who offering only a hissing and a batting paw. The threat alone of claws drove the ginger back to the Soldier’s legs, rubbing and crying hopefully to be picked up.
It was, but by Agent Rollins who turned the cat over onto its back and rubbed with scratching fingers under the ginger cat’s chin. The agent drew closer to them, and Alexander stepped aside, giving Steve a pleasant smile.
“Don’t,” Steve demanded as if the man had a right to. “Leave it alone.”
“Nothing to it, Cap,” Rumlow said, tone full of sadistic amusement. “You’re worrying yourself over the natural order of things.”
“Shut up, Rumlow,” Steve hissed, glaring at the leering agent to the left of the chair.
It was quite an interesting stillness that took over the room as Rollins upturned the cat and literally jammed the top half of the ginger cat into the boot that had been brought over. With skilled deftness, Agent Rollins clamped his calves around sides of the boot as the cat froze for just a moment too long. Without anything but the business-like mannerism of a well-trained farm-boy, Rollins seized the orange tabby’s scrotum and two testicles in one hand and tore them clean from the animal.
A horrid scream filled the room as Rollins side-stepped the rubber prison as the ginger tabby shot from the gumboot and flailed around the room, hissing and howling as the now ‘neutered’ creature tore around the room as if that would allow it to escape from the pain. It eventually was reduced to trembling and flopped over onto its side, panting, still making a horrid dying sound.
Rumlow offered only an impressed whistle as commentary. Rollins tossed the masticated testicles into Rogers’ lap and smirked.
Steve had paled considerably, and he noted that the super-soldier’s thighs had tightened protectively close to the Captain’s own exposed genitalia. “Y-you could have at least given it humane sterilization. Pain medication… anything.”
“He’s going to live to see another day,” Rollins put in with a shrug.
Of course, that was barring a lack of excessive bleeding, infection, and other numerous complications that occurred with such a rural procedure.
The victim of the unethical procedure issued a blood-cooling moan and took another few moments of thrashing. The Soldier and the black cat in the corner watched the proceedings with a stillness that was both survival mode and predatory in nature. The black cat issued a low growl of distress but otherwise refused to move from the clearly most defensible part of the room.
Alexander returned his attention to Steve, who was focused on the orange cat, and he admired the image of the blond before him. Once Captain Rogers noted his attention, there was a physical struggle that was lost even before it had begun, what with injuries and restraint being what it was. He smiled and allowed it because it was spectacular to see that enhanced being move with such power and helplessness.
He sighed and smoothed his hands down his Kiton suit jacket to keep from carding his fingers through Steve’s hair. “Every member of HYDRA is given a reward for their service. I intend for mine to serve our great cause further.”
“I won’t work for you,” Steve hissed, sounding a little like an angered cat. It was amusing. “I’d die first.”
“That won’t be necessary, but you will be changed,” Alexander said. “You are unfit as you are now. You, like our fine ginger specimen, are going to have the unnecessary parts removed. And like our fine fellow moaning on the floor still… you will survive. It will be as if cats rule the world.”
He turned his head to observe the Soldier, but the asset was still and silent. There was a tension across those muscled shoulders, a strain for what was to come. He would have to be careful with these two together, push them into competition so there could be no attempt to understand any kind of prejudiced familiarity. That, he decided, would be one of the best parts.
“Come here,” he said, pointing at the spot next to his right hand. The Soldier obediently walked over to him, but blue eyes were finally focused on Steve once again struggling the crude uncomfortable chair. “Kneel,” he added softly. The Soldier did without questioning. “You’re my best pet. Let’s hope you can stay that way.”
“Bucky, help me! We promised…” Steve hollered, trying with force now that proper pleas hadn’t worked.
Instead, he let the amusing pleas continue because he knew they were fruitless. After this was said and done, he would be wiping the Soldier for insurance purposes, so minor infractions would be nothing more than amusing. It would also be the last pleas that Captain Rogers would ever utter if he had his way, and he had so far been successful in his endeavours. He didn’t plan on stopping now either.
Alexander looked between his two successful agents and smiled mirthlessly at them. “Decide between yourselves who gets to enjoy the initial opening of our highly advanced procedure,” he said, a hint of mocking in his voice.
He took a step back and let the two pairs face off, his agents to his left and his super soldiers to his right. Instead, his eyes fell on the ginger tabby who had crawled over and tucked itself down in the corner with the black cat. He would expect the two to fight; instead, the black cat was sitting on the orange tabby staring balefully at him, black tail flicking patiently.
When cats ruled the world, indeed.
“One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war,” Rumlow and Rollins said in unison, right hands clasped together as the pair were reduced to wrestling thumbs for victory. It seemed highly appropriate.
It was a relatively long battle, the pair unable to get the upper hand on each other for a pin, and their faces were a mask of concentration. It would have been such a boyish innocent display of competition if it wasn’t ended with Rollins suddenly kicking Rumlow in the shin at the same time at Rumlow jammed the other hand hard against Rollins’ battling thumb, dislocating it.
“Fuck you, Rumlow,” Rollins roared, clutching the injured appendage.
“You’re just mad you didn’t cheat the same way I did,” Rumlow gloated loudly, shoving the other STRIKE member to the ground and putting a foot on Rollins’ chest. “You play to the end of mission. I play to the end of the war.”
Alexander clapped his hands to break up the continue of the scuffle between the pair, looking at the men as a grandfather fondly observes his squabbling grandsons. He gestured and Rumlow obediently swaggered away to retrieve the black heavy-duty plastic case in the far corner with the overall galluses.
He turned his fond gaze upon the Soldier, stroking his weathered hand through the dark strands. “We are going to require your participation,” he murmured kindly, as if asking a child if they would not put up a fuss over taking their vile tasting medicine.
He watched as Rogers’ blue eyes shifted between everyone in turn, clearly trying to decide who was the greatest threat right now. That would still be him. The hand who pulled the trigger was always the most dangerous regardless of the innocent appearance that they might present. Those blue eyes should be on him; soon, Rogers would learn that lesson.
The sound of a Dewalt drill filled the room momentarily.
“The longer drill bit, Agent Rumlow,” he said without looking. He had Steve’s attention now, and he smiled his warmest at the man. “I grew up with stories of your endeavors. Now I’m going to have the pleasure of making new ones.”
Rumlow had returned, checking the setting on the power drill and making certain that the bit was secure in the lock. The room was filled with the sound of it reaching its higher power before Rumlow peered questionably at Rogers. “Ever pithed a frog before, Cap?”
Rogers looked positively alarmed and the chair creaked and groaned under the strength of the super-soldiers struggles. There was whitening of the metal that held Steve’s ankles and calves to the chair.
“It’s alright, Captain,” Alexander said, giving Rumlow an amused smirk. “Rumlow hasn’t either. This will be an experience for all of us.”
“I promise to enjoy it anyway,” Rumlow added solemnly.
Agent Rumlow walked behind Steve’s chair, which was actually now starting to wobble. They had not secured Steve’s head, given that he had wanted the Captain to have mobility to look around and take in the full scope of the surroundings, but now it was going to be difficult to make this clean with the thrashing. He had known it would happen.
“Secure his head,” Alexander ordered the Soldier. “Let there be no thrashing, but keep him conscious for as long as possible.” His eyes narrowed at Rumlow. “Don’t miss.”
The Winter Soldier rose gracefully and prowled over. Both hands caught Steve’s head and tilted it up a moment, and he tensed as the pair stared into one another’s eyes. Without indicating, Rollins was primed and ready to intervene if the Soldier malfunctioned, but it was unnecessary as his asset simply frowned.
“Bucky please, don’t let them do this,” Steve said, struggling harder and clearly able to tell the difference in the restraints now that they were coming apart. “Bucky, let me help you. We’re in this together, like always. Just don’t let them do this.”
Alexander Pierce was very pleased when the Winter Soldier’s arms enfolded Captain America’s head and forced it to tilt forward. There was a brief struggle as the pair waged strength, but the Soldier only adjusted grip and held fast. He nodded his head to Rumlow, and the drill drowned out the now constant montage of ‘please no, please don’t, please...’
Tears fell onto Rogers’ bare lap like rain. Tears were frozen in the Soldier’s eyes, either unable or refusing to fall.
The drill picked up speed to it maximum setting. It wasn’t difficult to tell when the drill bit found flesh.
The Summer Soldier was born cradled in the Winter Soldier’s protective restraining grip.
His prize and his reward had never looked so beautiful; the world was truly a better place and would continue now that he had the means to remove obstacles such as Natasha Romanov, Tony Stark, Thor, and Stephen Strange. Alexander Pierce was pleased, and he had to admit that ruling the world had never been so enjoyable until this very moment.