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The Directive

Chapter Text

The Triskelion - 2012

It had been 18 months, 18 long months of living two lives, and being a secret double agent in the middle of one of the world’s most secretive intelligence agencies.

To say that Brock Rumlow was earning his pay check and subtle Hydra backhanders was understating it in his opinion. He’d successfully met objectives for both sets of masters, time and time again, and had proven his effectiveness and value many times over. So what the fuck did he need to do to get to The Vault?

At 46 he was one of SHIELD’s most experienced agents, and still one of their most effective, despite being surrounded by over-confident upstarts sometimes more than a decade (or possibly even two) younger than him.

The job was his life, which explained why his tolerance for the bureaucracy bullshit had worn so thin after over 20 years fighting to keep the world from collapsing into chaos in one form or another. When Rollins had introduced him to the new Hydra in SHIELD’s midst he’d understood why so many people who shared his frustrations had crossed that Rubicon and joined the ancient enemy, especially with someone like Pierce at the head.

Hydra had modernised well you had to hand it to them.

So finally Rumlow felt like he was giving chaos and disorder a proper ass-kicking rather than the holding action he’d felt the agency had fallen into. But now he was getting annoyed. Rollins – his number two at SHIELD and close friend – was his superior in the HYDRA hierarchy due to time served.

Well for the time being he was. As head of STRIKE, eventually he’d be back ahead of Rollins and the other team members in the pecking order – all bar one were already Hydra it would seem.

They’d waited so long to read him in due to his long service at SHIELD – eight years and counting – and his direct hiring by the now Director Fury.

He’d wondered about the surge in ‘team socialising’ over the last few years. Vetting was done with extreme care, something he appreciated now he was on the other side of the equation.

He’d been given hints that the time was coming, that he’d passed his probation period or whatever you wanted to call it. But it hadn’t happened yet.

Something else had though. It was clear that something had caused a stir in SHIELD’s hidden Hydra ranks, people were buzzing and that phrase kept on coming up; though only when they couldn’t be seen or heard by the regular agents of course. He however was completely in the dark as to what was causing it and what 'The Vault' meant.

He’d been waiting for a chance to get Rollins alone somewhere secure, and now the mission briefing he’d only half been paying attention to was coming to an end he caught his SIC’s eye and gestured for him to stay behind once the room had cleared. Once the last person had filed out, Rumlow quickly set up a scrambler (better safe than sorry) and turned back his waiting friend.

“What’s got everyone so worked up? Anything I should know about?”

“Ah hell Brock, sorry I didn’t know it would get out this quickly. I sure as hell didn’t tell anyone.”

“Drop the cryptic bullshit Rollins and read me in,” Rumlow uttered in an exasperated tone.

“See Brock, I’d love to but I can’t. The boss man wants to do the honours himself this evening. You’re supposed to meet with him at twenty-hundred hours. The address will be sent in the usual way.” So slipped under his front door then. Some things were best left old school.

Rollins turned away; looking as though he was all set to leave Rumlow stewing in his own frustrated juices. He should have known his friend was way too much of a bastard just to leave it there.

“Brock, when you find out what it is you’re going to shit yourself, no joke. You’ll fucking love it.” Rollins exited the room with as much flair as he could stealthily manage and left his superior glaring at the now shut door.

God he hated that guy sometimes.

Chapter Text

He’d headed back home after a quick but painful training session with the one-and-only Steve Rogers. All the STRIKE agents and senior field personnel were being pulled in to train the recently rediscovered and revived national icon.

Despite Rumlow’s affiliation with Captain America’s old enemy he had to admit he was still a little star struck, and what's more he actually liked the guy. He’d grown up avidly consuming the tales of Cap and his Howling Commandos; he even had a collection of the vintage comics somewhere or other. It was a real shame that Rogers would never willingly embrace the ideals that Hydra stood for. The higher-ups didn’t seem to think it was even worth trying to get him onside, despite how much Hydra had evolved from the Nazi offshoot The Captain had known and fought agaist in the 40s. But that decision was apparently well above ‘his not-really-paid’ pay grade.

He’d grabbed a quick shower, being careful of his very sore ribs. Even pulled Roger’s punches were pretty damn effective. He then checked his front door mat. It was coming up to 7 and there, as promised, sat a sheet of electronic paper. He placed his thumb on the bottom right corner, and once his print had been scanned, a brief line of coded text appeared along with a qwerty key pad. Rumlow typed in his current passkey and the note deciphered revealing a set of co-ordinates. He quickly memorised these and then wiped and shredded the sheet, embedded electronics and all. It was an expensive but pretty secure method of communicating covert intelligence.

He grabbed his mission gear and went down to his car. You never knew what would be expected of you when Hydra called, so it was always best to be prepared for action.

He got in his SUV and drove as skilfully as possible to the block adjacent to the location he’d been given. He got out, walked in the opposite direction and the doubled back using all his training to avoid surveillance both electronic and human. He finally stood, at 19.55 in front of the designated address. It was a closed private bank, a victim of the financial crash of 2007. Exceptional real estate in central DC locked in some sort of probate process or another. He didn’t knock on the impressive wrought iron door, simply standing there knowing someone would spot him on the surveillance cams.

The double doors suddenly swung open and he was greeted by a group of semi-familiar faces and a hell of a lot of fire power. Despite knowing he and his accompanying armaments were expected, he still felt the need to make the universal palms up, ‘I come in peace’ gesture until he’d cleared the impressive vestibule of this fallen temple of commerce, where he finds Rollins waiting for him, standing in front of an elevator and wearing a weirdly excited grin, the type of which he typically only had before an extremely difficult mission. Honestly it was freaking him out.

“What are you doing here Jack?”

“Turns out it’s going to be a big night, so He called in a few extra hands as back up. The others are down there already.” Great, more cryptic bullshit. Rollins was enjoying this way too much.

“Let’s get to it then shall we,” Rumlow said, trying to disguise both his annoyance and impatience.

From the widening of Rollins’ grin as he stepped into the elevator car he was only partially successful. The doors closed and they started to descend.

“You’re going to flip.”

”Seriously Jack, shut the fuck up.”

Chapter Text

After just a few seconds – made to seem an eternity by the smirking jackass beside him – the doors opened and Rumlow walked out into what he assumed was the vault level of the bank to find Secretary Pierce and the rest of his STRIKE team waiting for him. Apparently Sanchez was now in and they were a full set. Whoopdeedoo.

He saluted Pierce “Sir.”

“At ease Agent Rumlow,” Pierce said in his smooth, cultured voice.

Brock relaxed a little but not too much.

Pierce turned his attention to Rollins. “Thank you Rollins. You and the rest of STRIKE should stay here until you’re needed.”

Rumlow couldn’t help the slight rush of satisfaction he felt at seeing the smile on Rollins face vanish at the words. He’d clearly wanted to see Brock’s reaction to whatever it was that was down here.

Pierce focused back on him, “Walk with me.”

They set off at a measured pace along the surprisingly-lengthy corridor.

“What do you know about The Winter Soldier?” Pierce asked.

Was he fucking kidding?

“A ghost story sir. A mind-fuck from the Russians to try and scare all good little agents and give them nightmares.”

Pierce burst out laughing and drew them to a halt outside an open vault door. Brock glanced in to the interior; it was empty except for a weird chair.

“Well more of a mind wipe by the Germans, but I’m glad you’re familiar with his reputation.”

“Wait. He’s real?” Brock couldn’t contain his shock and confusion. What did the Germans have to do with any of this?

“Yes, and even better he’s ours,” Pierce stated in a satisfied voice.

OK. Rollins had a point; his mind was officially blown.

“It’s taken a great deal of effort to arrange it but we finally have the Fist of Hydra in our hands,” Pierce was clearly bordering on ecstatic. Brock was bordering on ‘more than a little creeped out’.

“I’m sorry Sir, but I thought The Winter Soldier was a Soviet?”

“In some ways, but he’s always been Hydra’s weapon. Tell me agent, how is your military history?”

What was this? A pop quiz?

“Pretty damn good, Sir.”

“What about the Second World War period in particular?”

“Spectacular, Sir,” he replied confidently. Birth of the special forces? You'd better believe it.

“Let’s see then shall we,” Pierce said, with a half-smile and one eyebrow raised in amusement. Maybe it really was a pop quiz.

Pierce made an onwards gesture, and they moved up the corridor to a heavy-duty metal door; probably some form of extra safe deposit box storage. It was secured by a passcode which Pierce entered in on the pin pad to the right of the door. There was a grinding of heavy locks and gears and then the door swung slowly open.

The room was bigger than Rumlow had anticipated. It contained a host of electronic equipment, a huge-ass metal tube and three, what Rumlow would kindly call, ‘science types’. And it was weirdly cold.

“After you agent,” Pierce instructed.

Brock stepped into the chilled room. They’d clearly interrupted some heated discussion the eggheads were having, as all three had fallen silent the moment they entered and were now standing around awkwardly.

“What seems to be the issue gentlemen?” Pierce asked in that immaculate diplomat’s voice of his. Brock stood at rest to one side to observe.

One of the ner…scientists cleared his throat, “It’s nothing Sir, just a slight difference in interpretation of the instructions our Russian colleagues left for us.”

“And that is?” Pierce asked, patience sounding strained.

One of the others piped up now, earning a glare of disapproval from the guy who clearly thought he was in charge. “That there’s no reason to run the revival process that quickly. The defrosting has to take its toll, and doing it at that rate, it has to cause unnecessary damage.”

Pierce seemed to take a moment to consider his words, “How long would you prefer to defrost him over?”

What The Fuck? Defrost? A person?

Rumlow suddenly found his eyes drawn towards the now suspiciously coffin-shaped metal container across the room, that he now realised was the cause of his chills in more ways than one.

There was a person in there...?

He’d missed the scientist’s reply, but apparently Pierce had agreed to the suggested change from the smug look now on the guy’s face.

Pierce walked towards the ‘freezer’ which Brock now noticed had a window in the front, at what he supposed was around head height, but which was currently totally obscured by a layer of white frost. He beckoned Brock over to him.

In just a few purposeful strides, he was standing directly in front of the device. “Brock, I’d like to introduce you to The Winter Soldier. I’m afraid The Asset won’t be up for much conversation for a little while, it’ll take us a few hours or so to wake Sleeping Beauty here once the revival process is under-way.”

Brock thought that was an odd way to talk about a legendary assassin, but whatever.

Pierce turned back to the room’s other occupants. “Can we get this cleared?” he said pointing at the iced-over window.

The so-far-silent and apparently junior member of the geek team ran up with an ice scraper. Brock had been hoping for something a little more high tech.

He began to attack the ice layer but Pierce stopped him. “Agent Rumlow can do the honours.” The tech handed the scraper over with a shrug and went back to doing whatever it was his function was here.

“The Asset is kept frozen in suspended animation between missions,” Pierce finally explained. “I doubt he’s been conscious for more than a year or two total over the last seven or so decades.”

He was that old! That raised a shit load of questions. But first things first…

“Sir, I thought freezing people was science fiction?” he said starting to scrape away the ice. He could just about make out dark hair.

“It is, no normal person could survive this process, but our friend here is more than a little bit special as you’ll find out,” Pierce answered.

And here Brock was thinking 70-plus-year-old ghost-like killer and spy was special enough. More fool him.

He’d cleared most of the ice by now and used his sleeve to wipe away the slush and condensation from the glass panel. The blue-tinged face this revealed was – kinda pretty for a guy he had to admit – and surprisingly young and bizarrely familiar.

It took him a few seconds to place it. Not bad considering the long locks partially obscuring the features, and the complete impossibility of it all. He took a step back.

“No fucking way. It can’t be.”

“What can’t be Rumlow?” Pierce asked looking massively amused.

Rumlow turned to the US head of Hydra, “Sir, that’s Bucky fucking Barnes.”

“I’m well aware. Good, it seems you do know your history after all.”

Of course he recognised Barnes. Matching, or attempting to match his sharp-shooting, was still a rite of passage in SHIELD training. They even had one of his old weapons, immaculately maintained, to try and attain his range score with.

Over the years, maybe only a handful had done it. Barton not too surprisingly was among them.

But even if that wasn’t the case, he’d loved reading about the Howling Commando missions growing up, and had dived right back in to the reports when Cap had been unearthed, devouring everything he could find on his tactics and wartime operations to help prepare him for the task of training one of his idols. Barnes being the other. But Barnes was dead.

“Bucky Barnes is The Winter Soldier.” That was whole levels of messed up.

“I’m sure you want to know how?” Pierce queried.

Brock nodded decisively.

Pierce stepped closer gazing in at the unconscious and frozen, presumed-dead, war hero with a proud and proprietorial stare.

“His current, or should I say previous, Russian handlers had no idea who and what they had. He’d been in storage for three years. They just left him to collect dust.” The disgust in Pierce’s tone was evident. “Back in ’43 I think it was, just after Project Rebirth had been derailed with only Captain America to show for all its work, the US pulled back from Super Soldier research. Without Erskine who created the formula they were pretty much at a loss anyway,” he explained. “But Doctor Zola was doing his own work.”

Now that was a name Brock knew well.

“In a rather incredible twist of fate, Barnes pre his Howling Commando days, was captured by Hydra and chosen by Zola as a test subject for his variant of the serum. All without the knowledge that he was actually Steve Rogers’ best friend.”

Maybe Zola just had a thing for pretty boys? But that wasn’t something Rumlow was ever going to suggest out loud.

So he was a Super Soldier like Rogers? Guess that explains why the higher-ups weren’t fussed about getting Cap then, they already had the other part of the matching set. But something wasn’t adding up.

“How come no-one noticed they suddenly had two Super Soldiers on their hands?”

Pierce shot him a pleased look. “It seems that Captain Rogers launched a daring rescue before the good Doctor was quite finished with Barnes. There was a final stage that needed to be administered. What he’d already had meant that he was physically changed enough to survive the fall that everyone believed killed him, but actually just landed him in the hands of the Russians, and eventually right back with Zola who then managed to complete his project under SHIELD’s very nose. Astounding really.”

“So the mind wipe comment?” Brock queried, already kinda knowing the answer.

“The chair you saw coming in, it’s how he’s programmed. He doesn’t know who he was, which is why we’re doing the initial reveals to personnel while he’s still in cryo. Never refer to him by any name other than The Asset. The machine blocks his access to his memories – the ones we choose to block – and lets us boost his learning and quickly prep him for missions.”

“You can upload stuff?” That was fucked up, impressive but definitely fucked up.

“To a certain extent, apparently we can bolt things on to the existing neural pathways. It’s a little over my head to be honest, but luckily his pre-existing skillset worked nicely in our favour as it’s been weapons, tactics and languages mostly. According to the reports, he picked up using modern technology all by himself, it seems Barnes had a bit of a fascination with it,” Pierce emitted a quiet chuckle.

Now Brock was getting over his initial shock he saw where all this was going. “You want STRIKE to run missions with The Asset sir?” best get used to saying it and crush the urge to say ‘Bucky’ as quickly as possible.

“Yes, you’ll be mostly back-up to start, but I want you to evaluate him and report back to me. He’s only been used for covert wet-works so far, which I think is an under-utilisation of his talents, so I’m keen to see what he’s really capable of. I may even send him with you on a SHIELD mission or two if I can work around Nick.”

“Sir, does this mean I’m now in charge of STRIKE’s Hydra missions?”

“Yes, effective immediately,” Pierce confirmed. Eat that, Rollins.

“They’re just about to kick-off the revival process, but it’ll take a little while, why don’t you and your men go out for food and a couple of beers down the road, on me, and we’ll send someone to collect you when there’s something to see,“ Pierce added.

Brock knew a dismissal when he heard one.

“Yes Sir.” He snapped a smart salute, and headed out of the room and back up the corridor to where they’d left the rest of STRIKE.

Rollins met his eyes with a questioning look as he approached. “Well? Cool or what? We’ve got the fucking Winter Soldier on our team!”

“Yeah.” Rumlow flashed his friend a grin, but found himself fighting back a pang of regret that a man like Barnes had had to be destroyed for The Soldier to be created. But great achievements always demanded great sacrifices.

“Jack, you do realise he used to be Bucky Barnes don’t you?”

“No shit? Really? So he’s not just a super-cool, super-strong, killing machine, he’s also one of the best shots ever? This just gets better and better” Rollins enthused.

“Christ, am I going to have to get the two of you a room?” Brock joked.

The rest of the team laughed.

“Hey, you’re the one who hero worshipped that Barnes guy. I should be asking you that,” his friend countered.

“Shut up before I order you to do something unpleasant,” Rumlow shot back. “I’m in charge now, and the first order of business is dogs and beers at the bar I just passed down the street.”

The announcement was met with unsurprising enthusiasm; they’d not had much down time of late.

“But only one or two beers, we have to be back in a couple of hours to welcome the new arrival back to the world.”

There were a few good-natured complaints, but it was clear that all of them were excited by the prospect of seeing a legend in the flesh.

Rumlow wondered if there’d be anything left of the Barnes he’d seen in the archive footage. Guess he’d find out shortly.

He shrugged and went back to bantering with his men, feeling that finally everything was getting back to how it should be.

Chapter Text

Brock’s phone sounded, giving him the signal that their ride was waiting outside to return them to the bank. The bar was about to close anyway, he looked at the team, the last couple of hours had done them good.

He caught Rollins eye and his SIC acknowledged the signal. He started gathering up the men while Rumlow walked outside to locate the SUV. At least this one was silver; nothing screamed covert ops like the big black hulks that SHIELD weirdly seemed to favour.

He climbed in to the front passenger seat and was soon joined in the huge vehicle by the other four men. He nodded to the driver and they were off to meet the wizard.

After a brief wait they were escorted in and down to The Vault floor.

Pierce met them at the door to the room containing The Soldier’s cryo chamber.

“Gentlemen,” he greeted them. “He’s awake, the support staff are just helping him get situated. It takes a few minutes for him to get fully functional after being frozen for years. Shocking I know.” Pierce was clearly excited to finally meet his new acquisition. “We can have him out for up to two weeks.”

Rumlow was surprised “Why so short a time, Sir? I thought this was a permanent thing?”

“As near miraculous as the technology is that allows him to operate, it’s not perfect. After about two weeks, give or take, the programming starts to break down, and by all accounts he can become a little unpredictable” Pierce explained. “If you or your men notice anything unusual, any non-mission behaviour, I’m relying on you to report it straight away. I can’t emphasise enough how crucial this is.”

The men confirmed their understanding of these orders.

They’d picked up their weapons on the way in. Pierce nodded at the guns “Keep those lowered unless absolutely necessary. Let’s get this welcome home party started shall we,” he said with an infectious grin. He keyed in the access code and the door slowly swung open.

Rumlow walked in at Pierce’s side while the rest of the team fanned out and took positions along the walls either side of the door. Rumlow hung back and watched as Pierce approached the damp, shivering figure wrapped from the neck down in electric blankets, who was sat on one of the chairs the science team had previously occupied. His head was hanging down, a mass of wet dark strands, and he gave no reaction to show he’d noticed Pierce’s approach.

The lights might be on, but it sure didn’t look like anyone was home.

Pierce squatted down at just over an arm’s length from The Asset and gazed at him with a concerned frown. Brock wasn’t sure that was a wise choice if half of what he’d heard was true, but he figured Pierce was trying to prove something.

The Hydra leader looked over at the lead scientist from earlier. “Is he ok?”

“Yes, this is perfectly normal according to the logs. It just takes him a little while to reboot after Cryo sleep, it’s incredible how quickly we've progressed to this stage. Five minutes ago it couldn’t stand.”

Pierce straightened up and shot the man a disapproving look. “He’s a man, not a machine Doctor.”

The Soldier suddenly twitched violently, and the team half raised their guns before Pierce waved them down.

“Urr, yes, we don’t use that title in here. Apparently he doesn’t react well to it.” The scientist rushed out.

“That might be the type of thing that maybe should have been in the briefing,” Pierce said in an annoyed tone.

Yes, right in the section ‘Things to avoid saying to upset a brainwashed assassin’, you’d think they’d put that at the top of the page.

“How much assistance does he need to get up and running?” Pierce enquired.

The scientists all looked at each other before one – the short one - responded. “He can have as little or as much autonomy as you wish sir. As far as we can tell he’s totally capable, but previous handlers sometimes used controlling all aspects of his routine as a way of enforcing greater authority.”

Pierce considered this for a moment “Yes, I’ve read about some of the other things those Russian bastards did with that excuse on hand.”

Brock was surprised at the dark tone Pierce’s voice had taken.

“Let him manage himself unless he gives you a reason not to. The bathroom down the hall has been set up for him, and there’s a couple of sets of clothing in there that should do him for between missions. His tactical gear is still being upgraded, but it should arrive tomorrow. Has he eaten?”

“No, not yet, he hasn’t had the co-ordination,” 'Tall and Seemingly In Charge' replied this time.

“OK, get him food and water and then one of my men will escort him to the bathroom to get dressed. How long until he can train? I’d like to see him in action tonight if possible.”

“It should be within the hour” Lanky replied.

Brock sighed internally. Sure he’d love to see it, but it was past 11 already and he had a 7am debriefing back at SHIELD in the morning.

“Good, is the room set up as specified?” Pierce continued.

“Mostly, we took the liberty of making a few updates that we think everyone will enjoy,” Slim said, exchanging a self-satisfied look with his two colleagues.

“We’ll see,” was all Pierce said in reply. “Food now if he can manage it,” he said, clearly intending to go wherever the training space was to inspect these changes while The Asset was prepared.

He turned to Rumlow first “Brock would you escort our guest to the facilities once he’s eaten.”

“Just me, Sir?”

“Umm, Sir?” The lead scientist tried to interject.

“You can take Rollins and one other to post in the hallway but I’d like you to be the one on hand to help out if required.”

“Secretary Pierce?” the egghead tried again.

“Yes sir, can do.” Brock was slightly more comfortable with that arrangement, even if he was a fair way away from ‘entirely comfortable’.

Pierce turned to exit.

“Sir!” the scientist tried once again.

“Yes, Collins, what is it?” Pierce finally replied.

“It’s just that now is the best time to carry out the imprinting, Sir.”

It looked as though the geeks had finally done something right as Pierce spun back around and walked back to the chair and its still stationary, but now noticeably shiver-free, occupant.

“Splendid. Do you have the phrases written down? My Russian is terrible.”

Collins (it would seem) passed Pierce a card.

“You’re kidding right?” Pierce said sounding incredulous. “That’s his kill code?”

The scientist just shrugged, “Russians” he said, as if that explained everything.

Pierce crouched down in front of The Soldier again, this time determined to get his attention. “Son, look at me.” There was no response from the unnaturally still figure.

Pierce continued unperturbed “I know you can understand me.” Still nothing. Maybe something was still defrosting in there.

Pierce suddenly leaned over and put his hand under The Soldier’s chin, lifting his head up until their eyes met. Blue met pale blue just as Rumlow was fighting off the heart attack the unexpected move had given him.

“Sir!”

“Shh, it’s alright Rumlow, we’re all friends here.” If anything Pierce moved closer and then placed his other hand under the blanket and rested it on The Soldier’s right shoulder. Rumlow saw a flash of silver on the other side. The fucking metal arm, how could he forget the fucking metal arm. This just gets better by the moment.

Pierce then uttered a string of sounds that Rumlow recognised as Russian but had no fucking clue as to what they meant. The soldier clearly did as he suddenly sat bolt upright and gained laser-like focus in under a second. It was pretty damn terrifying to see quite honestly.

Clearly Pierce didn’t agree, “Good” he uttered. “Son, I’m Alexander Pierce and I’m your new handler. You’re back with Hydra. Do you understand me?”

“Da.”

In spite of it all, Rumlow still wasn’t expecting the Russian response.

“In English son,” Pierce insisted.

“Yes Sir, I understand” The Asset uttered quietly.

The soft traces of Brooklyn in his accent gave Brock an unexpected thrill. Bucky fucking Barnes.

“I'm Alexander Pierce. What are your standing orders?” Pierce questioned.

“Await mission briefing from my handler, and follow all instructions from my handler until in combat situations, at which point any actions can be taken to eliminate targets as long as mission protocols aren’t breached, Sir.”

“Good, and who is your handler son?” Pierce was clearly checking something.

“You are Sir, Alexander Pierce of Hydra.”

“Have you ever had a secondary handler?”

The Soldier looked confused, “I don’t know Sir.”

Exasperated Pierce stood and turned to one of the lab techs, “That’s going to take some getting used to. Has he?”

They quickly searched through some files.

“Yes Sir, on more than one occasion it would seem.”

Pierce turned towards Brock.“Come here Rumlow.”

Brock approached warily. This couldn’t be for what he thought, could it?

Pierce moved out of the way and motioned for Brock to take the crouched position in front of The Soldier that he’d just vacated. Oh well, best just get on with it. He turned to Pierce for instructions.

“Look him in the eyes,” Brock did so – my weren’t they a lovely shade, “Place your hand on his right shoulder” ... hand in position. “And read phrase 3” Pierce concluded, handing Brock the card he was still holding.

Brock looked down at the phonetically spelt Russian code phrases. So this was all it took to control one of the world’s most powerful beings? It was a little obscene. He was suddenly very glad he was on the same side as the people who did this so it could never happen to him.

He focused on the phrase he was meant to say: ‘The Winter Palace was destroyed’. Really?

He managed to muddle his way through it and then told the now attentive Asset his name.

“He’s your secondary handler. You’re to obey him in my absence. Do you understand?” Pierce asked

“Yes sir, secondary handler, designated Agent Brock Rumlow. Chain of command established, Pierce then Rumlow.”

Rumlow got up, feeling a little strange about the situation. But what could he do.

“Perfect.” The Asset looked shocked at the affirmation from Pierce, clearly this wasn’t something he was used to, if a repeat amnesiac could ever be said to be ‘used to’ anything Rumlow supposed.

He wondered what the man actually retained from the last 70 years of his non-existence.

Gesturing in the direction of the milling scientists Pierce continued “These men will give you some food and water. Make sure you have as much as you need. We’ll return for you shortly.”

This time Pierce signalled for Rumlow to follow him as he exited the room. Rumlow motioned for his men to stay watching The Asset, clearly this was meant to be a private discussion.

Pierce led the way along the corridor to a section Rumlow hadn’t yet seen. This place is like a damn TARDIS. Now that was a thought Brock would never admit to having.

“Let me show you around,” Pierce said suddenly breaking the silence that had descended.

He approached a regular looking door and swung it open. They both wandered in. Inside was a fancy office, spacious, dark furniture, the works. Plus it seemed to have a pretty nice en suite bathroom attached.

“This will be where you’ll bring The Asset shortly. We’ll set him up with a cot in the room he’s currently in” Pierce explained.

“He seems pretty house broken to me sir, why do we need to keep him locked up?” Brock asked.

Pierce sighed and indicated that Brock should take a seat in one of the office’s ridiculously expensive-looking chairs.

“Almost a little too well behaved when he’s first out of cryo or post-wipe it would seem. The truth of the matter is that keeping him under lock and key is as much for his own protection as for anyone else’s. The files the KGB kept are pretty detailed and I don’t know who’s had access. As far as I’m concerned it’s already too many people. I’ve made you handler to protect The Asset.”

Rumlow was confused, as far as he was concerned The Winter Soldier was a frickin force of nature. ‘And I get to hold the leash’ Brock thought to himself.

Pierce clearly saw this on his face. “As you’ve seen, gaining control of The Asset is actually pretty simple if you know the correct phrases and motions. If you’re a designated handler he’s programmed to do anything you ask of him. There was an incident where one particular handler decided to see exactly how far this obedience went.” Oh right.

“From what we understand The Asset broke his programming on their next ‘encounter’ and there wasn’t much left of the man to bury. Of him or the other five trained operatives who tried to subdue The Asset in the aftermath. Apparently our boy really doesn’t swing that way,” Pierce said with a tight smile. “As much as I hate to think it, I’m sure there are a few individuals in our ranks who’d take one look at him and find themselves helpless to resist trying something similar if they believed they could get away with it. The thought of having control over someone like him can be intoxicating. To a certain type.”

Rumlow suddenly felt pretty terrible about the leash thing.

“There have been one or two, shall we call them ‘minor indiscretions’, over the years. Generally if they were around the time The Asset had come out of cryo sleep, or it was close enough to a wipe, he didn’t react and the guilty parties were simply disciplined by their superiors. But after this ah, event, took place apparently his reactions to prolonged physical contact are now all over the place. I’d like to keep unnecessary deaths to a minimum if I can,” Pierce said dark-humouredly.

No touching unless absolutely necessary. Got it.

Rumlow wondered if there had been a list of things people were allowed to get away with in their treatment of The Asset. After all anything done could just be wiped away couldn’t it? Though apparently it wasn’t as clear cut as all that if he was still carrying around some of the trauma with him.

Despite being almost a century old, physically the kid couldn’t have been much more than 28, maybe pushing 30 tops. Rumlow’s view of The Soldier had just done a complete 180 and he now felt more than a little protective towards their new super weapon.

Hell kid, yeah I’ll watch out for you, even if you are a cyborg-armed killing machine.

Chapter Text

They’d continued the tour of The Vault, which had consisted of two guest suites and a pretty high tech training area with enough toys to make Rumlow whistle in appreciation.

He turned to Pierce “Let’s not tell the eggheads I did that.” Which earned him a genuine laugh from the top man himself.

They started to return to The Freezer as Rumlow had christened it, when Pierce paused in the hallway. “There may be an added complication. Ophelia Sarkissian is on her way here. I couldn’t exactly refuse a visit from Hydra’s chief Bio Chemist and Poisoner.”

Hot chick. Green hair. Scary as hell. Brock had met her once, he wasn’t easily intimidated but she had almost managed it.

“Any idea why, Sir? She rarely leaves Madripoor these days.”

“Yes, unfortunately, she was my competition to take The Asset off the Russians' hands. She is a little obsessed with him by all accounts.”

Fuck Kid, don’t you just get all the luck – torture, mind wipes, regular freezing, perverts and insane groupies. Living the dream.

He tuned back into Pierce “…can’t block her access entirely, but we can’t leave them unsupervised at any point. One of us to will have to remain with him or her at all times during her stay.”

“Understood Sir. Can we set any other ground rules? Insist it’s for her safety.”

“We can try, but I don’t see that flying, she pretty much sees herself as unkillable. It might actually be true,” Pierce said grudgingly.

“Is there an end date for this visit?” Rumlow queried.

“Not that she’s shared.” Great.

“What about missions, Sir?”

“I’m having you taken off active SHIELD duty for the next two weeks. With full pay of course. Your missions for this period will be solely for Hydra.” Score. “Let’s get this show on the road shall we? They should be ready for us by now,” Pierce said, resuming his walk down the corridor.

They re-entered the code, and the room, to find The Asset now standing and looking a little impatient.

Brock fought back a grin. So he does have some personality after all.

Pierce turned and addressed the science team. “Is he good to go?”

“He’s a…”

“I’m good to go, Sir” The Asset interjected.

Clearly he was. And managing to look all ‘military efficiency’ while clothed only in a blanket was pretty damn impressive too.

Pierce switched his gaze to The Asset “Good. Agent Rumlow will escort you to somewhere you can get ready; you should find everything you need to prepare in there. We’ll be running through your drills, so wear the training gear and leave showering until after.”

Rumlow guessed specificity was key in getting the most out of your pet assassin.

He turned to address The Soldier. “Right, follow me, stay two paces behind until I tell you.”

He looked at his men “Rollins, Dixon, you take up the rear position.”

He set off back to the office and saw The Asset fall in behind him exactly as instructed. His gait was still a little stiff.

I guess that’s what happens when you’re frozen solid for three years.

When they got to the door he called a halt. “Dixon, you take up position here,” he said pointing to the side of the door. “You two, inside with me,” he said to Rollins and his new ‘team member’.

When they entered the office he signalled for Jack to take up position on the far wall opposite the door they’d just entered through, and then he led The Asset over to the bathroom entrance. He pushed open the door. It was damn nice as far as corporate offices went; there was a modern-looking shower and everything. It had even been kitted out with all the necessities, including a shaving kit Rumlow was surprised to see.

With the discussion he’d just had with Pierce, there must be some reason for it other than keeping as much of that pretty face visible as possible. Clearly they weren’t bothered about keeping his hair trimmed. On most people Rumlow would have found hair that length ridiculous and stupidly dangerous in the field. Plus, they were probably going to have to blow-dry it.

Does he condition?

But The Asset was possibly just badass enough to pull it off.

There was also a large black duffel sat on a chair to one side. Rumlow went over to it, and despite the contents being almost uniformly black - no blue he was sad to see – he was able to locate suitable training gear. He set the clothing down to one side. The Asset had remained stationary in the doorway.

“Get in here.” He took one step forward, past the threshold. and went still again.

Brock realised he was awaiting further instructions. Yes, this was definitely going to take some getting used to. “Here’s the training gear. Are you okay to get changed?”

The Asset simply nodded.

“OK then, I’ll just be at the door. Come out when you’re done.” The blanket was on the floor before he’d even finished talking. Apparently modesty had been programmed out, probably too inefficient.

Whoa, how can he be that cut after 3 years of doing nothing?

Brock left him to it, he almost shouldn’t have bothered. Merely seconds later The Asset emerged fully dressed in a black wife-beater and loose light-weight pants and seemingly ready for action.

Exactly how fast can the guy move?

“Right, let’s get you to the playground.” The Asset sent him a sideways look, but if it was supposed to convey anything Brock couldn’t read what was behind it.

“OK, fall in,” Brock commanded both men in the room. They filed out of the room collecting Dixon on the way.

Brock glanced back, The Asset’s limbs seemed to have loosened up and his long purposeful stride gave him an almost predatory air.

He caught Jack’s eyes and they shared an anticipatory look.

Yeah, this was going to be awesome. I mean how many people got to see The Winter Soldier in action? Well, and got to live after anyway.

He nodded to the gym/dojo door as they approached. “In there.”

The Asset entered first and Brock, Rollins and Dixon entered hot on his heels. Rollins let out a long slow whistle. “God this place is incredible.”

It was. There were a few basics such as a vault, weights, an immense bag and double bars, but everything else was as high tech as it came. Were those battle droids? There was a section that looked like a metal corridor with reflective walls, what the hell was that for?

Pierce and the science team were already stood in the centre of the space, next to a large matted area, and in front of what looked like a firing range, locked in a discussion. God this place was huge.

Brock noticed that the rest of the STRIKE team members were also there, stood over to the side looking excited but a little more on edge than Rumlow had ever seen them. Something was up.

Pierce broke off from whatever ‘conversation’ he’d clearly won with the scientists and nodded to Brock. He took it as a signal to approach but that proved unnecessary when Pierce walked briskly towards him and The Asset who had positioned himself a couple of paces behind Rumlow.

Brock wondered briefly why having the world’s greatest assassin at his back wasn’t freaking him out, but this wasn’t the time or place for that level of self-reflection.

“Are you ready to start your drills?” Pierce asked The Asset directly.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Unarmed combat, multiple assailants. Disarm and disable only, no lethal force and keep injuries inflicted to a minimum,” Pierce rattled off.

The Asset moved and took up position in the centre of the mat, simply standing there looking as relaxed as Rumlow had seen him.

Pierce then looked over at the STRIKE members.

Oh, OK. Now Rumlow got what the nervous anticipation had been about.

“Gentlemen, no guns. Knives only. As long as you’re all right with this of course?” Pierce asked turning to Brock.

Brock looked at Sanchez and Davis who were taking off assault rifles and un-holstering pistols. “Hell yeah. Rollins? Dixon? You want in?”

An assertive nod and a ‘hell, yes’, were sent his way, and the four STRIKE commandos moved into a loose circle around The Soldier.

“You’re not joining them agent?” Pierce enquired moving to stand at his side facing what from all outward appearances looked like it would be a massively unfair fight.

“My guys are some of the best in the World. Four on one should be challenging enough even for a super soldier, plus I gotta watch this.”

Pierce gave a small smile, “We’ll see.”

With anyone else Brock would have suggested a wager.

Rollins looked over at him, clearly waiting for the ‘go’. All the STRIKE members were in attack position. The Asset was still just standing there, arms at his sides. Brock nodded, Jack smiled and then the most incredible fight Rumlow had ever witnessed kicked-off. Literally.

Moving faster than humanly possible, The Asset went from zero to top speed in the blink of an eye. Dixon charging towards him from behind got a foot in the gut that launched him half-way across the room. After that it got progressively worse for Brock’s men. It was fucking beautiful.

The assassin was pure poetry in motion, pulling off moves that would have made gymnasts and dancers green with envy. It was epic, it was over in moments, and Brock was totally captivated.

Three groaning black ops specialists picked themselves gingerly up off the floor, Dixon needed a hand.

The Asset simply stood there watching and waiting. It didn’t even look as though he’d broken a sweat.

Pierce looked over at the scientists. “Check them over for injuries will you.”

The three men shook themselves out of their stupor and went to assess the STRIKE team for injuries. Clearly having the hard data on their charge and seeing him in action were two decidedly different things.

Christ, that was hot.

Rumlow knew artfully executed violence was one of his kinks. Watching some MMA was a good way for him to get his motor running before going out to find some obliging woman in a local bar to help him take the edge off his post-mission tension. But this display of – artistry he had to call it - had him half-hard and more than a little freaked out with this many pairs of eyes to potentially spot his discomfort.

If Brock was this turned on, despite never having those urges about other guys before, he could see why his bodyguard role was a necessity. Hell if Barnes was a chick he’d be down on one knee proposing right now, brainwashing, lack of personality and all.

Collins aka Mr Bigshot walked over to report: “A couple of dislocations, sprains, bruising and a cracked rib, but nothing serious. I think he stuck to the brief quite well.”

“What do you think?” Pierce asked turning back to Rumlow.

“I think if that was him holding back, I’m not sure what you need us for, Sir.”

Pierce laughed. “It was an enlightening exercise. I had only intended to have him face-off with two opponents like the Russians did to start” he shot Rumlow a sideways glance here, “but clearly my expectations weren’t set high enough.”

“How long will the routine take to run through?” Pierce asked turning his attention back to Collins.

“35 minutes. 50 if we put him on the range. Also, it will depend how quickly he picks up the new drills, including the laser corridor. We don’t know what his mental faculties are like currently for unprogrammed learning, so maybe make it a full hour.”

“I get the feeling that we’ll continue to be pleasantly surprised,” Pierce said with a wry expression. “Right. get him started. Would you care to stay and watch Agent Rumlow?”

He weighed up the potential for embarrassment against his desire to see more of what The Asset was capable of and the latter won. He might have to go spend some ‘quality time’ with himself afterwards, but he’d balance it off with staring extra hard at Romanoff’s ass during their next mission. That should do it.

“Yes sir.” Collins walked off to get things started. Brock wondered exactly how you explained lasers to a 90-something-year-old who kept having his memory re-set. Maybe they’d been programmed in.

“Sir,” he risked interrupting Pierce’s silent musings to discuss something that just occurred to him “if this is what super soldiers are capable of then it looks like Captain Rogers has seriously been holding out on SHIELD. He’s not done anything or shown us anything like this in his training exercises, at least not the ones that I’ve seen.”

Pierce gave him an evaluating look. “I’m glad to have you on board agent.”

Nice to hear.

“You have to remember we’ve had 70 something years to hone The Asset into the perfect weapon. He knows every discipline, almost every fighting style.” There’d been some moves in there that Brock hadn’t even recognised. “He was also a natural athlete from what I understand. Football, boxing, baseball. And when he was drafted…” Brock looked up surprised, “Yes that wasn’t the story in the history books, but apparently they felt the need to make Captain America’s best friend seem as patriotic as possible” Pierce explained, gaze back on The Asset. Brock noticed that Pierce’s voice had dropped to a low soft murmur he wouldn’t have been able to hear if the man hadn’t been standing right next to him.

He wondered if The Secretary was afraid of being overheard. Not by The Soldier surely? He was all the way across the room.

“Then they got him into basic training and discovered his gift for marksmanship and apparently a very able tactical mind. He was pulled into MOS training as a scout and sniper and was promoted to Sergeant before he even shipped out. Apparently he taught Rogers everything he knew in the field. That was the base on which Zola built his perfect soldier. Rogers on the other hand was a petite, asthmatic artist, so it wouldn’t be too shocking if we had the superior model” the Secretary explained.

Pierce seemed to be watching The Asset very carefully, but the object of his scrutiny appeared to be totally focused on whatever test the science types were running him through, some kind of memory test with complex light patterns it looked like.

Memory tests – that was ironic.

Pierce apparently satisfied turned and looked at Brock. “I wouldn’t rule out Rogers improving though. He’s still pretty much in 1940s combat mode, we don’t know what he could do once he’s had time to catch up. In fact you’d know better than me on this front. How’s he taking to the training?” Pierce queried.

“He picks up stuff pretty damn fast” that may have been an understatement. “But as you said sir he’s not got much of a base. It seems that a few boxing moves, a hand-gun and that shield of his were all he needed to become a legend in those days. Martial arts are totally new to him.”

“That’s what I expected,” Pierce affirmed.

The Asset had now started a complex routine on the pommel horse. It was damn hard to drag your eyes away from but Rumlow had questions.

“Should I excuse myself from Cap’s training Sir?”

“It does seem as though we’re making him a harder target to deal with when the time comes doesn’t it?” Pierce said in a thoughtful manner. “No, continue on, it would be too hard to explain to SHIELD if you withdrew now. Your team’s temporary re-assignment should slow progress down somewhat anyway. Regardless, if we have to send The Asset after him at some point, it would be as a last resort. I’m fairly confident that would work out in our favour though.” He was back watching The Soldier, who was now throwing knives with freakish accuracy at a range of moving targets. Pierce’s pensive frown transformed into a smile as the increasing difficulty made no difference to the end result. Bull’s-eye. Each and every time.

Send Barnes after Rogers? Now he came to think about it he didn’t know why that possibility hadn’t occurred to him. It was…possibly wrong on a karmic scale; definitely cruel. But my god he’d pay good money to see that match up.

Next up was the battle droids it seemed. Brock was really going to enjoy this.

Chapter Text

By the time the total decimation had finished Brock was in serious discomfort.

Luckily the STRIKE uniform concealed a number of sins, lust apparently being one of them.

Weirdly it had been the shooting that got to him the most. Barnes had been one of the best, but god The Soldier blew him out of the water. It was like nothing he’d ever seen.

He was better than Barton even. Well that freak used bows and arrows so he couldn’t get off shots as fast as The Asset could, and neither missed, but Brock just knew that head to head his boy would edge it.

Gotta stop thinking like that.

It was late, gone 1am and Brock contemplated writing off his reactions to tiredness and too much adrenalin, but he couldn’t deny that he was currently rock hard and he needed to do something about it.

But Pierce hadn’t yet dismissed him, or The Asset, and was still discussing the results of the session with the nerd patrol.

Need to be relieved to get some relief. Brock mentally snorted. That was one for the archives.

He looked over to the rest of the STRIKE team who’d returned from whatever infirmary set-up they had in this place (on another floor Brock guessed) in the middle of The Asset breaking what had to be a few world records for sprints and high jump.

He hadn’t even noticed them leave to be quite honest. He focused his attention on them for a second or two. No one else would be able to spot it but he could tell they were flagging. Probably feeling the strain of the – lets be generous and call it a fight – earlier.

Of course they could always be feeling the same kind of strain as he was. It couldn’t just be him right?

Clearly not, as Pierce had the (sure to be disturbing) reports to prove that The Asset got otherwise highly-trained and professional agents seriously hot under the collar.

Rumlow wondered exactly how minor those ‘minor indiscretions’ had been.

This train of thought wasn’t helping. It sure as hell wasn’t re-enforcing his heterosexuality either.

He tried picturing the Brazilian beach volley ball team. That made him feel slightly more secure, but no less turned on. And by a guy no less. Brock needed to have some serious words with his libido.

After he’d dealt with the immediate problem.

Christ what was keeping them?

He strode purposefully towards Pierce and the team, doing his best to keep his stride smooth and keep his predicament to himself. That was almost as hard as he was.

“Sir. Am I OK to dismiss the men? They need to be back at SHIELD for 0700 for the debrief.”

He also had a Savate session with Rogers at 10am. Hopefully this new kink he’d seemingly developed wouldn’t extend to all Super Soldiers. But he guessed that if it hadn’t happened yet with all their one-on-one time he was probably safe on that front.

One new weird sexual fetish at a time was about all he could cope with.

Pierce looked surprised but not angry at the interruption, “Of course. But can you and one other of your men escort him to the facilities and then back to the cryo storage chamber. We’ll take care of the rest of The Asset’s set up for the night. I don’t sleep much these days anyway,” Pierce said with a self-deprecating half-smile, “I’ll also need you to pick out some guards you trust to provide some additional security on The Asset for when your team isn’t available, but that can wait until tomorrow. What time will you be able to return?”

Rumlow did a quick mental calculation, “Around 12.30pm, Sir.”

“Right as soon as you get in join me in my office and I’ll give you a full briefing on handling The Asset.”

Oh lord. He needed to handle something all right.

“Dismissed Agent.” Thank fuck.

“Thank you, Sir.” Rumlow turned to the now fully-armed STRIKE team loitering by the wall. “Rollins you’re with me. Everyone else you’re dismissed. Enjoy the next five hours.”

There was an audible groan or two, though surprisingly not from Rollins. Rumlow also saw Dixon shoot them an odd look. Wonder what that was about?

The three STRIKE members left the room and headed back to the lift to catch the few hours’ sleep that the night still afforded to them.

Brock watched them go and then turned to Rollins. “Sorry Jack, you and me are on babysitting duty,” he said gesturing towards The Soldier.

“Well Pierce is definitely one proud papa, that’s for sure,” Rollins joked back. “Christ can you blame him? Do you think we’ll get to have some training with him? A couple of those moves I just got to know how to do.”

Rumlow considered the suggestion. Maybe having that kind of physical outlet around The Asset would be a good way to stave off any other physical impulses that might arise. Not that he thought his guys were that way inclined, but as his still ongoing and increasingly painful predicament revealed, you never could tell.

Not that he’d ever act on it - he wasn’t suicidal for one thing. “I’ll ask Pierce tomorrow. First things first, we have to get the kid ready for his bedtime. Back in a sec.”

Brock approached The Asset, gun held low and pointed at the ground. He wasn’t sure how much he trusted this ‘handler’ thing but unthreatening was probably a good way to go for now.

The Hydra weapon formerly known as Bucky Barnes was disassembling the rifle he’d just used to smash his own record. Not that he’d know that. He’d clearly noticed Brock’s advance and had everything neatly squared away and was back standing at attention by the time Rumlow drew close.

Brock just had to stop and stare for a moment. Was there anything he didn’t do perfectly? Bad thoughts. Bad thoughts.

Brock shook himself out of his temporary stupor. “Right, you need to follow me,” he said to the The Asset before turning quickly on his heel and striding back towards Rollins and the exit.

He couldn’t hear anything but he was sure The Asset was doing as ordered thanks to the tingling sensation running up his spine. Highly strung didn’t cover it.

“Rollins fall in.” He didn’t slow down his pace as they passed the other man - knowing Jack would take position at the back as expected - in a hurry to get somewhere private and get some relief before some permanent damage happened. He practically raced up the corridor to the office.

He came to a stop by the door, turned around and was granted a second or two’s view of The Asset’s lithe body stalking towards him before he and Jack caught up. “Jack you stay out here. You,” he said pointedly in The Asset’s direction, “bathroom.”

The assassin didn’t hesitate, striding past Brock and straight into the office’s en suite.

Brock followed him through the office doorway in a far more leisurely fashion.

He suddenly heard the shower start in the other room. Clearly The Asset had been given instructions about freshening up after his workout. Brock was suddenly struck with a visual of that powerful form under running water and – that was it he’d had enough.

He was going to need some really filthy girl-on-girl porn to make him feel back to normal after this.

He turned back to Rollins, “Jack can you do a quick survey of the top levels, see what security they have in place for the next 24? Think we’ve got some time to kill here.”

Rollins gave him a questioning look “You sure Brock?”

“Yeah let’s not stay any longer than we have to. I’ve got this," he said with a nod.

Clearly the nod worked as Rollins threw him a mock salute and left to question the on-site detail about their arrangements.

Brock closed the door carefully, and quickly sat down in the plush executive’s chair behind the desk that Pierce had taken earlier. He paused for a second to listen to the sounds coming from the other room. The water was still going so he probably had a few minutes still, and lord knows this wouldn’t take long.

He unsnapped the fastenings on his combat suit and unzipped his fly finally freeing himself with a relieved groan. He took himself in hand and with just a few short, intense strokes he was gasping out his much needed release.

There were tissues on the desk so he quickly cleaned himself up and put himself back together. Just in the nick of time as well, as a second later the shower stopped and barely a minute after that The Asset emerged, barefoot, with hair still dripping but changed into loose cotton slacks and a long sleeved jersey top.

An incredibly form-fitting and increasingly damp jersey top.

Rumlow lent forward and rested his head against the desk, eyes closed as he fought back the flash of heat that had just shot to his groin.

Brock hoped Hydra had someone on SHIELD’s psych staff because he definitely needed therapy after this.

He was a pro though so 20, OK, 30 seconds later he was up and shepherding The Asset back to the care of the science team. Pierce it seemed, despite his earlier statement had already cleared out. Or maybe he was in that office he mentioned earlier. Brock was past caring at this point.

The Asset’s hair was still dripping when he left him sat on the basic cot that had been set up next to the cryo chamber he’d called home for the past three years. That couldn’t be comfortable. Maybe he’d bring the kid that hair-dryer since the eggheads didn’t seem inclined to do anything about it.

He’d probably have to explain what it did. Then again if The Soldier could pick up tech as quickly as Pierce had indicated then probably not.

He was about to leave the lab-slash-bedroom when the junior tech or medic, or whatever, stopped him: “Ah, Agent Rumlow, you need to tell The Asset to sleep.”

Brock looked around at him incredulously “You actually call him that to his face?”

“What else should we call him?” the tech asked looking baffled. Rumlow didn’t have a good answer.

And speaking of, Rumlow was probably going to need to learn the names of these other two idiots who weren’t good enough to kiss The Asset’s feet sometime soonish.

Making a noise of disgust he turned back to the brainwashed man in question and saw he was still sat bolt upright on the side of the make-shift bed.

Rollins suddenly appeared at his side flashing him another questioning look – he was doing that a lot tonight – before standing silently to find out what the situation was.

“Why can’t you do that?” Rumlow asked guy-just-asking-to-be-punched.

“The Asset will take instructions from us in regards to set-up, programming or training, but anything that could place him in a compromised position has to be ordered by a handler. That includes sleep.” Oh. All right then.

“But why aren’t you guys handlers?” Rumlow questioned, “You know the codes.”

“Protocol,” the little weasel said with a shrug.

This was the kind of crap Brock had hoped he’d left behind back at SHIELD.

He walked over to The Asset, who despite not moving, watched Brock’s approach with those piercing pale blue eyes. The more time Brock spent around him the more he was seeing a ‘someone’ staring back at him from behind that impassive face. This next two weeks were going to be interesting.

If the kid was allowed out to play that long.

“Get some sleep we’ll be back for you tomorrow,” Brock said with as much detachment as possible. That sounded commanding right?

The Asset nodded once and then swung his legs up on to the bed and lay down in one smooth motion.

“Doesn’t he need…?” Brock made a hand-wavey motion over the bed which apparently was correctly understood to mean covers.

“The room is temperature controlled he’ll be fine.”

Brock noticed the room was much warmer than it had been, probably because the cryo chamber was no longer in operation. He suddenly felt a little awkward.

“Right let’s get out of here,” Brock said to Rollins and briskly made his was out and along the hallway to the elevator.

They got in and the doors closed in front of them. Rollins gave him another look.

“Out with it Jack,” he said turning to his friend.

“You ok Brock? You’ve been twitchy for hours.” Damn he’d noticed. Well something anyway.

The doors opened and they walked past the security detail and out of the bank before Rumlow answered. “Yeah, just a lot to take in in one day you know.“

“I get ya.” You probably don’t.

“So what do you think of The Asset?” Brock asked, trying to keep it casual.

They’d arrived back at Brock’s car. Guess he was giving Rollins a lift then.

They climbed into his SUV.

“Well he looks damn good for his age.” Brock was sure Jack was joking. Pretty sure anyway. “And I think our enemies won’t know what hit em.” Rollins concluded.

“Oh he’s a surprise all right,” Rumlow agreed. “Let’s go catch some zees while we still can.” He started off in the direction of Rollins’ apartment to drop him off.

What would be the real surprise would be if the next two weeks didn’t kill him.

Chapter Text

One very-short night of weird dreams, a coffee, cold shower and an insufferable debriefing later, Brock was on his way to meet Captain Rogers in that old-style gym he preferred.

Savate was one of his favourite fighting styles and Cap seemed to be taking to it too; he popped his head through the door, and quickly spotted the Big Guy himself warming up patiently at one of the heavy bags they’d installed specifically with him in mind.

“I’ll be with you in five Cap. De-brief ran long.”

The Captain gave him a ‘no problem’ type shrug and continued taking on the bag.

Rumlow quickly changed into his sparring gear.

That was Rogers as far as he could tell from their limited acquaintance. Undemanding, focused, driven, highly idealistic and very isolated.

Brock felt for the guy. But obviously not enough to reveal the continuing existence of Hydra, or his presumed-dead best friend. Well, at the very least he respected him.

Once he was ready he nodded to Rogers before heading into the ring. As anticipated the super soldier followed and took up position opposite him, ready to get started with the session.

They ran through the (almost perfectly executed) drills he’d taught Rogers previously, with Brock making slight corrections to his form and quickly adding in a series of new moves and combinations.

It was all business with the Captain. Brock wondered if he had anything going on outside of his training with SHIELD. He didn’t seem quite comfortable in this new century he’d found himself in.

Brock called a time out, he needed a breather and a drink even if the remarkably composed Rogers didn’t.

Brock climbed out of the boxing ring, sat down on a bench and grabbed for his flask. Surprisingly Cap came and sat down next to him in companionable silence. Brock suddenly felt the urge to satisfy his curiosity. About a number of things.

“So Cap, you feeling more acclimatised now? Used to DC yet?”

Rogers took a beat before answering, “It’s quieter than New York which helps. But it’s not home, you know?”

Rumlow was surprised by the honesty. “Yeah, I get ya. It can feel a little impersonal when you first come here.”

“As for everything else, I’m still processing. 70 years is a lot to catch up on. Everyone’s being real helpful though. I keep getting suggestions of things to add in and look up,” he paused again, shooting Rumlow a wry half-smile, “I’m thinking about making a list.”

Brock snorted with amusement but nodded his head in agreement, “Maybe not such a bad idea. Make sure you’ve got Nirvana on there.”

“Eastern philosophy?” Rogers asked with a quizzical look.

“Seattle grung rock,” Rumlow clarified. Rogers didn’t look any less confused.

“Look it up.” Cap just nodded.

“Must be pretty strange all this. How long does it feel it was to you since you were storming Hydra bases with your team? Couple of months?”

Brock knew he was pushing, but no harm in asking right?

“About that” Rogers agreed.

“Tell me if I’m overstepping my mark, but what were they like? The Commandos I mean? Sergeant Barnes has always been a bit of an inspiration to me.”

Rogers laughed. A genuine, full-throated one at that. Huh?

Rogers clearly saw the shocked look on his face, “Sorry Brock, I was just picturing Bucky’s reaction to hearing that. He had a bit of an ego when it came to girls, but things like those silly comic books he absolutely hated. This would probably have completely thrown him.”

Interesting.

“So what was he actually like?”

“The best guy I ever met.” And this was coming from frikkin Captain America.

“You miss him, huh?”

“Every single day. He was my brother.”

Ah man… Suck it up, Brock.

A sad Captain America packed almost as much emotional punch as his fists did. Brock wasn’t cut out for this touchy feely crap, so back to the hitty punchy side of things. That he could do.

“You okay to get back to it, Cap?”

Rogers seemed to stir himself from whatever memories he was reliving.

“Sure.”

They stood up and returned to the flow of kicks, blocks and punches for another half an hour before Rumlow ended the session. God he hurt.

He liked pain but he was more in favour of inflicting it and sore muscles were fun for no-one. Luckily the rest of his day wasn’t going to be too physically demanding.

He grabbed a quick shower and then headed off to find Rollins. The rest of his STRIKE team would find their own way to The Vault, if anyone was following – unlikely – having to track several targets travelling different routes would make things as difficult as possible.

Jack was grabbing a coffee in the STRIKE break room when Brock located him. It was still only 11.30am so Brock let him finish and they made small talk about the football results from the previous night. Sitwell had ‘revealed’ the team’s two-week stand-down during the de-brief, so they both did their best to act just like a pair of guys granted a fortnight’s paid leave would do. Which was fairly obnoxiously.

Rumlow didn’t know how many other STRIKE teams were Hydra, but none of them were involved in his ‘project’ so best to play things as safe as possible. Ten minutes later they were headed off, once again in Rumlow’s SUV, to their transfer point, a small diner a few blocks away from the Triskelion.

He parked up in the spaces next to the restaurant and they searched for the vehicle left for them to take the rest of the way to the bank. Or at least close by.

There it was, the same silver SUV as last night. Jack located the key under the back wheel arch, tossed it to Brock and seconds later they were on their way.

They parked up a distance away and grabbing the bags holding their uniform and equipment (they’d had to change into civvies before leaving SHIELD) they entered The Vault.

After asking one of the security detail at the entrance for directions, Brock led Rollins to a locker room to change. If anything the facilities here were nicer than those at SHIELD.

One of the perks of picking the winning side I guess.

Brock snuck a quick look at Rollins as his SIC changed into his black tactical gear. Nada. That at least was re-assuring.

He’d not managed to spot Romanoff, if she was even on base, so he’d had to make do with checking out some of the less interesting female field agents on his way out of the building.

The rest of the team had just arrived, so Rumlow left them in Rollins’ care and sent them off to locate The Asset while he reported in with Pierce as requested.

It was smart use of resources is all. It wasn’t that he was avoiding the star of his new line in homo-erotic fantasies, well not for long anyway.

Unsurprisingly Pierce appeared to have taken over the former Bank President’s office. Brock knocked on the ornate double-doors and stood outside waiting to be summoned, but the doors were opened by Pierce himself who waved him inside.

“Take a seat, Agent” he said gesturing towards an informal seating area rather than the desk as Rumlow had anticipated.

They settled down in the slightly over-stuffed chairs. Brock half expected to be offered a drink next.

Wouldn’t say no.

“So you’ve seen what The Asset can do physically now. But I’m sure you have many questions. We’re here now to ensure you have all the answers you require.” Right then.

“The major thing for me and my team sir would be how he operates in the field. How much guidance does he require? Who’s in charge of mission planning and the situation on the ground?”

“From what I’ve read, once he’s assigned a mission he’s pretty much self-regulating. He might require a support team in a full-on combat situation though. I’d like you to select some men for that, Russian speakers preferably, as he seems to favour that in the field,” Pierce responded.

“So how would that intersect with STRIKE’s mission objectives, Sir?” Brock asked with real curiosity.

“That would be totally up to you. You’d decide if The Asset was required, his targets and objectives and if necessary when to withdraw him from the action. As far as I can tell he has two modes,” Pierce smiled, “invisible and absolute carnage. That’s probably worth keeping in mind.”

Brock had to admit he’d love to see the latter but he nodded his understanding.

“What are his current capabilities?”

“It’s quite an extensive list as I’m sure you can imagine. The master file is in the main vault with the programming equipment. I’ll take you there shortly. The tech support team have some updates planned and I’d like you to view the process.” Pierce elaborated.

There was a sudden hiss of static in Rumlow’s earpiece followed quickly by Rollins’ voice “Uh, Brock, I think you and Secretary Pierce should get down here.”

“Sorry Sir,” Brock said to Pierce, gesturing to his in-ear communicator.

“What is it, Rollins? Is it The Asset?”

“Not really. We’ve got company. We’re in the chair room - the main bank vault. Quick would be good. This could be a situation.”

“OK, we’re on our way.”

Pierce had taken notice of what was being said and was already rising up out of his chair to follow Brock out of the office and to the elevator. He was in surprisingly good shape for his age and they made it down the corridor and downstairs to the vault room in minutes. What they rushed into was not at all what Brock had been expecting.

His STRIKE team were stood around the room guns raised and pointed at other Hydra soldiers, and in the middle of it all, The Asset was strapped into the chair device – shirtless and seemingly asleep – and with one totally enraptured, green-haired, possibly psychotic hottie sat in his lap, running her right index finger gently over his features.

Pierce sighed “Ophelia, you’re early.”

“Your men were very rude Alexander. They tried to keep me away from James.”

Pierce pinched the bridge of his nose “Ophelia you know the protocol.”

She continued staring fixedly at The Asset’s face, not once diverting her gaze to Pierce.

Brock was starting to feel a tad jealous, but god they made a gorgeous visual.

“Oh hush, he can’t hear me. There was no harm done.”

Her long elegant fingers were now tracing gently over The Soldier’s generous bottom lip. “He’s just as I imagined. Those idiots had him in storage and wouldn’t even let me see him.”

Rumlow guessed she was talking about the Soviets.

He looked towards Pierce. It was as if the two of them had forgotten about the tense stand-off happening right around them.

“Sir?”

“Stand down.” Pierce said in a strained voice.

Brock wasn’t sure this was the best idea, but he wasn’t about to question his boss in front of one of his rivals- especially not with The Asset potentially at risk.

He nodded at Rollins who gave the signal for STRIKE One to lower their weapons.

“Would someone please explain what happened here and why my Asset is unconscious?” Pierce asked the room.

What?

Brock had assumed that The Asset being out was just part of the process Pierce had mentioned.

Collins – who’d apparently been quailing in a corner somewhere – came forward, “It’s her doing sir. We were prepping him for the new upload and she stormed in here, threatened us and then did something to The Asset. Who knows what damage she’s caused!”

Irate didn’t quite cut it. The pasty-faced man was turning a rather fetching shade of red in his indignation.

Sarkissian froze in her motions, one hand locked in position where it had been combing through The Soldier’s hair, the index finger of her other hand now applying just enough pressure to force those pouting lips open so that the perfectly manicured digit was virtually inside The Asset’s mouth. Brock knew his attention should be on the armed men she’d bought with her, but he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off those long elegant fingers.

She rotated her torso and head around slightly and fixed a cold, hard gaze on the scientist. Suddenly Brock could understand where the name Viper came from.

The rather indecently short red dress she was wearing had also ridden up her legs as she turned, revealing even more of the pale, smooth skin of her thighs. Apparently she did wear colours other than green. The contrast with the dark fabric of the combat pants The Asset was wearing made the sight even more captivating. Beautiful and deadly, the two of them; Brock had to remind himself to breath.

Collins – being smart for once – froze under her stare and stopped his complaints.

Everyone had gone still Brock noticed.

“Nonsense.” She turned back to her exploration of the Soldier, this time tracing the join between cold metal and flesh on his shoulder and dispelling the air of tension she herself had created just moments before. “As if I’d do anything to harm him.”

She held up the hand currently not engaged in wandering across his body and revealed a device sat snugly in the palm before placing it back over The Asset’s heart.

“It’s a contact sedative I created specifically for him. It’s quite ingenious, even if I do say so myself. Not only is it strong enough to make him sleep for, oh let’s say 20 minutes, it also has a second phase that boosts his reflex memory so he should learn those new skills you’re planning on giving him even faster than usual. No need to thank me.”

She turned to look at Pierce “What is it going to be this time?”

Pierce held her gaze “Hindi.”

“Feel free to throw in something extra as well, I’d suggest Salsa, I hear he dances beautifully.”

Brock could imagine that all too vividly.

“I’ll take that in to consideration” Pierce said with a slight smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Do I dare ask what happened to my men up top?”

Now Brock knew he was seriously distracted, he’d not even thought about how the Viper’s group had made it all the way to the main vault without him and Pierce being alerted.

“You worry too much Alex, it’s not healthy” she said with a smirk. “They’re absolutely fine, some of my men are just keeping them company. They wanted to search me and well, I wasn’t going to allow the likes of them to put their hands on me was I.”

She clearly didn’t have an issue with the touching part in general terms though.

At this point she seemed to have had enough of turning in order to carry out her conversation with Pierce so she lifted her legs, placing them on top of The Soldier’s, wriggled back further into his lap and leant back until she was draped across his well-developed chest, one arm up, with her hand idly tracing its fingers gently along his collar bone.

Brock realised just how on point Pierce’s statement about needing to guard The Soldier from her had been.

“Please stop pawing at my Asset Ophelia – it’s not particularly dignified.” Pierce’s veneer of patience was starting to wear a little thin it would seem.

“Your Asset. There’s that phrase again, really Alex, how arrogant. Surely the Fist of Hydra belongs equally to all The Heads?”

Rumlow noticed her touching had continued unabated. His eyes followed where his own fingers couldn’t.

“But there’s only one fist and it must move with a singular purpose or else it’s useless. Which is why the others agreed that he’d best be utilised to help carry out our plans here” Pierce countered.

“And yet I wasn’t consulted and I had first claim on him. I’ve been trying to pry him out of the hands of those Russian fools - or Ukrainian or whatever they are - for over a year and suddenly I hear he’s now in America. The one place he’s banned from being placed. So you can imagine my surprise.”

Banned from the US? Because of Rogers maybe?

“He’ll be restricted to operations outside of the US unless absolutely necessary. The Brooklyn incident won’t be allowed to happen again. We’ve learnt from the past mistakes.”

Okay so not Rogers.

“Anyway this isn’t the place to discuss this. Come to my office Ophelia and we’ll see what we can do to accommodate your needs. Do you like Thai? I have a chilled pinot that goes wonderfully with lemongrass. We’ll get some food and discuss arrangements for your stay to make sure your men are taken care of.”

Just like that, Pierce’s mask of masterful statesmanship was back in place and he was radiating easy charm and amiability. He really was someone you had to admire.

Brock was finding this glimpse into the higher echelons of Hydra totally fascinating.

“That’s very good of you Alex, but I’m not quite done here. One moment.”

She sat up and looked at her watch “Five, four, three, two, one…”

As she finished her countdown the Soldier began to blink, slowly opening his eyes and Sarkissian rolled over so she was facing him.

She placed her right hand on the side of his face “Why hello there blue eyes.”

The Asset blinked again, clearly still under the effects of the drug. She leant forward and placed a surprisingly chaste kiss on his lips. “I’ll see you again very, very soon.” She even tapped him on the nose with her finger. Unbelievable.

As she pulled away Brock saw a very confused looking Asset shaking off the sleep – though he didn’t look too upset, luckily.

Brock was now feeling fairly uncomfortable in both senses of the word.

“My formulas ALWAYS do what they’re supposed to” Viper said with a pointed glare at Collins.

She exited the vault with Pierce and without even a backward glance. “Now what was that about wine? A glass of something cool sounds absolutely divine, it’s such a long flight from Madripoor and the inflight service was sub-par. I really must get my own airline.”

Un-frickin-believable.

Chapter Text

Brock shook himself out of his hormone-induced stupor and set about restoring order in the wake of Hurricane Viper.

She’d left her men stood there.

Apparently they were all on the same side, so Brock figured that meant they were now under his command.

He looked over to Dixon: “Dix, you and Sanchez go show these guys where they can stow their gear and take them to the mess hall.”

This was on First apparently, not that Brock had made it there yet. He wanted this room clear of anyone that wasn’t his team – and grudgingly the science team – as soon as possible.

Brock saw Dixon glance quickly at the now fully-awake Asset but he quickly focused on Brock and acknowledged the order.

Viper’s Madripoor troops hesitated for a second, looking to their senior officer, a dark-haired guy in his mid-thirties Brock guessed. He gave Brock a weighted look before turning back to his men “Clear out.” He commanded in a mildly accented voice. Brock couldn’t place it. But then again he’d never been to Madripoor.

Brock nodded his thanks for the co-operation and the other Hydra agent returned it. Professional respect at least was alive and well in the ranks.

They all cleared out in eager pursuit of free food.

Brock stopped for a moment and his brain instantly flashed back to Viper straddling the Asset and pictured that slinky dress riding up even higher, those hands drifting lower, red-painted nails scraping over those well-defined abs and…

He really, really, needed to keep busy.

And if anything could drive his brain away from the realms of fantasy it was dealing with Collins. But first…

“Jack take Davis and find their friends upstairs. Hopefully only a few of the security team will have expired from fright.”

Rollins unsuccessfully stifled a snigger and even the dour Davis flashed a small grin before they headed up. They all shared a rather unflattering opinion of security guards, even Hydra ones.

He watched them leave and turned to locate the pompous scientist. I mean what did he actually do anyway, all Brock had seen him do was delegate.

“Right Pierce said I should see the programming process in action so let’s get to it.”

“But we don’t know what she did!” the beanpole scientist almost shrieked.

“You don’t think Madame Hydra knows what she’s doing?” Brock replied.

He could suddenly see the blood draining from the man’s face, clearly he hadn’t realised exactly who their guest was.

“Ma…Madame Hydra? That was her? But…”

“But what? You thought she’d be older, more terrifying? The fact that she isn’t is a big part of why she in fact is, my friend” Brock said sarcastically. “Let’s get on with this, how does it work?”

He looked over to The Asset who was strangely animated, well as far as he went, and was glancing around the lab almost as if he were searching for something – or someone.

Is he looking for her? Seems a little soon to get attached doesn’t it? No, Brock definitely wasn’t jealous.

Collins seemed to collect himself. He came over to the chair carrying what looked like a virtual reality headset. “We’re doing a language so it’s quite straight forward.”

He handed the headset to Brock, who raised a questioning eyebrow. “It’ll play when you put it on.” Collins said with only a hint of his usual snideness.

Brock placed it over his head and was instantly assaulted by two different audio recordings and simultaneously playing videos showing symbols he vaguely recognised as Indian of some form before he had to violently yank the headset off.

“How the fuck can he follow that?” Brock growled.

He could already feel a headache setting in from the sensory overload.

“He doesn’t consciously” Collins said shrugging. “His brain has been trained to accept different information from the left and right sides. It’ll take a few cycles for the connections to form, usually about 6 to 8 hours. But considering what – Madame Hydra – said, we’ll check his progress after 5 on this occasion.”

Brock shook his head. That for hours on end was a form of torture all on its own. To think Brock had actually been jealous of The Asset’s ability to gain new skills.

He handed the headset back to Collins who beckoned over the short assistant and went through what was clearly a conditioned call and response with The Asset.

“New input” Collins said brusquely.

The Asset sat up straight and looked fixedly ahead; all the lively curiosity that had been on his face just moments ago melting away. Brock was sorry to see it go.

The assistant – name still unknown – was attaching electrodes to The Asset’s head. Collins had placed the headset down on the kid’s lap as it was apparently the most convenient place. Both men seemed terrified to touch him despite the fact that he was secured to the chair by two pretty solid-looking arm restraints.

Collins picked up one of the biggest syringes Brock had ever seen.

“What’s that?”

“Neurotransmitters and the like – things to enhance brain plasticity.” The scientist then plunged the needle with force into the back of The Asset’s neck.

“WHAT THE FUCK!” Brock said leaping forward. He knew how dangerous that was.

He shoved Collins hard against the wall.

“Get off me” the so-called doctor huffed.

“You could have fucking paralysed him you idiot” Brock seethed.

“Only temporarily.”

What?

“What?” Brock asked, incredulous.

“The paralysis is only temporary” Collins repeated, “it heals.” He talked as though he was explaining something obvious to a very slow child.

“That’s not possible, those type of injuries don’t heal” Brock countered.

Collins looked to the ceiling for the patience Brock was sure he never possessed in the first place “With The Asset EVERYTHING heals. They tested it. Apparently teeth take some time to grow back in though.”

They. Tested. It.

Those three words uttered with such nonchalance by this insufferable prick, who’d apparently also just inflicted a spinal injury on the man in his care, was too much for Brock to take. He released him with a sound of disgust – Collins actually looked offended.

Brock turned back to him “Is there anything else medical that needs doing?”

“Well no, but…”

“Then get the hell out. I’ll do the rest.” It was video playback, how complicated could it be?

He looked at the station the headset was attached to. It was even touch screen, he’d be fine.

Collins and his short assistant were still just standing there.

“Out. Now.” Brock said this with enough menace to break through even Collins’ sense of self-importance and both men exited in a hurry.

He turned back to the Soldier in time to see the corner of his mouth twitch before his lips settled back into a passive straight line.

This could easily have been due to pain or discomfort from the spinal trauma he’d just been subjected to, but Brock suspected otherwise. He was beginning to get that pain was something The Asset was all too used to.

But look what it had created.

He shot The Asset a quick grin “Yeah, they’re real heroes. Right kid, let’s get this show on the road so to speak.”

He walked over to the monitor and set the program to run for the five hours that the jackass had suggested. He turned around and lifted the headset from the Soldier’s lap. “Sorry kid, this probably isn’t going to be much fun.” The Asset looked him in the eye for a fraction of a second before looking away.

Brock suddenly had a thought - could he not respond unless asked a direct question?

The only time he’d heard The Asset speak was when answering a query.

“Do you know how this works?” he said lifting up the submersive viewing helmet.

The Asset finally met his eyes “Yes sir, the technicians explained it.”

Well that answered that question.

Brock was honestly surprised they’d bothered, but it was their first time too he supposed. He wondered how long it would take for them to tire of repeating the explanations for their actions and just start doing things to The Asset without involving him in the process. Probably as soon as the novelty had worn off. Even with how much Collins apparently loved the sound of his own voice.

“Ok then, let’s get it over with. Can you move your head?”

The Asset nodded answering the question and demonstrating he could at the same time.

Rumlow checked on the puncture wound in The Asset’s neck, it seemed to already be healing.

Happy that the helmet wouldn’t aggravate anything, he lowered it over The Asset’s head and gently manoeuvred it into the correct position. If he let his hand linger as he smoothed down The Soldier’s dark chestnut hair, resting it on the back of his neck for maybe a moment longer than was appropriate as the man tensed under the deluge of information now assaulting his eyes and ears, well there was no one to see was there.

Not even the cameras here would pick up that small a contact.

Plus the security team were still in the process of being liberated by Rollins. And when they got back to their stations they’d likely be too busy re-watching the show Viper had put on to notice anything that happened afterwards. Not that anything had happened - was happening - of course.

His hand was still on The Asset’s neck.

Rumlow stepped away and looked for something to occupy himself with while he waited for his team to return. Something that wasn’t staring at the impressively defined torso in front of him. Couldn’t they have found him a shirt or something?

There were a couple of folders on the nearby table. Brock picked one up and flipped it open. It looked to be the full list of The Asset’s skillset both programmed and naturally attained. This would make it nine languages now that were knocking around in that seemingly empty skull of his.

Interestingly quite a few of those naturally-attained skills mentioned were apparently gained during Hydra missions.

How’d he managed to keep them with the wipes? That seemed counter-intuitive to him. Maybe they could choose what he remembered? He seemed to recall Pierce saying the like.

Not that Brock understood the process at all. Though from the look of The Asset’s IQ test scores he perhaps might – if he was ever allowed to retain anything.

His brain had literally been hotwired to absorb information and carry out advanced spatial analysis on the fly. Not that he’d been dumb before Hydra got their hands (claws? tentacles?) on him – there was an analysis by Zola in front of him attesting to the fact. Along with a list of the control techniques – psychological, chemical and – shit - electrical and surgical that had been used on him to make him what he now was.

They’d highlighted a few of the more successful ones. How helpful.

Turned out those wipes everyone referred to so casually were a combination of ECT and drugs so potent they’d probably leave a regular Joe like him permanently brain damaged.

Pain created order yes, and it had clearly forged The Asset into the perfect weapon currently sat before Rumlow, but maybe the kid could have something else in his life as well, at least while Brock was his handler.

Christ, he might be Hydra’s pet but even dumb animals got treated better than this. If he was this bright then he needed something to keep him occupied while not training or on mission. Maybe he could have a word with Pierce, sort something out? It couldn’t be good for his mental health and an insane super assassin didn’t sound like a good thing for anyone.

Brock’s attention was finally dragged away from the fascinating file when Dixon and Sanchez returned.

“Boss wants you in his office pronto” Dixon said before Rumlow had time to ask how it had gone getting Viper’s men situated.

He glanced at Sanchez who nodded in confirmation. He wouldn’t normally check but something about Dixon at the moment was setting him on edge.

“Ok, you two stay with The Asset, we can’t leave him alone while Lady Grabby Hands is in residence.”

That got a laugh and a ‘Yes Sir!’ from both STRIKE members.

Brock headed out of the vault and before he moved towards the elevator, he cast one careful glance back at the two guys he’d worked with for years. They were talking animatedly and Sanchez punched Dixon on the arm for something he’d said. All good clean fun. Maybe Brock was worrying over nothing. He headed down the corridor.

Time to find out what the green-haired bitch with a capital H was up to.

Chapter Text

Brock arrived at the grand doors of Pierce’s office and rapped twice, firmly, on the intricately-carved hard wood.

He heard a clear "Enter" called out from the interior. Clearly Pierce wasn’t in a position to offer the personal touch he had the previous day.

Brock let himself in and was pleasantly assaulted by the smell of really good Asian food, which sadly reminded him he hadn’t yet managed to grab lunch.

What did they feed The Soldier? Something else to add to his lengthy list of questions.

He walked over to the same casual seating area he’d occupied with Pierce earlier. Someone had pulled up a table which bore the remains of what looked like a delicious selection of Thai dishes as well as some kind of schematic, and Pierce, Sarkissian, and the missing third stooge from the science team - the one with the daft bow-ties - were all sat around sipping wine from thin-stemmed glasses.

Rumlow felt decidedly out of place.

Wonder if Collins knows where his ‘colleague’ is?

He paused at a distance from the group, standing at parade rest.

Pierce gestured towards the vacant fourth seat. “Brock please join us.”

That was a first. Brock sat down.

“We’ve just finished catching up. Wine?”

“No thank you sir.” He was technically on duty, pity.

Pierce raised the bottle to Viper who lifted her glass towards him for a top up. She clearly wasn’t afraid of being poisoned, though that could supposedly be because she really was immune to them all.

“Ophelia’s come bearing gifts. A new design for The Asset’s arm, Johnson here was just taking a look.”

The less annoying of the two scientists – though that wasn’t saying much – was focused on the blueprints on the table.

“These are astounding, a significant step up from the current model.” Yes he was definitely excited if all that hand waving was anything to go by.

Viper gave the group a satisfied half-smile. “But that’s not all gentlemen.”

She reached down into a small red clutch, pulled out a hand sized clear cylindrical container which looked to hold a few pieces of some sort of silvery mineral and placed it on the table.

“You got hold of Vibranium” Pierce looked impressed but Brock wasn’t sure he was happy at this revelation.

“Only a small amount, but enough for an alloy I’m sure” Viper responded with an air of nonchalance.

Johnson grabbed the container and tried to evaluate the content. “Yes with Titanium that would work, and would help remedy the weight issue significantly.”

So the kid was getting an upgrade – sweet.

“So what do you want in exchange for this largess Ophelia?” Pierce was clearly waiting for that second shoe to drop.

“Oh you already know what I want Alex, but that’s not the issue here. Only the Vibranium is from me.”

“So these designs?”

Pierce was leaning back and giving the impression of only mild interest, but Brock knew that whatever hand Viper held that made her think she could storm onto Pierce’s territory, it was about to be played.

“Von Doom?” Johnson queried, seemingly oblivious to the tension and the locked gaze of the two Hydra heads.

Viper picked up her wine glass and took a sip, “I found Zola.”

Brock didn’t understand, Zola was dead.

Pierce looked shocked. “But he was lost decades ago?”

“It seems more ‘purposefully misplaced’ than lost, he’s not best pleased with the Hydra leadership, me excepted of course. Don’t worry Alex I’ve told him you’re one of the good ones.”

“I must admit to a little white lie though” she continued, “I was already in the US when I travelled here today. New Jersey to be exact, a musty old army base that used to belong to SHIELD if you can believe it.”

“Zola’s in Lehigh?” Pierce seemed honestly stunned.

“Yes, I’m helping him get connected and get up to speed with the modern era. He’s missed a few years but it’s Zola so it shouldn’t take him long to catch up and get back out in front again. Those designs are his” she said indicating the arm schematics, “and he’s fairly livid about how his creation has been – in his words - ‘misused’. He had much grander plans than ageless assassin in mind for our boy as I’m sure you know.”

Brock was clearly missing some serious context here, but this was a major revelation in Hydra terms. One of the founders, well let’s face it, the actual founder of modern Hydra – Schmidt was a tad too despotic for most tastes – was still around in some fashion, though Brock couldn’t imagine how. But as the existence of both Rogers and The Asset proved, a lot more was possible than he’d ever anticipated.

“I’m assuming he wants to meet?” Pierce said, calm and collected now.

“Yes he’s not mobile yet, that will require a few updates to his technology, but he’s finding the internet fascinating. He also wants you to bring James, we’ve had some interesting discussions and I’m afraid that regardless of what you agreed with the others, everything is back on the table as far as Zola is concerned.”

That explained the satisfied look she’s been wearing since she arrived.

Fuck me. Guess we’re going on a road trip then. I hate New Jersey.

Pierce was evidently not best pleased. “We were preparing him for a mission.”

“Best get to Zola and get all this unpleasantness over with as soon as possible then. When can he be ready to leave?”

‘He’ and not ‘you’ Brock noted. She was hardly subtle about her priorities was she? Brock wondered what she had in mind that she so desperately wanted The Asset for. Beyond her obvious amorous intentions anyway.

“I” Pierce emphasised “have a high-level defence meeting with the joint chiefs in a few hours so tomorrow at the earliest.”

He turned to Johnson. “Do we have everything in place to safely transport The Asset?”

The scientist looked surprised to be consulted. “Umm yes, his tactical gear has arrived, along with the mask and goggles you requested sir, and the van and restraints are in the loading bay. As long as we minimise his exposure to familiar places it’s a short trip and should be mostly risk free.”

“He’s never been to Lehigh that was the other one” Viper confirmed.

“You’re sure about that?” Pierce countered. “We can’t leave these things to best guesses.”

“Positive” Viper replied in an ice cold tone.

“Alright then. Agent Rumlow?”

“Sir?”

“You’ll be in charge of getting The Asset organised for transport to and from New Jersey. I expect a full operational plan with at least two contingencies within the next few hours. We’ll depart at o-nine-hundred-hours tomorrow.”

Damn it - there went his day.

Pierce turned back to his beautiful adversary, “We have a guest suite here you can use but we’ll have to split your men up and find them lodgings across town. I hope that will be acceptable?”

She nodded.

“Agent Rumlow I’d like you to remain overnight as well to oversee the details.”

Keep guard you mean.

Well there went his night as well.

“Johnson contact Whitehall and get his R&D team ready to receive the new design and Vibranium. Let them know it’s need to know only.”

Viper made a sound of disgust.

“You don’t approve?” Pierce asked.

“If that relic is your best option then by all means. But a word of warning, Zola isn’t exactly Whitehall’s biggest fan” she responded.

Pierce gave her another smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “I’ll bear that in mind.”

“Doctor, Agent, you’re dismissed.”

Brock rose from his chair like the highly trained operative he was. The doctor looked mildly offended for a moment, but then hurried to gather the plans and the mineral container up as quickly as he could and make his exit.

With having issued his orders Pierce returned his focus to his ‘guest’. “Now Ophelia, tell me all about how you discovered the whereabouts of our illustrious leader…”

Drat. Brock would have liked to hear that one as well. But he needed to finish reading those files, check out the equipment and grab Rollins to start putting the mission plan together. It may not be an assault but it would still classify as covert ops.

He followed the fidgety Dr Johnson out of the office and into the corridor. He seemed like he was in a hurry to get somewhere, maybe he’d missed lunch too.

“Hey, Johnson."

The scientist stopped and turned round with a surprised look on his face.

“I’ll need you back in the Vault room once the upload's finished. That should be…” Brock looked at his watch, “in around three hours from now.”

“Collins is really the expert in that…”

“Did I ask for Collins?” Brock cut him off.

“No sir. Okay three hours it is.”

He hurried back on his way wherever he was headed. He was easier to stand than Collins – just.

Brock headed back towards the vault. It was time to catch up on his reading.

Chapter Text

Or maybe not.

What…

The…

“Fuck! Dixon, get the hell off of him!”

He’d walked into the vault to find his squad’s top marksman crouched in front of the chair and kissing his way down The Asset’s abs, hands resting with intent on the fastenings of his combat pants. It looked like he’d interrupted at an opportune time.

Dixon stopped and leapt back with a yelp of surprise, “Shit Brock, you almost gave me a heart attack!”

The brown-haired STRIKE agent stood up and turned to the security cam, “Not funny man” and flipped the bird at whoever was watching.

Brock wasn’t amused either.

Fuck that, he was furious.

He strode over and grabbed his team-mate by the front of his shirt, shoving him away from the sitting Soldier.

“Fuck it, Dix, what were you thinking? He could have killed you for starters!”

Brock looked at The Asset, his head was still buried in the helmet device but every single muscle was tensed and his arms and legs were straining against the cuffs holding him in place. He clearly couldn’t see or hear what was going on, but it was evident that he hadn’t exactly been loving the attention from the unknown hands and lips. Guess this explains why Dixon’s recent behaviour had been making Brock edgy.

“Did you fasten those leg restraints? And where the hell is Sanchez?” Brock didn’t remember them being in place when he left. He thought he already knew the answer regarding the location of his missing agent though.

“Yes, I’m not stupid. And Sanchez was supposed to be doing me a solid and watching the hallway security feed and blocking this one. He clearly decided screwing me over was worth more than the court-side tickets to the Knicks game he is no longer getting.” He glared at the cameras again.

Brock gave him another shove this time with both hands.

Dixon stumbled back a few steps: “Hey!”

“Not stupid! I don’t even know where to start on the epic stupidity on display here! But first, I gotta ask, since when are you fucking gay?”

Dixon looked surprised “I’m bi Brock, I thought that the whole team knew that?”

Tom Dixon was a good looking guy of 34, with thick dark hair and green eyes, who seemed to come into work every day with some new tale of conquest to share with his STRIKE compatriots.

“You’re always going on about the girls you’ve nailed.”

“You mean like Chris with the incredible ass I mentioned last week? Him?” Dixon asked.

“I just assumed it was short for Chrissy or something…OK, so that’s not the point here. Why were you about to go to town on a guy who can rip you to shreds with his bare hands? It’s not like you’re short of willing lays.”

Dixon shrugged, “He’s on my list.”

Like that explained everything.

“It’s a crying shame to let all that pretty go to waste, plus that Ophelia chick got to have some fun.” He shot Brock a suggestive grin “Come on you can’t tell me that you didn’t get worked up by that?”

Brock crossed his arms.

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

Dix wasn’t exactly begging for forgiveness here…

Dixon casually stuck his hands in his pockets and gave a small shrug, “Just that I was surprised to see you checking out The Asset's assets so to speak – didn’t think you were of my inclination.”

Brock’s gaze hardened. “I’m not.”

Damn it. He’d noticed.

Dixon raised an eyebrow. “You sure? Because you’re a handler, we could both get what we want out of this.”

“You know I’ve occasionally thought you were an idiot, but I didn’t think you were crazy. Do you know what happened to the last guy who looked at him and saw a hot piece of ass? He’s a fucking living weapon, not a sex toy.”

Dixon nodded at the files on the side table. “Yeah, that’s why it’s such a turn on. And I’ve read that report. Have you? Now that guy, that guy really was a real Class A idiot. Thought he could just bend The Winter Soldier over a desk and tell him not to move. No back up, no restraints, not even close to a recent wipe, the guy deserved to die if you ask me. But with the two of us watching each other’s backs, and a few sensible precautions like those customised restraints, and there’s no reason we can’t have a little fun. I noticed you’ve not said no yet.”

Dixon was really pushing it.

“No. I like living thanks very much.”

Dixon still wasn’t ready to drop it apparently. “Or is it that you just don’t want to share? We can work with that, apparently if you give him a big enough dose of good drugs he gets pretty docile for a bit, so some alone time might be okay.”

“You seriously wouldn’t have a problem raping a guy who doesn’t even know his own name?”

Brock was incredulous. You think you know a guy.

“Hey it’s not exactly like I can wine him and dine him. He probably doesn’t even understand what sex is any more. Plus as you said, he’s not really a person now is he. “

Brock hadn’t meant it that way at all. The Asset was a weapon, and weapons deserved to be handled with respect.

Dix was on a roll. “Anyway, I’d make it good for him. And he owes me. I’m going to be wearing his boot print for a good week. Not like I can nail anyone else until it’s faded.”

“He’s a highly-conditioned amnesiac, not a fucking blow-up-doll. I’m pretty sure he’d ‘understand’ sexual molestation. No-one’s allowed to touch him on my watch, not you, not me. Got it?” he was in full-on STRIKE commander mode now.

“OK, jeez Rumlow, I get it.”

“You and Sanchez are on double-shift guard duty when we’re off mission from now until further notice, and you should count your blessings that I’m not going to report you to Pierce.”

That last bit may have been a mistake, because a second later Dixon suddenly turned back around and planted a hard kiss on the kid’s lips, nimbly dodging the helmet as he did it. The Asset’s head jerked back trying to break the contact, but Dixon wrapped a hand in his chin-length hair and held on tight for a few more seconds, prolonging the kiss.

Brock probably should have reacted quicker but he’d been a little too caught up in the show. By the time he started moving Dixon had already ended his assault on The Asset’s mouth and moved away.

“What the hell did I just say?!” Brock yelled.

“If I was going to do the time I was going to make sure the crime was worth it. You interrupted before I got to the good stuff.”

Brock knew thrill-seeking and risk taking were personality traits that he and other men in his line of work had in common, but Dix was taking it to a whole new level.

He stepped forward and punched Dixon in the face.

“Ow.” Dixon adjusted his rapidly bruising jaw, before flashing a wicked smile at Brock. “Worth it.”

Brock shook out his hand. “Get the fuck out of here you psycho and report to Rollins. You’re lucky he didn’t crack your skull open.”

Dixon threw a neat salute, “He’s not allowed to damage any of the equipment – standing orders or something”.

Guess that was in the file too.

“Good to know. Tell Sanchez he’s on my shit list.”

“Shall do. He’s on mine too. Oh and the cameras should be recording in a loop for another five minutes or so if you wanted to – err – exercise the privileges of rank so to speak.”

“Leave now, Dix.”

“Yes, Sir!”

Now if only Brock could convince himself – or even just that cocky SOB – that he wasn’t actually tempted.

Chapter Text

Brock was still buried in the copious amounts of reading material in the files when Johnson appeared a few hours later.

The red-headed scientist poked his head into the vault with a nervous expression on his face. “Umm, is it finished yet?”

Brock checked the playback timer. It was showing the last minute or so of the recording so he waved the scientist in.

The clock ran down and the scientist halted the media stream to the helmet and looked nervously at The Asset. Brock gave him a disparaging look, “Seriously?”

Johnson shuffled his feet and looked down – either nervous or embarrassed, or maybe both. “Caution isn’t unwise. There have been several past incidents after all.”

“Yes and none of them involved arm and leg restraints” Brock replied tersely. “Now get that thing off him.”

Johnson finally approached the chair and began unfastening the straps on the viewing device. The Asset hadn’t moved Brock noticed, and when the helmet was finally taken away his eyes are bloodshot and vacant, staring at nothing.

“What the hell’s happened to him?”

Brock was convinced that he’d mostly managed to mask his concern. God what if this was because Dixon had got all handsy?

Johnson shrugged. “This is just what happens. His brain is going to take a while to sort out all the new information, the catatonia should only last an hour or two at most.”

They make him catatonic on purpose and this is standard operating procedure. Am I the only that thinks that’s a little messed up?

He looked at Johnson going about his business, running some sort of analysis on one of the systems on the chair. Clearly it was just Brock.

Hell it couldn’t get laid on him and his men at least, and it was temporary.

And he was going to be okay, that was good.

“So what’s the next step here?” Brock asked. He’d been sat here useless for hours. The inactivity was beginning to get to him.

Johnson picked up a file and flipped through a few pages. Clearly he wasn’t kidding when he said Collins was the expert here.

“Ah! As soon as he’s responsive again, we run a brain scan to map the new neural pathways, and put him into the testing booth to evaluate recall. I know where that is,” the man said, looking up with a pleased expression on his face.

Whoopee for you.

To be fair to the man, he did then manage to shake off his earlier cowardice and set about applying a series of electrodes to The Asset’s head with barely a flinch. Maybe there was hope for him yet.

He flicked a switch and a few moments later Brock heard a startled gasp. To be honest his brain had wandered into the realm of imaging what he’d finally choose when he managed to get something to eat - a Philly Cheese Steak was currently winning the day – but this was enough to draw his attention back to the awkward man sharing the room with him and the World’s Most Efficient Killer (patent pending).

And it was that ruthlessly efficient brain that had elicited the shock and awe of the Hydra scientist.

“Agent Rumlow, you need to see this.”

Rumlow stood up from his perch on the table and moved to stand in front of the display that had captured Johnson’s avid attention.

“God it’s beautiful.” A highly detailed image of the inside of The Asset’s skull was being displayed in a nicely complimentary selection of colours on one of the monitors. Trust a scientist to be more enamoured by a few pounds of grey matter than by the pretty package they were housed in.

But Brock was curious.“What’s got you so excited doc? I don’t speak neuroscience.”

The image in front of him was a living and breathing thing with different parts lighting up in the allocated colours, constantly shifting and changing.

Okay Brock had to admit, it was fairly captivating.

“I’ve never seen anything like this.” Johnson exhaled.

Well yeah, The Fist of Hydra, The Winter Soldier, The Asset. You don’t get a The in front of your call handle unless you’re pretty singular.

Brock was going to need more to go on. “What’s so special about it?”

It, not him. Well done Brock.

Johnson pointed to an area that looked dark – well not dark exactly. Poorly illuminated?

“This is what we believe is the transitional memory, where short term memories are filtered and important information is retained in the long term memory. Almost all the pathways here have been purposefully severed. This is extreme brain damage and yet there’s still some minor activity. His body is trying to heal it – extraordinary.”

“Whoa, you mean he’s starting to remember?” Brock felt a spike of – fear? Excitement?

“I mean he’s always starting to remember. I guess this explains why the skills training and uploads are always done so close to a wipe. You wouldn’t want the neurochemical boosters to help advance the repair of the pathways.”

“So B- the person he used to be, he’s still in there?” The Asset was still unresponsive but Brock thought it better to assume he could hear what was going on.

“In terms of his original memories you mean? Then yes it’s possible that all that is still intact.”

Well I’ll be…

So wipe isn’t exactly the right term for it.

Rumlow repeated that thought out loud to Johnson.

“Not in terms of this isolated section of his brain, no but the shock treatments do in theory prevent him turning new short-term memories into long-term ones.”

“In theory? You mean you don’t know?”

“Lord No. Zola was – is? – was so far ahead of everyone else even in the 60s and 70s that we still don’t know how he did half of what he did.” He turned to face Brock with an eager expression on his face “Do you think I’ll get to meet him? Zola? Mechanical and biological interface technologies is my speciality and he’s practically the inventor of the field.”

It was a little pathetic true, but Johnson’s fan-boying was striking a cord with Brock’s own reaction to first seeing The Winter Soldier, so he couldn’t judge him too harshly. But if he didn’t shut up soon and get back on point Rumlow might lose his magnanimous attitude.

“You’d have to ask Pierce about that…” Brock said distractedly. He’d noticed something out of the corner of his eye a moment ago, but looking around now nothing was out of place. His instincts were never wrong though and now he was decidedly uneasy.

“I mean look here – this section of the brain, they managed to program it to pick up, store, and assimilate everything received through the optic and auditory nerves, as long as a precise set of conditions are met. Even the most advance research teams aren’t close to even beginning to understand how to start doing something like that, and they’ve had decades longer than Zola…”

There it was again. Rumlow tuned the scientist’s ramblings out. He’d sensed, more than seen something and it had most definitely come from The Asset’s direction.

He glanced over. Nothing seemed any different, The Asset was still sat with perfect posture. His currently sightless gaze locked in the middle-distance somewhere and seemingly oblivious.

Johnson’s blathering continued on in the background “…so I have this idea about how to add more sensory input to the arm so that The Asset could get more information about his surroundings from it than even from a flesh and blood arm. Do you think that’s something I could bring to Doctor Zola?”

“Sure…” Brock’s gaze was still on The Asset and there was no mistaking it this time. There was the slightest of changes in his demeanour.

It wasn’t even a movement. It was almost that he became more rigid, more perfectly stationary.

One thing was clear, he was a lot more aware of proceedings then he was apparently supposed to be, and more so then he was willing to show his handlers.

The Asset was a faker. Interesting. As was the fact that the mention of Zola, his creator – or destroyer depending on your outlook – was enough to affect his otherwise ironclad composure.

Brock needed a little more evidence though. He transferred his gaze to the screen that apparently displayed a live feed of The Soldier’s brain.

“I mean you’re our expert right? It makes sense for your suggestions to be sent to Zola for him to consider.” There. There had definitely been a flash of activity when he’d said Zola’s name.

Brock pointed to the area where he saw the flash, “What’s this part for?”

Johnson looked shocked by his interest but peered closely at the area Rumlow had indicated. “That’s the amygdala, umm, the right one, it’s primarily thought to handle processing of negative emotions – fear, stress, trauma, all that stuff.”

“Right.”

Johnson looked as though he was waiting for Brock to explain why he was asking. He could keep on waiting as far as Brock was concerned.

This was probably something he should bring to the science team’s notice, but he was the handler and The Asset was his responsibility.

He looked back at the chair and its occupant, searching to catch something in those silver-blue eyes. Not a thing. Damn, but he really was incredible.

You couldn’t create the world’s best covert black ops agent and then punish him for using those skills to the full. That just didn’t sit right with Brock. And he had no doubt that whatever ‘correction’ they’d employ if they found out about The Asset’s subterfuge it wouldn’t be enjoyable for the kid.

Despite Pierce’s pretence that he was with them willingly, it seems as though The Soldier wasn’t quite buying the party line. The fact that he clearly had a visceral reaction to Zola’s name probably added to his confusion and distrust of his Hydra colleagues. Oh yeah and the repeated groping probably wasn’t helping any.

Once again Brock was left to uncomfortably contemplate exactly what the renowned Hydra scientist had done to the one-time American hero to leave that much of a mark on his scarred and stripped-down psyche. Maybe the great re-union tour being planned wasn’t the best of ideas.

He’d at least have to tell Pierce that he’d noticed The Asset showing recognition of the Hydra founder’s name and not in a ‘Gee, golly I’ve missed him’ sort of way.

He focused on Johnson again who was still looking at him expectantly. “Go get Collins would ya? We need to check that the upload or whatever you called it took the way Viper said it would.”

“Oh. OK.” Johnson seemed put-out by the order - he clearly thought he was the new flavour of the month or something. He left the room to track down his cowardly co-worker.

To be fair, compared to Collins he was a delight.

Brock checked for footsteps or any other sound of approach before moving to stand in front of the chair. He considered crouching, but with what had just taken place with Dix, Brock thought that might send the wrong message.

He took a few steps back. A little professional distance couldn’t hurt; the guy was still shirtless after all.

He locked on to those unusual pale eyes and refused to look away. “Hey kid, I know you’re back with us so you can drop the 100 yard stare. It’s got to be giving you a headache.” He considered what The Asset had just spent the last few hours being subjected to. “Well more of a headache anyway” he amended. “That’s an order.”

Clearly the handler mojo was working for him because almost instantly The Soldier met his eyes, totally focused, noticeably swallowed and then averted his gaze, staring down at the ground.

“Yes sir.”

Brock felt a slight thrill. That was the first time The Asset had acknowledged his command status verbally.

Clearly the kid thought his subterfuge was about to earn him some form of reprimand – from what Brock had so far read probably the painful kind – so he decided that some re-assurance was the order of the day. And hey if it meant the kid would trust him then more’s the better.

“Soldier, eyes up.”

The Asset raised his gaze. Good, no one that deadly should ever look that cowed and uncertain, it was too paradoxical for Rumlow to cope with.

“Look this will stay between you and me” he saw the surprise flash in The Asset’s eyes before the reaction was quickly locked down.

There really was a person in there and Brock was becoming more and more invested in meeting him. Though it was the very opposite of what he should be doing. Damn it.

“I get it. You just wanted a few moments to figure out what’s going on with no one prodding or poking at you, or” Brock felt a flash of guilt and looked away, hand going to the back of his neck “er, other stuff.”

The Asset didn’t respond. Brock didn’t expect him to. He hadn’t asked him a direct question after all.

“Look about that, the guy was under my command. It shouldn’t have happened and he’s been dealt with. It won’t happen again.” Well at least not with Dixon involved Brock hoped.

He’d have to make sure that he or Rollins was present at all times to avoid having anyone else risk their neck simply to cross a name off their list.

Exactly what kinda list was it anyway? People I’d willingly die to fuck?

Brock simply didn’t get people with that little impulse control or good sense. It showed a lack of discipline that was a serious liability in his opinion. Of course he’d never have pegged Dix as one of that sort.

Suicidally reckless he means. Not queer, or bi, or whatever.

He realised that he’d been standing silently in front of The Asset for a good 60 seconds lost in his own thoughts. He suddenly felt awkward.

This was ridiculous.

The Asset was sat silently, with perfect posture despite being pinned down to what was effectively a torture device for the last few hours. He was every commanding officer’s dream.

That was a big part of Brock’s problem right there.

He gathered himself together. “Right we’ll just wait for the eggheads to return, get your wiring checked out and then we can let you loose in the training room to burn off some energy.” Something he was looking forward to a little too much.

Maybe Dixon wasn’t the only one who needed to work on his self-discipline.

Where the hell were they? And what was keeping Rollins and Davis?

He was just about to tap his in-ear communicator to open a channel to Rollins when he heard the unmistakable sound of multiple combat boots clomping down the corridor towards them. About damn time.

His two STRIKE team members appeared through the steel-barred doorway into the vault, followed by the two scientists and their assistant.

Johnson’s stride faltered as he noticed The Asset’s eyes following him. “He’s awake?”

“Yeah, just snapped out of it a moment ago” Brock lied.

He thought he might have seen The Asset glance in his direction but it was too quick for him to be sure.

Johnson and Collins shared a concerned look and moved to the monitors to observe whatever readings they felt needed looking at.

“Anything wrong?” he inquired.

Rollins caught his eye and looked like he had something he needed to say. Brock raised his hand in what he hoped was an ‘in a minute’ gesture and waited for the scientists to respond.

Unexpectedly – after exchanging a few looks - Collins allowed Johnson to answer “Umm no, no, baselines all appear normal, but according to the records this is unusually fast for him to come around. Normally it takes hours.”

Brock pulled out his best ‘thinking look’ “Maybe it’s whatever Madame Hydra gave him.”

Hell for all he knew that could be the truth, although he doubted it was the whole of it, having seen what he had.

“Yes, that must be it,” Collins replied. Johnson didn’t look quite so convinced, but he obviously wasn’t going to push.

“So what happens now?” Brock asked.

Collins’ impressive ego obviously wouldn’t let him be cowed for too long, and the superior tone was back when he responded, “We finish this scan and then test his retention of the inputted program of course”.

Brock let out a long-suffering sigh, god save him from pompous science nerds.

“Where? How? And How Long?”

Collins seemed to lose at little of his hot air at Rumlow’s ‘Well duh!' response.

“Well it’s a SHIELD training program; we have a standard fluency evaluation set up at the terminal in the training room.”

Brock suddenly noticed that The Asset’s attention was focused on the vault entrance, and before Brock could even turn to glance in that direction, the reason was made clear when a crisp female voice said something in what Brock was beginning to recognise as Hindi.

Viper was back. And whatever she’d said was clearly a question aimed at The Asset, as he quickly responded to her words in the same Indian dialect.

“Seems to have worked to me” she said in a self-satisfied tone.

She’d managed a wardrobe change since Brock had left her in the company of Pierce earlier.

She was leaning against the internal door, wearing a skin-tight emerald green catsuit with a silver metal-link belt and looking pretty damn good he had to grudgingly admit. Now how the hell had she slithered in there without anyone but The Asset noticing?

Brock wasn’t particularly happy about this current turn of events. He knew what she wanted and he was going to make sure she damn well didn’t get it.

Rumlow narrowed his eyes. “What did you say to him?”

He owed her a measure of respect but he wasn’t going to play her game. No way. No how.

She raised a perfectly arched eyebrow. “That’s between him and me” she smiled a slow, scarlet-lipped smile at The Asset “isn’t it darling.”

Brock resisted the impulse to roll his eyes. He fixed his eyes on those of Madripoor’s erstwhile queen (if what he’d heard was true) and without shifting his gaze addressed The Asset. “Soldier what did she ask you just now?”

For a split second he wondered if he should have specified ‘in English’ but luckily it seemed The Asset wasn’t a literalist.

“She asked if I could understand what she was saying. I responded that I was able to.”

The she in question stuck out her tongue. At The Fucking Winter Soldier. “Spoilsport” she said in a warm tone.

Or maybe he was a literalist. The exchange – on Viper’s side at least - had seemed longer than something that simple would have necessitated.

Without breaking eye contact with their ‘guest’ he asks The Asset “What else did she say to you?”

Without a hesitation his Soldier replied. “She said she was looking forward to getting to know me better.”

“Hush. Bad dog.” comes back to The Asset in a teasing voice followed by an indulgent smile from the lovely but deadly woman still casually leaning against the doorway.

Brock suddenly realised how badly he’d just been played. However much information she might have been able to get her hands on, he doubted she’d ever managed to obtain a copy of The Asset’s operating manual, that would only pass to the current handler or handlers he supposed. Yet within a few seconds she’d provoked him into revealing exactly what prompts The Asset responded to.

The bitch was smart he’d give her that.

Suddenly it occurred to him that he needed to get her away from the information in this room almost as much or maybe more than he needed to keep her away from The Asset.

A change in tactics was called for.

“Miss Sarkissian, what can we do for you?” Brock could do polite. When he needed to.

“Call me Ophelia please Brock.”

Right, like that was going to happen. She wasn’t even looking at him any more; all her attention was now fixed on The Soldier.

“Dearest Alex had to run off to his tiresome meeting, he suggested I come down and see our Asset in action. I believe a training session is scheduled.” Even with her veneer of amiability, there was no room for misinterpreting that as a request. She was a Hydra Head and she expected compliance. And Rumlow knew that if he didn’t watch his step, even if his resistance was due to loyalty to Pierce, he was at serious risk of losing his.

“Yes. Agent Rollins here will take you down to the training area.”

“No rush I assure you. I’m happy to wait.”

Damn it. He wanted her out of the room before she decided that she had a right to the files which were sat out there in the open for all to see. He doubted he had anything close to the authority to get them back from her with Pierce away.

Brock could think of only one sure way to distract her and he wasn’t happy about it.

He looked at Johnson. “You ready to take him to the room for testing?” he asked the less aggravating of the two scientists.

“Umm, yes I believe so” the scientist replied with his characteristic nervousness.

“Right then, let’s get this show on the road.”

He walked over to the chair and released the restraints that had been holding The Asset in place for hours. Any other person would have instantly started moving to loosen up tight muscles, but he remained perfectly still awaiting his orders. His control was astounding.

Brock spun around to find Viper virtually next to him and he barely controlled his surprised reaction to her proximity. She moved almost as silently as The Soldier it would seem.

He shot his men a dirty look. They could have warned him.

Jack simply shrugged.

“Allow me” Viper said, moving forward in a manner that almost challenged Brock to stand his ground between her and his charge. Instead he stepped back, clearing the way and blocking her sight line to the folders on the side table.

She approached the chair until her body was pressed up against The Asset’s right leg, and running her fingernails lightly across his scalp she began removing the network of sensors that were monitoring his brain activity.

With his documented aversion to contact, Brock was expecting The Asset to pull away from her, seeing how this time he was conscious and all, but after a few moments he almost seemed to welcome her touch.

Regardless of whatever else he was feeling about what was taking place – which was definitely not giving him a case of the warm fuzzies - Brock was certain something strange was going on here. Viper was doing something to The Soldier, something more than just the highly inappropriate physical advances the woman was making at every opportunity and the drug she’d admitted to dosing him with earlier.

He shouldn’t have been responding to her questions for a start.

She’d finished her task of removing the electrodes and was once again gently combing her fingers through The Asset's dark hair, smoothing it down and ridding it of the wild look it had possessed pretty much since The Asset had been revived.

Brock had to admit it was an improvement. Give the kid a hairbrush and he’d be transformed.

Brock scowled. Enough. This might have been part of his plan but that didn’t mean he had to like it.

Hell even The Asset shot an uncertain look towards Brock. He clearly understood that Viper was a Hydra high-up and he shouldn’t upset her, but having someone who wasn’t his handler or the science team get this up close and personal was obviously causing real confusion, as was his own reaction to it. OK that was it, Rumlow needed her gone.

“Soldier,” The Asset instantly snapped to attention, “accompany Miss Sarkissian, Davis, and the science team to the training room, they’ll be running you through the usual test and drills.”

All right, so he didn’t actually know what those were, but he needed to sound like he did for both The Asset’s sake and that of their dangerous visitor.

“Yes sir” The Asset responded.

Brock turned to face Johnson and Collins. “No combat drills until I get there, just the language testing and skills and mobility exercises.”

“He needs a nutrition and rehydration cycle before all that” Collins piped up. Then apparently reading the tension in the room, he showed the first real sign of intelligence that Brock had seen: “But we can sort that out there I suppose…” He looked at his assistant “Smith go fetch the IV kit from the other room.”

So it was Smith. Smith, Collins, Johnson - Brock now had the full, weirdly generic set, lucky him.

The petulant young assistant strode off in an unhurried fashion – he was an odd one – to fetch whatever was required.

Brock hoped that IV feeding wasn’t all they did to The Asset, the hunger pains would be unimaginable.

Unless they’d found a way to shut down his digestive system completely? That was also a horrible thing to contemplate, and something Brock knew he should really look up as soon as he got the opportunity.

Viper hadn’t changed position or stopped her petting of The Asset. Brock hated to be cliché but her focus on the guy really did verge on the predatory. And he was honest enough to admit that he found it at least equally as hot as he did terrifying.

That therapy idea was sounding better and better.

Brock stared at the two of them.

“Dismissed.”

For a moment Rumlow had wondered how The Asset was going to get out of the chair with his green-haired admirer blocking the way, but he felt almost stupid when the assassin smoothly, quickly, and almost effortlessly, manoeuvred out of the situation without even so much as an inadvertent brush against the tall woman.

Strength, grace and precision – it was stunning to watch.

The Soldier moved over to the vault door where he stood at parade rest waiting for the other members of the party to assemble.

Viper had tracked him as he crossed the room, green eyes focused on his retreating form and her hand planted firmly on her shapely hips. She looked over to Rumlow, eyebrow raised and lips quirked in amusement, before turning and walking towards The Soldier once again.

This was a bad idea. But he didn’t have any others.

The Asset glanced over to him and back to the approaching figure of Viper. He almost looked nervous. Even in the midst of this fucked up situation Brock couldn’t help but find that weirdly endearing.

Everyone was locked in place watching what could accurately be described as the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. But Madame Hydra wasn’t playing fair, that much was clear.

“Move out” he barked to the idiots supposedly under his command, who were all still stood there mouths hanging open when they should have already left the room.

Davis snapped back to life and turned to exit the vault, apparently giving The Asset whatever cue or permission he needed to make his own speedy exit – just moments before Viper would have had him back in her clutches.

She simply shook her head and laughed - pleasantly he had to admit – before exiting the room and following the path taken by the STRIKE commando and the evasive assassin. The two scientists hesitantly moved in behind her.

Waiting until he could hear that enough distance had been covered for them not to be overheard, Brock locked his gazed on Rollins. “We need a battle plan. This is war.”

Chapter Text

To be honest he’d half expected Rollins to tell him he’d lost his mind, but the fact that Viper had brought in enough men to outnumber the on-site personnel almost two to one - once the party upstairs were taken into account Jack informed him – had pissed off his SIC no end.

Brock had almost forgotten how scary Jack could get when something had him riled.

“So we’re agreed. You, me or Davis, preferably two out of the three of us with eyes on The Asset at all times. I’m on night shift tonight at Pierce’s request.”

Rollins gave him a shrewd look “Are you going to tell me why Dix and Sanchez are in the dog house, or do I have to guess?”

“Let’s just say that’s where all dogs with behavioural problems end up.”

Jack gave him a look that unmistakably said ‘Whatever man’, but was willing to let the matter drop for now.

Rumlow gathered up the files carefully “I have to get these somewhere secure so I’m going to need you to watch my six while I find a suitable hideyhole.”

“Shouldn’t those go in Pierce’s safe or something?” Rollins asked, not unreasonably.

“He got called out to do the day job and I don’t have the combination. Plus knowing him it’s fingerprinted at the very least, so we’ll have to find a temporary solution til he returns.”

“Right.” Rollins didn’t look happy at giving Viper time to operate out of their sight. He really was in mission mode now. Good. Brock was done with fucking around.

Inspiration struck. “I’ve got an idea, cover me.”

He led them back to the vacant office with the attached en suite where he’d had his quality time only the day before.

Christ it had been a long 24 hours.

He indicated to Rollins to stay put while he went inside, probably best if only one of them knew the exact location.

He closed the door, yep it was there exactly as he remembered. Amazing that his brain had registered its existence considering how pre-occupied he’d been at the time.

He drew his knife and hopped up on to the desk. The air conditioning vent had exposed screws so he was in luck. He made short work of removing them, carefully placed the files in the duct out of sight, and did everything back up so neatly not even a SHIELD forensic team would be able to tell it had been touched.

Jumping nimbly down – knees of a 30 year old, well maybe 35 – Brock carefully wiped away his boot prints from the desk surface with his uniform sleeve before returning to the hallway and Rollins.

He closed the door to the office quietly.

“Any visitors?” He knew Jack would have alerted him to any activity, but sometimes it was just good to hear the words said out loud.

“No, all clear.”

He moved up the corridor to put some space between them and the room, with Jack following hard on his heels.

“So what’s the plan Brock?” Rollins asked quietly as he drew up next to his CO’s shoulder.

“We go in and oversee The Asset’s training session and hash out the plan for tomorrow like the boss man wanted, and we send Davis, Sanchez and Dix with some of our guards to start ‘assisting’ our new friends to their accommodations. We stop them communicating, and we clear this floor last. We’re not going to be outnumbered in our own home one moment longer than I can help it.”

Rollins nodded his approval. “What happens if she objects that her men have been removed without her consent?”

“Well Pierce did say we’d make the arrangements for her people’s room and board while they visit. We’re just being good hosts, and efficient, let’s not forget efficient.”

Rollins laughed quietly, they’d arrived outside the training room. “And the fact that we’ll have to escort them at gun point?”

“Let’s make that more of an implicit threat than explicit shall we?”

Rollins laughed again. “Right. I’ll make that clear to the boys. Plans first or shall I marshal the troops?”

Brock took a second to consider his options. “You go in and read in Davis. He can go and gather up Dix and Sanchez and get things going” he said in a hushed voice. “Tell him a range of hotels, motels and anything in between. They already know where we are, so sadly we won’t be able to keep them away for long but I just want to get that bitch on the back foot for a change.”

“Roger that.” Jack had that determined look on his face. “Let’s get this party started.”

Brock patted his friend on the shoulder and they both strode confidently into the room. He scanned the vast space for the expected occupants and spotted them near a wall console at the far side.

The Asset was sat in front of the computer interface and Davis, Viper and the science team were stood in a circle observing. They’d found him a shirt it would appear. A black wife beater. Brock couldn’t suppress a twinge of disappointment.

As they approached the group Rumlow saw Viper lean down from her position behind The Asset and place a hand on his shoulder while saying a few words he was still too far away to overhear. He did however see The Asset’s back muscles tense and his motions halt momentarily under her touch.

Good boy.

But almost the next instant, almost between steps, he watched as that tension dissolved and the line of those well-defined shoulders relaxed to a degree that Brock hadn’t thought The Asset capable of. Hell even asleep he hadn’t looked that at ease.

Fuck it all to a Baghdad-style hell. She was dosing him with something. She had to be, it was the only thing that explained The Soldier’s off book reactions. They had the kid whacked out on so many chemical compounds at the moment that he sincerely doubted it was any kind of natural physical reaction to Sarkissian - regardless of how hot she was.

Her hand lingered until the moment Brock and Rollins arrived at the terminal, at which moment she had already turned to greet their arrival, a small smile playing over her lovely face.

“So glad you could join us.”

Oh yeah, the bitch was going down.

The Asset was typing away at speed, apparently answering questions posed in Hindi on the screen, and translating text and spoken phrases between the Indian dialect and English. So far so indecipherable. Brock spoke a handful of languages but Arabic and Spanish weren’t going to help him much here.

A quick glance was all that was required to get Rollins taking Davis to one side and setting things in motion.

He turned to Johnson, attempting to ignore Collins’ intrinsically annoying presence for a few moments more. Lord knows he had enough aggravation in the form of the skin-tight-leather-wearing woman currently smirking at him without adding to it.

“How’s it looking?”

“Umm, his recall seems perfect. It’s astonishing really. Miss Sarkissian’s compound seems to have worked flawlessly. And she’s made some ingenious suggestions about improvements to The Asset’s regimen.”

Brock scowled.

“How kind of you to say David, but I’ve told you, it’s Ophelia.” She offered a self-deprecating shrug. “It’s nothing I’m sure you boys wouldn’t have come up with yourself if you’d simply had the time. Our Soviet friends simply fell a little behind the times in terms of the science, but that’s them down to a T isn’t it.”

The scientists all laughed at her fairly racist quip.

Form a fucking fan club why don’t you.

“Yeah, well make sure you get Pierce’s approval before making any changes or it’ll be your heads.”

The laughter died off quickly after that.

Viper simply raised one perfectly shaped eyebrow, and turned back to watch The Asset who was working through the language assessment program at a rate that would have had SHIELD’s top linguists green with envy.

Brock momentarily lost his focus watching the micro-expressions flicker over The Asset’s face as he once again made the extraordinary look almost mundane. Brock let his gaze wander over that deceptively powerful form, he even made typing look elegant. Suddenly he spotted Viper’s hand. She’d subtly moved it to now rest on the back of The Soldier’s chair and was casually running her index finger up and down the back of his neck. Brock’s eyes narrowed and he felt his jaw clench, an involuntary reaction to the surge of anger and possessiveness that rushed through him at the sight.

He’d always been a bit of a jealous SOB, but this was getting away from him. He’d never reacted this strongly to something so small. Bugger.

He averted his gaze only to meet Viper’s eyes. She was watching him. As their gazes locked - hers cool and assessing, his own heated and challenging – her fingers stilled and then she moved them oh so slowly, tracing the strong line from neck to spine until they dipped below the low neckline of the black t-shirt, never loosing contact with The Asset’s skin. Brock realised a moment too late that his attention was once again completely riveted by her motions, and when he snapped his eyes back to hers he saw they were still fixed firmly on him. Her smile widened.

Double bugger.

He dragged his eyes away from that penetrating look to check-up on how Rollins was doing with Davis. Good it looked like he’d finished briefing him. Davis was moving to the exit, presumably to get things rolling and Jack was headed over to join him and the rest of the room’s occupants.

“Oh Agent Rumlow” everyone paused mid-motion “could your team kindly assist my men with finding some suitable accommodations for the next few days? Your familiarity with DC would be such a boon.”

Damn, so much for plan A. She’d somehow anticipated his play and outmanoeuvred him.

He smiled tightly, “Of course.”

She practically beamed with gratitude.

I guess you don’t become a Hydra Head without being able to bullshit with the best of them. Okay forget this underhand crap, all-out attack was more his forte anyway. He just had to find her weak spot and strike.

Davis had moved back towards Rollins, and Brock went to join them.

“Well that’s fucked that up royally” Jack muttered under his breath.

“What’s our next move Sir?” Davis asked sotto voiced.

Brock took a moment to reassess the situation. “Okay” he said quietly “this is what we do. We use the move into civilian areas as a reason to disarm her men, put their weapons under lock and key. We can also control their access to base though necessary security protocols – no BS required, all completely legit – as is the fact that we don’t have the resources to ferry all her men back and forth, so we’ll allow an honour guard on site and that’s it. The rest will have to cool their heels and like it. I’m thinking three men tops. She might have ruined the surprise but it’s still our party gents.”

That wicked little grin of Jack’s that Rumlow loved, as it usually meant carnage was soon to follow, was now firmly fixed on his second’s imposing face. “Hell yeah. Let’s make this shindig one to remember.”

“Couldn’t have put it better myself” Rumlow answered with a grin of his own. “Okay gents, let’s start the festivities.”

Davis threw him a casual salute and headed out to round up Sanchez and Dixon and start reclaiming their territory from Viper and her crew of interlopers.

He felt a surge of satisfaction run through him that he’d still be able to strike a blow, but it only lasted until the moment he turned back to find her unblinking eyes still fixed on him and that knowing smile playing across her scarlet lips.

His confidence stuttered then hardened into a determined anger. Maybe it was a front, or maybe she knew exactly what they were doing, either way it wasn’t going to stop them.

“Done.”

The Asset’s utterance drew Brock’s attention back to the focal point of this convoluted power play. His and Viper’s.

The Soldier pushed his chair back away from the console and lowered his arms so they were now held loosely at his sides. The science team gathered around in the freed-up space to run through the assessment scores and verify the success of the new skill upload to their charge. Their previous fear of getting too close to the man seemingly forgotten in their eagerness.

Of course they’d claim the achievement as their own, maybe throwing a scrap or two of praise the way of their new biochemical idol. None of those clowns would ever consider giving the credit where it was really due – to the unbelievably perfect living weapon sitting so sedately in their midst.

The almost constant rage that Brock has felt bubbling under his surface all day surged up at the realisation that these over-educated idiots couldn’t see the wood for the trees in regards to their charge. Did they even see him as a person or was he just a walking, taking computer to them?

His attention focused back on Viper who had situated herself back behind The Asset’s chair, and was now tracing patterns across his shoulders and any other exposed skin she could gain access to.

Brock swallowed.

He might hate the bitch with a passion but she at least had the smarts to recognise exactly how special the ‘man’ before them truly was. But that didn’t stop Brock wanting to tear her arms off. So much for the even-keeled STRIKE commander. He was totally gone. Every part of him was screaming that The Asset was his, and she was trying to take him away from them, that much was clear. She was the enemy. Hydra hierarchy be damned.

But as he watched her, them, and he saw her slowly bend over - bringing her head level to The Soldier’s ear, and bringing a hand to gently but inescapably turn his face towards her while she whispered something in his ear that Brock should probably put his lip reading skills to use to follow – he couldn’t fight the mental image that formed of grabbing that slim waist and ploughing himself into her as he tangled his fingers in dark hair and claimed The Asset’s ridiculous cupid’s bow pout of a mouth with his own.

The surging lust combined with the possessive rage packed a powerful punch, and he found himself stepping forwards unsure even of his own intentions at this point.

He quickly surveyed the room. Rollins’ focus was on the scientists who were animatedly discussing the potential of Viper’s compound on The Asset’s future upgrades.

Jack surprisingly actually looked interested in the conversation, which was a lucky break for Brock as it meant he hadn’t noticed anything his team leader had done, or not done, over the course of the last few moments. However the sinking feeling in his gut found its cause when he returned his gaze to its starting point and found it once again locked with Sarkissian’s.

She knew. He had no way of verifying it but he felt it down to his bones. She knew and she’d been playing him to provoke just such a reaction. He felt his anger boil up to new heights as she gave a small satisfied nod of the head before turning back to focus on The Soldier.

Fuck. What the hell was he going to do now?

Chapter Text

Regardless of how earth-shattering or insurmountable the personal or professional dilemma in front of you is, life in general doesn’t give a shit Brock had learnt.

It just keeps on going and expects you to simply put up or shut up. So before he even has a chance to get to grips with the fact that, while he can successfully conceal his allegiance to Hydra from spies of the calibre of Fury and Romanoff, he’s apparently failed to keep his desire for The Asset hidden from this green-haired harridan, he finds himself dragged into mission-planning and strategizing for tomorrow’s run to New Jersey with Rollins, and trying to focus while the now undeniable object of his obsession turns combat into a form of art worthy of its own dedicated gallery over on the other side of the room.

Someone out there must hate him.

It’s almost enough to make him question his firmly held belief that he’s not one of the bad guys.

He’s in the grey spectrum that’s for sure, but who isn’t in their world? With the exception of Cap of course. But he’s always maintained that the ends do justify the means, and he’s seen too many good men die in bullshit conflicts orchestrated by the kind of self-important and self-serving bastards that Hydra intends to put an end to.

He’s so down with that as to be almost horizontal. But this shit here, this feels like some sort of karmic penance sent down by the Universe just to teach him a lesson. Luckily his aggrieved feelings, and the added distraction of running through possible ambush scenarios with Jack, are keeping his now almost predictable physical reactions to The Asset in check. Well as long as he doesn’t look over too often that is.

He and Rollins put together a game plan that adequately balances the need for security with stealth and speed, along with several variations that shift that balance one way or the other depending on Pierce’s priorities. They run through it backwards, sideways and from any angle they can conceive until it’s as good as these things get. Something Jack pointedly makes clear when he suggests running through it just one more time, “Brock we’ve covered all the bases. It’s good.”

Yeah, he can’t argue with that. As much as he’d like to, as now he has no excuse not to observe The Asset’s exercises, and to make that slice of personal torture even more delicious he’ll undoubtedly have to share the moment with the She-Devil of Madripoor.

That one might be a new personal favourite.

Well ready or not it was time to find out exactly what she thinks she knows and exactly what she plans on doing with it.

“Right. Can you input this into the main server and then go and review the transport and equipment we’ll be taking?”

Jack shoots him a surprised look “You sure you want me to go?”

“Yeah. Let’s show her we’re the ones in control here.”

It’s as good an excuse as any but the truth is Brock’s no exhibitionist, the less people seeing him get fucked the better.

Thankfully Rollins takes his shit-poor bravado at face value and goes off to do the all-important – though not urgent – mission prep.

Brock squares his shoulders and walks at an unhurried pace to join Viper who’s standing next to the reinforced sector of the room where The Asset is currently evading being shot at by what - Brock can only hope - are rubber bullets. Although from the looks of things it wouldn’t matter if they were live rounds. His faultless aim and incredible reflexes seem to make it possible for him to dodge or deflect everything sent his way.

It’s a new party trick and Brock’s completely captivated.

He can only imagine what it must be like for Hydra’s enemies to have this seemingly unstoppable being coming at them and treating bullets as mere distractions.

God he can’t wait to see him in action for real.

He’s still holding his breath when he finally draws up next to Sarkissian. Half due to the literally breath-taking display of skill and agility in front of him and half from him awaiting her first move in this now murky battle-ground between the two of them.

She doesn’t so much as blink. For someone who seemed incapable of stillness until this point she’s pulling off a fucking great impersonation of a statue right now.

They stand in silence for long enough that Brock’s starting to get twitchy, but damn it if he’s going to be the one to cave here. At least The Asset is distracting enough that he has a good excuse to not be using his words right now. But within a few minutes – as he starts taking down targets rather than avoiding being one himself – ‘distracting enough’ soon escalates to mesmerising and Brock’s composure is going downhill fast, as is most of the blood in his body.

Shit. Now he has to find something to distract him from the building pressure in his lower extremities.

Fury’s scowling face when a mission doesn’t go as planned?

Nope that one’s not working.

The Icecapades? Okay, that might just do it.

“I think we got off on the wrong foot.” Oh, it speaks.

Viper wasn’t even looking at him, her eyes were still fixed on the ever more gravity-defying moves The Asset was making just a few metres away.

He quickly took note of the position of everyone else in the room with them. Talking this way, no one would be able to read their lips, maybe won’t even notice a conversation is taking place. He can defy her and have a faceoff right here, or he can follow her lead and maybe work out what angle she’s playing.

Clearly trusting in Zola to give her what she wants isn’t the entirety of her game plan here.

“Is that so?” Well he’s always been the curious type, it’s why he went to work for SHIELD in the first place.

“I think that if we were to get to know each other better…we’d find a lot of common ground you and I.”

Brock is sure he didn’t imagine the pause in there and it’d be hard to miss her implication. If she thinks he’ll roll over on Pierce – and his own men - just for a chance to tap her shapely ass she’s got another thing…

“A shared appreciation of the finest things in this life for example.” She shoots a bullet-fast look that moves from Rumlow’s eyes, and dips down significantly before moving back up to meet and carry his gaze with her as it moves to the oxygen-stealing sight of The Asset in graceful full-flow.

Oh.

The slight change in wording in the otherwise trite phrase was enough to make him sit up and pay attention, especially if her intended meaning was the one his quickly-surging hormones were urging his slightly shell-shocked brain to believe.

She was suggesting they share.

Share him.

Fuck.

How would that even be possible?

He knew the bitch was nuts but this was a whole new level.

Despite the vastness of the room (what the hell had it been used for before anyway?) he felt as though the walls were closing in, and he was painfully aware of her proximity and that of the still-apparently untiring being now running through an impossibly fast series of advanced martial arts forms just metres away from them both.

Could it be possible?

The fantasy of earlier reared up in vivid technicolour in his mind’s eye, and a certain part of his anatomy inevitably began to follow suit. Crap, and he’d been doing so well keeping himself in check too.

Now he was pissed off and massively uncomfortable. But even worse was the thrill of mingled excitement and fear running down his spine. Because she was who she was, and she wouldn’t be risking this with someone as relatively lowly in the organisation as him unless she felt she had the winning hand ready to play.

He suddenly felt as though he had nothing to lose. And that was fucking dangerous in this place.

His ‘personal comfort’ situation was getting worse, and he finally had to admit defeat and shift his feet to widen his stance. He saw the corner of her lips quirk up. She knew she now had his attention.

Brock took and held a deep breath, as though he was about to dive in to deep water. Metaphorically he supposed he was. He needed to know more. Worst comes to worst he could report everything and extricate himself as long as he didn’t do anything too compromising.

“I guess we wouldn’t know for sure unless we compared interests.” Let’s see what she does with that.

“Oh, I’m sure our shared interests will be easy to identify.”

That small, self-satisfied smile was a back. So his appreciation of The Asset was clearly something she saw as leverage. Noted. But not enough to draw him in, or get him in too much shit with his superiors, but she had to know that.

“And it’s clear to see that we both strive for excellence in our service to Hydra. For instance you and your team have clearly done great work for Alex to trust you with such great responsibility so soon.”

For anyone less well-versed in espionage this might have seemed entirely innocent, but Rumlow instantly picked up on her inclusion of his men, the subtle mention of his newbie status in the Hydra ranks and his position as The Asset’s handler. This almost sounded like a job offer.

“I myself have recently gained great sway in Madripoor as you may have heard and I’m hoping to bring it tightly under Hydra’s control in the very near future.” She turned her head slightly towards him and gave him a direct, unblinking look “Maybe, you’d be so kind as to offer your input on a few of the plans my men have devised, I believe they could do with some strategic fine-tuning.”

Yes it was definitely a job offer. But if he was going to leave SHIELD and Pierce’s favour, being the head of her glorified honour guard on that crooked back-water of a black-market island wouldn’t cut it. He’d need…

“Of course I’m sure you also understand the pressures of dual roles. Bringing those fools who believe they run the island to heel is taking far too much of my attention away from the rest of my work.”

Okay, so it was a position of power she was offering, that sweetened the pot.

Suddenly her delicate jaw tightened and her gaze grew distant and hard. “So you can imagine my disappointment when my recent significant advancements in the field of chemical behaviour modification were deemed as ‘low priority’ by our friends. Apparently they felt that the work that Whitehall is doing made my alternative approach unnecessary.” She now turned her body fully towards him before pointedly looking back at The Soldier. “I do so look forward to the opportunity to prove them wrong.”Her smile turned predatory for a split-second before it grew and transformed into something, wide, warm and totally manufactured.

She spun round, body language transforming and Rumlow followed her motion, turning to see Pierce and Collins approaching them. Pierce looked tense and Brock instantly went on alert.

Was this about him?

“Sir?”

He was met with a small tight smile that refused to travel to the Secretary’s eyes and absolutely no response.

“Ophelia, I’ve come to invite you to dinner. We have reservations for eight at this absolutely delightful spot I know by the river.”

Viper arched an eyebrow “Is everything quite all right Alex dear, you seem a little tense?”

The ever-compose diplomat seemed to take a moment to gather his thoughts. Rumlow had never seen him this out of character.

Fuck, I really hope it’s not about me.

“There’s been an incident in one of SHIELD’s research facilities. The Joint Chiefs and the council have given Nick permission to put his Initiative into action.”

Well, fuck me, The Avengers was actually going to happen after all.

What the hell would scare the World Council enough to get them to approve that piece of Fury-created lunacy?

“What Initiative is this?” Viper was out of the loop and clearly not loving it.

“I’ll tell you all about it in the car on the way my dear” he gave her skintight suit an appraising look “after you’ve had the chance to get changed into something more appropriate for the venue of course.”

Point to Pierce.

Not that you’d know it from Viper’s reaction. The faux warmth of her smile never wavered. “Of course. I have the perfect thing in mind.”

She shifted her gaze to the unusually silent Doctor stood behind the Hydra leader. “Doctor would you be so kind as to accompany me back to my suite? I would love to continue our conversation about RNA re-sequencing techniques.”

The normally verbose scientist visibly gulped and looked nervously at Pierce “Umm…”

“That would be fine. I’ll pick you up from your room at half-seven if that will suffice?” The Secretary replied in his stead.

“Wonderful” Viper replied in a carefree tone.

It was already seven. This was power play with the veneer of civility at its finest.

She looped her arm through the oddly-reluctant doctor’s and started walking out of the room, not sparing a single glance for Rumlow, the other occupants, or even The Asset. She made her exit seem entirely of her own volition.

She had style, you had to give her that.

Pierce watched her go. The moment the two were out of earshot he turned back to Rumlow, his face now worried but thoughtful.

“Is everything ready for tomorrow?”

“Yes Sir.” More than. At least in terms of the transport.

Preparing for The Asset’s potential reaction to Zola was another thing entirely and something he got the feeling it was best not to mention at the present moment.

“I’ll look over the plans tonight. We might have to push it back a few hours. Get Rollins over here discreetly. I want this information restricted to the two of you for now, unless things escalate.” Brock nodded his acknowledgement and slowly walked over to fetch his Second, who'd returned from his equipment checks in the loading bay.

Oddly Rollins and the other two scientists seemed to be engaged in a friendly debate.

Jack turned to greet his arrival “Brock, we need your opinion on this. I’m saying that some of the moves The Asset is doing are clearly copied from ‘you know who’ but these guys insist that’s not possible. You’ve seen both of them fight, what do you think.”

Come to mention it there was a distinct similarity at certain moments, he could see where Jack was coming from.

Johnson scowled, “He couldn’t have physically done those things back when he knew ‘him’, so it can’t be muscle memory, and the other one was frozen beneath ice merely days later. It must just be innate muscle capability and his multi-discipline training. He can’t remember anything from back then.”

“Are you sure?” Brock asked. He was considering his historic knowledge of the man in question.

Johnson shot him an offended look. He clearly now thought Brock had heard nothing he said back in the vault room.

“I don’t mean the memory bit – though you did say some of it could come back”, Jack looked a little alarmed at that bit of info, “I meant about his capabilities before he came to us. Didn’t the initial work get done back in 43?”

Johnson looked shocked “Only fragments, not an entire fighting style. And well yes, it did start then, but it was incomplete. The transformation wasn’t completed until almost a decade later for obvious reasons.”

Those reasons being that Zola was stuck in an SSR cell if he recalled correctly.

“Maybe it was enough of a change that he felt different - stronger, faster - and tried out a few of his buddy’s moves. Doesn’t seen beyond the realm of possibility to me” Brock said with a shrug.

Jack looked vindicated, Johnson looked flabbergasted.

“The bossman wants us to run through the plans for tomorrow with him” he said to Rollins. They’d been side-tracked long enough.

Jack gave him one of his should-be-patented ‘you’re bullshitting me’ looks – he knew that Pierce didn’t need these things explaining to him with his decades of military and operational experience – but he came along without complaint.

The Secretary watched their approached with a determined look in his eye, “Agent Rollins.”

“Sir” the STRIKE agent respectfully replied.

“I’ve just returned from a meeting that involved The President and several other heads of state. One of our SHIELD facilities was attacked, a dangerous piece of technology was stolen and personnel killed. That’s bad enough, but what makes this an international incident is who the perpetrator is and who and what he took with him.”

Who?

“I’m assuming that you were both briefed on the Asgardian Threat?” Pierce asked the two of them.

Both nodded and Brock clarified the intel they’d been given. “A highly advanced civilisation of extra-terrestrial human-like beings. Very powerful, very dangerous but apparently benign and possibly the source of the mythology of the Norse gods.”

“Good, so the name Loki will be familiar to you?” Pierce asked.

Shit.

“Yes Sir.”

“Well he’s come to pay us a visit and has taken the Tesseract, Doctor Selvig and Agent Barton - plus a few others - along for the ride. It appears he has some sort of mind control powers.”

They do seem to be all the rage these days. It’s terrifying how the idiots behind the MKULTRA program now look to be trailblazers.

“So what’s happening Sir. What do you want us to do?” Rollins asked.

Brock should have been the one voicing those questions but his brain was still processing the reality of gods and alien technology as the most pressing threat to not only Hydra but the world.

And the only response from the powers that be so far had been a meeting? Half of which was probably bickering over who should have told who what and when.

God Hydra needed to take over and cut out all that protectionist nationalistic crap fast, before the world was destroyed while the bureaucrats were still arguing about seating plans.

“Hydra intends to sit tight for the time being” Brock could tell from the look on Pierce’s face that he wasn’t happy about the decision “if SHIELD’s efforts to contain things with the Avengers fails then we have avenues we’ll explore to remove the threat, a few of which involve deploying The Asset. But for the time being gentlemen, all we can do is root for those so-called superheroes of Nick’s.”

Stark, Rogers and Banner. Brock didn’t see that going well…

“They have Romanoff, Hill and Coulson with them so I don’t think your team will be called in, but it would be wise for you to check in with headquarters just in case.”

That made sense. If they’d been on actual leave rather than secluded in a secret base they would probably have seen a situation alert come through or possibly even some news coverage. Of course this meant retrieving his SHIELD-phone and calling from a different location. That was a complication he could have done without.

Pierce suddenly straightened as his focus was drawn to something behind Rumlow’s shoulder. “Yes soldier, what is it?”

Brock turned to find The Asset stood watching them with a vaguely concerned expression on his face. He moved so silently even when fighting that Brock hadn’t noticed any change in his location. It was both terrifying and thrilling.

“Is there something wrong Sir?” His voice was still fairly quiet but filled with a strength of purpose that Rumlow hadn’t heard before. He was clearly eager to be useful in some capacity.

“There’s a situation developing on the ground that we might need you for, but your orders for the time being are to continue preparation for our journey tomorrow.”

“Yes Sir.”

Brock didn’t know if anyone had actually briefed The Asset about tomorrow – he hadn’t – but clearly he wasn’t programmed to ask for more details at this point in an operation, if ever.

He continued to stand there motionless.

“Continue with your exercises or whatever” Brock said waving a hand in a sort of ‘dismissed’ gesture.

At least all this talk of imminent disaster had chased away his own impending explosion. Or at least it had until a frankly adorable look of frustration appeared on The Asset’s face and heat pooled in Brock’s belly as a response.

Now expressions were getting to him? This wasn’t good.

Brock looked back at Pierce to see him attempting to conceal a small smile “Status report soldier” the older man requested in an undeniably amused tone.

“All training exercises are completed Sir. Awaiting new orders.”

Pierce moved past Brock, patting him on the shoulder on the way “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to the exactness required to get the best out of him.”

Luckily Pierce appeared to have misread Brock’s reaction, but he found himself still fighting down a surge of anger. Some on his own behalf (it was fucking embarrassing) but also over the reality that The Soldier couldn’t communicate something as simple as the fact that he was done without permission. And that even with that level of conditioning he still wasn’t trusted.

He was a prized pet to be kept under lock and key at a safe distance in case he turned on the hand that fed him yet also liberally used a choke-chain. It was just wrong.

It didn’t matter if he and Pierce were ten or even a hundred times more considerate to their charge than his previous keepers, they hadn’t even used the chair on him yet and Rumlow felt disgusted with himself.

He’d probably want to stab his own eyes out with a fork once he got to see that piece of technology in action.

In an organisation as advanced as Hydra, surely someone could have come up with a better way of securing The Soldier’s loyalty? Maybe Viper even had. It was almost enough to make him hear her out for real.

Pierce was talking to The Asset in low tones that Rumlow couldn’t quite hear without moving himself closer in a way that would too obviously show he was listening in. His paranoia reared its head again, and he wondered if Pierce was shutting him out for a reason. No, he’d send him away from The Asset if he suspected anything, he certainly wouldn’t be going out to dinner. And that couldn’t be allowed to happen.

Christ Brock couldn’t remember feeling this protective of someone since his highschool girlfriend Susie and he’d been a very different person back then. It was kind of nice to know he was still capable of it after all the shit he’d seen.

Jack gave him a ‘what’s going on?’ look, and Brock returned something he hoped communicated ‘hell if I know’ just as eloquently. They really had the non-verbal communication down to an art form now.

Pierce had taken a step back and was now speaking clearly enough that Brock was able to hear, of course all he heard was “Understood?” and The Asset’s confirmation, so it wasn’t all that enlightening.

The Hydra head walked back towards them with The Asset trailing just a step behind.

Surprisingly rather than addressing the two waiting agents, Pierce again turned to talk to the assassin “Agent Rollins will show you the route planned for tomorrow, please provide him with any suggestions or improvements that you want implemented and he’ll act on them.”

The Asset nodded and turned his now focused steel-blue gaze onto Rollins, who looked equal parts thrilled and alarmed that he was going to spend some one-on-one time with The Soldier in mission mode.

“Er right, at the terminal in here Sir?” he asked Pierce.

“Wherever you think best” Pierce replied in that warm tone of his which seemed to imply that whatever you chose would be wonderful.

Brock wondered if he could ever learn to use his voice to disarm people in that way.

To his credit Jack quickly pulled himself back into agent-mode and led The Asset over to the computer console where he’d done his testing before. Brock could tell that Pierce was waiting for them to reach their destination before saying whatever it was he was about to say. He couldn’t help but feel the tension build despite his belief that he had nothing to feel guilty for - well nothing he'd done anyway.

Even if he did listen to Viper’s proposal, he’d only be doing it to gather intel for Pierce. Right?

But when Pierce indicated that the two of them should move even further away from the room’s other inhabitants, Brock couldn’t fight the surge of nervous adrenalin that hit his bloodstream and made him want to run a mile. Luckily he had ample experience channelling his fight or flight response, and the nerves seemed to have dealt with his other physical situation so that was a plus.

Finally it seemed Pierce deemed them far enough away and they drew to a halt. But still the Hydra leader didn’t say anything, he seemed to be weighing something up in his mind.

The silence was getting to Brock. He could do quiet on missions, but the rest of the time not so much.

He’d just opened his mouth to make a start on a ‘the best form of offense is defence’ approach to the impending conversation when Pierce finally spoke. “I’ve told The Asset to try and uncover what Viper’s agenda is here and I want you to work with him.”

Oh thank fuck.

“Is that wise Sir?”

Pierce smiled a slightly bitter smile. “Probably not, but with things escalating we don’t have time to let this all play out at its own pace. She won’t try anything too drastic while we’re located here I hope, but we need to uncover her game plan. She won’t be putting all her faith in Zola giving her what she wants, she’s not that naïve.”

Speaking of Zola… “Sir does The Asset know that Doctor Zola will be present tomorrow? I’ve seen him react negatively to hearing just the name, so we may need measures in place if a face-to-face is gonna happen.”

Pierce looked thoughtful “I wondered if that would be the case…” he sighed “Oh well that’s what command codes were created for. Don’t worry we can deal with the eventuality of an adverse reaction when or if it happens, and we can always wipe him after.”

Brock tried to control his flinch. But he clearly didn’t squash it quickly enough to evade Pierce’s keen gaze.

“It’s not my preference but history has shown us what happens when events throw our friend over there off balance and it’s never pretty.”

Death, death and more death. Got it.

Pierce fixed those still sharp blue eyes on him again “In that vein he just reported that he believes his systems have been compromised by an external agent. Something other than what she did to him in the vault. Have you noticed anything?”

Brock shrugged “Nothing concrete. Just suspicions. Lots of casual touches that may not be so casual. Should I confront her?”

“No not yet. I’ll get the science team to run a blood panel and see if we can isolate what she’s using. I’ve told The Asset to allow her access, his system can handle pretty much anything so I’m curious to know exactly what she’s trying to achieve.”

Brock pursed his lips to start telling Pierce about the conversation he’d had with Viper just minutes ago but the words died before leaving his mouth.

Now wasn’t the time.

There were questions he couldn’t yet answer and those he just really didn’t want to.

Pierce turned to him with a wry grin “Right I best not leave my dinner date waiting too long. Check in with SHIELD while we’re away. Rollins can watch The Asset. This Loki situation might just be opportunity I’ve been looking for.”

Brock had no clue what that meant, but that’s why the guy was head of this division of Hydra he supposed. That he could look at deadly alien attacks and see an opportunity for the organisation to get ahead.

He just hoped the planet would survive long enough for that to become a reality. Hydra didn’t really like crises not of their own creation.

“Let’s push the departure back until eleven-hundred tomorrow in case things escalate. Nick’s meant to be keeping me informed and Sitwell has been ordered to keep an eye of things on our end.”

Swell that sycophantic weasel was their point man, this just keeps getting better and better. Give him Coulson any day. Though the idea of the ultimate Cap fan joining Hydra was beyond the realms of possibility and pretty hilarious to boot.

He nodded his acceptance of the orders and Pierce turned to leave. For a second Brock considered stopping him and…he didn’t know exactly. Asking to be relieved of this duty? Admitting Viper’s approach? Spilling his guts about his ever growing attraction to Pierce’s pride and joy?

By the time he’d battled back the swell of contradictory urges for confession and self-preservation, the Hydra leader was nowhere to be seen.

Christ indecision really didn’t suit him.

He shook himself out of his stupor. Right now he had a call to make, an ego to partially rebuild and a fucking sandwich to hunt down and demolish. Low blood sugar was not his friend.

Speaking of…

He signalled to Rollins to stay put in his position with eyes on The Asset and fled before Jack had any chance to respond. He’d be fine, Brock would be an hour, two tops if he snuck in that nap he was beginning to feel he desperately needed.

Alone on a floor with two of the deadliest people on the planet who were effectively playing an extremely twisted version of kiss chase - yeah it was going to be a challenging night that’s for sure.

Especially as in almost every sense of the words, Brock no longer had a fucking clue which team he was playing for. 

Chapter Text

Brock knew he could have done this a lot of ways.

He could have insisted one of the guys stayed with him. He could even have had Hydra flunkies parked outside the door. But he knew that as much as he told himself that he was doing this to obey Pierce's orders, and give Viper access, he honestly couldn't say no to having some alone time with the object of his growing affections, even if said object was currently unconscious,

It was around 1am and Brock was reading reports in the half-dimmed lights of the lab. Or he was trying to read reports anyway. He kept finding his eyes drifting back to The Soldier instead. Asleep, he looked ridiculously young. More like the twenty-something war hero from the history books than Brock had seen so far. It was enough to break a softer heart than Brock's, but he'd long ago come to terms with the fact that he was a selfish bastard- something one or two girlfriends had hurled his way as they moved out the door and added 'ex' to their prior title - and he knew that he'd never give up his Soldier now, even for someone as admirable as Barnes.

He needed to know what Viper was proposing, for his sanity if nothing else. So when the door swished open - security protocols and locks be damned - and revealed her standing there, he was almost pleased to see her. Even more so when he took in the floor-sweeping silver gown she was wearing.

He let out a soft whistle and she surprisingly did a slow turn for him, the fabric shimmering in the low-light.

"I'm so glad you approve. As I said earlier, we clearly both have extremely good taste."

He was sitting just a few feet away from the pallet The Asset had been assigned as a bed so he was a little surprised when Ophelia approached and stood closer to him than the man she'd travelled here to procure. When she held out a branded paper bag he realised why. She'd bought him food. From the restaurant Pierce had just taken her to. One of the best in the city.

Enticed in by the aroma, Brock took it from her and pulled out the container it held and pried off the lid. It was a sublimely-cooked medium rare filet steak with all the trimmings. There was even proper cutlery in the bottom of the bag. He looked up at her and raised an eyebrow.

She ignored him for the moment and instead slinked over to the nearest chair, lifting it effortlessly and, bringing it over, placed it next to his. Though marginally closer to the sleeping Soldier than he was, of course. She arranged herself gracefully, sideways on, on the - pretty uncomfortable actually - piece of furniture.

Brock still hadn't touched the rapidly-cooling slab of meat in the container now on his lap. She smirked at his hesitance.

"If it makes you feel any better I bought it for him." She moved her head to one side to indicate The Asset was the 'him' in question. As if there was any doubt. "But I was kindly informed by Johnson that it wouldn't be advisable. Something about a 'strictly-regimented diet'."

As he'd noted before, she was fucking smart. That's yet another piece of classified information about The Soldier she's pried out of them.

She looked at him briefly, before returning her cool and collected gaze to the 'bed' and its occupant. "I would offer to try it first, but we both know how pointless of a gesture that would be."

Shrugging Brock carefully placed the report folders out of the way, picked up the cutlery out of the bag and, with the takeaway container perched slightly precariously on his lap, began to tuck into one of the best pieces of beef he'd ever eaten in his life. Sure taking this could kill him in any number of ways, but he had his orders and it was a hell of a last meal. Speaking of things almost worth dying for...

He swallowed the last piece of steak, wiped his hands and mouth on the napkins she'd 'thoughtfully provided' and dumped them and the container back in the bag, clearing it out of the way. It was time to get to work. He angled himself in his chair to be able to look more directly at her while still keeping a view of his sleeping charge.

"You said you wanted to talk. So talk." He put as much 'annoyance' into that as he could while keeping his voice low. He assumed The Asset's sleep was drug-regulated somehow - a handler couldn't always be on the scene, and the last thing the techs would want to deal with would be The Asset waking up in the middle of the night - but he didn't want to disturb whatever type of rest the kid was getting, especially when he was going to be the star of said discussion.

She simply turned, resting her arms on the back of the chair that she'd positioned to face him, and gave him an assessing look. "Are you always this impatient in non-combat situations?"

He smirked back at her. "No. What can I say, you bring out the best in me." He shouldn't be antagonising her but people who didn't use furniture the proper way had always irked him; what could he say, it was the military in him.

She simply offered him a flash of a half-smile. Vermilion lips curling up flatteringly.

He hadn't meant to be amusing, but whatever.

She suddenly stood up and removed a small cylindrical electronic device from her clutch and,  crouching down more elegantly than she had any right to, placed it on the centre of the floor between them and the The Soldier. Brock had been around enough of them to recognise an advanced signal-jammer when he saw one.

She purposefully rose and walked the rest of the way over to the bed, where she stood silently for a moment, before reaching down and arranging the sleeping man's hair more to her liking.

Brock felt his fist clenching. The hair was clearly a thing for her. And he had to admit that despite his initial - reservations - it might be one for him too.

"I met him once you know."

Her smooth mid-American tones suddenly seemed to hold a hint of an accent. Something European, but it was so faint Brock struggled to place it.

She was still gazing down at The Asset's sleeping face.

"Well maybe met is the wrong word. I had the Sergeant prisoner. Him and his friends. Of course all I saw in him at that point was a pretty face and a crack shot, and I'm afraid at that point in my life, neither of those things made him worthy of my attention. Zola was ever so secretive about his creation."

Wait. What? He'd assumed she meant The Asset.

That's not possible.

He looked again at The Soldier.

Okay, best make that highly improbable. 

She turned to face him. "He even tried to sneak him out of the facility without me noticing would you believe. Of course Rogers put a stop to that."

OK, so that means...

"So you're saying that you're the original Madam Hydra? The one from World War II?"

Brock tried not to sound too sceptical.

She made a quiet sound of disgust. "No, that ridiculous title came along a little later. Back then I was simply a young biochemist and Hydra officer looking to prove herself to Herr Schmidt," a wicked grin appeared on her face, "preferably by presenting him with the Captain's head." 

"So you're what, ninety-six?"

She walked back over to the chair, and draped herself over it in a way that Rumlow found equal parts aggravating and alluring.

That pretty-well summed up his response to everything about her.

"Ninety-eight, but thank you. It's always nice to hear that you look good for your age."

No kidding. How was that even possible?

"And unlike James and The Captain, I've been awake through all of it. My priorities, you could say, have evolved somewhat."

"So how does that work? You take a dip in the fountain of youth or something."

Now this he had to know.

She was now giving him her undivided attention, and he was quickly coming to realise he'd preferred the feigned indifference of before. He could suddenly see the decades of knowledge and experience in her eyes and it was vaguely terrifying. Her reputation didn't do her justice.

"Something like that. We captured the American's precious flag-waver and took a great deal of his blood."

That wasn't in the Hydra handbook. He was starting to think there'd been some seriously heavy-handed editing done on that particular text.

"Herr Skull was obsessed with recreating Erskine's serum to produce more of his 'superior man'. As was Zola to a lesser extent. I however was more interested in some of the other potential applications of the formula. So I 'liberated' some of the samples from the good Doctor's lab."

She had guts he had to give her that.

"It turned out to be a very 'wise' decision, as that was yet another Hydra research facility that the Howling Commandos managed to wipe off the face of the Earth."

She finally turned that emerald-hard gaze away from him and back to the Soldier.

"Only it turned out that not all the blood samples were from Rogers, which is how I discovered there had been another successful - or partially at least - serum trial. At first I assumed it was that insufferable Brit as Zola had chosen him as his test subject for the new serum version, but I now believe he simply didn't want to risk his only previous success with an untried formulation."

She made an expression of extreme displeasure. "I had my own men hunting down that moustachioed Para for months, I'm sure Arnim found it all highly entertaining."

Clearly a bit of a rivalry there. Interesting.

"By the time I found a Hydra agent willing to talk, it was too late. Barnes had fallen to his presumed death and Arnim had been taken, and only weeks later Herr Schmidt was gone, along with Hydra as I knew it. We had lost the war. And both super-soldiers it appeared. Of course now we know how foolish that assumption was."

This was all said in a surprisingly cool tone for someone who'd lived through all this, but Brock guessed that that many years granted you more than a little distance.

"Hydra: The Secret Histories is fascinating and all, but is there a point you're going to be getting to any time soon?"

That got him a look of annoyance. Good he didn't want her to get too comfortable.

"I tried to help Hydra regroup in the wake of our defeat but at that time I was seen as little more than Schmidt's pet - by both our side and our enemies it would turn out."

It appeared she was simply going to ignore his remark and carry on with her story. Good, he actually was finding it fascinating despite what he'd just told her.

"I was ignored almost completely. It rankled at the time, but in retrospect it was the best way things could have gone. It 'inspired' me to liberate a not insignificant chunk of Hydra's remaining holdings and set up on my own. My fellow survivors were far too busy fending off the SSR to devote any time to tracking down little old me over something as trivial as money."

He'd say it again, she was one smart bitch.

"I simply slipped away to a pleasant non-extradition country - just in case - and got to work on my samples. If any of those fools had had any idea of what I had I probably would have been the most wanted woman on the planet."

She wore a gentle smile as said this, clearly these were fond memories she was recollecting. Well that's scientists for you. Isolation in a lab was their idea of a good time.

She straightened up and turned directly to him suddenly.

"I discovered that one of Barnes' samples was different to the others. Zola had done something to it. Clearly the end result wasn't what he was looking for otherwise it wouldn't have been placed back with the untreated stock. But Arnim's viewpoint always was so limited. Ironically what I discovered was that this serum combination would have granted Arnim one of his greatest wishes - near immortality. Well, not quite what he was after, but near enough."

She'd taken the serum. Or a version of it anyway.

Brock had known it was coming - the evidence was sitting here right in front of him - but it was still hard to swallow. As was the implication...

Brock nodded towards the soldier. "Does that mean he's like you too?"

She looked thoughtful. "I'm not entirely sure. I don't know what variant Zola gave him to complete the transition. As with most things in life there is a trade-off. I believe the reason he rejected that particular formulation was that it enhanced internal systems at the expense of the external. Zola wanted the full package, so to speak", she said with a condescending smirk.

She wasn't hiding her opinion that she felt Zola had needed the biggest physical enhancement he could possibly get.

"However, the little I was able to extract was enough to boost my cell-repair exponentially, and enhance my strength and reflexes above what they had been before. Nothing close to his though."

She gave Brock another evaluating look."But I could probably take you on."

He fought back his almost reflexive snort of derision at that idea. He wasn't quite willing to put money on that not being true. And he didn't really want to find out either way.

He could tell she'd noticed his reaction. Damn it.

"I'm almost positive that even without the cryostasis he'd outlive a normal person by a very significant margin, possibly centuries."

Fuck me.

"So why aren't you using this magic formula of yours to become head of Hydra or to make a killing on the open market?" It's what he would be doing.

"There was only one dose's worth in that sample and despite having 70 years to try everything possible, I've not been able to replicate the same effects from Rogers' blood. The variants are surprising different considering their similar results and origins. I've made plenty of other significant advances thanks to that research though. Besides, no-one else in Hydra - other than Zola - knows exactly who I am."

How was that possible?

She pre-empted his question. "I sustained a facial injury before the serum that, once corrected, left me looking different enough from my service record to pass for my own granddaughter when I re-emerged to join the new Hydra ranks, oh ten or so years ago."

Well didn't he feel honoured. And a tiny bit terrified he had to admit. All this felt a little like a scene in the old Bond movies, where the super-villain revealed their plan before bringing out the lasers, or sharks, or sharks wearing lasers.

"So why do I get the privilege of knowing all your secrets?"

It was a question seriously in need of an answer for the sake of his peace of mind.

She shrugged as if she hadn't dumped world-changing facts at his feet moments before. "You have to know fully what's on offer before you can make an informed decision. Here in front of us," she gestured once again at The Soldier, "is the idealised vision of both of Hydra's founders and yet its current leaders treat him as an expendable attack dog or at best a knife in the night. They see him only as a weapon. It's unforgivable."

Brock could tell she meant it. This misuse of Hydra's Fist had her displaying the kind of ice-cold, controlled fury that usually led to total carnage in his experience.

"There's a sect within Hydra that even practise human sacrifice you know. I've often suspected that the old fools think he'd be a worthy gift for their imaginary extraterrestrial deity."

That was news to Brock. He doubted Pierce was involved, the man was far too practical for that sort of total bullshit.

"The results I've achieved with Rogers' blood alone are going to advance medicine by decades overnight. Add James' and my own to the mix, and the things I and my team in Madripoor could achieve would be astounding.  I can't replicate my longevity from my own blood - the serum left my system almost entirely after doing its work - but with his it's possible. I believe the Russians even managed to create a successful, albeit weaker, strain back when they first had him. The fact that the Russians could do it, shows just how possible achieving the same result I did would be given a little time and Zola's guidance. That fountain of youth you joked about before Agent Rumlow is lying right in front of your eyes."

Unusually for him, Brock was lost for words. And Viper was clearly waiting for some. Then something about what she'd just said hit him.

"So all you want him for is research?" He didn't even try to keep the anger out of his voice this time and his volume rose accordingly. He quickly looked over to check he hadn't disturbed the kid. No, still out like a light.

When he looked back Viper was observing him with an amused expression on her face. "Hardly. If that was my only aim I'd just have sweet-talked Alex into sending me regular blood samples. I want him. Just as much as I know you do."

Brock was too astounded by this all to even try denying it. Really what was the point?

"Genetically he and Rogers are perfection, and for some reason the two of them are pretty much impossible to replicate. Governments around the world tried, including the US, which had members of Erskine's team, Howard Stark and Rogers' blood to guide them. And even Zola himself never managed it. He now thinks that the Tesseract might have had a hand in making his serum a success in Barnes. Lord knows what Erskine used. There's some markers in Rogers' blood I've never been able to identify."

She pulled a disgusted face. "I'm not even totally convinced they're human in origin."

Well that's...interesting.

"As Zola will most likely tell you himself, he's come to realise that the 'fight and conquer' approach to creating world order wasn't the smartest or most logical way to go about things. But Schmidt wasn't entirely sane, even I'll admit that."

Did she mean? So there's really is someone for everyone it would appear.

"Zola changed the way Hydra operated when he took charge again in the 50s, changing our MO to manipulating and overthrowing world powers, and that's been the way things have been done ever since. To little impact overall you'd have to say looking at it objectively."

Wait a minute, Hydra was damn powerful. He wouldn't have joined them if they weren't.

"Yes we have powerful figures in our membership, Pierce being a case in point, but we're still working in the shadows. Even those insane zealots in the Middle East manage to win over some people because they know how to work the media and deliver a clear and focused message. With those barbarians trying to send the world back to the Dark Ages, there's never been a better time to come forward and show the civilised nations what Hydra has to offer, a way forward for those who value logic, order and scientific progress. Who pursue the betterment of mankind."

Fuck, she was starting to make sense.

"What do you want us to do? Hold a coming out party in Times Square?"

"No, I think I'll leave that one open for you," she answered with an amused smile.

Okay, he'd walked right into that one.

He graced her with the 'I am not amused' CO stare that even got the STRIKE guys to back down. She didn't even blink.

"So where do we come in?" There was no question that the 'we' in point was him and The Soldier, he was the handler here and she'd better not forget it.

"Madripoor has been my home now for a while. It's generally deplored as a hive of scum and villainy, but it's suited my aims to keep it that way. After all, if the turnaround wasn't dramatic the world would hardly sit up and take notice would they?"

Huh?

"What?"

That annoying smile was back.

"I intend to transform Madripoor into a scientifically-advanced society so utopian that it'll make Wakanda look frankly medieval. And we'll be openly Hydra. Showing the world what following us could offer them."

Well it was unexpected, he had to give her that. But she hadn't answered his question.

She abruptly twisted round, facing back toward The Asset and leaning against the wall. She suddenly looked less self-assured and slightly uncertain.

Some part of Brock was sure he was being played. But damn if it wasn't convincing.

"So what do you think will happen when the world discovers Hydra still exists - with our dubious legacy - and has control of a previously sovereign, if highly illegal, nation? Do you think it will matter to the US or Israel, or their many allies, that we're offering cures to previously incurable diseases to those who accept us?"

It's fairly unlikely he'll admit.

"I have money. Wealthy backers I already helped and people I've promised cures. Even one or two ready and willing to sell their first born for the chance to see in a few more miserable decades on this planet - those agreements I'm unlikely to honour, but for the time-being I need them, as much as it disgusts me."

He could see that she meant it. He really couldn't figure this woman out. She was more inscrutable than damn Romanoff and that was saying something.

"I've already made great progress with High Town. What I don't have and desperately need is the sort of defences required to stave off an attack by a world power, or a super-powered individual for that matter. Or someone with the talents to plan them." She looked Brock dead in the eyes, "I've seen your record Agent, you're an ideal candidate for the job. But that's not the only or even the primary reason I need you."

She paused for a moment, gazing fixedly at The Asset. "Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes was exceptional even before Zola got his brilliant-but-uncaring little hands on him. Now he's virtually unparalleled and totally unique. Different from Rogers in a multitude of small but significant ways. But most importantly he's ours, as long as we do what we need to do to keep him that way."

Brock got the feeling that she didn't mean 'Hydra's' when she said that.

She turned that piercing green gaze back on him "I don't believe in fate Agent Rumlow, but even I can't help feeling that there was something greater than co-incidence at play when Alex chose you to take charge of James' well-being."

It was more maintenance and servicing and he knew that she knew that, and he knew he was doing a lousy job of hiding how much he hated the fact. And she wasn't finished yet he could tell.

She'd laid out her current resources and her aims and requirements, but she'd not yet addressed the crux of their negotiation. The currently unconscious super-soldier just feet away from the two of them. A man who had managed to undermine 40 years of cut-and-dried skirt-chasing in the matter of just a few days. Oh yeah, and Brock's professional ethics, as far as those could be said to go for someone who was already a double-agent.

"So how would it work?"

He could have meant any of dozens of different aspects of what she planned - from getting the soldier away from Pierce, to reforming the Pirate Island into a functioning nation. But none of those was foremost on his mind and she knew that.

She picked up her small metallic green clutch, which had been resting discreetly at her well-heeled feet since she'd positioned the jammer to ensure their privacy, and unsnapped the clash with a sharp click. After a moment of searching the interior her fingers emerged grasping all almost invisible rectangle of see-through film. 

She passed it over to him, and surprising even himself he took it without hesitation. On closer inspection in the dim light he could now see that there was an oval of an even thinner transparent material adhered to one-side of the plastic.

"I know you've noticed. This is the highest in hi-tech drug delivery systems. Nano needles and micro-capillaries in a virtually undetectable film. This one contains a very interesting little hormone called Oxytocin, you might have heard of it referred to as the 'love hormone'."

Brock nodded, he was familiar with both names if little more.

"That's seriously over-simplifying its many functions in the human body, but it's not totally inaccurate. It's a legally-controlled substance known to lower stress levels and boost memory, and it also helps forge the sense of trust, intimacy and connection that people feel when they fall in love, have sex, hug or even hold their new-born child. It only stays in the body for around six hours, even less in him with his metabolic enhancements, but it's enough to overcome some of his programming."

"He knows you're giving him something. He's told Pierce."

Viper had returned to her study of The Soldier, but at his words her head snapped back to again give Brock her undivided attention.

"He can self-diagnose?"

Brock wasn't totally sure what that meant, but he's going with 'can tell when he's being messed with', and in that case the answer was a resounding yes. He nodded.

Rather than looking as if she cared that her rival knew she was up to something, she instead looked enthralled.

"Oh that's thrilling. He can probably recognise the effect of each of his usual drugs given adequate time and identify them." She turned to him with possibly the first honest expression he'd seen on her face - amusement aside. "Thank you. This will be invaluable in working out how to control him once we've transitioned him away from the ECT."

That was possible?

"How long ago did he identify the effects?"

He's pretty sure this is going above and beyond the scope of what Pierce asked him to do, and maybe he needs to stop lying to himself sometime soon...

"Before I did. He was more on edge and also weirdly more relaxed around you than other people. It confused him and that's what got my attention."

She was silent, clearly incorporating this new information into whatever scientific theory she was formulating that he was massively under-qualified to even begin to understand.

"So all that tells me jack-shit about how we get past our little problem."

"And that is Agent Rumlow?"

Thank the powers that be she'd stopped trying to call him Brock. And this doesn't mean he liked her.

"The fact that the kid over there is apparently straighter than a plumb line."

"I'm sure you would have said the same thing about yourself not too long ago."

Point.

"Most things are simply a matter of circumstance, and those that aren't can be worked around with the use of the correct motivation or focus."

Nope that was still as clear as mud. Apparently all his training had abandoned him and she was almost effortlessly reading his confusion and ever-shortening patience in his expression.

She sighed - over-dramatically in his opinion. "You use the Oxytocin on him. He's already psychologically bonded to you due to the 'handler' protocol. This will add a physiological aspect on top of that. He'll not only feel that he has to do what you say, but that he also 'wants' to do it. Offer him some freedoms, and some controlled choices, along with a greater sense of self-determination and self identity - one we construct for him - and you'll become the beneficiary of the near-legendary devotion and loyalty previously reserved for the one and only Steve Rogers. Add in sex to that and you've got all the vital ingredients for the biological imperative of pair bonding that we humans romanticise as love."

Wow. Be-still his fluttering heart. Somewhere a cupid just lost his wings.

"Right, that clearly solves everything."

"Well it's called a spectrum after all and you are an attractive man Brock."

It was even said without a hint of irony. Glaring at her after a compliment would make him both look and feel like a complete jerk.

She raised one of her perfectly-shaped eyebrows "And if psychology impacts on biology, well I'm sure I could give you a hand working around that. Me or certain over-the-counter aids."

Oh OK. He knows it should repel him but it feels like all his birthdays come at once. He'd get to liberate his Soldier without betraying his vows to Hydra, or his beliefs. And he'd get to have The Soldier- and maybe Viper too, which he admits he wouldn't say no to, personality clashes aside. He'd convinced himself it wasn't possible, at least not in any way he'd find acceptable. Examining the proposition he had to concede that scepticism aside, he didn't find it unappealing, in the slightest. It probably meant he wasn't a good person but he'd live with it.

He finally admitted that he was 100%, unequivocally in. He held his hand out towards Viper and she shook it with a surprisingly serious expression on her face.

"We'll do great things together Agent Rumlow. I promise you, you won't regret it."

She stood up and walked out of the room with one last lingering look at The Asset. She'd managed to avoid saying explicitly what her 'physical' interest was in The Soldier. Clearly it wasn't love - her condescending description of the phenomenon showed that she thought herself beyond all that. But whatever, Brock was happy to let that stay her business for now.

As much as it should have been a new Utopian world order and Hydra's final victory inspiring him to make such a dramatic switch in his allegiance, he was man enough to admit that it was outweighed about two-to-one on his mental scales in equal amounts by the prospect of being military leader of an entire nation, the thought of having those too-pretty, ice-blue eyes looking at him with desire, and the now growing need to find out if super-powered sex was actually everything the comic books hyped it up to be.

He'd likely end up dead, but if he got a taste of any of those three things before then he pretty much thought he'd die happy. And if that didn't prove he'd fucking lost his mind nothing would.

Chapter Text

Brock yawned jaw-crackingly hard. He'd finally made it up to the commissary on the first floor in search of breakfast foods and lots and lots of coffee.

The science team and Jack had arrived to relieve him at 5am and he'd managed to grab a two-hour power nap on that cushy chair in the office. Well after he'd knocked another one off of course. He'd pretty much given up on reading those reports in the wake of Viper's visit, and with The Asset fixed in his sights he'd run through the potential scenarios that accepting her offer could result in.

His death featured in more than a few outcomes, but as that was true in pretty much any mission it didn't loom too large over his decision-making process. The benefits if things went right however...

A good imagination was a boon in his line of work, and in those always surreal early hours of the morning, staring at the gentle motion of The Assets chest rising and falling with each breath, his had put on a show worthy of an NC-17 rating and would have delved into serious hardcore territory if Brock had actually had any practical experience to call upon. He'd never even gone up the 'back alleys', so to speak, with a girl before. It had to be worth it right? Or else why would guys bother in either case? He was pretty sure he had no interest in having that done to him, but yeah he definitely wanted to fuck The Asset. Badly. Guess that makes him a Top then.

Viper had made a few guest appearances, but with or without her in the picture his body was telling him in no uncertain terms to give this a go. And as he jerked off for the third time in 24 hours (god it was like he was a teenager again) while he grabbed a quick shower, during which he pictured The Asset going down to his knees in front of him under the spray, he gained a level of self-acceptance. Yeah, he'd been a fan of Bucky Barnes but he was clearly totally gay for The Winter Soldier.

He'd re-dressed still feeling the afterglow and dragged his tired body upstairs to refuel.

He contemplated just taking the entire coffee jug off the hot plate, but sucked it up and grabbed a large to go mug. He wouldn't have time to get through the entire pot anyway. Not with a 1100 departure time looming and it being gone 7 already. He picked up a plate and stabbed a fork through the top few pancakes of the large stack under the heat-lamp before adding a jug of still-warm blueberry syrup to his haul. The place was open 24hours, the one in the Triskelion only managed 18. Hydra really was all about making the world a better place.

He saw a gathering of STRIKE and various other Hydra personnel gathered around a TV in the corner and took his plate and cup over to join them. As he approached he spotted Sanchez and Dixon, probably just off their double-shift. If Dixon was over the punch maybe he could ask the guy for a few recommendations for bi-friendly porn. That was a thing right? God knows there seems to be a market catering for any and all types of kink these days. That would mean admitting that Dixon was right. But if he was going to take his team with him they'd all probably cotton on at some point pretty soon. But he needed another meeting with Viper and proof that what she was offering had the potential to work. Well at least he only had one job to fit that all round at the current time.

"Hey what's up?" Brock took a swig of his coffee as he walked closer and almost spit it out when he saw what was being replayed on the TV screen. Seems as though Rogers had had a busy night. The news station playing was showing phone captured footage of what was unmistakably Captain America in his full stars and stripes going mano e mano against a green-caped, gold-horned-helmet wearing, illusion-casting freak that had to be Loki. Oh and look, there was Stark joining the party. Wait was that AC/DC playing? Christ what was the world coming to? Depending on people who bring their own theme music to save it apparently.

Sanchez turned to greet him. "Can you believe this shit man?"

Dixon turned and nodded, clearly they were OK.

Brock took a large swallow of his coffee, "Yeah, wild" and looked at the ticker tape going across the bottom of the screen. This had all happened in Germany early last night. Shit who knows what's happened since then? They were reporting that Loki had been apprehended but there was almost as much focus on the 'new' Captain America as there was on the death and destruction the self-proclaimed god had unleashed. Almost every theory was being floated, not that it was Rogers back from the dead, not yet, but they were bound to get around to that one soon. A whole load of kooks were gonna love being right about that one. As were the Cap fan boys. There's no way that Fury could keep Rogers out of the public eye after this. The whole thing would come out. Bound to. Fuck. Could they risk sending The Asset out into the world that would likely be splashing the life story of him and his best pal across every medium for the foreseeable future? It seemed fucking unlikely to Brock. What would that mean for Pierce's plans? Or Viper's for that matter?

Fuck this was terrible timing.

He placed his plate down on the nearest table, rolled up a pancake one-handed and dipped it in the syrup before stuffing it in his mouth. Not half-bad. Well at least it hadn't ruined his appetite.

Sanchez turned back to him. The news anchor on screen was speculating about Iron Man now working for the government. "So Boss, what's all this mean for our mission?"

"It means fuck-all, we're still rolling out at eleven-hundred so you better get your asses in gear."

"But isn't that dude like an alien? Surely we gotta go deal with that."

Brock finished off his last pancake. "If Fury or Pierce calls us in I'll let you know. Until then, unless the aliens come to New York, you have your orders and about an hour before I expect your asses in the briefing room so if you want to get any shut eye before then I suggest you get a move on."

Both his tirade and their responding gripes were only half-serious. These guys were some of the best Brock had ever worked with and as such he gave them a lot of leeway, especially when on stand-down. So when Dixon stage whispered "Someone needs to get laid" to Sanchez, he almost came back with his usual 'your mama' response. But instead he picked up his empty plate, chugged the last of his coffee and saluted the two men with his cup before lobbing it into a trash can. "You might have a point there Dix. Eleven-hundred, on the dot."

Just before he turned away he saw Tom Dixon's face break out in a knowing, shit-eating grin. But sometimes, you gotta give credit where credit's due. But if Dix thought this meant he'd get his own hands on the Soldier, he had another think coming.

Brock was torn. Should he go check in on The Asset's status? Check in with Pierce in light of the current events? Or find Viper, get some details and confirm that he was definitely interested in buying what she was selling as long as the numbers worked out and the benefits package was all that she promised it would be? He stopped in front of the elevator. Jesus maybe he really was a bad guy. He was taking a person as part-payment. Then again it wasn't like the kid had a life to go back to even if there was a chance that Hydra would ever let him go. And there was no chance at all of that. He was too valuable as a weapon, and a status symbol for the leadership to boot.

Only three people who'd known him were still alive and kicking (one only just by all accounts), and all of them thought him long dead. There was no rescue coming for the man who'd once been James Buchanan Barnes, but maybe Brock could offer him something better than this cycle of harsh use, containment and cold storage.

Mind firmly made he pressed the down button with Viper's quarters his chosen destination. The elevator doors slid open. Pierce was inside.

The Secretary was wearing a fetching deep blue pinstripe suit this morning. He stepped over to one side of the car to indicate that Rumlow should join him for the ride.

Brock stepped inside and clasped his hands at his back. "Sir."

Pierce turned to him eyebrow raised. "I assume you've heard the news?"

"The Germany incident? It might cause some problems. Rogers will have to go public."

Their descent ended and Pierce gestured for Rumlow to exit the elevator first, "My thoughts exactly".

Brock walked out into the hallway and waited for the Hydra leaded to join him and continue on.

"Well I think it's safe to say that all non-essential missions are now out of the question. But India's the only one we really need The Asset's skills for. After that it would be wisest to put him back on ice until all this dies down."

Like hell that was going to happen.

Pierce offered him a consoling look as they walked "I'm sorry Brock, I know you and your team were looking forward to the chance to use The Asset in the field, but the risk...containment would be unmanageable I think you'll agree. But maybe in six months or so we can re-assess."

Nope. That was not an option he was willing to live with.

"Of course sir." Well, what else could he say. 'How about I take him off your hands for a while. Show him a good time'...He felt ill all of a sudden. "Sir, what about Sarkissian? She seemed pretty confident that she'd gain control of The Asset after today's meeting."

Pierce all but rolled his eyes. "Yes, well what Ophelia believes and the reality of the situation are two very different things. What she's located is nothing more than a highly intelligent AI, probably no more advanced than that JARVIS system Stark's developed.The fact that it believes it's the original Arnim Zola is by the by."

Well that was - interesting...

"Even if it was the man himself, Hydra has moved on, we've evolved. The last thing the new heads would do is cave to the whims of a single man, never mind how brilliant. Whitehall learned that years ago. But this AI could be almost as useful a tool as The Asset if it can be controlled. So we go take a meeting, pander to its artificial ego and regardless of the outcome we will still make the decisions based on what's best for the whole of Hydra."

Brock was still trying to get his head around Zola being a computer. "And that is Sir?"

"Project Insight of course." Pierce smiled. "If anything hopefully Ophelia's little revelation will make it even more feasible. From what I understand Zola, any version of him, loves a challenge."

There it was, regardless of what side he'd come down on Brock still had to wait until after the run out to New Jersey to get a proper lay of the land. He knew Pierce's aims. Now it was time to go hear the counter offer. And more importantly what he was actually expected to do for his pay and privileges. He had a lady to pay a call on.

They were outside of Pierce's office door by now. The Hydra leader opened the door, then paused before going inside. "Could you go bring our guest up to speed? I have to go explain to Nato and the UN why I'm going to be at least 2 hours late for a range of closed door meetings on an international crisis."

Well that seemed convenient. Was his boss giving him enough rope to hang himself with here? Pierce had already walked into the office. Brock doubted that even someone of Pierce's undeniable skill could handle Hydra, an alien god, Nick Fury's pet superheroes on the loose and the workings of international security while also subtly laying a trap for his head of Special Ops.

Rumlow was just being paranoid. However even he would admit that standing outside the office for the last few minutes to think all this through might not have been the least suspicious thing he could'a done.

He turned smartly on his heel and marched down the hall to the guest suit where Viper was being quartered. Zola couldn't be her only play right? She had to have something she hadn't outright told Pierce, some other card hiding up her sleeve. She was pretty much known for it. He reached the door and knocked. It opened after just the first hit of his fist and...

Holy Shit. What was she wearing?

And who had opened the door if she was sat way over there?

"Please come in Brock."

Rumlow turned back to the door, now closing behind him, to see some sort of electromagnetic device hooked up the the door handle. There was a remote in her hand.

Who the hell travels with that kinda shit?

The same type of person who occasionally cosplays as the Black Widow apparently.

Viper was perched on the side of her bed, surrounded by an array of open files and documents, and an open laptop showing all the bases security feeds (of course). But the most attention grabbing part of the picture was the black cat suit and red wig combo she was currently wearing.

She waved him forward without looking up from her reading. "You like?"

She looked hot. And deadly. And possibly a little more dangerous than Romanoff with her extra height. Brock more than liked, but he was guessing she already knew that. And yeah the red hair really suited her. "You some sort of assassin fan girl or something?"

She finally raised her eyes from the documents around her to give him an amused look. "Let's just say that Natasha has a certain appeal that I wish to embody."

Brock couldn't argue with that but Viper had plenty of appeal of her own. Both of them were terrifying. Whatever this was about he didn't think it had anything to do with him so he brushed it off and set about doing what he'd come here to do, both officially and unofficially. "Pierce wants me to bring you up to speed on the Loki situation."

She again looked up from her reading--Brock had to wonder what was so fascinating--and considered him for a moment. "How kind of Alex, but my own people have already bought me up to speed on developments. The Tesseract is still missing I believe?"

Her people were clearly more informed than he was. Shit. This was either a very good thing or a very bad thing, Brock's see-sawing loyalties couldn't quite make up their mind.

She raised one immaculate eyebrow at him, "Is that all you came here for Agent Rumlow?"

Brock raised a hand, first pointing to his ear and then pointing up.

She turned to face him, closing the file and crossing her leather-clad legs. "We're totally private here if that's what you were asking?"

Brock rolled his eyes. She knew it was. He found himself starting to pace. Moving always helped him get his thoughts in order.

Well fuck, here goes everything. "So I've got three questions I need answering. No bullshit this time." He held up a finger. "How would it work? You, me and him?" He raised the neighbouring digit. "Second. How the hell are you going to take him away from Pierce? He doesn't give a shit about Zola's say so, he's sure he needs The Asset for Project Insight, and that could take years. He's not letting him go without a fight." He added a final finger. "And third, if you can manage to pull all that off, what the hell do you need me and my men for?"

"I thought we'd already dealt with this Agent Rumlow."

Her too observant eyes were now locked on to his own.

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't a strong maybe, but I don't do anything without all the information. Period."

She nodded at him. "Fair." She paused for a moment. "Do you know why I joined Hydra, Brock?"

If he'd've known they were heading back into storytime he would have bought snacks. "I'm sure you'll enlighten me."

This earns Brock a wicked smile followed by a slow uncrossing of the legs. And just to make sure she has his undivided attention the bitch adds in leaning forward with arms resting on thighs, giving him an eyefull of her exceptionally generous cleavage. Romanoff never has her zip down that low. He'd correct her on that inaccuracy, but he doesn't hate himself enough for that. Not yet anyway.

"Equality and Hope."

What was that?

Her smile grew into something downright scary. "I was a little naive I admit. But it was 1941 and I was trying to avoid an arranged marriage and continue the education my family refused to let me have. A local scientist, a kind man, taught me in secret. We pretended I was doing his housekeeping. Instead I was studying everything I could find. With his help I soon surpassed him. He was even proud of me, imagine that. Then he was recruited by Hydra and left. I was devastated. Wedding plans were made, I gave up on the life I had dreamed of. Then Hydra came and got me. My mentor had said enough to convince them to take a woman. And one with no formal qualifications at that. Hydra saved me from that empty existence, and I learned so much, more than I'd ever dreamed. It's hardly surprising that I became well, let's call a spade a spade shall we, a bit of a fanatic."

Brock went and found a bit of wall to lean on, this was definitely going to take a while.

"Yet here we are over 70 years later and we're no closer to bringing about that vision of a better world then we were when I first joined Hydra. I think you'd agree that I'm one of the few people with the correct perspective to make that judgement."

Okay she had a point there.

Oh, she was waiting for him to... fine. He nodded grudgingly.

"So when I tell you that I, along with several other heads of Hydra, feel that with the organisation's less than stellar historical reputation, announcing ourselves with the death of millions maybe isn't the best way to go about it, you'll take that into account?" She leaned back on her arms and Brock barely noticed what this did to her chest and back.

Well, he did say barely.

Millions?

"Ah, I can see you didn't know about Insight."

He needed to guard his reactions better or this negotiation was going to be over before it even began. And of course he knew about Insight...

"Of course I know about Insight. Fury's pet project that Pierce intends to hijack."

"Almost right - that Pierce intends to hijack and use."

Brock almost scoffed until he realised she was deadly serious. "On who?"

"Why on every one who could be a threat to Hydra. But Alex isn't content to remove current threats, no he thinks he needs to take out even potential enemies. And with Zola on board he might even be able to do it. Johann would be proud."

She sounded fairly disgusted. Maybe she and the Skull hadn't been doing it after all. That would be a huge blow to the Hydra Water Cooler brigade, that rumour was one of their favourites.

Brock wasn't sure how to feel about that. Hydra's enemies had to be dealt with some way sure, but there was coercion, and he knew that there were other forms of mind alteration in the works at both Hydra and SHIELD that you didn't need to be a supersoldier to survive.

"So what's your counter-proposal?" And when are you gonna answer my damn questions?

Viper looked at him with a focus that made Brock more than a little uneasy, he was man enough to admit. "We use Insight as a nuclear option. Fire it once here in the US, show what its capabilities are, kill tens of thousands, but far fewer than Alex is proposing, have the right people in the right places elsewhere, seize a few key figures and most importantly have a carrot equal in size to our stick."

"Madripoor." Suddenly it all started to make sense to Brock. "You never expected Zola to give you what you wanted did you?"

The smile Viper sent his way seemed almost genuine this time. That made Brock even more uncomfortable.

"That's a relief, I was beginning to fear you actually were as dumb as you look." And the bitch was back. Thank god, it wouldn't do to actually start liking the woman. Best to keep it strictly business. Until it wasn't.

He decided to be the 'bigger man'. "So what exactly do you expect to walk away with from this mornings' escapade?"

Those long PVC-clad legs crossed again and Brock found himself watching them instead of her face. He had to stop doing that. He knew she was doing it on purpose.

"Well, while Arnim and I were never exactly close I do garner his respect as an expert in my field. He values my work. So while Alex will undoubtedly get his way in regard to Insight I expect Arnim will try to placate me. I expect nothing less than full, uncontested custody of The Asset after Alex has finished making his play. After all, when he can wipe out whole cities at the flick of a switch, what possible real use could he have for a single agent, never mind how skilled?"

Guess that goes doubly for me and the rest of STRIKE.

Rumlow had thought they'd still be required to put down the most vocal dissenters, those for whom even the threat of annihilation wasn't enough of an incentive to 'shut the hell up already'. But if Pierce was going to fire... Brock wasn't all that interested in an early retirement. What exactly would he do with himself? Take up chess? Get a dog? Not his thing. That job offer was starting to look better by the minute. "So the team and I get thrown in as an added extra?"

"If that's what you want. The incentives package, even that awaiting your men, is more than generous."

So they were finally getting to it.

"When I hold up Madripoor as the shining light of Hydra's offering to those who cooperate with the change in leadership, we'll be a prime target for retaliation. Even with the Insight carriers' proposed sub-orbital capabilities they can only cover one continent at a time. Regardless, I'm determined to make sure we'll never be seen as a soft target, ever. I need time to prepare the island, but more than that I need total control to shape its defences the way I deem necessary."

Brock was confused, he thought she was already in charge of the weirdly advanced South-East Asian back-water. "I thought you were already top dog?"

She let out an aggrieved sigh. "Hardly. I'm the elected Chancellor, it's not a bad job to have, but despite multiple re-elections to the post the ruling families still won't name me Prince, even though the post is currently vacant. They still have some 'quaint' traditions despite being unconventional in every other respect. To have total rule I'm required to have a husband."

Brock tensed and his throat felt suddenly, painfully dry.

"Oh, don't flatter yourself. You'd hardly pass muster. They require someone with the type of reputation that will make their rougher denizens sit up, take notice and take orders. High Town might love me, but the Low Town low-lives require a different approach to win them over."

A reputation that instils fear and respect, like the one a certain ghost assassin had built up over the past 50 years. "You want to marry The Soldier?"

Now that was a match made in Hydra heaven. He hoped that hadn't sounded as incredulous coming out of his mouth as it had been ringing round his head.

"Want is maybe too strong a word, but he's the best possible candidate. And I'd be marrying James Barnes. Oddly for a pirate nation they insist on everything being legal in this case. I'd need you there to witness and verify his true identity in order for the ceremony to go ahead. And to help him remain calm during proceedings. It wouldn't do for the groom to snap and start killing my dignitaries."

Well it was going to be a memorable wedding whatever way you looked at it.

What would that make him? Some sort of Royal mistress? Hell no.

"And I suppose it is the done thing to marry the father of your children. You can only buck convention for so long, pardon my pun."

That bought Brock's train of thought about his potential emasculation grinding to a halt. Kids... She wanted. With The Soldier. Well, they'd be stunning. And damn it, he actually loved kids. Being Uncle Brock to his sister's brood was one of the joys of his life. He'd just never wanted ones of his own. His preferred lifestyle just didn't have room for them. This could be the ideal compromise. He wasn't a relationship guy. He didn't see white picket fences and family outings in his future regardless of the sex of the person he was fucking. However...

"You with kids. Sorry if I find that hard to picture."

"I'm a geneticist, and the genetic potential of our children would be unparalleled if our enhancements are in fact transferable to our offspring. Arnim is most keen to find out, as am I. That alone would be enough incentive, but once Hydra have succeeded and created the world I've been working towards for over three-quarters of a century there's nothing I'd like to do more."

Brock almost believed her too. Fancy that. "So what? We take turns playing housewife and nursemaid to our amnesiac super assassin and your super sprogs between running a country and fighting off outside attacks?"

"Don't forget internal challenges. But, yes. Does that really sound so terrible?"

It sounded near fucking perfect, and from the self-satisfied look on her near perfect face he could tell she knew that without even asking, so fuck her if she expected him to admit that.

"I still don't see how I fit into that 'happy family' picture you're painting there." He wouldn't end up being a glorified baby-sitter, to any damn kids or The Soldier, never mind how good the sex turned out to be.

"So you're saying that Supreme General of Madripoor, a palace with servants and being second in command to a Head of Hydra aren't enough of an incentive?" Fucking hell, was she teasing him? That was just...weird.

"Humour me." If his delivery had been any drier there would be forest fires breaking out.

She rolled her eyes. "We'd be a 'V' or whatever the term is they use these days. Shared custody if you will. As I said we start with the Oxytocin to facilitate a bond between the two of you. Another one of my requests to 'alleviate my disappointment' will be to piggyback a quick mission onto the back of Alex's jaunt to India. Madripoor's not too far away after all. So I get chance to get a few things rolling, you boys get some extra time to bond and James becomes familiar with the island and the players involved..."

Brock opened his mouth to interject but a raised hand stopped him.

"...which he'll remember, as my final demand before I'll concede defeat to Pierce will be that The Soldier is allowed to retain his memory of all his missions from this point forwards. I'll need your support on that one. Arnim agrees in principal, but we'll need to force Alex to try a different approach than that used so successfully by the Russians for so long. The Winter Soldier was always supposed to be a tool carefully bent into shape, not one constantly broken and reforged. He's our only success from decades of research. Well, unless you count those maniacs Stark's formulation produced."

What? Tony Stark was involved with supersoldier research? Or did she mean his long-deceased old man? There had been other supersoldiers? Where the hell were they now? His head was starting to hurt, but with a mission in a few short hours he couldn't even grab a drink to dull it all. Yeah it was early, but it was always 5pm somewhere right?

Brock closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "So...?"

"So Agent Rumlow, he remembers you, remembers working with you, trusting you and having you fight his corner. From there on in it's all about increments. We start slowly and escalate until sex is the inevitable next step. It's amazing how quickly one can adapt to a new normal, no matter how undesirable it might have appeared at the onset."

Brock wasn't exactly thrilled at her phrasing but he understood the logic. But such adaptation had to have an incentive driving it, something as primal as a desire to keep on living or the like.

"And he'd 'adapt to me' because?"

"Because I'll ask him to Agent Rumlow." So it was as simple as that was it?

"You're hot, don't get me wrong, but even if you were the world's greatest lay I doubt that would be enough to make it more than a one-time thing. And if you're gonna keep wiping him so he keeps on thinking it's a one-time thing that's going to get real old real fast. Plus you said no more wipes."

She stood up and walked over to stand in front of him, reaching out a finger to run it along his collar.

Brock swallowed hard.

"I am pretty damn good. Practise really does make perfect in this case. But I meant what I said, I want to stop the wipes. We could hardly escalate things if I did. Lets just say I have some strategies in place to make sure that he'll want to do everything in his power to make me happy, even before I become his lawful wife and mother of his children. And I'll make clear that making you happy makes me happy. Just expect to do most, if not all, of the work the first few times out, and you won't find yourself too disappointed." She stepped in closer to his body at that. "I'm sure we can come up with a way to sooth your ego if the initial rejections sting a little."

Brock could feel his pulse picking up speed. He needed to get away before the inevitable happened. He shifted to the side, but she simply moved in closer, her upper thigh getting more than friendly with his groin. Her finger moved on to the skin of his neck.

"We can start out with you watching the two of us kiss, seeing what a pretty picture we make...Can you see it Brock?" Yes he could, in technicolour. Christ, with how worked up he'd been this past few days, the physical contact alone was getting him excited embarrassingly fast.

Her mouth moved next to his ear. Her voice softened and it had the opposite effect on his anatomy. "Then I call you over, you take a seat on the side of the bed closest to him. He'll be used to you by then, you've watched us before, touched him before, kissed him before. I keep him distracted while you come closer, you shuffle up close to that beautiful back while I kiss along his neck," her lips skated over his skin, barely touching, "I move back to capture his mouth and yours takes my place on his throat, my fingers are in his hair, pulling his head back, forcing his chin up and exposing the full length of it for you".

Brock's eyes have fallen closed, his pants now straining to contain the erection she's worked him up into and she's barely gotten started. She hadn't even moved her leg. Fuck this wasn't fair.

"Then I straddle those powerful thighs, pop open the button on his fly and reach in taking a firm hold, get him hard and aching while you kiss down his spine and we work together to get rid of those pesky last items of clothing, his and ours. And then I reach back and start, ever so slowly, opening him up between kisses, caresses and long, deep-throated sucks that drive him mad, until he's on the brink and any rational thought is a memory," her hand skimmed down the front of his shirt until it was resting on the prominent bulge in the front of Brock's combat pants, "then I pull him down over me, onto his hands and knees for you, line him up beautifully so that when you finally sink into him he enters me too in one single, hard, thrust". Her nails scratch over him lightly and to his eternal shame his body convulses into orgasm and he's gasping for air. She still hasn't even moved a muscle. Shit, if this all goes up in flames maybe she'll still be up for phone sex. He'd be willing to pay.

"You can have all that Brock, I just need to know where the book is?"

"What book?" Why were they talking about books after just doing that?

She stroked him lightly through his pants. "Red cover with a black star, from the Russians."

"Doesn't ring a bell. There were no books in anything I've seen." Why was he telling her all this? He'll blame the lack of blood currently in his brain...

She stepped back and looked upset for a moment, but the emotion vanished almost before it had appeared. "No matter it was just a contingency plan, someone in Department X must have kept it. As long as it's not in Alex's hands..."

Oh fuck it, he'd made his decision, time to man up and admit it. "If he had it I'd've seen it."

She looked him in the eye, coldly and clinically, and totally as if they hadn't just shared a NSFW moment a matter of seconds ago. "Does this mean we now have an actual deal?"

Brock returned the assessing stare. "Things have changed. I need proof that this Oxytocin shit works the way you claim - before we get to Jersey. If it works I back your play when we get there. And once you get what you promised from this meeting with Zola, then and only then do we have a deal."

Hand found hip and a firm nod followed from the temporary red-head. "Not quite. I have a new condition of my own."

She turned and walked back to the bed, pulling off the wig and releasing her own eye-catchingly green hair from its confinement. Brock couldn't help but watch her move. She was a fighter, she had to be. She carried herself like one. Maybe she could take him.

Viper picked up what looked like a tablet from on top of the covers and walked back towards Brock. He hoped this would be quick. He was starting to get mighty uncomfortable.

"I need a piece of SHIELD tech. It's still in approval stage. Fully operational but not yet in production. There are only a few units presently in existence and they are all in this lab in the Triskelion." She handed over the tablet which showed a fabric mesh of some sort, along with a serial number and shots of the lab housing the technology. Fury and Hill would blow a gasket if they realised how much intelligence escaped their fortress of silence each and every day.

"Get that for me and then we have an iron clad agreement."

Brock snorted. Child's play. Files would be tricky, but a physical item, that would be easy. "Yeah, no problem. You'll get it."

She smiled. Hopefully one day he'd find it slightly less terrifying. "We'll shake on it over champagne and signatures once both sides have delivered then. That includes your men Agent Rumlow. The details of their offers are also on there. I'm trusting you to keep it secure." Brock nodded. It would be an interesting de-briefing for sure.

She looked down pointedly at his crotch. "I'm sure you're eager to address your situation, but spare me just one more moment." Brock shifted under the scrutiny and instantly wished he hadn't.

Viper turned and opened a drawer. Reaching in she seemed to pull something from the top interior surface rather than taking something out of the drawer itself. Simple but effective if what you were hiding was thin, flat, and could be easily camouflaged.

She returned carrying a stack of the clear drug dispensing films she'd shown him the night before and shuffled through them. How she could tell them apart was anyone's guess. There were no marking that he could see. But after a moment she found what she was after and held one of the adhesive patches out to him. "Place this in your palm and make sure you make skin contact with our Soldier for at least a six count, with eye contact. Make it an affectionate gesture if you can. This initial dose is fairly heady so I'd recommend doing it well before we get close to Jersey so Alex doesn't notice any behavioural anomalies."

Brock took the film rectangle from her and looked at the small oval patch sitting on it. Weird to think something that innocent looking could impact someone as powerful as The Winter Soldier when normally it took a combination of serious voltage, ice, drugs, guns and reinforced shackles to control him. But he'd seen it. At least he thought he had. Time to try it out for himself and find out if this fantasy she'd spun had legs.

He carefully placed it in one of his pants pockets, fastening it up securely. "Right, I guess the next few hours will decide it."

The perma-smile transformed into a smirk. "Indeed it will. Until eleven hundred then." With that she returned to her original position on the bed and to her research. "I'm sure you can show yourself out."

Brock was too eager to get out of there to bother taking offence at the casual dismissal. He strode out of the room, leaving the door open behind him (her doohickey could deal with it) and almost jogged down the hallway. He needed to get his kit together, brief his men and then get to The Asset. He needed this to work. But first, before all of that, he needed a damn change of underwear.

Chapter Text

A change of clothing had worked wonders for Brock's mental clarity. But sadly it had still taken him until he'd changed and stepped into the briefing room with his team to realise what the files Viper had been examining had to have been.

Crap.

Best keep this short.

His style had always been direct, brief and to the point. There was a reason it was called 'a briefing', right? But even for him this was a new personal best in word economy. He'd pretty much told them to maintain a safe distance from The Asset, keep him covered, watch for outside threats and not to shoot themselves or Hydra's irreplaceable living weapon. Not unless there was no other choice, and they should probably consider shooting themselves first FYI.

Brock virtually sprinted out of the room and into the vacant office that had fast been becoming one of his favourite places. Right up until this precise moment that is.

He jumped on to the desk, quickly flicking out his knife and removing the cover from the air vent. He reached into the duct, and sure enough the file folders featuring everything the Russians had given them on The Winter Soldier (though not everything they had apparently) were missing. Viper was probably pissing herself watching this right now. Brock was fuming. She must've known he'd figure it out. Bitch.

He re-secured the vent. He'd still deliver on his end like the professional he was, but this stunt was going to cost her. He just needed to work out where, when and how best to strike back.

He hopped down. At least he now just had prepping The Asset on his docket. That would help his turn his frown upside-down. It was also time to see if making his deal with the (she)Devil would be worth all this life-shortening stress he was being subjected to.

Brock stowed the knife back in one of his pants pockets and opening up a different one, removed the Oxytocin imbued film. He peeled the oval patch off the backing plastic, and after a moment of deliberation pressed the adhesive side down onto his left palm, careful not to disturb the protective layer still covering the contact side as he secured it into position. Then off came the protective cover. He looked towards the trash can before re-considering and putting the materials securely back in his pocket. Best to leave as small a footprint as possible from this point forward.

He took a deep breath, held it to the count of three, and then released it slowly. He turned opened the door and walked out the office and towards the Asset's room, being careful to keep his left arm loose at his side and hand unclenched. No good doing all this only to accidentally dose himself.

He arrived at the Asset's holding room and punched in the door code. A moment later a green light flashed and granted him entry. Time to see if his luck was about to improve.

He pulled the reinforced door open and stepped inside.

Dammit.

The whole science team was inside.

Brock released the breath that had caught in his chest. What the hell was wrong with him?

He was Brock Rumlow, Navy Seal, SHIELD STRIKE commander and Hydra agent. He was the Winter Fucking Soldier's handler to boot. He was literally a signature away from owning the ass of everyone in this room.

Time to start damn acting like it.

"Why's he not ready to go?" The Soldier was still strapped into the chair, barefoot and still in the loose-fitting sleepwear, Brock had seen him in almost 5 hours before. He'd admit he liked the sight; but what had the hell had the tech's been up to that The Asset still wasn't dressed?

The three scientists all looked at each other, willing one of the other's to answer him on this occasion.

It was Johnson who finally took the plunge. "Umm, Sir, he were told you would be briefing The Asset, for the mission."

Brock didn't even bother to contain his frustration, "That's what I'm here to do. Why isn't he geared up?"

"Because we weren't told it was required?" Johnson looked apologetic even as he said it.

"It should have been too damn obvious to require you being told!" Brock knew he was on the verge of yelling and that wouldn't get him anywhere. "Where's his kit?"

"Umm, over there, Sir." Collins, no surprise he'd try and suck up right now.

Brock focused on The Asset, but tried not to let his gaze go where it wanted to, "Get dressed, I'll brief you on the way. This won't be an active engagement mission, more of an offsite debrief.

The Asset nodded an acknowledgement but didn't move. "Sir?" He looked down at the restraints confining him to the diagnostic chair.

Shit, how did Brock keep forgetting just how scared everyone else was of The Soldier? His own reactions were now such the polar opposite, it was interfering with his ability to predict behaviour. Not great for a strategist. "Get him lose of that, will you, please."

The scientists all scrambled to be the first to hit the release switch, it would have been funny - except Hydra was supposed to be better than this. Brock looked back at The Asset. He deserved better than this.

The second the restraints released, The Soldier was in motion, moving towards the pile of black that must be his Tactical suit and various accessories. He wouldn't get weapons for this mission. Brock would have to wait a bit longer to experience that thrill.

The Soldier suddenly started stripping off, and Brock realised he was about to get an altogether different type of thrill. One he did not want an audience for. "You three, you're no longer required here. Get out."

The scientists seemed happy to be dismissed. They were out the door just as the Asset was pulling down his boxer briefs, and any doubt Brock might have had up to that point about how much he desired the man in front of him vanished as he took in the bare, beautifully muscled expanse of skin, merging into gleaming, brutal metal, powerful thighs and an ass that Brock had to stop himself from reaching for.

He couldn't afford to react with so many eyes in the sky watching him. But he both wanted to turn away and for the man in front of him to turn around. Instead he was both disappointed and relieved when the replacement underwear was pulled into place, swiftly followed by heavy duty black pants and a form-fitting shirt.

He suddenly remembered that he wasn't just here for the show. The Soldier had already picked up his uniform jacket - Brock's window for skin-to-skin contact was closing. "Hey, let me help you with that. Can't be easy getting it on over the arm."

He hadn't meant it as an order, but The Soldier clearly took it as one, pausing until Brock came over and handing the jacket over to him without prompting.

Careful not to dislodge the film device on his palm, he held the jacket open while The Soldier carefully guided his mechanical arm through the left sleeve. Brock took his opportunity. He took hold of The Asset's right forearm and squeezed gently as he guided it into the other sleeve.

He only made it to a 3 count and he hadn't managed the eye contact. Fuck!

He quickly shifted his hand to grasp The Asset's shoulder under the jacket, locking on to his light blue eyes and trying to make this look a natural part of getting the jacket in place and the various buckles and straps sorted out. He held on for a count of 4, just in case, before letting go and starting to fasten the buckles on the front, more to keep his hands busy while he waited to see the effect the Oxytocin would have, if any.

He noticed that The Asset had started following the motion of his hands as he fastened each buckle moving up the bottom of the jacket towards the top. Shit this was fiddly, maybe he'd recommend poppers for the next one.

Suddenly The Asset's right hand reached out to touch his, stilling them. Brock looked up. The Soldier moved his hand away. Brock was disappointed. Even more so when the words "I can do that, Sir" were the only thing spoken.

Brock tried not to let it sting. Viper had said give him some autonomy, guess this was as good a way as any to start. "I know you can do it, Soldier. Are you saying you want to do it?"

The Asset met his gaze with more determination than Brock had seen in those eyes before. "Yes, Sir. I want to do it."

Well wasn't that something. Brock raised his hands and stepped away. "Then by all means." He could be patient.

The Asset quickly finished doing up the fastenings, before adding a harness and picking up what looked to be a half-face mask.

Guess that's one way to keep his identity secret, Brock supposed, but hardly subtle. He wondered if that was what Viper wanted the SHIELD prototype for.

The mask and a set of dark, protective glasses went on, and Brock missed looking at that face almost instantly.

Brock turned towards the door, "Follow me, Soldier." He walked out without checking that The Asset was following him, he knew he would be.

They made it a few feet up the corridor, when surprisingly The Asset, spoke unprompted, "Sir, when will I be deployed?"

Brock stopped and turned around to face The Soldier, who'd paused the same moment he had. "Why, you getting a little antsy? I never like too much downtime either."

The Asset half-nodded before realising that probably wasn't the correct reaction. "No, Sir I just want to be as useful as possible to Hydra. Help give people their freedom back."

It was goddamn adorable. The Winter Soldier was bored.

"Sure, Kid. That's what we all want." He started walking and signalled that The Asset should now walk alongside. "Don't worry, we'll have you out in the field soon, and if today goes well, I'm sure we'll be keeping you occupied." Brock had plenty of ideas about how he'd like to do that, and the list was growing by the moment.

He led them towards the Bank's underground loading dock. They arrived to see Jack, Dix and Sanchez doing last minute checks on weapons and equipment in front of the closed doors of a heavily armoured bank truck. Brock received acknowledgements from his men and enjoyed the looks of surprise and slight awe on their faces as they took in the lethal-looking figure accompanying him. His Soldier looked intimidating as hell right now.

He turned to The Asset, "Wait here". Then, made his way over to Rollins. "Everything on schedule?"

Rollins looked up from checking his gun. "Of, course." He waited a beat before adding a half-sarcastic, "Sir". He gestured with his head to the truck, "But there's something in there you're probably want to see".

He walked Brock over the the truck and pulled open the double doors. There were an impossibly cumbersome set of metal leg restraints welded in place, and what looked to be a chest bar with arms restraints attached. It looked absurd. Brock looked back at The Asset - it probably needed to be.

"I don't think that's necessary." He glanced back in The Asset's direction.

Rollin's shrugged, "Not our call. Pierce says we need The Asset to stress test them in case they are needed for 'You Know Who'"

"Sure. Why do they even let us make plans? They always have to overcomplicate it somehow." He wasn't happy about this, but there was nothing he could do about it. He'd have to be the one to secure The Asset, as well. Shit.

Rollins nodded his agreement. "Wouldn't do for us to forget our place in the grand scheme, would it?"

Brock shot him a side look, "I thought Hydra was all about opportunity and making things work?" He might as well start laying the groundwork with his men, just in case things actually went to plan today.

Rollins clapped him on the shoulder, "Sure, Brock. Those who want it bad enough, can get anything they need in Hydra." He looked over at The Soldier, "Speaking of, I'm going to check on the other transport, I'll leave you to get the guest of honour settled in, all snug like."

Brock froze. Dixon, Sanchez - one of them had said something to the rest of the team.

Chances were, Rollins was just yanking his chain. He trusted the team with his life and this being heard by the higher-ups could cost him that. His guys knew not to let that happen, if they believed it or not. They'd all been through hell for each other. They all apparently knew about Dixon's preferences and seemed not to give two shits. And as for it being who it was, as Dix had said, they probably wouldn't begrudge him the 'privileges of rank'.

He thought over Rollins words. At worst it was a friendly warning that he should maybe aim to earn greater access to The Soldier, and that was exactly what he had planned. This might actually make Viper's proposal an easier sell to the guys. He was worrying more than he needed to. Though he wasn't quite sure how he felt about his team 'knowing' something he'd not yet admitted out loud.

He went over to the bench that was temporarily standing in as a personal locker, and picked up his holster. The Asset might not be going in armed today, but he and his men most certainly would be. He looped the cross straps over his shoulders, closed the fastenings, picked up his side arm, checked the safety and stowed it. Then he went to check on Hydra's greatest weapon.

How The Soldier could stand that still was a turn on in and of itself. "Did you catch any of that?"

"No, Sir." The mask muffled his voice slightly, but not enough for Brock not to hear the slight indecision in his reply.

"Soldier?"

"I heard some of it, Sir. Not enough context for understanding it though." Well, that was a relief. The Asset was also a little more expressive since the Oxytocin shot, Brock was noticing.

"That's not important, the gist is that we need you to test some equipment for us en route. Come with me, we'll get you loaded in. We roll out in 5 minutes."

He led The Soldier to the rear of the van. As soon as The Asset saw the shackles he stopped in his tracks. He turned to Brock. "Sir, am I being detained?"

He was definitely being more expressive, him being locked-down tight and unable to do much for the duration other than strength test the restraints might actually be a blessing in disguise. It might help keep this new spurt of personal growth under wraps for a bit longer. "No, nothing like that, we need you to try and see if you can break out of them, and no time like the present. Not as though there's much else to do on the journey. No point in as all being bored and useless, right?" It was impossible to see if his words had reassured The Soldier or not, with the mask and glasses in place, but he did climb into the van and sit in the required spot.

Brock took a moment to examine the mechanisms and spotted a print scanner. He placed his thumb on the panel and sure enough the bar swung into place, the leg restraints closed with a hydraulic hiss and the manacles snapped open. A two stage release, smart. He signalled for The Soldier to place his arms in the cuffs, which he did, if with an obviously lack of enthusiasm. Brock had to bite back a smile.

"Ho-ly Cow, and my Birthday's not until next week, you shouldn't have!"

A second print scan locked the arm device with a click.

"What is it, Dix?"

"Huh? Just one more second, I need to appreciate this BDSM fantasy come to life."

"Now, Dixon." Brock's tone made it abundantly clear, how little patience he had left.

"Understood. Davis says that The Secretary, Dr Johnson and their guests are ready to depart, shall I give them the green light?"

Davis had been steering clear from the team drama for the last couple of days, Brock had always known he was the sensible one. "Yes, tell Davis to head out, we'll be two minutes behind as planned." The dignitaries, the lesser of the two 'Science Weevils' and two of Viper's 'honour guard' (along with Davis) were going ahead in some tricked out SUVs, while the remaining STRIKE members and the 3rd of Viper's men on base, Kahn, were in the truck with The Asset.

The trip was going to take just over 4 hrs with good traffic, and good traffic never happened around here. Brock had wanted to have Kahn and Dixon in the cab for the duration, but now he was reconsidering. Maybe if he gave Dix a little leeway he'd help bring Sanchez firmly on side. Rollins would be simple and he was sure Davis, as practically minded as he was, would be up for anything with better benefits. Dix and Sanchez were, and had always been, a bit of a double act. Tom Dixon signing up would pretty much guarantee Rick Sanchez backing a plan. And watching the Winter Soldier strain at his bonds for the next 4 hours should be a good way to entice Tom Dixon to sign on the dotted line.

"Comms check."

"Channel One, clear," Davis.

"Channel Two, clear," Jack.

"Channel Three, clear," Dix.

"Channel Four, clear," Sanchez.

"Confirmed. Slight change of plans, Sanchez you drive. Dixon, you're in the back with me and Rollins."

Dix looked surprised, the pleased and jumped up in the back and took the seat opposite The Asset. He clearly wanted the best seat in the house. Brock sat down on the bench to the Asset's left side and a moment later Rollins jumped in, looked at the three occupants with a 'why me?' expression, and took the last remaining space along the side. Brock would probably owe him a drink or four before this was done.

"Right, STRIKE, let's roll." He heard the engine rumble to life and then they were moving.

There was the mechanical rumble of the various doors and gates opening and closing as they inched forwards. Then he felt the friction of them hitting the road and the acceleration of the gas pedal going down. He glanced sideways to find Dix unapologetically staring at The Soldier who was quietly straining against his bonds as ordered.

Rollins gave them all one long exasperated look and stuck in his headphones and closed his eyes. He was probably listening to some cheesy thriller on audiobook.

Brock settled back and tried to relax, but whether it was discomfort over Dix, or his worries about what would happen when they arrived in Jersey, he realised every moment of the next few hours was going to be miserable for him. He glanced over at the The Soldier. He needed to make sure it was all worth it. Whatever it took to make this work, with Viper or without, he'd do it.

Chapter Text

Yes, he was in Hell. Transit Hell. And maybe he deserved it?

They'd been stuck in traffic for 30mins, at least. Barely moved a mile. They'd managed a clear run for the first 3 hours but now they were virtually stationary. And the Asset was performing beautifully as always, which meant that after almost 4 hours of throwing his strength against the best that Hydra engineering (he assumed) had to offer, he was, for the first time since Brock had known him, starting to show some signs of exertion.

His rate of breathing had increased behind the mask, and beads of sweat had started to form at his temples. Brock couldn't take his eyes away from the sight.

Brock looked over and saw Dix was bent almost double, leaning in towards the soldier, his hands locked in what had to be a painfully hard grip on his own thighs.

The first droplet of perspiration submitted to gravity and ran down the side of The Asset's face and under the mask. He heard a sharp intake of breath from Dix.

Brock was pretty sure bondage wasn't his thing, but it seemed to be one of Dix's many kinks and if this was doing a number on him, he didn't envy his team mate right now. Though, shooting Tom a quick look, the younger man almost seemed to be enjoying his own discomfort. So maybe that was another one. Another bead of sweat followed virtually the path of the first. Rumlow swallowed hard, throat suddenly dry.

The Soldier had to be hot wearing that mask. And tired and uncomfortable from the restraints. As a good handler he should do something about that.

He stood up, waited a moment in case their vehicle started moving again, and then stepped over to The Asset, careful not to step in the way of Dix's sight line - no need to antagonise him. The movement caught Jack's eye, who looked over, got the rough gist of what was happening, let out a huff, raised an eyebrow at Brock, pointedly turned up whatever he was listening to, and closed his eyes again. Yes, he owed Jack drinks, maybe a few month's worth.

He, removed the glasses first. The Soldier was looking up at him. No particular emotion in those steel blue eyes, just focus. He was waiting to see what happened next. Not a single muscle relaxed and there was barely a blink when another droplet of sweat ran from his forehead and down the bridge of him nose. This one at least trickled down the mask rather than slipping beneath.

"Lean your head forward." The Soldier complied and Brock began to undo the fastenings that held the mask (or muzzle) in place. "Not blocking your view am I, Dix?"

"No, still appreciating the scenery, Sir. Keep doing what you need to do."

The mask came off revealing the flushed, damp features of the most beautiful man Brock had ever seen up close. Or maybe the only man, he'd ever thought was beautiful. He still needed to work that out in his own head. Every tendon was tensed, even his jaw muscles as he still tried to complete the mission he'd been set - to break the restraints designed specifically to be unbreakable for him. The Asset's breathing seemed easier, and the momentary flicker of relief when the cooler air hit his face... Brock's throat went instantly dry.

Fuck.

He ducked down to reach into his mission pack and pulled out his hand towel and flask. He needed to take care of the kid, even if nothing else could... no good thinking about an sort of 'else' right here and now.

He opened the flask and tipping some water from the flask, dampened the the centre of the strip of the absorbent, fluffy fabric he always used to wipe himself down after workouts or missions. He gently patted down The Soldier's flushed face. The Kid's eyelids fell closed for a second as he reacted to the cool compress. Even that was enough to get Brock most of the way to hard. The focused gaze was back on him in an instant, and that completed the job. And he was still fighting the restraints.

Fuck, fuck, fucking, fuckity, fuck.

He held the flask close to The Asset's mouth. "Take five, and take a drink." Luckily The Asset seemed to understand. His entire frame relaxed and he matched Rumlow's movement perfectly when he touched the rim of the flask to The Asset' lips and tilted it slowly up until a small stream of water ran into his mouth and Brock could see him swallow, watching his Adam's Apple bob. Once, twice. Then he paused a second, reducing the angle. Allowing for a few full breathes to elapse. Then he tilted the flask up again, watching and waiting for another two shallow swallows to take place. He then pulled the flask away. A stray water droplet escaped from the corner of The Asset's lips and trickled down his jaw, chin, neck, clavicle.

If he wasn't mid-mission, Brock knew that nothing would have stopped him catching that drop right then and there with his tongue, and tracing it's path back upwards. And that would just be the start, Viper's plans be damned.

He glanced over at Dix...

...and finally admitted to himself that a full wipe of The Asset was probably unavoidable now if he was going to take his full STRIKE team with him, as Ophelia had suggested. He'd promised The Soldier, in his mind at least, that no more wipes would happen. But, as he looked at Dix, and evaluated his best options, and to be honest, his own desires, he knew no wipes wasn't a viable course of action any longer. He gave in...

He tipped the flask upwards again, giving The Soldier one last mouthful of lukewarm water. He over-poured on purpose. And this time, as the overspill ran down The Soldier's neck, Brock didn't restrain himself. He forcefully pushed a hand up under The Soldier's chin, forcing his head up, making every single muscle in that neck taught, and he licked upwards, slowly and with intent, from clavicle to the pulse point under The Asset's left ear and sucked. Brock watched as the tendons in The Asset's neck and jaw locked as his tongue progressed, it was almost instantaneous, but it just seemed like a challenge to him now.

Straddling The Soldier's legs, Brock collapsed his weight onto one solid thigh, rutting himself against the hard yet pliable muscle there. He bit at the beautifully sculpted neck he'd been mesmerised by for the past few days, and tangled his hands in The Soldier's now sweat-damp locks, kissing every inch of available skin within his reach while operating around the restraints. He rocked and ground his hips against the rock-hard muscle between his legs until he felt the familiar build of sensation that signalled his impending orgasm. He pulled back, and opened his eyes. This was a terrible idea, but he couldn't stop himself, not now. He glanced up and locked eyes with The Asset and all he saw there was disgust and betrayal. That wouldn't do. He picked up his pace, and reached forward, undoing The Soldier's fly and sliding his fingers through the zippered opening, he couldn't get past the underwear, not now, so he settled for rubbing and squeezing with intent. There's a grunt and groan behind him from Dixon, but it's background noise. It's the barely audible gasps from The Asset as Brock squeezes, stokes and paws at his crotch that does him in.

Brock cards his free hand through The Asset's dark chestnut locks, taking an assured grip, and pulling back firmly and exposing more of The Asset's throat to his lips. Biting, kissing and licking his way thoroughly down from that square jaw to the slightly too pronounced collar bone, all while he rocked back and forth against The Asset's leg. Suddenly the angle's changed, and he's tilted forwards, the pressure shifting in all the right ways. Brock hears himself groan and realises that Dix is at his back, has his back, and has lifted up The Asset's legs as far as they can go in the fucking annoying restraints, giving Brock room to shimmy his hips marginally closer towards The Asset's groin.

That's it. Now Brock could grind his dick up against the spot that's currently as close as he can get to that ass he's been dreaming about. His climax was coming, Brock knew it, and he grabbed at The Soldier, less gently than he'd hoped, not really caring that the bars of steel restraining his charge now bit into his stomach and chest regardless of how carefully he positioned his weight. The increasing tightness in his abdominal muscles meant only one thing...

Brock let out a ragged breath and shook himself out of his fantasy before he actually did explode. He was still standing above The Soldier. The trickle of water had reached The Asset's collar. He dabbed at it with the dry edge of the towel. He glanced over at Dix... the man had his eyes locked on Brock and The Asset, his mouth half open, virtually panting, and with his palm cupping his dick. That would do.

Brock ran his fingers through the slightly damp strands of hair above The Soldier's ear, pushing it back and tucking it neatly behind. The Solider looked at him again, mildly confused. Brock examined the leg shackles, he'd never have been able to fit his own leg between them. His imagination had taken a few liberties. More than a few. He's pretty certain that in reality The Soldier was likely to tear out of any grip on his hair and use his teeth to rip out the throat of anyone who tried to use him like that.

Brock wanted to do it Viper's way, he really did. But with Dix a consideration that wouldn't be possible, not yet at least. It was time to make a deal.

The truck lurched forwards and Brock grabbed hold of The Asset's shoulder to steady himself until it stopped a second or two later. Remembering Viper's instructions about control, affection and respect, he gently squeezed The Soldier's shoulder before letting go. "Thanks, Kid."

He dropped the damp towel on the empty span of bench seat at The Soldier's left side and turned to Rollins, who had his eyes open and was watching the three of them with a mix of curiosity and more than a hint of distaste. Brock was pretty sure that part was aimed at Dix not him - how long that would last once he read Jack in remained to be seen. It was going to be a unique test of their friendship, to be sure.

He signalled for Jack to remove his headphones and his 2IC complied.

"Jack, I need to borrow your music."

Rollins looked a little confused, but gathered the headphone wires up and held them, and the mp3 player they were attached to, out for Brock to take from him. Brock took the few steps forward this required. and took it into his possession with a nod of thanks. "You've got your spares, right?" Rollins was never unprepared, even when it came to entertainment.

Rollins rooted around in the pack by his feet and pulled out his personal phone with headphones wrapped neatly around it. "Yep, right here."

"Good, you might want those in a minute, but first we gotta talk."

He tapped the comm in his ear. "This is STRIKE leader, Cargo detail will be going off comms for 5. If you need anything in a crunch let Sanchez know up front."

A calm "Acknowledged, STRIKE leader," came from Davis, and Brock took out his ear piece. Jack's had been out from the start and Brock glanced over to see Dixon sitting up and removing his. Right. Just one last thing to do.

He took the few short steps back over to The Asset, scrolled through the playlist on Jack's ipod, selected something called Best of the 60s and hit play. He put one bud in his ear. The Who. Good enough. He placed the device down on the bench seat next to The Asset's right thigh. "Soldier, resume your mission." The metal of the restraints made an almost pained sound as The Soldier again tried to force them open. Brock held up the earbuds. "I'm going to put these in your ears for a bit, it's just music, but no lip reading, close your eyes until I remove them. Understood?" The Asset was usually kept pretty up to date with technology, but Brock had no idea what blank spots he might have.

"Yes, Sir. Understood."

Brock carefully inserted the ear buds, one after the other and The Asset seemed surprised, pleasantly surprised, at the music. He seemed to be enjoying it. Brock affectionately squeezed his shoulder. The Asset looked confused for a second and then shut his eyes, following the rest of his Commander's instructions.

Brock stepped away. "Asset, nod if you can hear me." There was no reaction from the super soldier in front of him. Perfect. Now, down to business.

"Just so you know, these next five minutes we're off the clock and off the record. Is that clear? You have permission to speak fucking freely."

Jack simply nodded and Dix looked delighted and sloppily saluted Brock.

Jack suddenly spoke up, "What's going on Brock? You've been acting off for days, and I thought I knew why. Dix tells me there's more to it and I ignore him, because Dix talks a lot of shit," the was a semi-offended 'Hey' from Dixon, "but I'm starting to think he's right on this one." He nodded at The Soldier. "You're sweet on him."

It wasn't a question, but Brock chose to treat it as one. "Yes, I am. You got a problem with that, Jack?"

Jack looked him in the eye for a few seconds, looking for something there - Brock didn't know quite what. Jack sighed. "Personally, no. I thought you had a type, guess your tastes are a little more broad than I expected, but hey, I'm a modern guy, so no big. But, professionally? Hell yes, Brock. I have a problem with this. And so will you if anyone catches you fondling The Fist of Hydra like he's your fucking Prom date."

Brock appreciated the concern. Rollins was calling him borderline unprofessional and he couldn't argue with that, but it came from years of friendship and having each other's back in life-and-death situations. Jack was angry he'd been kept in the dark. Brock could fix that.

"You're right. I'm sorry, Jack. I should have read you in earlier but this is a bit of a unique situation and there were things that I had to figure out first."

Dixon laughed, "Yeah, it took him a while to get a clue. I like to think I helped with that."

"Shut the hell up, Dix. Dixon's being an ass but he's right, it took me a while to get a fucking clue. This isn't anything I ever expected, so I had to get my head around it, but now this is me telling you."

Rollins nodded, pondering this for a second. "You always did like a challenge but this could get you dead Brock. No lay is worth that," he gestured towards The Asset, "only question is will it be him that kills you or Pierce. Hell, Pierce would probably command The Soldier to do it, so it'll be him regardless. But I know you well enough to know you gotta have a plan. So what is it? Lay it on me."

"Do we serve Pierce, or do we serve Hydra?" Brock asked his 2IC.

"Hydra. Heads come and go, Hydra survives."

Brock smiled, he'd guessed Jack's response right. "What about you, Dixon?"

"Same." Dix shrugged. "It's all about the mission. Pierce is a decent leader, but just one of many." So far, so good.

"So if a different Hydra head offered up a better opportunity to achieve Hydra's goals, and a sweeter deal besides, what would you say?"

Jack's eyes narrowed. "I'd say I'd have to know what Viper's offering. And why 'we' suddenly don't hate her?"

Brock laughed, "All fair points. For you Jack, double pay, higher rank in Hydra, job security beyond Insight, relocation expenses for you and your sister's family, and a hell of a retirement plan. And for the record, I still hate her, we've just reached an understanding. She gets what she wants and I get what I want." Brock looked meaningfully at The Soldier -- his eyes were still closed and he looked more relaxed than someone applying that much effort should ever do, he must really like music -- "Who I want".

Jack took a moment to weigh it up before nodding, "Okay, I'm in". Brock was surprised it was that easy and clearly it showed on his face.

Rollins just shrugged. "Sounds like a good deal and you've never steered us wrong before. Hydra or no Hydra, STRIKE for life, Right?" This right here was why he put up with so much shit from Jack, because the man was the damn best Second in either SHIELD or Hydra.

Brock nodded his appreciation. And then turned to Dix. Rollins took that as the signal it was. Muttering "I really don't need to hear any of this", he stuck in his replacement set of headphones, leaving them to it.

"So, chief, what's my incentive package look like?" Dixon always looked like he was amused by something, but right now he looked positively gleeful.

Brock fixed him with a steady gaze. "No promotion, but the double pay bump and all the rest applies. Any family you want bringing to Madripoor will be relocated." The truck lurched forwards again, and the conversation paused until it drew to a brake-squealing stop.

Dixon grinned. "You already know what I want, Sir."

Brock put on his most threatening expression. It didn't work. Dix's smile just grew wider. Brock sighed. "Why don't you spell it out for me, so we avoid any confusion."

Dixon leaned back against the truck wall and stared at The Asset, running his eyes over him from head to toe. "I've always been a believer in asking for exactly what you want." He turned back to Brock. "And I usually get it. But I can be flexible. So here's some options for you, Brock. I'll accept either of the following..."

Brock bit down the growing rage he could feel rising up from his gut. That wouldn't get him anywhere.

Dix raised the index finger of his right hand. "Option One, I get three sessions with him. Two, well if we can't get willing, let's say compliant shall we? Two where he's compliant, whatever you and the hot green-haired bitch have planned on that side of things. And then, one where he's not, but he's securely restrained. And no time limits, I'm done when I say I'm done."

Brock didn't try and stop the look of disgust crossing his face. It just made Dixon laugh. "Hey, don't knock it until you've tried it, Commander. Just imagine it Brock, all that power and strength helpless under you, like facing down a tiger, taming it, making it obey your touch, want it, crave it."

Brock got it. On some level he knows the feeling Dix is describing intimately. You never feel more alive than when you're closest to death and some of his most intense sexual encounters have come after close calls in the field. But to him it's still rape, but maybe all things considered he's judging Dix for wanting almost exactly what he himself wants, a semantic and ethical boundary or two aside. Hadn't he just had a fantasy that was bordering on Dix's desires? But fantasy was one thing, acting them out was an entirely different matter. Or maybe it was just a matter of time? He hoped not. But he also knew his 20-year-old self would never have joined Hydra...

No. There were better ways. Brock started to shake his head no, but Dixon interrupted him. "You might want to hear my other proposal first before you decide?"

He had a point. "So what's behind door number two? I can't wait."

Dix leant forwards conspiratorially and raised an eyebrow. "Let's see shall we?"

Brock bit back the impulse to punch him. He'd always thought he liked Tom Dixon, now he was staring to wonder why.

"So sessions one and two, same rules apply. But I'll drop the rape fantasy in exchange for watching the first time you take him instead."

Brock's not sure he heard that right. "You want to what?"

Dix looked him directly in the eyes. "You've never been with a man before. I can tell you what to do, how to make it good for him, and you. How to prep. All the best positions. I can make your first time fumble free. All you have to do is let me watch. I won't even touch, unless you ask me to."

Brock recoiled at this more than he did at the first proposal, and he knows that Dix saw him do it. Fuck. It shouldn't be a question, really, not if he was a decent human being, but a decent person wouldn't have this conversation. But no, he wants that experience completely to himself. No Dixon, no Viper, just him and Barnes. The Soldier. Whatever. There was no living, breathing 'how to' guide present in any acceptable scenario as far as Brock was concerned.

Dix was right. Option One was the only option. The wipe would deal with what needed dealing with afterwards. But he was still in charge here. "Option One then. But maximum of 6 hours a time, no kinky shit, no pain play or whatever the fuck it's called. No force."

Dix gave him a considering look. "8 hours, I can use aids, and toys. No lasting marks. Bondage is on the table, as are tables, but I'll be slow and sweet and treat him like the prince he is. Will that work for you, Chief?"

Brock felt sick, and tuned on, and that made it much worse. He's pretty sure that The Soldier could heal from even the worst that Dixon could imagine to throw at him, so marks aren't an issue, but he's not about to say that. Instead he holds out his hand. He already signed up to sharing, so what's one more in reality? And only short-term this time.... so, "Deal."

Dixon took his hand with a firm grip, shaking it just once. "Deal."

Brock was already regretting it. But as he looked over at The Asset, who was currently tapping a single foot along to the music, he decided that, when all was said and done, he might actually regret nothing.

The truck finally started to move again.

Chapter Text

They'd finally made some progress, and Brock had left The Soldier listening to the music, eyes closed and as human as Brock had seen him, even though they were back moving and had finally reached the outskirts of Philadelphia. He'd also replaced the mask. There was no need to subject the kid to the reality of Dixon's predatory gaze any longer than he already had done.

He knew that as soon as they left this van, Tom Dixon would be the top-notch professional Brock had known and appreciated having at his back the past few years. He'd previously wondered if he should make more time to socialise with members of his team, other than Jack - this last few days had made him realise that sometimes a 'professional' relationship was a blessing in disguise. Nothing so far had disturbed Dixon's focus. He'd previously thought of that laser-like concentration as a positive in Dix's favour. Hell, maybe it would be a positive for The Asset as well. If there was any way of making the forthcoming arrangement as palatable as possible, Brock's faith in Dix's desire to be the best at everything he did, was a small shard of hope that the STRIKE man would hold true to his word to treat The Soldier 'right'.

How the hell, they'd manage the 'compliant' part of the arrangement, Brock had no clue. He hoped Viper had something up her sleeve on that front. He wasn't looking forward to explaining the terms of his newly-negotiated 'arrangement' with Dixon to her, that was for sure.

But, for now, he had to put all of it, his distaste, his desires, to one side and make sure today went as smoothly as possible. That was already starting to look in doubt - the traffic had been due to some incident in New York. Davis was trying to get details, but some sort of civilian evacuation of Manhattan was taking place.

There was talk of explosions. Brock hoped history wasn't repeating itself so soon after the last major attack. Sanchez had been trying to get through to SHIELD in case they were being called-in, but the one operator he'd managed to reach had merely told them to stand down and await an update.

Pierce was receiving more comprehensive intel, and yet he still wasn't telling them to call this mission. Brock didn't know if this was wise or if Pierce was just really desperate to get Zola checked off his 'to do' list. He didn't have enough information to evaluate what was the smart move, for Pierce in isolation, and Hydra as a whole - or Brock's view of all that as it now stood.

As they approached the New Jersey turn-off, a mention of aliens came in over the wire, then a nuclear strike being authorised, then nothing. Then nothing. Thank Fuck. Seeing Manhattan go up in a mushroom cloud was one of his greatest fears, and even at this distance The Asset was likely to be the only one of them to survive the radiation blast. Well maybe Viper, too. Oddly that made Brock feel slightly better. Maybe she was growing on him. Maybe this arrangement would work.

All three of them in the van who could stand, were standing. As still and as motionless as the vehicle they were in. All the traffic had come to a stop, as people driving towards the city heard the news via phones or radios.

Over the comms Pierce could be heard yelling at some unfortunate over another channel about not being consulted about the strike, only to be told it was a World Security Council decision, not solely a US one. Pierce didn't seem to take that as an acceptable answer.

It was good to know that while Hydra fostered chaos, this was not something they were willing to see happen. He should try and get Pierce and Sarkissian away from here, it might very well be too late, but he should make the effort. Protecting two of Hydra's heads should be his top priority, aliens or no aliens. The Asset was the best resource they had to get the two 'dignitaries' away, and to a safe distance as fast (or faster) than humanly possible.

Brock looked over and was surprised to see The Soldier had somehow managed to remove the headphones and, while still pushing against the metal restraints, looked as though he was listening intently to something other than the tinny music still quietly spilling from the plastic in-ear buds.

"Nothing from SHIELD, But we've patched into NYPD radios, Sirs". That was Sanchez. "Sharing over channel 1 now".

What was The Asset listening to? It was so fucking silent outside, it was like the whole fucking planet was holding its breath. Brock realised he'd been holding his.

A chaos of frantic police transmissions flooded into Brock's ears, he could hear screaming and panic and cops yelling transmissions to whoever was listening, it was chaos. More than that. It sounded like the end of the world. No one in charge and no way to tell what was actually happening on the ground. Useless.

Brock had just opened his mouth to issue orders about releasing The Asset and getting the big bosses elsewhere when it happened...

"We're going to set up a perimeter all the way down at 39th Street."

"On who's orders? Who is this?"

Brock paused and watched The Asset, he suddenly realised what it was listening to...their in-ear comms. But it was too late

"Sergeant Silva, Sir. And on Captain America's orders."

"Sergeant, this is not the fucking time to be making jokes!"

"No joke, Sir. I'm pretty sure my ass just got saved by Steve Rogers. We're going to take civilians down through the subway and sewers like he told us."

There was a moment of silence before the senior officer's voice returned. "Huh, You know what, we're fighting aliens, so let's go with it. Do what Captain America says, all of you."

Fuck.

Brock saw The Soldier go totally still. Head tilting slightly forwards. He'd stopped straining and his eyes were open. He'd disobeyed his orders. This couldn't be good.

"Copy that, Captain. Silva, out."

Brock finally took a breath. "Sanchez, cut the feed."

"But, Sir..." Sanchez sounded confused.

"Or, switch channel, I don't fucking care, just get it off this one now."

"Copy that, Sir". The police chatter stopped. Rollins and Dixon turned to look at Brock.

"Brock..." Brock held out a hand to silence Rollins. Not now. Not when he had The Soldier to deal with. The Alien Apocalypse could wait for one damn minute. Not like they could do anything about it from here anyway. It was up to Pierce now.

He stepped closer to The Asset. "Soldier, Status Report." The Asset remained silent. He had a far-away look in his grey-blue eyes.

"Asset, Report." Still nothing except some rapid eye movements. The Asset was displaying all the characteristics of someone experiencing a flashback. Shit.

He tapped off his comms. He couldn't let anyone outside this van know The Soldier was non-responsive. He signalled for his two STRIKE team mates to do the same without ever breaking eye contact with the man in front of him. He reached forwards slowly and undid the mask, pulling it off and placing it next to the discarded towel on the bench seat, and bringing his right hand up, he pushed the hair that had fallen in front of The Asset's face, back behind its, his, ear, tucking it in place. It didn't matter that he was being watched when both watchers already knew his feelings for The Asset. Brock then firmly, but non un-gently, grasped The Asset's chin. The dark stubble pricked gently at his finger tips, but the skin beneath was warm and soft, if slightly clammy. "Kid, I need you to answer me."

The Soldier's eyes flashed towards him for a second, before darting away again. "кто ты?"

Brock didn't know what that meant, but he saw the confusion on The Soldier's face. The panic at being in shackles.

"Где я?" The Soldier jerked his head out of Rumlow's grip. "Не трогай меня."

Brock grabbed hold of The Asset's jaw a little more firmly this time. He only exerted a little pressure but The Soldier's head moved as directed. Either the programming was holding despite this break from reality, or the version of The Soldier currently before him had no idea of his own strength. Brock prayed it was the former. "In English, Kid."

The Asset's eyes darted between Brock and the two men behind him. "Что ты хочешь?"

Rumlow sighed. "Jack a little help here?" Rollins knew some Russian. He could almost hear Rollins thinking and actually heard him scratch at his head.

"Urrm, right, I'm a little rusty, but I think it was basic 'Who are you?', 'Where am I? questions and telling you to back the hell off. I didn't catch the last bit."

Brock forced himself not to scowl and continued trying and make and maintain eye contact with The Soldier. "You know me."

The Asset looked nervous and confused. If it weren't such pisspoor circumstances, Brock would have loved to sit back and watch these new expressions bring life to The Asset's perfect features.

"Нет, нет."

"He said..."

Brock interrupted Jack before he could finish the unnecessary translation. "Even I know that one, Jack".

Rollins sighed. Brock ignored him.

He brought his left hand up behind The Asset's neck and cupped his palm around it, bringing The Soldier's head more firmly under his control. It instantly smacked back against the metal wall behind, with a dull thud. Brock winced, that sounded like it hurt. He began moving his thumb in slow circles just below The Soldier's skull in a comforting gesture.

The Soldier flinched and tried to move away from the touch, but imprisoned in the restraints, there was nowhere for him to go.

Brock tried again, "You do know me. I'm Commander Brock Rumlow. I'm your handler." He moved his right hand from The Asset's chin to cup his jaw. "Look at me, Soldier. That's an order."

The pale blue eyes that then fixed on his were colder than ice. Brock's thumb stilled. Then suddenly the confusion was back. "YТы мой командир?"

"We're American, Kid. In English."

The Soldier looked away for a second, almost as if he was searching for his first language. "Are you my commander?" Shit, maybe that had actually been the case.

"Commander will work." He realised that he'd started up the soft strokes to the back of The Asset's neck when he noticed him tensing. He stopped. Now wasn't the right time to indulge himself.

Rollins cleared his throat. Brock ignored him. He was getting somewhere here.

"I know you're confused, but we're your team and we're on a mission, so we need you to focus, ok?"

The Asset gave a short, sharp nod of agreement that also managed to displace Rumlow's hand from his face. Brock wondered if that was intentional. He stopped himself from reacting, and then from putting it back. It stung. He knew it was too soon, but this was the most real contact he'd managed with his Soldier. And following his previous fantasy, it was even harder to give it up. Innuendo abso-fucking-lutely intended.

"Great. Glad to hear it, Kid. Do you remember our mission? Your mission?" The Asset's existence was mission-focused, if anything would help him get back on track, it should be this. He nodded, then shook his head. Brock bit back a sigh. This wasn't The Soldier's fault, most likely it was his and that damn injection he'd given him. Or it could be Rogers' - he knew that one was unfair even if it did make him feel better for a whole second or so. Viper's? Dixon's? Hell, why not blame the aliens? He was still the one who would have to write the report and take the flack. This was about damage limitation right here and now. And protecting The Soldier, Barnes, as much as possible.

Brock let go of the back of Barnes', The Soldier's, neck and the last of the wild look seemed to leave his eyes. He bit his own tongue to stop any sound his mouth wanted to make. The taste of blood helped him regain his composure. "Which is it. Soldier? Yes or No?"

The Asset tilted his head to one-side and purposely met Brock's eyes for the first time since this episode, or whatever it was, began. He looked down at his bonds. "These are my mission." It sounded more of a question than a statement of fact. "But there's something... else..."

Brock literally and physically bit back his frustration again. The Soldier was... on another level, even to STRIKE, but this uncertain, fractured creature before him, right now... What was he, Brock, a part of, that could create such a being and brand it the ultimate weapon... ?

"We're headed to New Jersey for an inspection and off-site debrief with some of the brass. Ring any bells?"

Suddenly, it was like a different person was sat in front of Brock, the Asset tilted his head, eyes fixed, and expression downright demeaning, "New Jersey? Seriously?!"

Brock rocked back on his heels, uncertain how to respond to, well, Bucky Barnes making a guest appearance, to be frank.

Jack stepped forwards and backhanded The Soldier, hard, across the face.

Brock sprang up from his crouch and shoved his friend back, hard. "What the fuck, Jack!"

The back of Jack's legs hit the opposite bench but he stayed upright, just. "Report. Say it, Brock. It won't listen to me."

Brock stepped forwards, and realised his fist was raised. "WHAT?!"

Jack raised his hands and nodded towards Bucky, "The Asset is fine, Brock. Look at him he barely felt it. Order through pain right? He's spiralling because he's confused. You need to help him. You need to tell him to report".

Order through pain. His mantra. It was supposed to be a personal thing, directed inwards, but Brock felt his rage subside. He looked over at The Soldier and saw Jack was right, he looked lost, not hurt. There wasn't even a mark on his gorgeous face... Brock's arm dropped back to his side. The Soldier needed structure, he needed clarity, and Brock was messing that up. Big time.

Brock saw Jack let out the breath he'd been holding. "If you're ready to stop thinking with your dick, Brock, get him straight, now. We're in a shitstorm of epic proportions and the boss wants you on comms. Like 3 minutes ago."

Shit. Brock gave Jack the stink eye - no way way 'get him straight' not a fucked-up attempt at a joke. He really hated his friend sometimes.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Translations:

"кто ты?" - Who are you?

"Где я?" - Where am I?

"Не трогай меня." - Don't touch me.

"Что ты хочешь?" - What do you want?

"Нет, нет." - No, I don't.

"YТы мой командир?" - You're my commander?

Chapter Text

Rumlow crouched down in front of The Soldier once again. His head was still in the position that Rollin's blow had left it, making it appear that there was something really fascinating in the back corner of the van. Brock almost turned to look.

Instead, he reached out a hand and cupped The Soldier's right cheek, applying just enough force to turn his face back towards him. The Soldier didn't resist, but his eyes were still vacant and confused. Brock ran his thumb over the cheekbone that, in anyone average, would be broken at worst and blossoming into a violent red welt at best.

The Soldier jerked back from the caress. Brock chose to pretend it was a pain response though he knew it wasn't. There wasn't even swelling under his fingertips.

He promised himself that was it, that was the last time he'd touch The Soldier like that on this mission. He'd stick to it this time. He needed to reinforce positive associations, and that wasn't possible here. Not now. He could resist enhanced interrogation, he wasn't going to be undone by the god-given bedroom eyes of The Winter Soldier.

Those eyes seemed to now be seeing him at least.

His hand dropped. "Status Report."

The Soldier's mouth opened "I...". Then it closed again. And suddenly his Soldier was back. "Ready to comply."

Well, not totally back, he'd dropped his mission, and the use of first person pronouns was, very definitely 'off book', but he was at least back in the here and now.

"Do you remember your current assignment?"

The Soldier paused for a moment before nodding.

"Good, then resume that assignment until further notice". The Soldier closed his eyes and resumed testing the build-quality of American-produced, re-inforced steel.

After a second of uncharacteristic hesitation, Brock reinserted he headphones into The Soldier's ears. The less new input, the better he figured.

Brock rocked back on his heels. Looked at The Soldier for a few seconds, acknowledged to himself that he wanted to kiss him, resigned himself to the fact he couldn't, and stood up.

He survayed the van. Rollins and Dixon seemed tense. He gave The Soldier one last look - if that nuke was really incoming, he'd reassess his priorities, but it was time to find out what the fuck was going on...

He scooped his ear piece up from where he'd dropped it, securing it in his inner ear and hitting the off for the 'mute' function. He got an ear full of an unexpectedly upset Pierce yelling on, he guessed, his phone, at someone called Malick. "Rumlow here. We've been having bandwidth issues, too many people hogging SW locally, sorry if you've been trying to get through".

Using analogue in a digital world had more uses that just being 3rd or 4th choice, and a rapidly diminishing skillset, it was also vastly getting restricted to official use, and almost no-one watched the watchers, at least not when it counted. Like now.

"Hi, Chief. Thank god! It's been wild..."

The ear piece was clearly snatched away from Davis at this point, as the next voice Brock heard was Secretary Pierce. "Rumlow, I've called for a helicopter. Those idiots on the WSC approved a missile strike, and the only reason we're not being dosed with near-fatal levels of radiation right now is thanks to Tony Stark - and that's a sentence I never thought I'd live to say. Nick's Avengers Initiative seems to have saved the day, but I have to go clean up the mess. You continue on with the convoy, I'll meet you there once I've dealt with exactly why my Hydra and official colleagues saw fit to by-pass me on this occasion. Given the gridlock, I should make it there at approximately the same time you do."

Brock could already hear the rumble of the approaching helicopter. That was fast, it must already have been en route. "Sir, will Miss Sarkissian be accompanying you?"

There was a loaded pause over the comm channel. "No. Now that the danger has passed it would be better for her to continue with you by road. If that's all right with you, Ophelia?"

Brock could faintly hear Viper giving her assent.

"Good, that's agreed. If I'm not at Camp Lehigh when you get there, conceal the vehicles and follow Miss Sarkissian inside. We want our presence there to go as unnoticed as possible."

Brock wasn't sure that was the best idea, personally. But now was not the time to disagree with his current boss. Especially not in front of his future boss - or whatever she'd be. But he couldn't explain his unease about The Soldier being down a Primary Handler and around Zola, without bringing up The Asset's current 'unsettled' behaviour. And no way, no how, was that happening. Other than keeping himself alive, protecting The Soldier was now his primary motivation. Over STRIKE, over Hydra and certainly over whatever this shit storm of brinkmanship was that the higher-ups were all playing at. So he kept his opinion to himself, staying silent until he and heard the chopper overhead come in to land.

"Sir, looks like we could be stuck in this for some time. Do you have any word about when we can expect to get clear?" He heard the limo door open over comm.

"They've closed the highway and are starting to turn people around. I've given word that you and only you should be allowed to continue on. It's a risk, but one we have to take, all things now considered." Pierce sounded more upbeat than Brock had expected, something was clearly going on he wasn't aware of. That usually just made him mildly uncomfortable, on this occasion it was almost enough to start a full-blown panic.

"Sir?" He heard the limo door close.

"I'll update you with my eta when I know it. Keep everyone on track Brock, I know you're more than capable of making today a success in spite of all this." It was amazing how Pierce could make an alien invasion and narrowly-averted nuclear strike, sound like a bad day at the office.

Whatever was going on, it seemed as though his boss wasn't in the sharing mood. The sound of the rotas was almost defining now. Pierce must be getting on board the chopper. "OK, Sir. Safe skies."

He half heard the Secretary reply something about New York, that he clearly found amusing from the tone of his voice. He heard the whine of the helicopter taking off and the comms channel went dead. For once Brock was glad he didn't have to feign his own amusement for his superior's benefit. He was already too exhausted by the multitude of emotions writhing around his gut like bad tempered snakes.

Suddenly the back doors of the van opened, and there stood Viper, his disagreeable snakes made flesh. It was almost as though she'd read his mind. She also didn't seem at all perturbed by the three assault rifles now pointed directly at her.

Rollins and Dixon dropped theirs as soon as they realised who the new arrival was. And considering the red hair and demure, yet perfectly tailored, black business suit she was wearing, Brock was fairly sure that it was Davis's presence behind her that had really clued them in. Brock realised that he still had the mussel of his own gun pointed in her direction. He lowered it grudgingly.

Viper gave Brock a half smile before turning to Davis. "Thank you for the escort. I've arrived safely, you may return to the car now." She was careful to keep both of the van doors under her control and only open far enough to allow the occupants to see her and Davis, and not let any outside observers see in. She definitely was not dumb - but Brock knew that already.

Davis looked to Brock, clearly unsure of who's directions to take in this situation. Brock scowled at him. In typical fashion, the normally unflappable agent, simply shrugged. "She insisted."

Brock bit back a sigh and dismissed him with a jerk of his head. He couldn't blame the men for falling apart a bit. No mission scenario could have predicted any of this, never mind planned for it. Maybe they'd had a mass failure of imagination.

Davis moved away from the truck to return to the limo a few cars ahead, vanishing from Brock's field of view with what looked like a relieved expression on his face. All that was left was the russet-haired Viper who raked her gaze over Brock's two men: "Both of you, go with him."

Both STRIKE members looked to him. This time he didn't bother stopping the sigh. Viper was making the most of Pierce's absence to screw with the established chain of command and put herself at the top of it. Worse thing was it would work. She had Brock exactly where she wanted him. He almost felt like pushing back. Insisting he'd read both men in and they were on board. But she probably wouldn't take his word alone. She'd probably insist on something signed in blood first. That or some sort of killswitch implant. He wondered in the first generation cyanide teeth implants were her work.

"Join Davis in the car. But stow your weapons first. Let's hope people just assume you're a security detail for a VIP that just got the VIP treatment to escape this gridlock." Neither man looked happy at his words, but they activated safeties, loaded their weapons and belongings into the hold-alls they'd brought with them and exited the vehicle as requested. Well almost. Dix stopped as he jumped down beside Viper and faced her with a rakish grin on his face. "Looking forward to working with you, Maam." He even finished it with a respectful nod before moving off. Asshole.

Viper simply looked amused and finally stepped up into the van, closing the double doors firmly, yet gently behind her. She turned back towards him and raised an immaculate eyebrow, "I'm sure you'll let me know what that was all about before it becomes an issue? But for now we have more important things to discuss."

Brock expected her to sit down opposite him, take on a relaxed stance that would make a mockery of his guarded one, and continue what seemed to be her favourite new past time of making him feel a fool. Well, she managed that all right. She totally ignored him and walked over to stand in front of The Asset instead.

He shifted his stance involuntarily from surprise, before trying casually to make it look like he was simply securing the safety on his gun. He turned towards them and again didn't see any scenario he'd been anticipating.

He'd imaged an amused smirk at his expense, or more heavy petting now she had her toy (or should that be toys) to herself. Instead she was gazing down at the Soldier's restraints with an expression that made her look like the scientist Brock knew she was. For the first time ever he wondered if he should be afraid of her.

"There are extensive microfractures in these restraints, if you want them to be usable on the return journey, you should probably release him fairly shortly."

Brock felt a momentary swell of pride that The Soldier had managed to out-do even the best of Hydra engineering's efforts. "Well, the journey wasn't exactly supposed to take this long."

Wait a sec..."How the hell can you tell that?"

The smirk was back, and surprisingly this time Brock's tension levels failed to drop even as his annoyance spiked, and he suddenly realised that he'd been played even more than he'd previously thought. Maybe she was more like The Widow than he'd previously given her credit for. The red wig was certainly helping him see the parallels. She still wasn't looking at him. Her eyes were now fixed on The Soldier's face, and his were now gazing up at her, an expression of unmistakable curiosity visible in his every feature.

She finally turned towards him and tapped one of her elegant index fingers to her temple. "Our boy here isn't the only one with enhancements. I've made a few minor upgrades over the years."

That was the moment Brock decided that being terrified of her was probably the wisest decision he could make. He'd been an idiot. After all it wasn't people like Pierce or warrior's like him that had made Hydra the force it was, it was scientists like her. Scientists who would do anything it took to see their vision realised. Brock's throat went dry. His eye locked on the one she'd indicated as being something other than a window to her soul. Or maybe it was, in a more literal way than any poet would ever have imagined.

She turned further towards him and Brock realised that everything she did had purpose, this wasn't about giving him more attention so much as it was about blocking The Soldier from lip-reading what she was about to say. The previous tapping gesture had probably achieved the same. Jesus Christ.

She started at him unblinking for a moment or two and she'd never looked more like her codename to Brock.

"Don't worry, it's not weaponised. I abhor violence unless it's absolutely necessary. I prefer to have others deal with that aspect of things. Which is one of the may reasons I'm here discussing this with you. But you really should try and relax, dear Brock. Your heart rate and respiration levels are higher than is advisable for a man of your age, even with as good a shape as you're in."

Brock forced himself to breath in. He finally understood her. Overlooked and underestimated all her very long life. At the start because of society, now purely because she wished it so. She used every assumption against those around her, even those on her side. She was, undoubtedly, the most dangerous person Brock had ever met. Much more so than the man strapped to the bench behind her.

He forced himself to breath out. He was still working on relaxing his hand which had clenched up in anticipation of being placed on a trigger. The only thing now keeping his fight or flight response in check was the combination of curiosity and his growing need to protect The Asset.

He had at least two dozen questions he had a desperate need to ask. But one was top of the list. "Am I the first person you've told about this?"

Her arms crossed. Usually Brock would take this as a defensive posture, but now he knew better.

"Of course, do you think I'd give away an advantage like that to just anyone?" Those immaculate eyebrows were indicating disbelief. But it was no longer worth trying to read her, not when she could literally see through him.

Brock cleared his throat. "So that's how you knew, I... er..."

Her lip quirked, "Had it bad for our friend here? Yes Brock, the elevated body temperature and increased blood flow were hard to miss. You're actually a pretty difficult man to read from the outside."

Brock felt as though a slither of his professional pride had just been restored. The fact that it came at the hands of the person who'd taken it from him so effortlessly these last few days, didn't seem to matter to his Ego one bit. The rest of Brock was equal parts impressed and disgusted. But he was getting used to those feelings now. "So enhanced magnification and access to the non-visible spectrum? Anything else?"

The lip quirk returned. "I knew you were smarter than you looked."

Well, at least he knew her amusement wasn't feigned. But she hadn't answered him, and he wasn't about to let his own annoyance help her evade. After all he was a professional, one of the best and now he finally knew what game they were playing and the lay of the land. She still had the higher ground, but Brock was used to bad odds and having to create his own openings. He simply stilled and waited.

Viper let out an exaggerated sigh. "Very well. There's some minor image capture and recording capacity but I rarely bother. It runs down the power source too quickly and the replacement procedure isn't all that pleasant if you must know."

Brock didn't bother hiding his reaction to that. What was the point when the woman was a walking lie detector? He might think robot arms were cool on The Soldier, or more precisely that The Solider made robot arms cool, but the idea of self-elective surgery had always left him cold, he'd had one too many close calls that had landed him in the OR to ever go in voluntarily. He shuddered. "Yeah, I bet."

How did she even do it if she kept this secret so close to her chest, Brock didn't want to contemplate. But he couldn't help but appreciate the tactical advantages. Much like with The Soldier's arm, he'd rather think about the benefits and uses not the messy bits that preceded their utility. He had enough messy bits in his own life as it was.

"It's also how I know Alex has no intention of honouring any deal that would lose him his Asset, regardless of what Zola says." She studied Brock for a moment. "You don't seem surprised?"

What Brock was surprised at was that he'd now seemingly relaxed. But then he realised why. "He's admitted as much to me already. He sees this mission as the acquisition of a new asset, not the potential loss of one. I thought it might be a test? But you can let me know for sure, can't you?"

She nodded.

He'd been sure that Pierce would find out. He knew what a brilliant mind the man had. How good he was at reading people. Brock was betraying him, and some part of Brock was convinced that his superior must have already caught something that would give Brock away, long before he ever got what he desired out of all this. His eyes shot to The Soldier. Or what he could see of him past Viper's nicely curved figure.

Ok. He'd picked a side and he finally felt it might actually be the right one, in terms of his future within Hydra and maybe even one after Hydra - something he honestly hadn't contemplated. He felt a surge of elation and stamped it down. Far too early for that. But maybe now was the right time to finally follow Viper's lead.

He lifted his gun off, over his head and laid it down on the ground, mussel pointed away from the other occupants, just in case. And then he sat down on the bench to his side. "You said you wanted to talk, Ophelia. Well, I'm ready to hear it."

She smiled, and this time Brock could almost believe it was real.

Chapter Text

Opehlia held up a finger, asking for a pause. A moment later Brock understood why, as the van lurched in to motion and awkwardly swung through a turning manoeuvre that wouldn't have been out of place in a combat zone. Even with his experience of exactly that, Brock had to brace himself against the bench.

Opehlia had simply braced herself against the Soldier's shoulder. Smart move. The Soldier barely reacted beyond a glance upwards.

The truck lurched as it went off road for a few seconds, before returning to the smooth surface of the highway. Their way had finally been cleared it would seem.

Ophelia resumed her previous position on the bench next to the Soldier, smoothing out the lines of her suit as she did so. Looking relaxed in a way that Brock could only envy. He was in. 100% in. For the first time since he started down this path, and now he was literally running out of road. He had to bite the inside of his cheek to stop the pre-mission, adrenaline-surge-induced leg twitch that he thought he'd conquered years ago.

She looked at him directly. Studying him as intently as she had The Asset's restraints. And slowly and in a way that meant she meant Brock to see every motion, she lent back, shifted her weight onto her left arm and started running her right hand once, slowly up and down The Soldier's thigh. The Soldier tensed. Viper didn't seem to care. If anything her actions became more pronounced.

The stroking motion repeated, becoming firmer, more precise, more akin to massage. There was a twitch that Rumlow would have equated with his own 'in action' nerve-fueled mannerisms, if he hadn't known this was all the motion the Soldier's restraints allowed. And that such things had been trained out of Barnes, long ago. It was all in the file.

Viper watched Brock, watching her and The Soldier, Barnes. Her hand made the same journey as her previous action, except this time there was a pause and a pinching movement, and suddenly The Soldier, that model of control and the excellence of Hydra programming, let out what could only be described as a stifled sob. It was unlike anything Brock had ever heard. Painful. Beautiful.

"Massage and acupressure."

It looked like she was waiting for a response, but Brock had none to give.

She dug in her fingers again and the Soldier... melted. That is the only way Brock could describe it. For the first time it was impossible to look at The Solider and not see Sergeant Barnes.

In the close confines of the back of the truck, and with Viper now giving him a clear line of sight, he couldn't help but be captivated by every micro-expression that crossed that too-young face. Viper moved her hand again, and the gasping groan that followed was a reward for them both. Brock was once again reminded what a pretty picture the two of them made.

Brock forced himself to swallow. Dry mouth wasn't going to get in his way, not in this instance. His knee was still twitching, he shifted his weight to force it into stillness. He was losing it. Fast.

"So, this another hobby of yours?" He could no longer inject his barbs at her with any real venom, he was now too much in awe of what Viper was offering him. And could accomplish.

She reached back and seemed to target a different point, behind The Soldier's knee this time. The sound that came from between Barnes' lips would be something he'd replay in his dreams from now on. And they would be worthy of an X-rating at the very least.

She pressed something on her elegant silver wrist watch Rumlow hadn't even clocked until now, and The Soldier's leg restraints popped open. Without losing a beat she bent forward and ran a firm grip down his calf, until she pressed on a point in his ankle that seemed to give her total control of the limb. She straightened up bringing The Soldier's combat-booted foot up onto the bench, knee raised high.

Brock quickly cycled through appalled shock that she'd so easily taken over their systems, to a mingling of relief, awe and curiosity about what she was doing, quickly followed by a spike of arousal as he noticed what the new pose was doing to show off the well-developed muscles of The Soldier's legs, from the bottom right to the very top.

"You spend enough time in the Far East, you learn a few things."

It took Brock a moment to register that Viper was replying to his last comment. That train of thought had officially left the station the second she'd started manhandling the world's deadliest assassin like he was nothing more than a posable action figure.

"The grafts required to keep the arm functional mean he's in almost constant pain, and on a cocktail of immuno-suppressants and anti-inflammatories that a regular human wouldn't survive. Even just the weight discrepancy between his left and right side - well you can imagine the 'discomfort' I'm sure, from some of your more demanding missions." Opehlia's hand kept moving and hitting different points while she spoke to Brock. And with each precise touch, The Soldier seemed more and more under her thrall.

Those sharp eyes fixed on Brock once again, "So, Agent Rumlow, are you just going to sit there drooling or are you ready to get started? We don't have much time left, so we best make it count, don't you agree?"

Brock no longer had it in him to formulate a coherent response. So, when she nodded in a come hither gesture, for the first time since he'd met her, Brock was entirely hers to command. How the hell did that happen?!

Brock stood, placed his gun down in the spot he'd just vacated and took the three short but symbolic steps across the truck's interior, until he was face to face with Sarkissian. He looked down into her unflinching green gaze and said the only appropriate thing for this moment: "Hail Hydra."