There were times when Rumlow wondered why the asset couldn’t just have a goddamn name. Dogs had names, and some dickwads named their guns, so why couldn’t Hydra just name their goddamn greatest weapon something other than “asset?” He knew why, some psychological fuckery about making absolutely sure no one saw him as anything more than the weapon he was. Give a thing a name and you start thinking of it as something like human even when it’s clearly not.
That didn’t, however, stop Rumlow from playing with potential names for the soldier. It was a game he played, when no one but the asset was in earshot. The soldier usually didn’t respond to anything that didn’t absolutely require a response from him. So the game was this: during the downtime before or after a mission, Rumlow would sit across from the soldier and throw names at him quietly, each one slightly more ridiculous than the last, in an attempt to get a reaction out of him.
Rumlow sat, completely at ease, his legs spread wide and his back leaning against the wall of the van. To anyone watching, he was relaxed and unwinding after a rough mission. There weren’t a lot of people watching though, because most people didn’t like being in the same vehicle as the asset after a mission. They usually found ways to be in other parts of the convoy, or, if they had to be in the same van, they rode up front, while the asset sat in the back. Rumlow didn’t really see the problem. Yeah, there were times when the asset was riled and difficult to deal with, but after a successful mission he was usually as docile as a big cat right after a meal, lying in the sun.
There was no sun in the van, but the asset sat, nearly mirroring Rumlow, legs spread, back against the van wall. They stared at each other.
“Nicholas,” Rumlow said softly. The asset blinked slowly. His expression, almost completely blank, didn’t change.
Off to a good start then. Rumlow grinned. He batted a few more relatively common names at the soldier, but he reacted to none of them. So far, it was par for the course. Rumlow paused for a moment as the van came to a stop. It was just a traffic light though, or something similar, so he turned back to the unresponsive soldier. The van started moving again as Rumlow thought of the next name.
The soldier snorted. Rumlow’s eyebrows shot up. That was more of a response than he’d ever gotten while playing this little game of theirs. Rumlow looked carefully at the asset, who looked back at him with an unusual glint in his eye. If Rumlow didn’t know any better, he’d swear the soldier was amused, sharing in some kind of joke with Rumlow.
“You like that one?”
The soldier shrugged, which was actually a fairly typical response to questions he wasn’t sure how to answer. “It seems…” the asset hesitated. Rumlow waited patiently. “It seems ill-suited.”
Rumlow grinned at that. “More than the others?” Hell, he’d suggested Rumplestiltskin once.
The soldier shrugged again. “It is… it’s the name of a saint. Not of a killer.”
Rumlow couldn’t deny the logic there. He also wasn’t sure how to keep the conversation going, but he knew he didn’t want it to stop. Any brief glimpse at the person buried deep behind the weapon was fascinating, and despite the fact that doing so was admittedly unwise, not to mention against the rules of dealing with the asset, Rumlow couldn’t help poking the coals.
“What do you know about saints?” he asked quietly, curious.
The soldier’s brow furrowed in thought. Rumlow watched him, smiled a little. He could practically smell smoke.
“I think I learned about them once.” He had that thousand-yard stare that was sometimes the prelude of trouble. He was accessing memories, or what was left of them. That often led to unpredictable behavior. But Rumlow wasn’t worried.
“What did you learn?”
The soldier’s brow couldn’t furrow much more than it was already, but he made a good effort of it. “They suffered. They suffered and… were… blessed?”
Rumlow snorted. “Well you got the first part right. The second part’s just a load of shit to get people to shut up about their problems. That’s all religion ever is.”
The soldier didn’t seem to like that very much. Rumlow wasn’t stupid, he had eyes, he knew who the asset used to be, but Rumlow was pretty sure none of the history books said what religion Barnes practiced, though given his reactions, it wasn’t hard to figure out. Of course, it didn’t matter now. Barnes was gone, blasted out of his own head with however much voltage the goddamn wipe sent through him. At least, that’s how it was supposed to be. Apparently there was still enough of Barnes left to be at least a little upset about how Rumlow talked about religion.
“I don’t think that’s right,” he said hesitantly.
Rumlow scoffed. “How would you know? You get a lot of experience with church, huh? They take you out every Sunday to get a good taste of God?”
The soldier’s look of concentration turned into a scowl.
“Oh don't give me that,” Rumlow said. “God doesn't exist, and even if he did, would you really give a fuck? No. ‘Cause he sure as hell wouldn't give a fuck about you.”
The soldier was clearly still upset, and Rumlow rolled his eyes. “Give it up. You're a weapon, right? You said it yourself. You're a killer. Whatever hang ups you got in that head of yours, it's meaningless. Let it go.”
The soldier shifted, then nodded, looking down at his hands. Rumlow watched him with a smirk. Strange, that the asset would still have ties to religion in there somewhere. It was interesting, seeing what triggered memories and what didn't.
It wouldn't do, however, to have the soldier chewing on all that the rest of the way back. It might encourage him to act out, and Rumlow didn't want any fingers pointing back at him if the asset malfunctioned. He had to figure out a way to distract him. Time to take a risk.
Rumlow shifted, stood, sat down again next to the soldier, shoulder to shoulder with him. The soldier looked at him, surprised, but didn’t move away.
Rumlow grinned. “Hi.”
The soldier continued to stare.
“What, you don’t get a lot of contact like this?” Rumlow reached out and patted the soldier’s thigh. The soldier stared at Rumlow’s hand. Rumlow already knew that the soldier didn’t get a lot of physical contact apart from combat and whatever the techs did with him, the real question was how that had messed with the asset’s head.
Rumlow kept his hand on the soldier’s thigh, and watched him as he continued to stare at it. Honestly, Rumlow could probably sit back on his own side, the asset was clearly sufficiently distracted from the previous conversation, but his curiosity was getting the better of him again. He wanted to see how… or if, even, the soldier would react.
For a long, drawn out moment, the soldier just stared. Then, cautiously, hesitantly, he reached out his own hand, the right one, and placed it on Rumlow’s hand. Rumlow stayed still as the soldier traced his fingers and the seams of his fingerless gloves before picking up his hand. The soldier turned it over, inspecting it like he’d never seen a hand before. It was definitely weird. Pretty pathetic, too, that the asset apparently had so little interaction with other people that he was so fascinated by a hand.
Two killers sitting in the back of a van practically holding hands. Rumlow was really glad no one else was there to witness it. Still, it was an interesting insight into the soldier’s mind. So when the van stopped and Rumlow pulled away just before the door opened, he filed it away to remember for later.
A couple of techs took the soldier and guided him away, but he looked back at Rumlow with something of a confused, even longing expression. Rumlow waved as he walked away. Hell, maybe they’d bonded. He’d have to see if the soldier remembered him at all after the wipe. If so, maybe they’d have to hold hands more often.