This is the story of how I almost died. Repeatedly. Don't worry. This is actually a very fun story and the truth is, it isn't even mine. This is the story of a boy named Steve and how we both got away from one of the longest running terrorist organizations in the world. Sounds fun, right?
Now, once upon a time, there was a group of men who wanted to take over the world. They had their own reasons, as most people who want to take over the world do, but they were all wrong ones. This group became known as HYDRA and they are Bad News. You'll learn some more later. Just take my word for it.
But to the important part of the story. Centuries passed and a hop, skip and a boat ride away there grew a kingdom. The kingdom was ruled by a beloved King and Queen who gave birth to a little baby boy. (Steve. Steve is the little baby boy). To commemorate his birth, the kingdom launched fireworks into the air. A flurry of colors, mostly the kingdom's colors of red, white and blue, to celebrate the re-birth of a nation.
The prince was adorable, of course. Unfortunately Steve was also sick… really sick. Doctors from all over came to try to help him. Scientists and magicians and anybody who might help this little boy survive. Eventually there came one, Doctor Abraham Erskine. He said that he had an experimental serum that might help. Steve was on the verge of death and so the desperate Queen and King agreed.
There was a private ceremony and the King and Queen waited with bated breath to hear whether their son had been cured of his ailments. Unfortunately, a HYDRA agent by the name of Alexander Pierce was also there. Pierce had been working with the kingdom for years as an undercover operative and now was his time. After the serum had been administered but before anybody could react, Pierce shot Erskine and took off with the prince.
The kingdom searched and searched but they could not find the prince. For, past the ice on the edge of the water, deep in the forest, in a tower high up and hidden, Alexander Pierce and HYDRA raised Steve to be a soldier. They knew that not only did Erskine's serum make him healthy but it made him strong, it made him capable. And they were going to hone that power for themselves.
The walls of that tower could not hide everything. Each year, on his birthday, the King and Queen released fireworks into the sky. They always hoped that one day their lost prince would return. And from his tower, Steve was drawn to those fireworks, always feeling that there was something important he should know about them.
Steve sits cross-legged in the middle of the floor, listening to the flutter of wings around him. "Three… two… one," he says out loud, making sure that he's loud enough for the bird to hear him. As soon as he's stopped counting, he shoots to his feet, glancing around the small room. He knows it better than the back of his hand, although he's spent plenty of time studying that too. After 18 years here, he knows just about everything that there is to know about it.
It's not even a challenge playing hide and seek with the falcon that is his constant companion. "Found you," he says as he pulls the blanket up from his bed and sees the bird perched underneath the mattress. "Redwing, you're too easy."
He doesn't remember when Redwing became his companion. As far as he knows the bird has been with him since he was created. None of the agents who constantly come to check on him know about Redwing or else he would assume that he was a present from them. However, the bird came to be with him, Steve is grateful to have somebody who cares about Steve, and not just because he's meticulous about his schedule.
A chime goes off and Steve glances up at the clock in the corner, letting out a slow breath. It's 8:00 AM on the dot which means that it's time for his workout. He looks longingly at the walls and bookshelves and every other thing that he could be doing other than working out. It's not that he doesn't enjoy it sometimes but the schedule that they have him on means there's little time for anything else.
"You going to box with me, Redwing?" Steve asks, not expecting a response but needing to pretend that there's somebody else up there with him. Otherwise he'd probably go crazy.
Pierce has explained that Steve doesn't need human company because strictly speaking, Steve isn't a human himself. Sure, he came from the biological material of humans but he was made in a HYDRA laboratory to make the world a better place. Pierce has shown him videos of wars and explosions and other brutalities that came from humans. When Steve is just a little bit older, when he's ready, he will be a soldier for the human race.
The falcon, predictably, doesn't answer and so Steve positions himself in front of the bag, ready to begin his morning workout. He has a strict schedule, decided on and periodically checked by various HYDRA agents. He's even been visited by Baron von Strucker a time or two, to the utter pleasure of Alexander Pierce. It hadn't been special to Steve since it had just meant extra cooking and cleaning for him.
The chimes of the clock, the sound of his fists hitting the punching bag, the gentle flutter of Redwing's wings. That seems to consume Steve's life and he winces as he strikes harder and harder, groaning when the bag goes flying across the room, knocking over the table that his chess board had been sitting on.
"Pierce is going to kill me," Steve mutters, turning to shoot Redwing a glare at the bird's sound of concern. "To be fair, that is the fourth bag this week."
He figures it doesn't matter that much considering they always have it replaced by the end of the day. How? He's not quite sure. But it's always taken care of.
"Well, I have 42 minutes left until I have to stretch. May as well do some painting."
One of the only pleasures in Steve's day is this, the way that the paints mix effortlessly, the way that the paint seems to come to life on the walls. He's covered up the walls with different pictures so many times that he's sure the wall is inches thicker than it was when it was built. There's not much else for him to do, though.
The pictures that he's never covered up include the bright lights that illuminate the sky on his birthday every year. He's made a rainbow of explosions with his brushes and he grabs the red paint to touch up some memories from the previous year. 364 days. He keeps a tally on a notebook by his bed. It's his dream journal. Sometimes he gets flashes, thoughts, ideas. Most of the time he writes them down. Sometimes he doesn't bother.
The times that he wonders whether he’s going to leave the tower scare him because he doesn’t know what will happen if he does. He wants to help mankind, be the soldier that they need, but he's scared. There’s such a wide world out there but he knows nothing about it. Most of the time, he focuses on his schedule. It's easier than fretting.
Winter adjusts his goggles, his eyes narrowing behind them. He has a group of soldiers around him but he has no idea their names. He doesn't care. All he cares about is finishing this mission and them maybe letting him get home for a few days. Really, the dingy apartment that he resides in isn't a home but it's the closest thing that he has. Ever since his mom and his sister had died, HYDRA has been his family and his home.
"Two men on the roof. Two more on the-"
"Shut up," Winter growls, sure that the three idiots next to him are about to give away their position. He had wanted to come on this mission alone but for some ridiculous reason Pierce had told him to come with the others. And now Winter can see that they're never going to get through this unscathed.
The man next to him is breathing too heavy, can't even seem to hold his gun straight. Why did Winter get stuck with the incompetent idiots? Why?
Winter curses loudly as the man that they're supposed to be avoiding, or killing if they can’t, turns to them and pulls out a gun of his own. "You idiot," Winter shouts in the direction of the agent who had given them away and, for good measure, shoots him through the temple.
Fortunately, they already have the vial that they'd come to acquire and so Winter doesn't stay to be shot at. He's sure that he could take care of this if he was on his own but the damn agent that he hadn't shot yet has stepped in front of him and tripped. He had tripped. Winter doesn't know what damn training he went through but obviously it wasn't the same as Winter's.
"Stay where you are!"
Winter rolls his eyes. "That'll happen," he mutters because sometimes he's still the snappy kid that he was years ago. Not often. But sometimes.
There's no use hanging around and so Winter jumps from the rooftop to the next one and then the next, figuring that HYDRA can take care of this themselves. It's not his fault that they didn't let Winter do this alone. If they had then it would be done by now. He still has the vial in his pocket and he really should give it back to HYDRA but damn it, he's pissed that he's still getting shot at by the idiot in the red suit.
That's a HYDRA agent but Winter ignores them, barely wincing as he takes a rolling jump off the building and lands in the grass. It only takes him a moment to regain his breath and then he runs again. Winter knows that he shouldn't. Every ounce of his training is telling him to stay where he is and kill the man who had caught them but he's angry. He's angry. How odd.
Blood pounds in Winter's ears, making his head ache with it. He has to… he has to… It seems like time slows down as he runs, through grass and water and he doesn't even shiver as he realizes that ice is moving around him. "Fuck. Fuck," he whispers, panting because he knows he’s going to have to stop eventually.
Nobody's in pursuit of him anymore which works just as well. Now he needs to find a place to collect his thoughts because right now, in this moment, he doesn't know what to do.
As expected, Pierce isn't happy about the punching bag and he lets Steve know it. The younger man winces but takes it, knowing that perhaps he'd been punching too hard.
"Yes. It won't happen again, Sir. I apologize," Steve says, resisting the urge to add anything under his breath. He only saves that for special occasions since somehow the HYDRA agent always seems to know when he mumbles.
"Well good. We've already put enough money into you for several lifetimes, Soldier. We don't need to keep replacing punching bags," Pierce says as he grabs one of the grapes from the counter and pops it into his mouth.
Steve's mutinous stomach tells him that’s one less fruit for dinner when he doesn’t get that many sweets to begin with. Fruits like grapes are a welcome distraction. There's no room for sweets in his life like the kinds that he reads about.
"Now, do you have anything further before I leave?" Pierce asks. "HYDRA has deemed you nearly ready. Soon the world will see what it's missing."
It kills Steve not to respond the way that he wants to. His muscles ache from the intense training that Pierce had put him through. His jaw hurts from where Pierce had hit him with a steel bar when Steve wasn't fast enough to block him. He wants to sleep but he knows that he can't since he still needs to eat and train tonight. Being a super soldier doesn't come overnight, he knows. It doesn't make the training any easier.
Then the last part catches up to him and his head jerks up to look at the man. "I'm nearly ready?"
"That is what I just said."
Steve looks up in frustration before looking back at the HYDRA agent, still picking off his grapes. "When? How long? I was thinking-" Then Steve cuts himself off because he's learned that he won't help his cause by asking when he's going to get to go. But… if it's coming soon… just a question won't hurt right?
"Spit it out," Pierce says in a frustrated tone.
The soldier takes a deep breath, trying to steel his nerves. He knows that he wants to ask this but he's never had much luck asking before. Besides, he wants to do good for the world. He wants to be the super soldier that they've been training him to be. "What about the day after tomorrow? For the anniversary of my creation?"
Pierce raises his eyebrows, looking at Steve in that critical way that he always looks at him. "You think that you're going to get something out of going outside? You're not going out for a joyride. You're going out to protect mankind."
"Well, yeah, but that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy it, right? I want to help people. I'm not saying that I don't. But I can help people and see the explosions of color."
Before Pierce even responds, Steve knows what he's going to say. It makes Steve swallow hard and he wishes that he was different. Perhaps if he was normal like everybody else, he'd get the chance to see the world the way that they do. But Steve is different and he has an obligation to the world. He has to help people. "No."
That's it. Just one word but it seems to crush Steve and he slumps in the chair that he's sitting in, frowning. "Why?"
"Why? You ask why? What kind of question is that? You won't be enjoying any colors. You will be taking part in the missions that you are assigned. You don't get a birthday. You are not a person. You are a soldier," Pierce responds. It's all things that Steve has heard before but it still hurts. It still makes him draw in a breath and look away, too wary to look at him much longer.
Steve wants to say something else but after a tense moment of silence he just nods. "Alright. I understand."
That should be enough and Pierce nods, grabbing another handful of grapes, ignoring the way that Steve looks longingly at them. "Good. I'll be back tomorrow to check on your progress."
Steve looks down at his hands, blood smeared on the knuckles, although the scrapes have already closed due to the serum running through his blood. He doesn't say anything as Pierce leaves, doesn't say anything as Redwing flies back in through the tower window to sit on his shoulder.
He doesn't say anything until later, when it's time for him to go to bed. "Well, we can always watch them from the tower again. It's not like that's a bad way to pass the time," Steve mumbles to the falcon perched next to his bed.
Redwing lets out a little sound of agreement and Steve rolls over to pull the pillow over his head, closing his eyes. He has a feeling tonight will be one that he has plenty of dreams.
Winter doesn't know when he fell asleep, just that apparently sometime in the night he did. It takes him only a few seconds to realize why he woke and he jerks up, hearing the sound of footsteps. If he was optimistic, he'd believe that it was just some passerby but Winter's never been that lucky.
It's only because he has super senses that he can hear the whispering from outside the trees and he puts a hand to his head. He doesn't get headaches much and it hurts worse than it probably should. He tears off his goggles, tossing them to the ground but it helps very little. Winter blinks once, twice, then one more time, makes sure the vial is still in his pocket and then carefully moves.
The area seems to be abandoned, remote enough that nobody from the kingdom comes out this way. Going through the frozen waters is dangerous and Winter is surprised that he was followed at all. He's silent as he walks, careful not to step on the many branches and twigs that litter the green grass.
It's purely by luck that the other man sees him and he freezes when they lock eyes. "Stop. You're the one who stole that vial. You're under arrest."
"You think you can catch me?" Winter asks, pulling the vial out just to taunt the frustrated looking man. He doesn't risk his luck, though, shoving the vial quickly back into his bag and taking off in a run.
Immediately he feels an ache in his body due to the fact that he had run so far yesterday. He's trained but it doesn't mean that he's invincible. He still feels and right now the pain threatens to down him.
Winter refuses to be arrested, though, and so he keeps running.
The bag bumps against his hip and he reaches down to grab it, looking down for only a moment. The second that he looks up, he skids to a halt in the dirt, nearly tumbling over as he tries to compensate for the movement.
There's the man that had told him to stop the first few times. He's dressed in what looks like military clothing, black armor with a deep red shade near his shoulders. His dark skin shines with sweat and Winter is glad that at least he's not the only one who seems to be having trouble with all of the running.
"You're going to give me that bag and you're going to come with me or else," the man says in a dangerous voice and Winter looks closer at him. He has what looks like a pack around his shoulders and he wonders what's in that bag of his. A bomb? Guns? Winter narrows his eyes. He doesn't want to get into a firefight in the middle of the forest, even if he thinks that he'd win.
"Or else what?" Winter asks in as sarcastic a tone as he can muster as he glances around. To the right of him is an angry looking cliff that he has no real desire to try to jump from. To his left is forest which is probably his best bet. He can most likely lose the other man in the trees. He can't look behind him because he's not stupid and in front of him is the soldier.
The man glares daggers at him and Winter can't help the tiny smirk that appears on his lips. Apparently, this week is just his time for making enemies. Well it's not like he hasn't done this before. "Or else I, Captain Sam Wilson, will arrest you in the name of the Kingdom of York."
The haughty way that the soldier says it makes Winter snort with laughter. He clears his throat, making sure that his pack is secure on him and then gives the man a mocking salute. "Good luck, good sir."
Winter is pretty sure that his sarcasm will be the reason that he gets shot one day as Sam pulls a gun out of the holster at his side and Winter immediately ducks into the forest to his left, cursing. It's just an undeniable part of himself, something that even the intense training that he had gone through couldn't force out of him.
A step here, a quick jerk to the right there. He can do this. He obviously is faster than the man behind him, although it seems that Wilson does have an advantage in that he seems to have traversed these woods before. It's all Winter can do not to get shot or trip over a stray branch or run into a tree.
"Just stop running before you get us both killed!" Sam calls as he sees Winter slam into a tree hard enough that he sees stars.
The tree, not sturdy by any means, immediately tilts precariously, which must've sparked the man's warning. Winter presses a hand to his head, hard, trying to quell the pain blossoming behind his eyes. "Fuck," he mutters, the very word hurting to say.
Winter makes sure that the tree isn't going to fall on him, he doesn't care if it falls on the other man, and then takes off running again. Almost immediately he knows that this isn't going to work. He can barely run, can barely see through the pain in his temple. He knows that it'll heal soon but for now he's dangerously close to collapsing.
"I know that had to hurt! Just stop and we can talk!"
"What a crock of shit," he yells over his shoulder, glancing around quickly. Through his tunneling vision he can see a tiny opening in between some vines and, after glancing behind him to make sure that Wilson is far enough off, he darts through them. It's more difficult than he had thought but his strength comes in handy as he tears them apart.
He can hear Wilson go running past the vines and he lets out a breath, glancing over at the rock walls surrounding him. In the dim light, surrounded by the rock walls on two sides and vines on the other, he can see a small symbol.
"HYDRA," he whispers, reaching up to touch the engraved head. His head jerks up, his heart starting to pound because he's sure that HYDRA isn't exactly going to be happy with him right now. He has to get somewhere safe.
Since going back isn't an option with Wilson still in his hearing, he moves forward, through the other curtain of vines. They're sticky, obviously meant to keep whatever's beyond them in hiding and he draws in a sharp breath when he sees.
The tower has to be stories high, dark browns and greens making it blend into the landscape behind it. Winter's mind immediately goes wild, wondering how long the tower has been here, wondering what is even up there. There has to be something precious if it's hidden so completely. Maybe it's even worth more than whatever's in the vial that he had stolen from the castle.
Either way, he has to get out of the way and that place seems to be the best. Winter approaches slowly, mindful of any booby traps that might be around but whoever built this tower was obviously confident that nobody would make it past the vines. He wonders whether whoever built the tower was overconfident or just stupid. Maybe a bit of both, considering what he knows about HYDRA.
Winter knocks on stones at the bottom of the tower but he can't find any doors and, since he's not sure how much longer he can stay conscious, he shrugs his shoulders and decides to just climb.
It's not hard to find enough footholds in the clumsy stones and he's intrigued by the downright primitive style of the tower. Maybe there isn't anything worth much up there but as long as he can rest for a while, the tower will do fine.
Winter makes the mistake of glancing down when he's halfway up and he winces, trying not to think about how his head is still pounding and what would happen if he fell. He's not going to fall, he tells himself. It's with great relief that he pushes himself through the small window frame, accidentally knocking over a small pot of flowers on the edge of the sill. Flowers?
"Hello?" He calls out, glancing around the dimly lit room. Immediately he can see workout equipment, a bookshelf, a chessboard on a small table and-
He'd already been struggling for conscious and he loses quickly when he's hit across the head with something that makes a resounding crack against his skull and seems to be red, white and blue.