Author's note: If you are reading and you did not access it through AO3, this is a stolen work. Please go to Archive of Our Own and access my work there, thank you. Please do not translate this to other languages or mediums without the author's express consent.
The light blinds him as the pod opens. He recognizes what it is, has a general sense of unease as if he’s awaking from major surgery. There are voices around him, surrounding him and he tries to open his eyes again. The pod straightens and he’s expected to step out of it. His legs tremble and people catch him before he’s able to tumble to the floor.
The command is smooth but firm, and he drops to his knees because he has no choice, he doesn’t know where he is, how long he’s been here, or whether or not these people mean harm to him. His senses heighten, he needs to assess the situation before he reacts, before he makes a mistake
“Activate protocol Defense Stark.” A man with a thick beard and bald head stands over him giving the orders.
Once the protocol activates he feels a slight tinge at the base of his skull that crawls up into his brain and, for a sharp second, his vision wipes out, pins and needles pierce into his brain and every neuron seems to fire at the same time. He gasps and falls forward, but strong arms grip him, hold him up. He spits out blood from biting his tongue.
“Looks good.” A female in close proximity to him says. “But it won’t hold, it never does, Stane.”
The word rings in his head, he knows it isn’t his name, but it is what he is called. Steve glances up and the light lances into his brain and hurts to a degree that he cannot control the tears rolling down his face.
“I’m Obadiah Stane, do you recognize me?”
At first Steve wants to say no, but then the information drops into his head like a marble plopped into an empty jar. It rattles and clinks. “Yes.”
Someone kicks him. He’s not sure who, the pain in his head dims his acuity.
“Designate, how do you address me?”
He swallows and his throat feels gritty, dry, as if they’ve been withholding water. “Sir, yes, sir.”
“That’s right. Do you know your function for the State?” Stane asks and he waits, still hovering over Steve as if he’s the master and Steve is only a dog.
“Function?” The word feels funny in his mouth. He tests it in his brain and thinks he’s not a piece of machinery, he’s a human being.
“Yes, as a Designate, do you know your function?” Stane asks. “Who made you what you are today?”
“Doctor Erskine and Howard Stark.” That answer comes easily, fluidly. It’s routine and normal to him. It’s not a forced thing written on his brain.
“And do you know what your function is as a Designate?” Stane asks and the woman steps up to the side and whispers something in Stane’s ear. He only smiles. “Captain Rogers understands that as a Designate he is not considered human, right Designate?” When Stane says his actual name, Captain Rogers, it is with disdain as if he’s tasted rotten fish.
A tight vise seizes his brain and he can’t open his mouth, nothing works. His thoughts freeze and he grumbles, yet only a pathetic murmur comes out.
“Designate?” Stane asks again. “Tell me as a Designate that you are not human, you are only worth your value to the State as a protector of Stark Industries.”
He opens his mouth and gulps at the air. It’s empty and devoid of oxygen. He can’t get his protests out, something deep within his skull stops him.
The woman grabs his hair and twists his head so his chin hits his chest. “It’s working to impede but not supply the correct behavior. We have to modify.”
Stane slaps her wrist and she snaps her hand away. “Give him a chance. What’s your duty, Captain Rogers?” Again when he uses the proper name and title his tone drips with disgust.
Steve clears his throat and he tests the words to see if they fit, if they aren’t razor edged. “As a Designate, my sole duty is to serve and protect the Ruling Family members of Stark Industries.” A sensation, warm and soft, flows through him from the back of his skull downward to the tips of his fingers. He tries not to sway with the feeling but he fails, his body is not complying with his conscious directions.
“Ah, see, there we go. You have no patience.” Stane smiles at Steve and he thinks it is supposed to reassure him, all it does is grow icicles in his head. “What happens if you fail in your duty as a Designate?”
Again the feeling as if a marble has been released into a glass jar. He waits as the answer is processed and he responds, “I will be terminated.”
“I still don’t see the purpose of this project. The neural net never holds on him. We’ve tried multiple times. We end up with Neural Rescission every time. The last time he ransacked the place before we got him under control. He won’t work as a Designate. The super soldier serum made sure of that,” the woman says and she twists his head around to look at her.
Her hair is black, her nails are blood red and all he can think is how cliché. A hot thorn jabs into him at the thought and he realizes it is a forbidden thing to think. These are his Handlers. He is to respect them. When he thinks this, the warmth returns and it lulls him.
“See, he’s getting it.”
“He’s going to get Stark killed if we assign him as the Primary Designate like you want.” The woman steps out of his sight and he’s not allowed to follow her because something in his head prevents him from turning to look at her.
“That’s the whole point, Hill.” Stane laughs. “He’s the perfect Designate. Stark won’t think anything of the assignment since his father had a hand in making him what he is today. Plus, he’ll want to tinker with the programming of the neural net.”
Hill comes back into his line of sight. “Which will inevitably lead to a breakdown since it’s so tenuous as it is.”
“If you want Stark dead why don’t you just program Rogers to kill Stark?” Hill asks and something shifts over her face, fleeting and scattered. It takes a second for her to control her features and she only gives him a sidelong glance.
“That’s not as easy as it sounds, Hill. Plus, don’t you think I tried?” Stane hisses. “It’s not that easy. This way is better and less of a chance for us to be implicated. A Designate failing in his assignment is not something unheard of, but a Designate outright killing his Ruling Family? Seriously, Hill, I’m a little surprised you would even think of that.”
Hill shrugs. “It would be easier.”
“If it could be done without issue,” Stane agrees. “But it can’t. Designate, tell us what your directive is?”
From the back of his brain a feeling not unlike the sensation of hearing a loved piece of music spreads and he swallows down the need to react to it. Instead he concentrates on the information being fed to him. “As the Primary Designate my sole purpose is to protect and serve the Ruling Stark family. I am to obey every order of a Stark family member-.”
Stane interrupts him. “Tell me the names of the Stark family.”
He waits as the information becomes available. “There’s only one member of the Ruling Stark Family. He’s name is Anthony Stark.” As he kneels in front of the man surrounded by a room filled with instruments and tech he doesn’t recognize or know. He understands that what’s happened to him is wrong, isn’t normal. He’s been betrayed. The prickles of pain begins to spear into his brain and he cringes against it.
“He’s having negative feedback,” Hill warns as she consults an instrument in her hands. “Already.”
“Give him time, he’s not reacting like the last time. This is progress.”
Steve scans the room, checking for exits, for escape routes. Yet, the thought of leaving causes a feeling of desperation and lost to overwhelm him, and he looks to Stane for comfort.
“There you go, that’s the perfect response.” Stane cups his chin and tilts Steve’s head up, studying his face. “You’ll do fine.”
“I’m not sure about this, Stane. Taking out Stark might not be the way to go,” Hill says and when Stane finally releases Steve’s chin, he’s able to shift his gaze to her. A sudden blush of pain seizes him but he bites back his response. Something’s wrong with Hill, he knows it. There’s a warning ringing in the neural net. He doesn’t say anything but Hill catches his brief lapse. She very nearly startles but controls it, and doesn’t react.
“This is dangerous, Stane, we shouldn’t-.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Hill. We have to put him on the roster as the Primary Designate. The State won’t allow anything else with him, especially him. It cost me quite a bundle to get the Stern to allow it. It wasn’t pretty.” Stane says. “Plus with the last Stark Designate killed, Stark is waiting for someone to fill his place.”
“Understood, should we prep him?” She backs off too fast and he wants to question her but the prickle of pain is back.
“Yes,” Stane says. “Adjust the neural net for the highest level of punishment should he disobey our orders. We need to ensure that we can control him, at all times. Us, not Stark.”
Hill nods, and then four men converge on him grabbing his arms and bringing him back to the pod. Primal, something primal runs through him. It feels like the flight response, the fight response. He has to get out. He needs to move before they touch him. Even as he thinks, tries to formulate a way to get to the exits, the neural net fires and he’s fighting through the pain.
The men – all of them large almost as big as he is – are well armed like soldiers; they are not lab rats. Steve has nothing but his bare hands; he’s only in his under shorts. With only seconds to act, Steve leaps to his feet, kicks Stane out of the way and grabs for Hill. It surprises him when she turns out not to be an easy target. She tries to fist him in the throat, only his quick reaction time saves him and he spins to catch her but she shoves into him with a shoulder as he staggers backward. The four soldiers converge on him and the neural net activates as someone yells, “Designate, discipline level 5.”
He drops, curled into the fetal position, not only due to the pain, but the neural net forces him into a ball, all of his muscles rigid. He growls against it, lips pulled back and teeth clenched.
“See, it does work very nicely.” Stane stands over him.
“I wouldn’t say kicking you and trying to nab me shows you’re in control of him,” Hill says with a disdain in her voice. Still, he perceives a small quaver as if she’s nervous. Is it because she’s scared of him or frightened of something else, something he cannot understand in this strange, new world he’s woken up in?
“Yes, but we’re close, very close,” Stane says. “A few more recalibrations and he’ll be perfect for Stark.”
“And then what?”
“And then we watch as Tony Stark fucks up and ends up losing the Stark name. It’ll be all mine.”
All the while Steve struggles against his own body, battling against the tension twisting his muscles, stretching his tendons. He cannot move. The soldiers move in, drag his bent up body to the pod. It takes all four of them to yank his arms away from his chest, they use electric pods and he can only grunt in response due to the net’s effects.
Clamping him in using enhanced metal restrains, they lock him into the pod and it closes on him. Memories of the Project Rebirth pod surface and the net allows the images to play out, jittering when Erskine is assassinated.
Without an idea of what’s become of the world, Steve fists his hands and battles against his body, but it barely responds to him. The neural net spikes pain into his cortex and his eyes water as the pod goes dark and he hears only muffled conversation outside the coffin. He’s trapped, he’s sealed in.
He zeroes in on the words, trying to decipher the dialogue even as the net shoots him over and again with agonizing spears of electric charge to his neurons. He grits his teeth, listening, trying to figure out what’s become of the world. But the sounds fade, and the tiny bit of light leaking into the cracks of the pod disappears when the laboratory lights shut off.
He waits and opens his mouth as if to scream, but something seizes his throat and silences his vocal cords. He cannot speak, he cannot scream. It feels like an invisible hand constricts his trachea. Only tears come to his eyes as he protests in silence. In the dark.
As he lies in the pod, the manacles around him, he hears the sound of a motor clicking into place. The gears whirl near his ears and before he reacts something prods near the base of his skull. He opens his mouth as if to gasp but no sound emits, the net keeps him silent even as the probe slides into his brain.
He wants to struggle, he wants to fight but the net freezes him, rips away his ability to rebel, harnesses his strength to use against him. He whimpers a weak mewl and he considers that a victory. The probe digs deep and then his vision goes white and his sense of up and down disintegrates until he’s frothing at the mouth from the nausea. It continues, the re-adjustment of the neural net through the night and he breathes through it, a prisoner in his own head.
It feels like sinking, down into the deep, the pressure pushes on his face, an unrelenting force. He grinds his teeth against the piercing pain that runs through his nervous system. The probe activates distant pain receptors until he’s on fire and the agony washes over him. He cannot swallow, he cannot blink away the blinding light. He wants the dark again, but even these begging thoughts are rewarded with another shoot of pain.
When he retreats inside himself and recalls memories of happier days, his time with his mother, his companionship with Bucky, his war buddies – the Howling Commandos, his near worship of Peggy are recompensed with jarring pain so acute he thinks his skin might flay off.
By the time the pod opens again, he’s not sure he can adequately recall Peggy’s features, or the kind hearted voice of Doctor Erskine or even the gruff mannerisms of Colonel Phillips. It becomes a blur, a hopeless smudge of memory he shies away from in fear of reprisals from the probe inserted in his head.
It begins a routine. Every time the pod opens, Stane and his compatriot Hill greet him. He’s grilled about the order of the State, and Hill watches her little screen gaging his responses, assessing the feedback from the neural net. There are times when he’s locked into one of the discipline modes for hours, hot tears burning his eyes as he waits for them to release him. There are other times when his body betrays him, when he can’t breathe, or blink, or when the vertigo will not end.
It takes him some time to figure out what’s happening, that maybe, just maybe he’s not in Nazi Germany – they aren’t – after all- speaking German. Yet, things don’t add up. Even Howard Stark didn’t have the type of equipment that surrounded him in the lab.
The routine continues with various hook ups to intravenous lines that he assumes feed him and clear him of any waste. He stays in the pod most of the time. It becomes both his prison and his haven. When he’s out of the pod Stane torments him, beats him when he doesn’t get an answer correct or has the neural net send a slice of hell through his brain. When he’s in the pod he’s confined and his memories torment him. He tries to clear his mind become numb to the world around him.
He knows he shouldn’t surrender and he promises himself that he isn’t. But it is easier to clear his mind and allow the brilliant white light of the pod to cleanse him. He stares and it blinds him. He thinks of nothing but the absence of color, of thoughts, of feeling. He eases into the Designate, the automaton they wish him to be.
Yet, through it all, he questions in quiet sections, partitioned off, in his brain. Why? Where is he? Did they lose the war? Why does he glimpse a Hydra symbol in the laboratory where they keep him? Has he been captured, if so why are all the people around him speaking in English?
It makes no sense, and there’s no one to ask. The terror that these little rebellions might lead to the pain in his head, the fire in his neurons to the tips of his fingers, helps him remain silent.
It is a day when he’s been tested for over five hours. His eyes are bleary and his tired from the constant pain pulsating through his head due to the neural net correcting any wayward thought. He succumbs to the sanctity of numbness. Standing over him, Stane seems bored and picks at his fingernails as he reads through a report on how the neural net is performing.
Hill joins him, and she points out several salient pieces of information. “He’s operating at about eighty seven percent compliance.”
“That better than the last time we tried, what was he at then about sixty-two?” Stane says and scrapes at his nail.
“Still marked improvement. I think we move him out,” Stand says and snaps his fingers in Steve’s face. Steve has learned to stay frozen until given the word. “Look at him, he’s perfect.” Stane flicks him in the face, on the cheek twice, and then directly on his right eye. It stings but Steve holds his ground. “He’s ready.”
“Most Primary Designates have a rating of over ninety, the vast majority over ninety-five percent,” Hill says and studies Steve. He catches a glimpse of her examination from the corner of his eyes. He thinks maybe it borders on sympathetic, but part of his brain discourages him from this hope.
“It’s good enough, Tony can’t continue without a Designate,” Stane says. “He’s too unpredictable and the State won’t allow him to run around the city unguarded much longer.” Stane claps his hands and two of the guards jump to attention and come to his side. “Get him cleaned up and dressed. Primary Designate uniform. I want it done in the next fifteen minutes.”
“The decom program takes over an hour, sir,” One of the guards says.
“He doesn’t need to be deloused or anything like that. Just get him showered and dressed, for God’s sake.” Stane hisses and the guards snap to following his orders.
As they approach Steve, Stane says, “And Rumlow, I don’t want any marks.”
One of the men with a crossbones on his uniform turns back to Stane and nods, “Yes sir. I’ll try my best.”
“You see to it.”
Rumlow orders, “Up, Designate.”
The net tinges and Steve climbs to his feet, feeling the warmth spread like a comforting blanket over him. Rumlow takes out his electric prod and directs Steve to the exit of the lab. Although Steve has checked out the entire laboratory, mapping the exits, noting the number of guards, the weapons they carry (some of which he does not recognize), he has never been allowed to venture outside of the lab. He’s only been in the pod or kneeling at Stane’s feet for hours.
The long day causes his legs to wobble as he follows the orders and two of the guard fall into step behind him as Rumlow orders them to the decom room. Once in the room, Steve is stripped of the simple shorts he wears and told to get into the shower stall. Every time he follows the orders without question –either spoken or not- the flush of warmth runs through him and it reminds him of a time when his mother praised him. But that thought causes a singe of pain and he mentally scurries away from it.
The hot water turns on and he stands under the stream for long minutes not moving. Over the course of his time in the laboratory and the pod, he’s learned to section off his thoughts, to keep a numbing noise level in his brain at the same time he considers possibilities and his situation. It’s difficult to do, to stay away, hidden from the pain of the net, but he’s learned a little peace.
He shies away from thinking of escape because that set off all kinds of alarms in his head and debilitating pain. Instead, he evaluates his situation. They are finally assigning him to Anthony Stark, son of Howard Stark. According to what he’s learned, Howard is dead – long dead. It doesn’t make sense because Howard had been a young man and not encumbered with children at the time Steve knew him, before the plane crash into the Arctic.
Time moved onward without him. He wonders if he was rescued immediately and only regained consciousness now, or if they somehow caused him to stay unconscious. If Howard had children within a decade of the war, and assuming the child is an adult or a young adult – mid-twenties – Steve might assume that it is the mid-1970s. The thought hurts, but not because of the thing in his brain. It aches because he’s lost his world – at least by decades, by thirty years.
“Hey, scrub up, we don’t have all day,” Rumlow pounds on the shower door.
He follows orders because not doing so would only cause punishment. He cleans up mechanically, but feels better for it. It has been a long time since he showered. Once he leaves the shower, the guard called Rumlow shoves a towel at him and points to a bench outside the tiled room. “Put those clothes on.”
Steve doesn’t reply only takes the small towel and tries to dry off as well as possible, considering the size of the towel. He’s still damp when he gives up and goes to the bench. He dresses efficiently. It’s a dark blue uniform with silver embellishments – a star on the chest, boots, and fingerless leather gloves. It’s comfortable and as he tugs on the gloves Rumlow appears again.
“Let’s move out.”
Steve nods and the guards which now number six with Rumlow form a perimeter around him and they march down a new corridor. The facility looks as if it might be a stronghold. There are guards everywhere, many standing at doors or in cubbies. Steve spots what reminds him of cameras only miniaturized every six to ten feet. They enter an elevator, but it doesn’t have an operator.
“Shipping and Receiving,” Rumlow says and smirks at Steve. “Little homage to the old uniform. Nice.”
Steve peers down at the star and hasn’t a clue how to respond. He smiles but doesn’t say anything.
“We’ll be working together once in a while, Designate,” Rumlow says. “Better get used to it. Stark ain’t allowed to go roaming around without supervision, you know.”
The laws requiring all Class citizens drop into Steve’s awareness from the neural net implanted in his brain. It’s too much and he physically forces himself not to vomit at the vertigo.
Rumlow’s hand is on his shoulder as he fights through the nausea. “There you go. It’ll get better once you learn a bit more about things. Won’t have information overload.”
“Thank you,” Steve says and the reward sensation flushes through him.
Rumlow taps the back of his own skull. “Been a Hydra Designate for over ten years, best decision I ever made. Though not the class of Designate you are, you poor bastard. But you’ll like it, once you get used to it.”
Steve zeroes in on the word Hydra and the pain explodes in his head. Every partition he built breaks down and he drops to his knees, curling over in a ball. The whirl of images, Schmidt and the Tesseract assault him, the plane crashing into the ice, the words Peggy last spoke to him. He thinks over and again, we lost the war, we lost the war.
An arm over his back and words drift through his consciousness. “No, Cap, we didn’t lose the war. We didn’t lose at all.”
He hadn’t realized he spoke out loud, but he bites back his words, his whimpers. He doesn’t know to whom Rumlow refers when we says we. The pain seizes him again and he shudders through the convulsion.
Stane’s voice and Steve figures the elevator stopped and the doors have opened.
“Just a little re-adjustment, that’s all.” Rumlow hooks his hand under Steve’s arm as Stane grumbles.
“Release,” Stane says and the triggered pain eases until Steve can use Rumlow’s hand as a crutch and get to his feet. The older man smiles at him, dusts off the shoulders of his uniform. “Now, let’s get you to your primary assignment. Tell me again, Designate?”
“As a Designate, my sole duty is to serve and protect the Ruling Family members of Stark Industries. As Primary Designate, I vow my life for the protection of Anthony Stark, the sole and ruling member of Stark Industries.” A reward runs through him and it causes the echoes of pain to become a distant, dissipated thing.
Stane claps him on the shoulder. “Good, good, let’s get the show on the road, shall we gentlemen?”
The guards ring him again and they usher him to a waiting car. It’s like nothing Steve has ever seen before. It is white and sleek. He shifts a glance at Stane but doesn’t ask. He concentrates on creating the walls inside his head again. Stane directs him into the back seat of the car.
Nodding, he gets into the back which is long and has seats in multiple directions. Stane huffs as he climbs in and straightens his jacket. The doors close. None of the guards get into the back with them.
“This is a limousine, Designate.” Stane flips open a side panel and pulls out a bottle with amber liquid and a glass. “I would offer you one, but you’re not allowed and plus that pesky little serum doesn’t help you out much with alcohol.” He pours as the car pulls away from the curb. Steve bends to look out the window. The buildings stretch up to the sky at unheard of heights. He sees a sign on the outside of the building he vacated.
Hydra Designate Training. His mind judders for a moment and he fists his hands, trying to ease away from the fear trembling inside of him.
“Okay, now, this is the part you need to listen to.” Stane sips his drink, more like a slurp and needs to wipe his beard with the back of his hand. “First, take a look around.”
Steve does as told and it’s not forced compliance because he’s genuinely curious. As they move through the streets things that had been familiar once, now seem strangely disorienting and terrifying. There are cars, but they are smaller, or larger, sleeker or bulkier. The trucks are huge, the people – there are so many more people. The lights are everywhere even in the day time. People push through the streets hooked up to something in their ears with wires trailing to little rectangular devices in their hands.
He has no choice but to look at his jailer for explanation.
“You, dear Primary Designate, were frozen for over seventy years.”
Steve frowns and cannot decide whether or not to believe the man.
“Download current date and time.”
It drops into his head and it has to be a lie. It cannot be seventy years? Not only has he missed decades, he’s moved into the new century. Everyone he’s known has to be dead. He inhales harshly and clenches his teeth.
“The truth of the matter is that an outlawed organization by the name of SHIELD found you. One Nick Fury and his cohorts found you frozen in the Arctic. It would have made big headlines to see Captain America fighting for the Resistance, but that’s over now, thank the State,” Stane says and unbuttons on his jacket before the button pops. “We’re lucky, the State has a few moles in the Resistance. The State was able to pick you up and bring you in. Took a while to decide what to do with you.”
Steve finds his voice. He rarely, if ever, asks questions, “When did you decide?”
“State wanted to discard you. Would have been easier than the recalibration, and the neural net,” Stane says with the shrug and another gulp of his alcohol. “Agent Hill, you met her. She convinced President Pierce to use you as a commodity. If a neural net could be fitted for someone with the serum, then we could clear up that brain of yours and use it for the good of the State. Aren’t you happy we were able to do that?”
Steve knows there’s a required answer. He smiles and says, “Yes, sir.”
“Once you were placed in the custody of the Designate program, it took a while to get you to where you are today,” Stane says and slaps Steve on the knee as if it is a great accomplishment. Steve only remembers the hours of pain and humiliation.
“Now you know your place, right boy?”
“Yes, sir.” The neural net supplies his answer for him. And he pretends he doesn’t feel the wetness of tears in his eyes. Even the thought of escape causes pain. He numbs his mind again, fades back into the dull state he learned during the many hours of adjustment therapy. He closes off his mind and keeps reciting the Designate words in his head.
As a Designate, my sole duty is to serve and protect the Ruling Family members of Stark Industries.
All the while, he knows he needs to disable the neural net in his head. Stane has given him information, priceless information. There is a resistance, a rebellion against this State. He hasn’t a clue where to start but he’s not about to give in and surrender if he still breathes.
The net pings and a throbbing headache flourishes. He blinks his eyes and listens as Stane drones on.
“I bet New York looked a lot different, back in your day?” Stane says. “Well, lots of things have change.” He raises his glass to Steve. “Including your status as a human being. Isn’t that an interesting turn of events.”
He doesn’t reply, because nothing seems suitable. But it is another nugget of information. He’s actually in New York City, Manhattan – he understands as he recognizes some of the street names. They approach a huge building – one of many – but Steve sees large lettering in lights.
“We’re approaching Stark Tower,” Stane says and straightens up in his seat. He stows the glass and decanter, buttons up his jacket and then studies Steve. “If you even give a whisper of dissent or disobedience, I will take you back to the laboratory and liquefy your brain, do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” Steve says and, instead of a warm shiver of obedience, the net pulses a hot fire brand of pain through his neurons. He screws his eyes shut and steadies his breathing.
“Remember that,” Stane says as the car moves past gates and into the large plaza the Tower occupies. A sentinel at the gate stops them for identification that the driver of the car provides. They are waved through the gates.
Once the car is parked in an underground garage, a new swarm of guards appears and completely surround Steve, but leave Stane to lead the way. They cross the garage port into the main building. It’s a small hallway with several elevators. Stane nods to the guards and they drop back as both Steve and Stane step into the elevator.
“This is your chance to prove yourself, Designate.”
“Yes, sir.” Steve eyes the floors as they rise through the levels.
“Otherwise I’ll have to transfer you to the Triskelion. I don’t think you’ll like it there, even if Fury and his goons used to use it as a base of operations,” Stane says.
“Mister Stane, Sir is currently in the workshop, would you like to-.”
“Yes, yes, directly, please,” Stane says to the disembodied voice. He doesn’t see fit to explain to Steve.
The future, he tells himself and is surprised he’s not hyperventilating. The doors open and they step out into a corridor with a glass wall. Stane waves his hand over a part of the pane and a block of numbers appears. Steve frowns as Stane punches in the numbers and then the door unlocks and they step into the workshop. The music is blasting and there’s what Steve can only label as a hook with grabbers rolling around the floor with a cap on it that says Dunce.
“Tony, Tony?” Stane says and knocks on one of the many benches scattered around the area. They pick their way through the mess, there’s equipment and wires and tools strewn everywhere. On top of that there are glowing projections of schematics hanging down from the ceiling. Steve ducks to avoid them, but then watches as Stane walks right through them without disturbances.
They enter a back room where a single man pounds on something that looks like a metal sheeting.
“Tony,” Stane yells and the man only acknowledges him with a glance up and then goes back to his work. “JARVIS turn the music off.”
The music abruptly cuts out, and Steve has his doubts if he would truly call it music.
“Did I tell you to stop the music, J man?” Tony says and dumps his tools on the bench. He turns, folds his arms across his chest – where a glowing blue disk emits light- and considers Stane. “No, I don’t want him.”
“I told you, you have to have a Primary Designate. You can’t-.”
“The last one tried to kill me in Monaco or did you miss Vanko and his electrified whips?” Tony says and glowers at Steve. “Plus he looks too American pie.”
“Tony, how many times do I have mention that it isn’t polite to swear,” Stane says and his tone is clearly condescending.
“Remembering that we used to have an America it’s not a swear word, Obie.”
Stane grabs Steve’s arm to drag him closer to Tony. He nearly trips over the two steps down but rights himself quickly. “I think you’ll like this one.”
Tony quirks an eyebrow. “Why does he give a good blow job?”
“Tony,” Stane says and clears his throat. When Tony doesn’t smile, Stane rolls his eyes. “I could have that programmed into his neural net, if that’s what you want. But this one you’ll like, I swear it.”
“What’s your name?”
He tries to answer but the net garbles his name.
Stane interrupts and says, “Primary Designate, you can give him a nickname if you want, like a dog. They’re not human.”
Tony flinches and that draws Steve to him immediately. Steve keeps his eyes on Tony, trying to read him, trying to gage exactly what Howard’s son thinks.
“But,” Stane says. “I’ll tell you his former name, Captain America.”
Tony freezes, his face pales and he narrows his eyes. “What?”
“This is the one and only Captain America.”
“No,” Tony says and shakes his head. “No, did they figure out a way to clone him or something? An imposter?”
“No,” Stane says with a hoot of delight. “This is the real deal, the real Steve Rogers, AKA, Captain America. Fury’s goons found him in the Arctic, in ice. Don’t know what the hell they were doing up there, probably searching for a safe haven, but they found him.”
“And thawed him out?” Tony says and begins to circle Steve.
“We got him and convinced Stern to get Pierce to let me train him.”
“How long ago?”
“They found him about two years ago, right around the time that miscreant, Loki, tried to invade.” Stane smiles. He’s self-satisfied and gluttonous in his demeanor. “We got him in a raid and ended up taking him into training.”
“How long has he been in training?” Tony asks and stops in front of Steve. He tilts his head as he studies him.
“A little over a year.”
Steve wavers and Tony puts up a hand to keep him on his feet. Over a year, he’s been in the pod for over a year. What did they do to him before that? Two years?
“Whoa there big fella, you okay?” Tony asks, his words are kinder than Steve expects. Steve only swallows down the bile as Stane answers for him.
“He’s good, don’t worry about it. He just found out he’s been out of it for over seventy years.”
“You sure he’s stable?” Tony says. “I don’t want another Vanko.”
“Yeah, you want someone to suck your dick,” Stane says.
“Don’t tell me you don’t use your Designate for some thrills and chills, Obie,” Tony says but his gaze never leaves Steve.
“I don’t get the class of Designate you do, Tony. So, you want me to put him in the slot for now, or do you want him out to play?”
“Slot him,” Tony says and walks away without a backward glance. “I got work to do.”
Stane shoves him in the middle of his upper back to push him forward back toward the elevators. “This way.” To Tony, he calls, “You want the full routine or do you want him to eat, piss, and shit like a human?”
Tony coughs once. Steve sees a distinct distaste for the subject matter in his expression. He answers, “Yeah let him eat and all that like a human. Otherwise he’s no good to me.”
Stane mutters under his breath and Steve hasn’t a clue what they are talking about other than the fact he cannot remember doing any of those things the entire time he was in the Designate laboratory.
Once in the elevator, Stane says, “JARVIS, service floor, please.” It is only a few floors lower than the workshop and they exit to a dimly light corridor. “This way. I can never understand why that man doesn’t have more Designates. He’s one of the richest men and most powerful men in the State. But no, he’ll only tolerate one at a time. Idiot.”
“Sir, would you like assistance-?”
“No, JARVIS, none at all,” Stane says and flashes his hand over a panel in the wall to open a small room. At first Steve thinks it might be his assigned quarters, but then he sees the pod in the corner of the room. “Strip.”
For only a moment Steve hesitates and the neural net sends a singular spike of pain through his limbs, a warning. He clears his throat and steps to the bench in the corner of the room next to the pod. With military efficiency he disrobes and folds his clothes, placing them on the bench as the pod opens.
“This is where you’ll sleep, it’s also where you will be recalibrated every night and where you will get your adjustment punishment.” Stane points to the pod. “Get in.”
Steve considers the possibility of escape, if only for a second but the pain flashes like a hot torch through him and he grunts against it.
“Don’t try it, get in.”
Steve climbs the step up and then turns to face outward. Wires snake around him as the manacles shackle him to the pod. The wires slip onto his chest and arms.
“Disengage primary physical maintenance,” Stane says and there’s a small release sensation that runs through Steve.
For the first time in over seventy years, Steve is hungry.
“The pod will no longer serve as your main sustenance or waste management for that matter. Stark is allowing you that privilege. He can take it away at any time.” Stane flicks a few switches and smiles as the pod begins to close. “Just hope Tony remembers you’re here. He has a tendency to get wrapped up in his work. You might just starve to death before he remembers.”