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The Winter Knight: the House of Arthadan part 2

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They called it Checkpoint Charley, and it had become, since the construction of the Wall, the most famous gates and checkpoints. For Steven, as he looked up at the now crumbling Wall graffiti-ed with years of paint and near crushed expression of free will, it was a painful reminder of the day he had finally broken and became the unholy terror known as the Winter Knight. He remembered the day well, for it had come not long after he was unmade and remade into something that terrified even him. Steven closed his eyes tightly as them memories washed over him of that day, and a tear ran down his face.


~**~~

Steven thrashed and fought as they dragged him bodily to the conditioning chair. Steven recoiled in fright at the mere glimpse of it. This was where they stole away his Ada’s memories and personality. The room was round with a raised platform of cement at the center, and there sat the Chair. It looked like a twisted version of a dentist chair or barber’s chair, with a large ring that would go over the head and face and send targeted jolts of electricity to the brain. It was also for restraining the victim when their telepath started manipulating his mind. Steven had been through that once and didn’t want a repeat of the experience. So he dug in his heels and fought with all the strength he could muster to keep away from that Chair, for it meant another session with Nikola Zhukov and more implanted triggers and programming.  Admittedly, with all the strength he could muster wasn’t very much anymore. He had been starved for too long to really use the strength in his limbs, so it was barely that of a struggle for the guards to drag him to the chair and strap him into the restraints.

                “NO, please,” he’d begged with tears of terror running down his face. “No, no, you don’t have to do this! Please, no! PLEASE!” but the guards had ignored his pleading and fixed the last of the metal and cloth restraints tight around his arms and legs. Steven had dropped his head back on the headrest  in near panic, whimpering, and tried to regain his composure, before he’d cast his gaze around the room for anything that could get him out. Weak as he was, Steven’s grasp over his powers was almost non-existent, leaving him unable to remove the restraints or manipulate the guards’ minds to let him go. Steven’s eyes darted around the room, and he was in such a panic that he almost missed the flash of metal in the only corner of the room, at his direct left next to the thick glass of the observation window.

                “ADA!” he’d gasped with relief and shock, “Ada, please help me!” he’d pleaded, but the form of James Buchanan Barnes stayed as still and as rigid as a statue; his face blank and eyes soulless. Steven sobbed when he realized that the programming was in full affect and it wasn’t his Ada standing there but the thing that they had forced him to become, their Asset: The Winter Soldier. Steven turned away in despair and laid his head back to look at the ceiling eyes glistening with fresh tears, unable to bear looking at the thing that was once the most loving and caring person in his whole world.

Suddenly the loud scrape of the door’s latch opening followed by the screeching of the hinges brought his gaze right back to the opening. He couldn’t see much, but what he did, filled him with fright: a metal equipment table was being rolled in with a large stand with round lamp-like fixtures on it, and it held so many it was as long as his body. But it was neither of these things that made the very blood in his body turn to ice. It was the six vials on the tray filled with the blue and terrifyingly, familiar liquid that filled him with dread. Steven had gone as white as death, when he realized what they planned to do with him: they wanted to turn him into another super soldier. Only they hadn’t known that he’d had a version since birth, and they didn’t know about his powers. The loud bang of the door opening again caused him to flinch, hard, and look at the man that had walked into the room. Tears flooded Steven’s eyes, when the man in the white lab coat, obviously some sort of doctor (one of Zola’s assistants he had later come to find out) placed the vials in the injection ports, attached to his restraints via tubes. The man looked down at Steven, and the young captain had finally managed to catch his eye.

                “Please,” he had begged softly, filled with fright, “don’t do this!” tears ran down his face, and he tried to muster up some telepathic ability, but to no avail. The doctor grinned and simply patted him on the shoulder.

                “Don’t worry,” he’d said, “this is the real thing; taken from samples of Captain America’s blood! Once you are better, and the Soldier is given a dosage, you will be the first of many.” With that he had turned away and finished setting up the crude version of Stark’s Rebirth Chamber. “We are ready to begin,” he’d said to the observation window, before throwing a lever on the chair. Steven had felt it the moment the Serum hit his veins: it had burned like fire and froze all at once, and he arched in the restraints to try and escape. He’d had no idea what the Serum would do with his powers, and he hadn’t wanted to find out. “Reservoir emptied,” he had heard the doctor distantly say; “Vita-Ray saturation will begin in moments.” The door banged shut and the latches locked, and Steven had realized that the doctor had fled the room to continue the experiment from the other side of the glass, but his Ada was still there. They didn’t care about hurting him, or making him sick, and Steven felt even more helpless. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to block out the doctor’s tinny voice over the speakers. “Vita-Ray reaction in five… four… three… two… one…” Steven had felt more than saw the lamps turn on. That steady thrum of electricity he had always felt grew stronger and Steven had thrashed even harder against the restraints. But the restraints held. A burn had begun to bubble up, deep within is veins, and Steven knew that the Serum was beginning to work. Desperation had him digging deep within himself for any amount of strength to regain control of his powers.

Dimly he was aware that he had begun to scream in pain and fear, and without realizing it the room had begun to shake; not from the equipment but from his powers surging back to life with his great distress. Suddenly Steven was nearly deafened, when the quiet murmur of voices in his head became a roar that grew louder and filled with more voices and thoughts than he could filter out. He screeched and pulled on the restraints with all his strength. The Serum was burning through his veins and changing him down to his very core, making him stronger; amplifying everything inside. And then everything went white.

(He hadn’t known until later that he had opened his eyes and the very core of the pupils began to slowly fill with an inner light and his irises began to glow. He didn’t know that his voice took on an unearthly quality as he screamed; or that his whole body had begun to glow, radiating out from his chest and spreading outward to his arms and legs forming a halo of light around his form that grew brighter than the lamps already maxed out above him. Nor did he know until later that the glow spread out almost like wings of pure light from his shoulders.)

Suddenly the restraints gave way to the unyielding strength that surged through his muscles, and Steven had brought his hands up to his head to cover his ears and try to block out the noise. His eyes shut tight again to the chaos around him. (The restraints had been ripped away from his legs by his powers but also by the metal strength of the left arm on Bucky’s form.) If it hadn’t been tied down it was now caught in the whirlwind of Steven’s newly amplified powers. Objects were flung across the room to shatter, only for their remains to seemingly turn to dust and reform into something else. Electricity arched across the room to Steven’s body and danced across his skin like the northern lights across the night sky. Devices switched on and off again in rapid succession before completely disassembling and joining the dust and debris whirling around Steven’s form hunched in on himself from the pain. His knees were drawn to his slightly broader and bulkier chest and he had his hands clasped tight over his ears, as the volume of the voices increased, in sound and in number. (Steven hadn’t heard the doctor screaming for the Soldier to restrain him, or Bucky refusing, and the guard screaming a trigger word at him, causing Bucky to collapse in a heap on the floor.)

Suddenly there was a prick in his neck and the voices dimmed and grew distant, and the light in his mind faded and the room grew dark. Just before he succumbed to the blackness of the tranquilizer, Steven had heard the faint whispering of Bucky’s mind against his own.

                ‘Listen to my voice, Stevie,’ he’d said, ‘it’s gonna be okay. It’s okay. Just let it flow around you, and listen to what you want to hear.’


~**~~

Steven opened his eyes and made his way into the city of West Berlin. If he had any chance at all of making this work, of actually escaping the clutches of the Red Room and HYDRA, he needed help. And there was only one person he knew of in the city that he could trust to get the information he had to Stark and Carter, his father: Arion Ingwion. The trouble was Arion was still a Spy for MI6, and Steven, the Winter Knight, intelligence myth that he was, was still in the top five on their most wanted list. He knew where to find his father, he just needed a few minutes with him, but the trouble was would he trust him. After all he was a trained killer, and Steven knew that something was wrong with him now; he could feel it. But he still didn’t want to die, and he didn’t want his Ada to die either. So Steven swallowed his fear and made for the bar Arion favored in Berlin.

As he made his way there he remembered his first mission after he broke under the strain from his newly amplified powers and the conditioning. It had been the Red Room’s way of proving his loyalty to the Motherland.

One of the officers high in the Party had decided that he wanted more than what Communism was giving him, and had made a bargain with the fledgling SHIELD for their help to get him through the city and past the checkpoint to freedom in exchange for the information he had on one of the KGB’s pet projects: The Red Room and project Winter Soldier. When HYDRA heard about it, they went into near panic. The Soldier wasn’t ready for deployment, and if reacquired by the Americans they could undo all their hard work. It wasn’t that hard of a decision really, for them to assassinate the man, and there was only one Asset they could send to do it: Zimniy Rytsar' -The Winter Knight.

By that time, Steven had come a long way from the initial training and conditioning of the first five years of his capture. A little over ten years had passed and Steven was now firmly in their control, the programming and triggers keeping him complaisant and weak. It didn’t hurt that the Soviets had gotten their hands on a copy of the recording of Steve’s last moments; the static and ominous silence cutting off Steve’s last words crushing any hope Steven or Bucky had for rescue, and breaking their will to fight back anymore. And the five years since his enhancement had given Steven a level of power and control over his abilities that frightened his handlers. Things he had to concentrate to do before were now effortless, and his ability to mimic people’s voices and manipulate the particles of light around him made him an excellent infiltration Asset. But HYDRA feared that power, and did everything they could to ensure that Steven thought they had more power than him, more control over him than he could fight. So they resorted to other methods of control to ensure his compliance: blackmail and emotional manipulation. By keeping Bucky in their tight control, they ensured Steven would do anything to keep them from hurting him further by doing what they wanted; which was to kill, lie, steal and manipulate anyone they wanted to shape the future.

Steven chuckled mirthlessly as he remembered the ease in which he infiltrated the officer’s party to kill him. The man had convinced his driver and aide to defect with him and the aide looked enough like him that Steven didn’t even try that hard to manipulate his features when he killed the young Russian Army Captain and took his place in the car. They planned it perfectly down to the wire how he was going to kill him.

HYDRA and the Red Room didn’t want just a hit, they wanted to make an example of the Officer to the other officials of what happens when you try to rat out the Red Room and defect; and Steven had done just that.


~*~

The Russian officer was a well-connected colonel high up in the party, and from where Steven sat across from the man in their limousine he could see just that. He was older than Steven in looks but far younger than he should be to be a Colonel of his influence. Steven mentally snorted at the hypocrisy of the so-called equality of the Soviets. Steven settled in further into his seat, and looked out the window, doing his best to act slightly nervous. The colonel saw it and took the bait.

                ‘Will you relax, Stepan,’ he said in Russian, and Steven looked over at the man and acted sheepish for being caught worrying. The Colonel took another sip of his expensive brandy before addressing the man he thought to be his captain. ‘The American’s have taken care of everything. Once we cross over into West Berlin, they will be arranging for our transport to the West. There is no need to worry!’

                ‘It’s my job to worry, sir,’ Steven said with a fake nervous laugh, and turned back to the window; seemingly looking for ghosts of assassins or KGB agents that were not there. The Red Room trusted him enough that the only agent he was concerned about was his handler, just waiting for one false move that would put his Ada back into the Chair for further conditioning and brainwashing. ‘And we are not out of Soviet Union, yet, my friend. Anything could happen before we get through the checkpoint.’ But it wouldn’t. No, the kill would only happen after they got through to the other side and left the car. That was the plan. ‘I will feel better when we get through without raising any suspicions, sir.’

The colonel chuckled and took another drink.

They passed through the checkpoint with relative ease and drove across to where they would be changing cars to speak with the SHIELD agents before going to the private airfield where they would board a plane to London. This was what the defector’s had planned, but not what would happen. Steven was to kill the two defecting officers and then the agents before returning, leaving no witnesses and a pile of bodies behind.

Only it hadn’t happened that way either, because when Steven got out of the car, he froze. The agents were Howard and Peggy. Steven paled and quailed inside, when he realized it was a test of his loyalty, one he would surely fail. Because no matter how badly they tortured and conditioned him, he could never kill his friends, especially not the ones he had known since birth. The Colonel paused, when he realized Steven wasn’t beside him and turned around.

                ‘Stepan?’ he said, ‘come, now, it’s almost over.’ Steven squeezed his eyes tightly to will away the tears.

                ‘Yes,’ he answered softly, ‘it is.’ Steven took a deep steadying breath before he snapped open his eyes and willed his expression into perfect blankness. Quick as lightning he withdrew the gun hidden in the illusion of the captain’s uniform, and dropped the illusion entirely. There was a look of pure panic on the two officers’ faces before Steven shot them both in the head.

                “Shit!” Steven heard Howard say as the officers dropped dead, before he turned to give them both a full look at the new Assassin they were dealing with. “Carter, he’s a plant!” Peggy had already drawn her firearm and was leveling the gun at his chest. Steven had his own leveled at her head, the programming screaming at him to finish the mission, and remove the witnesses. The gun trembled in his hand as he struggled against the programming before his hand slowly dropped to his side and he forced himself to turn around and walk away.

                “Stop!” Peggy ordered, but Steven ignored her and walked stiltedly away to his extraction point. “Stop or I’ll shoot!” Steven pushed even harder against the programming and ignored her. He felt it the second she pulled the trigger, and he stopped the bullet; freezing it mid-air inches from his form. He tilted his head a little, like a curious bird before he turned only slightly and twitched his eye. The gun in Peggy’s hand disassembled at his command and fell in pieces from her fingers. Steven pushed against the programming and continued to walk away, forcing his orders to label Peggy and Howard as non-threat.

As soon as Steven was far enough away and had pushed his programming to think mission complete, he collapsed into a heap behind a church and started sobbing.


~*~

Steven paused for a moment and smiled looking at the very same church that had given him a brief moment of solace as he mourned the loss of his innocence and will. A priest had found him, crying in the alley and brought him inside. He gave him peace, a cup of hot chocolate, and let him cry until Steven confessed what he had done; begging with every breath for forgiveness.

Steven didn’t think he could be forgiven anymore, but he still asked. Eventually Steven had to leave, because he needed to be at the extraction point before the end of the hour or they would come looking for him. He went back willingly, that was the thing, because they had the only thing in the whole world that could force him to do as they said: leverage.

Of course they were furious that he didn’t kill Stark and Carter, and punished him severely for it. But it was worth the pain and suffering, if only because they survived.

Steven continued down the street until he stood right in front of the bar. Steven took a deep calming breath to settle his nerves before he moved to the door. He didn’t have a lot of time before they noticed that he was not where he was supposed to be, but it was enough time to tell his father he needed help, that Bucky needed his help. Bucky and Steven were on a ticking clock for how long they had left to live, and with each day that passed their usefulness to HYDRA became slimmer. Steven had to get Howard and Peggy’s help before it was too late.

TBC…

End note: I want feedback on this chapter because I am still trying to figure out what I am doing. I know where I am going but I might have some trouble getting there without boring you all or making you disturbed too fast.

Flash backs are going to be frequent in this story, and a lot of mentions of torture and physical abuse. Mental abuse is a given. Rating on this will be a T for sure.

Happy 100th Birthday to Bucky!