Vivian’s dress stuck to her like a second skin, the fabric soaked. Every inch of her was covered in blood, save for her face. The mask that they’d given her dug into her skin, leaving red lines in its wake. She’d discarded it the second she’d been able to do so, the splattered garment laying forgotten behind her. Her blood soaked hair had fallen in her face, the viscous liquid dripping down her face as she pressed her hand against the cryo chamber. It’d been easy for them to get Bucky into the chamber after a massacre like that. A whole segment of the mob was gone now and that territory was Hydra’s to use as they saw fit.
“Your suffering does not need to continue. I can help you.”
Slow footsteps approached, but Vivian refused to glance back as they came to a stop right behind her. Her forehead pressed was pressed against the glass and she rolled her eyes as after several moments of silence, the man still didn’t take a hint and leave. Reaching up, she placed a hand against the glass before thinking about it and then lifted her hand up and lowered all but her middle finger.
“All you would have to do is focus on your pain. Focus.”
“Fennhoff, as admirable as this attempt to brainwash me is, it is not actually going to work.”
Turning and leaning back against the glass, Vivian’s expression was downright bored as she corrected, “Except you were. Did you already forget that Zola made me watch you brainwash people? You chose a different format for Barnes, a series of trigger words to save time, but typically you tell someone to focus. Your whole big goal is to have people focus on their pain and then shift their focus to something good, make it so that they listen to your voice and your voice only. There’s a problem with that though.”
“And what is that?”
Vivian leaned forward, baring her teeth as she hissed, “The problem is that I don’t fucking care what you think. I don’t care what any of you think.”
Fennhoff glared and sat back before snapping, “You should. I—”
Vivian smirked, “You are a very old man. You’re turning seventy-six this year, and the only person in this room you could force to help you is currently indisposed.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“That wasn’t a threat. However, if you must be explicitly threatened, then please remember that if you ever try anything like that again, I will rip your fucking throat out with my teeth.”
“You can’t,” the man sputtered, backing off slightly, “If you kill me, then there will be no one to release your soldier from his programming.”
“You wish that was true, but you’re not as smart as you think you are. And my soldier is leagues above you as well.”
“Your insolence will be your undoing.”
Vivian let out a gasp and put a hand to her cheek, “Do you really think so, Doctor Fennhoff? Do you think my insolence is the thing that’s holding me back? Gosh, no wonder Zola relies on you so much. You’re so smart.”
The man glared and Vivian laughed before standing up and heading toward him on bare feet. Her shoes were off to the side, equally soaked with blood, and she glared as she demanded, “Tell me what you’re really doing here. There’s no way you actually thought you’d be able to control me with that trick so what do you want?”
“I would appreciate…” Fennhoff looked like he’d just swallowed a lemon as he bit out, “I would appreciate your help.”
“Director Margaret Carter.”
“Didn’t Zola already tell you that I refused to help with that endeavor before?”
“And then you did help him. Now get cleaned up and come with me. There’s something you need to see.” Vivian hesitated, but then nodded as Fennhoff turned and took a step toward her, his voice cold as he reminded her, “The typical means of control may not work on you, but your soldier still responds beautifully to them.”
Vivian hissed in through gritted teeth before heading back to her ‘room’. At this point it was nothing more than a mattress on the ground and some clothing. And even then, she only slept in there when she absolutely was forced to do so. Otherwise, she slept on the floor next to Bucky’s chamber, keeping a watchful eye on the man she’d failed to save. A penance. Shaking her head, she headed into the bathroom and quickly got herself cleaned up, or as quickly as she could with blood practically glued to her skin. The clothing all needed to be destroyed, so she tossed it aside and then put on a plain dress.
Pinning up her damp hair as she walked out, her feet still bare, Vivian followed Fennhoff to a viewing room. Usually mission briefings happened in the room so it was a large room with auditorium style seating. An expensive, complicated projector shone from the back of the room toward the wall. The room was practically a private theater, only she was certain cinema had never been intended for purposes as nefarious as the ones Hydra used it for.
Staring Fennhoff down until the man blinked, Vivian only then sat down before focusing on the wall. Footage soon started to play and Vivian sighed as the image of Peggy Carter was shown over the wall. She was composed, as usual, and Vivian swallowed hard as Fennhoff confessed, “This video is a few years old, and—”
“If it’s a few years old then what’s your worry?”
Vivian had known better than to interrupt Fennhoff, but then grit her teeth as her face was slapped to the side. Turning and glaring, she rolled her eyes as he scoffed before continuing, “As I was saying, this video is a few years old. The reason for this being the production was…delayed multiple times due to unforeseen circumstances. The Smithsonian, you see, is putting together an exhibit on Captain America.”
“Good for them. It’s a great story and they can wax poetic about it all.”
“They will advertise it.”
“I’m sure they will. That’s usually how these things work. You have a point, Fennhoff or are you just trying to get a rise out of me?”
The man took a deep breath and then pointed at Peggy’s face while explaining impatiently, “These images, these stories, will be all over the nation. Carter will be a hero again, making our plans for her that much harder.”
Vivian scoffed, “Agent Carter is a hero even without this exhibit. She never did and never will need Captain America to do amazing things. Your plans to either ruin her or kill her were always going to fall flat. She’s untouchable.”
Fennhoff looked annoyed, but Vivian was honestly just relieved he hadn’t focused too much on the more serious consequences of pictures and footage from the war being all over the place. Bucky had already proven his brainwashing could be broken if he recognized her, and Vivian was certain that the same would be true of Steve. Peggy could possibly break his conditioning as well depending on what she was talking about.
“We will take Agent Carter down, Hecate, and for your insolence, you will be the one to put the final nail in her coffin. You will take down your greatest adversary.”
Vivian stared blankly at Fennhoff before she laughed, “You think I’m going to give a fuck about Director Carter talking about Captain Rogers and Sergeant Barnes? Men like you are always so simple minded when it comes to women. You believe that because you can’t see past the fog of your own testosterone to acknowledge the accomplishments of another man that women must be the same with each other. We’re not.”
Standing up, Vivian pointed at the still image of Director Carter and snapped, “Director Margaret Carter has never been and never will be my greatest adversary. She is talented beyond measure, but she is not my enemy. And your shortsighted desire to take her out just because she’s a woman with power is something you’ll have to get over.”
“You what? You’ve got nothing on her. You’ve got some footage of her reminiscing about the war. You’ve got her keeping Captain America alive. Even if Director Carter isn’t there to do that, people have been clamoring for Steve Rogers’ story for years. There’s a goddamn comic book about him for Christ sake, so that ship has sailed. If you kill Director Carter at this junction then Howard Stark will look into it. And the remaining Howling Commandos will join him in his pursuits. You’ll turn Director Carter into even more of a legend.”
“We have a document of her actions in the war. War crimes.”
“I doubt it’s as bad as you say it is. And let’s pretend for a second that you’re right and that she did commit some atrocities. If you think Director Carter and the Howling Commandos can’t and won’t use the full force of their personality and the rest of their war record, which is flawless by the way, to spin that story or just bury it in better stories then you’re crazy. Well,” Vivian paused and gave a sick grin, “crazier than I already knew you were, I suppose.”
“Howard Stark murdered my brother. They associate with a war criminal.”
“Actually, Howard Stark is simultaneously a genius and an idiot. One of his inventions got stolen by the army and shit went really wrong. I do read the memos, and also, people are very chatty around here. Not very good for a spy organization hidden inside another spy organization. You should look into that.”
Vivian glared, “Your obsession with Howard Stark is a waste of time and resources. It’s also a little hypocritical considering what you’ve helped turn Bucky into. Howard created some awful things, and some of those things hurt you, but he hadn’t actually wanted those items to be implemented. You can’t say the same. You purposely helped Madame Hydra and Zola brutalize an innocent man, and then you forced him to turn that brutality onto others. And that's not even touching on the misery you caused with the Midnight Oil. That wasn't Stark, that was you. You don’t just have blood on your hands, Doctor Fennhoff, you’re wading in it. You’re wading through a sea of blood and misery that you’ve caused and I’m going to make sure that one day you drown in it.”
Fennhoff closed his mouth with a snap and his hands shook as he leaned against the seat closest to him. His hands clenched onto the back of the chair and his knuckles went stark white as they were left with nothing but silence. Vivian kept her mouth shut, letting the man ruminate about what she’d said. He could fool a lot of people, but she’d seen the files of the men, women, and children that had been needlessly slaughtered.
A monster could always recognize other monsters.
Getting up as a gun was pointed at her, not really in the mood to piece her skull back together, Vivian went and sat in a chair closer to the projected image. Once she was in the chair, her hands and ankles were bound to it. The metal dug into her skin and she kept her gaze forward as Fennhoff hissed into her ear, “One day, she will kill you.”
As he left, he hit the button on the projector and the image began to move. Peggy smiled demurely and sipped from a delicate china teacup before setting the cup down as someone off camera asked, “Did Captain America have an effect on you personally?”
Peggy tilted her head, “I beg your pardon?”
“I’m sorry, I just mean it must have been a remarkable experience to get to work with him.”
“Well,” Peggy began, staring off into the distance, “a life in the military demands a certain amount of detachment, particularly from a woman. Sometimes it’s, it’s necessary to give and receive orders without dwelling on the cost of the individual.” Peggy paused and inhaled sharply, “The mission trumps all. Steve never let me forget that these were real lives and real deaths that we were dealing with.”
Vivian swallowed hard and closed her eyes for a moment, anguish and relief intertwining in her chest at those words. Steve. Even after the science and the training and the war, nothing had stopped Steve from being Steve. He’d still been that same ridiculous punk she’d fallen in love with in Brooklyn. He’d still been a good man.
“He also treated me like a person,” Peggy huffed out a laugh, “which I very much appreciated.”
“We recently spoke to several soldiers who credited Captain America with saving their lives.”
“Oh, well, there are a lot of men that could give you that interview.”
“This was outside Stalingrad, 1945.”
“Ah, yes,” Peggy said, setting down her cup. “That was a difficult winter. We were in Russia. A blizzard had trapped half our battalion behind the German line. Steve…Captain Rogers…he fought his way through a Hydra blockade that had pinned our allies down for months. He saved over 1,000 men, quite a few of which have gone on to do great things. A few of them I even consider to be friends. Even after he died, Steve was still changing the world.”
Vivian couldn’t stop a few tears from slipping down her cheeks at that. She’d always known Steve would do amazing things, but even she hadn’t been able to predict the sheer reach of his goodness. The impact would last for generations.
“I understand you were the last person to speak to Captain Rogers before his plane went down?”
Nails digging into the chair after the man asked that question, Vivian shifted uncomfortably in her seat, the sound of Steve’s voice haunting her. There wasn’t a day that went by where she didn’t think about that conversation at least once, where she didn’t wonder if he thought about her or Bucky as he ended his own life. Did he think he was joining them? Was there really no way out?
“I w-was, yes,” Peggy cleared her throat, her voice having trembled its way through the words as her eyes teared up. Vivian held no ill will against Peggy for loving and mourning Steve. After all, Steve had been so very easy to love.
“Could you tell us what he said?”
Peggy’s bottom lip trembled and she inhaled sharply before fidgeting with the teacup. No words came out, and Vivian hated that man for asking Peggy that. After several moments though, Peggy seemed to pull herself together long enough to explain, “Simply that if he didn’t do what he was doing, that a lot of people were going to die. He wanted it known that it was his…that it was his choice to save us all.”
A single tear did slip down Peggy’s cheek then as she whispered, “He always was the best of us.”
The projector stopped and froze on Peggy’s face, leaving Vivian alone in that room, shackled and staring at her face. As she stared at Peggy’s face, Vivian’s nails cracked under the pressure of her grip while Fennhoff taunted, “Rogers would have never chosen you over her. No one would.”
Vivian closed her eyes and whispered, “I wouldn’t want anyone to.”