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The Winter Soldier

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The cryo-tube is more like an upright coffin, even if its occupant is mostly counted among the living. He might not seem so at first, not if you’ve never seen a dead body before. If you have, the differences between the frozen man and the dead become clear; there’s no eerie slackness to him, not even that which occurs in deep sleep, and no unseeing, waxy eyes.

However, it’s understandable why some would assume him to be dead. The deep bruises beneath his eyes are deceiving, being almost purple, and even when he’s been interred after more peaceful circumstances, his face never shows anything but a rictus of fear and pain.

Not that that fear has ever stopped him from crawling back into the tube at the end of the day. His masters have trained him well. And now he’s needed again.

To prepare for his rising, they’ve called in more security personnel, just in case. The first few moments of being unfrozen he’s always slightly unbalanced, and given his strength and skill, a single swipe would be all it took for some poor technician to bite the dust. It’s one of those malfunctions they haven’t worked out of him yet, even after all these years.

Disengaging locks in three. Two. One,” one of them counts.

There’s a click and a whoosh of air, and the door to the tube creaks open just a little. The hinges need greasing; it’s been a while since they pulled him out, so general maintenance on the tube has fallen by the wayside in all the furor after the Battle of New York. They can’t be too careful these days.

The tension in the room ramps up as the sounds of him waking disturb the restless silence. The noises themselves aren’t particularly nerve-wracking; sluggish and cold, he sounds like a child stumbling through a house in the dark, scared and eager to reach his parents’ room after a nightmare.

But the Soldier isn’t a harmless child.

He emerges from the tube steadily, the first steps heavy. Then, he regains himself, raises his face to the warmer air in the lab, and sucks in a deep, deep breath. His stillness unnerve security, make them tighten their hands around their weapons.

The small movement catches his attention. He swivels his head around, those pale eyes freezing the well-armed officers in their tracks. One looks close to bolting. There’s something so deeply unnatural about him, something that makes the hair on your arms stand on end with just one look. Maybe it’s the way there no emotion, no anything in his expression, or maybe it’s the prowl present in his every move.

One of the officers step forward, assumes the role of temporary handler. “Soldier,” he barks in Russian. “Report for maintenance.”

The change settles over the Soldier at once. Though his back is still straight, he drops his gaze, submits to the technicians advancing on him carefully; everyone breathes a little easier. His programming hasn’t suffered unduly. He’ll likely only need a basic run-down of the new codes.

He’s naked, as always; it’s easier to spot malfunctions when all of him is constantly on display in the tube. Also, it’s easier to clean him like that; he just needs to be hosed down. It’s a right quick, painless procedure. It helps that he doesn’t try to duck away from the harsh spray, barely even flinches anymore.

Well-trained indeed.

They fall upon his left arm first; it’s an astounding feat of engineering, a complex metal copy of his right arm, the flesh arm. This version of the metal arm was affixed to him sometime during the ‘70s, but though it is light years ahead of any of the other ones he’s had, it’s still not perfect, and they haven’t been able to have another one made.

With the Tesseract gone, they might not be able to make another, not without unduly calling attention to themselves. The current Stark is more paranoid than his father.

Hold out your arms,” they instruct the Soldier, and he complies. His balance needs a little bit of recalibration.

Once the physical exam has been completed—a complete, thorough affair given his long time under the ice—they run him through simple drills to fix the balance issue and to test his reaction times. They start out easy, making him walk, then jog, then sprint from one end of the room to another. “I think it’s just disuse that’s made him seem off,” one of them comments. “He’s settling back into functionality just fine.”

Next, they test his fine motor skills, having him assemble and dissemble a rifle (unloaded, of course. You can’t be too careful, even if he’s showed himself submissive to the handler). Then, they test his protocols.

What is your name?” they ask. It’s a trick question, used to ease him in.

I have no name,” he replies in clear, crisp Russian. He’s not allowed to mumble or pause overlong. With the mask on, they allow such annoyances; he’s not supposed to talk then anyway. In the mask, his jaw can barely move, and the words are near incomprehensible.

At least, that’s what they think. In reality, he slurs the words on purpose whenever he wears the mask. He doesn’t know why, but his body reacts positively when he does; a squirming sort of feeling in his chest. They would take it away if they knew.  

Where are you from?”  

A beat. “Russia.”

The technicians frown. “They ought to have scrubbed that from him. Calibrate the machine for long-term as well as the standard wipe. And old allegiance might prove interfering.”

It takes all in him to stay still, to not succumb to the shake wanting to overtake him. The words unsettle him. He doesn’t know why. His head aches with sharp spikes of phantom pain and his mouth tastes like blood.

They prod at him while asking the last of the questions. His diet needs to be changed, they say, he needs to put on enough weight to get back to the condition he was in the last time there was use for him. He’s strong now, there’s no doubt about it, but to carry the weight of the arm they need to get him stronger. Besides, his new mission might require more of him than ever.

No one says a thing about his hair, even though it hangs in front of his face, obscuring his eyes. It’ll get in the way during missions if they don’t order him to tie it back—which they rarely do. The lank, brown locks are seldom on their minds.

What is your purpose?

I am the Soldier.”

Who is this man?” They show him a photograph of a blond, blue-eyed man.

I don’t know.” Except…

Who is Steve Rogers?

He blinks. They ask him again, the security officers growing tense. “Stevie.”

It’s the wrong answer. The technicians throw each other frantic looks and write furiously on their pads. One suggests upping the electrical frequency on the machine. The most senior among them watches him carefully. But he is the Soldier; he will not shrink from their stares.

What is your name?” the senior technician asks.

He’s already answered this? “I have no name,” he repeats, nonetheless.

That at least settles them at little, even if they still seem antsier than to begin with.

Their nerves manifest in the way security hangs over him while they finish comparing data. He meets the handler’s eyes while they speak as if he isn’t there; the man can’t quite hold his gaze, unnerved despite having done this several times. Only the Director truly doesn’t seem to fear the soldier. That alone proves his worth to them.

Soldier,” they tell him. “Sit.

The Chair is ready for him.