The air in the discotheque was stifling, thick with cigarette smoke. The patrons, students mostly, were packed like cattle, scarcely able to move beyond grinding against each other’s bodies. Isayev suspected they would do little else even if a wider range of motion were available. Italian pop music blared from the speakers. It had taken an hour to get in.
The dance floor was dimly lit and the visibility was further limited by the smoke. But for now the Soldier was within sight and Isayev strained his eyes to track him, careful not to miss a moment.
It was Isayev’s second mission with the Soldier. The first had simply been an extraction job, seven months prior. The team had come to collect the Soldier from a processing plant in Yekaterinburg; Isayev’s first glimpse at the Soldier was that of the man blood-soaked and finishing off a cigarette, seated before a line of machinery. It had been an arresting visual, to say the least.
To see the Soldier now, dressed in the latest fashions while their target’s daughter rubbed her body against his, was no less striking.
Their target was Sergei Kholodov, a journalist whose investigations into military corruption were bringing him annoyingly close to the Red Room’s secrets. He was to arrive in Moscow that evening. His daughter, Elena Kholodov, would be made to betray his location one way or another.
It hadn’t taken much work from the Soldier to convince her to dance. Kholodov was exceedingly drunk, half-hanging from the Soldier to support herself. She clutched a drink in one hand and often her movements sloshed it from the glass, leaving dark trails down the fabric of the Soldier’s tight, straight legged jeans. He was wearing a white sweatshirt and a leather vest, with his left hand concealed beneath a motorcycle glove. Domnin, who was waiting with the van, had backcombed the Soldier’s hair before they entered the discotheque, teasing it out to twice its usual volume.
“She’s lucky he’s under orders for discretion,” Commander Karpov said. He sat across from Isayev in the cramped booth, his beer neglected before him. Karpov nodded to the stains running the length of the Soldier’s legs. “He’s broken wrists for less than that.”
The song ended, Spagna giving way to Pink Floyd. Kholodov whispered into the Soldier’s ear, then grabbed his hand and began to navigate through the crowd toward the restrooms at the far end.
“Should we follow them?” Isayev asked.
Karpov shook his head. “Why crowd him? He’ll get what we’ve after. Maybe more.” The commander smirked. “One less thing for us to deal with during the debriefing.”
But when the Soldier returned to them, five minutes later, he wasn’t nearly flushed enough for that sort of exertion. The Soldier’s eyes were red-rimmed and he sniffed as he slid beside Isayev into their booth. “Kholodov is going to an acquaintance’s apartment in the Lyublino district,” he reported, wiping at his nose with the gloved hand. “He’s to arrive in an hour or so. No one is to meet him there before the morning.”
“You have a street name?” Karpov asked.
“A full address.” Something like a smile played around the Soldier’s mouth. “She spoke very much. She had a lot of cocaine.”
“So did you.” Karpov reached out to brush the hair from the Soldier’s face. His eyes were wide; thin rings of blue nearly swallowed by his pupils. There were traces of powder at the tip of the Soldier’s nose, and Karpov wiped them away. “How much did she give you, dearest?”
Everyone, from the technicians to the field agents, even the Director, referred to the Soldier by pet names. It wasn’t actively promoted, but Isayev had never seen anyone discourage it. It made him easier to speak to.
The Soldier shrugged, still smiling. “A few lines only.”
“Mm.” Karpov studied him for a moment longer before removing his hand from the Soldier’s jaw. “And how long were the lines?”
After a moment’s consideration, the Soldier put his hands an unhealthy distance apart.
Karpov shook his head, but he was smiling. “No matter. Your metabolism will process even that during the drive. Come along.”
“Should we do something about that?” Isayev asked, eyes falling to the Soldier’s fly as the man stood. The jeans had been tight enough before an erection was pressing against them. Isayev considered the amount of cocaine necessary to cause such a reaction in the Soldier and wondered if Elena Kholodov was overdosing in the bathroom.
“He can wait,” Karpov said. “Can’t you, darling?”
The Soldier glanced down at himself, apparently noticing his condition for the first time. He didn’t answer, so Karpov began to steer him toward the door.
“If it’s that much of a distraction, Isayev can blow you on the ride over. He’s pretty enough for you, yes?”
Karpov and Isayev laughed—when the Soldier was offered a post-mission reward, he nearly always went to a woman—but the Soldier seemed to give it actual thought.
They returned to the van, Karpov taking the passenger seat as Isayev and the Soldier slipped into the back. Domnin watched them in the rearview mirror, taking in the trails of alcohol down the Soldier’s legs. “You piss yourself, sweetheart?”
The Soldier actually laughed. It was a quiet, coughing sort of sound. His hand darted out and gently shoved Domnin’s head. “Drive. We have fifty minutes to reach the Lyublino district.”
“Don’t want much, do you?” Domnin asked, and then they were off.
The Soldier wiped at his nose again and Isayev offered a handkerchief.
“I need my rifle,” the Soldier said, and Isayev reached back into the rear row of seats to retrieve it.
The Soldier turned the weapon in his hands, examining it as a musician might study their instrument before a concert. “It’s loaded.”
Isayev nodded. “I did that while Domnin was fixing your hair.”
He barely saw the Soldier’s hand dart out before the metal impacted against his nose. Bone crunched like dry leaves, blood pouring down his chin as Isayev’s vision went white with the pain. From the front seat, he heard Karpov shout. “Soldier!”
“He loaded it poorly. It would have jammed.”
“So reload it,” Karpov snapped. “We’ve got the time. You can’t jeopardize the mission by crippling your own team, how high are you?”
“He’s high?” Domnin asked.
Isayev risked opening his eyes, cupping one hand under his chin to catch the blood. The Soldier was frowning, reloading the rifle. Isayev’s handkerchief rested on the man’s knee, but he didn’t dare retrieve it for fear of provoking another attack.
“You won’t be rewarded now,” Karpov said. “Do you realize that? You’ll be wiped and shipped away and given nothing to remember Mother Russia by.”
Domnin made a soft sound of protest. “But they’re sending him to America. You really want to hand him off to the imperialists with nothing left of us in his mind?”
“I’m all right,” Isayev said, though speaking sent more blood down his front. From the corner of his eye he saw the Soldier’s hand move again and he flinched, but the man was only extending the handkerchief. “It’s not so bad.”
Karpov studied them in the mirror for a long while before he sighed. “Fine. But you’re mopping the blood up in here before you get anything, dearest. And no reward until after the memory procedure. No reward at all if you struggle with the doctors. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” said the Soldier. “But—” He cut himself off, finishing the process of loading his rifle.
“But what, dearest?”
“It can’t be him,” the Soldier said, looking to Isayev. “He’s not pretty enough now.”
That the Soldier was speaking with pure sincerity only made it funnier.
“Don’t forget the Motherland when you’re with the Americans,” Domnin said once the laughter had died down. “Remember, we have the real women. Ours aren’t made of plastic.”
“I don’t choose what I remember.” The Soldier wasn’t capable of sadness, Isayev knew, but he thought he could still hear it in the man’s words. The drugs, perhaps.
“Look on the bright side, darling,” he said, and the Soldier actually glanced around the horizon. “If the Americans are half as decadent as all the propaganda says, they’ll be rewarding you before, during, and after every mission. And yes,” he added, before the Soldier could speak, “with toys prettier than me.”
Rumlow found the Soldier kneeling in the safe house bathroom. He wasn’t alone. Harmon was standing before him, hands fisted in the Soldier’s hair, ramming his dick down the man’s throat. The Soldier was choking but otherwise still; the muffled gagging noises had drawn Rumlow to the bathroom.
“Harmon,” Rumlow barked, and the idiot jolted, slamming his ass against the sink. Rumlow hoped it bruised.
“Boss,” he stammered, not even trying to slide his dick back in his pants. “I was—”
“I know what the fuck you were doing.” Rumlow was almost curious as the excuse he’d give, but they had a schedule to keep. Anyway, Harmon was too thick to come up with anything entertaining. The man hadn’t even heard the door open. Fucking useless. “How many times do I have to tell you to keep in your pants until after the mission? Consider this a write-up. Now haul your ass.”
Harmon at least wasn’t dumb enough to argue the point, tucking himself back in as he scurried out.
The Soldier remained kneeling on the tile, eyes toward the floor. Harmon had probably ordered him to look down; many of the men got creeped out by those blank, dead eyes. There were tears of strain down the Soldier’s face and smears of pre-come around his mouth. The way they were going, it was a wonder the Soldier’s jaw hadn’t dislocated.
“Get up, Soldier,” Rumlow said. “Go to the van.”
For a second, the Soldier was still, eyes fixed on the ground. His fingers twitched, but he was otherwise motionless. Rumlow was opening his mouth to give the order a second time, maybe enforce it with the sole of his boot, when the Soldier stood. He started toward the door.
Rumlow caught his arm and the Soldier tensed. He knew better than to pull away, but no one was able to train the tensing out of him. No one, to Rumlow’s knowledge, had ever tried. The Soldier clenching up at the right moment had its advantages. “Wipe off your damn face.”
He was tempted to leave the mess there. The Soldier wouldn’t—couldn’t—think to clear it off on his own, and if the Soldier weren’t on this mission, Rumlow wouldn’t have to waste his time filling out Harmon’s incident report when they returned to the base. But letting the other men see come all over the Soldier’s face would be giving his tacit approval. The last thing Rumlow wanted to deal with was watching some rookie whip it out in the van. Again. He’d nearly gone blind the last time.
The Soldier stared helplessly at his hands as though he expected a rag to appear in them.
“For fuck’s sake.” Rumlow grabbed the Soldier’s right wrist and jerked it up, slamming the sleeve against his mouth. The Soldier grasped the idea before Rumlow had to manipulate him like a marionette, scrubbing his face clean.
“Enough,” Rumlow ordered once the mess was gone. He wasn’t sure if the Soldier would go right on rubbing his skin raw without orders, but he didn’t care to find out. “Get to the van.”
In the van, the Soldier sat at Rumlow’s feet. It was sometimes revolting and sometimes endearing, the way he gravitated toward the commander. Rumlow was never sure if the Soldier’s lost duckling tendencies were a part of his programming—an instinctual bond toward authority figures—or based in his fragments of memory. Rumlow had the sense and control to stay off the Soldier’s dick until the mission was over. Maybe the Soldier remembered that.
But that was giving a lot of credit to something that was barely sentient. Half the time, the Soldier forgot to eat unless he was prompted.
And speaking of eating, Harmon had been in charge of providing the Soldier’s protein shake. Rumlow ignored the swell of nausea as his mind couldn’t help making that a double entendre. The odds were the Soldier hadn’t eaten. Rumlow wasn’t going to waste the radio batteries and brain cells to check in with Harmon in the other van. He dug through his pack and pulled out a protein bar, tossing it toward the Soldier. “Soldier. Eat that.”
The Soldier turned the bar over in his hands.
“Come the fuck on. You know how to open wrappers.”
The Soldier peeled the wrapper back and took a hesitant bite. Belatedly, Rumlow wondered if he knew how to chew.
For a moment he just sat, holding the bite in his mouth. Then his eyes closed and something like bliss crossed his face as his jaws worked. Protein bars: the highlight of the Soldier’s life up to now, it seemed. It was almost sad.
“I loaded his rifle,” the rookie—Lauber—said from his place on the opposite bench. “Should I give it to him now, or—”
“He doesn’t handle his weapons until right before he needs them,” Rumlow said.
The Soldier’s eyes slid open and he glanced toward the rifle.
“You don’t wanna give him a weapon early,” Rumlow continued. “Especially at times like this, when he’s been outta cryo for a while.” He didn’t elaborate on the potential fallout. Rookies worked better when their imaginations put the fear of God in them.
Lauber looked doubtful, but he didn’t argue. “Why has he been out of cryo for so long, sir? I’d heard the Soldier came out for one mission at a time, not three.”
“They’re lending him to the Ruskies,” Rumlow said, as the Soldier returned his attention to the protein bar. “All that shit in the Ukraine—they say he’ll be gone a year, maybe longer. Getting as much use out of him now as they can, I guess.”
He’d been the Russians’ originally, before he’d been traded as some sort of Cold War peace treaty. Rumlow had heard rumors of those days, stories that the Soldier had once been a solo agent, running around with cover identities and planning his own espionage like a Soviet James Bond. Bunch of bullshit, all of it. The Soldier could track a target like the best bloodhound, fight like he was built for it, but the man could barely tie his shoes unassisted. He was an elegant machine, but more of a typewriter than a computer: he was built for one task only. The wipes necessary to keep him running blunted his higher cognitive functions beyond use.
The Soldier finished the protein bar, resting his head against his commander’s leg. Rumlow nearly shoved him off. The Soldier was given physical contact when he’d earned it; he wasn’t allowed to pick when he was touched or what contact he received.
But what the hell, there was no knowing how long the Russians would have the Soldier. The odds were high that even the faintest memories of Rumlow would be burned from his mind by the time he was returned. Might as well bask in his position as HYDRA’s toy soldier’s favorite playmate one last time.
Lauber just stared. It was his first mission with the Soldier and Rumlow imagined what a letdown it must be, seeing the broken reality after all the legends.
His look of disenchantment switched to awe when the time came for the mission itself. The Soldier couldn’t be trusted with the maintenance of his weapons—or that of himself—but he could slaughter with them better than anyone.
And the rush of power, the jealousy pouring off of Lauber when the Soldier, still dripping with blood, turned back to Rumlow, once again lost and seeking guidance...well, for all the headache of working with the asset, that made it more than worth it.
He led the Soldier to the van, gathered all the men around him. Save for Harmon—Rumlow was making an example of him. “You’ve done well,” he told the Soldier, brushing red-streaked strands of hair back from his face. “Strip.”
The Soldier hesitated, eyes glancing over all the others. “I—” he began slowly. Then he faltered.
It was cute, really, that he thought he could protest. That he even remembered what a protest was to begin with. “Yes?” Rumlow asked, smirking.
The Soldier looked down, fingers working at the closures of his vest. There was no resignation on his blank face. He hadn’t given up; whatever he was going to say, he’d simply forgotten.
Isayev had insisted that his team escort the Soldier.
The Secretary had assured the Director that such a trip was not necessary. The Soldier could simply be shipped within the cryo tank, he said, and all vital maintenance information would be sent along with him. Why take the unnecessary risk of a malfunction by transporting a waking Soldier?
But Isayev was unrelenting and the Director had come to respect his insights over the years. It was important, Isayev argued, to observe the Soldier conscious and in what had become his regular habitat. It was best to speak to those who maintained him face to face, to be sure no little but necessary details of his handling were overlooked. It would be much more of a risk to take him out of the ice unprepared than it would be to transport him while he was awake.
The arguments were sound. But they were also secondary. Above all, Isayev wanted to reunite with the Soldier on his own terms. Not on the tight schedule of a mission briefing back in their homeland. They would have the Soldier for perhaps a year and Isayev planned to make the most of every minute.
“Do you think he’ll remember you?” Markin, the second in command, had asked during the flight to the States.
“It’s doubtful,” Isayev had said, running his fingers over the bridge of his nose. “After all the years of ice and maintenance? Unlikely. Now, the Director, perhaps. But in those days, I was just a young idiot who never even served as his toy.”
“I’ve heard stories,” Markin said, reclining in his seat. “They say he once he’s through with American missions, he takes the whole team as a reward.”
Isayev had laughed at that. “I don’t doubt that the Americans would spoil him. But he’s very particular, you’ll see.”
When they arrived at the bank vault serving as a storage facility, the Soldier was sitting slumped in the maintenance chair. He was dressed in a tactical vest, made of black leather and not so different in appearance from the civilian clothing Isayev had last seen him in, over twenty years ago now. His hair, however, understandably lacked the volume from the eighties. It was drenched with sweat, limply framing his face. They must have just finished the memory wipe. Good. No better time to make an impression.
“Dearest!” Isayev said warmly, throwing out his arms. “You haven’t aged a day.”
The Soldier’s movements were sluggish as he raised his head. There was no flicker of recognition in his eyes.
Isayev had known not to expect any different, but that didn’t stop the faint sting. He brushed it aside, smile steady as he approached the chair. “Not all of us can be so lucky. It’s a good thing I was never pretty enough for you even when I was young—I’m used to the rejection, eh?” He smiled, wiped a hand at the bridge of his nose again.
The Soldier’s gaze had returned to his own lap. His eyes, Isayev realized, weren’t just lacking recollection. There was no comprehension to be found either; for all the Soldier was responding, he might as well not speak Russian. But of course he must. The Americans, arrogant and foolish though they might be, wouldn’t erase the language the Soldier was trained in. The idea was absurd.
“Soldier,” he said softly, and those empty blue eyes met his own again. At the very least, the man knew his name in their mother tongue. It was unsettling, the magnitude of relief Isayev felt for something so small.
“How deep of a wipe did you give him?” Isayev asked, switching to English as he turned to face the room’s sole technician. There had been others, but they had milled out as Isayev and Markin entered. There was a flicker of irritation in him that he tried to keep from spreading. It may take days for the Soldier to recover from so deep of a procedure. What, were the American’s missions such precious secrets that they had to remove all traces?
The technician looked up from her monitor, seeming surprised. “Just the usual level.”
“The usual level?”
“Anything less than this and he becomes erratic within days,” the technician said. She spoke so calmly, so carelessly, damn her. “It’s necessary to get any mileage out of him.”
“Of course,” Isayev said, numb. He turned back to the Soldier, holding in a shudder and returning to Russian. “Never mind her, darling. It’s been so long, let me look at you.”
The Soldier went rigid at that. There wasn’t a lack of understanding in his eyes now; he raised his head with a wary, resigned stare. The Soldier’s hands, steady yet slow, lifted to his collar and he began to remove the vest.
Isayev’s own hands darted out to stop the man, his insides feeling as though they’d been drenched in ice water.
From the corner of his eyes, he could see Markin staring, brows nearly at his hairline.
Isayev, hands still holding the Soldier’s, took a breath, wrenched his eyes shut. Then opened them again, smiled, and turned to the technician. “Doctor, I wonder. If it isn’t too much trouble, could you gather your colleagues? The mission team as well, if they’re around? We have just a few questions on his, ah, his upkeep before we go.”
She looked annoyed—the bitch—but she went without protest.
“This is our greatest weapon?” Markin asked.
Isayev would have slapped him if they had the time. “Incompetents—if not for his rate of healing, this damage would be beyond repair.” After decades of this treatment, it may be past helping anyway. But Isayev couldn’t think of that now. He swallowed hard, tried to still his hammering heart. “This will not stand. He was ours first—such disrespect will not be tolerated.”
“And what do you plan to do?” Markin crossed his arms. “We don’t have the resources to slaughter them all, and this one looks like he’d crumple from even a harsh word.”
“Then it’s a good thing I came prepared,” Isayev snapped, reaching into his pocket. “Dearest,” he said gently, stroking at the Soldier’s cheek. “Don’t be afraid. I brought you a present from the old days—the last time we saw each other. It’s not so popular these days, not next to heroin or krokodil, and it’s very expensive, but you’re worth it, my darling.” He began to pet the Soldier’s hair with one hand, pulling the baggie of cocaine from his pocket with the other. It was no small amount.
Markin laughed. “What will you do, overdose him and make them mop up the mess?”
“It increases energy, idiot. Get me that tray.” Isayev gestured and Markin complied. “And also it increases aggression.”
“You are the field captain, yes?” The Russian—Isayev, he’d called himself—asked, shaking Rumlow’s hand. They were around the same age, Rumlow guessed. The Russian had a crooked nose and a fair share of scars. But it was his smile that commanded the most attention. It was like a damn snake’s.
A nod. “Brock Rumlow,” he said, pulling his hand free the second it was socially acceptable. If that was a faux pas in Russia, well, too damn bad. Bad enough to get hauled in here on a Friday evening to review the minutia of handling the Winter Soldier. That the guy he had to review it with grinned like an axe murderer from a Kubrick film was just the icing on the cake.
“Truly, it’s an honor. Your operation has been so very thorough in the Soldier’s handling. It’s quite a change from the old days.”
Rumlow wasn’t sure what the hell he muttered as he made his escape to the far side of the room. He didn’t care either, shoving Rollins toward the guy just to prevent any attempts to prolong the conversation. Now that no one was staring into his soul, he was able to take a breath. He glanced around the room, taking in all the bored technicians and field agents before his eyes reached the Soldier.
The man was in the chair, just as Rumlow had left him once they returned from the field. But usually when the Soldier sat there, he was either rigid and waiting for pain or he was slack and near-comatose. Today, the Soldier was sitting upright. He was trembling, but not as if it was an aftereffect of the shocks. It was more of a nervous energy thrumming through him, the way he got on some missions when he was gearing up for a fight. The Soldier kept sniffing, bringing a handkerchief—where the hell did he get that?—to his nose. There were little flecks of blood dotting the white fabric. There was a ghost of a smile at the Soldier’s lips. And there was one hell of an erection jutting out the fabric of his pants.
None of that boded well.
One of the techs was brushing past Rumlow, a mousy little scrap of a man, and Rumlow caught him by the sleeve just as the Russian cleared his throat.
“My great thanks to all of you for stopping in,” he said. “I’ll be quick.”
The tech stared and Rumlow tilted his head toward the Soldier. “That normal?” he muttered.
“You see, to be truthful, we don’t have any questions for you,” Isayev continued. His smile verged on splitting his face in half. “The effects of your work, the impression you’ve had on the Winter Soldier, it is all very clear.”
The tech shook his head. He stepped out of Rumlow’s hold, moving toward the chair.
“We wanted you gathered here to show our gratitude for all that you’ve done before we depart.” The Russian threw out his arm, gesturing toward the memory chair. “More than that, the Soldier himself would like to give you his thanks for your quality of care.”
All eyes fell to the asset. And to the technician before him.
The tech leaned in. He was trying, Rumlow guessed from the position of his hands, to tilt the Soldier’s head back and discern the cause of the nosebleed.
But the Soldier didn’t lean back. His lips parted, shoulders tensing. And he shot forward, like a fucking cobra.
He tore through the tech’s throat as though it was butter, didn’t even blink at the spray of blood across his face. The poor bastard fell to the floor, hands spasming over the ragged hole where there had once been a larnyx. The Soldier was spitting that out now, standing as the screaming started.
At the back of the room, the Russian’s second in command closed the door.
Things got hazy after that.
There was white and there was red, and eventually Rumlow was able to discern that the white was the ceiling and the red was the blood dripping from his lashes down into his eyes. There was also pain, sharp and dull and all-encompassing. He didn’t try to work out the source of that. He didn’t want to think of the damage he’d been dealt.
There were noises, mostly groans and sobbing. Someone—Rollins, he thought—was lying near him, breathing in a wet, labored way. There was movement above, darkness against the white of the ceiling. Bodies.
“Secretary Pierce,” Isayev shouted. But Pierce wasn’t here, hadn’t come to supervise—was this guy shouting at the security cameras?
“When we exchanged our most valuable asset to your organization, we trusted you would treat our gift with the respect he deserved.”
Fucking hell, he was shouting at the security camera. The damn thing didn’t even have a microphone. Why couldn’t Rumlow have passed out? Why was that denied to him?
“You have not honored our arrangement, and so we are recovering our property. Consider the loss of your agents a payment toward our emotional damages. And further consider it a warning as to what will occur should you challenge our repossession. Winter is a Russian season, Secretary. Only a fool challenges Russia in matters of winter.”
Kill me now, Rumlow thought, but there was no answer to that prayer.
With that monologue apparently over, Isayev turned to face the Soldier. “You’ve done so well,” he said, smiling. The handkerchief from before was in his grasp, and when he wiped at the Soldier’s stained face—there was a losing battle—it came away drenched in scarlet. “Dearest,” Isayev said, “do you want to take a toy for yourself?”
The Soldier was silent. His cock was still straining at the fabric of his pants.
“You’ve earned it,” Isayev cooed. “Go ahead.”
The Soldier’s boot nudged Rumlow’s shoulder. He tried to stifle a scream, tried to look like a corpse, and failed miserably on both counts.
The Russian was frowning. “Him? He’s not even pretty. Anymore.”
The Soldier only nudged Rumlow a second time, and Isayev sighed.
“But well, as I said, you earned it.” He let the bloodied handkerchief drift to the floor. “Remember, you want him, you carry him. Let’s go, darling, Mother Russia awaits.”
Rumlow didn’t bother to hold in the groan this time. The sound became a shriek as he was hauled over the Soldier’s shoulder. The asset’s attachment to him was always a bit unhealthy.
Isayev and Markin left the back of the plane to the Soldier and his reward. The Soldier didn’t yet have it in him to make requests, even with all the drugs pumping through his blood, but his look, wide-eyed and pleading, hopeful for the first time in possibly years, had been impossible for Isayev to refuse.
“Have fun, dearest,” he’d said, and they’d moved as close to the cockpit as possible to give their Soldier some long overdue privacy.
Now, hearing the American’s sobs and squeals over the Soldier’s harsh panting, Isayev wondered if he should have given the Soldier a lecture in maintaining his toys before they let him loose. This plaything might not even last all the way back to Russia, at the rate their Soldier was going.
But then, it was the Americans’ own fault, setting such a bad example.