warnings: graphic torture, brainwashing, mind-control, drugs, violence
notes: written for spook_me for this fabulous prompt picture. this is a stand-alone, but can be read as part of the How They Make You a Weapon 'verse.
thanks to my lovely beta counteragent
"Why him? There are others just as skilled, just as vicious."
"True. Many men can kill. What sets him apart is his loyalty."
"To his country."
"No, to a dead man. Loyalty like his is a rare thing. Take away the one he's sworn to protect above all others, and there is a void left behind. All we need do is fill it."
"This man will never choose us."
"Irrelevant. We will make the choice for him."
The cigarette smoke feels warm in your chest. You breathe out through your teeth, watch it drift up towards the ceiling in a lazy curl. The whiskey burns down your throat, familiar, though you can't remember the last time you had one. The bartender pauses by your side, bottle in hand. You pull a bill out of the pocket of your bomber jacket and slide it across the counter. He nods a thank you, refills your glass and goes back to cleaning the marbled surface.
You don't smoke. You don't drink either. Vices are for people, and you're not a person. But tonight, you need to look like one. Tonight, you need to blend in, be like them. At least until your target arrives. So you smoke, you drink, and you wait.
One of the women at the other end of the bar stares at you openly. Your meat mask shapes itself into a smile and you wink back at her. Her cheeks flush and she turns to her friend, both of them whispering in hushed voices staccato with muffled laughter.
The bar is slowly getting emptier, patrons drifting back out into the city streets. Your target hasn't arrived yet, but he will. They've tracked him long enough to know his habits. People are creatures of habit.
And sure enough, the door swings open as the hour turns, and a thin man with a neat black goatee enters the bar. Mikhael Volkov—the man you've been sent to kill. You stay where you are for the moment, watching him from the mirror as you stub your cigarette out in the ashtray.
This isn't your typical assignment. Normally you play the part of executioner only. But tonight, your orders are to isolate the target, get the answer to a question, and then execute him.
He will recognize you, once he sees your face. The mission briefing made that clear. So you keep your head down as you leave the counter and move to a dimly lit booth in the back of the room. You don't recognize him, but then, you're never given any knowledge beyond what's required for the tasks at hand. You know all you need to know: Mikhael Volkov is a defector, a traitor, and he carries invaluable information in his head, which you will extract. Then you'll kill him.
Volkov sits at the counter, and the bartender brings him his drink without asking. He drinks slowly, eyes fixed on an old photograph hanging from the wall next to the cash register. Twenty minutes later, you follow him to the narrow hallway in the back. Volkov heads to the restroom. Before he reaches the door, you snake your arm around his neck, gloved hand clamped down firmly over his mouth. He struggles uselessly in your grip as you pull him towards the storage closet.
It's cramped inside, but there's enough room for what you need. You bar the door with a mop, and use zipties to bind Volkov to the taller shelving unit in the rear.
You strip out of your jacket and pull your tools from the inner pockets, setting them on a shelf to your right. Your guns and knives stay in their holsters. You don't need them yet.
Volkov is silent, watching you with a healthy dose of fear, but when he catches sight of your arm, his skin blanches. "It is you," he says, voice hoarse.
You were given eight different tools to help with questioning, but you have no use for most of them. You can break bones easily with your left hand, and you prefer your knives to the scalpels they gave you. The chemicals, however, will come in handy.
"I knew it would be you," Volkov says. He laughs, then, sharply. "My dreams warned me."
You step close to him, widening your stance, knees bent so you can look him in the eyes. "Tell me the access codes."
His face twists in confusion. "What codes?"
They gave you instructions on how to interrogate Mikhael Volkov—the most effective sequence, the best way to quickly induce panic and a willingness to give you what you need. Make his body afraid, make him afraid, repeat the question often, if he continues to resist, give him the drug. You clamp your right hand over his mouth, wrap your left hand loosely around his side, just under his chest, then tighten your grip—pushing your metal thumb forward until there's a snap.
Volkov's eyes clench shut and you hear agony in his muffled scream. A broken rib will make his breathing shallower, an efficient way to trigger a fear response.
"The codes," you repeat. "For the weapons in Kronas storage facility 14A." You lift your hand away from his mouth.
He lets out a pained laugh. "You're—you're joking." He takes a wheezing breath. "Who did they tell you I was?"
"A traitor." You take hold of his right hand. "A man who would sell our secrets to the highest bidder." His face distorts in pain as you push back on his pinkie finger. You cover his mouth again and push back some more until there's a crack.
He cries out, tears running from his eyes. When he catches his breath he meets your eyes. There's a hardness there that takes you by surprise. "Yggdrassil," he says.
Something flickers in your line of vision. A pair of round glasses, a small man that speaks softly and sets your teeth on edge. The doctor. You let go of the broken finger.
Volkov swallows, "I guess they deactivated that one."
You grab his hand and squeeze, crushing his metacarpals. He screams, sharp and loud, then stills, drool welling against your palm. You give him another chance to speak. He spits at you.
The mission directives state that you're not to kill him until he reveals the codes. You don't question your orders, but you don't understand why they sent you. There are others skilled in torture. Some of them, you know quite well. You wipe the spit from your cheek and pick up one of the two syringes you were given.
When he sees the syringe, Volkov raises his chin, defiant. "You think you can drug me into telling you something I don't know?"
You pull out one of your smaller knives and use it to cut open his sleeve, to the elbow. You fold back the cloth, and press on the fold of his elbow until the veins start to show. You line up the needle and push the plunger down. "This is not sodium thiopental."
"It will make you speak freely, and in one hundred and eighty seconds it will stop your heart."
He swallows, but says nothing.
Give him hope of survival. "I have the antidote." You point over your shoulder towards the shelf. "Tell me the codes and I'll give it to you."
"You're not going to give me an antidote." Volkov scoffs. "We did not design you with mercy in mind."
The stopwatch in the back of your head counts, twenty-four seconds, twenty-five, twenty-six.
His eyes focus on your shoulder. "I painted that star, you know."
Volkov is a skilled liar. He will attempt to distract you. "The codes."
"I was good at detail work." He smiles. "I was going to be a painter, before the war. But then— well..." His eyes drift unfocused for a moment. "Karpov wasn't always a tyrant, you know. He was very kind to me when I was a boy."
He stares at the star on your arm again. "He was so happy the day we found you. Happier than he'd been since the war began."
"And then Rogers died." He looks at you. "Your captain crashed his plane into the ice." His eyes narrow, brow furrowed like he's expecting a reaction.
"And Karpov, oh…he was furious. He wanted him to see you— to show Steve Rogers what we'd done." A pearl of sweat runs down his brow. "The name means nothing to you?"
"You didn't react the first time we told you either. General Karpov was so excited to tell you, but you didn't react. Blank slate, like now. And then suddenly, in the middle of surgery, you started to scream. This...animal howl. You killed everyone in the operating room. Broke nearly all of our equipment. Do you remember that?"
"No. Of course you don't. But I do. I remember everything. How you fought us at first— no memory of who you were, but you still knew something was wrong." He wheezes. "They cut the humanity right out of you, replaced so many pieces. Half of you is flesh, but the rest of you…" His eyes run down to your metal arm again and then back up to your eyes. "They implanted commands and you carried them out, but I— I had to clean. You understand? The bodies you left behind, the blood, the bullets. I made it all disappear. Because I have an eye for detail."
One hundred fourteen.
"You— they freeze you in the River Lethe." His eyes are glassy with the drug. "It's a gift, forgetting. You don't have to see all of those dead faces when you dream." He swallows hard. "But I see them. And I know they see me."
You grab him by the chin, wait until his eyes focus on yours. "The drug will reach your heart in thirty seconds. You'll be paralyzed and unable to breathe. Then you will be dead."
He swallows again.
"Tell me the codes."
"No— no. I know who you are." He starts laughing, hysterically. "You're Death on a leash." He nods; a tear slips down his nose. "And I am a dead man. That is no antidote."
"Okay," he says. "Okay. You want a code?" He swallows again, squeezes his eyes shut and when he opens them again, he's smiling. "Левиафан."
The room tints red and there's a high-pitched buzzing sound in your ears that drowns out everything else.
You dream. Or you think you do. Of the deep bass thrum of a submarine engine. Of a familiar voice and a face smiling at you —Steve— Steve, who you'd follow into the depths of Hell and you think maybe you already did. There's a Hydra soldier pinned beneath you, and rage boiling in your veins, and Steve grabs your wrist as you pull back for another blow— stops you and says, "We need to bring him in." But your knuckles are covered in blood and you didn't stop in time. "Nothing's worse than losing control," Steve tells you later, as you scrub your hands clean. "It's not your fault," he says, like a benediction.
A sharp beep wakes you from your dream.
The bar's marble countertop is cracked in three places. The bartender's body is at your feet; his head is bent at a bad angle, neck broken. Glass crunches under your boots as you step over him. There are four other bodies in the room, two of them with slit throats, the others with bullet wounds. Your flesh hand is stained with blood, your shirt is soaked with it.
There's another beep, from your belt. You stare down at the small blinking communicator, pull it free from its clip, and push the button.
"Mission complete, soldier. Return to extraction coordinates in five minutes."
You walk to the rear hallway. A small pool of red is leaking out of the storeroom. Mikhael Volkov is where you left him, missing his head. You retrieve your jacket and tools from the shelf. The details of the mission are foggy, though you're certain you accomplished what you were sent to do. The target is dead.
There's a woman slumped in the corner of the bathroom. Her eyes are open and there's a bullet-hole in the center of her forehead. You rinse your hands, and after a glance in the mirror, wipe the streak of red from your cheek. Zipped up, the jacket hides most of the blood on your shirt.
The back door of the bar opens out into a narrow alley. The snow is deep, and the icy wind goes cold down your throat. You exhale warmness out through your teeth, watch it curl into the air and disappear.
The submarine Левиафан, Leviathan, is a monstrosity, like its namesake. It takes you and Steve over an hour to subdue its crew.
One of them jumps Steve while he's busy fighting off two others. You see the glint of a knife and sprint to Steve's side, lashing out with no plan other than to get the blade away from his throat.
You disarm the Hydra soldier, pin him beneath you and smash your fist into his face, over and over.
Rage boils in your veins, and Steve grabs your wrist as you pull back for another blow— stops you and says, "We need to bring him in. We need to question somebody, learn what they know."
But when you look down at the man's face, you know it's too late.
"Sorry," you tell Steve. But you're not.
"Nothing's worse than losing control," Steve tells you later, as you scrub your hands clean. "It's not your fault," he says, like a benediction. He rests his hand on your shoulder for a while before leaving the room.
You go back to scrubbing the blood out from under your fingernails and think, "But it is." Because you never did lose control.
And you pray you never will.
companion art-piece by raeve
check it out!