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22 June 2014 @ 12:20 am
FIC: Become Death, Destroyer of Worlds  
Title: Become Death, Destroyer of Worlds
Author: joonscribble
Fandom: Captain America films/His Dark Materials crossover
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Events of the CA:TFA and the character reveal for CA:TWS
Disclaimer: I don't own a single person who appears or is even mentioned in this apart from the daemons and Krämer. I'm also aware that I completely cherry-picked and changed things from the comics for this fic. I'm following Kevin Feige's example but I do apologize if I completely stomped on any comics canon readers loved.
Summary: Arnim Zola builds his greatest weapon.
Author's Note: So thanks to awanderingbard and me geeking out over daemons and characters in the MCU, this fic came about. I started a much more fluffy fic that was a MCU/HDM crossover but I'm still a little shaky on how to portray the HDM world so my Word Fairy decided I should go with something more familiar. Hence, we went with angst because nothing nice happens to anyone deserving in this fic. The next MCU/HDM crossover will have more fluff and rainbows. Promise. Sort of.

If you want visual aid for the daemons: Acantha, Bathilde, Valeska, Shessida (Bucky's daemon), Gerhild (Karpov's daemon) .


Five months into the procedure, Sergeant Barnes’ daemon changes form.

When Zola first enters the holding area, he immediately notices the hulking black bear is no longer curled up by the foot of sleep pallet where Barnes is lying, his eyes open. For one brief moment, Zola wonders if Barnes died during the night, effectively destroying nearly half a year’s work. But no, Zola can see he is breathing. He is still alive. Surely, Krämer did not go against his cautioning and removed the daemon from the cell altogether?

Acantha’s claws bite into his shoulder, drawing his attention to something tucked by Barnes’ head. There, coiled tightly against where the pallet met the wall is a snake.

This is an interesting development.

**

The first month alone was devoted to making sure Barnes remained alive. Finding he had survived his fall was an optimistic sign of the treatment working. However, the event had left its damage and while the sergeant’s body worked quickly to mend the myriad of broken bones and ruptured organs, it wasn’t so enhanced that it could grow back an entire arm. Eager to test the cybernetic prosthesis and pressed by Krämer, Zola gave into his own arrogance and began the surgeries straight away.

“The arm has not been tested properly,” Acantha whispered into his ear while he watched the bone saw make the necessary amputation. “It will not work. You need more time.”

And she was right. Barnes’ body rejected the neural connectors, seemingly preferring to die rather than accept the new limb. Zola wagered that were it not for the serum, sepsis would have taken Barnes after the first surgery.

During that first month when Barnes’ survival remained unclear, news arrived that Captain Rogers was officially declared deceased, lost somewhere over the Arctic. Krämer wanted to lord the loss over Barnes, to begin the process of mentally breaking him down along with the surgeries. They were behind schedule. Something Krämer took upon himself to remind Zola at every meeting. With the patience of a martyr, Zola explained that it was imperative that they do this slowly, take the necessary time. Krämer, for all his abilities to survive and thrive when the tides of war were against them and their cause, lacked any psychological finesse. If they were to reveal at this critical stage that Captain Rogers, Barnes’ only chance of rescue was gone, Zola doubted Barnes would survive what was to come.

“I have read the sergeant’s file,” Zola explained. He warily tracked Bathilde, Krämer’s wolf daemon who displayed an unsettling habit of circling the chair Zola sat in every time he was in her presence. “It would be better to save this information. You cannot break men too early if you wish to gain any use from them.” It was the same reason he had given to why Barnes’ daemon should not be removed from his cell. This wasn’t the sort of torture that would yield any kind of productive results.

Krämer grimaced while Bathilde stopped her stalking to growl at Zola, her ears flattened against her head. Acantha dug her claws into Zola’s shoulder, sharp enough to hurt but not draw blood. “We wait,” Zola insisted, ignoring the pain in his shoulder and Bathilde’s bared teeth.

“We wait,” Krämer answered. It sounded less like an agreement and more a threat of what could happen should the procedure fail.

Zola waited four months. Even with the systematic reprogramming therapy Zola had personally developed, Barnes was stubborn. When they were alone, Acantha spoke rather admiringly of this characteristic, of how difficult it made things, yes, but also how perfect a subject this made Barnes. “A perfect weapon,” she murmured by Zola’s shoulder while he looked over his notes.

So Zola waited, waited until he finally found the needed blend of technology and organic matter to force a connection between the arm and Barnes, waited until they developed the most effective combination of pain stimulus and cognitive reprogramming before allowing copies of saved newspapers reporting on Captain Rogers’ demise to be casually left where the sergeant would see.

After the newspapers, something clearly changed. A month later, Barnes’ daemon became a snake.

**

Up in the observation room, Zola and Krämer watch Barnes being trained below. In the middle of the session, Barnes’s daemon shifts again. In place of the snake there is now a large tiger. The other three soldiers who were taking turns advancing on Barnes hesitate at the unexpected event, clearly disturbed. Barnes’ daemon takes the opportunity to pounce on the nearest daemon, her claws tearing with deadly precision. The daemon disappears in a shower of gold, her human falling to the ground. Zola sighs.

“End the session,” he calls into the microphone. The hidden guard fires two tranquilizer darts into Barnes who keels over with his metal hand still wrapped around another soldier’s throat.

This is the third member of their team killed in the last week. Zola will have to adjust the cognitive programming to refine Barnes’ aggression for the training modules. He makes a note of it in his book. Beside him, Krämer stares at the men dragging Barnes and his still tiger daemon back to his cell. Zola is almost amused at how unsettled Krämer looks, at how Bathilde is pawing furtively at the glass window.

“Don’t fret, Herr Krämer,” Zola assures smugly. “The procedure is going very well.”

“You did not tell me his daemon changes form consistently,” Krämer accuses. “A change in form but not a complete unsettling.”

“A fascinating development, yes?” Zola says, enjoying how much this bothers Krämer’s sensibilities. Krämer is nothing if not consistent. His tactics for torture are unimaginative and pedestrian, as are his abilities to be something other than reflexively horrified at seeing a grown man’s daemon be unsettled. He has no real vision.

Zola is meticulous these days of observing Barnes’ interactions with his daemon. He remembers how in the early days Barnes would cling to her, his hands digging desperately into the bear’s thick fur; whispering reassurances to her, promising that they only had to wait just a little longer. Now they rarely spoke to each other, but moved in near perfect synchronicity when training.

“Everything will be ready very soon,” Zola predicts. Bathilde circles him again but only does one rotation before Acantha catches her eyes, staring back from her customary perch on Zola’s shoulder. Bathilde quickly returns to Krämer’s side.

“See that it is,” Krämer orders, regaining himself. “We have business to attend to.”

“We are right on schedule.”

**

The Russians want a demonstration. Given the unfortunate history between Russia and Germany, the fact that they are given this much is a positive sign. Zola will say that for all his shortcomings, Krämer knows how to scrounge and to endure. They have done good work in developing the necessary tools to insure Hydra’s resurrection but there are practicalities. The small operation Zola and Krämer have built is vital but in need of funding and alliances that must be forged. Hydra must sow its seeds.

Krämer’s Russian contact, General Karpov, provides them with a name and address. Given the uncertainty of this potential partnership, only Karpov and his closest associate along with Zola and Krämer are privy to this conversation even taking place. If everything is successful, Karpov’s Department X will fund their endeavors. The target is a low ranking politician whose name is worth more than his actions. His death, while not vital, will ease the way for Karpov to ascend to his next position of power.

The target’s home is highly secured with trained guards. In the past, Hydra would have employed a squadron of at least 6 men to carry out this assassination. But the main selling point to Karpov is that their soldier does the work of 10. In a whim of pride and excitement for his great achievement finally being put on display, Zola commandeers the surveillance equipment from his lab and offers to film the soldier in action for Karpov.

Karpov and his right hand man, Lukin arrive at one of their outer bases on the border to watch the footage with only Zola and Krämer present. Karpov is older than Zola would have thought. While he bears an impressive figure in his uniform, his daemon, a large Laika, moves slowly as if her joints are stiff. Lukin’s leopard stalks in front of the Laika, seemingly sweeping a path for her while also defending.

In the relative darkness of the small room, only illuminated sporadically by the lights of the film, Zola watches with swelling pride as the soldier cuts his way through each guard. No one even has a chance to utter a sound before they are either cut down by a silenced bullet or a flash of steel followed by a quick twisting of their necks. “No hesitation,” Acantha whispers to him, her sharp beak pressed against his ear as the soldier’s daemon, a black panther who melts into the dark, tears into her victims. “Doing all that must be done. Leaving nothing behind.”

Zola leans his head into her a little, a warm glow spreading in his chest. Hail Hydra, he thinks as the soldier reaches his target in under 10 minutes. Hail Hydra. The target attempts to run, his bird daemon taking flight. But the large panther leaps, twisting in the air and changing into a larger bird of prey whose beak rips through the other’s throat. There is a small explosion of gold and the target chokes before collapsing.

There is an audible intake of breath from Karpov at the sight. “Stop the film,” he orders. “Turn on the light.” The last command is barely out before Lukin flicks the switch. Zola blinks as the flood of light blinds him momentarily. But when his vision clears, he can see Karpov’s face, white with anger.

“What is this?” he demands, pointing to the frozen image on screen.

“Our soldier, General,” Krämer replies, smoothly. “And yours.”

“His daemon changed form. It is unsettled.” Karpov sounds a mix of outraged and mortified. Zola can feel Krämer casting him a condemning glance, as if the unsettled daemon was a mistake.

“It is an asset on the field,” Zola explains, half furious at this being the only response to what they have just witnessed. “Like the arm, it is an enhancement.”

But Karpov barely seems to hear him, instead seething at Krämer to turn the entire film off. “You have created-“

“A weapon, General Karpov,” interrupts Krämer, trying to soothe and entice.

“No! That is not a weapon. That is an abomination!”

Zola watches Karpov rise from his seat with some help from Lukin as Krämer continues to argue about what they have to offer, what they have demonstrated. But Zola already knows it won’t do any good. Karpov does not see the genius of what they have created, the kind of power they are offering a share of. He does not see the asset for what it is but rather the man it once was.

Useless, Zola thinks, darkly. He is surrounded by nearsighted men.

He is jolted out of his reverie by Acantha’s claws, gripping his shoulder. “Look,” she rasps. “Lukin’s daemon.”

Lukin himself is still next to Karpov, flanking the General’s left while Karpov’s daemon brackets his right. But Lukin’s leopard is not paying attention to the argument that continues while her human intervenes. Instead, she is staring at Zola and Acantha. Her tawny eyes are unreadable as she gazes at them. To his surprise, Acantha leaves his shoulder and swoops down to settle in front of the leopard, who bows her head to speak to her. It is only a few moments before Acantha is settled back on Zola’s shoulder. Karpov and Lukin are gathering themselves to leave. No one has noticed the exchange.

“They want to meet with us,” Acantha hisses in Zola’s ear. “Just us.”

**

The meeting point is in a small apartment building. It looks innocuous enough, though Zola regrets not having brought something more than the pistol in his coat pocket. But Acantha insisted Lukin means them no harm.

“It’s him,” she murmurs as Zola climbs the steps to the third floor.

“What is him?”

“He will help us,” she replies. “He’s not like Schmidt. He’s the one.”

Zola knocks on the appropriate door which swings open to reveal Lukin. He is still in uniform, which gives him an officious look that’s in direct contrast to the way his daemon is lazily sprawled out on the floor by a chair not too far away.

“Ah, Doctor Zola,” he greets almost amicably. “Please come in.”

Zola remains tense as he settles into a chair opposite the one next to the leopard, fighting the urge to grip the handle of the pistol still tucked inside his coat. Acantha squeezes his shoulder again with her claws, a warning to stay calm. Lukin hovers by a small end table and gestures to the glasses and decanters settled on it. “Would you like a drink?” he offers.

“I know it is customary to accept, Colonel. But if it is all the same to you, I would rather not.”

Lukin only shrugs. “But you will not mind if I indulge.” He fixes himself a glass and settles into his chair, his free hand reaching down to scratch at his daemon’s ear. “Здесь мы, Valeska,” he murmurs. She purrs back, the sound rumbling in the small room.

Zola watches the display, curiosity slowly winning over his own discomfort. Lukin hardly made an impression on Zola when he had first met him. The man had been simply a fixture by Karpov, a helper. And yet here he is now and Zola finds it hard to believe he could have ever not taken note of the man. “I am surprised you asked to meet with me. Your General seemed unhappy by our presentation.”

Giving Valeska one last scratch, Lukin leans back in his seat. “General Karpov has much on his mind,” he says. “That was one of his last meetings before he is due to leave for the country tomorrow. The General’s daughter and grandchildren have a lovely home away from the unpleasantness of the city.” Lukin takes a sip from his glass while Zola merely stares back in silence. After a beat, the Colonel smiles. “You must excuse him. Age has made Karpov…sentimental,” he chooses the word carefully. “He looks at your marvelous creation and that changing daemon and he thinks of his grandchildren. Little, innocent ones who still have daemons who go from mice to birds. Very sentimental.” He drinks from his glass again while Valeska grooms her paws.

“I can only assume you do not share his sentimentality,” Zola ventures.

“I only indulge in luxuries I can afford,” replies Lukin. His hand trails back to Valeska’s head as he continues, “I would like to know more about your weapon. How does the arm operate?”

Zola now sees what Acantha meant. Lukin sees what he has created and sees the potential. He outlines for Lukin the mechanics of the limb and how it attaches directly to the soldier’s nervous system. Lukin is interested to know what other forms the daemon takes on, openly admiring the array of animals and the dexterity by which she changes.

“Who was he?” asks Lukin eventually.

Zola hesitates but Lukin’s expression only shows his curiosity. “An American soldier,” answers Zola, simply. “A casualty of war.”

Lukin nods. “What was his daemon before?”

“A bear, if I recall. A large black thing. She’s never returned to her original form even when it might have been helpful.”

For whatever reason, this makes Lukin smile. “Do you intend to make more like him?” he inquires.

“There will never be another like him,” Zola replies. “As a military man you must know no two swords are alike.”

“Weapons age. What will be done when he becomes too old to be of use?”

“Colonel, much can be accomplished before then.”

Lukin considers this for a moment. “Are you familiar with cryogenics?” he asks.

Slowly Zola smiles. Finally, a man of vision. “I am.”

“Very good, Doctor Zola. Very good.” He tosses back the last of his drink. “I would like one more demonstration of your soldier. If it is a success, you will have the support of Department X.”

“Will General Karpov not object?”

“As I said, the General travels tomorrow to the country,” replies Lukin.

From his shoulder, Acantha pushes herself off, surprising Zola twice in the span of two days. She flies down to where Valeska still lounges, pecking once at her paws before flying off again like a thief. Valeska only flicks her tail, seemingly unperturbed. When Acantha settles back onto usual perch she has something clasped in her beak.

Lukin stands, extending a hand toward Zola. “A pleasure, Doctor,” he says, clasping Zola’s fingers. “You are truly a man to be admired.”

Later, when they are outside, Acantha drops a small square of folded paper in Zola’s hand. Typed inside is an address in the country. Lukin mentioned Karpov was going there to see his daughter and grandchildren. There would be witnesses.

“No hesitation,” Acantha whispers.

Zola nods, refolding the paper. “All that must be done. Leave nothing behind.”

THE END

 
 
 
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on June 22nd, 2014 12:39 pm (UTC)
Ouch! I mean, really good and interesting and awesome, but ouch. Poor Bucky and Shess.

This is such a fascinating use of the daemons, and all the psychology involved, and why it's unsettling to see an adult with an unsettled daemon. I love Acantha's control over Zola.

Really well done! I love your writing style, it's always so smooth.
formerly lifeinsomniac: Steve Rogersjoonscribble on June 22nd, 2014 04:23 pm (UTC)
This is such a fascinating use of the daemons, and all the psychology involved, and why it's unsettling to see an adult with an unsettled daemon. I love Acantha's control over Zola.

Thanks! Originally Acantha was the more humane of the two but it ended up getting flipped. Not that Zola is that humane himself.

And thanks for all the late night geeking! Really the next crossover will be less ouch and more awww.
aelfgyfu_mead: Winter Soldieraelfgyfu_mead on June 22nd, 2014 07:39 pm (UTC)
Aw, man! I didn't expect it to end on such a down note. Bucky's trapped with these horrible people in control of him!

I like how upsetting it is to the other adults to see a changing demon—but not to Zola, who has hardly seen a line he wouldn't cross. He seems not to be separating Bucky from his daemon not out of compassion but because it's not the right time. The reasoning about Karpov is interesting too.

I hope you'll write more in this universe!
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on June 22nd, 2014 08:10 pm (UTC)
Aw, man! I didn't expect it to end on such a down note...I hope you'll write more in this universe!

The next crossover will be significantly fluffier. Or at least there will be some nice things to balance out all the sadness.

I like how upsetting it is to the other adults to see a changing demon—but not to Zola, who has hardly seen a line he wouldn't cross.

Most adults associate shifting daemons with children so they get incredibly disturbed by seeing an adult have one. I originally wrote a slightly more humane version of Zola but as the story kept going he just fell back to doing awful things with little regrets.