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A Winter Soldier Comes to Claptrap

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Steve already respected the near-suicidal bravery Luis had shown at the facility and the Xer city and - despite the bullheaded voice being sulky he's playing nice with his...bond-rival(?) - he had brought his plan to the green-eyed man without hesitation. It took the three Soldiers under Luis' command fifteen minutes to dig a tenth of a mile underground hole from the auto shop out into the scrubland headed towards the Yard. Win and Steve gathered a few supplies while they got the job done and in no time they were all shimmying out from under a swath of broken down vehicles at the exit of the tunnel.

Win, Luis and Steve each piggy back on a Soldier and they run to the Yard at top speed. Win swings her arm around briefly like she's riding a bucking bronco before grabbing on for dear life as Ramos leaps over a debris pile. The mechanic is definitely having a chat with Buck about why they'd been bothering to take the 'bile to the Yard all this time when the Vampire Express was so much faster and required no fuel. Or maybe it did. Maybe being so extra took it out of him, made him need to feed faster. The other Soldiers wouldn't notice a thing like hunger in their current state.

He still feels a stab of guilt using them like this, but

a bitch gotta do what a bitch gotta do

Zola will kill them all given the opportunity. He wouldn't hesitate to hurtle his entire army at them, even if it meant in the end he'd be warlord of no one. Brock's ego hadn't allowed that. If Coulson could do his dirty work, why risk his position, his forces.

Steve had been pondering where the crate might be since learning about what was inside it. He knew, or could assume based on evidence, a few basic things about the giant box the Soldier called "the asset:"

One, its approximate size and weight, which was around that of a compact car. Not an easy thing to hide. Steve, Buck and the others had searched nearly every inch of Claptrap - Nat even sneaking into Fury's office and quarters - between Steve returning from his little mental health vacation at the Yard and when they had left to go on the road to retrieve the water pumps and go to the facility. There were very few places such a large object could be hidden. It wasn't in Claptrap. Hill, Coulson and Sitwell also had unfettered access to the entire community and it seemed none of them knew where it was.

Two, it emitted some sort of signal that the Soldiers' neural nets, and others with the proper technology, could track. It must be blocked somehow, since Buck couldn't pick it up. The signal must be strong and difficult to block since Buck was able to pick it up from a great distance. The signal had not ended in Claptrap - Buck said he had lost it immediately after they loaded the crate, meaning Nick had something in the trailer box ready to block out the signal. Buck had simply followed the vehicles' tracks back to the community.

Three, it was safe to assume that Rumlow had some way to track it as well. Most likely, Zola had found something in the secondary facility to allow this. They would have lost track of the asset the same as Buck when Fury did whatever to block the signal. The Soldier could move on foot very quickly, needing extremely limited resources. Little dictator Brock could do the same but would not have been willing to allow his followers to go without his leadership for fear that one of his power hungry cronies would take over and plot to eliminate him, which meant he sent people who were only human to track the asset.

That delay had cost him - they were not able to reach the barn as quickly as Buck, and there would be no tracks to follow back to Claptrap after a few dust storms (even Buck had lost them eventually and got lucky he'd made it to the junktown. Most likely Crossbones had just casted a wide net in the vicinity of the barn and his people also got (un)lucky stumbling on Buck. After the Soldier killed enough of them, it became clear something was in that area.

Four, Zola would probably still be trying to track it, hoping he would pick something up if he got close enough or it was moved in preparation for the battle. It was unlikely he'd bring his full force to bare on the Yard - he still needs a Soldier to open the box and he wouldn't want the residents to have time to flee, so the brunt of his soldiers would still go to Claptrap. But a chunk would follow the signal - possibly even the doctor himself would show up to take possession of the crate.

Fury's people are stationed on the dump hill, monitoring the area. The Soldiers leap the scrap yard fence effortlessly without detection and only find a few guys inside - they knock them out and tie them up in the little office building, taking their walkies just in case someone radios in for sitrep. Win pulls a car battery and, per Steve's instruction, Luis has the Soldiers take a long sniff. He orders to search for the area where the smell is most concentrated. It's a hunch, but it pays off when they find an area in the stacks of crushed cars where the scent is intense. There's no quiet way to remove them, so Luis tells them to be quick and the humans take cover behind the concrete block office building while the Soldiers rip the scrap car pile apart.

Inside are hundreds of car batteries, stacked under, over and around the asset several layers deep, the lead inside blocking the signal. Steve gives Luis a smug grin as Win playfully punches the mechanic's arm. There's little time to enjoy their victory though - the walkies go crazy with people above inquiring about the noise and they can see some of them descending the hill.

"We need it dug out and opened, now!" Steve barks and Luis relays the command.

By the time the ex-ops leading the group from above - a giant bear of an older guy named Hogan - opens the junkyard gate, the guns and ammo are loaded in the sacks Steve and Win brought and the Soldiers fully outfitted with masks, tactical goggles and more. The sealed case with the serums is in a pack on Steve's back - he had Red open it, but he was unable to smash the tubes or damage the syringes. The glass must be the same as the containment wall and the metal as Buck's arm. Virtually indestructible in other words. He hopes Buck will know what to do.

"Hey, Happy," Steve addresses the big ex-ops with a little wave and grin.

"Rogers? What the fuck?!" Hogan demands, several ex-ops and some of the more hardcore civilians filing in behind him and moving in on them. "Is that...? Fuck. So that's where the bastard hid it." He looks over his shoulder. "Told you it had to be close."

"We need these weapons, to protect Claptrap," the mechanic insists. "Plus, I have a plan." He gives the bigger man - dark haired with gray at the temples and a look of constant weariness - an uncharacteristically charming smile.

Hogan snorts, amused but unmoved. "You always do, kid. Boss is not gonna like this though. Sorry, Stevie. Unless you want it to turn into your birthday around here, best you stop what you're doing and we have a chat."

"His birthday?" one of the others asks quietly.

Hogan just eyes the man, irritated his quip didn't land. "The fourth of July."

"Ohhhh," the other Claptrapper responds.

"Good luck with that, old man," Luis offers. "All of you together don't begin to have enough boom boom."

Hogan shrugs. "Only need one shot."

Luis drops to the ground as if on cue.

A man runs over, scoops him up as another covertly presses a handgun into Win's ribs.

"Oh no. Something's wrong with Luis!" Hogan says with mock concern. "Our medics better take a look at him in the office. Win, you should go with. Keep an eye on him." He grins at her as she scowls.

"You hear any racket out here, deal with them," Hogan says calmly as he puts an arm around Steve that looks friendly but is far too tight, allowing him to physically direct the blonde away from the Soldiers - he clamps a hand over the mechanic's mouth.

The Soldiers keep following their previous orders, not realizing the threat, backs to the whole thing. These are other Claptrappers after all. Their allies. People they've been told to protect. Stupid not to update that. Steve hadn't thought it would come to this even though Bullhead had a lot to say on the subject. He didn't really want to consider killing these people. Especially Happy - though he didn't know the man well beyond the occasional card game, he had seemed like a stand up, reasonable guy. How naive. Fury's hold on his team is a powerful thing.

"I really thought your boyfriend would have given you the keys to the kingdom, kid, but then I saw the fancy headset on Luis. Way better for playing boss than a walkie. Must know how hot tempered and reckless you are. Or maybe he just likes old green-eyes better than you," Hogan muses. "Cute kid and they are so chummy."

That would have made Steve really insecure a few weeks ago. Now that Bullhead had decided Luis is relationship enemy number two, after Zola who is intent on taking Buck away in a much more literal way, it just makes him incredibly pissed off. Logic-numbingly so. He bites Hogan's hand as he grabs his balls hard simultaneously, squeezing. The big man makes quite a racket while he stumbles away.

Racket. Oh no.

Steve immediately hears a scream from the office building.

Hogan looks as surprised as the blonde, both wide-eyed with shock and guilt. The big man fumbles for his communicator.

"I thought it would be obvious that was just to scare Rogers. Please tell me you idiots didn't actually kill them."

There's silence.

"Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck..."

Luis problem solved, Bullhead says smugly as Steve turns, walks slowly to the office - it feels like he's moving through liquid concrete, his mouth dry, his hands cold and shaking. Too bad about Win. She was good people, the voice continues as Steve's vaguely aware of Hogan behind him talking, apologizing, following - the ex-ops asks something that focuses the mechanic's attention.

"Where's the big ginger?"

Steve turns to the Soldiers - Ramos and Washington are still placidly carrying out orders, but Red is gone.

"The hell?" he whispers.

Seconds later Winter Soldier 21 bursts out of the glass block window of the office, an orange, gray and black blur. He tackles Hogan, rolls with him and chucks him into the others as they raise their weapons. With lightning speed he runs to their down and half-down forms, disarms them and tosses their weapons over his shoulder into the crate. The other Soldiers freeze, unsure what to do with this change in perameter. One of the men scrambles to grab a machine gun from Win's sack, checks the magazine, pulls the trigger - nothing happens. Red calmly walks up, grabs the weapon, and punches him cold.

21 grabs Hogan by the vest, lifts him up off the ground effortlessly. "Ask your soldier with the tranquilizer gun to drop their weapon and come out from their hiding place."

"Carter, come out," Hogan calls. "Slowly."

A woman with wavy blonde hair squeezes out of a junked car half way up a stack, drops down and moves to join the others as they dust themselves off. Steve recognizes Sharon from around - she's nearly as tall as Clint, quiet and serious. He's always assumed she was former government, though she's not ex-ops. Like Nat, she knew Fury before the collapse.

"You are all under arrest," Red says evenly as he slowly sets Hogan down.

"What?" the older man rasps.

The big Soldier tilts his head to the side, like he was surprised by his own words, then straightens, turns to Steve.

"Luis has instructed I follow your orders to move forward with the plan previously discussed."

"Anyone here a good sniper?" Steve asks - Hogan gestures for the others to answer.

Carter and two others raise their hands.

"If you want, you can stay. The rest of you, head back to Claptrap and help defend the wall. There's a tunnel under the junk cars on this side of the wall. Once you're through, have them blow it, but far out. Can't risk Crossbones' people finding it, but we don't need a wall collapse either."

"Stay for...?" Hogan starts, trails off.

"If I'm right, some of them will come looking for this box," the mechanic offers, "maybe even the guy in charge. And we're going to give it to them."