[Village—fifty miles from Brussels]
Time stood still in the tiny hamlet far enough removed from the urban sprawl to be on its own. Instead of cars, carts drawn by horses and wagons meandered through the streets. People still farmed as their forefathers did. Occasionally the church's bell called everyone to service.
In the small inn on the outskirts, Zemo fumed over his failure. He'd watched his family's beloved castle devastated by sabotage. His technology was in shambles. His dreams lay broken in the dust. Captain America and his paramour were free and plotting against the Reich once more. Hitler would surely have him hunted for this failure.
The innkeeper would keep his silence; his tongue well manacled by the gold in his pockets.
In this peace and over a peasant's stale bread and watered down grape juice, the Baron began piecing together his revenge. He'd get even with the Commandos and their star spangled fool one day but he knew who his real target was.
Zemo smirked. He hoped his delivery would reach its intended target and have the effect…..
[Mess Hall—Allied Command]
Steve sat by the far wall and stared blankly into space. His temples still ached despite the aspirins he had taken. He couldn't remember anything over the previous forty-eight hours. Worse he felt violated that someone could take him down and invade his mind…his dreams….
Unreal. He speared a piece of meat absently and considered it. "Is this real? What is real?"
He glanced up to see Peggy standing there with a tray in her hands. "Oh…sorry. Please sit down."
She smiled graciously. "Thanks, Steve. I appreciate that. This headache's a bloody killer."
"Tell me about it," he concurred while rubbing his forehead again. "I just feel….I don't know how to describe it…"
She nodded thoughtfully. "You feel exposed. Naked. Violated. At least that's how I feel." She took a long sip on her coffee. "I can't believe even a Nazi could stoop so low as that."
"They'll do anything to win the war." He mouthed some mashed potatoes and chased them with a cup of his own coffee. "Zemo killed a village of his own people just to test something." He shook his head. "Never thought I'd say there were differences between those folks."
"You're thinking of Schmitt, aren't you? Steve, he's a megalomaniac too," she pointed out.
He shrugged. "Oh I know that. It's just that he goes by his own screwed up code. He'll face you at least man to man. Zemo didn't care about that."
At that moment, Phillips approached them briskly; a deep frown lining his face as he did so.
"Captain," she reminded Steve as she stood.
"Right." He got up and saluted their superior.
Phillips nodded in ascent before getting right to the point. "You two get the most disturbing messages. At least we know who helped to rescue you." He handed Steve a folded piece of paper. "You make the weirdest admirers, Rogers. You know that?" Without asking, he slid into the chair next to Steve. "Go on. Read it."
Steve unfolded the message and read it over. Twice. His eyes stared in shock. "You can't be serious!"
"Captain, what?" she wondered while feeling a sense of panic.
Phillips replied flatly, "We decoded it twice. It came into the York office this morning. That was literally flown down here for you both." He gulped on his own coffee. "I don't like it."
"Me neither." Steve handed the note to her. "Look at this."
"Whatever could it be to cause you two such a snit? Really!" She wiped her mouth off with a napkin. Then she took the note from Steve and read it. "I don't believe it!"
"It's real. We can't nail it down but it's a German code all right," Phillips groused.
"Guten Tag, Captain.
I trust you and the lovely Agent Carter are recovering from your ordeal. Mind control is such terrible business, no? Not something that warriors such as you and me need to engage in. By now you should know that Hydra sabotaged Zemo's defenses. We assisted in rescuing you, Captain. An agent fell but we shall replace that one head with two more.
At that moment, our agendas crossed. Zemo is a mad dog snapping at our heels. Besides we should fight each other. We are brothers of a kind. Two sides of the same coin. Erskine made us so. What he started, we shall finish.
Recover and regain strength, Mein Freund. We shall meet again soon enough. And once more, there will be no quarter.
"Of all the nerve!" she scoffed. "He's nothing like you, Captain! And to implicate Dr. Erksine like that!"
"He didn't want to give Schmitt the formula and rued that it happened," Steve observed. "Yet Schmitt's right. We are opposites yet attracted to each other."
"As long as you remember that you're the head to kick his Nazi ass," Phillips reminded him bluntly. "Schmitt's nuts. Nuts but dangerous." He saw Private Nelson coming toward them. "Private!"
Nelson stopped and faced him. "Yes, sir?"
"You made that call I asked you to?" Phillips wondered.
She nodded. "MI-6 is working on it, Colonel. If they call, you'll be the first to know." She saluted again. "May I be dismissed?"
"That'll be all, Private. Go eat in peace," Phillips advised.
Peggy shook her head. "I wish I trusted her."
"I should've been firmer with her. We all should give her another chance," Steve indicated.
"I suppose," Peggy relented. She took a spoonful of pudding and mused over the blonde private. Despite Steve's sentiment, something continued to seem off about the other woman. I'll be watching her!
After leaving the mess hall, Private Nelson left the facility and walked briskly down the block. Rounding the corner, she entered a small yet nondescript apartment building. On the third floor, she considered her small one bedroom apartment. The couch, chairs and table seemed simple and functional. A few vases of flowers added a lived in touch to the place. A breeze rustled past the open windows and the beige curtains.
She hung up her coat in the closet. After looking around, she headed into the bathroom and shut the door behind herself. She pulled a drawer out in the vanity and produced a small silver device not more than two inches thick and three inches long. She pressed a red button on its tip.
The device emitted a signal making sure that no tap would pick up on her conversation.
Her voice turned guttural and added in German, "I shall be glad when this pretense is over." She reached under the sink and produced a portable phone looking device. "Base?"
Then she waited…..
[Hydra Command—Alpine Lair]
Half a continent away, Hydra's operations matched pace with the Allies' efforts. Under Dr. Zola's supervision, the dark suited agents toiled away on Project Valkyrie and his other designs. Blue glowing devices operated with energy stolen from Odin's tessarect jewel. Intelligence flowed in from the west, Soviets and Berlin itself.
With the Red Skull in charge, there was no stopping. On the other hand, the proverbial pace was always one of acceleration. He would win if he had to level everything in the process. And he could do it too.
At the moment, the crimson headed villain surveyed the landscape through his picture window. Despite the relative protection offered by the mountains, he still refused to sit still. He knew the Allies were also chipping away at his advantage. Zemo wouldn't stay down for long. Hitler knew by now he had gone rogue.
And then there was the Captain himself….
Schmitt smirked knowingly. He could imagine the storm brewing inside of Allied Command over his message. Let his enemies fuss over his commandeering the communications. He knew it would distract them and allow him more time to complete his aerial armada. Besides, as with the rest of his operations, if they found one internal source, there were others.
The agent who'd assisted the Commandos, Reinhart Feinhart, lay under an honor guard of his companions two floors below. Schmitt made sure he would be remembered.
The Skull would deal with his fellow Nazi renegade for the loss. That you could count on…..
Already another man watched Zemo in the very hamlet where the Baron hid. At the right moment, the Skull would drop the hammer fast and hard.
Captain America, however, would be a harder nut to crack. Despite his agent's efforts to distract him by creating a romantic argument between him and Agent Carter, he recognized his star spangled adversary's relentlessness and driven sense of purpose. Almost like himself…..
The Red Skull recalled his own past as an abandoned child of the streets. How he stole from the elites to survive and was bullied by kids bigger than himself. How he survived the orphanages and jobs until Hitler had noticed him and raised him up to the status he held. How he had changed since taking the formula.
We are two of a kind, Captain. He heard a buzz coming from his comm unit. Walking over to the desk, he pushed a button on the console.
"Base?" Nelson inquired.
"Ja. Have you placed the call as instructed?" he queried expectantly.
"I have, Mein Herr. MI-6 is going to the western edge of Wales. They think Colonel Phillips deceives them. I have dealt with Zemo's agent. He and the other agent did not leave the airfield alive," she reported.
"Excellent work. Resume your surveillance, Agent Rommel. Your dedication is very much appreciated. Hail Hydra!" he complimented.
"I shall. Cut off one head and two more shall take its place! Hail Hydra!" she concluded before hanging up.
He shut his connection off and pressed another button activating a hidden camera inside of the Allies' headquarters. He watched carefully.
On screen, Steve and Peggy talked over coffee about something. They drew closer despite the efforts and plot.
The Skull nodded in grudging admiration. While the couple represented a collective thorn in his side, he admired their strength and quality. He reached over to his record player and started a Mozart concerto. He raised his glass and saluted his adversaries. "Enjoy the night. Soon our dance will resume in earnest." With that, he downed the wine therein.
The war would soon be back on for the players on that chessboard.
For now though, even they could take a respite from things knowing that soon they would meet again.
And on that chilled day, their worlds would change forever…dramatically and fundamentally so….