Fandom: Captain America
Series: To Rewrite History
Pairings: unrequited Steve/Bucky, Minor Bucky/OCs
Warnings: angst, torture, more angst, Hydra being evil, violence, evil science, murder, dubious consent, etc.
Word Count: 9117 (23,050 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned it, the good guys would have lost.
Summary: Bucky doesn't think much of Captain America but he would die for Steve ten times over and consider it a price fair paid.
Part I: To Fall
Part II: To Reap
“This is Subject 11. You will train her.”
Grebenshchikov walks into the room and shoves a girl toward Bucky with one hand. She's small and delicate, with bright red hair and huge dark eyes, and she can't be more than ten if she's a day.
“What are you talking about? I'm not a teacher. Why don't you choose someone else?” the sniper asks. He's stalling for time, trying to wrap his head around the idea of a child in the Red Room. This has to be some new trick, some new test or sick experiment.
“Who else?” the scientist replies. “She is your daughter after all.”
“What?! But I've never...” Bucky trails off. He hasn't slept with a single dame since he woke up in Russia. The sniper hasn't even slept with another man since killing Howard Stark. As soon as he gave in, the visits ended and he sees the inside of a cryo-tube more often than an actual room these days.
“Your preferences were interesting, yes, and slightly inconvenient. She is not your natural daughter,” Grebenshchikov admits. “Subject 11 was created from a mix of your genes and your captain's – those born from him alone never survived past infancy.”
“You made a kid from me and Steve?” the sergeant asks, staring at the girl incredulously. He can't even... A child? Bucky never thought he'd have kids and now he has a daughter? It seems impossible. Assuming that the Russian isn't lying through his teeth. This girl could be anyone; she could be some child that the Red Room dragged in off the street.
“Of course I made a child. I would have cloned you if I could. But that is not yet possible,” the doctor sighs. “Still, studying the serum's effects in a maturing body has been quite interesting. I intend to learn why your captain's offspring faltered and why Subject 11 has outlived her other siblings. With this knowledge, I will finally be able to create an army of serum-enhanced soldiers to help Hydra cleanse the world. And you will help me. You will train Subject 11 to fight as you do, create an assassin who will be always overlooked.”
“What? No!” Bucky protests. “I don't care if she's my daughter; she's just a kid. I won't show her how to kill.”
“That is unfortunate. If you don't then she will die,” Grebenshchikov says with a shrug. He clearly wants the sergeant to ask for an explanation, the obvious manipulation making Bucky want to do the opposite. He wants to spite the bastard, he really does, but then he meets Subject 11's frightened eyes. While both men have been speaking English and she doesn't seem to understand them, she clearly knows that something bad is going on.
“Okay, fine,” the sniper growls, throwing up his hands. “Why will she die?”
“Because we will test her. Whether you train her or not, we shall lock her in a cell with several criminals – perhaps murderers, perhaps those who care for children, I have not yet decided. If Subject 11 cannot kill, then I have no further need of her and without training, she will not leave that room alive. Her serum is far diluted and she lacks a warrior's heart.”
No one should be able to talk about killing children without changing their expression and Bucky hates Grebenshchikov for his nonchalance. Though maybe the Russian is only acting unconcerned because he knows that the sniper will give in and Bucky hates him all the more because he's right.
Whether or not this girl is actually his daughter – Steve's daughter – the sergeant can't just leave her to the fate that Grebenshchikov describes. He doesn't know whether he can train her well enough to save her, but he knows he has to try.
So Bucky nods his head with gritted teeth, his fists clenching when the doctor smirks at him. “Only a token protest; you are learning, Soldier. Subject 11 will be your sole mission for the next three months. She will be completely in your care and you will have free run of the training chambers. Teach her well, Soldier, or watch your child die.”
Grebenshchikov leaves the sniper alone with his new charge and for a second he can only stare at the girl helplessly. She's so tiny, so frightened; how the Hell is Bucky supposed to teach her how to kill?
He takes a step forward and she flinches, her wariness triggering a forgotten memory. The sergeant's little sister had been prone to nightmares and she always came to him for comfort in the middle of the night. If he could coax Becca out from under her bed after she dreamed he was the boogeyman then he should be able to talk to this girl now. The sniper doesn't have to be the Winter Soldier even if he can't be Bucky; he'd rather show her kindness than rage or cruelty.
“Hey, it's all right,” the sergeant murmurs in Russian, kneeling down so that he looks less ominous. “My name is James but you can call me Yasha. Grebenshchikov wants me to teach you self-defense.”
His voice is soft and gentle and he smiles when the girl looks up. “I'm going to show you how to protect yourself from anyone who wants to hurt you. Would you like that? The world is much less scary when you know how to fight. And if I'm going to be your teacher, I need to call you something. Is there a name you like?”
“They just call me 11,” the girl whispers.
“Well, I think we can find something much prettier than that,” Bucky says. “Only if you want, of course. I can call you 11 if you wish.”
“No...” she starts, then flinches as though expecting to be hit for talking back. But when the sergeant doesn't do anything, barely dares to breathe, she starts to speak again. “I don't like 11. 11 is one of many and I want to be myself.”
“All right. So how should we choose? Is there anything you like?”
“I like dancing,” she offers hesitantly. “Madam teaches me ballet to make me graceful and karate to make me strong. Math and letters and history, but I like dancing best.”
“A ballerina, huh? That's very impressive,” Bucky tells her. “When I was young, the best ballerinas were from Russia and they came to my city to perform. I never got to see them but I saw the posters and I still remember the way their names flowed off my tongue: Katarina and Natalia and Anastasia, gorgeous names for gorgeous gals. My youngest sister demanded that I call her Natalie for weeks and drove my mother crazy. Do any of those names sound good to you?”
“Can I... Can I be Natalia?”
“Of course, sweetheart. How about Natalia Romanova? That's a good strong Russian name and we're both Russian now, Natashen'ka,” the sergeant says, the diminutive rolling off his tongue unconsciously. “So since that's settled, why don't we get some food? I'm starving and you'll need your strength to learn.”
Bucky holds out his hand, waiting patiently until Natalia reaches out. Her hand is tiny compared to his but there's strength in those small fingers. She clutches at him like a lifeline when he opens the door, sticking close to the sergeant's side. Although Bucky has earned her trust for the moment, he still has to keep it even as he teaches her to kill men twice her size. His task seems insurmountable but he's determined to do the best he can.
He starts by having Natalia show him everything she knows already, from the dancing to karate to the best ways to hide. It could be worse. She is graceful and certainly stronger than most children, but that won't be enough to save her from anyone with training or a gun.
“You cannot rely on strength,” Bucky tells her on the second day. “You are too small for that. You will need speed and trickery in order to survive.”
If she is going to fight, then she must fight dirty. The sergeant pulls out all the tricks he learned in bar brawls and fighting in the trenches, as well as a few moves from Hydra's men as well. They tend to rely more on guns than training but there are one or two people who can last five minutes hand to hand if he doesn't use his metal arm.
“You can get into fistfights when you're older. For now, you should never go toe to toe with anyone,” the sniper orders. “If you're outmatched then it's better to admit it before you get beaten all to Hell. Get some distance and a weapon if you can.”
Bucky used to tell Steve the exact same thing back in Brooklyn but the other man never listened; he just took punches like he was aiming for a record and broke his nose three times. The sergeant can see something of Steve in the stubborn set of Natalia's jaw. Every time he throws her down, she gets back up and tries harder, but she lacks the reckless streak that drove Bucky nuts back then. Natalia is more practical, willing to fight dirty if it means not getting hurt, and the sniper has to wonder if she got that trait from him.
The more time he spends with Natalia, the more Bucky thinks that she might actually be their daughter. There's nothing definitive that he can point to; she doesn't have the sniper's hair or his captain's bright blue eyes. But when the light catches her face just right, Bucky can almost see his mother and the girl's smile is Stevie through and through.
Natalia shares his skill with guns and she definitely shares the serum that runs through Steve and Bucky's blood. When she twists wrong and sprains her wrist, the injury is fully healed three days later. She doesn't recover instantly but still faster than she should.
“This is a good lesson. You will not always be able to stop fighting when you're injured. Sometimes you must push through the pain instead.”
“Is that what you do?” she asks him later, pointing at his metal arm.
“Yes. The arm makes me stronger but strength almost always comes with sacrifice. If anyone tells you otherwise they are a liar or a fool,” the sergeant explains, tucking Natalia in carefully. She's been staying in his room for lack of other orders and truthfully, Bucky doesn't mind. He prefers to have her close where he can protect her and in another week or two, he'll starting training her for surprise attacks in the middle of the night.
But since they spend so much together, the sergeant has few secrets. She's seen his daily stretches and the way he winces in the evening when he pushed himself too hard. The serum heals the injuries but it doesn't make the arm stop hurting; he's just learned to ignore the pain as best he can.
“Does that mean the people who hurt you are the ones who care about you?” Natalia asks quietly. “Because those are the people who want you to be stronger and denying pain just makes you weak?”
“No! God no,” Bucky bites out, feeling like she just stabbed him in the heart. He can't let his daughter grow up believing that. “I don't... I'm no good at explanations but that's not true at all. Anyone who claims to be hurting you for your own good is an asshole or a bully and you shouldn't believe a word they say. And maybe I'm no better. I turned your injury into a lesson and you can hate me if you want. But if I had a choice, neither of us would be here. This place, the Red Room, it's not a good place and I just want you to survive. So while I can't promise not to hurt you; I promise that I'll never do it willingly.”
Natalia considers his words for a moment while Bucky waits nervously. He wishes Steve were here. Steve would have known how to explain this whole fucked up situation and kept him from messing up their daughter's life.
“Okay,” Natalia says eventually. “I believe you.”
She reaches out to pat his shoulder and then closes her eyes, falling asleep almost instantly. She shows such trust in him that Bucky feels honored and so very, very guilty; he feels even guiltier when their three months are up.
Grebenshchikov comes for Natalia with a group of soldiers in the morning and the sergeant doesn't want to give her up. If he were a better man, he would fight to the death to save his daughter but he stands paralyzed instead. One girl against Steve's life; one girl against the possibility of endless children cooked up in a laboratory and he can't make that choice.
“Remember what I taught you,” Bucky tells Natalia, resting a hand on her shoulder. “Survive at any cost.”
Then he lets the soldiers take her, watching his daughter until she rounds the corner and he can't see her anymore. The sergeant assumes that his masters will send him on another mission or back into cryo-stasis and he follows after Grebenshchikov obediently when the doctor turns and walks away.
But instead the Russian leads Bucky to a chamber that he doesn't recognize. This room is in the heart of the Red Room's compound and perhaps this is the beating heart of Grebenshchikov's control. Because every wall is filled with camera feeds; the sniper can see a handful of hallways and armories; his room and the different training chambers; the entrance to Steve's cryo-chamber and the snowy fields outside. This is how the Russian knows everything that happens in the Red Room even when he's not around.
“Come, Soldier. It is time,” Grebenshchikov says, pointing at one central screen. As Bucky watches, the camera shifts to show Natalia and he takes a step forward without meaning to. She's alone in an empty room, nothing but her clothes and his lessons for protection now.
As the sergeant watches, the door to the room slides open and three hulking men walk in. They look like they came straight from prison and their faces twist with sick anticipation when they see Natalia standing there.
“You have earned the right to witness your daughter's ending,” the scientist tells Bucky. “We shall see if your training was enough and perhaps she will survive.”
There's a snort to the sniper's left and he glances over to see Alexei Perov, Grebenshchikov's special protégé. The man is an even bigger dick than his mentor, which should be impossible. At least the older scientist usually has a reason for his tortures; Perov is just a sadistic bastard who hates the fact that Bucky can still think for himself. He wants the sergeant broken until there's nothing left but Hydra's dog.
“The little bitch will die here,” Perov says with a smirk. “We should be focusing on cloning and brainwashing instead of these pet projects. We need soldiers with unflinching loyalty.”
“Perhaps. But men who cannot think will not adapt when the situation changes; they must be managed and that grows tiring. You think too much in shows of force instead of subtlety,” Grebenshchikov answers sharply, Perov subsiding at the censure in his voice. Then the older scientist leans forward and speaks into a microphone. “Kill her now.”
The prisoners rush toward Natalia and Bucky finds he cannot watch this. He cannot watch his daughter either kill or die. So he turns his eyes away and studies the room around him, trying to memorize each dial's purpose and each camera's blindspot as shouts and curses fill his ears. Bucky can look away but he cannot stop himself from listening, dreading the sound of Natalia's final scream, and he clenches his right hand into a fist until he starts to bleed.
When the fighting finally stops, the sergeant still can't bring himself to look. He stands frozen until Grebenshchikov claps him on the back and says cheerfully, “Congratulations, Soldier. You exceeded expectations by a large margin. Subject 11 is most promising indeed.”
Bucky glances up at the screen to see Natalia. She's covered in blood but she's the last one standing and the sniper doesn't know whether he wants to cheer or weep. His girl survived but she survived to live with Hydra and when she looks up at the camera, her eyes are different now. Defiant and determined, but no longer innocent.
The guilt is enough to drown the sergeant if he lets it, his treatment of Natalia just one small drop within an overwhelming flood. No matter how he tries, Bucky can't block out the nightmares and the weight on his mind grows heavier with every mission he completes. The sniper is starting to fray around the edges as he works himself into exhaustion, running at full speed until he collapses where he stands.
Sometimes Grebenshchikov throws him into cryo and sometimes the Russian doesn't, time slipping through his fingers like the sand from a broken hourglass. Bucky only knows that years are passing because Natalia keeps getting older. She's ten then twelve then thirteen between one morning and the next.
He's still helps with her training sometimes, showing her how to use her strength and teaching her to speak English like a native, and her presence is one of the few bright spots in a sea of tortured dreams.
Because there's a chill in Bucky's bones that never seems to leave him. There's a hole in his soul that will not stop bleeding as he carves out his conscience piece by piece. He's in Hell, a Hell partly borne of his own making, and if not for Steve, he would have slit his wrists by now.
But the sergeant made a promise to his captain and if someone has to suffer, then it's going to be him. Eventually his captors will get sloppy; eventually Grebenshchikov will make his last mistake.
When Natalia turns seventeen, the Red Room sends them on a mission to the south of Italy. Ostensibly, it's training: a bit of spying, some interrogation, and then an execution, the Winter Soldier acting as backup for his daughter on her first trip outside the Motherland.
Their target is a man named Antonio Rigatoni; he broke a deal with Hydra and now he's going to commit assisted suicide. Nothing that Bucky hasn't done before.
However, after Natalia leaves for the armory, Grebenshchikov pulls the sergeant aside and gives him additional instructions, orders that make him put his fist straight through the wall. This isn't just a mission; this is a test of his daughter's loyalty. This time the Red Room will be recording every single word he speaks.
“Do not touch Subject 11 during this mission unless absolutely necessary,” the doctor adds as a final afterthought. “The electrical current running through your left arm tends to overload delicate machinery and my techs grow tired of resoldering your gear. However, we have planted enough listening devices that you need not fear our deafness. We shall hear your pleas and be ready to test Subject 11 the moment you return.”
To be honest, Bucky has always wondered why Hydra didn't bug him every time he left the Red Room and he's almost amused that the answer is simple practicality. Almost because Natalia does not share the same protection. As long as Grebenshchikov is listening, the sniper cannot defy his orders, not even to spare his daughter pain.
Although, it's not like I really know her, Bucky thinks once that first burst of rage has faded. Maybe she'll pass this test without flinching and never think of me again.
A few dozen visits over seven years barely constitutes an acquaintance and while he always tried to be as kind as possible, he's just one of several teachers in his daughter's life. Truthfully, the only reason the sniper hopes is because he cannot help it and because she still calls herself Natalia every time they speak.
Other than the name, there is little to tie her to the frightened girl she used to be. His daughter has grown up strong and dangerous, as willing to put a knife in someone's throat as she is to smile at them, more willing probably. But when she does smile, Bucky can't blame the men who trip over their feet. Natalia has become quite a looker and indeed, it's almost laughably easy for her to secure an invitation to their target's house once they reach Italy.
Antonio's youngest son, Donno, provides the opening. When Natalia “accidentally” bumps into him at a cafe, the man falls head over heels in lust immediately. Bucky watches the encounter from a distance as Donno does his best to impress the redhead and quickly turns to putty in her hands.
Natalia smiles and giggles charmingly, batting her lashes around eyes as cold as steel. She plays hard to get until Donno invites her to a party at his family's mansion, promising to introduce her to his father and all his famous friends. Natalia sends the young man away with a score of empty promises and then meets back up with Bucky down the street.
“What a waste of space,” she snorts. “I could have taken the shirt right off his back.”
“Don't think of him too harshly,” the sergeant chides her gently. “Sure the kid's a dimwit and too rich for his own good, but easy marks have their own uses. Stiffs like that kept me and Ste- a friend from starving more than once when I was younger. Our neighborhood was popular for rich men slumming it and I could usually manage to hustle a few dollars from them before they ran back home again.”
Steve came with Bucky sometimes; his friend enjoyed watching as he wrapped marks around his fingers until they didn't know which way was up. The blond used to say that he could take a guy's last penny and make him grateful for it, but that was really just a matter of picking the right man.
There was a certain kind of fellow who would pay dearly for an evening's entertainment; those were usually the same ones who couldn't take their eyes off Bucky's mouth. When he was in the right mood, he'd give them what they wanted; he's never regretted finding pleasure where he could. But Bucky's favorite nights were the ones where he and Steve left the bars together, their pockets flush with cash and smiles on their faces as they walked down the street. Bucky would throw an arm around the other man's shoulders and tell him jokes until he could barely walk for laughing, the memory making the sergeant grin fondly even now.
“Where did you grow up? You've never mentioned that before,” Natalia asks and Bucky startles; he'd forgotten she was there.
The sniper's first instinct is to hold his secrets close since he hasn't talked about his past in decades. Even if he were willing, Hydra doesn't care. But Bucky will need to tell his daughter at least a portion of the truth in order to do what his masters ordered and since he's opened up the subject, he might as well start now. The memories are bittersweet, mostly bitter truthfully, and yet... Bucky wants Natalia to know her parents' history.
So he tells his daughter about his family as they walk back to their safehouse. He tells her about New York while scouting the outside of Rigatoni's mansion, sharing stories about his best friend and the trouble that Steve always used to find.
Bucky doesn't tell Natalia everything. He doesn't mention the war, the Howling Commandos, or his captain and he certainly doesn't mention his true allegiances. His daughter is hardly stupid; if the sniper suddenly starts spilling secrets, she'll assume that it's a trick and he can't afford to tip his hand just yet. Bucky needs to walk a careful balance to make Grebenshchikov think that he's complying with his orders while trying to ensure that Natalia will pass the Russian's test.
Things would be much simpler if the sergeant could just warn her, but Grebenshchikov isn't the only one who doubts his daughter's loyalty. Bucky can't trust her not to betray him back to Hydra when the Red Room is all she's ever known.
So the sniper keeps his stories light and entertaining, answering Natalia's questions without offering any details of his own. He needs her curious but wary and it's easy to tease at her suspicions. His daughter grew up in the Red Room, after all; she sees danger lurking behind every friendly smile and it's not as though he's ever talked much before this. Such loquacity is distinctly out of character and while Natalia laughs at the right moments, Bucky can feel her watching him when he looks away.
By the time Rigatoni's party arrives, the sergeant thinks he's laid the groundwork and he turns his attention to their target with a distinct sense of relief. After everything he's done for Hydra, these small manipulations shouldn't make him feel as guilty as they do. But Natalia is family even if she doesn't know it and she deserves much more than he can give.
As it is, Bucky just offers the redhead advice on her outfit for the evening, a slinky black dress that's going to hit Rigatoni right between the eyes. It's a good thing Natalia doesn't plan to shoot their target since she has no place to hide a pistol in that dress.
Of course, that doesn't mean she's weaponless. One of their early lessons was that everything is dangerous under the right circumstances and Bucky knows that his daughter's hairpins are sharp enough to slit a throat. She also has a shocker in her bracelet, two blades hidden in her sandals and can kill a man in sixteen ways with her hands alone. Anyone who attacks his daughter isn't likely to survive.
Once Natalia has finished getting ready, the sergeant hands her an earpiece. This short range comm will let them coordinate their actions, though the clock starts ticking as soon as Bucky puts his on.
“All right, we'd better go. We have about two hours before my comm shorts out.”
Truthfully this is plenty of time since it only takes five minutes to reach Rigatoni's mansion, Bucky staying in the shadows as Natalia walks up to the front door. The guards announce her presence and Donno rushes out to greet her, ushering the redhead into his father's mansion as an honored guest. It's always easier when a target invites his doom inside.
Honestly, this job doesn't need the Winter Soldier, Bucky thinks as he makes his way around the side of the house. From what I've seen, any two-bit assassin could have handled this mission easily. But Grebenshchikov always has his reasons and when he says jump, I just ask how high?
Today, the answer is about twelve feet. That's the height of Rigatoni's garden wall. Bucky scales the wall and then slips down the other side, ducking behind some bushes when a guard walks past. Whoever installed Rigatoni's cameras ripped him off because there are blind spots wide enough to drive a truck through. Indeed, the sniper goes completely undetected as he infiltrates the mansion via a third story window; no one ever locks the upper floors.
Bucky could have carved a bloody swath through the front entrance, but he tries to avoid collateral damage whenever possible and the whole point of the Winter Soldier is that no one sees him coming. Cross Hydra and you'll die before you even know he's there.
The sniper sneaks deeper into the mansion until he finds a small alcove overlooking the main ballroom. Bucky plants himself in the shadows and settles in to wait, keeping one eye on his daughter and the other on the door.
Meanwhile Natalia is busy charming two generations of Rigatonis several floors below. Bucky tracks the redhead's progress through his earpiece, eavesdropping on her conversations and discovering that listening to her flirt is quite uncomfortable. Antonio Rigatoni speaks in nothing but smarmy insinuations and a man that age has no business trying to steal his own son's love interest, not when Natalia is barely seventeen.
But the sniper's daughter is conducting a different sort of interrogation than he's used to and this is all part of the plan. What the Winter Soldier would have bought with threats, Natalia is given freely in exchange for her attention, the Italian too busy bragging to realize that she isn't nearly as naive as she appears.
“Time to wrap this up,” Bucky orders once Antonio Rigatoni has spilled his secrets – everything that Hydra requires to claim his operation once he's gone.
Although Natalia doesn't acknowledge the sniper's words, he knows his daughter heard him when she leans forward and puts her hands on Rigatoni's arm, murmuring something that makes their target laugh.
“You're a curious little thing, aren't you?” the Italian says with an audible leer. “If you think this is impressive, you must come see my office. I'm sure a girl of your talents would find it very… stimulating.”
“Oh, I couldn't take you from your party,” Natalia replies, batting her eyelashes as she feigns naivety.
“Don't worry about my guests, darling,” Rigatoni reassures the redhead quickly. “They can entertain themselves for half an hour. A girl like you deserves the special touch.”
“Well, if you're certain,” she agrees with another little giggle. Donno tries to protest – he's clearly well aware of what his dad is thinking - but Natalia just kisses him on the cheek and promises to be back shortly before taking their target's arm.
Bucky slips back into the hallway as Antonio leads his daughter from the ballroom. He knows where the pair is going and he plans to be there first. Although Rigatoni's office is locked, it’s an old-fashioned tumbler, and the sniper is through the door in twenty seconds flat. Bucky learned to pick locks with the Commandos, usually under fire, and so this is a cakewalk in comparison even with the gloves and metal arm.
Once inside, the sergeant takes a quick look around the room as he shuts the door behind him. The office is decorated with the same pretentious décor as the rest of Rigatoni’s mansion - the obligatory massive desk in front of a bay window and expensive artwork on the walls.
The only thing missing is a place for him to hide and the sniper has to think of a plan B very quickly when he hears a key turn in the lock. So Bucky just takes three steps sideways, positioning himself behind the open door when Natalia and Antonio walk into the room. The Italian is paying too much attention to the redhead to notice Bucky's presence and he doesn’t need to remain out of sight for very long.
“Oh, your office is lovely.”
“Not as lovely as you,” Antonio replies. There’s a rustle of fabric as he leans forward to kiss Natalia, Bucky's imagination filling in the blanks, and he bites back a smirk when a loud slap echoes through the room.
“What kind of woman do you think I am?” Natalia asks in picture perfect outrage. “I thought you were a gentleman, but you sir are a cad!”
She stalks out of the office, heading back to the main hall to create an alibi. With the right manipulation, Donno should arrive in about five minutes to defend Natalia’s virtue and thus witness his father’s suicide. The redhead will be nothing more than an innocent caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Hello, Rigatoni,” Bucky purrs. He comes up behind the other man and shoves the door closed while Antonio is still staring after Natalia in shock. The Italian spins around, his shout of alarm turning into a squeak as the sniper wraps a hand around his throat.
“You broke a promise to some very deadly people,” he informs Rigatoni. “And they’ve decided that they want your life in trade.”
Bucky rarely speaks with his targets – he’s a sniper for a reason – and the abject terror on the Italian’s face puts a bad taste in his mouth. While Antonio Rigatoni is a bastard and a lecher, that doesn't mean he deserves to be murdered in his house. However, sympathy has no place on one of Hydra's missions so Bucky buries that emotion deep inside and lets the Soldier reign. The sniper did things he wasn't proud of during the war because they were necessary and now he has to do this for Stevie and for their daughter's sake.
“You’re going to kill yourself today,” the sergeant continues, dragging Antonio toward his desk as the other man struggles fruitlessly. “Hanging is traditional but also unreliable and you seem the type for drama, so… yep, here we are.”
He pulls a gun from the top drawer of the desk. An old World War II pistol like Bucky hasn't seen in decades, his old tool a rich man's dear antique. But it's loaded and it's functional, well-preserved just like the sniper and it seems fitting that this weapon should kill its master now.
So the sergeant pushes Antonio into his chair and forces the gun into his hand. His left, of course, since he's been watching the Italian all evening for a reason and that would be an amateur mistake.
Bucky claps his hand over Antonio's mouth when someone pounds on the office door, Donno Rigatoni right on time and in a jealous rage. As the kid curses in Italian, the sergeant brings the gun up to his target face. The man tries to resist, but he's not a soldier and he can't stand against the strength of Bucky's metal arm; he can only struggle fruitlessly as the barrel of the pistol clacks against his teeth.
“Open your mouth or I'll kill Donno too,” the sniper murmurs and after one last escape attempt, Antonio complies. Bucky guides the gun into his target's mouth and then kneels down at his side.
“Goodbye,” he whispers, covering his eyes. When the pistol fires, the sound of the shot is deafening and when the sniper looks up, the other man is dead. Very, very dead, the back of his head now a ruined mess of blood.
Bucky releases Antonio's hand, letting his arm fall naturally. He examines the scene for a moment to ensure that it looks properly suicidal and then climbs out the window. The sergeant is on the roof in thirty seconds, dodging the cameras as he scuttles to the other side of the mansion and makes his way down to the street.
The sniper reaches his safehouse without incident, closing the door behind him and then walking into the bathroom where he falls to his knees and retches 'til it hurts. Bucky hasn't had such a bad reaction to a job in years. He's become a master at dissociation from his targets and he usually only whimpers in his dreams. But something about this mission has clawed its way beneath his skin and it takes more effort than it should to pull the mask back up again.
Eventually Bucky drags himself to his feet and looks at his reflection in the mirror. After more than three decades in the Red Room, the sniper only looks a few years older than the boy on Zola's train. But his eyes are dark and tired, like black bruises on his face.
Bucky feels like a bruise these days, exhaustion carved deep into his bones, and he doesn't know how much longer he'll be able to continue before he finally breaks.
“Yasha? Are you here?”
“Yes, Natashen’ka. One moment.”
The sergeant runs the sink for a minute to cover his tracks and then goes out to meet Natalia. She's already removed her dress, replacing the eye-catching outfit with the standard Hydra black, but her smile is just as blinding on its own.
“We did it, Yasha. My first real mission.”
“You don't sound very pleased,” the redhead says, her smile dimming as she looks at him quizzically. “I thought it was a success; did I do something wrong? I followed my training.”
“That you did, Natasha. That you did,” Bucky tells her with a bitter laugh. This is as good a time as any to complete Grebenshchikov's other mission, although the words that burst from Bucky's mouth are truer than he'd planned. “We just killed some idiot for Hydra and the Red Room, why the Hell would I be happy? I used to fight Hydra, did you know that? I did my best to burn them into ashes but they got me anyway. For fuck’s sake, Natasha, you’re seventeen. You should be in school or working instead of planning assassinations; you deserve so much better than this life.”
Natalia doesn't say anything. For once, the sergeant has taken her completely by surprise. But he's on a roll now and he doesn't require a reply.
“This life is Hell. Can't you see that? We're doing the dirty work of monsters and following orders will be no excuse when we have to settle up. There's red in my ledger, Natashen'ka, red enough to drown us both in an endless sea of blood. My soul is stained beyond all saving, but you don't have to share that fate. You still have time to change.”
Bucky holds out a hand to his daughter and pleads with her earnestly, “Come with me, Natashen'ka. Run with me and I'll show you the world that you've been missing. We'll live as full a lifetime as we're able before Hydra hunts us down.”
For one brief moment, the sniper means it. He wants Natalia to say yes and damn the consequences even though he knows that Grebenshchikov is listening. He wants to know that he's done right by his daughter and he can't help a stab of regret when she slowly shakes her head.
“I can't do that, Yasha.”
“No, of course not,” Bucky replies, his lips twisting bitterly. “Survive at any cost, that's what I told you, and we've both learned that lesson well. Congratulations on your training, Natasha; our masters will be proud.”
Although this was the outcome that he wanted – the only one that would keep Natalia breathing – it seems a hollow victory when she's still trapped in Hell. And there's one more test, isn't there? She'll have to betray him one more time before it's done and he doesn't know whether to hope that his daughter is truly heartless or hope that she'll fail and die instead.
“What is going on, Yasha?” Natalia asks, eyeing the sergeant warily when he's been silent for too long. “You are acting very strange.”
“Leave it, Natalia!” Bucky growls and the lack of a diminutive knocks her back a step. He never calls her Natalia. It's always Natashen'ka or Natasha when they're alone and Subject 11 when Grebenshchikov is watching, and the sergeant feels even guiltier at the flash of hurt that flickers on her face. But she drops the subject and that's all he wants right now.
“It's nothing. Just a foolish flight of fancy,” the sniper continues more quietly. “Get on the radio and call in the codes for a successful mission. I need to change before the extraction team gets here.”
Once his daughter makes the call, they spend the next three hours sitting in awkward silence, uncomfortable enough that Bucky leaps to his feet when someone finally knocks on the door. He lets the team inside and submits to the usual procedure without argument. But when the sergeant wakes up, he's in a cryo-tube instead of the usual laboratory and his left arm is hanging limp and useless at his side.
Bucky looks up to see Grebenshchikov standing on the other side of the glass and a chill goes through him when the doctor grins. Something strange is going on here and strange is never good where Hydra is concerned.
“I apologize for the accommodations but Subject 11 has told us something interesting,” the doctor says, waving his right hand. At the motion, Natalia walks forward with two of the Red Room's most lethal assets at her side. “Would you care to repeat your statement, 11? Or should I call you Natashen’ka as the Winter Soldier does? It's a cute name, I admit, though you'll have one better soon.”
“I told them that you completed your mission but they asked if you were loyal,” Natalia tells the sergeant. Although, her face is blank, she won’t meet Bucky’s eyes and her voice wavers slightly as she speaks. “You wanted us to run and I had to tell them. Didn’t I?”
She seems so uncertain that Bucky just wants to comfort her. This may be a betrayal but it’s one he orchestrated and the sniper has no right to judge his daughter after everything he’s done.
“It’s all right, Natasha,” Bucky tells her gently, smiling at Natalia when she finally looks up. “Grebenshchikov is well aware of my hatred for him and our masters never ask a question without knowing what they want. You did the only thing you could to stay alive.”
“Yes, Subject 11. You did well,” Grebenshchikov agrees. “You have passed your final test and earned your place as one of Hydra's most dangerous assets. With the Black Widow on our side, the Winter Soldier can finally sleep for good.”
“What? No!” the sergeant shouts in horror. As much as he hates this life, the Russian has to need him. As soon as Grebenshchikov stops needing Bucky, then he loses all his leverage. There's nothing to stop Hydra from killing the sniper and his captain for the secrets in their blood.
So Bucky tears at his bindings, ripping his right arm free to bang against the glass. If he’s going to die then he’d rather go down fighting but the ice is already creeping through his bones. He can only gasp for breath as the glass frosts over and blocks out Natalia’s horrified expression bit by bit. Clearly she didn’t expect this outcome any more than he did and the sniper holds onto that thought for consolation as the dark takes hold again.
Natalia defects in 2009 and Bucky has never been more proud. He's so proud he wants to cry when Grebenshchikov orders him to take his daughter out.
No one leaves the Red Room and no one leaves Hydra without deadly consequences. The Winter Soldier is woken up after eight long years just to send this message, to prove that no one – not even the Black Widow – can escape.
He doesn't storm SHIELD to find her, although he probably could. Grebenshchikov isn't ready to burn his double agents there.
Instead the doctor hands Bucky a file detailing Natalia's next mission. She will be protecting a Ukrainian scientist defecting to the US – one Ivan Shevchenko that Hydra wants to die – and the Winter Soldier will make his masters doubly proud by removing both of them en route. Of course, knowing his daughter, the sniper would have been forced to go through Natalia in order to kill her target anyway.
The Winter Soldier waits on top of a cliff three days later, watching through binoculars for the redhead's car. She covered her tracks well, switching vehicles half a dozen times before getting to this point. But such preparations matter little when Hydra has eyes in every city and this is the only road that she can take to reach her goal in time.
Indeed, Bucky has been waiting for less than an hour when the car arrives. There’s another agent driving, probably one of SHIELD’s, but the sniper can see his daughter sitting in the backseat and he knows that Shevchenko will be hidden out of sight.
So Bucky trades out his binoculars for his sniper rifle and starts to pick the perfect shot. The windows of Natalia's car aren't bulletproof – they don't reflect the light correctly – and even if they were, it wouldn't matter. Her driver has his window rolled down about three inches and that's two inches more than Bucky needs.
He adjusts his aim half an inch to the left and then fires, his bullet striking the other man right above the ear. The agent pitches to the left, the car veering toward the ocean even as Natalia lunges for the wheel.
She almost makes it, the vehicle swerving wildly across the highway as she fights for control. But then the front tire slams into the guardrail and the metal tears like tissue paper, sending Natalia and her mission plummeting off the cliff. However, Bucky knows the Black Widow won't die that easily and shooting the driver was only the first stage of his plan.
So the sniper looks up from his rifle and picks up the detonator lying next to him. He covers his eyes as the explosive charges he laid earlier go off and large chunks of rock slide down to block the road.
When the dust finally settles, Bucky sees that Natalia has clawed her way back to the pavement and brought Shevchenko with her, the scientist lying in a huddle at her side. She snaps to her feet, pulling out her pistol and scanning the horizon warily.
Watching through his scope, Bucky can see the moment his daughter realizes that she has no options, her facing taking on the same stubborn look Steve used to get when contemplating suicide. There's nowhere to run now that the sergeant has blocked the highway and even if Natalia calls for backup, SHIELD won't arrive in time. All the redhead can do is try to protect her mission with her own body as Bucky calmly lines up another shot.
This bullet hits Natalia in the abdomen, passing through her cleanly to strike his target in the heart. She screams then, one high shriek of agony that pierces Bucky to the bone. But the sound cuts off quickly, his daughter refusing to show weakness even as she drops to her knees.
Bucky could kill her now. One more shot would end her life for good.
But his daughter deserves better than a sniper's bullet. If he's going to take Natalia's life then he should look her in the eye. They'll be no hiding from this mission, no pretending about what he's done this time.
So the sergeant slings his rifle over his shoulder and jumps down to the road. He blocks Natalia's first bullet with his arm and dodges the second before tearing the pistol from her hand. Two knives, another gun, and a fancy Taser follow, the redhead trying to gouge out his eyes with her fingernails before he finally pins her down.
Bucky takes out his revolver and presses the barrel against Natalia's forehead, ripping off his mask with his other hand.
“You?!” the redhead snarls, her eyes widening in recognition. “I thought you were dead. I thought they'd killed you but it was just another test, wasn't it? All that talk about hating Hydra and escaping was a lie. But I did it; I got out. So go ahead and kill me, you fucking coward. I'd rather die than be a dog like you”
Natalia glares at Bucky, holding his gaze as he starts to pull the trigger. The sergeant means to kill her, he really does. Paint her blood and brains across the pavement just like his masters asked.
But when he gets to the point of no return, Bucky simply... can't.
He can't pull the trigger, not when his daughter is looking at him with such a mix of fear and fury. Not when she's the only good thing that Hydra ever made. The only bit of Steve and Bucky left within the world.
The sergeant holsters his gun and draws a knife; if he can't shoot Natalia then maybe he can slit her throat instead. But even that fails, the point of his dagger landing in the dirt.
“Fuck,” Bucky curses flatly before leaning over and cutting a swath of fabric from Shevchenko's coat. He slices the garment into strips to create a makeshift bandage, covering Natalia's wound and then tying it in place.
“It's a through and through. You'll be all right until your friends arrive.”
“Why?” his daughter asks and Bucky doesn't know what to tell her. How can he explain when he isn't sure what stayed his hand and 'By the way, I'm actually your father' would not go over well? Even if Natalia believed him, she doesn't need that kind of burden when she's trying to leave her past behind.
“I need a messenger,” the sergeant says instead. “Do you trust SHIELD?”
“I trust Barton and Fury,” Natalia replies and that has to be enough. He cannot kill his daughter so he will have to trust her. Maybe this is the opportunity that he's been waiting for; he can't risk getting stuck back in deep freeze forever before he gets Steve out.
“Ask them... No, tell them that Captain America never died. Tell them that he's been imprisoned by the Red Room since the forties and they're getting close to cracking the secrets in his blood. If SHIELD doesn't want their agents facing an army of supersoldiers then Fury has to help me. We have to save Steve now.”
Bucky's voice cracks on the last word, a hint of desperation seeping out. “Please Natashen’ka; I don't want to do this anymore.”
“Oh my God. You're James Barnes,” his daughter whispers in sudden recognition. She actually sounds surprised, which means she's probably shocked as hell. “How did I never notice? Barton and Coulson talk about you and your captain constantly. You went MIA in 1945, a Russian double agent according to SHIELD's sources, but there were never charges filed. Carter and Stark wouldn't allow it without proof. But you were, weren't you? You've been with Hydra all this time.”
“Not willingly. Never willingly, though I suppose that hardly matters now,” the sniper replies, rubbing one hand across his face. “I've never lied to you, Natashen'ka, not when I had a choice. I wanted to run in Italy, I really did, but Hydra has my captain and I can’t leave him behind.”
“You expect me to believe that?”
“Yes. I do. If I wanted to kill you, you'd be dead. If I planned to bring you back to Hydra, I would have shot you with a tranquilizer instead of a bullet, and if this were a plot to take down SHIELD, I would have picked a story that actually sounded plausible.”
“All right then. Say I tell them. What do you expect to happen afterward?” his daughter asks, smiling faintly when Bucky can't quite hide his surprise. “I owe you a debt. In fact, I seem to owe you several and it's not like I'd mind seeing our former masters burn in Hell. So tell me exactly what you think SHIELD can do against the Red Room when no one knows its location, not even me?”
“I taught you a lot, Natasha, but I didn't teach you everything. While I don't know the exact location of the Red Room, I can get you within about two miles and I should be able to bring down its defenses. Most of them anyway. What I need is an exit once I get my captain out. I need you to fly Steve home to safety before launching an attack.”
“Then give me the coordinates.”
“No, not until I have Fury's guarantee. If SHIELD attacks too soon, Grebenshchikov will kill Steve long before your friends can reach him. We need to coordinate.”
“And how, exactly, am I supposed to contact you once I've passed your message on?”
“Oh, that's easy,” Bucky says with a shrug. “I'll call you.”
“Are you crazy?”
“Probably,” the sergeant admits. “But Hydra doesn't watch me on my missions anymore. Next time they wake me up, I'll steal a phone and call you. If Fury has agreed to my terms, we can make our plan from there.”
“I'll do my best to sway him but I can't make any guarantees,” Natalia warns the sniper. She looks like she wants to argue further but her strength is fading quickly as the adrenalin wears off. “You have two years to call 510-765-1288. Any longer and I'll assume the deal is off. Try not to die beforehand; I'd never live that down.”
“Don't worry, Natashen'ka. The Devil isn't done with me,” Bucky tells her, lips twisting sardonically. “Just be careful who you talk to; Hydra has more agents than you think.”
With that, the sniper leaves his daughter on the road next to Shevchenko's body and hikes back out to his extraction point. He tells his contact that the mission has been successful and fifteen hours later, he wakes up to Grebenshchikov screaming in his face.
“The Black Widow isn't dead, Soldier! You said that she was dead!”
“She should be dead. I made the shot. She went over a cliff with Shevchenko and I found no sign of either target in the ocean afterward,” Bucky tells the Russian as calmly as he can. If the other man doesn't believe him then he's dead and Natalia will be waiting for a call that never comes. “Send me back and I'll do better. I'll slit her throat next time.”
“No, Soldier; I need your skills to contain a new situation. Someone else will take her out,” Grebenshchikov tells the sniper, his rage disappearing as quickly as it came. The doctor has always tended toward practicality rather than fits of temper and because Bucky has killed friends and allies and total strangers without flinching, that's the end of that.
Part IV: To Drown