“Come in. This is Captain Rogers. Do you read me?”
“Captain Rogers, what is your…”
“Steve, is that you? Are you all right?”
“Peggy, Schmidt’s dead!”
Sitting up abruptly, Vivian glanced over at Bucky, and she knew her gaze mirrored his in terms of panic. The audio was being pumped into their cell at deafening volumes. Squeezing Bucky’s hand, Vivian feared the worst, but kept quiet as the audio kept playing of a conversation between Steve and Peggy.
“What about the plane?”
“That’s a little bit tougher to explain.”
“Give me your coordinates. I’ll find you a safe landing site.”
“There’s not gonna be a safe landing, but I can try and force it down.”
“Don’t you fucking dare, Steve,” Bucky snapped, standing up on his feet as he paced and shouted as if Steve could hear him.
“I’ll get Howard on the line. He’ll know what to do.”
“There’s not enough time. This thing’s moving too fast and it’s heading for New York.”
Vivian stared numbly at the floor, tears in her eyes. She placed a hand over her mouth and choked on a sob though as Steve’s voice came through crystal clear, “I got to put her in the water.”
“Please, don’t do this. We have time. We can work it out.”
Bucky was pacing, ripping at his hair and Vivian felt nausea build up in her system. She curled up on the bed, her hands digging against the thin sheets on the bed. Everything hurt though and she couldn’t understand why this was happening. How could this have happened?
“Right now I’m in the middle of nowhere. If I wait any longer, a lot of people are gonna die.”
Bucky stopped pacing and fell to his knees. They both knew what that meant. If it was a choice between Steve or everyone else, Steve would always pick everyone else. Always.
“Peggy, this is my choice.”
“No. It wasn’t supposed to go this way. Steve, baby, please, please don’t do this. I need you. Viv needs you. God, Steve, don’t do this.”
Bucky was babbling, staring at the floor and just sobbing. Sliding off the bed, Vivian pulled him close, holding him tightly as he muttered nonsense under his breath. His entire body shook and she shushed him, letting him bury his face in her neck and take gasping, hiccupping breaths while she found herself staring blankly ahead.
Vivian ran her fingers through Bucky’s hair, continued to shush him and press kisses to his forehead as he took another gasp as the audio just kept going.
“I’m gonna need a rain check on that dance.”
His fingers dug into her shirt at that and Vivian felt tears slip down her face as she could hear Peggy’s shaky reply.
“All right. A week, next Saturday, at the Stork Club.”
“You got it.”
“Eight o’clock on the dot. Don’t you dare be late. Understood?”
“You know, I still don’t really know how to dance.”
Bucky gripped her tighter, and Vivian knew that if she wasn’t who she was, there would have been lasting bruises. She felt sick though. They never had finished teaching Steve to dance. She hadn’t finished teaching Steve to dance and in that moment all she wanted was to go back to the days of the three of them sneaking around in that apartment and twirling around with only the setting sun to light their movements. She wanted to go back and stay there until Steve had at least a couple of dances down. No, truth be told was that she wanted to stay in that moment forever.
“I’ll show you. Just be there.”
“We’ll have the band play something slow. I’d hate to step on your—”
The audio broke off and Bucky gave a sound like a wounded animal. Vivian herself couldn’t stop herself from sobbing, but then she felt her heart shatter as Bucky pulled back enough to grip her face in her hands. He had a wild, crazed look in his eyes as he choked out, “Viv…please…promise me you won’t do anything like that. Promise me you won’t leave me like that.”
Kissing Bucky’s palm while squeezing her eyes shut, Vivian took several deep breaths before releasing his hand and then whispering, “James Buchanan Barnes, you are stuck with me. You understand?”
Opening her eyes and staring deep into Bucky’s eyes, Vivian gave a watery smile and gently brushed away his tears while continuing, “Serum means you’re gonna live a long, long time, and I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
Bucky sighed with relief, but then his face crumpled as he whispered, “I promised you that we’d get back to Steve. I promised, and now—”
Shushing Bucky, Vivian reminded him, “There was no way you could know, okay? There was no way, and this isn’t your fault. Schmidt did this, and I’m glad he’s dead.”
“My master was worth one hundred of your Captain!”
Sighing as Ophelia’s voice crackled over the speakers, the rage almost palpable, Vivian could see an equal amount of rage building up in Bucky’s expression. Pulling away from him, she licked her bottom lip and laughed loudly before taunting, “Your obsession is dead, Ophelia. That son of a bitch Schmidt is dead. And you know what? I hope it was slow. I hope it was slow and painful. I hope he screamed and begged for the end. Still would have been too good for him, but it was taking too long for Lucifer to crawl out of hell and drag him down to Hell himself.”
“You will pay for this.”
Vivian breathed in a heaving breaths through the nose while her hands clenched. Unclenching her hands while she let the breath out through her mouth, she knew she’d antagonized her mother too much. Especially in rage like that, her mother would surely retaliate. Spinning on her heel, she then moved back over to Bucky’s side.
Crouching next to him as he sat listlessly in the corner, his head pressed against the wall, Vivian gently shook his shoulders. He still wouldn’t look at her, and she gently gripped his face in her hands and forced him to look at her. Tears slipped down his cheeks and she felt awful for what she was about to say.
“I failed you, Bucky. This was my failure and my failure alone. My lies led us down this path. My blood painted the way. And now we are here and all the things I swore I’d protect you from are going to happen anyway. When I had them save you, I told myself that they would never use you, that I’d never let that happen, but they are going to use you, Bucky. Ophelia’s rage is deep and boundless. She will never forgive for what Steve did to Red Skull. She was as close to in love with that monster as another monster could be.”
“Viv, I don’t understand.”
Gently pushing some of the hair out of his face, Vivian blinked back tears as she explained, “They will make you learn all the different ways to fight. Different languages. I’ll do everything I can to keep you from missions for as long as I can, but there is only so much I can do. You are my heart, James Buchanan Barnes, and I would do anything for you. If I could, I would bring you the stars, but I can’t. And I can’t stop this.”
“Who do you think will train me?”
His voice was a quiet, shaky whisper, and Vivian bit her bottom lip before quickly replied, “I think I can convince them to let me be the one to train you. I’ll have to push you, but I won’t hurt you.”
“Viv…I don’t understand how Steve could do this. He…”
Shushing Bucky, she gently stroked his bottom lip before pressing her forehead to his as she said, “I don’t know, Buck. I don’t know. I wish I did.”
“What if he was trying to get to us? Viv…what if he wanted to be with us? What if he gave up hope?”
Shaking her head, Vivian took both of Bucky’s hands in hers, flesh and metal, and whispered, “I don’t know, sweetheart. I don’t know. I’d like to think he really didn’t have a choice. Schmidt was determined to destroy America, and he had bombs that he was going to use. Steve said he had to do it in the audio, but I don’t know, Buck. I really don’t know. I just know that this pain is going to be with us for a while.”
“Why does it hurt so much? Why does everything hurt so much?”
Pressing a soft kiss to Bucky’s cheek, she then stroked his cheekbone before reminding him, “The serum, my love. It amplifies everything. It amplified you. That love you always had for Steve became so much more.”
“Steve mentioned that,” Bucky admitted softly, wiping at his tears before choking out, “Told me how happy he was that after all his illnesses got washed away, he still loved both of us. He still loved us and he knew what we’d had was never a sickness. It was good and it was right.”
“He was right. It was.”
“What language would you teach me first?”
Smiling softly, Vivian sighed before she confessed, “German, most likely, and then Russian as soon as possible. Many of our documents are in German, but I fear the Russians side of Hydra will take over now that the Nazis are in a downward spiral.”
“You don’t think they’ll win the war?”
Vivian shook her head and smiled, “No. I don’t. I think the Nazis dragged far too many souls down, and those souls are reaching up and pulling them down with them. There’s only so much destruction you can cause before your bill comes due.”
“I can’t picture you as a fighter,” Bucky said, his brows furrowed as he glanced down at his hands. “I just can’t. You were always so sweet and loving with us, always so gentle, and…I don’t know. Even after seeing you punch a man, I just can’t picture you going on missions for Hydra.”
“That’s kind of the point,” Vivian admitted, sitting back. Bucky looked at her in confusion, and she smiled, “I’m a beautiful woman, Bucky. I look sweet. I look gentle. I look like a damsel. If someone was to find me with a dead body and I immediately began sobbing about how I found that poor, poor man like that and I just didn’t know what happened to him, how many people do you think would even wonder that I was the one who had snapped his neck like a twig? How many people do you think would wonder if I’d strangled someone with my bare hands or gutted them with a knife? Or maybe faked a suicide with the man’s own gun.”
Standing up and holding out her hand to Bucky, Vivian paused, pulling her hand back as Bucky stared at the ground and said, “I sometimes have nightmares about the men I killed. They were Hydra and they were Nazis, and part of me knows they were evil. I know it deep down in my soul. I saw one of those concentration camps. I saw the faces of fellow soldiers as people were worked to death in the factory I was kept in. I saw walking skeletons. I saw people beaten to death while men cheered. I saw all of it, and yet still, when I’d have a face of another human being in my scope, all I could hear was lines from mass. Lines about forgiveness and holy commandments.
“And I’d look at this man, and I knew he didn’t know I was there. I knew he wasn’t going to see his death coming, and I wondered how old he was. I wondered if he had parents or if he had three obnoxious sisters like I do. I wondered if someone out there loved him. I wondered if he had kids. I wondered how much pain I was going to cause by sending a bullet through his skull. I’d wonder it as I squeezed the trigger. I’d wonder it as his blood splattered over everyone near him. I’d wonder all those same things for the next man and the next man. And I wonder if they had a choice on whether or not they were part of the Nazis or part of Hydra. I wonder it every time I go to sleep, because I picture their faces every single time. Did you go through that when you were with us?”
Shaking her head, Vivian sat back down in front of Bucky, chuckling before she confessed, “I had nightmares, but not about the men I killed. It’ll make me sound evil, but I’ve been killing men since I was old enough to wield a blade. Growing up, my nightmares were more about what my mother would do to me if I didn’t kill the person she told me to kill. And for a while I just didn’t understand that what I was doing was wrong. I’d been told that only the strong survive, and that the weak don’t deserve to live anyway. Then I met you and Steve, and you taught me otherwise. Undid all those pesky lessons my mother had taught me. I started feeling bad when I killed Hydra agents. One time I got sick afterward, and unfortunately, Ophelia noticed. She made me do it again to someone else. She wasn’t going to tolerate weakness in me.”
“What happened after that?”
“I told myself every time that it was necessary. A lot of the time I just focused on my own body and how to do those moves. I can basically do most moves in my sleep, but I forced myself to concentrate on every single thing I was doing to actually accomplish the move. The muscles and bones involved with each kick, flip or whatever it was that I was doing. When I was on the run from them, I then told myself that I was protecting you, Steve, and your family. I’d picture what would happen if I didn’t stop them, the things they’d do to everyone I cared about, and then I’d be able to push through. I also told myself that saving lives as a nurse both in New York and overseas was helping me ‘balance the scales’ or something. I don’t know. It was a stupid thought.”
“It wasn’t stupid. You saved a lot of people.”
Smiling weakly at Bucky’s gentle words, Vivian shrugged, “The truth is there is no cosmic balance, Bucky. There is no scale that my heart is going to be weighed against. Saving thousands of people won’t change the lives I already took or the ones I’m going to take.”
There was a pained look on Bucky’s face and Vivian leaned close again, letting him pull her into his arms as he said, “Just tell me what you need me to do.”
Relaxing into the hug, Vivian pressed her face against Bucky’s neck and foolishly let herself relax for a few moments. That ended though as Bucky gently rubbed her arm and whispered, “Viv, let me help you.”
Reluctantly moving away from Bucky’s arms, Vivian took a deep breath before she confessed, “I need you to trust me. I need you to trust me even when things look hopeless, and I promise you things are going to look hopeless a lot. I need you to follow my instructions whenever possible. I’m going to ask you for a level of loyalty and submission that I have no right to ask for.”
“You’ve got it.”
Arching an eyebrow at the immediate response from Bucky, Vivian started to protest, but then smiled softly as Bucky gripped her hand tightly and placed it against his chest while he said, “Viv. You have it. You’ve always had it. So what’s first?”
“First?” Vivian retorted, “First is getting you used to your new arm.”
Bucky chuckled and loosened his grip, “You got it, boss.”