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Buried Alive

Chapter Text

“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.

“Peggy.”

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 here.”

“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.”

“No one.”

“Exactly.”

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.”

Chapter Text

Bucky Barnes never thought he’d miss the cells of Azzano. He’d hated every second of being in them, and in a way his newest cell was much better than that one. He had a bathroom and he had a bed. The bed was arguably the most uncomfortable bed he’d ever had in his entire life, but it was better than the floor. The guards even made sure he had a good amount to eat, far more than he’d had in his previous stint in captivity or even the amount he’d been fed as a soldier. Rations hadn’t been meant to be given to someone like him.

For months after Azzano, Bucky had convinced himself that the constant gnawing hunger he was experiencing was just his mind playing tricks on him, or maybe even a punishment from God himself. He’d let Vivian ‘die’, after all, so it had only seemed fitting that he would never be satisfied again. Days had gone by since the truth of it all had been revealed to him. Days since he’d agreed to have Vivian train him only for her to be sent away on a mission less than a day later. Being away from her so soon after getting her back was honestly nerve wracking.

It was hard to sleep in the cell to begin with, but since Vivian had gone away, it had all gotten worse. Falling asleep took longer, and once he did fall asleep, his nightmares rushed upon him with a vengeance. More than once he’d woken up wondering if he’d hallucinated the reunion with her completely.

After two nights of that, he’d started upping his workout routines, working out until he had to drag himself to the bed or until he just passed out right there on the floor. The ache never lasted long enough though, always fading as his fear seemed to consume him. He didn’t know what Vivian was being forced to do, nor did he know if she’d ever come back.

“Looks like you’re keeping yourself busy.”

And there were also the visits from Ophelia to contend with.

Gritting his teeth and glaring up at the ceiling, Bucky tried to focus on his breathing as his heart still raced. He could feel his pulse in his ears. He’d been working out for hours and his legs felt like they’d melted down into puddles beneath his waist.

“Ignoring me again? You know that doesn’t work well, soldier. And it won’t bring your beloved back any sooner.”

“What do you want, Ophelia?”

“Oh, he does speak. How unfortunate.”

Rolling his eyes, Bucky inhaled sharply through his nose, his body protesting as he dragged himself up and leaned against the wall. Glancing over at the woman, Bucky grit his teeth as that monster moved over and perched herself on the bed before speaking plainly.

“You still do not understand the truth of the matter, do you? You cling to the vision you have of that girl you loved. You can not or will not accept that the girl you thought you knew never existed. What will it take for you to see her as she truly is?”

A soft smile spread across Bucky’s face at that, and he actually chuckled before that chuckle turned into a full body laugh.

“What’s so funny?”

The snarling voice of Ophelia had his laughter dying down, and Bucky casually waved his metal hand toward her while pointing out, “You are. Do you really think you coming in here every day and saying the same goddamn thing over and over again is going to do anything? Because nothing you say can change the years I had with her. The truth of the matter is that Vivian was never yours.”

“And you believe yourself to be her rightful owner?”

Bucky’s laughter cut off completely as he shook his head as he said, “No. The only person who owns Vivian is Vivian. She’s a goddamn human being. And last I checked, people don’t own other people anymore. Fought a war about it and everything.”

“Everyone is owned, Sergeant Barnes. Some people are owned in a literal sense by other people. Others are owned by the government. Some people are owned by their own things. You see, subjugation is our truest, most natural state. People want to submit.”

Bucky snorted, “Haven’t you heard? We sent the Nazis straight to Hell for talk like that.”

“It’s true. We underestimated how much humans don’t like to be forced into something. Rebellious creatures. It won’t take much to make them see where they truly belong though. Vivian will be a guiding hand in that cause.”

“You’re so full of it.”

Ophelia sighed and then stood up. Bucky watched her carefully as she knocked on the door for a moment. The door opened and a bag was handed to her before the unseen soldier gave the standard reply. Once the door was shut again, Ophelia moved toward him and set the bag next to him.

“Open it.”

“Why should I?”

“Open it.”

Bucky glared, but then his curiosity won out. Pushing the sides of the bag down around the contents, he found himself even more confused when he saw medical equipment in there. Bandages, thread, needles, alcohol, gauze, scissors, a scalpel, and a brace.

“This your idea of a threat?” Bucky scoffed.

“No,” Ophelia replied, leaving the room with a sadistic grin on his face.

Frowning at the joy on the woman’s face, Bucky sorted through the equipment and put it into piles. He could remember Vivian studying for hours, but more importantly he remembered the way they’d both first learned how to use any medical equipment. Steve had been getting into scrapes since he could walk and it hadn’t taken long before Sarah Rogers had gotten them good at first aid to keep Steve safe. Over the years, the injuries had sadly gotten more and more serious, leading to more training. Bucky knew how to handle minor broken bones and plenty of gashes.

The fact that Ophelia had given him these items was more than a little worrisome, especially with how delighted she was about it.

Gathering up the items, Bucky placed them on one of the few shelves they’d been given for the room. He’d been locked in the bathroom while they’d reinforced it against the wall. His body ached from the movement, but he sighed and stretched. He knew that the tension in his body would slowly fade, but that he had to help it along. Before he could begin stretching again though, the door to the room started to open again.

This is it, this is my chance.

It was a desperate, delirious thought, and it instantly disappeared as the door fully opened to reveal hydra agents dragging a bloodied, bruised Vivian into the room. Rushing forward, Bucky grit his teeth and stopped abruptly as one of the Hydra agents pressed a gun to Vivian’s temple. Putting his hands in the air, Bucky forced himself to breathe evenly to stay still as he watched Vivian’s chest heave with shuddering, painful breaths. Her eyes were closed, and she couldn’t even hold her head up.

“I’m sorry. I won’t move. Please, just, let me help her. Please.”

“Fine, take the whore.”

One released her and then headed out the door while the other kept her up, letting her dangle by one arm. A soft whimper escaped from Vivian and Bucky’s body shook as he forced himself not to move. The other Hydra agent laughed and then tossed her forward. Bucky barely had time to catch her. Gently lowering her to the ground, Bucky pressed his forehead to hers as he heard the door close again.

“C’mon, doll.”

Bucky pressed a kiss to Vivian’s forehead and then scooped her up into his arms. His body was still sore, but Vivian was almost impossibly light in his arms. He quickly nudged the door to the bathroom open and carried her inside. Setting her inside the shower, he carefully stripped her of her clothing. The fabric itself was a light cotton and that made the anger rise up in Bucky even more. There wasn’t an ounce of protection in the outfit. Not even padding. Not a damn thing to help lighten any blows or any of the damage whatsoever.

The bruises on her body were dark, sickly looking, and he couldn’t tell how long she’d been suffering through them. More concerning were the jagged cuts along her torso and arms. Tilting Vivian’s head back and gently stroking her bruised and split cheekbone, Bucky quickly gave a quick kiss to her lips before he got up and headed over to the shelf.

Grabbing all the items, Bucky then went into the bathroom and opened up the alcohol. Immediately the smell invaded his senses, taking over everything else. He remembered this smell from the numerous times they had to use it on Steve from his idiotic adventures. Hand shaking, Bucky counted to three before beginning to rinse out the cuts. Dirt and pus rose to the surface and Vivian’s body began to twitch. A low moan escaped from her mouth and Bucky gently cupped her face in his right hand while the metal one kept pouring and cleaning.

“Shhh, it’s okay, baby. I’ve got you. I’m gonna take care of you.”

Vivian’s eyes widened slowly, her gaze unfocused and Bucky’s heart broke as she whispered in a choked voice, “Bucky?”

“Yeah, Viv. It’s me.”

“You shouldn’t be here.”

“Neither of us should be.”

A soft smile spread across Vivian’s face at that, and Bucky swallowed hard as she hissed in a breath before she said, “God. I bet you thought you’d never be doing this for me.”

Bucky moved on to the next wound, cleaning it and shushing her while he continued to work. Once all the wounds were cleaned, Bucky then bandaged the ones that were minor and reached for a needle and thread. Soaking it all in alcohol, Bucky then questioned, “You good for me to sew your wounds shut?”

“Well, I sure as Hell can’t be the one to do it.”

Frowning at that, Bucky threaded the needle while questioning, “What does that mean?”

“Can’t move my arms. Too injured to focus on moving a needle with my mind. That’s…delicate work.”

“Are your arms broken?”

“No. The tendons are severed. It’ll be hours before they heal enough for me to use them.”

“Fuck. The cut on your arm. It’s deep. I didn’t realize—”

“It’s okay.”

“It’s not, Viv! I don’t know how to fix—”

“Bucky!”

Glancing into Vivian’s eyes as she shouted his name, Bucky took a deep breath as she smiled gently at him and reminded him, “I’ll heal. I’ll just need help getting around. My major wounds need to be sewed shut and then covered. We have to keep the stitches dry. You understand?”

Bucky nodded and then went to work, pinching the skin shut. His own nausea rose though as the needle pushed through the skin and he began to sew the wound shut. For the most part Vivian stayed almost impossibly still, her breathing the only thing to give away her distress. Every once and a while she’d sharply inhale or her breathing would shake, rattling out of her like she was falling apart. Every time she did, Bucky did his best to gently shush her and rub her sides. He wished he could go faster on this, but at the same time, he worried that he’d screw something up if he did, so slow and steady it was. As soon as all the stitches were in though, he carefully bandaged her up and then went and grabbed some of the loosest clothing he could find so that the fabric wouldn’t bother her wounds.

Vivian grit her teeth and squeezed her eyes shut as he maneuvered her into the clothing as best as he could, but then a cry of pain actually did escape her as he picked her up again to carry her back to the bed.

“I’m sorry, Viv. I’m sorry. We’re almost there.”

The bed itself was definitely not one Bucky would particularly want to be stuck with if he was healing from numerous wounds, but it was the best they had. After she was situated though, he quickly cleaned up himself and the bathroom and then lay next to her. She was staring almost blankly at the ceiling, so he gently pushed some of her hair back as he questioned, “Want to tell me what all happened?”

“It was an ambush.”

“What do you mean?”

Vivian sighed, “I was sent to take out a Hydra defector. He’d been pretending to be one of the moles recruited in Project Paperclip, but he was actually defecting. He was going to tell the Americans everything. About all Hydra’s spies hidden in plain sight. I was sent to kill him, only he kind of expected it to happen. He’d hired bodyguards. They were fond of knives. It was stupid of me to be caught by surprise like that. I should have known better.”

“Are they—”

“They’re dead. I killed them before I left,” Vivian sighed, going quiet before she whispered, “Do you hate me for what I’ve done?”

Bucky pressed a soft kiss to Vivian’s temple while he whispered, “I’m just glad you’re okay. I was worried about you.”

“I didn’t want to kill the bodyguards. I really didn’t. They were just doing their jobs, and God, Bucky, I swear, I told them to just leave. I told them they could just walk away.”

“What’d they do?”

“Laughed in my face. Made a couple of lewd comments. Then the fight started and it was fast and bloody. No more jokes after that.”

Bucky winced at those words, but kept quiet, rubbing her arms gently. Her body slowly relaxed and he ran his fingers through her hair while questioning, “There anything else I can do for you?”

“No, Buck. I just got to heal. If I sleep, the healing will go faster.”

Pressing a gentle kiss to Vivian’s lips, Bucky pushed some of the hair out of her face while he reassured her, “Then sleep. I’ll protect you. I promise.”

Vivian nodded and yawned slightly, curling up against him more as she slowly drifted off.

He just hoped he could actually keep this promise.

Chapter Text

“What do you know about one Margaret Elizabeth Carter?"

Agent.”

Vivian spat the word through gritted teeth, causing Arnim Zola to pause and say, “Excuse me?”

“Her name,” Vivian continued, “as far as the likes of you are concerned, is Agent.”

“So you do know her.”

“We’ve met. What’s it to you?”

Zola chuckled, “You always were a stubborn creature, fräulein.”

Und du warst immer schwach.”

Vivian cackled after she spoke, but Zola shook with rage as he shouted, “I am not weak! I am not! I am not! I will show you!” Zola took a step forward but then froze, the rage sliding out of his expression before he taunted, “Do you believe me an imbecile, fräulein?”

“Yes.”

“Answer the question,” Arnim snapped.

“I did,” Vivian taunted. “You are most certainly an imbecile.”

Vivian’s head snapped to the side as Arnim’s hand came crashing down on her face. It wasn’t a very good hit though and she sighed, glancing back at the man before speaking demurely, “Nice try, Zola, but we both know physical exertion isn’t exactly your strong suit.”

It was more than a little amusing to watch his face go a deep, crimson red, but she knew she was merely delaying the inevitable. He was going to get control of his temper and once he did, he would harness it in an attempt to make her suffer. And despite her taunts, the man could learn rather quickly when he had a goal in mind. He’d already learned from previous encounters to bind her to her chair and to give her a mild poison before they began.

Just enough to make her powers less effective.

“Bring Barnes in.”

A Hydra agent behind Zola looked mildly startled before replying, “But sir…he is in training.”

Bring Barnes in.”

The agent nodded and then left the room in a hurry. Licking her bottom lip, Vivian watched the agent scurry off before she focused back on Zola, who turned toward her and snapped, “You may heal within mere hours, but what about your pet?”

“I suspect his healing abilities are better than yours, Zola. Do yourself a favor and keep that in mind.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Just a friendly reminder.”

Vivian plastered a smile across her face, but then glared as the man turned his back. If he laid a hand on Bucky, she would make him suffer unimaginable pain. A few minutes later, Bucky was led at gunpoint by several agents. He was still shirtless from working out, sweating slightly, but otherwise calm. The sight of Bucky’s broadening muscles seemed to make Zola pause before he nodded to a chair where Bucky was promptly strapped in. The agent with the gun pressed the muzzle to Bucky’s temple and Arnim then spoke again, “Tell me what you know about Carter.”

Bucky frowned and shared a glance with her before replying, “You want to know about Peggy? Why?”

“Not you, Barnes. Her.”

“Viv? Viv never even met—”

“I met her once during the war. It was before Project Rebirth was fully on its feet, so to speak.”

Bucky looked stunned, and Zola grinned, “What did you discuss with her?”

“The folly of man.”

The gun cocked and Vivian grit her teeth before saying, “I’m telling the truth. It was before Steve was even chosen to be the subject, before Barnes was part of the 107th Agent Carter was making the rounds to potentially choose an existing soldier for the program. Obviously they didn’t go that route. While she was there, I was taking an extraordinarily rare break. We sat down and chatted. Neither of us were allowed to discuss our actual assignments, so we vented our frustrations about men being idiots. I mentioned practically being betrothed to Bucky. I mentioned having a sickly friend named Steve. She talked about the man she almost married. She then talked about the loss of her brother followed by her dive into espionage.”

“What skills did she have?”

“Code deciphering was her first foray into the job. She then became more tactical, a ‘full fledged agent’ was the wording she chose. I believe that included hand to hand combat training as well as firearms. From the little I spoke to her, I could tell she was extremely intelligent and capable. Her behavior during the war only solidified it. I believe you saw the footage of her gunning down Hydra agents. Underestimate her at your own risk, Zola.”

“What about you, Barnes? What do you know about Carter?”

Vivian glared, but then was a little amused as Bucky snapped, “Agent Carter was everything Vivian said she was and more. If you’re going up against her, you’re doomed.”

“Take him back to his cell.”

Sighing as Bucky was led of the room, Vivian glanced up at Zola as he turned to her and snapped, “Carter has proven most difficult to our Soviet allies.”

“Good for her.”

“This isn’t a joke.”

“I’m aware.”

“She set back the Red Room program for years, compromised their best agent. The whole Leviathan program was destroyed before it could be fully implemented. Johann Fennhoff was imprisoned, his talent wasted because of her.”

“What does this have to do with me?”
“I want you to get rid of her.”

“Not going to happen.”

Zola stood up abruptly, “Excuse me?”

Vivian scoffed, “Did I stutter? Was there something incomprehensible about the words ‘not going to happen’? Because it won’t happen. In order to assassinate a woman like Agent Peggy Carter, I’d have to get close enough to make it look like an accident. She’ll know my face. One meeting would have been enough for a mind as sharp as hers, especially with my connection to Bucky and Steve. She’s also not one to let herself be followed. The fact that she took out a graduate of the Red Room should be proof enough.”

“But you are better than the Red Room agents. You have—”

“Powers? Arnim Zola, take a moment to consider what would happen if knowledge of powers like mine fell into the hands of Howard Stark and Peggy Carter. Currently, as far as I know, they are unaware of the existence of mutants. They may believe in people being given something extra through devastating experimentation, but if they dig, they will find entire generations of people born with abilities. Why are you so worried anyway about them anyway?”

“Howard Stark and Peggy Carter have plans to start their own intelligence agency. A…resourceful agent found it out through an…encounter with Mr. Stark.”

Vivian snorted, “You mean one of your agents had sex with him. Well, that is one way to do it.”

“Have you met the man?”

“No, I have not, but everyone knows Stark’s ways.”

“So you get close to the man.”

Scoffing, Vivian laughed, “If you think that I’m going to have sex with Howard Stark for you then you’re insane.”

Zola sputtered, looking enraged and Vivian leaned forward as best she could before speaking bluntly, “Listen to me. I will kill, but I will not be Hydra’s whore. You do not get to use my body like that. You never have and you never will. Besides, think this through.”

“Think what through.”

“If you want to be taken seriously as a spy then you really do need to become smarter.”

Vivian sighed and closed her eyes before letting her head hang as she explained, “You’ll get more intelligence out of letting them go forward with their organization.”

“Yes,” Zola whispered, “Of course.”

Sitting there, Vivian grit her teeth as Zola came to her side and taunted her, whispered in her ear, “What would your captain think of how easily you betrayed the woman he loved? Do you think he would ever forgive you?”

Vivian didn’t say a word, just kept her gaze forward as the man laughed, “Captain America would have killed you himself for what you have done. He would have hated you.”

Agents behind Zola looked confused and Vivian blinked back tears as Zola said, “Take her back to her cell.”

Vivian’s binds were quickly unsnapped and she was pulled to her feet, led out of the room. Once the door to the cell was opened, Vivian was shoved inside and she stumbled, cursing under her breath as the man taunted, “Thank you for your cooperation.”

The door slammed shut and Vivian stared at it, unsurprised when Bucky questioned carefully, “What is he talking about, Viv? What help did you give them? What did you tell them about Peggy?”

“Bucky, you have to understand, I—”

“No, I don’t have to understand. Look at me, Vivian. What the fuck did you tell them about Peggy? What did you do? Did you betray her? Did you betray Steve? He—”

“I told them things they already knew and don’t you think for a second that I’ve forgotten that Steve loved her. Ophelia and Zola have been whispering in my ear every chance they’ve had that Steve would have hated me, that he would have killed me, and sometimes I’m not sure they’re wrong.”

“Viv, that’s not what I—”

“What? Not what you meant?” Vivian said as she turned toward a distraught looking Bucky. Bucky opened his mouth to say something but then quickly shut his mouth and looked almost pained. Sighing, Vivian sat next to him on the bed and admitted, “They wanted me to kill Howard and Peggy before they could start up their intelligence agency. I told them that it’d be better to let Howard and Peggy start up the organization, that they’d get more intelligence out of that.”

“You saved their lives,” Bucky breathed out.

“No. I delayed the inevitable attempt. My only hope is that Howard and Peggy can surround themselves with people they trust before that time comes.”

“Viv…I’m…I’m so sorry.”

“What are you sorry about? It was the logical thought process.”

“But I know you. I know you better than I know myself. I should never have, even for a second, thought you’d betray Peggy or Steve.”

“Why shouldn’t you? I am Hydra after all.”

Vivi.”

Vivian blinked back tears as Bucky gently took her hand in his, lacing their fingers together. Vivian still didn’t look at him though, not until he brought her hand up to his lips and brushed them against her knuckles while whispering, “Doll, please look at me.”

Clearing her throat and then glancing over at Bucky, Vivian smiled weakly as Bucky sighed and moved closer, his thumb gently rubbing below her eye as he whispered, “Talk to me.”

“Do you think that…”

“Do I think what?”

“It’s…”

“Viv, c’mon. You can tell me.”

“Steve. He loved Peggy, didn’t he?”

Bucky sighed and pulled Vivian into her arms, pressing his lips to her temple while murmuring, “He was falling for Peggy, Viv, but he loved you. He loved both of us. Only thing he would have been is pissed off that Hydra ever hurt you. You hear me?”

“They’ll eventually get to either Howard or Peggy. How they run their organization will only solidify that.”

“Howard Stark is a magnet for trouble.”

Laughing at that, Vivian smiled and let Bucky fully pull her into his arms. Nuzzling against his bare chest, she whispered, “I know you’re going to tell me I shouldn’t be, but I am sorry about all of this. I’m sorry we’re stuck in this goddamn facility, I’m sorry Steve thought his only option was to plunge a plane into the Atlantic. I’m just…I’m sorry about all of it.”

“At some point, Doll, we’re going to have to stop apologizing to each other.”

Leaning up again, Vivian ran her fingers through Bucky’s hair before he slid off the bed and sat in front of her. Going over and grabbing the scissors, Vivian went to work cutting his hair, bringing it back to the length he liked as Bucky spoke, “You remember those summer days back in Brooklyn?”

“Of course. I dream about those days. I also dream about what it’d be like to be with Steve after the serum helped improve his health.”

“Professional reasons or personal reasons?”

“I don’t see why it can’t be both. Although I feel like staring at you could give me an idea.”

Bucky chuckled, but then went quiet and whispered, “Sometimes when I’m with you, I forget that we’re not in some tiny apartment back in Brooklyn.”

Cleaning up the hair she’d cut, Vivian ran her fingers through his hair to make sure it was all even while she questioned, “Do you want me to stop?”

Bucky shook his head, “No. I don’t care what it says about me, but I need the lie sometimes. And when I really think about it, there’s a pathetic part of me that is glad I didn’t know about Hydra back in Brooklyn. I liked thinking we could relax and that my biggest issue was getting food on the table. Do you hate me for that?”

“It’d be rather stupid of me to hate you for something I did myself.”

Bucky turned and stared at her in shock, so Vivian smiled and questioned, “Are you really that surprised?”

The look of shock slid off his face and Vivian smiled as he moved up and gently pushed her back onto the bed and straddled her hips. He kept his metal hand propping him up as he gently stroked her cheek with the other. Closing her, Vivian pressed her face against his hand, practically nuzzling him. Pressing a soft kiss to his palm, she then opened her eyes and glanced up at him as he whispered, “I love you.”

Vivian slid her hands up his arms, shivering at the skin and metal under her fingertips. Despite having a few years to get used to it, she still wasn’t fully used to it. Bucky’s breathing increased as Vivian’s hands slid across the scarring and then to the back of his neck. Pulling him down, Vivian grinned as he kissed her hard on the lips, his hand moving down to her waist. She pressed closer to him, her heart beating a touch faster as she wrapped her legs around his waist, her dress bunching up around her waist.

Viv.”

Tilting her head back as Bucky gasped that before moving down her body. Her hands slid off his shoulders and she bit her bottom lip as Bucky moved down and lifted one of her legs onto his shoulder. Warmth spread through her and she watched as he unhooked her stockings and garter before sliding the fabric down, following it with his lips. He kept his metal hand firmly on the bed though and she grabbed it, making him pause.

“Viv…you don’t want…” Bucky whispered, the pain in his eyes almost palpable.

Vivian moved his hand to her thigh as she stared deep into his eyes. The sensation of the metal against her skin had her shivering and the sensation only increased as she moved his hand further up her thigh while she whispered, “I love every inch of you, James Buchanan Barnes. Hydra doesn’t own a single goddamn part of you. This arm is yours.”

Bucky opened his mouth to argue but Vivian shook her head and whispered, “Do you love me?”

“’Till the end of the line, baby girl,” Bucky whispered, warmth in his eyes as he leaned close again. The kiss was slow, deep, like an old familiar dance they both knew by heart. Both of Bucky’s hands slid up and ripped the dress off. Grinning into the kiss, Vivian sighed and helped Bucky get her out of her undergarments without tearing them. Tossing it all to the ground, she then laughed as Bucky scrambled to get out of his pants, almost falling off the bed (which was getting a bit cramped to begin with due to his muscular physique) before he grumbled, “It’s not funny.”

“It’s a little funny.”

“Oh really?” Bucky murmured, leaning close before pressing his lips to hers.

Vivian nodded and kissed him back through her laughter only for the laughter to fade into a moan as a finger slid into her. Bucky nipped her neck before teasing, “Hmm, not so funny now, is it?”

Buck—”

“Still so sweet for me.”

Vivian arched her back, her hands clenched into the sheets as Bucky teased her, his forehead pressed to hers as he continued to finger her. Rocking against his hand, she desperately tried to kiss him, groaning as he kept the kiss barely there.

“Bucky, please—”

“Uh-uh. Gotta be patient, doll. Can you do that for me?”

“I need—”

“I know you do, kitten, and I’ve got you. I’ll take care of you.”

“Promise?”

Vivian’s moan had become almost whiny as another finger slipped into her and rubbed expertly against her g-spot as his thumb rubbed her clit. Bucky knew every inch of her, knew every single button to push. The smile on his face was wicked as he murmured, “I promise.”

Vivian released her grip on the sheets and reached up, running her fingers through his hair and whispering, “I still want my kiss.”

“So demanding,” Bucky chuckled, but he kissed her nonetheless.

Vivian wrapped her arms around his shoulders and kissed back heatedly, shivering as his tongue slipped into her mouth. Being with Bucky had always felt so effortless, and it still was. They were perfectly in sync and she moaned as he pulled his fingers out and then pressed himself against her. Wrapping her legs around her waist, she cried out into the kiss as he thrust forward.

Bucky moaned into the kiss as well and Vivian’s nails dug into his back. The bed squeaked and creaked, rocking against the floor and tugging against the bolts securing it to the floor as their bodies moved rhythmically together. Bucky’s metal hand caused part of the bed to creak loudly, causing Vivian’s to take a tinge of laughter to it. The laughter quickly dissolved back into earnest moaning as the speed of the thrusts increased. Any words were lost in the desperate gasps and moans. Vivian wrapped her legs tighter around Bucky’s waist and buried her face into his neck. One of her hands slid up and gripped at his hair and the other remained firmly on his back.

The warmth and pleasure kept building, a steady, familiar climb until she felt herself that sharp, almost delirious release. Bucky’s followed soon after hers and she basked in the afterglow. They stayed wrapped up in each other, until their breathing slowed down. Vivian knew it’d eventually become uncomfortable, but she wanted to just stay in that moment. She wanted to believe that they were just two lovesick teens again sneaking around in his apartment in Brooklyn until he could make an honest woman out of her.

She needed the lie just as much as he did.

Chapter Text

Bucky forced himself to keep his breathing even as he sat next to Vivian in the transport vehicle. No one, not even Vivian, had said anything to him after they’d thrown an outfit his way for him to change into. He’d known something was going down though with the way his outfit had been comprised of bulletproof material. The fact that Vivian was still in a typical cotton dress was worrisome though.

Vivian kept quiet, her gaze firmly in front of her and not saying a word. Her breathing was even and anyone who didn’t know her would assume she was doing well, but Bucky could see a slight tremble in her hands as she kept them tightly laced in her lap. Reaching over, Bucky gently slid his hand into hers, lacing their fingers together before giving her hand a squeeze. She inhaled sharply and he ran his thumb along her knuckles. Her grip on his hand tightened, but then Bucky watched out of the corner of his eye as she tightened his hand before she began tapping out a message to him in morse code.

I’m sorry.

For what?

Everything.

It’s not your fault.

You’re wrong.

Bucky sighed, shaking his head while he quickly wet his bottom lip. Stroking Vivian’s knuckles again, Bucky took a deep breath and kept an eye on the agents around them while he tapped out his reply.

Where are we going?

They want you to see me in action.

Bucky snorted, and then schooled his face as an agent glanced over at him in confusion. Waiting for a moment, Bucky then quickly replied again.

I already have.

You really haven’t.

Frowning and glancing over at Vivian in confusion, Bucky swallowed hard as she slipped her hand out from his. He tried to take her hand again, but she kept her hand clenched into a tight, shaking fist and he swallowed hard. Vivian was afraid. She was really afraid, and he didn’t know why. Before he could fully think about it, the car stopped and the side door opened. Getting out after Vivian did, Bucky felt an urge to run which ended the second Madame Hydra strolled into view before reminding him, “I wouldn’t try anything if I were you. You wouldn’t make it off this block before you’d be in pieces, and rest assured that I would make Vivian do the clean up with her bare hands.”

Bucky grit his teeth but didn’t move and Madame Hydra grinned, “Good. Now, Hecate, I trust you to remember what the consequences will be if you fail me.”

“I’m vaguely familiar with the concept.”

Glancing over at Vivian in confusion, Bucky’s heart raced as Madame Hydra took a step forward and then snapped, “Vaguely familiar? Do I need to refresh your memory?”

“I’m good. Now can we go now? I don’t know if you remember, but we’re on something of a schedule.”

Madame Hydra’s eyes narrowed before the woman bit out, “Fine, but we will be continuing this conversation.”

“Looking forward to it. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have devastating crimes to commit.”

Vivian then strolled forward, and Bucky stayed behind only for his eyes to widen as an agent shoved him and snapped, “Get moving.”

Heading up to Vivian’s side, Bucky pulled his gloves onto his hands and questioned quietly, “Vivian, what is going on?”

You are here as part of my cover and also because Ophelia is certain you’ll turn against me after this.”

Grabbing Vivian’s arm and stopping her, Bucky hissed, “Viv, what exactly are we doing here?”

He hated the completely stoic expression on Vivian’s face and he released her arm when she spoke quietly, “Please, I’ll explain everything later, but for now, I just need you to follow my lead.”

Nodding, he was surprised when she wrapped his metal arm around her waist and then started walking. Walking alongside her, he shivered as her face morphed into a fake smile. Smiling as well, he became confused as they walked up to a building and Vivian knocked. An older man answered and smiled widely as Vivian spoke up excitedly before the man could get a word in edgewise, “Oh my Goodness. This place is better than you said it was on the phone! And you said it was amazing. My husband and I are so looking forward to seeing it. Please tell me it wasn’t rented out already. We drove all this way.”

The man smiled softly and spoke in careful English, “You are…Mr. and Mrs. Jones, correct?”

Vivian nodded pressed a kiss to his cheek, so Bucky gave a fake chuckle and replied, “That would be us.”

The man ushered them in and Bucky became even more confused as Vivian questioned, “This building is so beautiful.”

“The building was all but demolished in the war. Terrible thing, but we did rebuild. All new apartments. Perfect to raise a family in.”

“Sounds perfect. Isn’t that right, honey?”

Bucky nodded, swallowing down his nausea as he replied gently, “Yeah, baby. It’d be perfect.”

Soon they were led to an apartment and the man unlocked the door. Following him inside, Bucky frowned as the man explained the apartment excitedly while Vivian slipped away from him and then closed and locked the apartment door behind them. He found himself watching frozen in shock as Vivian questioned in a chipper voice, “Anyone else live in the apartment building yet?”

“No. You would be the first people to live here other than my family.”

“And are they here today?”

“Yes. They’re in our apartment. I can introduce you after we’re done here if you choose to sign a lease.”

“Oh, I think I’ll meet them much sooner than that.”

The man turned around, a confused look on his face, but then Bucky choked on his breath as Vivian waved her hand and the man slammed into the wall before sliding down onto the floor. Her movements were determined as she grabbed a chair from the dining table and then moved the man onto the chair before tying him to it.

“Vivian, what are you doing?”

“The mission.”

Moving over, Bucky grabbed Vivian’s arm and turned him toward her while pleading, “Viv, he’s just some nice man who is renting out apartments. Don’t do this.”

Vivian gently pressed a hand to his cheek, but then he swallowed hard as she whispered, “I forgot how naïve you are. To tell you the truth, I like this mission. I’m willingly doing this mission. At least part of it. I just didn’t want you to have to see me like this.”

“Like what?”

Vivian ran her thumb along his bottom lip and whispered, “As a monster. Now please, give me some space. Also, can you get the bag from the kitchen? Agents should have stashed it there earlier.”

Bucky didn’t move, just kept staring at the stoic expression her face as she carefully evaluated her prisoner, but then flinched as Vivian spoke firmly, “Bucky. Get the bag.”

Going over to the kitchen, he opened up the cabinets and the pantry, dragging the surprisingly heavy bag over to Vivian and then questioning, “What next?”

“What next is I was an idiot and forgot to take his shirt off first.”

“Why do you need to take his shirt off?”

“You’ll see.”

Vivian then untied the man and removed the shirt, tossing it off to the side before tying him up again. The man’s torso had light scars all over it and Vivian whistled while she then unzipped the bag before pulling out numerous pieces of equipment, some of which he’d never even seen before. She looked at each piece clinically before putting them back in the bag.

“Bucky, be a doll and drag that side table from the living room over here.”

Bucky did as he was told, biting his bottom lip as she set out knives and pliers and various other tools. After it was all set up, Vivian then slapped the man hard across the face, a dark, twisted look on her face as the man gasped and sobbed, “Who are you? What do you want?” 

Bucky watched as Vivian grabbed the pair of pliers and opened and closed them while merely staring at the man. The silence stretched for several minutes and Bucky was about to say something when Vivian sighed and then stood up before confessing, “My name is of no consequence. My identity is nothing you need to concern yourself. My goals and my wishes are vast and sadly most of them are out of my reach. My captors, however, are a different beast entirely. You said your name earlier, but it wasn’t your real name. You see, I know who you are. I know what you did during the war.”

“I ran a hotel. I did—”

Bucky’s eyes widened as Vivian slammed the pliers in between his fingers, hitting the wood of the chair with a sickening crack as she snapped, “You were a Nazi. You helped make weapons. You tested them on innocent people.”

“I was just following orders.”

Nausea filled Bucky and he stumbled back, leaning against the wall as Vivian gave a hollow laugh and taunted, “You did a lot more than follow orders though. Does your wife know all the things you did?”

“Please, leave her out of this. Just tell me what you want and I’ll give it to you.”

“My captors want to know where you stashed the equipment you were working on. I will force it out of you if I have to.”

“Don’t! I’ll tell you. Just please, let my family go.”

“Talk.”

The man sobbed, his head falling forward before he whispered, “There was a warehouse. It wasn’t on the books. I put…the better equipment into storage. I sold some of it. You have to understand. I had to run. My family, we had nothing. I wasn’t going to use the equipment.”

“What’s the address?”

The man whispered it and Vivian gently pat his cheek with her hand before writing the address down. Heading over to untie the man, Bucky froze when Vivian glanced over at him and shook her head. Frowning, he was about to ask what she was doing, but then she shoved cloth into the man’s mouth, grabbed the pliers, gripped his hand and ripped one of his fingernails out. The man screamed, the sound barely stifled by the cloth.

Vivian’s expression didn’t change and she moved to the next one. Bucky’s legs slid out from under him and he watched in a horrified silence as Vivian ripped out each and every one of the man’s fingernails, letting them clatter to the floor. The blood was splattered against the floor and the prisoner’s body shook. After the fingernails were removed, Vivian crouched down more on his level and spoke, the anger in her voice almost palpable, “Truth be told, I usually don’t want to do missions like this. I don’t care for it, but I was shown your war record. Your real war record. I saw every single thing you did to those people. The liberties you took. Men. Women. Children. You just wanted to feel powerful, wanted to take everything from them. And it was easy for you. You never saw them as people anyway. When you were done with them, when you’d had your fun, you’d use those weapons on them. Their lives were horror and their deaths were agony.”

Vivian swapped the screwdriver for an odd piece of equipment, dragging it along his cheek while she bit out, “Their suffering was ”

“Vivian, stop,” Bucky choked out, moving over and crouching by her side, gripping her arm gently and pleading, “C’mon, baby. You’re better than him. We can give him to the authorities. He’ll pay.”

“No, he won’t,” Vivian whispered. “He may die, but he’ll never pay. Not if I hand him over. He’ll get to spend the rest of his days comfortably and then he’ll have some merciful He doesn’t deserve that.”

“Viv, please,” Bucky begged, “C’mon. Let’s just go. This isn’t you.”

Bucky heard an odd sound and then he gaped as Vivian pressed the piece of equipment against the man’s side, the man’s screams getting louder as his flesh burnt, bubbling and splitting. Stumbling backward for a moment, Bucky dry heaved at the smell, but then forced himself to go over and pull Vivian away from the man. She shrieked in anger, and he turned her toward him, cupping her face in his hands while sobbing, “Viv, please, baby. I know you. I know you inside and out and I know who you are. This isn’t you.”

“He deserves to die.”

“Yes, he does. He absolutely does, but I know you’re better than this.”

“I’m really not.”

Vivian turned around and tried to move away, but then Bucky gripped tighter and whispered into her ear, “What is this really about? You haven’t done these things to Hydra and they’re just as bad as the Nazis. They were We both know what they did to mutants, but you didn’t do this. You would have told me, so what’d they say they would do to me? Just talk to me. I still believe in you, Vivian, and I’m never gonna stop.”

“Let me go.”

Pressing a gentle kiss to Vivian’s shoulder, Bucky released her, backing up against the wall and squeezing his eyes shut. He braced himself for the sounds of more screams, but then all he heard was a quick gasp, some gurgling and then nothing. Opening his eyes, Bucky stared as he saw that Vivian had stabbed him. The blade stuck grotesquely out of his chest and then she pulled it out, the man’s torso covered in blood. Vivian’s dress was splattered with blood, and then she gathered up her tools, packing them up before pulling out a small canister.

Accepting the bag as it was handed to him, Bucky watched carefully as Vivian doused the man in what smelled like gasoline before pulling out a match. The match lit with a hiss and then Vivian threw the match. The man went up with a whoosh and Bucky chased after her, gaping as she waved her hand and dragged a heavy piece of furniture out of the apartment with her before shoving it against a different apartment door while also leading the fire after her by pouring more gasoline in a trail. Bucky kept walking beside her, confused as they left the building only for Vivian to sit on the sidewalk and sigh.

“Viv, what about the man’s family?”

“All adults. All Nazis. Also, members of Hydra were in that room, most likely torturing the family. Now they’ll all die together.”

“What about your mother?”

“She’ll come pick us up in an hour.”

“What will she do to you for all of this?”

Vivian shrugged, “I don’t know. She hasn’t electrocuted me in a while. Maybe she’ll do that. She really enjoyed it last time.”

Crouching down, Bucky sighed and gently pushed Vivian’s hair behind her ear while whispering, “Let’s just get out of here. Let’s just run. You and me. We’ll go anywhere. I’ll get a job. I’ll take care of you. We’ll—”

“They’ll kill you and then they’ll drag me back and they’ll cut me into pieces while I’m still awake. We’d never make it out of the country. No, I’ll take my punishment. It’ll be a few months. That’s all. Practically nothing.”

Viv,” Bucky choked out, moving in front of her and cupping her face in his hands while whispering, “Doll, just tell them it was me. Say I did it. For once, let me keep you safe.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because Ophelia won’t believe it, and even if she would believe it, I…I can’t.”

Sighing, Bucky sat down next to her and pulled her into his arms. Pressing his lips to her temple, he held her close, desperately trying to figure out what to do next. The screams from the building though had him burying his face into her hair. He couldn’t stand the sound, even if it was from those It made his skin crawl and made him picture too much blood. Too many people he’d seen through the scope of a gun before he’d ended their lives.

He’d seen Vivian kill before, had seen her take out a few hydra agents, but he hadn’t seen her quite like he’d just seen her. He hadn’t seen her so…empty. Cradling Vivian closer to him as she held onto him tightly, Bucky glanced over at the building and winced at the heat. Bits of ash floated down and just the heat of the building as it became engulfed in flames had him carrying Vivian to the other side of the street. He sat there, Vivian cradled in his arms for God only knew how long before suddenly Vivian spoke up.

“That fire wouldn’t kill me, you know.”

The muffled words had Bucky pausing, but then he shuddered as she adjusted in his arms and whispered, “Burnt flesh always takes so long to heal though. Always so painful. All those nerve endings reforming. It’s like I never stop burning.”

A lump formed in his throat, and his body shook while he pressed his lips to her forehead again. His grip on her was tight and he had to force himself to relax as he whispered, “God, Viv, I’m so sorry.”

“Not your fault.”

“But I—”

Before he could say anything else, Bucky glanced up and felt a chill run through his entire body as the vehicle that dropped them off showed up and Madame Hydra stepped out. The look on her face was thunderous, almost rabid. Holding Vivian tighter, Bucky maintained a firm gaze as the woman snarled, “What happened?”

Vivian squirmed out of his arms and Bucky sighed, wincing as Vivian stood up. Getting up as well, he tried to hold her back as she stood in front of their captor and spoke with a grin, “I did what you asked, Madame Hydra. I eliminated the competition. Shouldn’t you be happier?”

“Where are my agents?”

Vivian shrugged, “I could have sworn they were right behind me. Must not have been fast enough. I figured you’d want the evidence of what all we did to that family wiped away. A tragic accidental fire is so much easier to explain than a mutilated corpse.”

“You’re lying.”

The two women stared each other down and Bucky held his breath only to release it in a heavy sigh and close his eyes as Vivian grinned, “You’re right. I am. I locked them in there on purpose.”

“I’m going to make you wish you were never born.”

“Joke’s on you,” Vivian retorted, “I already do.”

Bucky hissed in pain as his metal arm went limp by his side and agents came over, grabbing them and leading them into the vehicle. Vivian was bound tightly and a gun was pressed to his head the entire way back. The longer the silence stretched out during the ride, the more Bucky was afraid. Vivian hadn’t said a word since her retort. Initially he’d hoped it was just a way to get out under Madame Hydra’s skin, but watching her blank expression and tense posture, he wasn’t sure anymore. He wasn’t sure at all and that terrified him.

Soon the ride ended and Bucky found himself being led back to their cell, kicked at and pulled the entire way until he was shoved into the room. He stumbled ever so slightly going in, but then his mouth went completely dry as he saw Vivian still outside the room. Madame Hydra’s eyes glinted menacingly in the dark and Bucky choked back a scream as she snapped, “I believe you two are overdue for some time apart.”

Lunging forward, Bucky screamed as the door was shut and locked on him. Slamming his hand onto the door, he barely noticed as his metal arm went back online and joined in. The clanging sound filled the room, but he kept punching. Over and over again he slammed his fists against the wall until he could feel the bones in his hand snap. Blood smeared onto the door and he gave a sound like a wounded animal, turning and sliding down to the floor. His broken hand lay limply on the ground and his metal hand gripped tightly at his hair.

He had to save Vivian. He just had to.

Chapter Text

Don’t forget. Don’t give in. Don’t let them take you.

The words were a mantra, steady as a drum in her head, pounding along as the restraints dug into her wrists. The metal piece was shifted slightly on her face and the bite was placed back between her teeth before the switch was flipped. Even with the gag, she still screamed as that electricity flowed through her like fire. Her body shook and black spots formed in front of her eyes.

Flesh burned, peeling off her face where pieces of the equipment pressed against her face. That strong mantra in her head began to fade, dissolving and slipping away like water between her fingertips. The more the words faded and the darker her vision became, the less she fought. When she opened her eyes again, the metal piece had been moved away from her and she frowned at her surroundings.

She didn’t know where she was.

A slight panic filled her, and she sat up straighter, glancing around frantically as a man came over and injected her arm with something while a woman approached and questioned, “Do you know where you are? Do you know who you are?”

“I’m—”

The words died in her mouth and she glanced up frantically at the sensation of the word being on the tip of her tongue. She knew this. She had to know this. Tugging at her restraints, she grit her teeth and gave a strangled scream as she struggled to hold on to the fragments.

“I know this. I know this. I’m…I’m…”

Whimpering and squeezing her eyes shut, her fingers dug into the chair as the woman crouched close and taunted, “Say it. Say your Say my name.”

“You’re—you’re—” Another whimper escaped her and the woman in front of her threw her head back and laughed.

“You’ve outdone yourself, Zola.”

Danke, Fräulein.”

Eyes wild, she glanced between the two as her vision went glassy. Her mouth moved wordlessly and her fingers twitched. Her name. What was her name? Everyone had one, so she had to have one. The woman said she had one, so what was it? What was it?

Zola stepped forward and undid her straps. As soon as they were free, her hands reached up as if they had a mind of their own. They wrapped around his throat and squeezed. She shoved him against the wall, and she wasn’t sure why, but she wanted him dead. She wanted him more than dead. She wanted him destroyed. The rage rose up in her, hotter and faster than the fire that had burned through her and she screamed as his eyes rolled and his skin started to tinge.

“Enough!”

The woman pulled her away from Zola and she fought only to gasp as she felt the skin in her arm pinch and then the world swam momentarily. She could hear Zola hacking, coughing and gasping for breath, and part of her got a sick pleasure from it. Most of her was just disappointed.

The rat should have died.

Shaking her head, she reached up and tugged at her hair, unsure of where the thought came from. Was it hers? Was that who she was? She didn’t know. Couldn’t know. Everything was muddled and gray.

“Interesting. You’ve made quite an impression, Doctor. Even when she doesn’t know herself, she knows she hates you.”

The woman was laughing, cackling really, and she hated the sound. Hated that woman. She wanted the noise to stop. She wanted that woman to stop.

Kill her. Save him.

Save who? She was pretty sure that the evil woman was right and that she did, in fact, hate Zola, but who was there to save? No one in the room felt like someone who had to be saved, but still that urge to protect, that urge to find, and that urge to save was still there. She found herself looking for exits, looking for a the right way, but to where? Where was she wanting to go? Where did she need to go?

“Control her!”

The woman’s laughter stopped at Zola’s demand and Vivian winced at the sharp, almost acidic tone the woman’s voice took as she snapped, “You presume to command me?”

Zola shrank back, backing up against the wall as the woman approached, his voice timid as he spoke, “Madame Hydra, please, I meant no disrespect. You must know I worship you.”

Kill her.

The thought was sudden, sharp, and she clapped her hands over her ears as the thought repeated itself. It got louder and louder until it was a scream. The scream itself tore from her, ripping through her throat and filling the room much like the pressure inside her. One hand shot out as she screamed and she heard a crash. The noise in her head subsided and she glanced around, a sense of calm (and amusement?) filling her as she saw Madame Hydra slammed against the wall, men in suits with tentacles on the shoulders helping her up.

Other men surrounded her and Madame Hydra stormed over, her face red. Before she could move away from Madame Hydra, her face snapped to the side, her ears ringing and her body stumbling back from the sheer force of the slap. The sound echoed in the room and she could taste blood.

“Do it again.”

Zola hesitated, looking almost reluctant before he stood up straight and replied, “I apologize, but I cannot.”

“Why not?”

“I must consult my colleagues further on the matter before we attempt again. If she were to go through the procedure again this soon, I fear her…abilities could diminish as well. I will call Dr. Fennhoff. He will know what to do.”

“He better.”

“In the meantime though, it would be…prudent to see how much she remembers.”

The smile that spread across Madame Hydra’s face was like ice and she took a step back from the woman, but then was stopped by the agents.

Don’t tell them about him. Protect him. Save him. Keep him safe.

She frowned at the thoughts. Don’t tell Madame Hydra about who? Protect who? Who was she supposed to save? None of it made any sense. The buzzing sound increased in her head and she whimpered, reaching up and gripping at her hair as she was led down the hallway. Madame Hydra practically had a bounce in her step and she didn’t understand why as they reached a door.

The door had an electronic lock on it and she wanted to watch, wanted to see what Madame Hydra put in, but then she was swiftly turned around.

“You think I’d let you see the code again after what you tried to pull last time?”

She frowned at those words. Last time? What last time? She tried to search for a memory or even a fragment of a memory of what Madame Hydra was talking about, but all she found was a shifting, unstable ache inside her and a sense of urgency. A sharp beep filled the air and her heart beat more rapidly as the door opened and a warm, low voice snapped, “Where is she?”

Her body moved forward, almost as if of its own accord, and she swallowed hard as she was gripped and forced back. Madame Hydra filled the doorway, blocking the man from her view as the woman taunted, “You really are like a dog, aren’t you? Endlessly loyal to the first bitch who gave you scraps.”

Don’t call her that.”

“It’s what she is though. A weak, worthless bitch. Hardly worth my effort. Maybe I should just get rid of her.”

No. No, please.”

Save him.

Struggling against the agents, she shuddered as her skin was pinched again, and for a moment she almost fell over. Her sight blurred and everything felt warmer. The sounds were muffled and she found herself being led forward. She stumbled, barely staying on her feet until she was finally shoved.

The ground rushed up toward her, but before she made impact, arms wrapped around her and caught her. One of the arms flashed silver in the light and she struggled to focus as the door slammed shut. Shuddering, her body shook and she could feel the man’s body shaking as he choked out, “God, baby doll, what’d they do to you?”

Panting for breath, she let herself get carefully carried over to the bed and sat down. She finally glanced up at the man and she felt like her heart was going to explode as she stared into those beautiful blue eyes. His face was angular, like carved marble, but still somehow soft. His dark brown hair was messy, like he’d been running his fingers through it repeatedly, and some of it lay in tendrils on his face. He was heartbreakingly beautiful, but he felt like home.

Keep him safe.

Smiling softly, almost giddily, she reached up and gently ran her fingertips along his jaw and his lips while whispering, “It’s you. You’re the one the voice mentioned.”

The man frowned, a pained look on his face as he whispered, “What voice? Viv, what happened? You’ve been gone for months. Fuck, are those burns on your face?”

She frowned, staring at the man in confusion as he grabbed her wrists and looked at the bruises there. Staring into his eyes, she whispered, “Viv? Is that my name? Am I Viv?”

Shock and horror slid into his expression and she shook her head, her pulse racing as the man choked back a sob.

Viv.”

Shaking her head frantically, she shushed him and cupped his face in her hands while pleading, “I’m sorry. Please don’t be upset with me. I don’t…I don’t know. The voice isn’t helping me. It won’t tell me anything else. Just that I have to keep you safe. I know you, but I don’t know you. I don’t understand what’s happening. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

Viv gasped for air, her body shaking as he held her close again and whispered, “Shhh, it’s okay. I’ve got you. I’ve got you, baby girl.”

Slowly and shakily, Viv wrapped her arms around him and held tightly to him. Tears slipped down her face and guilt filled her as his body shook. He took a few shuddering breaths, but then she watched as he pulled back from her. His metal hand clenched by his side as his right hand gently pushed her hair out of her face.

“All right, let’s get you cleaned up. Just stay right here. I’ll go get the kit.”

Nodding, Viv sat still, conflicted about what she should do. Should she follow him? Should she stay? Her chest clenched at the thought and she slid off the sparse bed, following the path the man had taken. She moved silently, but then paused by the bathroom door, her eyes widening as she saw him gripping the sink in his metal hand. His right hand was brought up to his mouth and he was biting down onto it, his shoulders shaking with barely contained sobs.

Viv took a step forward, unsure of what to do. Her hands itched to do something, anything to help him out, but then he forced himself to take a deep breath. His right hand shakily went back to the sink and he leaned over the sink, taking in heaving breaths. He sounded like he was close to becoming sick, but then he shook his head and stood up straight. The mirror showed off his red rimmed eyes and Viv’s own eyes widened. Stumbling back, she could see flashes of something.

The funeral.

Whose funeral? When? Clapping her hands over her ears, Viv squeezed her eyes shut as slivers of memories seemed to slip through her fingers. A warm hand gently gripped her arm and for a moment she struggled, but then sank into his grip. Her eyes remained closed, but she allowed her hands to be gently pulled from her ears as the man whispered, “I’ve got you, Doll. C’mon. You’re safe with me. Just let me take care of those burns. They’re not healing right.”

She nodded and let herself get led back over to the bed and climbed up onto it, laying down before finally she opened her eyes. He sighed and left her side again, but she relaxed when he came back with a small kit and opened it up. His right hand was firm, but still gentle as he took her wrist into hand, examining it before sighing as he grabbed some wrap. He wrapped her wrist expertly.

Kids in a back alley brawl.

The images bled through and she could picture it. A tiny blond boy, skin stretched over angular bones and a soul like an inferno was there, barely on his feet despite the blood dripping down his face and the odd angle his wrist was at. There was rage in his eyes was still going, even as the taller, healthier brunet boy rolled his own eyes and chided him for barging into a fight that wasn’t his own.

Bucky.

Viv’s brows furrowed as she tested the name from the fragment on her lips and tongue, “Bucky.”

The man froze at that, his breathing getting heavier and Viv whispered, “There were two boys in an alley. There’d been a fight. One was named Bucky. The other was…”

Steve.

“Steve,” Viv sighed, staring up at the ceiling while she whispered, “Steve was so mad. Bucky was annoyed. Steve’s wrist was broken, but I think I was the one who wrapped it until he got home.”

“You were,” the man whispered, his voice choked as his thumb gently rubbed along the inside of her wrist.

Frowning, Viv whispered, “Steve and Bucky are important. Or were important. I don’t remember. Hurts to remember.” She then paused and questioned carefully, “Are you mad at me for not remembering?”

He shook his head and then glanced at her, his eyes watery but a soft smile on his face as he replied, “Of course not, Kitten. Just want to take care of you. It’s all I ever wanted to do.”

Viv winced as he gently cleaned the burns on her face. His fingertips brushed along her forehead though and he paused. Glancing up at him as he then pressed his palm to her forehead, she frowned as he whispered, “Fuck, you’ve got a low fever. They probably injected you with a poison of some kind.”

“I’m not normal, am I?” Viv whispered.

The man paused before he sighed and shrugged, “No, but it doesn’t matter.”

“I make you sad. I don’t mean to. I don’t want to.”

He shook his head, going back to her burns while he replied tightly, “You don’t make me sad, Vivian. You could never make me sad.”

'You’re the light of my life, Doll. Gonna make an honest woman out of you before you know it.’

Blinking back tears, Vivian took deep breaths and closed her eyes, chasing after fragments. Slivers broke through and she desperately tried to hold on. Her fingertips gripped onto the thin sheet placed over the bed and she went back and tried to follow Bucky from that first memory.

Shit. Viv, open your eyes for me. Okay? Whatever you’re doing, you’ve got to stop. You hear me? You’re hurting yourself.”

Opening her eyes, Vivian frowned, but then winced as he gently pressed a handkerchief under her nose, collecting blood that had been dripping out. His entire expression was tense and he wouldn’t look her in the eyes. Taking the handkerchief from him, she finished mopping up the blood while Bucky went back into the bathroom.

We both used to do this for Steve.

Bucky.”

The man came back over with a glass of water and she traded the handkerchief for a clean one and for the beverage. Sipping at the water slowly, she forced her breathing to slow down as the man observed with quiet concern. She finished the whole glass of water before he moved forward and took the glass from he only for him to refill it and then bring it back out while speaking quietly, “I don’t know when the next they’ll feed us, but you’ve gotta stay hydrated. Okay? Water will help flush out whatever it is they gave you as well.”

Vivian drank the water, staying quiet as bits and pieces flowed through about him. Most of it was just emotions and sensations. Worry. Jealousy. Concern. Protectiveness. Warmth. Happiness. Love. Devotion. The memories were loose tendrils in her mind, refusing to come together until finally, like a slow embrace or a dance, the lines started to come together.

Bucky.”

Raising her gaze at Bucky, she could see him flinch slightly, and she held out her empty glass. He leaned close to take it, and when he did, she grasped his wrist in her hand and spoke again, the shakiness in her voice still there as she tried to make the connection between thoughts and words.

Bucky. Your name is…Bucky.”

Bucky choked back a sob and Vivian’s breathing was labored as he nodded and whispered in a broken voice, “Yeah, Viv. I’m Bucky. You’ve known me for years.”

Vivian nodded, accepting that was true since her memories made it clear that it was, but then she paused, tilting her head to the side as she questioned, “If you’re Bucky and I’m Viv, then where’s Steve? It was the three of us. We always had Steve. Where is he? Why does thinking about him hurt so much?”

Bucky leaned forward, the air heaving into his lungs in a sharp, desperate inhale, and Vivian felt panic build in her as he placed the glass aside and pressed his lips to her hands. His lips trembled and she frowned as he turned her hands over in his, pressing soft kisses to her palms. He then gripped both of her hands in each of his, rubbing his thumbs over her knuckles while he struggled for words. After several aborted attempts at speech, Vivian became restless.

“Why won’t you say anything? Oh god, did I do something? Bucky, please, tell me—”

Bucky shook his head and gently pulled her closer, tears still in his eyes as he licked his bottom lip before reassuring her, “No, doll. It wasn’t anything you did. It wasn’t you. I just…how much do you remember?”

Vivian blinked and swallowed hard, feeling sadness well up in her as she admitted, “I am Vivian Peshkova. I got the name as a child. I think I chose it. I was molded into a weapon. They wanted me to be able to blend in, so they sent me to New York. Sent me to Brooklyn. They didn’t mean to, but they sent me to you and to Steve.”

Vivian smiled and whispered, “I fell in love with you both so quickly. It was like breathing.” The smile faded off her face as she continued, “Wasn’t fair. We got older. Ophelia hurt me more and more. I wasn’t good enough. I was never good enough. It was only a matter of time before she found you, so I left. I fled. There was a war. Not a new war. An old war, long since forgotten, but back. Same players, different places on a chess board. I was…”

Bucky waited patiently, watching her with a guarded expression, but then he hissed in a breath through his teeth as she confessed, “I was seeking redemption, but I think I also hoped I’d die out there. Dead in a field in Europe, my body sinking into the dirt, never to be reclaimed. Would have been best for you and Steve. You would have been safe.”

“Viv…”

“You weren’t in Europe, but then you were. You were in your uniform and you were brighter than the sun. I missed Steve. Where was Steve?”

Bucky’s warm fingers ran through her hair as he gently whispered, “It’s okay if you don’t remember just yet, doll. Don’t push yourself.”

Vivian frowned, leaning into his touch as she whispered, “I love Steve. Do you think Steve still loves me?”

Bucky kissed her temple and she sighed as he whispered, “Steve loved you so much. He loved you his whole damn life, doll.”

“Do you love me?”

Vivian bit and sucked nervously on her thumbnail, averting her gaze as Bucky sat in front of her and whispered, “Oh, Doll. I’ve loved you for as long as I can remember. Gonna love you ‘till the day I die. C’mere.”

Curling up into Bucky’s arms, Vivian wrapped her arms around him, relaxing as he held her close and kept whispering to her softly. Her breathing evened out and she let Bucky’s voice lull her almost into a trance. The strands of memory became more tangible, more solid to the touch as she stayed in the safety of his arms. She gripped onto them and followed the strands, riding them out. It felt like floating.

Most of the memories of Steve and Bucky were warm, like a paradise and she let herself sink all the way down into those waters. They soothed her, healed her, and part of her wanted to stay in those memories forever. Memories of laughter, smiles, and sweet kisses.

Inevitably her mind would pull her out of those memories though, never letting her linger as long as she wanted to. Sometimes the memories were angry or brutal, like rip tides in her mind. There were moments she thought she’d drown in them, but Bucky’s voice and gentle touch reminded her that she was safe. This was all the past. She hadn’t gone anywhere.

“There’s not gonna be a safe landing, but I can try and force it down.”

Eyes snapping open, Vivian gasped at the sound, her body shaking her and bottom lip trembling. It took Bucky cursing behind her to realize the noise wasn’t in her head. It was real. The audio kept playing and her breath rattled in her chest. Mouthing wordlessly, she gripped at her own arms, her nails digging into the skin.

“Viv, doll. Focus on me, okay? Just focus on my voice.”

Bucky forced her to look at him and she choked on air as he continued, “Look at me. It’s going to be okay.”

Vivian shook her head, her nails ripping into her skin as she breathing came in shaky, heaving gasps. Bucky pulled her closed, pressing her to his chest and her entire body shook. The ringing in her ears got louder and louder.

“Please don’t leave me.”

Bucky’s desperate plea was the last thing she heard as she succumbed to the pain.

Chapter Text

You’ll wear a hole in the floor if you keep pacing like that, James Buchanan.

Bucky winced as he could practically hear his mother’s voice in his head as he paced the room. He’d been pacing for hours, ever since Vivian had been dragged off by Hydra agents again. His teeth grit tightly and both of his hands clenched as he remembered her distraught screams. They were taking her to have her mind wiped damn near every single day. Sometimes they gave her a couple days between sessions, but never more than a week, and it was killing him.

It was killing him every time she got thrown back into the room and for her to not know who she was. She knew him faster than she knew herself though. They made sure to test it, refused to let him use her name. He’d screwed up once and he’d said her name immediately and the next time they wiped her mind, they burnt her face so badly that the wound became infected. She’d spent three days feverish, and with the sickness, the first thing she’d remembered was Steve. Even with the recordings being blasted into their cell, she hadn’t believed Steve was gone and had begged for him. She’d begged and cried until she’d collapsed in his arms, her fever skyrocketing to the point where Hydra agents had to actually give her medicine to speed up the process.

Bucky hadn’t known what to do, so he’d just held her and whispered to her. Sometimes he sang softly to her, singing songs from old movies and shows that they’d gone to together. Sometimes he sang hymns. Sometimes he got so desperate that he just prayed. Other times he just wept as he held Vivian’s shaking, sobbing body close while he stopped her from ripping the hair out of her head or from clawing the skin right off her arms.

He just wanted her pain to stop.

Bucky ceased pacing as he could hear the low, telltale sounds of someone coming into his cell. Turning toward the door, he frowned as it opened to reveal not Vivian, but Madame Hydra standing there. A scoff escaped Bucky and he let out a bitter laugh before snapping, “Give it a rest with the theatrics. We’ve been through this before. Where’s Vivian?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Yes,” Bucky bit out, taking a step forward as his body shook with rage.

Madame Hydra grinned and replied, “Then come with me. I’ll take you to her.”

Bucky followed, preparing himself for the usual, but then froze as they entered a room only to see Vivian slumped next to a metal chair. Blood was dripping from her face and her gaze looked unfocused as her lips moved wordlessly. He ran to her side, gently tilting her face up, but then froze as he could finally hear what she was whispering, “Can’t let them take him. Can’t let them take Bucky.

“Years ago, if someone had told me that I was too good at what I do, I would have laughed in their faces. Such talk is for lesser creatures, for overconfident men who have gotten by with nothing more than their name and a quick smile. And yet here we are.”

Bucky forced himself not to look at Madame Hydra, but instead focused on Vivian, gently stroking her hair and shushing her gently.

“I created Hecate years ago. It took many attempts to get one just right. The failures were discarded, of course, but failures are often necessary to know the route to perfection. Hecate was that perfection until you ruined her. She was mine.”

“She was never yours,” Bucky snarled, pulling Vivian’s limp body into his arms. Her body shivered, but she held onto him while she continued to gaze blankly at the wall. He pressed a kiss to her forehead and then spoke up, “Viv’s smart. Too smart for the likes of you. She was always going to figure out what kind of fucked up horror show this place is. She was always going to leave you.”

“And now you’re the reason she stays. How poetic.”

Bucky winced and buried his face in Vivian’s hair, feeling like he’d been struck from those acidic words being thrown at him. Vivian had stayed for him. She was staying for him. He blinked back tears, holding Vivian a little tighter, but then made sure he was clear eyed before glancing over as Madame Hydra moved closer and taunted, “Of course, even something perfect can break down and become obsolete.”

“What do you want?”

“What do I want? I want Hecate to forget you. I want her to fulfill her birthright, but she refuses to cooperate. She’s gotten hypnotized. Her mind has been wiped. Repeatedly. And still, do you know how long it takes her to remember you? The longest it took her was twelve hours. The shortest it took her was five minutes. Johann Fennhoff says this is because there isn’t a single piece of her psyche that she hasn’t connected a memory of you to. She let you consume her, and so there’s nothing he can do. She’ll never be the weapon I hoped for her to be.”

Vivian’s breathing came out in soft pants, and Bucky cradled her close to him while refusing to look at Madame Hydra. He realized that was a mistake though when suddenly over a dozen agents came forward, some grabbing Vivian and others grabbing him. Crying out, Bucky lunged for Vivian only to be caught and dragged back. A shock of electricity went through him and then his metal arm went limp. Bucky still fought, but then screamed as his right arm was tugged and pulled back until he could hear a sharp pop of his arm dislocating.

He crumpled to his knees as Vivian struggled only to be overpowered. He wasn’t expecting to be pulled to his feet and then dragged over to Vivian’s side as she was brought up to a large metal door in the wall. Madame Hydra strode past, looking pleased with herself, and then unlocked the door. It slid open, revealing an odd glass and metal tube. Before he could even question what was happening, the tube opened and Vivian was shut inside.

“What are you doing?”

Vivian looked panicked and confused, her hands running nervously through her hair and tugging, blood soaking her palms until she turned and slammed a hand against the glass. She screamed, and Bucky winced at the muffled sound, but then he tried to shove away from the guards as a thick fog-like gas spread through the chamber.

Stop it. Let her out!”

“And why would I do that?”

Bucky’s jaw clenched hard and he ripped himself away from the Hydra agents and ran over, searching frantically on the capsule for some way to open it as Vivian skin turned blue and she clawed at the glass in terror. Screaming in frustration as his fingertips just slid across the glass, he then slammed his hand onto it over and over again, not stopping as Vivian stopped moving and went still. Her eyes were closed and her lips gently parted, ice all over her.

“If you manage to break the glass now, you’ll kill her.”

Pausing as he was about to give one final blow to the capsule, Bucky slid down to the ground, choking back a sob as he pressed his forehead to the glass. Viv was still in there, deathly still and pale as fresh snow. Weakly grasping at the container, Bucky then glanced over at Madame Hydra and questioned, “You said I would kill her, so she’s not dead. This didn’t kill her.”

The woman scoffed and rolled her eyes, “Of course not, you imbecile. She’s cryogenically frozen. I can bring her back at any time I want to.”

“What is the point?”

“The point? To see if a person can survive it, of course.”

“But you know she can survive it. You know she can survive most things.”

“I know. I designed her that way. Even Erskine was impressed with what I’d achieved. Her cells regenerate in a way that was supposed to be my key to success. She’d be able to be my greatest weapon, and I wouldn’t have to fear my weapon falling ill or growing old or meeting an untimely demise. Your ability to heal though is substantially more limited.”

Bucky froze, his hand still pressed against the container while he questioned, “You want to do all of this to me.”

“I’m going to do all these things to you, Sergeant Barnes. Want has very little to do with it, and there’s little you can do to stop me.”

“Then why tell me? Why show me this happening to Vivian?”

“Her name is Hecate.”

Bucky closed his eyes and forced himself to take a deep breath before he snapped, “Her name is Vivian, and if you’re looking for me to give some amusing reaction then you’re wasting your goddamn time.”

Madame Hydra laughed heartily and Bucky grit his teeth, forcing himself to breathe deeply as he kept an eye on Vivian. She was still, frozen in time, like something out of a terrible fairytale. Standing up, he had to resist the urge to call Madame Hydra’s bluff and to break the glass anyway, but he balked at the idea. If there was even the slightest chance that damaging the container would kill Vivian then the risk was too high for him to ever go through with the plan.

What would you do if I told you that I’d carefully let your beloved Vivian out of that chamber and that I’d stop wiping her mind? That I’d let her remember you? That I’d stop experimenting on her? I’m certain your pet has told me by now that the only times in her life where I wasn’t doing one thing or another to her were the times where she was with you or where she was in the war. You could be her safe harbor again.”

Pressing his forehead against the glass, Bucky’s heart raced at the prospect, but he cleared his throat before pushing back and then turning toward Madame Hydra. Maybe a few years before, back when he’d first been captured, he would have believed the woman. Scoffing, he shook his head, “You don’t have any plan to keep that promise. You want to see how far I’ll go to save the woman I love. You want to see how many times you can use one of us to hurt the other while making us think we can save the other one.”

The agents around the woman grew anxious and Bucky cursed under his breath as she moved close and taunted, “You knowing what I’m doing doesn’t change the fact that you’re still going to do exactly what I want. Your pathetic need to protect my creation and her desperate desire to protect you in return is too ingrained in your personalities. Thanks to the serum, those traits of yours only got amplified. You can’t help yourself. As to why Hecate can’t help herself from suffering on your behalf, I can’t say.”

She loves me.

The words stuck in Bucky’s throat as he pressed a hand to the glass where Vivian’s hand was frozen against the glass. Pressing his forehead against the glass and taking a deep breath, Bucky questioned, “What are you going to do to me?”

Agents moved in and Bucky leaned close, pressing a soft, secret kiss to the glass and wiping away the smudge with his hand as he was tugged away. His metal arm was still limp at his side and he cradled it close as he was shoved back toward that metal chair. There was blood splatter on the chair and he grit his teeth as they pointed to it.

He sat down and then closed his eyes as his arms were shackled down. An alcohol swab was rubbed against his wrist and then a needle slid in. Flinching at the sensation, Bucky was surprised at how quickly his body felt almost heavy. Swallowing hard, he shook his head, trying to focus only to glare as someone grabbed his face and turned him toward them before his mouth was forced open and a bit was placed between his teeth. Hands then shoved him back against the chair and the metal pieces moved closer to his face. His breathing increased, but he forced himself to keep his eyes open as Madame Hydra approached and leaned close.

You’re going to hurt her, and she’s going to let you.

Bucky struggled, but before he could do anything, the monstrous woman stepped back and nodded. He heard a sizzling noise, and then his entire body became engulfed in pain. His teeth clenched into the bit, tearing into it and his fingers dug into the arms of the chair. He could feel himself being ripped away, torn out of him like it was made of tissue.

And then there was nothing.

Chapter Text

“Wow. Look at you. I’m going to be honest. From your reputation, I never expected to find you here pining over some man.”

Vivian didn’t glance away from the chamber where Bucky was frozen, looking almost peaceful. Hydra allowed her to stay in the room as often as she liked when she wasn’t on missions, provided she behaved herself, which meant for hours, sometimes days of sitting and keeping vigil over the last part of her heart. She herself was splattered with blood, still in her cotton dress as she sat with her legs tucked under her. There were runs in her hosiery and her shoes were off in a corner. One of the heels had broken off during the fight she’d last been in, so they were useless anyway.

“You deaf or something?”

“Or something,” Vivian snapped, keeping her focus on Bucky until footsteps approached her along with the dragging of a chair. There were chairs in the room. Vivian never used them. Never allowed herself to use them. They sat in silence for several minutes until the other person’s loud sigh interrupted Vivian’s thoughts.

“This is boring. Don’t you at least want to know who I am?”

Vivian shrugged, “Why does it matter? Either Hydra wants me to work with you or they want me to kill you. Regardless, you’ll die much sooner than I will.”

“The Goddess of Death herself speaks.”

Rolling her eyes, Vivian scoffed, “Hecate wasn’t the goddess of death. She was the goddess of magic, witchcraft, necromancy, ghosts, the night, and the moon. She also had power over heaven, Earth, and the sea itself. Thanatos was the Greek God of death.”

“Sounds like the Greeks couldn’t make up their mind about what she was supposed to be.”

“Sounds like you’re making small talk. What do you want?”

“Well, to get to know my new partner, of course. I wanted to see if you’re as fun as everyone says you are.”

Glancing over at the woman in confusion, Vivian eyed the brunette carefully. Her hair was a dark brown, but Vivian could tell it wasn’t the woman’s natural hair color. The blue of her eyes was real though. The outfit she was wearing was familiar. The woman herself seemed familiar.

“See something you like, sugar?”

Rolling her eyes, Vivian focused back on Bucky before replying, “Dorothy Underwood. I forgot you came crawling to Hydra, begging for work.”

“Seems a little hypocritical for a lifetime member such as yourself to be mocking me for joining this organization. Besides, I’m my own woman.”

“Fascinating, I’m sure.”

“You know, you remind me of Peggy a little bit.”

A burst of laughter escaped from Vivian and she glanced over at Dorothy before drawling, “Okay, I’ll bite. How? How could I possibly remind you of Agent Carter? I mean, you’ve definitely met the woman before. If my memory of those briefings serve me, she demolished Other than both of us being more than willing to kick your ass, I don’t see a resemblance.”

“You’re both so tense. You should really learn to relax. You know, she admires you. Or at least, she admired Nurse Vivian Peshkova. I heard her talk about you.”

Glancing over in confusion, Vivian questioned, “You two talked about me? When? Why?”

Dottie grinned, “Oh, no, we didn’t talk. I’d bugged her place. She was talking to some waitress she’s been sneaking around with. What was her name again?”

“You can skip the part where you pretend you forgot this woman’s name. I’m fairly certain you haven’t forgotten a detail about a mark since you were a child.”

“Fine, ruin my fun,” Dottie sighed, “Her name is Angie. Peggy is awfully protective of her, but they are lovers, so it’s to be expected. Regardless, they were talking about heroes, and Peg gave quite the speech about how you’d died heroically, but how men would never honor you the way you deserved. Wonder what she’d think to know that the heroic Nurse Vivian Peshkova was still alive.”

“Except she isn’t,” Vivian replied quietly. “Vivian died years ago.”

Vivian glared as Dottie yawned theatrically, but then grit her teeth as the woman sat down next to her and taunted, “Boring. Martyrs are boring. Besides, if Vivian really was dead then you wouldn’t insist on Barnes calling you Viv or Vivian or Vivi. Although he seems to also call you sweetie, darling, honey, and Kitten.”

“If this is your way of letting us know they’ve been monitoring us the entire time then you can save your breath. I know. I’ve always known.”

“Wow, so you had sex knowing someone would be paying attention? I’m impressed.”

Vivian rolled her eyes, “I’m sure you were endlessly fascinated by it all.”

Dorothy shrugged and Vivian’ didn’t even glance over as the other woman’s fingertips started at her shoulder and then gently dragged down to her wrist. Before the woman could grab a hold though, Vivian grabbed the woman’s hand and twisted it, not looking at her as se sighed, “Listen, the fact that you are incredibly good looking doesn’t mean I’m going to have sex with you.”

“Why not? I mean, what’s stopping you? One lover’s dead and the other’s a block of ice so—”

Lunging over, Vivian dragged the woman down from the chair and pinned her to the ground by her throat. She gave the woman’s throat a tight squeeze as she leaned close and snapped, “Shut up. You hear me? You shut your fucking mouth about them. Nod if you understand.”

The woman nodded, her lips tingeing blue and Vivian released her, backing up as the woman gasped and coughed while she caught her breath. Moving closer to the chamber, Vivian checked on Bucky’s vitals, gently pressing her hand against the glass while she questioned, “What do you want? You wouldn’t have tried the beginnings of a seduction if you didn’t want something.”

“Maybe I just wanted a good time.”

“Bullshit. What do you really want?”

“I want job security, and with your mother in charge, I don’t have it.”

“She’s not my mother, and that sounds like a personal problem.”

“I want you to help me kill her.”

Glancing over and scoffing, Vivian shook her head, “Why would I do that?”

Dottie rolled her eyes, “Maybe because you hate her? Also, if we kill her, we can have Fennhoff and Zola in charge. They won’t keep you away from Bucky like she does. They’ll let you go on missions with Barnes. You’ll be able to keep an eye on him. Protect him.”

“And of course, Fennhoff already trusts you, so you’ll be kept on.”

“Of course. It’s a win-win. What do you have to lose?”

Vivian glared over at the woman, “What do I have to lose? Only an idiot asks a question like that. You know exactly what I have to lose if your plan fails. And if you think for a second that Ophelia wouldn’t kill him in front of me just to hear me scream then you’re in for a rude awakening.”

Dorothy pouted and sat next to her while pleading, “C’mon. I have plan. It’ll work. Please.”

Swatting at the woman’s hand as she tried to touch her hair, Vivian snapped, “What exactly is your plan? You do realize she has a ring that makes it so that she can teleport, right?”

Dorothy tossed her hair and laughed, “Which is why you’re not going to make the direct move. Someone else will. Someone expendable. She’ll teleport behind her attacker and then you’ll attack her while she’s killing them. It’s brilliant.”

“It’s a couple sandwiches short of a picnic is what it is,” Vivian ground out. “Your whole plan is based around Madame Hydra being too distracted with killing a subordinate to notice me attacking her.”

“All right. Then I guess you’ll just deal with this on your own.”

Vivian was about to ask what the woman was talked about until some papers landed on the floor in front of her with a slap. Grabbing them, she flipped through the papers only to pause as she saw they weren’t done with Bucky’s training. They had plans for him. Plans that involved making him hurt her.

“Now, how do you think your toy is going to feel when he wakes up, remembers himself, and finds out that he butchered you? Not just once either, but regularly. Stabbing you. Shooting you. Just carving you up like you’re nothing. They’ll probably have you beg too. He’ll have that sound in his head forever.”

“Shut up,” Vivian whispered.

“I mean, it’s one thing to forgive yourself for killing Nazis and gangsters, but another thing to forgive yourself for hurting the woman you were going to marry. And you two were going to marry, right? You were going to go suburbia for him. The whole white picket fence, 2.5 kids and a dog. Do you think he’ll let himself near you ever again once he remembers what it’s like to have your blood on his hands?”

Turning around, Vivian grabbed the woman by her throat and slammed her against the ground, crouching over her and snarling, “I said shut up.”

A sick smile spread across Dorothy’s face and Vivian glared as the woman choked out, “This all you got?”

Shoving away from her, Vivian gripped at her hair, ignoring Dot as the woman cackled, “Oh, honey, I’ve had people do worse than that to me for fun. I didn’t even lose consciousness. He really has made you weak, hasn’t he?”

“If I kill you in this room then they’ll send me away from him while they clean the bits and pieces of what’s left of you off the floor. That’s time I really don’t care to lose. Or they’ll make me clean up your corpse and I really can’t be bothered.”

“Such a goddamn liar.”

“Believe what you want. Doesn’t bother me.”

“But it will bother him. Just look at him. He let himself get frozen to protect you. He got electrocuted for you. He’s been turned into the Winter Soldier for you. You going to let him take yet another fall for you, Hecate?”

Dorothy started to stroll off and Vivian sank to the floor, grabbing the plans again. Her hands shook as she ran her fingertips along the information and she thought about it. Glancing over at Bucky again, Vivian smiled weakly up at his still form before she sighed, “Fine, but since it benefits both of us, I don’t owe you a damn thing after this is over.”

“Excellent. Want to seal it with a kiss?”

Rolling her eyes and standing up, Vivian drawled, “You wish.”

“I do, actually,” Dorothy grinned, “Now, let’s get going. Convincing you to be my partner has already taken longer than Ophelia would have wanted.”

“Wait, we’re doing this now?”

It took almost no time to catch up with Dot, despite the soreness from the mission, but then she stared when Dorothy spoke in a chipper voice, “No time like the present! Besides, you were supposed to check in, and you didn’t.”

Matching the woman’s stride, Vivian kept her gaze forward, wondering what game Dorothy was playing exactly. She said she wanted certain things, that she wanted Ophelia dead, but could Vivian really trust any of it? She didn’t let herself hope, but she did wonder. And she already knew what she’d say if Ophelia tried to turn on her. She’d remind Ophelia that this newcomer had been a little too close with Agent Carter.

Sew the seeds of doubt. Spin a tale worth spinning. Use Dot’s corpse as a leg up if Vivian had to do so. It was unseemly and part of Vivian hated herself for it, but if it came down to a choice? If it ever came down to a choice between keeping herself and Bucky safe or saving Dorothy, then it was a guaranteed swift death for Dorothy.

“Mission report.”

“Targets were eliminated in the exact manner requested,” Vivian reported, keeping her gaze forward.

Ophelia lit a cigarette, taking a puff of it and then strolled forward before questioning, “Witnesses?”

“None that survived. I swept the room for surveillance equipment before I left. I found three listening devices and I turned them in to the intelligence department.”

“Excellent. Do we know their origin?”

“Looked British. Intelligence department is checking as we speak.”

“Good enough. Agent Underwood, your report.”

“Reconnaissance was successful. We’ve established that at least twenty-five percent of SHIELD’s agents are now ours.”

“Any of those in command?”

“Other than you, ma’am? A dozen, but many of our agents feel confident that they can have upward mobility within the year.”

“Excellent.”

Dorothy grinned, but Vivian had noticed even just in the short amount of time that smiles never reached the woman’s eyes. They were always so piercing, so cunning, like she thought everyone and everything around her was a puzzle to solve. For a moment Vivian wondered if the woman had any idea of what it was like to just purely love someone, to know in your heart that you knew them and trusted them.

She was snapped out of those thoughts as fingers brushed against hers. She still didn’t look down as a cold blade was slipped into her palm. She could tell just from the way it felt in her hand, the weight and the details of it all, that it was a butterfly knife. A pretty name for a deadly weapon. This one was curved and had a good weight to it. She hid it in the folds of her skirt as she stood, watching as suddenly, as if triggered by some command, two of the agents flew forward, screaming and lashing out at Ophelia.

As predicted, Ophelia teleported behind the agent and began choking him. As he did that, Vivian flipped open the butterfly knife and twirled it in her hand before going up behind the woman. Taking a deep breath, she released it and then moved forward, sending the ring off of Ophelia’s hand and grabbing her by the hair. Pressing the blade to the woman’s throat, Vivian then grinned as Ophelia whispered, “You’re nothing without me, Hecate.”

“I’d rather be nothing than be yours, Mother.”

“No, don’t, stop, I—”

Vivian dragged the blade across the exposed throat, smiling as the blade went deep, deep enough to show bone. The blood sprayed almost violently, arching up onto the ceiling and soaking her hand. The dead agent slumped to the floor and Ophelia quickly followed. Vivian bared her teeth, her smile bloody only for her smile to fall as suddenly it sank in.

Ophelia was dead. That woman, that monster was dead, and Vivian expected to be happier. She’d expected to feel good, but all she felt was nauseous, numb, and confused. The blood soaked blade slipped from her fingers and as she stared blankly at her mother’s corpse, almost expecting the woman to move, to get up, to hurt her for this betrayal. She didn’t fight as agents grabbed her by her arms and led her back. She still kept her eyes on that corpse though, on that blood spreading across the floor.

“Take her back to the Winter Soldier. Let her sleep there tonight. She’s earned it.”

The route back to the chamber felt infinitely longer somehow, and Vivian inhaled sharply as she was shoved in and then the door was locked. Moving forward, she fell to her knees in front of the chamber, Bucky still frozen inside as she choked out, “I don’t know what to do. Bucky, please help me. I don’t know who I am anymore. I thought getting revenge would make me happy, but I’m just…I don’t know anymore, Buck. I need you.”

Hot tears streamed down Vivian’s face, mixing with blood splatter and she pressed her blood soaked hand against the chamber while begging, “Please don’t leave me.”

She wasn’t sure how much longer she could take the silence

Chapter Text

“I am functioning adequately.”

Vivian had to force herself not to flinch as Bucky, no, the asset answered the handler’s questions in a voice that was somehow both firm and vacant all at the same time. That voice wasn’t Bucky’s. It couldn’t be. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard him speak that way, but it still chilled her to the bone. The chill only got worse as she looked at the expression on his face. There was nothing in that gaze. No warmth or recognition, pleasure or pain. It was just nothing.

Fennhoff, on the other hand, looked delighted, his eyes damn near sparkling as he moved close to where Bucky was sitting in that chair. They’d woken him up from cryo and wiped his mind. Vivian had stayed the entire time, her face covered in a mask and her hands twitching behind her back as she struggled to stop herself from making a move. There were too many agents surrounding them, and she could feel the stare of Zola from behind the thick glass.

Ever since she’d murdered Madame Hydra, he’d refused to be in the same room as her. He stayed back or behind barriers. At one point he’d thrown out the excuse that he was doing it for security reasons, to keep Bucky in line, but she knew better. She knew he was afraid of her. She knew he was terrified of what she might do now that she’d murdered her own mother.

She wanted to think he was overly sentimental or naïve for believing that kill had been different for her, and growing up she was certain that the death wouldn’t be any different for her, but she’d been wrong. It’d been two years since she’d killed that woman and there was still odd pangs and ripples of rage inside. Not because Ophelia hadn’t deserved to die, she most certainly had, but because Vivian realized she was angry that she’d had to do it at all. Enraged over what she’d never had and never would have.

“Yes, yes, of course you are. Stand. You have a mission to complete.”

The asset didn’t even pause as he stood up, staring straight forward as Fennhoff almost cackled with joy before continuing, “The world is a dangerous place. You know this. You swore to protect people and now you have another chance to do so. You will go with Hecate and Leviathan to the location and you will eliminate the targets.”

“Mission parameters?”

Fennhoff grinned before replying easily, “Make it look like an accident. No mistakes, understand?”

The asset nodded, expression still blank and Vivian wanted to sigh as he then moved forward. Matching his pace, she kept an eye on him as they headed toward the armory. Lately Fennhoff and Zola had been sending Vivian on missions with Bucky even when there wasn’t a need for her to be there. That part didn’t annoy her since she’d rather be there and potentially take over the mission for him if need be. The annoying part was how Dorothy kept getting sent with them. As a nod to her past, she’d taken the name Leviathan as her code name, and she seemed to take great pleasure in living up to the name.

Vivian wasn’t surprised by Dorothy’s brutality nor was she surprised that the woman was clearly spying on them for Zola and Fennhoff. The brunette was twisted, greedy for power and control, but she was also smart. Buttering up those two men was the absolute correct move to play for someone who wanted to climb the ranks of the new Hydra. Although Vivian suspected that at least part of the plan was to get their new leaders to forgive how it was impossible for Dorothy to go undercover in SHIELD.

After all, there was not a chance in Hell that Peggy wouldn’t recognize her.

“Cheer up, Hecate, we’ve got a big day ahead of us.”

Rolling her eyes, but focusing as a bag filled with weapons and supplies was handed to a waiting Dorothy, Vivian flinched as the other woman sighed, “As you well know, your pet’s little friends were all recruited into SHIELD once they served their time in the military. Well, if they survived it. They were split up though, sent to be Peg’s trusted leaders in their designated locales. I believe you know this one.”

Staring at the file as it was practically waved in front of her face, Vivian felt like she’d been slapped as she stared at a picture of James Montgomery Falsworth. He looked older than he had when she last saw him, but that was to be expected. It’d been over a decade since she’d last laid eyes on him in person. Still, part of her, for some childish reason, had almost expected each and every one of the Howling Commandos to be practically frozen in time. They all had just seemed too larger than life to age or die.

“Why him?”

“Because he’s too smart for his own good. He’s too close to figuring things out.”

Wincing as the file was snapped shut and then shoved into the bag, Vivian kept her mouth shut as they headed over to the car. A driver was already there and waiting for them in a car that didn’t look like much, but she knew that was all deceptive. The thing could probably withstand the blast of a bomb, but it looked like a car you’d see on most streets. All part of the ruse to keep people from suspecting them. Getting into the car, she sat next to Bucky and pointed out as Dorothy got into the passenger seat, “Monty’s smart. He was a lieutenant and is a brilliant tactician. This isn’t some random soldier or civilian. This is a decorated war hero who’s one of the people that Stark and Carter trust completely. Hell, the man’s in charge of their London division.”

“All of that is precisely why you’re going to find out exactly how much he knows and then his vacation time is going to be cut tragically short. Ideally we’d replace him with one of ours, but unfortunately his job will most likely go to one of those other screaming idiots Peg is so fond of.”

“Wait,” Vivian exclaimed, “You want us to actually show ourselves to our target? Why? He’ll recognize us for sure.”

Dorothy scoffed, “Does it matter? He’s going to die anyway. Not like his corpse will be able to report anything back. You’ll be there for interrogation purposes. Don’t leave any marks.” She paused and then grinned slowly, the bright white teeth like little daggers in her twisted expression, “Oh, and understand that if you, for some reason, decide to have a conscience again, that I’ll kill him myself, only I’ll make it look like he snapped and killed his entire family beforehand in a brutal and tragic murder-suicide. Did you know that he has three beautiful children? Two sons and a daughter. His wife is just stunning.”

“I understand,” Vivian murmured and forced herself to just stare blankly ahead. Her vision slid out of focus, blurring and melting together as she kept her composure. She didn’t want any part of this mission, didn’t want any of it at all, but she saw no way out. Chances were his family was off and would be killed if she was even just slow to comply. And Bucky was there in the car with her. Bucky, whose eyes seemed vacant of all his usual sparkle and mischief. It hurt her to see him like that, but it was better than the alternative. Seeming him broken was better than seeing him dead and rotting. And she knew they’d make her see every putrid thing that happened to his body.

“You know what to do.”

Snapping out of her thoughts and sitting up straight, Vivian evened out her breathing and then quietly slipped out of the car. Other cars pulled up and released soldiers who slipped off and disappeared into the landscape like ghosts. They blended in with the scenery, but she knew they were there, and she knew why. The house itself was large. An estate. It seemed James Montgomery Falsworth was doing well for himself, but that was no surprise. He’d been brilliant. Managed to kill a few Hydra agents even while in captivity. A dry wit. A quick smile. Warm. He’d been kind to her.

“Go inside and wait for him.”

Unlocking the door to the house with the key she’d been handed (she wasn’t sure where they’d gotten the key from to begin with), Vivian then headed inside, Bucky following her closely as she then locked the door behind them. The inside of the house was even nicer than the outside. She wasn’t sure whose input had gone into the whole design, but it was simple and tasteful. The two of them stuck out, Bucky especially as he stood next to a wall. He was stoic and immovable, his eyes fixated on the wall as hair gently fell in front of his face. Someone must have muzzled him since he’d gotten out of the car. They were like puzzle pieces. The top of her face was covered and the bottom of his was.

She knew it was dangerous, moving close, but she couldn’t stop herself from moving over and gently pushing the hair behind his ears as she kept her voice steady, “Your mission is to be intimidating. That’s all. I’ll do all the dirty work.”

His head tilted and she could see the confusion in his gaze. He’d been given other orders. Her fingers itched to remove the mask from his face, finally giving in and unhooking it, pulling off to reveal those familiar lips. She didn’t dare touch them or kiss them, not when he was like this. Not when he couldn’t say no. Besides, this wasn’t her Bucky. The Soldier was a different entity entirely, one without wishes or wants, only orders.

“What’s our timetable?”

“Mission is to be completed within twelve hours of when the target arrives.”

“And if we fail?”

“Failure is not an option.”

Sighing at the dull response, Vivian ran her fingers through her own hair before whispering, “Of course. You’re right. Let’s get into position.”

The soldier hesitated and Vivian grit her teeth, but then carefully replaced the mask. Her thumb brushed along his cheekbones as she did so and she hated herself for muzzling him. She hated it. She hated all of it. Once the mask was back on, the soldier still waited and she frowned before moving into the study. Intel in the file had stated he went into that room as soon as he got home. It was like a ritual almost.

Going over and sitting at the desk, Vivian watched as the soldier took his position behind the door. It was the stillness of him that was the most unnerving. His body didn’t even twitch. She wondered how much of that stillness was army training and how much was Hydra beating the nervous energy out of him. All of the Soldier’s traits were like that though, an odd Frankenstein concoction of the years. At this point it was impossible to untangle it all, impossible to figure out where Bucky ended and the Soldier began. It broke her heart.

Vivian couldn’t handle the silence so she stood up and searched the room, pulling weapons from hiding places and then leaving them on a pile on her desk. It was a substantial amount. All good weapons. All smart choices. Sitting back down, she kept her gaze on the weapons for the rest of the time she waited for Monty to arrive.

The door to the office opened and Vivian sat up, keeping her composure as Monty came into the room only to freeze as he saw her. The Soldier shut the door behind him and Monty turned around, going for a weapon only to freeze as a large knife was pressed against his throat.

“Who do you work for?”

“Soldier, take the weapons off our guest and then stand outside to guard the room. I will come get you when it is time.”

The soldier moved quickly and efficiently, following her orders exactly, patting down Monty and pulling out weapons before then leaving the room. The door shut and she could hear the door lock. Standing up, Vivian paused before sighing and removing the mask from her face. Once it was off, she stared across the room at Monty as the man stumbled back as if he’d been struck.

Vivian?”

“Hello, Monty. It’s been a while. Years, in fact.”

“How is this possible? You died. Barnes saw you die.”

Vivian nodded and moved forward while admitting, “He saw me get my throat slit. He saw me bleed out all over the floor. He didn’t see me heal.”

“But—”

“You need to stop focusing on the things that don’t matter, James. My survival? Hell, even Bucky’s survival? Those things aren’t relevant to the discussion.”

Barnes is alive?” Monty whispered, looking about ready to fall over before he inhaled sharply and then glanced at the door and croaked, “That was him, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. It is. They couldn’t break me, so they broke him instead. And now they want me to break you.”

“Who?”

Scoffing, Vivian moved forward, crowding Monty back toward the wall while she swore, “Fuck, Monty, don’t try to play games with me. They already know you were investigating them. They know you got close.”

“Hydra,” he breathed, almost sagging against the shelf.

“Yes, Hydra. Hydra knows, but they want to know everything that you know. You can either tell me or I can torture you and then you’ll tell me.”

“Viv, you don’t have to do this. I can help you. I can help Bucky. I can save—”

Save us?” Vivian challenged, “God, you must not have gotten anywhere near as close as they think you did if you think something as fucking stupid as that.”

Monty gaped, but she turned around and walked away. Monty started to move forward, but she glanced back at him, watching as he gaped as he was forced his knees by an invisible force. He struggled, but she held him down and then moved over, hopping up onto the desk as she explained, “Hydra’s been watching your family for a while. I got reminded today that if I don’t get the information from you and then kill you, they’ll make it look like you snapped. They’ll kill your family and then you. A murder-suicide.”

Monty’s body went slack and he leaned his head against the bookshelf before he choked out, “I have kids.”

“They know.”

“They do not have a damned thing to do with this.”

“I know that. So do they. They don’t care.”

“God, Viv, why are you working with them? Why are you helping them do this? This isn’t what Steve would have wanted. This isn’t what Barnes would want. So why?”

Grabbing a random gun, Vivian took it apart and then put it back together, the motions easy, familiar ones she could do in her sleep as she replied, “I escaped Hydra back before America had even joined the war. Back in the 30’s. I was 18. I’d been born into the organization, basically. Madame Hydra was my mother.”

“Madame Hydra—”

“She made sure I had powers, and then she wanted me back. I made a deal. Multiple deals actually. First one was pointless after Bucky got recaptured and they threatened to kill him. I agreed to become their weapon if they just let him live. He was never supposed to be the one who was…like that. It was always supposed to be me, but my body heals too quickly for it to take. Bucky couldn’t stand to see me tortured on day after day and so he made his own deal.”

“Not the first time he’s done that.”

Vivian laughed bitterly, “No, it’s not. It’s not the first time he’s suffered for me and it’s something he never should have had to do. Even before he agreed to it though, his arm had been mutilated by his fall. Most of it was gone. They gave him that metal arm and when they did it, they put a bomb in there and a tracker. I’d survive the blast, but he wouldn’t.”

“Shit.”

“Monty, they’re going to find out what you know regardless. They already have people in SHIELD. They’ve been there since the beginning.”

“How many?” Monty whispered, looking and sounding exhausted, aged beyond his years in just minutes.

“At least a quarter of the agents.”

Fuck. This will kill Peggy. And Howard. They both put everything in that organization. I thought they were still trying to get in. I thought—”

“You thought what?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Your family will die, James. Your kids. Your wife. I can’t stop it. I didn’t even know about this assassination until I was being brought here. They told me it was you on the way.”

“How am I going to die?”

“An accident. I’ll let you choose.”

“And what? My family will find my corpse tonight? Tomorrow?”

“Probably tomorrow,” Vivian confessed. Setting the gun aside, she frowned when a silence fell between them. She glanced over though when suddenly Monty let out a bitter, awful laugh.

“How do I choose the thing my kids are going to grow up hating? If I kill myself, they’ll wonder all their lives why their father left them. Should I make them hate swimming? We got the pool especially for them. They love it. If I drown in that pool, it’ll ruin it for them forever.”

“I was thinking a gas leak. You laid down for a nap. Carbon monoxide. It won’t be painful. I just have to blow out the pilot light. You’ll just go to sleep.”

Monty choked back a sob and put his hands over his face. Moving over and crouching next to him, she gently pulled him close and hugged him tightly while whispering, “I’m so sorry, Monty. I’m so sorry. I wish there was something I could do, but—”

“No, if there’s even a chance that my family will suffer because I…because I wasn’t careful enough—”

Vivian hugged Monty again, but then was surprised when he pulled back and cupped her face before whispering, “Promise me you’ll figure out a way to save Barnes and yourself. Promise me you’ll try to take Hydra down for good, finish Steve’s mission.”

“I promise.”

“He wanted to take them down for you. Both Barnes and Rogers did.”

“They loved me. I loved them.”

Monty looked confused, but then his eyes widened as Vivian whispered, “Bucky and I lied, but we didn’t lie. We were together. We were also with Steve. It was the three of us.”

Fuck. Never would have guessed that.”

“That is precisely the point, Monty. Now c’mon. Help me clean up this mess. If your family suspects something or if SHIELD suspects something, then more people will die.”

Standing up, Vivian then began putting things away. After a minute or two, she felt a gun between her shoulders and she smiled softly before laughing, “Oh, Monty. If you pull that trigger, I’ll be very hurt. I won’t die though, and the second the Soldier hears the gunshot, he’ll be in here, and he’ll drag you to that pool and he’ll drown you. Or he’ll keep you in here while my body heals it self, and then I’ll drag you out there. Or I’ll make it look like a suicide.”

Turning around so that Monty was holding the shaking gun in front of her, Vivian took a deep breath before her voice became steel, “Don’t misunderstand me here, James. I don’t want to do any of this, but there is no other option. This entire building is surrounded by Hydra agents. Even if you made it past me, you wouldn’t make it past the Winter Soldier. And even if by some miracle, you made it past the Winter Soldier, there’s no way you can take out over a dozen Hydra agents who will undoubtedly see you before you see them. I won’t let your family die and I sure as Hell won’t let Bucky die. I’ve gone through too much. He’s gone through too much.”

Monty cursed, some in English, but most in French, and dropped his arm while pacing. Resuming the clean up, Vivian put everything else away before taking the last gun out of Monty’s hands. As she put the last gun away, she froze as he spat, “I wish Rogers and Barnes had never met you.”

Grabbing her mask and putting it back on, Vivian then exited the room while Monty followed. The Soldier was still standing watch and she cleared her throat before looking just to the side of his head as she ordered, “Carbon monoxide leak. Once you trigger one, we’ll lock up and leave. You’ll exit before me.”

“Understood.”

The Soldier walked off and Vivian walked with Monty to the living room, watching as he carefully pushed off his shoes before grabbing a blanket from a closet near the living room. His hands shook the entire time and she swallowed hard as he sat down in a recliner before getting comfortable. Taking the blanket from him, she tucked it around him and stared up at him.

“You killed anyone like this before?”

Vivian nodded before replying, “Yes. Sometimes I would cause a car accident. Other times I’d give them food poisoning. Sometimes I’d just make them trip and fall. I know how to fake a heart attack. More than a few people have died from sudden work accidents. A few suicides as well. Killed a few Hydra agents as well. A lot of Nazis.”

“What’s the worst thing they ever did to you?”

“Does it matter? I thought you hated me now.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Wishing that people had never met me is usually a pretty good sign.”

“I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Yes, you should have, because you’re not wrong. I wish it too. Too damn selfish about those two I guess.”

Monty nodded, “The information you need is in my safe. It’s behind a painting in my office. Code is the date we all escaped from Azzano. You should know that date.”

“Of course I do. It’s the day I died.”

Monty took a deep breath, closing his eyes before whispering, “Can you do me a favor?”

“Depends on the favor.”

“When you figure out how to take Hydra down, I want you to tell my family the truth. Tell them I tried to make the world a better place. Tell them that I never wanted to leave them. Tell my wife that she was the center of my universe. Tell my children that I would have given almost anything to see them grow up to be the amazing men and women that I know they’re destined to be. Tell them—”

Monty’s voice cracked and he stopped, tilting his head back against the chair. Reaching up, Vivian gently brushed away the few tears that managed to slip free and whispered, “I will. I promise. Your family will know that they were loved in this life and that love is waiting for them in the next. Now relax. Now I’m going to slowly put you to sleep. I won’t leave until you’re unconscious.”

“Thank you.”

Leaning up, Vivian pressed a soft kiss to Monty’s temple and then leaned over him and focused on his pressure points. Within minutes, his eyelids drooped and then he slid to sleep. His arm slid off the armrest, and she tucked him in a little more before getting up and then heading back over to the study. The painting hadn’t been something she’d looked behind at the time as she’d been focused on finding weapons. He hadn’t been lying about the code and inside was a thick file. She grabbed it and tucked it under her arm before locking the safe back up and heading to the door. The Soldier was waiting for her and she followed him out before locking the door behind them. Soon the whole house would be filled with gas and Lieutenant James Montgomery Falsworth would be no more.

The Soldier’s hand twitched as he got into the car, but then as they started to drive away, he grew more restless. Passing over the file to Dorothy, Vivian focused on Bucky, not really caring what was in the file. Gripping his flesh hand before he could make a sound, Vivian leaned close and whispered quietly in his ear, “It’ll be okay. Just focus on my voice. Take a deep breath. I’m here for you.”

The Soldier’s muscles slowly relaxed and he took deep breaths. Her fingers laced with his, but she kept her distance from him despite the fact that all she wanted was to just wrap her arms around him.

“Good job, Hecate. You met your deadline. A gas leak? Inspired. And an entire file? If this information is as good as it looks, maybe they’ll let you have your toy back for a little bit.”

“Leave him alone.”

“Fine. Just keep him quiet.”

Vivian took both of the Soldier’s hands in hers, squeezing them tightly while he glanced around, looking frantic and confused. He stared at her face, or at least what was visible. Reaching up, Vivian gently took the muzzle off of his face and stroked his jaw, but she froze when he reached over and gently took off her mask. A low moan of pain escaped him as the mask came off of her, but then her eyes widened as he gasped, “Viv?”

“Huh. That’s a shame. Looks like you’ll both have to be muzzled on missions.”

The Soldier’s eyes were watering and he leaned close, burying his face into her neck and he sobbed. Vivian just held him, closing her eyes and silently praying as he clung to her. She wondered if he knew what he’d just helped do. She wondered if he blamed himself, and she hoped that he knew, deep in his heart, that it wasn’t his fault.

Chapter Text

Vivian’s dress stuck to her like a second skin, the fabric soaked. Every inch of her was covered in blood, save for her face. The mask that they’d given her dug into her skin, leaving red lines in its wake. She’d discarded it the second she’d been able to do so, the splattered garment laying forgotten behind her. Her blood soaked hair had fallen in her face, the viscous liquid dripping down her face as she pressed her hand against the cryo chamber. It’d been easy for them to get Bucky into the chamber after a massacre like that. A whole segment of the mob was gone now and that territory was Hydra’s to use as they saw fit.

“Your suffering does not need to continue. I can help you.”

Slow footsteps approached, but Vivian refused to glance back as they came to a stop right behind her. Her forehead pressed was pressed against the glass and she rolled her eyes as after several moments of silence, the man still didn’t take a hint and leave. Reaching up, she placed a hand against the glass before thinking about it and then lifted her hand up and lowered all but her middle finger.

“All you would have to do is focus on your pain. Focus.”

“Fennhoff, as admirable as this attempt to brainwash me is, it is not actually going to work.”

“I wasn’t—”

Turning and leaning back against the glass, Vivian’s expression was downright bored as she corrected, “Except you were. Did you already forget that Zola made me watch you brainwash people? You chose a different format for Barnes, a series of trigger words to save time, but typically you tell someone to focus. Your whole big goal is to have people focus on their pain and then shift their focus to something good, make it so that they listen to your voice and your voice only. There’s a problem with that though.”

“And what is that?”

Vivian leaned forward, baring her teeth as she hissed, “The problem is that I don’t fucking care what you think. I don’t care what any of you think.”

Fennhoff glared and sat back before snapping, “You should. I—”

Vivian smirked, “You are a very old man. You’re turning seventy-six this year, and the only person in this room you could force to help you is currently indisposed.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“That wasn’t a threat. However, if you must be explicitly threatened, then please remember that if you ever try anything like that again, I will rip your fucking throat out with my teeth.”

“You can’t,” the man sputtered, backing off slightly, “If you kill me, then there will be no one to release your soldier from his programming.”

“You wish that was true, but you’re not as smart as you think you are. And my soldier is leagues above you as well.”

“Your insolence will be your undoing.”

Vivian let out a gasp and put a hand to her cheek, “Do you really think so, Doctor Fennhoff? Do you think my insolence is the thing that’s holding me back? Gosh, no wonder Zola relies on you so much. You’re so smart.”

The man glared and Vivian laughed before standing up and heading toward him on bare feet. Her shoes were off to the side, equally soaked with blood, and she glared as she demanded, “Tell me what you’re really doing here. There’s no way you actually thought you’d be able to control me with that trick so what do you want?”

“I would appreciate…” Fennhoff looked like he’d just swallowed a lemon as he bit out, “I would appreciate your help.”

“With what?”

“Director Margaret Carter.”

“Didn’t Zola already tell you that I refused to help with that endeavor before?”

“And then you did help him. Now get cleaned up and come with me. There’s something you need to see.” Vivian hesitated, but then nodded as Fennhoff turned and took a step toward her, his voice cold as he reminded her, “The typical means of control may not work on you, but your soldier still responds beautifully to them.”

Vivian hissed in through gritted teeth before heading back to her ‘room’. At this point it was nothing more than a mattress on the ground and some clothing. And even then, she only slept in there when she absolutely was forced to do so. Otherwise, she slept on the floor next to Bucky’s chamber, keeping a watchful eye on the man she’d failed to save. A penance. Shaking her head, she headed into the bathroom and quickly got herself cleaned up, or as quickly as she could with blood practically glued to her skin. The clothing all needed to be destroyed, so she tossed it aside and then put on a plain dress.

Pinning up her damp hair as she walked out, her feet still bare, Vivian followed Fennhoff to a viewing room. Usually mission briefings happened in the room so it was a large room with auditorium style seating. An expensive, complicated projector shone from the back of the room toward the wall. The room was practically a private theater, only she was certain cinema had never been intended for purposes as nefarious as the ones Hydra used it for.

“Sit.”

Staring Fennhoff down until the man blinked, Vivian only then sat down before focusing on the wall. Footage soon started to play and Vivian sighed as the image of Peggy Carter was shown over the wall. She was composed, as usual, and Vivian swallowed hard as Fennhoff confessed, “This video is a few years old, and—”

“If it’s a few years old then what’s your worry?”

Vivian had known better than to interrupt Fennhoff, but then grit her teeth as her face was slapped to the side. Turning and glaring, she rolled her eyes as he scoffed before continuing, “As I was saying, this video is a few years old. The reason for this being the production was…delayed multiple times due to unforeseen circumstances. The Smithsonian, you see, is putting together an exhibit on Captain America.”

“Good for them. It’s a great story and they can wax poetic about it all.”

“They will advertise it.”

“I’m sure they will. That’s usually how these things work. You have a point, Fennhoff or are you just trying to get a rise out of me?”

The man took a deep breath and then pointed at Peggy’s face while explaining impatiently, “These images, these stories, will be all over the nation. Carter will be a hero again, making our plans for her that much harder.”

Vivian scoffed, “Agent Carter is a hero even without this exhibit. She never did and never will need Captain America to do amazing things. Your plans to either ruin her or kill her were always going to fall flat. She’s untouchable.”

Fennhoff looked annoyed, but Vivian was honestly just relieved he hadn’t focused too much on the more serious consequences of pictures and footage from the war being all over the place. Bucky had already proven his brainwashing could be broken if he recognized her, and Vivian was certain that the same would be true of Steve. Peggy could possibly break his conditioning as well depending on what she was talking about.

“We will take Agent Carter down, Hecate, and for your insolence, you will be the one to put the final nail in her coffin. You will take down your greatest adversary.”

Vivian stared blankly at Fennhoff before she laughed, “You think I’m going to give a fuck about Director Carter talking about Captain Rogers and Sergeant Barnes? Men like you are always so simple minded when it comes to women. You believe that because you can’t see past the fog of your own testosterone to acknowledge the accomplishments of another man that women must be the same with each other. We’re not.”

Standing up, Vivian pointed at the still image of Director Carter and snapped, “Director Margaret Carter has never been and never will be my greatest adversary. She is talented beyond measure, but she is not my enemy. And your shortsighted desire to take her out just because she’s a woman with power is something you’ll have to get over.”

“We—”

“You what? You’ve got nothing on her. You’ve got some footage of her reminiscing about the war. You’ve got her keeping Captain America alive. Even if Director Carter isn’t there to do that, people have been clamoring for Steve Rogers’ story for years. There’s a goddamn comic book about him for Christ sake, so that ship has sailed. If you kill Director Carter at this junction then Howard Stark will look into it. And the remaining Howling Commandos will join him in his pursuits. You’ll turn Director Carter into even more of a legend.”

“We have a document of her actions in the war. War crimes.”

“I doubt it’s as bad as you say it is. And let’s pretend for a second that you’re right and that she did commit some atrocities. If you think Director Carter and the Howling Commandos can’t and won’t use the full force of their personality and the rest of their war record, which is flawless by the way, to spin that story or just bury it in better stories then you’re crazy. Well,” Vivian paused and gave a sick grin, “crazier than I already knew you were, I suppose.”

“Howard Stark murdered my brother. They associate with a war criminal.”

“Actually, Howard Stark is simultaneously a genius and an idiot. One of his inventions got stolen by the army and shit went really wrong. I do read the memos, and also, people are very chatty around here. Not very good for a spy organization hidden inside another spy organization. You should look into that.”

That man—”

Vivian glared, “Your obsession with Howard Stark is a waste of time and resources. It’s also a little hypocritical considering what you’ve helped turn Bucky into. Howard created some awful things, and some of those things hurt you, but he hadn’t actually wanted those items to be implemented. You can’t say the same. You purposely helped Madame Hydra and Zola brutalize an innocent man, and then you forced him to turn that brutality onto others. And that's not even touching on the misery you caused with the Midnight Oil. That wasn't Stark, that was you. You don’t just have blood on your hands, Doctor Fennhoff, you’re wading in it. You’re wading through a sea of blood and misery that you’ve caused and I’m going to make sure that one day you drown in it.”

Fennhoff closed his mouth with a snap and his hands shook as he leaned against the seat closest to him. His hands clenched onto the back of the chair and his knuckles went stark white as they were left with nothing but silence. Vivian kept her mouth shut, letting the man ruminate about what she’d said. He could fool a lot of people, but she’d seen the files of the men, women, and children that had been needlessly slaughtered.

A monster could always recognize other monsters.

“Move.”

Getting up as a gun was pointed at her, not really in the mood to piece her skull back together, Vivian went and sat in a chair closer to the projected image. Once she was in the chair, her hands and ankles were bound to it. The metal dug into her skin and she kept her gaze forward as Fennhoff hissed into her ear, “One day, she will kill you.”

As he left, he hit the button on the projector and the image began to move. Peggy smiled demurely and sipped from a delicate china teacup before setting the cup down as someone off camera asked, “Did Captain America have an effect on you personally?”

Peggy tilted her head, “I beg your pardon?”

“I’m sorry, I just mean it must have been a remarkable experience to get to work with him.”

“Well,” Peggy began, staring off into the distance, “a life in the military demands a certain amount of detachment, particularly from a woman. Sometimes it’s, it’s necessary to give and receive orders without dwelling on the cost of the individual.” Peggy paused and inhaled sharply, “The mission trumps all. Steve never let me forget that these were real lives and real deaths that we were dealing with.”

Vivian swallowed hard and closed her eyes for a moment, anguish and relief intertwining in her chest at those words. Steve. Even after the science and the training and the war, nothing had stopped Steve from being Steve. He’d still been that same ridiculous punk she’d fallen in love with in Brooklyn. He’d still been a good man.

“He also treated me like a person,” Peggy huffed out a laugh, “which I very much appreciated.”

“We recently spoke to several soldiers who credited Captain America with saving their lives.”

“Oh, well, there are a lot of men that could give you that interview.”

“This was outside Stalingrad, 1945.”

“Ah, yes,” Peggy said, setting down her cup. “That was a difficult winter. We were in Russia. A blizzard had trapped half our battalion behind the German line. Steve…Captain Rogers…he fought his way through a Hydra blockade that had pinned our allies down for months. He saved over 1,000 men, quite a few of which have gone on to do great things. A few of them I even consider to be friends. Even after he died, Steve was still changing the world.”

Vivian couldn’t stop a few tears from slipping down her cheeks at that. She’d always known Steve would do amazing things, but even she hadn’t been able to predict the sheer reach of his goodness. The impact would last for generations.

“I understand you were the last person to speak to Captain Rogers before his plane went down?”

Nails digging into the chair after the man asked that question, Vivian shifted uncomfortably in her seat, the sound of Steve’s voice haunting her. There wasn’t a day that went by where she didn’t think about that conversation at least once, where she didn’t wonder if he thought about her or Bucky as he ended his own life. Did he think he was joining them? Was there really no way out?

“I w-was, yes,” Peggy cleared her throat, her voice having trembled its way through the words as her eyes teared up. Vivian held no ill will against Peggy for loving and mourning Steve. After all, Steve had been so very easy to love.

“Could you tell us what he said?”

Peggy’s bottom lip trembled and she inhaled sharply before fidgeting with the teacup. No words came out, and Vivian hated that man for asking Peggy that. After several moments though, Peggy seemed to pull herself together long enough to explain, “Simply that if he didn’t do what he was doing, that a lot of people were going to die. He wanted it known that it was his…that it was his choice to save us all.”

A single tear did slip down Peggy’s cheek then as she whispered, “He always was the best of us.”

The projector stopped and froze on Peggy’s face, leaving Vivian alone in that room, shackled and staring at her face. As she stared at Peggy’s face, Vivian’s nails cracked under the pressure of her grip while Fennhoff taunted, “Rogers would have never chosen you over her. No one would.”

Vivian closed her eyes and whispered, “I wouldn’t want anyone to.” 

Chapter Text

“Get up.”

Vivian did as she was told, not wanting to be in her room any longer than she had to be. The place was even worse since they’d found out she’d been killing targets that were meant to be hits done by the Winter Soldier. Their handlers hadn’t been too keen on that. She’d gone through the usual medical experimentation and solitary confinement for a few years, unsure of how long she’d be punished for misbehaving. She’d been left alone for the past few weeks though, leaving her nothing to do but eat the minimal amount of food they gave her and to keep herself clean. Turning toward Dorothy as the woman held out a uniform, Vivian didn’t bother to go anywhere as she stripped before getting dressed.

“Got a mission for me?”

“Hmm?”

Rolling her eyes as she finished getting dressed, Vivian drawled, “Think you can contain your excitement long enough to brief me on what this hellish organization has planned next?”

Dorothy scoffed and flipped her hair before tossing over a wrapped item. Catching it, Vivian opened it and scrunched up her nose as she saw one of the compressed pathetic excuses for food that she’d ever had the displeasure of eating. It was packed with calories and nutrients, a quick meal to stabilize an enhanced metabolism. It tasted awful though. Eating the bar as quickly as possible, she tossed the wrapper before following Dorothy quickly.

“You’ve missed quite a lot thanks to your stunt. The Cuban missile crisis. Hippies. A catholic got elected president.”

“Oh no. A catholic got hired instead of a protestant. How devastating,” Vivian drawled.

“Catholic and a mutant.”

Stumbling slightly, Vivian stared at Dot in shock as she questioned, “A mutant? Was he—”

“No, your stupid country didn’t knowingly elect a mutant to be president of the United States. We have sources. An informant. Turns out the president plans on using his charisma and influence to undo our work. He wants to bring mutants and humans together. We can’t let that happen.”

“Why? What’s the point?”

“You know the point, Hecate. You know the goal. You’ve known it since you were a child. And now we need to take the next step.” Dorothy stopped and then turned around before smirking, “We’re going to kill the president of the United States.”

“And how exactly am I supposed to kill the president?” Vivian hissed as Dorothy headed down the hall again. “Seduce him and then kill him while we’re alone? Because I’m not going to be able to get away with it.”

“The Winter Soldier will carry out the task. You’ll merely be there to ensure nothing goes wrong.”

Vivian rubbed at her face, gritting her teeth as she was handed a file. Opening it up and looking at it as they walked, she couldn’t help but be a little exasperated by it all. The president of the United States actually planned to ride around in a convertible in Texas with tall buildings all around? It almost felt like the man had a death wish. There were multiple buildings within range where all it would take a sniper to get into position was the slimmest of excuses. The car was going to be moving slowly, the president stopping to greet the adoring masses at periodic intervals. Beyond that, the damn route even had multiple turns, slowing the whole thing down even further.

Bucky would be able to do this job in his sleep.

“Are we certain this isn’t a trap?

“Positive. Although, I can see why you’d think it is. The president’s so goddamn desperate to be a ‘man of the people’ that he ignores all common sense.”

Vivian hummed in agreement before glancing down at the file again, an eyebrow arching as she questioned, “A patsy? We haven’t had to do that before.”

“Despite our numerous infiltrations into the government, we can’t control the public at large as of yet. The assassination of a president, especially one like Kennedy, will cause outrage. People will demand that a culprit be found. They’ll make many allowances on their freedom if it gets the job done. Since we can’t provide you or the Winter Soldier, a suitable answer had to be created. Lee Harvey Oswald is a suitable fit. He already hates the president and he assassinated someone earlier this year.”

“General Edwin Partridge. Says he was paid to do it?”

Vivian frowned as Dorothy snapped, “Yes, Erik Lehnsherr. Code name is Magneto. He’s a powerful mutant and he sought out Oswald to eliminate an adversary of his.”

“He’s a mutant?”

“Yes. He controls metal. Made a huge show of it when he controlled dozens of missiles all on his own. Nearly killed dozens of our undercover agents in both the Russian army and the US army. He’s been a hassle.” Dorothy then paused and turned around, moving close enough where Vivian could count individual eyelashes as the woman sneered, “Don’t even think about going to him unless you want your beloved boyfriend to die for it.”

“I’m aware, but what are we going to do to make sure that Lee Harvey Oswald doesn’t get cold feet?”

Dorothy grinned again and Vivian followed the woman as she opened the door to the room holding Bucky as she announced, “Oh, don’t worry about that. We’ve already reassured Oswald that he’ll never make it to trial.”

“That’s not an answer to my question—”

“He. Will. Never. Make. It. To. Trial. We already assigned an undercover agent to assure of that. Understand?”

Vivian nodded, but then grit her teeth as Dorothy gripped her by her jaw and snapped, “Say it.”

“I understand,” she bit out before keeping her face passive as the woman let go and turned around. The tiny nicks in her face had surely healed as the nails were removed, but it still stung. She didn’t dare reach up and wipe off any of the pinpricks of blood until the woman was fully turned around though. She wasn’t sure who’d given Dorothy Underwood the idea to sharpen her nails, but Vivian really wanted to give them a piece of her mind. None of it mattered though since he had to wear a mask in the room during the awakening and brainwashing procedures.

“Wake him up.”

It took all of Vivian’s restraint to not run to the chamber as it was opened, revealing Bucky as he was slowly woken up, Zola watching eagerly while Dorothy stood back. They never gave him more time than was absolutely necessary though and he stumbled out, falling to his knees hard before he was dragged up by a couple of agents. They went through the motion of checking his health and going through the motions of maintaining his hygiene while he was still disoriented before pushing him into the chair, hair still wet from the quick, rough shower.

Vivian ignored everything else as she stared directly at Bucky. She had to dig her fingernails into her hands so deeply that she drew blood as she forced herself to not go to him. If she went to him, it would only cause him more pain, and he already looked consumed by his suffering. His shoulders were raised and he was edging dangerously close to hyperventilating. His eyes darted around the room, the pupils huge, almost enveloping the irises all together as he kept watch. That combined with the way his teeth were damn near bared, and his muscles flexed throughout his arms and hands, he was almost unrecognizable. He looked feral. Within seconds though, after an IV filled with drugs was placed into his hand, he leaned back and let a bit get placed into his mouth.

The fight drained from his body just as quickly, but the hyperventilating got worse, his hands restrained and gripping the chair tightly as the face plates moved down. She could vaguely hear the countdown before he was shocked. Vivian wasn’t anywhere near him, but it was like she could feel the currents running through her own body. She couldn’t stop herself from moving forward as he screamed, but then found herself gripped tightly by Dorothy as the woman whispered, “How many times do you think Barnes will suffer for you? Look at him. Convulsing. Screaming. You did that to him. If you’d been stronger, he would have never been used. It’d be you over there instead.”

Vivian wanted to close her eyes, to scream and sob, but she refused to let herself. She could feel the scream scratching and clawing at the back of her throat, desperate to get out, but she kept her jaw firmly snapped shut. Tears welled up in her eyes and she held them back as long as possible, barely blinking as she waited for the whole ugly procedure to just end. Once the shocks subsided and Bucky’s body went limp, Vivian was released and her hands relaxed. Her hands were covered in blood, but the wounds were already healed. Her limbs shook though as she kept herself upright, never once looking away from Bucky as he stared blankly at Zola.

She could hear Zola coughing to the point of heaving, could see him waving off the help of soldiers before he cleared his throat and began saying the trigger sequence as Bucky looked on.

Longing. Bucky twitched and looked close to tears. Rusted. Bucky’s body tensed, his muscles preparing for a fight that his mind surely couldn’t remember. Seventeen. Bucky shook his head and glanced around, his eyes frantic for something Vivian couldn’t name. Daybreak. Bucky’s body jerked, his arms still tightly bound to the chair as he struggled to free himself. Furnace. A snarl escaped Bucky before dying on his lips.

Nine. Bucky’s body went slack, but his eyes still frantically searched. Benign. His expression went blank and his breathing evened out. Homecoming. It was like staring at a broken doll as his head lulled back against the seat, eyes staring unseeing up at the ceiling. One. He was completely still and for a moment Vivian worried that his heart had given up completely. Freight car.

The man’s head slowly glanced forward and Vivian felt a chill up her spine. That wasn’t Bucky. That wasn’t her Bucky. No, that was some oddity, some alien entity controlling his body like a marionette.

Ready to comply.”

“The world needs you once more. We have a mission for you, one that will save the world. Your target is to be eliminated. You will not miss.”

“I will not miss.”

Vivian winced as she was tugged to the side, but then was shocked as the mask was pulled from her face and Dorothy aggressively wiped her face with a wet cloth. Accepting it once it was tossed at her, she wiped the blood off of her hands and then became even more confused as was pointed to a couple of casually chatting women while Dorothy ordered, “You’ll need a disguise for this mission. We can’t have a masked woman walking around Dallas. You’ll draw too much attention.”

Glancing over her shoulder to where Bucky was being dressed in a suit, Vivian grit her teeth and headed over, keeping an eye on Bucky the entire time her make-up and hair were done. Her hair was gathered up and plastered down with a cap before they did her make-up. By the time they were done, she looked like a completely different person. The angles in her face looked sharper, her lips looked fuller, her eyebrows looked different and she put the contact lenses in. Her eyes were a dark brown and the wig placed upon her head was so dark brown that it was almost black.

“Excellent. Let’s get going. You have a flight to catch.”

Accepting the fake credentials, Vivian then headed over to the soldier’s side, glancing up into those vacant eyes and for a moment she hoped that some sort of recognition would be there. A spark, at least, but there was nothing. They remained vacant and he promptly turned away from her to walk toward the jet. Following him, she kept pace before sitting in the plane and shivering. It was still dark out, but it had to be if they were going to make it in time for the event. The soldier was strapped into a special seat on the plane and left to ‘rest’ on their way while Vivian sat next to Dorothy, who squeezed her hand and simpered, “Smile. You’re about to change the world.”

Vivian scoffed, “Never expected you to buy into the company line this much. Thought you had more backbone than that, but I guess I was wrong.”

“I grew up and I saw the truth.”

“Oh, the truth?” Vivian laughed. “Is that what we’re calling this, Leviathan? You wouldn’t know the truth if it stabbed you in the face.”

“The saying is hit you in the face,” Dorothy bit out.

Vivian shook her head and smirked before taunting, “Is it? I think I like my ending for you a lot better.”

“That’s never going to happen.”

“Pretty sure my mother thought the same thing until the organization had me slit her throat. You were part of that plot, remember? And you know what they say. What comes around, goes around, and then kills you.”

“Zola and Fennhoff trust me.”

“Zola and Fennhoff trusted my mother too, and they still had her killed. Did you know she was almost sixty-five years old? That’s practically ancient for a hydra agent. You just turned, what? Thirty-six? I wonder if you’ll make it to forty. You sure as hell won’t outlive Madame Hydra. Maybe they’ll even have me be the one to kill you.”

Dorothy stood up and glared before snapping, “I will kill your pet if you even think about stepping even the slightest bit out of line. Is that clear?”

“Crystal.”

Vivian took a deep breath and then headed back to where the soldier was sitting, his head hanging forward with his hair swaying around his face as the plane moved. His eyes were closed and his breathing was slow and even. Unable to stop herself, she reached over and gently pushed his hair behind his ears while whispering, “I’m sorry.”

The soldier didn’t budge and Vivian leaned back, sitting on the ground and found herself just staring at him. He was beautiful and tragic, like a figure out of a renaissance painting. His long eyelashes were like soft feathers against his cheeks and his soft, full lips parted periodically as he’d take a deep breath. Unable to stop herself, she reached out and stroked his cheek, shivering as she touched the soft, surprisingly soft facial hair growing in. The soldier tilted his head up as she touched his jaw and he stared into her eyes. She wanted to look away from the blank stare, but found that she couldn’t. It was like they were trapped in this staring contest as her hand fell to her side.

They sat that way until it was announced that the plane was preparing to land. She headed back to her seat and strapped in, feeling the soldier’s eyes on her the entire time. She instead focused on Dorothy herself as the woman announced, “As soon as we land, you’ll rendezvous with Oswald at the Texas School Book Depository. He will provide the weapon the Winter Soldier will use to kill the president while keeping watch. You are under no circumstances to be seen. Your false identification is a backup plan, not the goal. Stay hidden. Once the job is done, you and the soldier will meet me back at the extraction point. Don’t be late.”

Vivian nodded and closed her eyes as the plane descended, her ears popping almost violently from the rapid change in pressure. Shaking her head, she forced herself to breathe evenly while also reminding herself to not look back at the soldier, no matter how much she wanted to do so. Luckily the landing didn’t take too long, and once she stood up, she caught the keys tossed to her and grit her teeth as Dorothy taunted, “Remember, I can kill your pet at any time.”

“We have a job to do. Soldier, let’s go.”

Heading off the plane and flipping off the pilot and Dorothy as she did so, Vivian then headed over to the car and got into the driver’s seat, glancing over as the soldier sat in the passenger with a frown on his face.

“The mission will be over soon enough.”

Vivian knew she was talking to herself more than she was talking to the soldier. Every time she spoke, a flash of confusion seemed to pass through his expression, but then he always shook it off. Focusing on the task at hand, she made sure to take as many of the back ways to the location as possible. Traffic was still elevated due to the planned events of the day, and Vivian wanted to pull some seriously illegal stunts to get through traffic faster, but she knew that would only draw attention to them. And she couldn’t do that. The second it got back to Dorothy that they’d been made, Dorothy would flip a switch and then there’d be nothing left of Bucky. There’d be no bringing him back from that.

Parking a slight discreet distance away, Vivian slipped on sunglasses and then handed some to the soldier before leading him up to the back of the building where Oswald was already waiting. Nodding to him, she followed him up to an empty room and then sat down once the door shut and locked. Pulling out a watch, she checked the time before glancing over at the soldier who had gone to the bag in the middle of the room and began emptying it of its contents. The rifle was inside along with cleaning supplies. She watched him carefully and meticulously clean every aspect of the gun, both hands covered with gloves to prevent a single fingerprint from showing up on the weapon.

It was amazing though, seeing the soldier do a task like that, do a task that Bucky had been the one to learn how to do. Bucky had been the one to know rifles. Bucky had been the one who’d been obsessive about the cleanliness of his weapons.

Soldier who doesn’t keep his goddamn gun clean is a dead soldier, Viv. All it takes is your weapon jamming once for even someone as fucking pathetic as a Nazi to get the upper hand. And once that happens, it’s over. Either you die or some punk dumb enough to trust you in the first place dies for you.

Snapping out of her thoughts as the soldier reassembled the gun before pulling off his suit jacket, she watched as he pulled the glove off of his metal hand and then flexed it before taking off the button up as well. He had a light vest made of the newest protective material on and she found herself watching the plates in that metal arm shift every time he moved. The soldier never flinched or seemed to notice is peculiarity at all, but it made sense. They hadn’t programmed him with a curiosity beyond knowing what his orders were.

She could still remember Bucky flinching every time he woke to that arm though, the way he’d frequently just refuse to touch her with it at all. Vivian didn’t particularly care about who made the arm since it was Bucky’s arm. The only thing she cared about was the dangerous explosive inside of it as well as the tracker. Those were the things keeping her from just taking Bucky and running, getting him to safety. The only thing stopping her from going to Howard Stark or Peggy Carter and throwing herself on their mercy, begging them to help him.

The door opened behind Vivian and she banished her thoughts, sending them far, far away as she focused on the mission. She didn’t glance away from Bucky though as she spoke up, “Is it time?”

Oswald cleared his throat and Vivian glanced back at him, mildly amused by his anxious behavior as he merely nodded. Standing up, she headed out of the room and knew the soldier would follow. Moving over to the window, she smiled at the hole in the window. It was perfect for the rifle to rest in while the soldier took the shots. The soldier joined her, casually handing over a pair of binoculars. Taking them, she started surveying the crowd, keeping an eye for any unusual additions to the festivities.

Everything seemed normal though. It was a nice, sunny day in Dallas, Texas, and people were understandably excited. The president of the United States of America was going to visit them. People were going to be close to the president. Some of them would even get to shake their hands. It was supposed to be a joyous event that they would tell their children and grandchildren about for years to come.

Thanks to her, they’d have quite a different story to tell.

Checking her watch again and frowning as the she saw the president was running slightly late, she kept an eye on the turn and then took a deep breath as she saw the car beginning to come toward them. A shift in the soldier’s stance told her that he’d spotted the target as well. After that, it was a few moments before she winced at the sound of the gun firing. She gaped though when she realized the shot had missed the president entirely. Turning toward the soldier, she saw that he was gritting his teeth and hissing, “Interference.”

The soldier aimed and fired again though, this time hitting his target, though his entire body strained and trembled as he did it. It wasn’t a kill shot though, nowhere near the soldier’s usual work and she quickly found the reason as she spotted the infamous Erik Lehnsherr standing on a grassy knoll, his arm outstretched. Moving over, Vivian carefully helped steady the soldier, gritting her teeth as the arm kept getting pushed away. Finally the last shot was taken and Vivian’s ears rang, the eardrum surely damaged for at least a few hours.

The screams outside confirmed the kill for her, but she took her binoculars and looked down to where the car had been surrounded by men. The president was surely dead though, or as good as dead anyway from the amount of blood and the gaping wound in his skull. Focusing back on Erik though, part of her felt awful as she saw him being restrained and ushered away quietly while the crowd ran from the scene.

“Time to go.”

Glancing back, she saw the soldier putting his button up and jacket back on before quickly putting on gloves. Grabbing her sunglasses, she headed over and looped her arms with his before they quickly headed out of the building, leaving Oswald to take care of the weapon. Her hearing had gotten better by the time they’d exited the building, which meant she could hear the beginnings of an approaching search. Tugging the soldier along with her quietly and quickly, she ducked past cameras and people to get back into the car and then drove off.

The radio in the car quickly informed her of what she already knew, that the president had been shot and that FBI in tandem with the secret service were searching the building that the shots had originated from. The soldier was tense in the passenger seat, and Vivian turned down the volume on the radio before questioning, “Are you okay?”

“Something…something moved my arm. Tried to control the gun.”

“Yeah. The guy could control metal. It’s his specialty. I’m sorry. I should have paid closer attention while I was looking at the people outside. I should have spotted him before he could do anything.” Rubbing a hand over her face, she then whispered, “Should have used my abilities on him. Should have shoved him away.”

“If you could, then why wouldn't you?”

Gripping the steering wheel tightly, she confessed, “Because then he’d know another mutant was there. He would have come looking. He would have told someone. It was…it was too much of a risk. This way, he thinks the shooter was a regular human. He’ll believe the story of Oswald. He’ll think he’ll failed to stop the assassination. He’ll think he was interacting with the gun and the bullet. He won’t know we were here.”

The soldier went quiet and they sat in silence for the rest of the drive. Traffic meant they were barely creeping along, the heat beating down on them despite the attempts by the fans in the car to cool them down. The soldier looked like he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, but all he did was periodically shift in his seat.

Finally, after hours in bumper to bumper traffic, they were able to pull off onto their exit. Getting to the extraction point was easy after that and she parked, heading up to the stupid motel room with the soldier at her heels. Once she reached the room, she locked the door behind them before heading over to the window, opening it up and placing the flowers from the room in the windowsill. A signal to Dorothy that they were ready to go.

“All right. Should be only a matter of a couple hours before Leviathan comes back to extract us. Should be back in the compound before nightfall.”

Turning around, Vivian frowned as she found herself staring directly at the soldier’s chest. Glancing up at his face, she was even more surprised as he stared at her intently, his hands twitching until he reached up and gently pulled her wig off. His breathing was increasing and she bit her bottom lip as he then slipped the cap off and ran his fingers through her now disheveled blonde hair. His metal hand was by his side as his other hand carded through her hair, gently untangling it as he whispered, almost as if he wasn’t sure himself, “I knew your hair was blonde. How did I know your hair was blonde?”

“Soldier…” The word came out choked and Vivian swallowed hard as the man crowded her against the wall while he ran his fingers along her jaw. He seemed transfixed and then he pressed his forehead to hers, his eyes closed as he ran his thumb over her bottom lip.

“Your eyes are blue.”

“Soldier…”

“I know you.” His eyes opened and Vivian blinked back tears as he whispered, sounding confused and upset, “I know your voice, but you don’t…you don’t look…”

“I’m sorry.”

The words came out choked and Vivian squeezed her eyes shut as he pulled her into the bathroom before wiping her face with a washcloth. She could feel the make-up coming off her face and she tried to pull away, but the soldier kept going until he froze and whispered, “Vivian. Your name is Vivian.”

Opening her eyes, Vivian pulled out the contacts and put them in a case in her pocket while whispering, “You’re going to get us into trouble.”

You’re Vivian.”

The soldier’s voice had been damn near breathless before he’d leaned in close, his lips frantically pushing against hers. For a moment, she kissed back, but then pushed him back. Gripping at her hair, she groaned under her breath, taking a step back as he took a step forward. Glancing up at him, she announced, “No. We can’t.”

The soldier looked torn, confused, and she headed out of the bathroom and paced before saying out loud, unsure which of them she was talking to as she tugged at her own hair, “You don’t know me right now, Soldier. You know my name and nothing else. You don’t even know who you are. Hell, we’re going to be taken back at any moment. If they catch—”

Vivian’s voice cracked and she felt a lump fill her throat as nausea threatened to tip her over completely. Shaking her head, she bit at her thumbnail before confessing, “If they catch us like that, they will hurt you.”

“But I know you.”

“Bu—” Vivian stopped herself and took a deep breath, staring deeply into those sad blue eyes as she whispered, “I know you do. Just like I know you better than I know myself, but we can’t.”

The man wasn’t quite the soldier, not quite Bucky either, and she found herself backing up against the wall, her head tilting back as his hand gently traced her neck. Inhaling sharply, she shivered as he leaned close, the tip of his nose brushing against her jawline as he whispered, “Vivian.”

“Bucky, please, we’ll get in trouble.”

He froze and Vivian started to move when he gently gripped her hand while his metal hand pressed against the wall. Pausing, she bit her bottom lip hard as he raised his head up, staring deep into her eyes as he whispered, “Am I Bucky?”

She nodded and he moved his hand from hers to gently rub his thumb against her bottom lip, pulling it out from between her teeth as he whispered, “Just tell me the truth.”

Vivian wanted to deny it, but found herself instead nodding and whispering, “Yes. Your name is James Buchanan Barnes. I was supposed to protect you, and I failed. And right now, we’re waiting for one of our captors to come take us back to our prison cells.”

“I don’t want to go back.”

Vivian glanced up at the ceiling before whispering, “I don’t either, but if we don’t, you’ll die. And I can’t lose you. I won’t lose you.”

The knocking on the door had Vivian wiping away tears and she shoved the wig into the bag hidden in the room along with the contact lenses as she continued, “You need to pretend you’re not waking up. If Dorothy suspects anything, they’ll electrocute you again.”

“Viv…”

Moving over, Vivian pulled Bucky close and kissed him, relishing in the moment, dragging it out until the knocks got more insistent. Ending the kiss, she pressed her forehead to his while whispering, “I don’t deserve your trust, but just please do as I ask.”

He nodded and Vivian nodded over to the bed and said, “Stare at the wall. Pretend you’ve been zoning out for however long we’ve been here.”

Bucky did as he was asked and Vivian answered the door, smiling brightly as Dorothy glared before coming in. Once the door was shut, the woman snapped, “Both of you, on the plane. Now. We don’t have time for a debrief right now, but Hecate? Don’t you think for a second this is over.”

Following after Dorothy with Bucky by her side, Vivian sighed, “It never is.”

Chapter Text

Bucky’s hands trembled as he headed onto the plane behind Vivian and Dorothy. Even when he was standing still, he felt like his entire body was swaying and rocking. It was like he was sliding and slipping right out of his own skin. He wanted to shake his head, to grip at his nose, but he kept his head straight forward and allowed himself to be strapped back down into his chair. His hands clung to the straps and he closed his eyes.

“Shhh…someone’s going to hear us.”

“Let them hear. I want all of New York, hell, I want everyone in the whole damn country to know that I’ve got the sweetest dame with me.”

“Just with you? Who’ve you got in the sidelines, Barnes?”

Opening his eyes and breathing sharply through his nose, Bucky let the breath out softly through his mouth as he glanced over at Vivian. Images kept slipping into his mind, whispered words, and gentle touches. That would be fine enough, a warm sensation on his soul if it weren’t for the other images, the ones soaked in blood. His hands covered in it. The sounds of screams in the night. The skull of the president shattering before his very eyes.

Leaving a friend to die in his own home.

“What happened? How could you screw up so badly?”

Vivian sneered as she snapped, “It wasn’t my goddamn job to make sure Magneto wasn’t there. That was on you. That was your If Zola and Fennhoff are going to blame anyone, it won’t be me. You were supposed to scout ahead and eliminate any threats. You didn’t. I adjusted, and I made sure the target was eliminated. We then left, and I’m over 90% certain that we weren’t seen anywhere near the incident. In case I was wrong, I changed out of my disguise after we got to the hotel, because if there was even a glimpse of a brunette on anyone’s footage, then no one would be the wiser.”

“It was an unnecessary risk. What if he’d recognized you?”

Vivian didn’t even blink as she lied expertly, “What if he recognized me? You’re embarrassing yourself. You’ve all ripped him apart, and then stitched him back into a puppet for you to play with, a man who has no identity, and you think he’d remember me? He doesn’t even remember himself.”

“You always remembered him.”

“I’m a mutant. That’s the only reason why.”

“You better be right.”

Meeting Vivian’s gaze while his teeth clenched tightly, grinding in frustration, he closed his eyes again as she looked away before replying, “Do you ever get tired of being so insufferably wrong all the time? Even Schmidt got bored of it eventually. Although you still have time to be better than Ophelia. She didn’t learn her lesson until she was bleeding to death on the concrete floor, and by then, she was in no position to implement her newfound knowledge.”

“You don’t fool me, Vivian. You can run around, acting like you’re invincible, but you forget. I’ve seen you. All this attitude? Your idle threats? They’re all just distractions to stop anyone from seeing that the only thing you are is a weak, besotted idiot. You’re a pathetic lamb who will willingly walk into slaughter just for the slimmest hope of protecting a man who most certainly stopped loving you years ago. After all, you can’t possibly be worth this much effort or this much suffering.”

Bucky bit down so hard on his cheek that it bled, the metallic taste filling his senses as his hands shook. He clenched his metal hand, having to release the arm of the chair before it broke. His blood was pumping in his ears and he wanted to scream over to Vivian to not believe this woman, that none of it was true.

“What makes you angrier, Dorothy, the idea that he still loves me despite our circumstances or the fact that no one has ever loved you like that even for a second?”

He hadn’t been able to stop his lips from curving as a deep well of pride filled him and the words atta girl, Viv were on his lips, a millisecond from escaping before he clamped down on those words and that feeling. It wasn’t safe to let her know just yet, wasn’t safe to explore why hearing her tell someone off felt so damn familiar or why he was so proud of her for doing it. And then the sharp sound of a slap interrupted his thoughts entirely and filled his vision with red.

Vivian’s face was turned to the side, color filling her cheek from the impact, but otherwise she remained perfectly still. Dorothy, on the other hand, was shaking, and several beats of quiet passed through them, the only sound being Dorothy’s panting breaths. Even from that distance, Bucky could tell her eyes were wild.

“Never speak to me like that again.”

Bucky released a breath quietly, sighing with relief as his pulse slowed. Dorothy got up and muttered something under her breath before heading up to the cockpit. Once the door between the two areas closed, Bucky smiled softly as Vivian quickly got out of her seat. As soon as she was by his side, he gently stroked her cheek, the color of it already back to normal as he whispered, “Doll…”

“Hey, it’s okay. It was just a slap.”

“But the look in her eyes—”

Vivian shrugged, and Bucky frowned as she grinned, “Not the first time a Hydra agent has looked at me like that to be honest. I tend to get on their nerves, to put it lightly.”

“You’ve gotta be more careful. If you don’t, they’ll…” Bucky’s voice cut off and he frowned, his brows furrowing together as he struggled to piece together exactly what would happen. All he knew was that it was dangerous. It was all so terribly dangerous, and he was scared, terrified even, of the thing he couldn’t quite place a name to. Of this group he knew but didn’t know who’d had him kill a president.

“You’re right, baby, and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have stooped to her level. I shouldn’t have—”

“She was wrong. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

Vivian went quiet and Bucky shifted in his seat somewhat before taking a deep breath and explaining, “I don’t—I don’t remember everything. My head aches, and it’s like everything’s being shoved through a sieve. I get bits and pieces. Fragments of who I was, who I am. You’re there. Things I’ve done are there. More of you than me. The memories of you are just brighter. Same with Steve. And I know, deep in my core, that I’ve always loved you. Everything in me seems to know you and trust you. Every fiber of my being. And then I realize I don’t remember your birthday, and I don’t remember if we ever argued. I don’t remember how I got here. I know that man was the president, but I don’t know his name. I don’t know what year it is. Viv…”

Vivian shushed him and leaned up, pressing her forehead to his, a shine to her gaze as she whispered, “I know, baby. I know. And I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry about all of this. If I could, I would take you away from all of this, and I would explain everything, but we don’t have time. And I know this is so hard for you, but you’ve got to keep pretending like you’re still the soldier.”

“It’s hard. When she hit you—”

“I know things like that are hard for you to see, but I can handle it. I was designed to heal from a lot worse than that. I have healed from much worse than that. Being slapped was absolutely nothing.”

“You should never have gotten used to people hurting you, Viv. That should have never happened. Why didn’t I keep you safe from it? I don’t understand. Where was I—”

“Shhh, don’t talk like that. You do me keep safe, okay? And you’ve done everything in your power to keep me safe from the day we met. Sometimes too much, so right now, the way you’re going to keep me safe is to promise me that you’ll keep pretending to be the soldier.”

Bucky frowned before whispering, “I promise.”

Vivian sighed with relief, and Bucky could practically feel her relief. It was palpable in her expression, and he told himself to focus on the soldier, to try and recall all the rules. He didn’t want to focus on that man, but it was for Vivian. She needed this from him, needed to be safe, and he understood.

“One day, I’ll get us out of this. You and me, Doll. We’ll bring this whole damn organization to its knees.”

Vivian nodded, and Bucky leaned close, pressing a soft kiss to her lips. He could feel her shaking, and he pulled back, blinking back tears as she whispered, “I believe in you, James Buchanan Barnes. I’ve always believed in you, and I always will.”

A grin spread across his face as he realized what a gift she’d given him. His full name. It was like another door in his head had been unlocked and he smiled as she wiped away his tears, staring up into her eyes as he whispered, “Anyone ever tell you that you’re too good for some punk from Brooklyn?”

“Yeah,” Vivian whispered as she gently pushed hair behind his ears, “But I always ignored him. You see, that very punk may have been far too good for the likes of me, but he had a couple screws loose. He never did realize how important he was. A specific sort of blindness.”

“Maybe he was just blinded by you. You shine like the sun, doll.”

Vivian rolled her eyes and shook her head while whispering, “That’d be you, handsome.”

Bucky smiled at that, but then Vivian froze and glanced up, moving quickly back over to her seat. By the time the door to the cockpit opened and Dorothy walked back through, it was like Vivian had never moved at all. He forced himself to stay faced forward and kept his face passive.

“Captain says we’ll be landing soon. We have an update as soon as we land.”

Out of the corner of Bucky’s eye, he could see Vivian responding to the news with a thumbs up while responding, “Great.”

“Do you know what they’re going to say in this meeting, Hecate?”

“Considering I’ve been on a plane with you and before then I was in Texas, I’m going to give you one guess.”

“Yes or no.”

“I said one guess. That’s two. You’re both bad at guessing and at counting.”

“Answer the question.”

“It wasn’t supposed to be a stumper, but sure, I’ll answer. The answer is no. I don’t magically or mysteriously know about what’s going to be told to us in a meeting miles away from us that hasn’t happened yet.”

“Don’t get smart with me.”

Then don’t be stupid. You know more than I do. I told you how every step of the mission went down.”

“We’ll see if that’s the case. If you lied to me, then there will be—”

“Consequences,” they both said at the same time before Vivian sighed, “Yeah, I know how this works. I had my brain damaged one lobe at a time, just like everyone else.”

“You think you’re so cute.”

“That’s not usually the adjective people describe me with, but I’ll take it.”

“I will find out what you’re hiding.”

“Cool, so you’ll find out nothing.”

Before the conversation could continue, the plane began to start its descent, causing Bucky to grip the arms tightly. For a moment, a dark, awful part of his brain wished he was still the soldier, just for the landing. After all, the soldier didn’t have fears. The soldier didn’t have concerns. The soldier didn’t have nightmares about a blonde soldier crashing a plane into the arctic.

The soldier didn’t care about anything at all.

Once the plane landed, Bucky waited patiently until Dorothy glanced over her shoulder and called out, “Follow.”

Unbuckling himself and then standing up, Bucky tried his best to mimic the vacant stare of the soldier and just walk with his back straight. His footsteps felt heavier, almost clunky, and he hated walking like this, hated doing all of it, but he did as he was told. He expected to be put back into the cryo chamber, to feel that icy death again, but then they walked past the room.

His heart raced as he realized he was going to have to get through an entire meeting as The Winter Soldier. He’d have to pretend to just be gone. Digging through what memories he did have, he tried to figure out the rules and the lies he’d have to adhere to as the door to the room opened, and then he was led over to a chair. Vivian was placed in a chair across the table from him, and there was a file on the table.

“Did you make any detours on your mission?”

“No,” Vivian answered tightly.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Then explain this.”

The file was flipped open and slid across the table between them. Images of the man that had tried to stop him from shooting the president was there. Glancing over at Vivian, he swallowed hard as she questioned, “Those are photos of Erik Lehnsherr. So what?”

“He wasn’t captured.”

“What does that have to do with me?”

“You helped him escape.”

It took all of Bucky’s concentration to not react, especially as Vivian shook her head, “I swear. I didn’t help him. I didn’t even see him until he was interfering with the assassination, and then the last I saw of him was him getting arrested. I thought he was in the custody of the secret service or the FBI or the Dallas police or someone. I never interacted with him. I left the weapon with Oswald, and then I made sure the Soldier and I were gone before the authorities were there.”

Dorothy scoffed, “You expect me to believe that? You expect me to believe you didn’t help out one of the world’s most powerful mutants?”

“If I had, I wouldn’t be here, Leviathan. Also, you just said he’s one of the most powerful mutants. He controls metal. He didn’t need my help to escape.”

“Soldier, is she telling the truth?”

Keeping his gaze blank, Bucky kept his voice as flat as possible as he answered, “Yes, Leviathan.”

“She never had any contact with the mutant known as Magneto?”

“No.”

“List the people you encountered today other than myself and Hecate.”

“Oswald, Lee Harvey. Contact provided weaponry and access.”

“And?”

“No other contact was initiated.”

“Did you see Erik Lehnsherr on the scene?”

“Yes. Target in question was spotted during the assassination. Target became a threat. Hecate was required to steady the gun so the mission could be completed.”

“Did she approach the target?”

“No.”

“Did she interact with the target?”

“No.”

“Did she say anything about the target?”

“She said she could not use her powers on the target due to the fact that the target would then know another mutant was present. Hecate said that was not an option.”

“And after the mission was complete?”

“Hecate obtained a getaway vehicle and we went to the rendezvous point.”

“There were no stops?”

“None.”

Glancing up into Vivian’s eyes as Dorothy paced, Bucky swallowed hard as Vivian questioned, “Are you done now? We answered all your questions. And you know the Soldier can’t lie. He’s not programmed with that ability.”

For several minutes, they sat there, Bucky with his back ramrod straight and facing forward while Vivian sat slightly slouched and Dorothy paced the room. As a sniper, Bucky did have the ability to just sit still for hours on end, watching the enemy and preparing to take that fatal shot, but something about being in that room put him on edge. Something about Dorothy put him on edge. There was a look in her eyes. A wild look. He’d seen it in soldiers before they’d snapped. Some lashed out at others. Some ate their own gun.

“Soldier, stand.”

Doing as he was told, Bucky breathed evenly, staring straight ahead as Dorothy came over and ran a fingernail along his jawline. He merely blinked, but he wanted to flinch. Dorothy didn’t seem pleased though as she demanded, “Take this knife.”

Bucky did as he was told, holding it firmly in his hand and then he waited. Dorothy circled him, looking like a vulture eying an animal on its last legs. A maniacal grin was on her face and then he knew why as she commanded, “Take that knife and stab yourself.”

Turning the knife toward himself, Bucky pressed the blade against his stomach and took a deep breath, preparing to stab himself only before he could, a knife was pressed against his throat as Dorothy snapped, “I knew it. You’re awake.”

Glancing over at Dorothy, Bucky glared before snapping, “Seems like you’re not as dumb as you look.”

“Let him go, Dorothy.”

Glancing over at Vivian as she slowly stood up, Bucky winced as the knife nicked the skin on his throat ever so slightly, a trickle of blood dripping down his chest as Dorothy sneered, “Why should I? I have all the proof I need with him. All the proof in the world that you’re too dangerous to keep around.”

“You’re right. You do. You see, Bucky’s brain heals, but more importantly, he loves me. He loves me, and you can’t actually take the people he loves away from him. The connections in him are too strong. He’ll never be the soldier or the assassin they want him to be. I made sure of that.”

“I’ll tell. Zola and Fennhoff will never forgive you. They’ll kill him and then they’ll kill you. They’ll—”

“Actually, they’re going to be very excited when I tell them about how I killed you for trying to destroy their perfect soldier. I’m going to tell them that you tried to get me to betray Hydra—”

“No.”

“That you tried to get me to go to another mutant—”

No.”

“That you tried to steer me toward Erik. I didn’t even know about his existence until you pointed him out before the assassination, and then he was there. You already made that paper trail a reality, and you were really eager to know where he was. You’ve betrayed people before. It won’t be much of a stretch to believe you tried to betray them. After all, it’s in your nature.”

Dorothy’s hand was shaking and the knife pressed a little harder against his throat, more blood trickling out as Vivian approached. Bucky couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Vivian with a look like that in her eyes. A look of hatred. Before he could say anything though, suddenly the hand holding the hand holding the knife snapped back, the wrist snapping. The sound was loud in the room and Bucky shoved Dorothy aside before speaking lowly, “Viv, we don’t have to kill her.”

“Except we do, Buck. She’s right. If they come in and they find out you’re awake, that I can wake you up at any time? They’ll kill you. They’ll destroy you, and I can’t deal with that. I can’t let them hurt you. Besides, this is what she deserves.”

The sound of choking filled the room, and Bucky glanced down to see Dorothy clawing at her throat, trying to remove hands that weren’t actually there. Her body slid across the floor and then she was upright. Vivian’s hand relaxed by her side and Dorothy coughed and choked, her face bright red and angry tears streaming down her face.

Bucky watched as Vivian pressed her forehead to Dorothy’s, confused as she then pressed her lips hard to the other woman’s. It was an aggressive kiss, the lipstick smearing and Dorothy’s movement seeming torn between escape and pulling Vivian close before she was shoved back. A sadistic grin spread across Vivian’s face and Bucky was stunned as his girlfriend said, “Say hello to my mother for me.”

With a twist of Vivian’s hand, a sickening crack filled the air and then Dorothy crumpled to the ground, her spine snapped so violently that her neck had a bulge in it. Her eyes were glassy and Bucky glanced furtively over at Vivian before questioning, “What do we do? Viv. What are we going to do?”

“It’s not safe to escape yet. Hydra has too much power. By now their reach in the government is downright horrifying. I honestly don’t know of a single country where there isn’t a strong hydra presence already.”

“So we stay?”

“We don’t have a choice. They upgrade that fucking bomb in your arm every chance they get, and I don’t know how to remove it. All they let me know is that it’s there along with a tracking device. I’m working on getting close to figure out where in the documentation is the information about how to disconnect everything, but so far the person in charge of that information is Zola, and he doesn’t trust me. There’s no way to get him to trust me. I fucked up on that route. He didn’t used to have control over it. I thought it was part of the regular operating information available to agents above a certain level at one point, but it’s not.”

Bucky rubbed his hands across his face and then whispered, “I’m sorry, Viv.”

Vivian scoffed, “It’s not your fault. It’s mine. But I’m going to make this right, and I’m going to protect you every step of the way. I promise.”

Moving across the room, Bucky gently wiped the smudged lipstick off of Vivian’s face before kissing her gently, his fingers threading with her hair. The kiss ended as Vivian’s hands tilted his chin up as she looked at the nicks on his throat. Gently cupping her face in his hand, he whispered, “It’s just a scratch.”

“Should have never even gotten that far.”

“I’ll be okay. I’ve got you.”

She nodded and Bucky smiled softly as she pointed out, “You’re actually handling all of this better than I thought you would.”

He winced and shrugged before admitting, “I’m not, but…I assassinated the president of the United States hours ago, and I can remember more and more deaths. Both before Hydra and after Hydra. I don’t know. I just…I’m getting things back in pieces. And right now what I’m thinking about is that time Steve got really sick. Really sick. We all thought he’d die, but we decided not to worry him, so we just acted like everything was fine. Just acted like we weren’t screaming inside. I guess that’s what I’m doing now. And I think that’s what you’ve been doing since long before I met you. We were right there and you were just screaming and I just keep wondering. Have you ever actually been happy?”

“Yes, when I was with you and Steve. That was real. I swear. I swear on Sarah Rogers’ grave that every moment we had was real, and it was Heaven.”

Nodding, Bucky gently tucked some hair behind Vivian’s ear and whispered, “We’re going to get out of this, Viv. I believe in you. I believe in us. Remember that.” Grasping her hand gently in his, he placed a kiss to her palm before pressing it to his chest and then whispering, “I never really forget you, Viv, and I’m never gonna leave you.”

Chapter Text

41.

42.

43.

44.

45.

The ticking of the clock was relentless, a barely audible click emanating from the clock that had been installed in her wall. The whole thing was hidden beneath thick glass, but somehow the sound kept coming into the room, kept getting to her as each plastic number flipped over. The date was in a separate window in the wall, an LED fixture with the date in a blinding red. Even with all the lights completely off, that damn light still shone brightly.

It was all punishment. Punishment for killing Hydra’s most promising agent. Punishment for getting in the way one too many times. Punishment for not following the rules.

Those days felt like a fog though and she rubbed at her face while struggling to remember the exact timeline. Biting at her cuticles, Vivian scratched at the back of her neck while muttering, “She tried to kill Bucky. I had no choice. I killed her. Agents showed up. They took Bucky and me away. Questioned us. Bucky got put back under. I…I got to stay with him. Then they put me here. It’s been…”

Vivian nervously twisted her hands together while struggling to focus on the math. The walls of the room around her were scratched. Blood stains were on some of the walls. She still had clean clothes, access to the bathroom, and a mattress. The door to her room had been replaced and now had a place where it could be opened. It was big enough for laundry or food to go through, but not her. Glancing back up at the date, Vivian whispered, “What was the date when I came in here? I can’t remember.”

“It was November 25th, 1963.”

Glancing back over at the door, Vivian placed her hands over her eyes and shook her head, willing the image to go away. The woman didn’t leave though and Vivian laughed, the sound just shy of hysterics as she whispered, “You’re dead. You died years ago.”

“True, but the same can be said for you, and you’re still here. Why shouldn’t I be allowed the same privilege?”

Vivian shook her head, “It’s not real. This is all in my head.”

“What difference does that make? Of course I’m in your head. That’s the place ghosts exist. You should know that better than anyone, Vivian.”

Vivian took deep, rattling breaths and then focused on the woman by the door. Tears filled her eyes and then slipped down her cheeks as she choked out, “I wanted to save you. I wanted to save you so badly, but I couldn’t. I don’t…”

“You don’t what? Don’t know how you could have? You know exactly how you could have. You could have been smarter, could have been better, could have helped out more. Then maybe I wouldn’t have taken so many shifts in the TB ward. Maybe I wouldn’t have caught it. Maybe you wouldn’t have had to tell Steve that his mother was dying.”

“Sarah…”

“Steve blamed you, you know. You were a nurse. You were supposed to be a superstar, and you let me die.”

Vivian shook her head, tugging nervously at her hair while whispering, “That’s not true. You took the shifts because you wanted to heal the sick. You would have always been in the ward, and then you hid your symptoms for so long. Too long. It was too late to help you. You were already too sick by the time you collapsed. Steve knows that.”

“Knows? Steve is dead. Another broken promise from a broken monster. You promised me you would protect him. You promised me you would take care of him. Is there a single promise in your life that you haven’t broken?”

Vivian shook her head, her voice shaking as she whispered, “I tried…I tried so hard to keep him safe. I didn’t know about the missiles. I didn’t know about the plane. I couldn’t help him.”

Sarah sneered, “Always an excuse with you, isn’t there? Never ready to just take responsibility for your own actions and your own failures. You could have gone to Steve that day in the factory. Could have escaped with him.”

“It was too much of a risk. Someone needed to open the exit. I couldn’t—”

“Liar.”

Backing up into the corner, Vivian hugged her knees to her chest as she glanced up. Sarah had disappeared, but Steve was there now, tall and healthy as he snapped, “You’re a liar. There was another way to open the exit.”

“I didn’t know about the secondary button until well after you were gone. I swear. I didn’t know. I’d only ever been told about the control center.”

“So you just gave up?”

“I did the only thing I could. I got you out.”

“No, you gave in, just like you always do. You’re pathetic.”

Steve, please don’t say that. Please.”

Vivian sobbed, her fingernails digging into her legs as Steve moved closer and sat on the bed, a frown on his face as he whispered, “Why not? Why not say what we both know? You had so many opportunities to escape this life and you never took them.”

I did take them. I ran away from Hydra. I made a new life with you and with Bucky. I wanted so badly to get away from Hydra. I just—”

Steve scoffed, “Another excuse. You were healthy and beautiful and you have powers. You had money. I managed to achieve my dreams when I was broke, underweight, and had a list of health problems as long as my arm. I stood up to bullies even when I was powerless. You cowered and hid from your problems, hoping what? That Hydra would just go away? Was that your big, grand plan back then?”

Vivian shook her head and whispered, “No! I don’t know. I did my best to take them out. I joined the war effort. I was a nurse. I saved lives. Then when I was captured, I—”

“Didn’t do everything you could then either, did you?”

Steve stayed firmly on his spot on the bed, but then from behind him strolled Bucky, looking like he had in Azzano, both of his arms folded across his chest. His uniform was dirty and torn. Frowning, Vivian whispered, “You’re not dead.”

Bucky scoffed, “Give the lady a prize! No, I’m not dead. Well, the Soldier isn’t dead. The soldier’s in cryo, right where you left him. Me? I might as well be dead. Soldier can never be me again, can he? You made sure of that.”

“I tried to protect you,” Vivian whispered weakly.

Protect me?” Bucky snarled, moving closer. Vivian flinched as he pressed his hands on the wall besides her head while he snapped, “You have powers! You can fight! You could have helped us escape!”

“We were outnumbered. Too many people would have died.”

Steve scoffed, and Bucky rolled his eyes before he laughed bitterly, “Coward. And what about those little masquerades?”

“What are you talking about?” Vivian frowned, “What masquerades?”

“The dying act, Vivian. You made me think you were dying. You made me desperate. You see, unlike you, I actually did something about it. I did something about the way my men were being treated. I did something about you dying. I stepped up, and I got you the medicine I thought you needed. Turns out, I should have just let you choke.”

Bucky, please…”

“He’s right, Viv. If he’d just left you like that, you would have been fine, and he wouldn’t have been experimented on.”

“Bucky would have died then. He wouldn’t have survived the fall from the train.”

“And I’m supposed to be grateful? Am I supposed to be fucking grateful that your blood turned me into a freak? Am I supposed to thank you that I’m dead and the only thing left is the Soldier?”

Vivian shoved away from the bed and ran into the bathroom, splashing her face with water, but when she glanced up to look into her reflection, Steve and Bucky were behind her. Gripping the sink tightly, she choked out, “That’s not true. The soldier’s not the only part that’s left. You’re still here, Bucky. You’re still you. You’re still in there. I know you’re still in there.”

“Maybe I should be grateful you didn’t help me more. With the kind of help you gave Barnes, who needs enemies? You would have ruined me in ways Hydra could never imagine.”

Turning toward Steve, Vivian shook her head, her breathing getting closer and closer to hyperventilating as she begged, “Please don’t say that. Steve, please. I never…I never wanted to hurt you.”

“And yet you still did. You let my mother die, and then you abandoned me.”

Covering her ears with her hands, Vivian crumpled to the ground, her eyes squeezed shut as she shook her head and rocked back and forth. Gripping tighter at her hair, she whispered, “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want to. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Steve. Bucky. Please.”

“Open your eyes.”

Shaking her head, Vivian choked and whispered, “You’re not there. None of it is real.” 

“You’ll turn your back on me again?”

Opening her eyes and staring up at Steve, Vivian lowered her hands, swallowing hard as she whispered, “I never turned my back on you, Steve. I never have, and I never will. I don’t know why I’m doing this to myself, but…I’d walk through Hell if it meant saving you. I just…please…I’m so tired. Steve, I’m so tired. None of this is what I wanted. This place. You being gone? Bucky being trapped? I didn’t want this.”

Vivian gasped as her left hand was slammed onto the bathroom floor. Bucky’s left hand was holding it down and she shook her head, struggling to pull away as Bucky whispered, “Trapped? You think I’m just trapped? I was trapped in Azzano. I’m in Hell here. They ripped me apart. They filled me with some demon and you have the audacity to say I’m just trapped? You said it yourself. I don’t even know myself anymore.”

“Bucky…”

“You have no idea what it’s like.”

“You’re right. I don’t, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Buck—”

Vivian’s words cut off and she cried out in pain as Bucky pulled out a knife and slammed it down into her wrist, dragging it up and moving closer while whispering, “It should have been you.”

The pain in her arm was blinding and black spots formed in her vision. She could feel her arm ripping and tearing, the blood pooling around her on the floor and slipping back, soaking into the thin garment she was wearing. Her breathing came out in shaky gasps and she opened her eyes, letting out a sob as she saw her own hand holding the blade. Her arm was split open, the bone exposed and she counted to three before ripping the blade out.

Dropping it onto the ground and having it clatter in the blood, Vivian pressed her arm tightly to her chest and got up. Her legs shook and she stumbled, her skin the color of plaster as she struggled to get over to the dresser. Blood soaked her dress and her head went woozy as she pulled open the drawers. Grabbing a dress, she bit down onto a corner and then pulled, tearing the fabric and tying it firmly around her arm. It immediately went a deep red from the blood and she tired multiple layers until finally her legs buckled.

Slamming against the floor, Vivian’s head felt heavy. Her heart thudded painfully in her chest, stuttering and she stared up at the ceiling. Everything kept swaying and she struggled to remain conscious, the pain in her arm nothing compared to the ache in her chest. She didn’t know how everything had gone so wrong, how she had gone so wrong.

Her eyes slipped shut and she inhaled deeply, her body going cold as her heart struggled to get blood to her vital organs. Her left arm was ice cold mixing with stinging pain. She was too weak to move.

“Viv?”

“Please…just stop,” Vivian choked out, the words quieter and breathier than a whisper as she struggled to remain conscious.

“Why did you hurt yourself like that?” 

Opening her eyes, Vivian found herself staring at Bucky. His metal arm gleamed, reflecting the light into her eyes and she winced, “You’re not here.”

“No, I’m not. I’m still in cryo.”

“Gonna tell me about how I ruined your life? Go ahead. You wouldn’t be wrong.”

Tears streamed down Vivian’s cheeks and exhaustion clung to her like a second skin, feeling worse as Bucky lay down beside her in the pool of blood while shushing her, “Hey, that’s not true. You didn’t ruin my life. You know you didn’t. Hydra did. They ruined both of our lives. Stole everything from us. I’ve never blamed you for this happening to us, and I love you. You know I love you. I told you so last time I saw you. Remember?”

“I don’t know. Sometimes I think they change the clocks and the dates when I’m not looking. Maybe I’ve been in here less than a month. Maybe I’ve been here for over a hundred years. I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore.”

“Yes, you do. Hydra has tried to break you before and they couldn’t. They tried to rip you from yourself, rip Steve and me from you, and they failed. I never left you and I know you’ll never leave me.”

“You should though. I cost you your freedom.”

“No,” Bucky frowned before continuing, “Viv, you know the truth about Azzano, right? You know how many of us they experimented on. Even before they got you there, they were pumping soldiers full of drugs, trying to find someone to survive. They would have tested me whether you were there or not, especially with how much I love to cause problems. My body was able to handle the serum. I survived it.”

“So?”

“So once that happened, it was just a matter of time before they’d come for me. The fact that I fell from a train was a lucky break on their part, but they were always coming for me. The fact that you love me just meant that they could use me against you. Do you blame me for not being able to escape? For having to stay so I wouldn’t die from this arm?”

Vivian wanted to shake her head, but her head was too weak, nausea filling her as she choked out, “Never. That wasn’t your fault.”

“And it wasn’t yours. You’ve been alone for too long, Vivian, been inside that head of yours for too long. You’ve forgotten how much I love you, how much Steve loved you. You think I would be happy to see you holding your own arm down in the bathroom while cutting your own arm open?”

“I thought it was…”

“You thought it was who?”

“I thought it was you. Revenge for the fact that you lost your arm.”

Bucky moved closer and Vivian blinked back tears as he whispered, “You’ve lost your arm so many times, lost everything so many times. Hydra brutalizes you. They rip off limbs and pull you apart, analyzing you like some angry kid ripping the wings off of a fly. They do it because they can.”

“I wish none of this had happened.”

“I know, baby girl. I know. I wish that too. I wish it was the three of us somewhere safe, somewhere warm. But doll, you’ve got to stop hurting yourself.”

“Is that where all the blood on the walls came from? From me?”

“Yes…and no.”

“That’s pretty cryptic, even for a figment of my imagination.” 

“You did cause the bloodstains.”

“But it’s not my blood,” Vivian sighed.

“No,” Bucky whispered. “It’s not. It was going to be though. You were having one of your episodes, an episode like this.”

“Wonderful. So this happens a lot.”

“It didn’t happen a lot at first, but you’re getting worse. Although, this episode in particular was triggered on purpose. Someone wanted you out of your mind, wanted you to hurt yourself.”

Vivian frowned, “What happened? I don’t remember.”

“Steve showed up. I showed up. We got you to do target practice on the wall instead of your own head.”

“It wasn’t just a wall, was it?”

Bucky shook his head, a grim look on his face as he whispered, “Fennhoff was in front of that wall. He couldn’t move fast enough to get away from your attack.”

“Is he dead?”

“Yes.”

“And that’s why I’m still in here.”

“Yes. They had to gas the room, render you unconscious so they could drag the body out. You’d all but crushed his skull completely. After he died, you’d ripped his hand off, and thrown his ring against the wall. You were screaming about the way he’d twist it to twist people.”

“I’m an animal.”

“That wasn’t your fault.”

Vivian let out a burst of laughter only to cough and groan before questioning, “How?”

“They pushed you past the point of insanity, Viv. You still don’t even truly remember the events. Can you even picture any of it?”

Vivian shook her head and whispered, “No, I can’t.”

“Sending Fennhoff in to wind you up, to try to take control of you when you were like that was a mistake on their part. They should have known. They’ve had you get used to voices again. It’s what you’ve been hearing as you slept. It’s why we’re talking to you more, me and Steve and Sarah and other me. We’re all showing up more because you’re fighting it. You’re trying to sink deeper into the silence, deeper into your own mind, and you can’t. Vivian, you can’t do it.”

“But you’re here. Steve’s here. I don’t want to be alone anymore.”

“And you won’t be, but if you stay like this, if you stay with this version of me, the version in your head, you’re going to be alone, Vivian. I’m not real. The real me is waiting for you in cryo and he wouldn’t want this for you. You know that. Deep down, you know you can’t stay like this.”

“But I’m broken.”

“You’re not Humpty Dumpty, doll. You can be put together again.”

“You trying to send me back just to avoid more stupid fucking jokes?”

Bucky grinned, his eyes twinkling as he shrugged, “Maybe. Is it working?”

Vivian smiled softly, “I don’t know. I’ve never been this bad before. It’s…1970, right?”

“Yeah. It’s 1970.”

“I’m turning 52 this year.”

“You look pretty good for being a crazed ancient goddess of death.”

“Fuck you,” Vivian retorted weakly. “I’m the goddess of necromancy or some such shit. I don’t even know anymore. Finally lived up to my name and spoke to the dead.”

“The goddess of magic, witchcraft, the night, moon, ghosts, and necromancy. She was, in a lot of myths funnily enough, a virgin.”

Bursting out into laughter at that, Vivian grinned and whispered, “Haven’t qualified for that since I was a teenager.”

“I know. I was there.”

Shaking her head, Vivian glanced over at her arm where the skin had pulled itself together. It looked mangled still, but it was coming along, and she smiled softly before admitting, “The real Bucky doesn’t know anything about mythology.”

“No, he doesn’t. You do. You looked up a lot about Hecate over the years. Crossroads, poisonous plants, and dogs. Light. A whole lot of shit in there that made you think for a while that your mother knew more than she let on about you.”

Vivian ran her hand weakly over the healing arm and couldn’t keep the bitterness out of her voice, “Didn’t she though?”

“No, she didn’t. If she knew back when she gave you that fucking nickname then she would have never sent you to New York.”

“There are plenty of assholes in New York.”

“True, but she didn’t exactly do anything to make sure you hung out with those assholes.”

“Why would I hang out with anyone other than Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers? I don’t know if you heard, but they were the best damn boys of Brooklyn, possibly all of New York.”

“Just New York?”

“Nah, whole universe.”

“They must have done something special to deserve a swell dame like you then.”

“Got it backward. I somehow did something special to deserve them.”

The small door to the room opened up and a plastic tray covered in food got slid in. Turning over so she was on her stomach, Vivian’s stomach grumbled and she shivered as Bucky whispered, “I can’t bring that tray to you. You know that, right? So I’m going to need you to be strong for me. I need you to move over and eat the food. They gave you extra, see? They know you need your strength. Take it and then rest.”

Nodding, Vivian dragged herself over to the tray with one arm, resting on her side as she carefully ate the food with her fingers. They’d given her mostly tasteless, but high calorie and high nutrient items. There was also a large container filled with water and as soon as she finished eating, she guzzled the whole liter of water down, pausing to take breaths.

“All right. Let’s get you out of these clothes, okay? You always told me to get changed out of my dirty things before coming to bed.”

Nodding, Vivian shakily stripped, her arm healed but still weak. Her legs ached as she stood up, nearly pitching forward in the process before she grabbed clean clothing and slipped it on. She’d clean her shower after she rested and she then climbed onto her mattress, pulling the thin blanket around her while Bucky sat beside her and whispered, “Rest, kitten. Rest and know you’re not alone.”

Darkness crept in and Vivian felt her slipping into a slumber, the last words on her lips being a broken, whispered, “Bucky, Steve…I miss you so much.”

Chapter Text

Vivian spread flour out over the counter, sneezing slightly as it mingled in the air and went up into her nose slightly. She knew she had to have it all over her face, but she shook her head and kept working. Taking out the dough, she quickly sprinkled it with more flour before grabbing the rolling pin and beginning to roll the substance out. It stretched and contracted, the dough not quite cooperating with her. She sighed and checked the temperature of it all before going and getting cold butter from the fridge and then setting it on. Overlapping the dough, she began rolling it out some more, checking the temperature as she went.

“Viv, what are you doing?”

Glancing over at Bucky, Vivian shrugged and admitted, “The doctor told me that if I ever started to slip away into my head again to picture myself doing something complicated. Picture all the details of it.”

“And you chose making croissants?”

Vivian nodded, “Yeah. They took days to make. You loved them. Steve loved them.”

“It’s butter and flaky dough. Kind of hard not to love them, but it doesn’t answer why you’re picturing this right now.”

“I don’t want to be where I am.”

Bucky frowned and moved close, reaching out and stilling her movements. Glancing into his eyes, she swallowed hard as Bucky smiled softly and whispered, “I know, doll. I know you don’t, but you need to be on guard. It’s not safe where you are to disappear like this.”

“But that man…I didn’t know shooting his parachute would do that to him.”

“Look at your hands.”

Vivian glanced down and shuddered as she saw her hands halfway into the ground. The soil had absorbed water from the river as well as he icy rain pelting against her skin and what seemed like gallons upon gallons of blood. She was kneading the soil, digging into it as it caked her hands and burrowed its way under her nails and along her cuticles. Glancing over, she gagged as she saw where the blood had come from.

She’d had a mark. She’d had a mission. Her first one since being punished for her previous behavior. The man had hijacked a plane, demanded money and then dropped out of the plane. She’d been told to take the man out, and she had. She’d shot through his parachute, but she hadn’t realized just how far away from the ground he’d been. She’d watched as he’d fallen, unable to move. By the time she’d remembered she could slow his fall or do something, he’d already made impact.

The man had made impact with the ground and he’d shattered like glass. Blood soaked the riverside and she wasn’t sure it was possible for someone who hadn’t seen the man before impact to realize the scattered mounds of flesh on the ground had once been human. It seemed like some awful, awful horror show. Something that would have been made up to scare people.

Scrambling toward the river, Vivian shoved her hands into the icy waters and scrubbed at them, blood and mud loosening and floating away until she reached her hands. Her fingers were starting to turn blue from the combination of the river and the rain, but she kept scrubbing, her own blood seeping into the water. She couldn’t feel it, could only see it.

“Stop.”

Vivian stilled and glanced over, bottom lip trembling as she saw Steve sitting next to her on the banks of the river. It was the Steve she’d known before the war. His sharp cheekbones seemed to stand out more than before and his lips were tinted blue. Frowning, she whispered, “You’re not supposed to be out here. The cold’s not good for you. This rain’s even worse.”

Steve frowned and nodded to her hands, “You’re hurting yourself, Viv.”

“So? It’ll heal.”

“That’s not the point and you know it.”

“What do you care? You’re dead.”

Steve sighed and Vivian winced, shaking her head before glancing over. This time when she looked at him, she saw he was now filled out, tall, and in his Captain America uniform. Healthy.

“I loved you with everything in me, and that only increased after I got the serum. I told Bucky about how much I missed you, how much I hated myself for not being able to rescue you. I’m sorry I never got to tell you myself before I died, but you’ve got to know I wouldn’t want this for you.”

“Me being a violent psychopath?”

“No, you being hurt like this over and over again. You being used. I wanted you to be happy and healthy. I wanted to have a life with you. I wanted to have a family with you. I figured Bucky would be the one to actually get to do those things with you though.”

“Can’t have it with him now either. We’re stuck.”

“You’re right. You are.

Glancing over at Steve incredulously, Vivian was about to retort, but then the vision of Steve moved closer and he whispered, “You don’t have to make things easier for them. You give them Hell, Vivi. You show them what a dame from Brooklyn is capable of and you fight.”

“Last time I did that, I ended up in solitary and started hallucinating.”

Steve shook his head, “You can fight in all sorts of ways. You taught me that. Stop hurting yourself. You’re doing their job for them. Besides, you’ve lost sight of your original goal.”

“Escape isn’t possible.”

“Not with that attitude. You’re so busy hating yourself for things out of your control that you won’t even pay attention to the opportunities you have. Play the game. Leadership is shifting in Hydra. Zola’s not as young as he used to be. It’s only a matter of time before he’s gone and a new head emerges. One with weaknesses you can exploit. You can find out where they keep the information on Bucky’s arm. Where they keep the books they use to brainwash him.”

“I can destroy them.”

“Yes, but you have to be smart. Don’t rush in.”

“Well, now I know you’re not really Steve. Steve would never give that advice.”

Steve merely grinned, but faded from view and Vivian shook her head before standing up. Taking a deep breath, she felt herself focus like she hadn’t in a while as she cleaned up the body. She dumped the pieces into the river and covered blood up with dirt before grabbing several bags of money. The bags were already soaked through from the rain and it was dark, oppressively dark as she fumbled around. Her hands shook from the cold and her hair was plastered to her neck. The pants and shirt she’d been given to wear, offering pretty much zero tactical protection, clung to her like a second skin.

It took longer than she thought it would to get to the extraction point, and by the time she got there, her entire body was shaking like she was going to fall apart. The agents waiting for her were talking amongst themselves, but then rolled their eyes, tossing a towel to her before getting onto the plane. Wrapping the large towel around herself and joining them, she handed the soaked bags of money over before sitting down in a seat.

“Fucking hate night missions.”

“Christ, I do too. And this fucking weather has made it worse.”

“Surprised Blanche DuBois over there was able to get anything done at all.”

“Real funny. Don’t get any ideas though.”

“Why not? Girl’s practically a zombie. She probably doesn’t even know where she is.”

“Yeah, and she didn’t know where she was or who she was last time she splattered an agent all over the room for tryin’ something.”

“Shit, really?”

“Yeah. They had to use dental records to identify him from how badly she ripped him apart.”

“Holy fucking shit. Where’d they even find something like her?”

“Rumor goes that they grew her. Like some sort of fucked up experiment. Grew her in a petri dish or something.”

“No fuckin’ way. You’re yanking my chain.”

“Swear to God that’s what the story says. Also says she’s the one who killed Madame Hydra. Slit her throat.”

“Damn.”

“Yeah, so when I tell you to keep your hands off of it, I’m saying keep your hands off of it. Ain’t no pair of tits or hot piece of ass in the whole world worth getting killed over. Understand?”

“Absolutely. Damn. Now it’s just creepy.”

The men were chuckling and Vivian smirked before speaking up, her body slowly warming up and her voice steadier than it was before as she quietly said, “It can hear you.”

Both men froze before slowly turning back to look at her in shock. Vivian glanced up at them, tilting her head and surveying them. Her grin widened. They were flying the plane, both tense and looking like they needed a plan, their eyes darting furtively around the plane. Shaking her head, she said, “Looking for a way out of this is foolish. So was talking like that around me without first checking that I was still catatonic.”

“We didn’t—”

“Didn’t what? Didn’t mean it? Because you did. You absolutely did. You meant every word, but you guys are in luck. I happen to need you to actually fly this plane, so I won’t kill you.”

Both men relaxed and Vivian laughed, causing them to tense again as she taunted, “Well, I won’t kill you for now. Although I might not have to. You Hydra boys never last long anyway. You’re all so…delicate.”

“We’re not afraid of you.”

“Yeah, because that’s always something super brave people have to say when encountering things. And now, because you’re an annoying cliché, I’d like to remind you both that I only need one of you to fly the plane. I can co-pilot. So I suggest that you shut the fuck up and do your jobs. Or you can join the pieces of that hijacker’s body in the river. Your choice.”

Both men instantly shut up, and Vivian cracked her neck. The conversation ceased and both Hydra agents went dead silent. Biting at her nail, Vivian then started focusing on a plan. Her hallucination of Steve had been right. She had lost sight of her original goal, to find a way to free Bucky. To find a way to escape Hydra. She could still do that. She just had to be smarter about it. Agents like the ones flying her she could still threaten, but she’d need to play a better game than she did before if she wanted intel. Zola’s replacement would be her chance to do that if these idiots were anything to go by.

These morons didn’t even know her connection to Madame Hydra, and they’d never once mentioned Bucky or the Winter Soldier. If they didn’t know her connection to him and thought she only saw him as a weapon instead of how she really saw him, then maybe there was an agent who’d give her information. Maybe she’d be able to exploit that fault in the company. If she was very lucky, maybe the new Head wouldn’t get briefed as well as their predecessors had about her violent tendencies when it came to protecting Barnes.

Chapter Text

Vivian grit her teeth, but otherwise kept quiet and acted as though she could ‘behave’ as she was escorted from her room. Normally when she was retrieved for a mission, she was met by a wall of stoic silence, but that wasn’t the case this time. This time there was a buzz of nervous energy, and people even looked concerned. She was pretty sure the response wasn’t to her as she hadn’t had an outburst in a couple of years. Hell, her hallucinations had gone down to only when she was sleep deprived or heavily injured.

“Walk faster.” 

Frowning, Vivian did as she was told, keeping her hands by her sides as she was stopped and then a blindfold was put over her eyes. She wanted to roll her eyes, but she refrained, letting herself get led to a car. The agents seemed even more tense as they drove, but Vivian took the time to relax for a bit. After all, if they were going to do something to her, then there’d be no reason to drive her somewhere else.

“We’re here.”

Taking a deep breath and hoping no one noticed how close she’d been to falling asleep, Vivian let herself get led out of the car. She could hear the sounds of the outdoors and the faint smell of smoke before she was brought inside again. Still they didn’t take her blindfold off until after someone muttered about the opening to the secret door being more than a little obnoxious to find.

That alone made Vivian want to just sit down and laugh until she cried. Of course they were going to some goddamn secret base within a base. Hydra really was predictable. After what felt like a laughably long time, Vivian was pulled into another section and as soon as doors closed, Vivian’s blindfold was removed and she found herself staring at the walls of an elevator.

Great. They were going underground. 

The doors opened and Vivian stepped out, pausing as she saw high ranking Hydra officials scattered across the room. A lump in her throat, Vivian was shoved forward and she approached the center of the room, nausea filling her as she saw Arnim Zola in a hospital bed. Multiple machines were breathing for him and monitoring his heart rate. There was even one monitoring his brain activity, but that wasn’t as peculiar as the odd pieces of electrical equipment attached to his head connecting him to the massive amounts of databanks in the room.

Before Vivian could fully process any of that though, an agent was stepping forward, their features mostly masked as they announced, “As all of you already know, on this day a year ago, our leader Arnim Zola was given a terminal diagnosis. Cancer.”

Keeping her face passive, Vivian realized she’d had no idea that Zola had been sick at all, but she wasn’t surprised to realize how pissed off she was that she wouldn’t be the one to end the bastard’s life. She’d had plans on how she’d wanted to kill that man, and none of them had involved hospital beds or pain management.

“On that day, instead of giving up, Zola came up with a brilliant, beautiful machine, a way for him to outlast us all and to keep helping Hydra flourish into the magnificent creature that it was always meant to grow into. He found a way to become immortal.”

The agent waved a hand and two other agents went to the sides and began turning on switches and turning wheels. Soon all the machinery behind turned on and began to function. The low hum filled the room and the lights flickered momentarily before the agent spoke gleefully, “Our leader sought to preserve the most important part of himself, his mind, into the databanks you see before you. His body had failed him, but his mind? His mind will be as sharp as ever, will be as powerful as ever, and it will lead Hydra to victory. The last download of the information is happening today, and once that is complete, Hydra will be immortal.”

Hail Hydra!

The men around her all raised their fists in solidarity along with the agent speaking and this time, Vivian couldn’t help but roll her eyes. God, she hated that stupid chant. It was just stupid. It had always been stupid. Of all the things to blatantly steal from Nazis and they chose the dumb super not secret handshake. Pathetic. Luckily the agent in front was too focused on the new development to notice she wasn’t participating as he flipped a few switches before finally pushing a button.

A hush went over the group as all of Zola’s equipment shutdown and his heart monitor flat lined. A few minutes later, that too was turned off, the sound still ringing in her ears as the equipment was then moved aside, Zola’s bed carefully moved off to the side as well as the monitors were finally turned on. The agent frantically typed a few things, but then Vivian was being tugged forward.

Stumbling up and gritting her teeth, she found herself staring at the screen as lines appeared on the screen, green numbers and lines creating a minimalistic version of Zola’s face. The camera above the monitor swiveled and focused on her before Zola’s voice echoed through the room, “Peshkova, Vivian Alana. Born November 1st, 1918. Code name Hecate. One of dozens of experiments conducted by Ophelia Sarkissian, also known as Madame Hydra. Only survivor. Mutant powers include ability to regenerate and telekinesis. Limits of the powers are thus far unknown.”

“Surprised you didn’t try to use my DNA to cure yourself of cancer.”

There was hushed whispers around the room, but before Zola could respond, Vivian found herself scoffing as the agent who’d led the whole presentation shouted for everyone to leave. The room emptied out and she was left alone as Zola confessed, “Attempts were made.”

“Seems like they didn’t work too well, since you’re dead.”

“No, fräulein, I have never been more alive. This, of course, wasn’t the first choice I had made, but I find it to be the superior option.”

“So what? Did my DNA just not do anything to your cancer?”

“You misunderstand. My initial diagnosis was not cancer.”

Frowning at that, Vivian was about to speak, but then her eyes widened and she grinned as Zola explained, “My illness was terminal. Your DNA was used to cure me of what ailed me. Unfortunately, the DNA did not stop there. It did not cease to multiply within my system. There was no end. It gave me—”

“You’re saying I gave you terminal cancer.”

“Yes.”

“And that’s why you had to scramble to download yourself to this monstrosity.”

“Yes.”

“Great. So why did you want to talk to me? We weren’t exactly chummy when you were…in your body, so what changed now?”

“You will be reporting directly to me.”

Vivian’s wry grin faded and she questioned, “What do you mean?”

“I mean, data of potential missions will be relayed to me. I will pick your missions, and what missions to send your Sergeant James Barnes onto until a new suitable head can be chosen to keep you in line. In light of mutants being revealed to the world though—”

“What?”

Vivian’s voice had been frail and quiet, a shocked sound as a mechanical laughter filled the room before Zola continued, “I would not get any ideas if I were you. Mutants will no sooner accept a monster like you than humans will. The reckless exposure of their powers, and the interference of Magneto once again proved a problem. His involvement in the assassination of JFK though did prove useful, as did the leaking of said documents proving he was there. Regardless, if you are discovered as a mutant, we will find a way to terminate you before they can reach you.” 

Staring blankly at the floor, Vivian questioned weakly, “Then what are my orders?”

“You are not to approach the mutants under any circumstances. And if you think that maybe you could get to them before we would hurt you, remember that you are not the only one you are keeping alive.”

One of the screens flickered, and Vivian swallowed hard as an image of Buck in cryo popped up. Keeping herself in check, Vivian inhaled sharply before questioning, “When can I see him again?”

“That all depends on you. Obedience will be rewarded. Understood?”

“Yes.”

“My eyes see everything, Hecate. You will do well to remember that.”

The words stuck in Vivian’s head and she froze, a slow, vicious grin spreading across her face as she moved closer. Staring into the computer’s camera, she reminded him, “But you don’t have eyes.”

“I have better. I have—”

“You have cameras, and you have walls and walls of delicate machinery. Do you really think Hydra’s going to actually let you know the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help them God? Because I think they’ll feed you whatever information they think is worth giving to you. They’ll withhold or corrupt whatever they don’t want you to know, and you want to know the best part about all of that?”

The monitor flickered slightly and Vivian couldn’t help but cackle as she admitted, “The best part is that you won’t know the difference. You don’t have a brain, not really. There’s no gut instinct. It’s just coding. If someone alters your databanks to say, for example, that this meeting never happened, then to you, this meeting just never happened. It’ll be gone from your memory, just like that. All your work and all your effort to brainwash the Winter Soldier and then you gave people the power to do that to you and more.”

“I am in charge.”

“Keep telling yourself that, but a word of advice? I’d be nicer to the help if I were you.”

The monitors all flickered off and Vivian couldn’t help but damn near cackle as a beep sounded through the room before agents came up and gripped her arms. Her cackling turned into full body laughter, the agents looking at her oddly before she was blindfolded. She still laughed though until finally one of them muttered something and a substance was injected into her neck. Darkness filled her vision and the next time she woke up, she was back in her own cell, groggy and with bruised arms. Quickly a grin spread across her face though as she remembered the conversation she’d had. 

She was one step closer to freeing Bucky.

Chapter Text

Bucky wasn’t sure what was more surprising: waking up in a bed or waking up with his memories. It’d been years since he’d been given a room of any sort to stay in. Definitely years since he’d been given a bed to sleep in. Even longer since he’d been allowed to wake up with this kind of clarity. Or at least he was pretty sure it had been that long. Time tended to muddle for him. Sitting up, Bucky found himself sitting in matching shorts and a long sleeve button up. He frowned at the style, picking at the fabric while wondering what year it even was. The clothing reminded him of things that were advertised back when he was a kid.

“The fashion of this decade is solidly atrocious, but the bedclothes are pretty standard. Although, to be fair, a lot of the things they do with men’s fashion are pretty much the same as they were back in your time, just with worse patterns.”

Glancing up as soon as he heard the voice, Bucky ended up staring, almost mystified as Vivian leaned casually against the wall. She was in an odd dress that went down to the floor, but he waited quietly as she came closer and kept talking, still not really saying much of all as she prattled, “I personally preferred the fashion of the 60’s. Much better colors. Much better patterns. And god, the mini skirts. I must confess that I love a mini skirt. They’re fun. People still wear them, of course, but high waisted, long legged pants are what’s in right now.”

“What’s going on?”

Vivian paused and grinned over at him, moving toward him before speaking, the tone and canter of her voice all wrong as she explained, “It got brought to management’s attention that it has been a while since you’ve been trained. Not necessarily in physical skills since those get tested regularly in the field, but with things like languages. I was chosen to refresh your training as I was the one who initially trained you.”

Bucky nodded, still confused and a little unnerved by the way Vivian was talking. Her movements were stiff and she kept glancing over at a clock on the wall as she paused. After several beats, she continued, “Refresher training on languages as well as brand new languages are on the curriculum. You’re expected to be efficient and dutiful in your training. Anything less than your complete concentration on the task will result in immediate punishment for both of us.”

Bucky frowned, his heart hammering in his chest as he cleared his throat before questioning, “Why would we both be punished?”

Vivian tilted her head to the side and replied simply, “Because I would be failing as a teacher, and Hydra doesn’t tolerate failure.”

Nodding, Bucky glanced at the clock, still deeply confused as to why Vivian was behaving this way, what they’d done to her to get her act so… robotic. Leaning forward, he forced himself to remain calm as he questioned, “What will they do to us if we fail?”

For a moment, Vivian’s expression twitched before she replied in an exaggerated voice, “You will be wiped and put back into cryo. I will most likely be experimented on or put back into solitary confinement. They could come up with something new.”

Nausea filled him and he nodded before muttering, “Shit, I—I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?”

“I just…” Bucky squeezed his eyes shut, letting his hair fall into his face as he whispered, “I don’t know. I’m just sorry.”

“Just promise you’ll focus on our lesson. After all, we’re going to have all the time in the world.”

Glancing up at the odd way she’d said that, Bucky glanced up at her only to see she was looking at the clock out of the corner of her eyes. Doing the same, Bucky watched as the time on the wall ticked forward. The sound was louder than it should have been, and he knew it had to be for a reason. It was piercing.

41.

42.

43.

44.

45.

44.

43.

42.

41.

Sitting up straighter as he saw the time begin to go backward. The clock went back more than ten minutes. Once it finally started going forward again, Bucky glanced back over at Vivian in confusion as she sighed before she turned toward him and spoke softly, “Hey, Buck. I’m sorry about all of that. There’s a camera in that clock. While we were being filmed, I had to pretend there was nothing between us other than a professional relationship.”

“But Hydra already knows we know each other.”

Vivian laughed darkly, “The stories have changed.”

Frowning, Bucky opened his mouth to question it, but then frowned as Vivian sighed and admitted, “Listen, if it was up to me then we’d have forever to just talk, and hell, we wouldn’t be here, but we have ten minutes before I have to go back to pretending we don’t know each other beyond my training you, so please just let me get through this. We haven’t done a job together in years. The year is 1976. The last job we took together was in 1963. For most of the time they wouldn’t even let me near you. I was…given solitary confinement for my failures during the assassinations.”

“That doesn’t explain how they don’t know about us. I made a deal for you. You made a deal for me. We were going to get married after the war. How could they possibly not know?”

Vivian sighed and rubbed her hands over her face before she continued, “Back before I killed Ophelia, she was starting to feel…paranoid. She could see the writing on the wall. She knew it was just a matter of time her fellow cult members put her on the outs to take full control of the operation for themselves. I didn’t know it at the time, but she made plans to have me be her little…pet project. She was planning on implementing me as a weapon.

“The way she decided to help herself out was by destroying a lot of the records concerning me. She wanted them to have less intel on me. She also just, wanted more control over me. It’s in the file that we were together before and during the war, but I convinced people that it was for a cover and that I never really loved you. Slowly but surely all the people in the organization who knew the truth of our relationship just…died.”

“They just…died?”

“Fine, I killed some of them, and others died on missions. Regardless, they’re dead.”

“What about Zola?”

Vivian snorted, “That man’s stuck in a computer system, so he can be managed. Like the cameras. The data for this time period is going to be erased and the time reset to appear that everything is accounted for. He’ll never know this meeting happened. And I know what your next question will be, so I’ll just answer it now. I convinced a Hydra agent that I was going to threaten you, and also that if he did me this favor, I’d maybe have sex with him.”

Wincing at that, Bucky smiled weakly only to then sigh when Vivian whispered, “I’m sorry. I know you hate it when I’m…me.”

Bucky sighed and moved closer, gently cupping Viv’s face in his hand as he whispered, “Baby, I don’t hate anything about you. I just…worry about you. This seems dangerous. What if you get caught? What if they hurt you again?”

“Then I’ll heal. We have the ten minutes to go over the game plan, and by the time we’re done, you have to look upset, like I violently threatened you. We’ll be left alone during the nights though. Those will be ours.”

“What about the guy who knows about this?”

“He’ll be dead before he can tell anyone.”

Bucky scoffed, “And how can you be certain?”

“I have my ways.”

“So you really are going to just pretend to be my chipper Hydra tutor while the cameras are rolling?”

“Yes. I am. In order to keep you safe, that’s exactly what I have to do.”

Pressing his forehead to Vivian’s, Bucky took a deep breath before whispering, “I’ve missed you so much.”

“I’ve missed you too, but if we screw this up, if we get caught, then they’ll make you suffer. We’ll never see each other again. And that’s if they don’t decide to cut their losses and just kill you.”

“What happened to you since I last saw you?”

Vivian shrugged and sat back, crossing her arms across her chest while scoffing, “The usual.”

“Viv…” Bucky whispered.

“Fine,” Viv shrugged, and then continued, “Some torture. Pretty standard type. Lengthiest issue was the solitary confinement. Things went a little worse than usual there.”

“How so?”

“I hallucinated a lot. A few times I attacked myself or other people.”

“You attacked yourself?”

“Yes.”

How ?”

“I stabbed myself, but I thought…”

“You thought what?”

Bucky hadn’t been able to stop himself from choking on the words, and he braced himself for the answer, but nothing prepared him for the pain he felt as Vivian whispered, “It was you. I pictured you. You blamed me for losing your left arm. You hated me, really, so you stabbed me. That’s what I thought was happening at least.”

“How…how often did you imagine this?”

Vivian shrugged, “I don’t know. It was years. It all sort of…meshes. It just fades together after a while. Sometimes instead of you, it was Steve. Once it was Sarah. A couple times it was your sisters. It’s not that big of a deal.”

A ripple of fear and nausea rushed through him, and Bucky reached over and grabbed her left hand in his before pulling it up. Pressing a kiss to her palm, he spoke firmly, “Viv, it is a big deal. How long were you alone?”

“We don’t have time for this. We have to be on the same page when it comes to the plan.”

How long ?”

That same odd blank look flooded Vivian’s face again before she replied simply, “Seven years.” This time Bucky did just dry heave, his eyes closing and his body shaking as Vivian shrugged and continued, “Listen, Bucky. I know you hate it when things like that happen to me, but right now we need to focus. I have a plan to save you.”

“And what about you?”

“Let’s focus on the current plan.”

Bucky shook his head and then stood up, pacing while hissing, “Viv, what are you doing?”

Vivian stayed seated and nodded toward the bed, “You need to go back to how you were sitting at the beginning of this conversation if we’re going to make this work.”

“Just answer me!”

“I’m working on getting the information to your tracker and the bomb in your arm. Currently it’s under Zola’s control, but he’s a computer, which means the right person can access, well, him. Some of the data gets processed elsewhere before it gets given to him, like this video. It’s manually put onto a tape and transferred, so altering the tape is simple, but the data from your arm goes directly to him somehow. I don’t understand how, but I have to gain the trust of the organization. If they trust me, if they think I’m one of them, then I can manipulate the information. I can free you.”

“And what about you?”

Vivian shrugged, “Damn it, Buck, that isn’t on the table right now.”

“If you’re not leaving then I’m not leaving.”

“Don’t be an idiot.”

Bucky grabbed Vivian’s arms and begged, “Listen to me, Viv. If you’re still here when I’m gone then they will kill you.”

“They’ll certainly try.”

“Why are you being so flippant about this?” Bucky begged.

Because I can’t die! ” Vivian screamed, her body shaking and her eyes wet before she sobbed, “Buck, they’re never going to let me die! My body won’t let me die! No matter how much pain and misery I go through, I just keep healing. Poison. Knives. Bombs. Guns. Drowning. You name it, and they’ve done it to me. They want the information trapped inside me. And even if that wasn’t the case, I don’t deserve to leave, Bucky.”

What are you talking about ?”

“I’ve killed so many people, Bucky. So many. Men, women, and lately I’ve killed children. Their deaths were quick, but I did it. It was me. I did those things. I can’t change that.”

“It wasn’t your fault. They made you—”

“What? They started it ? They made me ? I have full control over my body, Bucky, and those arguments don’t even work for children!”

“What about me?”

“You’re different.”

“How?”

“You’re literally being controlled. There’s a difference. I volunteered. You didn’t.”

“Volunteering because someone puts a gun to your head isn’t actually volunteering.”

“Damn it, Buck, just back my play.”

“Not until your play finally has you looking out for yourself instead of just me.”

“Then I guess we’ll just have this time to spend together.”

“Viv…this isn’t what Steve would have wanted for you.”

Bucky knew it was a low blow, but then he sighed as Vivian snapped, “Don’t. Don’t go there.”

“If Steve was alive, he wouldn’t want this for you—”

“Steve would still be alive if I hadn’t ruined everything! And even if he was still alive through some miracle, he wouldn’t want anything to do with me! I’m Hydra !”

“No, you’re a good person.”

God damn it, Bucky. Don’t do this. Jesus.”

He loved you. I love you.”

“I know he did. I loved him too. I still do. And of course I love you. I love both of you more than I’ve ever loved anything or anyone in this world.”

“Then for him, just consider what it would take for both of us to get away from this.”

Bucky sat back down where he’d been on the bed before and Vivian rubbed her hands over her face, her feet tapping on the floor for a while until she finally whispered, “And you won’t go along with any of it unless I’m going with you?”

“No, not without you. I did that once. Never again.”

Viv bit at her thumbnail before finally sighing and staring Bucky in the eyes. Bucky grinned though as she pointed out, “I think you’re a reckless idiot, but fine, I will consider it. And get that stupid grin off your face.”

“I love you,” Bucky retorted.

Vivian scoffed, “Yeah, I love you too, moron. Now remember, until we get lights out, all I am to you is some…training officer that you vaguely knew before the war. It was a fling. We weren’t serious. You were my American cover, and I was just someone to keep your bed warm. And now I’m just here to train you.”

“So lie about everything?”

“Yes. Now shut up and look terrified.”

“Tell me the worst thing you did to yourself while hallucinating.”

Viv glanced furtively over at the clock before finally biting out, “I slit my own throat.”

It was like ice had entered his veins and he hissed in a breath. Blinking back tears, he gripped tightly at the bed, and felt like he was going to be ill until he passed out. A ringing was in his ears and all he could picture was Vivian with her throat gaping like that again, laying on the floor twitching and gasping as the knife stayed in her hand. All that blood. All that pain. Had Vivian thought about him? Hell, had she pictured him? Was he the one she thought was really hurting her?

“First step is checking to see how much you remember. If you comply, this will go much smoother.”

Nodding jerkily, Bucky got up and followed Vivian to a table, accepting the papers and filling them out. The languages were there, easily accessible and he jumped through every hoop that Vivian placed in front of him, aced every test. He stayed quiet through most of it, only speaking when he had to prove his fluency. And even then, he only said generic sentences, unable to stand hearing Vivian’s odd stilted voice as she pretended they weren’t together. The whole day felt like an eternity, but it did give him time to think, time to remember what he’d missed.

“That was a good start. Luckily none of your previous languages needed more than an update to vocabulary.”

Bucky nodded, staying quiet, but then sighed once the lights flickered and Vivian smiled, “Time to get ready for bed. We’ll continue this in the morning.”

Bucky stood up and headed into the bathroom, leaning over the sink and taking deep breaths before he stripped down and got into the shower. Once he was done, he came out, towel wrapped around his waist and he leaned against the doorframe.

“The camera’s off now,” Vivian said without looking at him.

“How can you tell?”

“There’s a tiny red light, and after being filmed most moments of pretty much every single day, you start noticing things. You figure things out.” Vivian then turned around from the dresser she was at and she rolled her eyes. Bucky grinned as she laughed, “You going to put on pants?”

“I don’t know. Should I?”

“You’re in a lot better mood than you were twelve hours ago.”

Bucky smiled softly and moved over to her, gently tucking her hair behind her ears and cupping her face in his hands. Looking over her face, he admitted, “I realized that I haven’t been able to hold you for years. I haven’t kissed you or comforted you or been with you in so long, and now, through all of this, I get a chance, and I’m too damn selfish to let the moment pass.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah.”

“Then do something about it.”

Pulling her close, Bucky kissed Vivian passionately, one hand staying cupped along her face, his thumb running along her cheek as the other slid down to the small of her back. He smiled into the kiss though as she reached down and undid his towel, letting it fall as they moved toward the bed in the room. Before they hit the bed though, Vivian turned them around so that the back of his legs hit the bed and he fell back.

Smiling up at her, he licked his bottom lip as she straddled his waist, the soft fabric of her dress sending shivers along his skin as she leaned close and gently brushed her lips against his. Following her lips up, he paused when she froze, her lips parted as she inhaled sharply. After a few moments of silence, she ran a fingertip along his lips, exhaling heavily before whispering, “You’re really here.”

“Yeah, Viv. I’m really here.”

“I’m not hallucinating?”

“No. You’ve been with me all day, remember?”

Vivian nodded, and Bucky pressed a soft kiss to the palm of her hand before gently moving one of his hands to the back of her neck and pulling her close, Pressing their foreheads together, he whispered, “I’m right here.”

Vivian pulled back and he watched patiently as she leaned back and reached down, pulling her dress up and over her head and then tossing it aside. Sliding his hands up her sides, he cupped one of her breasts in his hand and ran a thumb over her nipple before whispering, “Tell me what you need, Kitten.”

Vivian leaned close, her hands pressed against the bed on either side of his head and her hair falling down like a curtain, brushing against his shoulder. Waiting patiently, he smiled as she leaned even closer, pressing her forehead to hers while whispering, “You. I just need you.”

“You already have me. Always have and always will.”

Moving a hand to her back, Bucky slid it up to cup the back of her neck before kissing her as he carefully flipped them over. Vivian laughed into the kiss, a breathless sound that sent shivers down Bucky’s spine as he grinned. It was barely a kiss at this point, both of them smiling too much until he pulled back and laughed, “Jesus. I forgot how giggly you can get like this.”

Bucky shook his head as Vivian sucked her bottom lip in between her teeth, an impish grin on her face until she shrugged and then teased, “Then I guess you better give me a reason to focus.”

“It’s like that, is it?”

“Yup. Get to work, Barnes. I wanna see if you’ve still got it.”

Narrowing his eyes, Bucky shook his head and chuckled before slowly beginning to move down her. For a moment he paused, but then went to work, softly kissing along her skin and finding that it was all still second nature to him. She was still second nature to him. He still knew every inch of her and something about that certainty, that sent his heart racing. It was like he was back in that damn apartment again, back before everything had gone so wrong.

Shaking his head out of those thoughts, he reminded himself to stay in the moment, to focus on Vivian and nothing but her as he flicked a tongue across her nipple and sent goosebumps all along her torso while she gasped. He smiled at the sound. It’d been years since he’d heard one of those. Flicking his tongue again, he gently twisted his thumb and pointer finger along her nipple, grinning as she whimpered.

Moving down, Bucky ran his thumb along her hips while kissing along her stomach. Glancing up at Vivian, he smiled and then grinned as she ran her fingers through his hair before trying to pull him back up. Shaking his head, he moved further down and hooked one of her legs up. Starting at her knee, he kissed up her leg, stopping before he reached her hip and then he moved on to the other leg. Her breathing was heavy and he then moved in between her legs.

Bucky.”

Goosebumps ran up and down his spine and his heart raced as he flicked his tongue against her clit. Vivian’s fingers clenched tighter in his hair, and he focused on the desperate whimpers and moans that came from her. He focused on the thrust of her hips as he teased her with his tongue before sucking gently on her clit.

Gently pressing her hip down with his metal hand to stop her from thrusting up too much as she cried out, Bucky ran a finger teasingly along her before slipping it inside and crooking his finger. He laughed slightly though as Vivian tugged at his hair and moaned. Glancing up at her, he watched as her chest heaved and her back arched as she squirmed. It’d been too long since he’d seen her at all, let alone seen her completely wrapped up in pleasure like that. It was an intoxicating sight to behold.

Slipping a second finger in, Bucky matched the speed he crooked his fingers with the thrust of her hips until he could feel her shudder as she orgasmed. Flicking his tongue along her clit as she gasped, Bucky then moved up, nipping and kissing at her hip as he slowly fingered her, his fingers drenched. As he slid a third finger into her, he moved back to her inner thigh, gently sucking a hickey onto her skin. He rubbed her clit with his thumb, his heart racing as she let go of his hair and instead grasped desperately at the sheets and at the bedframe.

Her breathing stuttered and she cried out as he slipped a third finger into her, moving his thumb away long enough to quickly suck on her clit. The noises she made got louder and he smiled as her back arched off the bed again. Removing his fingers, Bucky leaned up and watched Vivian as she gasped for breath and her legs just shook. Licking his fingers clean, he then pressed gentle kisses back up her torso, smiling each time it caused a hitch in her breath or a shudder through her body until he reached her neck.

Vivian arched a leg over his hips and he sighed as he was pulled closer. He was achingly hard, precum dripping off of his cock as he pressed his face into her neck. His own breath got caught in his throat as he pressed himself against her, his cock rubbing against her lips and clit as she moaned. Gripping the headboard and the sheets, Bucky held himself up and rocked against her, his eyes rolling back and his legs tensing. He paused as Vivian rolled her hips back against hers and then moved back, pressing the head of his cock against her and then slowly sliding in.

The frame of the bed creaked and groaned as Bucky’s metal hand clenched onto it, squeezing tightly as he took a gasping, stuttering breath. It’d been too long since he’d been with her like this, too long since they’d just been together. Pressing his lips to hers, they kissed as best as they could, their movements almost frantic as he continued pushing forward. Vivian’s hands went up to his back, her nails digging into his skin, and her legs wrapped around his waist, urging him closer until they were pressed together completely.

Bucky,” Viv gasped, breaking the kiss.

Heart pounding, Bucky kept his hand on the bedframe and move his other hand from the bed, running his fingers through her hair before he pressed their foreheads together and gasped, “I love you.”

Sliding his hand along the back of her neck, Bucky cupped her head in his hand and kissed her passionately as he rolled his hips. Vivian moaned into his mouth and he breathed it in like it was air, like she was all he needed to live. Her fingernails dug further into his back and he began thrusting his hips. Each move sent pleasure throughout his entire body and he shivered, moving down to her neck and nipping at her skin.

Vivian gasped and moaned, his name slipping from her lips like a plea and he sped up his thrusts. He shifted his angle until she cried out in pleasure and then sped up, the sounds filling the room. His heart was racing and gasped as her back arched, her body pressing against his as she shook. He could feel the way her body tensed and shivered as she orgasmed and he groaned into her neck as his own pleasure slammed through him.

Slowing down his thrusts until finally he stopped, he moved his metal hand away from the headboard completely, he pulled out and pressed a kiss to her lips. Leaning back slightly, he then stared into her eyes and smiled. Vivian smiled softly back  and whispered, “You sure this isn’t a really good dream?”

Her hand slipped from his shoulder and cupped his face as she said that and Bucky pressed a kiss to her palm before reassuring her, “No, I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. I promise.”

Instantly the smile slid off of Vivian’s face as she whispered, “Buck, we don’t really have a choice. They’re gonna keep us apart. I won’t be able to see you, and I’m scared of what will happen when they finally replace…”

“Hey, hey, it’s okay. Viv, look at me,” Bucky whispered, smiling when she met his gaze. Rubbing his thumb along her cheek, he whispered, “It’s 1976. Against all odds, the two of us are still together after all this time. No matter what they do, no matter who’s in charge or what they want or anything those fucking monster try to do, we just keep finding each other. You keep bringing me back. One day we’re gonna get rid of them completely and it’ll be you and me. We’ll walk out of here. Don’t forget that.”

“Promise?”

“’Till the end of the line, Kitten.”

Chapter Text

Vivian frowned as the hood was removed from her head and she found herself standing in Zola’s ‘room’. She hadn’t actually had to see the man more than a few times a year since his threats, and since then, her own threats had come true in a major way. The data flowing through to Zola was often heavily edited, and if she played her cards right then she could usually get one of the people funneling that information to him to leave out some pertinent details on her behalf instead of Hydra’s. Some she had to kill afterward, but others she had to kill for. Seemed death was still the only way to rise through the ranks of a secret murder cult organization.

“Come closer, Hecate .”

Moving closer, Vivian took a deep breath and stood in front of those monitors. The eerie green light from the screens flickered and she waited until the agents left them alone before questioning, “What do you want? What are my orders?”

“You’ve been behaving…extremely well, as of late. You do as you’re told. You’ve taken care of our enemies with a vigor. You’ve been doing so well that I believe it is time that you were rewarded.”

“I’m not doing it for you, and there’s not a thing that I want that you’re willing to give, so I believe we’re at an impasse.”

“You seem extremely certain of that.”

“Well, my only wishes are for the Winter Soldier to be freed and myself along with him, but we both know you won’t do that. Not without killing us.”

Zola laughed, the mechanical sound filling the area before he taunted, “So unusually shortsighted of you, Fraulein . There are other things your heart desires.”

“Oh? And what’s that?”

“The truth of your father.”

The room went dead silent and Vivian’s heart beat a little faster. She didn’t want to admit it to herself, but she had always wondered what man Ophelia had tricked into getting her pregnant. Vivian had asked and asked and asked when she was a kid, never getting an answer, and after numerous beatings, just gave up.

“It’s a trick,” Vivian scoffed, “You don’t know shit.”

“There is a…segment of the American military. A secret program. They are attempting to create the perfect weapon. A soldier.”

“What does this have to do with anything?”

“They discovered, much like we had, that mutants with healing abilities can…survive the necessary procedures.”

“I got my powers from him.”

“Some. Your ability to heal , to regenerate , is from him. Extensive testing on his genetic material was done to make sure he will survive the experiments. Our organization was able to get hold of the material and test it. The scientists checked it against yours to try to isolate the part of you that makes you able to heal so well, and instead they found something else entirely. They found out that you two were a perfect match for father and daughter.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Your father is about to undergo a procedure, one to make him…invincible, a mighty weapon for the army. It’s best you see the procedure for yourself.”

Laughing bitterly, Vivian questioned, “What’s your game? And don’t give me some bullshit about rewarding me. You’re not the generous type and even as a bizarre feat of technology, you’re a shitty liar. I guess they couldn’t program that out of you.”

“Pay attention.”

“To what?” Vivian ground out.

“The truth. You can’t escape your destiny.”

Vivian paused and then laughed, her head tilted back and her eyes closed until she glanced back down and stopped laughing abruptly, the smile falling off her face as she snarled, “You think I need a reminder that I’m an experiment? That I’ll always be an experiment? That you and numerous other places would love to cut me open and see my insides? You think I don’t know this? After all I’ve been through? You’re a fucking idiot.”

The pixels on the screen flickered and Zola’s patience seemed to be at an end as he snapped, the electronic sound of his voice crackling and getting stronger as his voice got louder through the speakers, “You will behave yourself and you will do whatever the agent says, or we will hand you over to the military for experimentation. They would love to have a matched set, and I promise you that if they have you, you will never see your precious Barnes ever again. Do you understand ?”

“Yes.”

"What was that?"

"Yes, sir."

“Good.”

The doors opened and Vivian took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as the agent came in with a bag of items. Glancing over at him, she refrained from rolling her eyes as Zola introduced them, “Hecate, meet Andrew Cornelius. He’ll be your handler for this assignment. You are his personal assistant, so you will not speak to the higher ups unless spoken to first. Andrew here is the son of the lead scientist on this case, Abraham Cornelius. You two are only there to gather intel. Nothing more. If the project is halted by you in any way, you both will suffer.”

“Yes, sir.”

They’d both said it, although Andrew actually sounded like he meant it. Turning and letting herself get led out of there and back to her room, she looked him over and this time did roll her eyes. He looked like every other overeager Nazi zealot to ever come through the place. He was sure to be a pain in the ass. She was snapped out of her thoughts once she was pushed inside her room and the bag tossed to her as Andrew commanded, “You have one hour to make yourself presentable. Shower. Change. I suggest you don’t dawdle.”

Waiting until the door was closed before she headed into her bathroom, Vivian showered and dried her hair. She put her hair partly up and then did her make-up before going out and getting her bag. She really did hate the fashion of the decade. The high waisted pants looked ridiculous, and the blouse was even worse. The heels were even ugly. Putting it all on though, she then rolled her eyes as she found earplugs and a blindfold. She hated it all, but she moved toward the door. Once she was in front of the door, she shook her head before grudgingly putting in the earplugs. It took a sigh and another silent argument with herself before she put on the blindfold and then knocked on her door to signal Cornelius that she was ready.

Within moments, a firm hand gripped her upper arm and led her out of the room, and down a hall. She kept steady, only to become deeply confused as she was helped to climb into what was obviously a helicopter. She was then buckled in, headphones were placed onto her head, and the door was shut. Even with the earplugs in, no matter how advanced they were and even with headphones on top of her that, she could still hear the faint sound of the blades whirling above her.

She figured the pilot or the agent next to her was talking to someone about some important information, because otherwise giving her earplugs was pointless. The blindfold wasn’t even really necessary either since she was good, but she didn’t exactly have multiple states mapped out in her head from an aerial view.

And it wasn’t like an aerial view in her memory would really help her get back to that location again unless she also managed to steal a helicopter.

Vivian knew she should keep track of how long it took to get to this secret base, but honestly she just couldn’t be bothered. After all, there was no guarantee that they weren’t taking some obnoxious route and even if they were, she didn’t know what direction they were going in the slightest. She also, much to her annoyance, couldn’t even tell how fast they were going.

Cars she could tell roughly how fast they were going, but she’d never picked up the knack with helicopters. And even if she could, she didn’t know the location of the base she was being kept in which meant she’d know she was some odd number of miles from fucking nowhere. It was useless, so she merely took the time to prepare herself, to brace herself for what she’d see.

To prepare herself for seeing her father for the first time.

She didn’t know what it would feel like or what he would look like. She didn’t know what he’d be like. She didn’t know a damn thing about him. She didn’t even know his name. She shoved the thoughts aside though, feeling an ache inside her as she remembered Steve. Sweet, wonderful Steve. They’d talked for hours on some nights, talking about how they’d never met their fathers. Steve had confessed that night, after one too many sips of liquor, that he dreamed about his dad, and that he desperately wondered if his father would have been proud of him, would have loved him, and what that would have been like. Would the man have been like Bucky’s dad? Quietly broken from the war but still trying? Vivian had confessed along the same lines.

The headphones being pulled off her head stilled her thoughts, and she kept tight lipped as the blindfold was pulled off. Pulling out her earplugs, she handed them over to the agent before allowing him to get out first. Following, she glanced around, more than a little shocked. Wherever they were, they were on top of a goddamn waterfall. Shaking her head, she followed Agent Cornelius into the doors in the side of the cliff.

Once they were inside, they were greeted by an impressive looking man in military garb flanked by two scientists, one man and one woman. Another man in military garb came up behind. The man in the center spoke up and announced, “Welcome. My name is William Stryker. The two scientists you see here are Dr. Carol Hines, and as you already know, Dr. Abraham Cornelius. Behind me is General Munson. It true you’re Abraham’s boy, son?”

Andrew nodded, saluted, and smiled, “Yes, sir. Name’s Andrew Cornelius. This here’s my assistant, Vivian Barnes. She’s just here to make sure I don’t lose my shirt again to General Munson.”

Vivian felt like the oxygen had left the room upon hearing that name. Of all the fake names to give her, and they gave her the name she’d almost had for real, the name she’d wanted. There was a ringing in her ears, but she kept smiling demurely as the men chatted and joked. The buzzing thoughts and ringing in her ears continued as they were led toward an area. It was a large experimental area with an odd glass container. Vivian had no idea what many of the items near it were supposed to do, but she followed Andrew along as they stood nearby. The scientists talked to Andrew momentarily about something before then heading down to the lower level and checking on equipment.

Meanwhile, Munson and Stryker stood tall and Stryker waved his hand toward the room while explaining, “We’re here to push nature forward, to give our boys a fighting chance against the crimes against humanity that are mutants. They’re unnatural and they’re overpowering our soldiers every chance they get.”

The man’s hands were shaking, and he gripped the bars of the railing before sighing and then continuing, “Unfortunately, currently the only real weapons we have against them are other freaks. And in order to win, we need them to be as powerful as possible.”

“Sir, how will you control him once this is done?”

“Oh, don’t you worry about that, son. We’ve got it all figured it out. Oh look, here he is.”

A man stepped into the room, wearing only dog tags and something that wasn’t quite underwear to give him some modesty during the procedure. Vivian hadn't sure what she'd expected her father to look like, hadn't had a clue really, not with all the experiments Ophelia had done on her before she was even born and even then more afterward. He was tall, muscular, and he had dark, oddly coifed hair. He also had a slight beard. She wasn't close enough to tell what color eyes he had, but even from that distance, she could tell his gaze was hard. He was angry, tense, and she wondered what they'd done to him to get him to agree to this procedure, to work with a man who so clearly hated his entire existence.

Did he have his own person he was desperately keeping safe? Did he have his own version of Bucky waiting somewhere for him to come home? Did this mutant have a single solitary clue of Vivian's existence? Was here even a hint that Ophelia had given him when she'd used him for his genetics or would he be completely shocked if he saw her? Vivian wanted answers to all of these questions, but she knew she couldn't go over there and ask him, not without alerting the U.S. government to her existence, not without losing everything she held dear. And as desperately as she wanted to connect with her father, she'd pick Bucky over him every day of the week.

The scientists began looking him over and immediately Stryker nodded toward the man and explained, “That’s James Howlett, sometimes goes by Logan . A mutant, if you can believe it. He has bone claws that come out of his hands, and he can regenerate parts of his body. Heal in the most miraculous ways. Hell, when I found him, he’d just survived being executed by firing squad. Every single bullet met its mark, and every single bullet got pushed out. Wasn’t a scratch on him.”

James lay down onto the odd metal bed of the tank and let lines get drawn on him. It was some sort of guideline. As Dr. Hines talked to him quietly, Stryker excused himself, moving toward the area. More surprisingly, Andrew turned toward her and whispered, “Stay here.”

Nodding, she watched as he moved closer and she gripped the railing tightly, glancing over in confusion as a man slid up behind her, leaning against the wall and teasing, “You’re a little tense.”

“And you purposely found the one blind spot in this entire place,” Vivian retorted, still keeping an eye on the proceedings.

“And what would an assistant know about finding blind spots? Isn’t that a little out of your pay grade?”

“I’m overqualified. Is that a crime?”

“Lying about who you are is.”

“I never lied about who I am.”

“Tricky. You’re right. You haven’t said a damn word about yourself to anyone. You let your boyfriend do the talking.”

“For a second I thought you weren’t going to be a complete idiot. That was my mistake.”

The man reached out and pulled her back into the shadows before questioning, “How about I tell you my name and then you tell me your real name.”

Thinking about it, Vivian leaned close and whispered, “Can you keep a secret?”

The man nodded and whispered, “Yes.”

Vivian grinned, “Great job. So can I!”

She then glanced back at the group on the lower level. As she started to move away, she grinned as the man gripped her arm and then growled, “My name is Victor Creed.”

“Good for you. Nice strong name.”

“Tell me your name.”

“You heard the toy soldier. My name’s Vivian Barnes.”

Victor growled, gripping her arm tighter until his nails dug through her top, piercing down into her skin, and drawing blood. Vivian grit her teeth and glanced over as he snarled, “You’re not who you say you are, and if it was up to me, I’d rip your fucking throat out.”

Vivian could feel the blood being soaked up by her blouse, grateful she’d at least been given a dark brick red top to wear to disguise the blood. She bared her teeth though, a dark grin on her face that didn’t reach her gaze as she simply replied, “And if Hell froze over, I’d need a jacket. What’s your point?”

Victor snarled and gripped her arm tighter. Vivian could feel the bone straining, but she maintained eye contact, despite her eyes watering, until he finally released her. He pulled his nails out and she took a step to the side while he taunted, “That man down there’s my brother, you know.”

Schooling her features to not reveal exactly how shocking that information was, Vivian merely raised her eyebrows before giving a dismissive hum sound and shrugging. Victor seemed to get more agitated as he snarled, “They’re going to shove those long needles into him, pour molten metal along his skeleton. He’ll feel like he’s burning alive from the inside out. He’ll be destroyed.”

“I’m sorry, the sound of your bullshit sibling rivalry is really making it hard to focus on what’s going on. Can you tone down the testosterone for about five minutes?”

Victor snarled, but quieted down as James, Logan, whatever the man down there wanted to be called, was given new dog tags before being hooked up to oxygen and hooked up to all sorts of things. Moving over to where she was directed as Andrew joined back up with her, Vivian glanced over as Stryker began making his speech.

“General, honored guests, today, we’re going to witness medical history. Today we’re going to create Weapon X.”

“X?” questioned General Munson.

“Roman numeral for ten," Stryker explained before continuing, "We’re about to begin bonding adamantium to Weapon X’s skeleton. Begin.”

Logan was lowered down into the water, the monitors picking up his increased heart rate. Everything was being monitored and Vivian watched with a mixture of fascination and horror as the different large gauge needles lowered began whirring and then lowering into the water. They were evenly spaced along his body, probably to inject the metal as quickly as possible. Vivian felt helpless and trapped as she watched the needles drill directly into bone before the molten liquid was pushed throughout him. Even from a distance and with him underwater and with an oxygen apparatus in his mouth, she could hear his screams of pain. The man thrashed. His heart rate kept climbing, going well beyond what was something someone could survive until finally his heart just stopped .

Taking a step forward toward the railing, feeling an odd ache in her chest, Vivian couldn’t breathe, could only hear a ringing in her ears until after what felt like an eternity, there was a single beep. The heart was starting again, slowly at first, and then steadily. Once it had evened out, Vivian watched as Stryker turned toward someone. She wasn’t sure what had led up to it, but then all she heard was Stryker ordering, “Wipe his memory.”

Within seconds, Logan was awake, his now metallic claws drawn as he leaped out of tank. She could only watch as he tore a path through generals, bullets practically bouncing off of him as he fled the building. The place erupted into chaos, and Vivian let herself get led down the stairs and across the area, dodging debris. On her way through, she reached over to a table and grabbed Logan’s old dog tags, shoving them into her pocket before anyone could notice.

Once they were up and toward the lab to get to the door to the outside, she finally let out a delirious laugh as she saw that he’d cut through the door . The door had been reinforced steel, at least three inches thick, and he’d cut through it like it was paper, like it was nothing. A look from Andrew had her stilling her laughter, but couldn't wipe the grin off of her face. She accepted the ear plugs and the blindfold upon leaving the building, putting them back on once she was secure in the helicopter. Once the helicopter began to take off, she slipped a hand into her pocket and squeezed the dog tags tightly.

Her father had escaped his prison, escaped the evil men who’d had him and wanted to twist him into a weapon. He’d defied them all, using what they’d done to him against them and she knew for certain that he’d make them pay for ever trying to take away his memories, for any of them ever trying to strip him of his identity like that. And now, it was up to her to find her moment to do the same to her captors.

After all, like father, like daughter.

Chapter Text

Vivian stood and stared up at the cryo chamber. That small, cold area had been Bucky’s whole world for most of his life at that point. A whole lifetime of being stuck in the dark and the cold, getting brought out almost exclusively to be a puppet. Pressing a hand to the glass, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Leaning forward, Vivian pressed her forehead to the glass for a moment. The cold seeped into her skin, chilling her, and she steadied her breathing before whispering, “I’m so close …so close to figuring it out.”

She glanced up at his face and smiled, but then shook her head and took a few steps back. Talking to him was pointless. He couldn’t hear her like this, not through the ice. Luckily Hydra agents wouldn’t hear her either. It seemed counterintuitive, but Hydra had the least amount of surveillance inside the room that held Bucky’s chamber.

After all, in order to get to the room, one had to have access to the entire building, which meant getting past many guards, locks, and cameras already. On top of that, the person had to know how to safely wake Bucky up, and how to get him to leave with them. There was also the matter of the tracker in his arm, as well as the bomb.

She had plans for the guards, for the cameras and even the exit. She had it all figured out except for the tracker and the bomb. Even then, she was getting close. A few whispers here and there had helped her figure out who was in charge of it all. Unfortunately, that man made it a point to stay out of fieldwork. He took his rise to the top seriously and always had people lower than him do his dirty work. Or at least that’s the story the paperwork told.

“Waiting to see if he’ll do a trick?”

Vivian cleaned her fist for a moment, but then opened her hands, laying them flat against her legs as she replied carefully, “Agent Cornelius. I wasn’t aware you were back from your last mission.”

Andrew moved forward and gave a soft kick to the bottom of the cryo chamber before standing between her and it. Keeping her gaze firmly on Andrew, despite the fact that she wanted to look at Bucky, Vivian listened as Andrew retorted, “Not sure you should know about my missions at all. You been looking into me, Peshkova?”

“Not at all,” Vivian lied. She then smiled and told a partial truth. “There was a discussion about what next mission I should go on. They were putting together a list of people for me to work with. I mentioned your name and they said you were unavailable due to already being in the field. That’s all.”

Truthfully, she had been digging into him, figuring out what kind of liability he’d be to her. She hadn’t actually quite made up her mind about him. The feeling, it seemed, was mutual as he eyed her carefully before finally replying, “Yes, of course. You still haven’t answered my question.”

“Which was?”

“Don’t play stupid. What are you doing in here?”

“Checking up on the prisoner. The whole thing is a rather interesting feat of technology, don’t you think? Freezing a man like that and yet never letting him die. It’s remarkable.”

“So it’s just academic curiosity?”

Vivian shrugged, “A bit. This is also the quietest room in this place, or at least it is of the rooms I’ve been inside. It’s a nice place to just come and think. Most agents tend to avoid this room. Somehow they got it into their heads that this room is haunted. Silly superstitious nonsense, of course.”

“Not planning anything?”

Vivian arched an eyebrow, “Well, of course I’m planning something, Cornelius. I wouldn’t be a very good spy if I wasn’t coming up with something . Hydra recently destabilized the economy, but what now? The next moves need to be planned. It can’t all be left in the hands of Reagan. For God’s sake, the man’s an actor .”

“So what’s your idea?”

Glancing over at Andrew in confusion, Vivian’s eyes widened slightly as he took a step toward her and demanded, “What’s your idea? If you’ve really been thinking up ways to help us, then what’s your plan?”

Rolling her eyes, Vivian sighed, “Well, first step of course is to get more stable leadership in Hydra. There also needs to be a better front man. Bonus points if they’re the same person since that makes things easier. People love a good story. They’ll believe a pretty face, even if the fact that they’re lying to their face is readily apparent. Hell, sometimes it doesn’t even take a pretty face. The face helps though, that’s for sure.”

“You have any suggestions?”

“Not as of yet, hence why I’m still brainstorming ideas. War heroes are ideal, and while war heroes with skewed moral compasses aren’t exactly difficult to find, they don’t exactly advertise either.”

“That’s a pretty cynical view of soldiers,” Andrew pointed out, moving around and running his fingers along some of the equipment along the room.

Vivian shrugged and then pointed out, “There are many men and women who are good people, who join the warfront for honorable reasons. Many of those people get through the war with minimal scarring, but let’s not kid ourselves. Some people go to war to kill. They use the environment as an excuse. They have little qualms about bad orders and aren’t likely to lose sleep over shooting a civilian or two or five or five dozen for that matter. Isn’t that right?”

Andrew slammed a hand against the wall before storming over, getting into Vivian’s face as he snapped, “Who told you?”

Vivian scoffed, “No one told me, and no one had to. I guessed. After all, it’s not that much of a leap considering you willingly joined Hydra.”

“You willingly joined. What does that say about you?”

Expression freezing, Vivian paused and then grinned before she replied carefully, “It says I do whatever it takes.”

There was a tense pause, and then Andrew laughed and backed up. Sighing in relief as he turned his back on her, Vivian then paused as he sighed, “You planning on using that gumption to go after Weapon X?”

“The experiment we saw over a year ago?” Vivian snorted, “Why would I do that?”

“Because he escaped. You saw him escape.”

“That seems like the army’s problem. If they want help finding their lost pet then they should pay us like everyone else does.”

“That’s how you feel?”

“That’s how I feel.”

“Even though he’s your father?”

Gritting her teeth, Vivian shook her head and laughed. Sucking her bottom lip into her mouth momentarily, Vivian opened her mouth before closing it again as she shook her head and retorted, “What of it? His genetics helped make me. That’s all. It’s not like he raised me. Hell, I didn’t even know he was alive until just before the mission, and then within hours of figuring out he was alive, he’d run off into the woods. Naked, I might add. Just glad I didn’t actually see anything sensitive. Really don’t need the images.”

“So you’re just saying we let him go?”

Turning toward Andrew in confusion, Vivian pointed out, “He was never our problem. He doesn’t even know Hydra’s around, much less that we saw him there. All he knows is that the US government tried to scramble his brains. We’re in the clear. If we find him then we find him, but I don’t think he’s a priority.”

“You’re in luck.”

“How so?”

“They already found him. Within months of him running off, in fact. He came right back to them, looking for revenge.”

Vivian stared at the floor, her heart hammering in her chest as she whispered, “You were testing me. For what? And why?”

“Because I told him to do so. Andrew, you can leave us.”

Taking a deep breath as the unknown man spoke up, Vivian heard Andrew murmur the typical Hydra response before heading out. Turning around, she had to force herself not to take a step back or to gasp. She schooled her features as she gazed upon the stranger. He was tall, blond, athletic, and for a split second when she’d looked at him, she could have sworn she’d been staring at Steve Rogers. And then she looked into his blue eyes and realized how wrong she was.

“Who are you?”

The man chuckled and took a step close while sighing, “My name is Alexander Pierce.”

“Names are whatever we want them to be. I asked who you are.”

“You’re a tricky little girl.”

“I may look young, but I turn 63 this year, so cut it out with the ‘little girl’ bullshit.”

Pierce laughed heartily and then sighed, “So the rumors are true.”

“You’re going to have to be more specific. People say a lot of things about me.”

Pierce took another step closer to her and shrugged, “Just that the moniker Hecate is fitting, and that at one point, you were known as the plague of Hydra .”

Vivian snorted in laughter before sighing, “Holy shit, I’d forgotten about that one. Someone truly melodramatic came up with that nickname. What about you? Got any nifty monikers you want to share?”

“Director.”

Leaning against the cryo chamber, Vivian crossed her arms across her chest and scoffed, “Of course. I’m guessing Zola handpicked you.”

“And why do you say that?”

“Let’s call it a hunch.”

Pierce nodded and shoved his hands into his pockets before confessing, “You’re right. I’d made a name for myself in politics and before that in the army. I’d been on their watch list, but then Bogota happened. People were held hostage, and a friend of mine did what was needed to be done. I learned that day what needed to be done to restore order to the world. I was approached with an offer soon after that.”

Vivian wanted to sigh. Of course this man was a true believer. More than likely Zola orchestrated the whole incident in Bogota to push Pierce one way or another, but she kept that tidbit to herself. After all, at best she’d just piss this man off, and at worst she’d tip him off and he’d go to Zola, make a stink about how she was betraying them. No, it was best to just keep her mouth shut in this instance.

“You’ll be reporting to me from now on.”

Frowning, Vivian questioned, “But Zola said—”

Before she could finish her thought, Vivian was pressed hard against the glass of the cryo chamber, Alexander’s hands around her throat as he squeezed, lifting her up off her feet as the man hissed, “I don’t care what Zola said. I’m in charge now. Understand me?”

Vivian nodded, gasping as she was released. She hit the ground hard, and leaned against the cryo chamber, forcing herself to breathe evenly. The bruises were already fading and it was like it had never happened, no mark to show what had just occurred as Alexander pushed her hair behind her ears and whispered, “Magnificent. Not a scratch on you. No wonder they used you for the serum. You truly are a remarkable invention.”

“What are my orders?”

Pierce smiled, his hand gently stroking her cheek as he confessed, “Obedience. I’m going to need Zola’s help getting me established as the new leader of this organization, but he can easily be manipulated. He is, after all, a machine. Besides, he’s stuck in that room. You, on the other hand, are already feared by many members of Hydra. If you were to side with me, to show obedience and respect to me, then I could make your life easier. Go against me, and I’ll show you that the pain you suffered before was mere child’s play. Are we in agreement?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And who am I?”

“Director Pierce, sir.”

“Good job.”

Pierce left his hand on her cheek, his thumb stroking her cheek. Keeping still, Vivian refrained from throwing him across the room, her body tensing until Pierce laughed and then pulled away before sighing, “Don’t worry, Hecate. I’ve already read all the reports about how you react to people trying for more…intimate collaborations. Besides, I’m a married man.”

“Some of the others were married too.”

“True, but unlike them, I’m faithful to my wife, and even if I was going to be unfaithful, I wouldn’t do it with the help.” Pierce twisted his ring around his finger and then shrugged, moving back toward the cryo chamber and sighing, “Then again, you would know all about being faithful.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. He was my mission. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

The lie had slipped from Vivian’s lips easily, like it was second nature, but then the next sound that came out of her was a gasp as a blade slid into her stomach. Staring down at the pen knife as Pierce dug it deeper into her abdomen, Vivian cried out as the blade was twisted and then pulled , slicing her across the abdomen before it was pulled out.

Pressing a hand to her open wound, Vivian choked on air as she slid down. Her legs were shaking and warm blood spilled over her hands as she stared up at Alexander Pierce. The man smiled softly, as if he was looking at something else entirely before he leaned over and wiped the blade clean on her shirt. Once the blade was clean, he looked it over while sighing, “I was so hoping you wouldn’t lie to me, Hecate. Especially not about something as obvious as Barnes.”

The pain was radiating through her body and she was nauseous, so very nauseous. Her head swam, and she swallowed hard as Pierce crouched near her, making sure to stay away from the blood as he continued, “Did you really think me a fool? I don’t know who changed those records for you, to say Barnes was just a mission, but I know better. I know Hydra would have never sent you here, to America, to marry some random goddamn idiot. Especially not one who was barely above the poverty line and had to be drafted to go to war. Plus, people talk. I know you’ve been with him since he came here.”

“So what? Maybe I just think he’s a great fuck.”

“No. That’s not it. There are easier ways to fulfill your urges other than waiting for a weapon to be released from cryo sleep long enough to remember how his dick works. Besides, if it really was just sex, you wouldn’t visit this room this often. What are you doing when you come to this room?”

Shaking her head and trying to force herself to stay conscious, Vivian glanced up at Bucky, her bottom lip trembling for a moment before she pulled herself together. Once she’d calmed down, she took a deep breath and then confessed, “I talk to him. Not about missions, but about how tired I am. Or about injuries. I heal from everything. I’ll heal from this. I don’t want to talk to the quacks that call themselves shrinks in this place. Besides, I’ll never look weak in front of him, because he’ll never remember what I’ve said.”

And he loves me enough to not judge me even if he could hear me.

The last thought stayed lodged in her throat, luckily enough, and she watched as Pierce nodded, seeming satisfied with his answer. He then walked out, leaving her wondering what was going on, but then he came back mere minutes later, a grin on his face as he was flanked by two agents. Each agent was holding a box of items and Vivian sighed as Pierce instructed, “One of these boxes has the necessary items required for you to sew yourself up. The other box has cleaning supplies so you can clean up the mess. I’ve heard you responded well to this sort of thing before. Now, apologize for lying to me before.”

“I’m…I’m sorry, sir.”

“Give her the boxes and then leave her to it. Don’t let her out until she’s finished.”

The boxes were dropped several feet away from her before everyone left and the door slammed shut. The door locked audibly and Vivian grit her teeth. Once the three men were gone, she then cried out as she moved and dragged herself toward the boxes. Pulling them over, she then went to work, grateful for the first time in a while that Bucky was deep in cryo sleep and wouldn’t be able to hear or see any of this. Pierce showing up made things more difficult, especially since he knew she cared about Bucky. She’d have to figure out if he knew what she was planning though.

And if he tried to get in her way, she’d kill him with her bare hands.

Chapter Text

“I’ve been told by no less than a dozen agents that trusting you is unwise. Do you know what I told them?”

Vivian had been staring forward, letting her gaze unfocus until she couldn’t see anything all. Blinking a few times, she raised her gaze to Alexander Pierce as he stared at her expectantly. Gripping the arm of the chair momentarily, she then relaxed her grip and responded carefully, “That you don’t?”

A smile spread across his face and she watched as he stood up, walked around his desk, leaning back on it before chuckling, “That’s right. I don’t. However, you’ve been behaving yourself tremendously well, doing all those…errands for me without complaint.”

“No offense, sir, but we’re currently in your office in a secret Hydra base. The only people who know we’re here are Hydra agents. The only possible reason there would be listening devices in here is because you put them there, so let’s not play coy. Especially after you made it perfectly clear about how you feel about things like that.”

“Are you still upset about that little incident?”

“You disemboweled me. I had to regrow parts of my organs. It took hours.”

“And it was months ago. We both know you’ve handled much worse. Besides, I didn’t bring you into my office to quibble about your perceived slights. It’s time to put a concrete plan in place.”

Vivian nodded, sat up straighter, and reminded herself of her own plan. She was still gathering her pieces, doing things slowly, but she was doing things right. She wouldn’t make the same mistakes she made before. Making eye contact with Pierce, she said, “You’re right. It’s time. I’d suggest brainstorming an idea, but you don’t strike me as the type to call a meeting like this until you have it all planned out, so tell me what we’re doing.”

Pierce grinned and sighed, “You really are a very smart woman, and you are correct. I have an idea. Zola already has begun work for it. Unfortunately, planning is still underway on this little project, so there’s only so far he can go.

“Planning for what?”

“To bring Hydra back into the light and to make us whole again.”

Vivian narrowed her eyes, “I’m sorry, but I’m not quite following you.”

“You do, Vivian. You already know. You already know about the infiltration efforts within SHIELD. We’ve reached record high numbers within their ranks. All levels except for the top, and well, I personally know the soon to be director of SHIELD. He can be managed. I’ll personally see to it.”

“So what? Having members in their ranks won’t be enough.”

“You’re right,” Pierce confessed, “and I already anticipated that. We have members of Hydra in every level of law enforcement at this point. Almost every level of government. In multiple countries. And yet, even that is still not enough. There will be people who resist us. This organization learned that the hard way.”

“That’s one way of putting it. So what are you going to do that Schmidt didn’t think of?”

“Chaos.”

“Chaos?”

Pierce nodded and sighed, “People crave order. They crave a strong, guiding hand telling them that they’ll be safe and that they don’t have to worry about a bogeyman. The crave this so much, in fact, that they’ll trade their freedom for it. First step is to cause unrest, to cause chaos. You’ve already been doing that for years. When the time is right, people will beg us for our guidance.”

“And for the people that aren’t willing to fall in line?”

Pierce pulled a folder from his desk and held it out. Accepting it, she opened the folder up only to arch an eyebrow as she found herself staring at pages and pages of printed out equations. Flipping through them for a moment, she then shut the folder and handed it back to him while scoffing.

“You are aware that I was a nurse, not a mathematician, right? I can narrow that down as being math. High level math.”

“I’ve seen the reports of the things that you did in the field. You were a doctor in all but name.”

Vivian burst into laughter and then tossed her head back. Her body shook with the laughter, the sound coming out in gasping breaths before she sighed and retorted, “It was world war II. The fact that I was good at medicine in world war II wasn’t really all that impressive. We had just gotten penicillin basically. Doctors were still doing surgeries regularly in a lot of places. I was doing medicine I had no business doing because we were stretched thin and I can’t get sick like a normal person does.

“Patent medicines hadn’t been banned until 1936 and I still had coworkers prescribing them to patients. I still had coworkers diagnosing women as hysterical. I am ludicrously, incomprehensibly behind on medicine, any medicine. I haven’t studied or practiced in decades. And the knowledge I have won’t help me interpret those equations.”

“I thought Barnes was good at math. Maybe he taught you some.”

You think Barnes taught me?” Vivian laughed, “Sure, he knows a decent amount of math. He was good at math. He had to be to be a sniper, but being a sniper doesn’t require a 20 page equation to figure out. And when we were together, there’s a math sex joke to be made, but we weren’t actually doing math. There was no ‘oh baby, oh baby, let me tell you all about differential equations’.”

“That equation isn’t finished.”

“It’s not even finished? What are you even trying to do?”

“We want to figure out who Hydra’s enemies are before they become our enemies.”

Brow furrowing, Vivian leaned forward and held up a hand, “Wait, are you trying to say you’re trying to create an equation to…be psychic?”

“Don’t be so crass,” Pierce snapped. “They’re predictions based on multitudes of evidence we’ll gather.”

“So, a well-researched psychic.”

The sting of his hand slapping across her face stunned her into silence. Pierce was glaring, his eyes like ice as he said, “Watch your fucking mouth.”

Vivian took a deep breath and lowered her gaze to the floor, both to avoid showing how angry she was and to fake some sort of regret as she replied, “I’m sorry, sir.”

“Damn right, you are. Now shut the fuck up, and let me finish.”

Nodding, Vivian gripped the arms of her chair tightly as Pierce straightened his outfit and then continued speaking, his voice having a slightly dangerous tremor in it, reminding her to keep her wits about her at all times, “We’ll need to gather intelligence. Already, computers are advancing, even amongst the general public at a rapid amount. They’re behind us, of course, but they will modernize soon enough. And then, do you know what we’ll do once that happens?”

She shook her head and Pierce sighed, “We’ll find out everything about them. We’ll take all that information and we will know who will be against us.”

“That’s a lot of people to get rid of.”

“Once we figure out how to narrow down who to get rid of, the next phase is coming up with a weapon to take them out in extremely large groups at once. We are, of course, decades away from this. Until then, I will be in charge of Barnes to make sure our known enemies go away the old fashioned way. You, of course, will be instrumental in this effort. Speaking of which, here’s your list of targets.”

Accepting the list, she frowned as she saw it and questioned, “Sir? May I inquire about this list?”

“No. You already know what they look like, where they will be, and how to kill them. You don’t need to know anything else about them. Do I make myself clear?”

“Absolutely.” Vivian paused and then took a deep breath before cautiously mentioning, “Sir, you mentioned you’re now in charge of the Winter Soldier program.”

“I did, because I am, and don’t worry, I’ve been well-informed about everything, including the red book.”

Nodding, Vivian licked her bottom lip before asking, “In the past, the soldier and I have been paired on many missions. Will that still be the case?”

Pierce grinned and moved closer, leaning toward her while chuckling, “Well, that’s really up to you, isn’t it? Behave yourself, do everything your told, and maybe I’ll let you two play together. Hell, take out every single rat on that list and I’ll make sure you and your pet get a conjugal visit or two. How does that sound?”

“More than generous. Thank you, sir.”

“Good. Now get out. Your first assignment starts soon.”

Murmuring a ‘yes, sir’, Vivian put the list into her pocket before she got up and then walked out of the room. She clenched her hands into fists as she left the room, her jaw clenching to the point of pain as she struggled to keep herself calm until she got to her room. Once she got there, she carefully shut the door to her room and then closed the door. Once she knew her room was shut tight, she headed into her bathroom and did the same there. She then released her fists as she screamed. Vivian’s chest heaved as she leaned over the sink, her bloody hands gripping the sides while she struggled to pull herself together.

“I can do this.”

The words came out in a gasp before she finally got her breathing under control. Her eyes closed and she focused on slow, even breathing as she washed her hands. Glancing down at the sink, she watched the blood slowly swirl down the drain before she dried her hands. Pulling the list of names out of her pocket, she headed back into her room and began getting ready for her first target.

The list was fairly comprehensive. Some of the names she only vaguely recognized for being in royal families or higher ups in government. Others she recognized because she’d known them during the war. A few names she didn’t recognize at all.

The worst ones on the list were Howling Commandos.

Killing Falsworth had been bad enough, had stained her soul in ways she had thought beyond her at the time. And now Hydra was asking her to do it again, to kill the people she’d once called friends, to kill the people Bucky had been willing to die for. Nausea welled up in her and she rushed to the toilet, leaning over it and vomiting up the contents of her stomach. Blood tinged the foul liquid and she spit one last time before she went back to the sink. Taking deep breaths, she stared into the mirror, watching as her expression became completely closed off. Once that was accomplished, once her emotions were locked up tight again, she brushed her teeth, using extra mouthwash, and then finished getting cleaned up. Snatching up the note once more, she then left the room and followed the other agents toward her next mission.

She had a job to do, after all.

Chapter Text

Waking up in a bed with all his memories wasn’t nearly as jarring to Bucky as it was the first time.  Last time it had been unheard of, a miraculous thing that he didn’t quite understand. This time, he knew what to expect; he was to be given a refresher in training. He sat up abruptly, his heart beating faster as he realized it also meant more time with Vivian. He’d get to see her again, see her while himself. He didn’t know exactly how long it had been since their last time together, but he knew it was far too long.

“Good, you’re up.”

Bucky turned to face Vivian, fighting back a smile as he watched her dragging in a massive box. Part of him wanted to rush to her side, to pull her into his arms, but he didn’t know how much she could do while under surveillance. She looked good, despite her top being the loudest thing he’d ever seen in his life. The skin tight blue jeans were nice though.

“If you’re done staring at my ass, you can help me unload this.”

Grinning, Bucky got off the bed and headed over, crouching down next to Viv and popping open the trunk, giving a low whistle once he saw the truly mind boggling array of weapons that was stocked inside. Licking his bottom lip, he questioned, “Hydra scientists hard at work giving us upgrades?”

“You got it. And I get to be the one to train you in how to work them. Top brass wants you to know be able to assemble them in under a minute with your eyes closed. And I only have a short window of time to get you up to speed, so we better get moving. Director Pierce doesn’t like it when I cause delays.”

“The new Director’s named Pierce?”

Vivian paused while pulling out weapons and sighed before turning back toward him and admitting, “Yeah. You were in cryo when it happened. Alexander Pierce got handpicked by Zola back in 1981 to be the new head of Hydra. Partially because of his extremely thorough connections, but also because he’s diabolical.”

Bucky’s brow furrowed as he watched Vivian ever so slightly tremble. Whoever Pierce was, Vivian was afraid of him, actually afraid of him, and that meant the man was probably the stuff of nightmares. Carefully moving close, he reached out to take her hand, to reassure her, but then he remembered last time, the lengths she had to go to just for them to be together, and he stopped.

Glancing back down at the ground, Bucky was surprised when Vivian turned toward him and just smiled at him for a moment. She then grinned and scoffed before leaning close, kissing him softly. He wanted to sigh with relief, but instead focused on kissing her, pulling her close to him before he came to his senses and gently pulled away.

“Viv, is it safe to—”

Viv sat back on her heels and shrugged, “Pierce figured it out as soon as he got here. Apparently it wasn’t a complete mystery to everyone why I’d get injured for you or why I’d do this much to keep you alive or why I’d keep diligent watch over your comatose body.”

“What does this mean for us?”

Bucky got more anxious the longer Vivian stared blankly at the floor. There was something different about her, something cagier and more tentative. It’d been years since he’d seen her like that, and it scared him.

“Not much, really. Hydra used you against me in the beginning when they knew I loved you,  then they just used you against me because they thought I wouldn’t let an innocent person die, and now they’re back to using you against me because I love you. For you, it’s going to be the same things over and over again. Cryo, training, cryo, mind wiping, missions, cryo, rinse and repeat.”

“And you?”

“I get to be the special project of Zola and Pierce. Get to help them take over the world. For now I just have a list of names that I have to eliminate. They’re big on them all looking like accidents or suicide though. Shockingly my nurse’s training has come in a lot of help with that. Those skills get to be used a lot differently than they were back in the war.”

Bucky frowned and whispered, “Viv, I’m—”

“If you’re about to apologize to me for shit that went down while you were frozen and comatose, you can stop. It’s been two years since Pierce took control of the organization. I’ve been complying.”

Bucky frowned at that phrasing she’d used. Complying. She’d been complying . That wasn’t a phrase she’d chosen on accident. That was specific. Swallowing hard as he thought of the ways he had been made to comply, he questioned, “What’d he do to you?”

Vivian pulled out one of the guns and then disassembled it, her movements fluid and practiced while she shrugged, “I tried to hide our relationship at first. Pierce showed me that he didn’t like it when I played games with him.”

“How?”

“Sliced me open. Locked me in the room you were in and kept me there until I sewed myself back up and cleaned the place of my blood. A classic, really. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I need you to reassemble this gun and I have to time you.”

Bucky frowned, “He should have never touched you like that.”

Vivian snorted and shoved the weapon toward him while retorting, “Well, he did, and right now you need to focus on things that actually matter.”

Reaching forward and grabbing Vivian’s wrist, Bucky waited until Vivian was looking into his eyes before he spoke firmly, “You do matter.”

At first they merely stared at each other until Vivian’s expression softened and she whispered, “I know you hate it when I talk about myself like that.”

“I do, because it’s never true,” Bucky pointed out. He then sighed and shook his head, “You’re so goddamn important, Viv. And I don’t understand why you believe them anyway. You don’t believe a fucking thing they say otherwise.”

Vivian shrugged and sighed, “Like before, we have a week for me to have you up to date on what they want you to do. Weapons are first, languages are next.”

“Hey, c’mere.” Motioning her over to him, Bucky smiled as Vivian sighed and then moved close to him. Pulling her into his arms, he pressed a kiss to her temple before whispering, “I’ve missed you so much.”

“I missed you too.”

Running his fingers through Vivian’s hair and holding her close, Bucky pressed a kiss to her temple before whispering, “This is my reminder to you that I don’t blame you for any of this.”

“That’s because you’re ridiculous. Anyway, we should get started on training before someone gets sent in to make us.”

Reluctantly letting Vivian go, he then moved closer to the weapons and nodded. Vivian immediately set to work, putting the weapon she’d taken apart back together. Her movements were quick and precise, showing that she’d handled this weapon often enough to probably be able to put it together blindfolded. She then quickly disassembled the weapon and handed it to him. Taking the pieces, he began putting it together. He wasn’t as quick as she was, but he managed to get it done with minimal effort.

“Good. That weapon is the closest to one you probably have already used. We’re going to get steadily harder as we go along. It’ll get you back into practice as well as not be too obnoxious with what I’m asking you to do.”

“Sounds fair. And then afterward we’ll go do refreshers on a few languages?”

“Yeah, and I need to give you the basics on a couple more languages. Nothing where you need to be fluent. Just familiar with the—”

Vivian’s answer was interrupted as the entire room shook and the lights flickered before plunging off. The room was immediately plunged into darkness and the shaking continued for what seemed like forever. After the room finally stilled again, Bucky took a deep breath before questioning, “This part of the plan?”

“Buck, I swear I don’t know. We’ve had tremors the past few days, but nothing like this. I don’t know what this is.”

Bucky frowned as he heard the genuine worry in her voice, reaching his arms out as he could hear her moving toward him. Once she was in his arms, they both moved to the bed he’d woken up on and he questioned quietly, “You okay?”

“Yeah. Just confused. You?”

“Same here.”

Odd looking lights flickered on, leaving the room in an unsettling red glow. Keeping his arms wrapped around Vivian, Bucky nodded as she whispered, “Emergency generators must have kicked on. I don’t know what took them so long though. Hell, I don’t even know what happened to knock out power in the first place. This place is a fucking fortress.”

“What happens now?”

Bucky stared at Vivian’s face, frowning as he saw the fear in her gaze. After several moments, she finally whispered, “I don’t know what we do. I know that in the event of an emergency, the backup generators come online, powering all the necessary systems, most importantly being the locks to this room. Although, wait a second, I think this is actually the backup of the backup.”

“What’s different?”

“The building seals and cameras only function in certain areas. I don’t think this room is one of them.”

“I thought we weren’t pretending anymore.”

Vivian turned around in his arms, straddling his hips and cupping his face. Smiling up at her, he nodded as she whispered, “We’re not. Do you trust me?”

“Of course.”

“Then I need to show you something.”

Waiting patiently as Vivian got off the bed and then dug around in the bag, he took a deep breath as she came back with a small zip up container. Laying down once she motioned for him to do so, he became confused as she carefully opened up his metal arm to reveal the internal components.

“Viv, what are you doing?”

“Nothing for now, but I need to explain this to you. I need to explain my plan to you.”

“Don’t. Viv. What if they question me?”

“Then either they’ll have wiped this from your mind since you’ll be wiped and brainwashed you can’t tell them anyway, or you’ll be able to lie. I’ll relate everything back to weapons training so if you’re asked, you can honestly say I was doing just that.”

“Okay, then what is it?”

Vivian pointed to a red light blinking and explained, “That’s the light for the bomb in your arm.” She then pointed to the green light and explained, “And this is the tracker in your arm. Typically they’d have both just be a green light, but they wanted to ensure that no one mixed these two up for obvious reasons. Just like they don’t want you to mix up the various types of weapons we have.”

“I already know I have them in my arm, Viv,” Bucky replied, trying to not seem annoyed.

“Just please, bare with me.”

Sighing, Bucky nodded and whispered, “Okay. Continue explaining.”

“In both cases, Director Pierce is directly in charge of both of these functions. Other people can monitor the tracking signal if given permission by him at any given moment, but for the most part, it requires his authorization to cause one of the chain reactions within the arm. He is also in charge of your missions and authorizing weapons to be used by you in general now as well.”

“Pierce controls my arm now?”

“Yes. He’s in charge of both of us, and he is willing to use these against us, so you need to pay attention. Bucky, please.”

The panic in Vivian’s gaze was painful and Bucky sighed before he whispered, “Sorry.”

“The tracking signal is now accurate to one city block. If the signal stops relaying your information then the system is programmed to expect an override code from Pierce within three minutes, more than enough time to disassemble or assemble a few of the weapons I’m going to be showing you over the next case. While this is the case, the location you were last at will be relayed to the closest agents for them to hunt you down. At first they’re ordered to observe, but not approach. If the override code is implemented then they back off.”

If at all possible they can bring you in alive. If that fails or if they can’t find you at all, then the bomb in your arm is triggered. The radius for the concussive blast is huge. If you were in a building, it would for certain bring the building down and you wouldn’t live long enough to see even that. If you tampered with the bomb while it was still active and receiving the signal then it would detonate automatically. It should withstand shockwaves and kickback from all of the weapons you’ll use though. It does have some slight insulation around it to prevent a mistake like that.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

Bucky eyed Vivian carefully as she kept her expression controlled, but he himself couldn’t control his own shock as she whispered, “I’m getting close to Pierce. I’m making him trust me. I’m doing what I have to do to make sure I can get close enough to access his personal terminal. He knows I want to protect you, but he doesn’t know how far I’ll go. That’s an advantage to us. My goal is to get access to his account and to turn off the signal to the bomb and the tracker from within Hydra. If at all possible I’d then erase the data so they can’t re-establish a signal with your arm once someone realizes what I’ve done.”

“You want to help me escape.”

“Yes. That’s been my goal since you were first captured.”

“It sounds dangerous. What if you get caught?”

Bucky watched as Vivian put the plates back into his arm while shrugging, “That’s always a risk, but as long as I get you out then it’ll be worth it.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll follow when I can.”

“That’s not good enough. We escape together.”

Vivian scoffed and stood up, “If I can then I will, but I don’t know, Bucky. I honestly just don’t know. And right now all I can focus on is just getting you through this and out of here. First step is figuring out how to disconnect the bomb and the tracker. Next step is to figure out how to undo the brainwashing.”

Reaching over, Bucky grabbed Vivian’s hand and whispered, “I need you with me, Viv.”

“I’ll do what I can.”

Vivian sat back with him, and Bucky held her close. They sat there in silence, the eerie light washing over them as they waited for something to happen. Bucky wondered what to say or what to do to reassure Vivian that this wasn’t her job, and that he just wanted her to be safe, but he couldn’t think of what to say. After all, she did believe it was her job. She truly believed it was her duty to keep him safe.

“Hear me, inhabitants of this world.”

Hissing in a breath, Bucky pulled his arms away from Vivian and gripped at his head, falling back onto the bed as Vivian cursed and then quickly steadied him while whispering, “It’s okay, Buck. It’s in our heads, but it’s going to be okay.”

“How—”

“This is a message, a message to every man, woman, and mutant. You have lost your way, but I have returned. The day of reckoning is here. All your buildings and temples…will fall. For there is nothing you can do to stop what is coming. This message is for one reason alone, to tell the strongest amongst you, those with the greatest power…protect those without.”

Gasping and coughing as Vivian’s hands gently cupped his face, Bucky slowly opened his eyes and whispered, “What was that?”

“It was a mutant. A very powerful mutant, but I don’t know him. I don’t know who he is or what’s supposed to happen today, but I know Hydra’s not going to let us out until it’s over, for better or worse.”

“He said mutant. He included them in the list. How many of you are there out there?”

“I don’t know exactly. I’d say no one knows, but I have a feeling that voice does. I know there are more than people think and I know they went public back in the 1970’s. My father is one of them.”

“Is?” Bucky questioned while sitting up. “You said ‘is’. Is he still alive?”

Vivian shrugged, “He was a few years ago. His name is James Howlett. He goes by ‘Logan’. His mutant name is Wolverine. He has highly advanced regenerative abilities and he had bone claws that came out of his hands. I got to see him before they pumped him full of liquid adamantium. Now he has a super strong skeleton as well as metal claws. The claws retract, by the way.”

“Your father…has claws?”

“Yeah. He escaped for a bit, but then the U.S. army captured him again.”

“So he’s not a captive of Hydra?”

Vivian shook her head and burst into laughter, “Believe it or not, but Hydra’s not the only organization doing awful things to people. U.S. government’s doing a hell of a job on its own even without Hydra being inside it. I mean, there are most certainly Hydra agents inside the U.S. military as well as the government, but they’re not responsible for this particular program.”

Bucky nodded, but then cried out as it felt like his metal arm was being tugged on by some unseen force. It was a steady, constant burn, and he could feel blood seeping out of his shoulder as he gasped for breath. Vivian cursed and pressed down on his shoulder, keeping him down and blocking up the blood, but Bucky could only claw at the bed as he gasped, “Viv, it hurts .”

“I’m so sorry. Bucky, I’m so sorry. I’m right here. Bucky, I’m right here.”

A buzzing filled Bucky’s ears as the pain got worse and worse until finally his vision blacked out entirely. When he came back to, Vivian was holding him close and whispering his name fervently. Opening his eyes, he felt his heart clench as she stared blankly into the distance, tears slowly streaming down her cheeks as her lips moved quickly, still whispering his name. Her hands shook as the ran through his hair and her breathing was erratic. Grabbing her hand, he threaded their fingers together before whispering, “Viv.”

For a moment it didn’t seem like she heard him, so he squeezed her hand gently before saying gently, “C’mon, kitten, come back to me. Talk to me.”

“Buck?”

Sitting up, still holding one of her hands in his hand, he carefully cupped her cheek with his metal hand and chuckled, “Yeah, doll, I’m right here. I’m right here, and I’m okay.”

“You weren’t okay. Your arm…it…”

“It what?”

“I don’t know. Your shoulder was bleeding all over the place and I don’t know if it was because of the arm getting jostled or what, but you collapsed. And then you just wouldn’t move and you wouldn’t respond to me, and I just…”

She averted her gaze and he leaned forward, pressing a barely there kiss to her lips before whispering, “I’m sorry I scared you, but I’m okay now. Are you?”

“I’m not the one that collapsed.”

“No, you’re the one who had to deal with me collapsing right after you found out about potentially a whole community of mutants waiting out there for you.”

“They can’t wait for someone they don’t know exists.”

Bucky sighed and leaned back, moving his hand from her face but keeping their hands linked as he scoffed, “You know what I mean, Viv. You had a group you could have gone to, but instead you were stuck with me.”

“You’re an idiot if you think I’d rather be anywhere you aren’t, James Buchanan Barnes. If anyone should be looking for an exit, it’s you, and we both know you’re too much of a sap to do that.”

Bucky pulled Vivian closer, pulling her into his lap, wrapping his arms around her waist while he whispered, “So, the lights are back on, and we survived whatever apocalyptic event was supposed to happen today. Think our captors will mind us messing around instead to celebrate our survival?”

For a moment Vivian narrowed her eyes, but then she rolled them and then laughed loudly, “You’re such an idiot. C’mon, let’s get this over with, and then we can do something more fun.”

“I’m holding you to that.”

Chapter Text

“Close the door.”

Doing as she was told, Vivian glanced around the empty room before sitting down at the table across from Pierce. The man hadn’t looked at her yet, instead focusing on a thick file in front of him. Part of her was annoyed with this whole song and dance routine, but she kept her face passive as he continued to flip through documents, scribbling notes on them while not looking at her. He’d pulled this move before. It was some stupid power move, or at least he saw it as one. He wanted to see how long she’d go before she’d just ask him why she was there. The first time they’d lasted a solid thirty minutes before he’d finally sighed and explained what she was there for. Part of her wondered if he’d try for even longer this time.

She got her answer when he just kept flipping through the pages. He was upping his game though, raising his eyebrows every once and awhile, nodding in appreciation at certain things, and hell, even whispering things to himself like ‘interesting’. He probably did think the things he was reading were interesting, but Vivian knew that he was only saying it out loud to try to get a rise out of her. She merely sat and stared, remaining completely silent despite wanting to laugh in his face. It was such a stupidly petty move on his part.

After the thirty minute mark came and went, Vivian let her gaze unfocus completely as she focused on her breathing. If he was going to do this to her then he might as well get some solid meditation out of it. She actually started to drift off when suddenly Pierce was closing the folder loudly and asking, “What do you know about the X-Men?”

Tilting her head, Vivian shrugged and sighed, “I’ve heard the name before and I know it’s connected to mutants. I don’t know much else.”

“Why not?”

“Because when I’m out on missions, I’m not exactly looking to pick up some light reading. I get the job done and then I get out. I figured you’d appreciate my timeliness in getting back since, historically, this company hasn’t responded well when their agents dawdle.”

Pierce narrowed his eyes and bit out, “I see.”

“The tone makes me think you think I’m hiding something, and I promise you that I’m not. I can and will tell you everything I know about mutants right now.”

“Do it.”

Sighing and refraining from rolling her eyes, Vivian explained, “Wolverine’s DNA was used to create me. He’s a powerful mutant with massive regenerative abilities. Last I heard he was in the custody of the U.S. military. I also know he has a brother, so I technically have an uncle, but I don’t know much about that guy other than that he’s an asshole. I know Magneto’s a powerful mutant who can control magnetic fields or something like that. He was there during the assassination of JFK and accidentally helped with it. Pretty sure he was actually trying to stop it.

“I’ve seen that blue woman in footage on televisions as I’m passing by, but I don’t know what she does other than be extremely blue and extremely attractive. I know there’s a mutant that can get into people’s minds because of that weird message we all got. I know there are other mutants out there. I know the X-Men are probably a group of mutants.”

“And that’s it?”

“That’s it.”

Pierce opened the file up and then pulled out photographs before sliding them over. The first photos were a series of them, of that blue woman before and after they'd transformed into someone else. That someone else was a blond woman. Another photo was of them as a man.

“That is the mutant known as Mystique. It took some digging, but we believe her real name to be Raven Darkhölme. She is a shapeshifter. She can change both her body and her voice to impersonate anyone she so chooses to. It appears to not last when she’s knocked unconscious though. Due to her involvement in stopping Lehnsherr from assassinating a different president, she’s been lauded as a hero.”

Nodding, Vivian glanced at the photos again before sliding them away and then focusing back on the next set of images. These were of a man with glasses and then a blue almost fuzzy man wearing those same glasses. About to ask about that, she nodded when Pierce explained, “Nicknamed Beast, Hank McCoy has a genius-level intellect. As far as we can tell, he’s an expert in genetics, biochemistry, electronics and mechanics. Those are just the ones we know about. On top of that, when he isn’t inhibiting his own mutant abilities, he is an incredibly dangerous fighter. Strength, endurance, agility are all at an incredible level. He also has claws and can grip things with his feet.”

“He can do what?” Vivian interrupted.

Pierce sighed and glared at her before snapping, “His feet are more like hands than feet. He can use them to hold himself up or to catch things.”

“He has blue monkey feet,” Vivian whispered, leaning forward while pointing at the picture. She cleared her throat and leaned back though when Pierce continued to glare at her. After several tense moments, she slid the photos aside and waited until Pierce took a deep breath before handing her more photos. These photos were of a blue man with scarification all over him as well as a tail.

“Are all other mutants blue or did you just group them like this on purpose just to mess with me?”

Silence. This is not a discussion. I am not seeking your input. I do not care what you think of them. Understood?”

“Yes, sir. Apologies, sir,” said automatically while forcing herself to not sneer at the man.

“Good. This mutant is called Nightcrawler, but his name is Kurt Wagner. On top of the peak physical abilities the young man showcases, he has a prehensile tail, can do limited camouflage, can stick to walls, and he can teleport. We have reason to believe he is the offspring of Mystique, but no proof to back it up. Official records show him as nothing more than an orphan.”

Those photos were shoved aside and Vivian watched as Pierce seemed to get more agitated as he showed a picture of three smiling people. A blond man, a teen boy with slightly darker hair and ruby colored glasses, and a redheaded girl.

“Alex Summers, Scott Summers, and Jean Grey. The first two are brothers are known respectively as Havok and Cyclops. Havok shoots plasma blasts out of his body and Cyclops shoots lasers out of his goddamn mind. Jean Grey is a powerful telepath and telekinetic!”

The photos got shoved aside by Pierce and replaced by a picture of a pretty black girl with white hair as Pierce barreled through, “Ororo Munroe. Nicknamed Storm. She controls the weather.”

Yet another photo shoved aggressively to the side and then followed by a photo of two men. Erik Lehnsherr and a man around his age who was in a wheelchair. Pierce pointed at them and snapped, “You already know about Magneto. He controls all metal. The man next to him is Charles Xavier. The world’s most powerful telepath. Just a little boost from some ancient mutant called Apocalypse of all things, and he got into the minds of every human on Earth. And he’s recruiting mutants. Starting a goddamn school for your kind. Dozens of them.”

Vivian wanted to ask what the point was, but Pierce seemed too enraged to talk, just stood up and ran his fingers through his hair as he paced. He was breathing heavily and Vivian merely waited. She waited until Pierce sighed before explaining, “I’m telling you about all of them because if I find out you were so much as within the same one block radius as one of them, I will kill Barnes. As far as these mutants know, Hydra is dead, and that is what they will continue to believe until I choose to let them and the rest of the world know otherwise.”

“I promise I won’t go near them, although with the exception of the presidential assassination and the time Charles Xavier broadcast directly into my mind, the only time I’ve knowingly been in the same room as another mutant was when Hydra specifically sent me there. You said I can’t be within one block of them. What if it’s an accident?”

Pierce merely stared at her, and Vivian took a deep breath before explaining, “I’m not going to do anything to put Bucky at risk, but I don’t want my accidentally stepping from one street corner to the next when someone I can’t see and don’t even know is there to get Barnes hurt or killed. Please.”

“You have to earn that kind of consideration.” Vivian waited, breath caught in her throat at Pierce’s words, but then she slowly exhaled as Pierce sighed, picked up the photos, and then picked up the file before announcing, “You do this mission without flaws or complaints and I will consider changing it so that it’s any sign of you attempting contact with any of the subjects.”

“Thank you, sir. What’s my mission, sir?”

Pierce smiled, and the smile chilled her soul as he moved smoothly around the table. She focused on the grain pattern of the surface, her hands gripping her chair until she swore it started to bend as he gently pushed her hair behind her ear, running his fingers through her hair while he chuckled, “You always freeze up when I do this. No matter how many times I tell you I’m not interested in the help, and still you wonder if today is the day I change my mind. You don’t react in any other way though, and I’m proud of you for that.”

He released her hair and she released her grip on the chair as well as the breath she’d been holding. Her gaze remained on the table, and she kept it there until a different file was placed on the table before it was flipped open. Instantly her heart rate went up as she found herself staring at Timothy Dugan.

“What are my orders?”

“He’s the head of his division in SHIELD, one of the members of the inner circle alongside Margaret Carter, Howard Stark, and the rest of the Howling Commandos still alive. He doesn’t trust technology, keeps his important information either memorized or locked in places only he knows about. You’re to get the locations of those files and then kill him.”

“So you want me to talk to him?”

“Yes. Other agents have already been through that house, searched it for any clue, and the man didn’t leave a single solitary hint.”

“When am I doing the mission?”

“Now. Your transport will take you there, you’ll be given the necessary drugs to give him to induce a heart attack, and then you’ll leave. Once you arrive on the location, you have one hour to get in and out with the information or we give the same drug to Barnes. Now go.”

Getting up and heading out of the room, Vivian headed directly toward the exit where agents were waiting. Accepting her blindfold, she put it on before getting led to the car. Once she was in the car, she braced herself for a long car journey only to groan as a needle was pressed into her neck and everything went dark.

When she awoke, Vivian sighed as she realized her blindfold had been removed and the car was parked in a garage. Rubbing her neck, she gave a thumbs up as an agent turned to her and handed her a large tote purse while explaining, “Inside is a clutch containing the necessary drug and syringe you’ll need to get the job done. The bag itself will be used for extraction of any and all documents you locate in the event Agent Dugan has any on his person.”

“Understood. Any information on the security system in the house since I’m on a bit of schedule here?”

The agent glared, but handed over a slip of paper. Opening it up, she memorized the information on it, and then handed it back before getting out of the car. The garage door opened and she immediately headed out and toward the address she’d been shown on that slip of paper. The street itself seemed like it had exceptionally nice houses, all grand homes, but none of them mansions. In fact, considering what she’d expected, the homes looked pretty understated if you discounted the fact that they all had insane security systems. Luckily for her though, even Stark’s work had flaws, flaws he was probably too arrogant to notice.

The fact that Hydra had been watching the Howling Commandos closely for as long as the war had been over also helped.

Pulling a device out of her bag, Vivian attached it to the alarm system as soon as she was in, leaving it on for the required amount before she took it off. Last time she’d been in the house of a former friend, she’d had the Winter Soldier to back her up, but this time she was on her own. She would sink or swim on her own.

If she refused to do the mission, Bucky would die, and if she did the mission and got cold feet afterward, then Hydra would have proof of her killing a federal agent.  Either way she’d end up never seeing Bucky again.

Glancing around the house, Vivian arched an eyebrow as she realized that whatever the house lacked in size and obnoxious grandeur, it made up for by having a state of the art interior. Between the electronics, the art, and the collectibles, the contents had to be worth millions. Far more than the actual house itself. Shaking her head at that, Vivian headed into the office, wondering if every rich man in the world had to give himself his own private work domain in their own home. She herself couldn’t imagine wanting something like that in her living space. After all, a home was supposed to be an escape from all that, an oasis of sorts.

Peering at the books on the shelf, Vivian smiled when, right on schedule, the door to the office opened. Her back to them, she merely kept glancing at the books before speaking up, “Quite a collection of first editions here. I’m surprised. You never really struck me as the type of man to own something like this. Not that I ever thought you were stupid, just that I thought you’d rather spend your money on other things.”

“Who are you?”

“Monty surprised me too though. He had so many weapons hidden around his home. Dangerous stuff. He had a lot of books, but I don’t think they were first editions. Probably for the best since gas can be rough on documents.”

No…you didn’t. You couldn’t have…”

“Except I did, Dum Dum.”

Turning around, Vivian wasn’t surprised when Dugan went pale and stumbled back. He was shaking, looking awful as she headed over to his desk. Picking up the family portrait, she smiled softly, “Jesus, you’ve got a big family. Lots of kids. Plenty of grandkids. Probably were going to get some great-grandkids any day now. Must have been hard going off to war back then, leaving them at home like that.”

“Who are you and what do you want?”

“You know who I am. I’m Vivian Peshkova, and I’m here for the information you’ve gathered on mutants.”

“It’s a trick. You can’t be her. She’s—”

“Dead? Didn’t take. I have regenerative abilities, got them from my father, and a schedule to keep, so please just tell me where all the documents are.”

“Prove you’re her.”

Moving toward Dum Dum, Vivian slipped her hands into her pockets and admitted, “We were captured together back in 1943. I got really sick. Bucky held me and told you all stories about our lives together. Those are things you would have probably told to someone else though. What you most likely didn’t tell anyone about was how after Bucky bartered for my life and I came to, I got myself taken back by killing multiple Hydra agents in front of you. Now c’mon, you had to think that was weird that I could do that.”

Dugan swallowed hard, looking like he wanted to sink right to the floor as he confessed, “I wondered, but then you were dead. Rogers and Barnes were mourning you, and it didn’t seem right to bring it up then. After all, what was the point? You were gone. Best to let them remember you as the girl they both loved.”

Vivian took a startled step back, her eyes widening slightly before she composed herself and admitted, “The three of us had an unconventional relationship. Although Bucky has since learned the exact type of person I am.”

“Barnes is dead.”

“Barnes survived the fall thanks to a version of the serum created by Zola, but if I don’t bring back the documents that Hydra wants from you in under the time limit, then Bucky will die for good this time.”

Dum Dum let out a string of curses and stood up, walking past her and pacing, his chest heaving as his expression went wild. Moving back over to the desk, Vivian sat down behind it as he took deep breaths before questioning, “Hydra’s still around?”

“Yep.”

“How many of them are inside of SHIELD?”

“A lot. Conservatively about half your agents are sleeper agents.”

Fuck. Explains how you knew about my documents on mutants. You know they’re not in this house though, right?”

Vivian nodded, “I was informed they wouldn’t be here since agents already searched this place.”

Dum Dum froze and closed his eyes, his hands clenching the desk tighter before he bit out, “What happens to me after I give you the information?”

“You die, but your family is left alone.”

“How will it happen?”

“You’re 72, a drinker, and a smoker, so heart attack is what will raise the least amount of suspicions. I’ll let you get comfortable and then I’ll inject you with a drug. I’ll stay with you until you die, and then I’ll leave. It’ll be a completely understandable tragedy of time.”

“What happens if I refuse to give them to you?”

“I’ll remind you that Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes was your friend and that he’s suffered enough. I’ll tell you all the things they did to him, did to me, to get us to comply, and I’ll let you know that I’m working my way toward getting us out, to taking down Hydra for good. And then I’ll kill you anyway.”

“Did they really slit your throat?”

“Yes. You wanna know the worst thing they’ve ever done to me though?”

Dum Dum glanced at her, looking like he didn’t really want the answer as he whispered, “What?”

Vivian leaned forward and smiled before whispering, “Well, it’s a toss up between the time they performed an autopsy on me while I was still awake, and the dozens of times they’ve made me watch them electrocute the very soul out of the man I love. I know what his skin smells like when it burns. I know what color his eyes go as volts of electricity go into his skull. I know what he sounds like when he’s being frozen alive.”

“Oh God.”

“So, Dum Dum, deep down, part of me knows that threatening you and killing you won’t fix any of this, but I also know that if I don’t do it, if I don’t get those files from you, then I’ll get to find out exactly what Bucky sounds like as he’s being ripped apart in front of me. If I’m lucky, they’ll take the corpse away immediately, but I have a feeling they’ll just leave it there for me to witness it rot. So I’m going to ask you one more time: where the fuck are those files?”

Dum Dum put his head into his hands, his body shaking. They sat there like that for a few minutes until the man rubbed at his face and then confessed, “My full name is Timothy Aloysius Cadwallader Dugan. Dugan comes from an Irish name, and I’ve still got family over in Ireland. There’s a bank in the city my family still lives in, I’ve got a house there too. I have a bank account there under Aloysius Cadwallader.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m doing it for Barnes, and I’m doing it for Rogers. They loved you more than anything else in this world except for each other, maybe. If it weren’t for Bucky, I wouldn’t be helping you do this. Hell, I still shouldn’t be doing this, but I have a feeling it wouldn’t be just me who would die if I refused, would it?”

Vivian shook her head, “No. They’d go for your family next, torture them until they’d dug up every single place you could have hid the documents. If you cooperate though, your family lives.”

“But I don’t.”

“No, you don’t, and it’s not fair. None of this is fair. None of this is right, but I don’t know what else to do, Dum Dum. Alexander Pierce is the current head of Hydra, and he has deep connections.”

Dum Dum immediately glanced over, his face a mask of fury as he snarled, “Pierce? Fuck. I know him. I goddamn know him. That son of a bitch. He came to my granddaughter’s wedding! You promise me you’ll take that bastard down. You promise me!”

“I promise on Bucky’s life.”

Dum Dum nodded jerkily and stood up. Getting up, she reached into her bag and pulled out the clutch before following him out of the office and to his room. The room was huge, and he kicked off his shoes, getting comfortable before he got into his bed. Moving close, she opened up the clutch and then pulled out the drugs, filling up the syringe before flicking the needle and then whispering, “There’s gonna be a slight pinch.”

Dum Dum nodded, and she found the spot she liked on his arm, a mishmash of freckles that would easily hide a tiny needle injection mark, and then carefully slid the needle in. Dum Dum winced, and she waited a moment before pushing down the plunger. As she pulled the needle out, she pressed a piece of cotton to his arm, holding it there as she put the syringe, needle and all, back into the clutch.

“How long now?”

Checking her watch, Vivian removed the cotton once she knew the blood would stop, and then merely smiled and whispered, “Not long.”

Dugan nodded, staring up at the ceiling as his face contorted in discomfort. Reaching over, she took his hands in hers, staying with him as he grunted in pain and a thin sheen of sweat spread across his forehead. She stayed with him as he coughed and sputtered, his hands reaching for his chest. She stayed with him as his vision went out of focus and until finally his heart just stopped . By the time his head lolled to the side, his lips parted ever so slightly, tears were slipping down Vivian’s face. Releasing his hands, she then went throughout the house, grabbing her things and making sure she left nothing that would make anyone think there’d been a murder before she left the house.

She got to the car with thirty seconds to spare.

Chapter Text

For the first time in a long time, Vivian found herself at a complete loss. She didn’t know why she’d been brought on this trip, and she didn’t know what was going to happen. All she knew was that Alexander Pierce looked singularly focused in a way she hadn’t seen in years. Keeping pace with him, she kept quiet and kept her head down as she struggled to figure it out. She searched through the past few years of memories for a reason as to why she’d be taken to a barely functioning lab hidden in a bunker in the middle of God knows what country. She thought long and hard about it, and only came up with static.

There was nothing.

After all, she’d done everything she’d been asked. She’d taken care of the missions she’d been assigned to, and she’d learned every new skill they’d put in front of her. She’d been so efficient, in fact, that Bucky hadn’t been brought out for a mission in years. If she could just keep this up, then maybe the next time he woke up, it would be her finally rescuing him for good.

“What do you know about Bolivar Trask?”

Frowning, Vivian glanced sideways over at Pierce before replying, “Bolivar Trask is the head of the now mostly discredited research and technology institute aptly named Trask Industries.. His work with prosthetics was considered groundbreaking, for what’s available for public consumption at least, and he hates mutants. He thinks we’re going to be the reason humans become extinct. He’s kind of insane.”

“And yet, I’ve gotten word that the FBI has teamed up with him to create a mutant registration using DNA that government agents pull from crime scenes. That means from now on, you’ll need to make sure that nothing can ever be traced back to you. If Trask got his hands on your DNA, the results would be catastrophic.”

“Understood, sir. Will another mission be required?”

Pierce paused and then glanced at her, an odd gleam in his eyes as he stalled in the hallway before questioning, “What do you think?”

Frowning and coming to a stop, Vivian admitted, “I think killing him is a mistake. I think if he were to die while doing this, the conspiracy theories alone would be enough to launch him to martyr status. It would make the situation that much harder to contain.”

“Correct, but luckily in order to get this project funded, it has to go through congress.”

Scoffing, Vivian rolled her eyes, “Well, that’s a nonstarter. Let me guess, it’ll never get out of committee?”

Pierce nodded, glancing back down the hallway and sighing, “I’ll make sure an appropriate senator makes the appropriate arguments to sway votes in my favor. This project will never officially get off the ground, but once technology is created, it’s impossible to make it disappear fully, so we will still be having you make the necessary changes to your exit strategies from missions. If at all possible, our own team will be looking over your cases to make sure you leave nothing behind.”

“Understood, sir.”

They began walking again, and Vivian kept her mouth shut, wanting to sigh with relief, but refraining from doing so as Pierce said, “I’m proud of you. I can tell you want to know what we’re doing here, but you haven’t asked once. I’m glad. It means you’re learning. This place is a former research facility of Hydra’s. It was operated during the war, and it was run by a man named Werner Reinhardt. Have you heard of him?”

Vivian nodded, keeping her gaze forward as she spoke slowly and deliberately, trying to keep as much hatred out of her voice as possible, “He was a Nazi and then transferred over to the Hydra division of the Nazi party. From what Madame Hydra said, he tended to not leave much left of his human subjects that he experimented on. He admired Mengele, and somehow thought that man didn’t go far enough with his experiments. Carter captured him back in 1945, only America never made a deal with him. They locked him up and left him to rot.”

“I got him released under a medical pardon, convinced the right people that he’d only joined Hydra under duress.”

There was a pounding in Vivian’s head and she gripped her hands tightly into fists, her jaw clenching as she focused forward. Her rage was palpable. Of all the people to let out, to let taste freedom, to give it to him ?

“Rest assured,” Alexander sighed before continuing, “even with your silence, I am deeply aware of how you feel about members of the Nazi party. You abhor them even more than you abhor Hydra. In fact, if documentation is correct, the only reason Werner Reinhardt isn’t dead already is because you were never in the same room with him, and then by the time Hydra was underground, he was in a top secret SHIELD prison. If you have any illusions about what’s going to happen here today, know that anything you do to Reinhardt, I will do to Barnes.”

Vivian nodded, but then hissed in a breath as Pierce turned and grabbed her by her chin, shoving her back against the wall while demanding, “Say it.”

Vivian maintained eye contact, wanting more than anything to just gouge the man’s eyes out as she bit out, “Yes, sir.”

“Good,” Pierce smiled before releasing her and then beginning to walk away. “Let’s see what Reinhardt has in store today.”

Following Pierce down the hall, Vivian tried her best to brace herself for what was coming next, for what she’d see. She still wasn’t prepared though to view an operating room. A woman lay on the table and there was Reinhardt. His hair had gone white, his face was weathered, and he looked like a stiff breeze would break him. His thick glasses were pushed up far on his nose as he worked on the woman who was secured to the table, and as she took in the sight, she found herself backing up in absolute horror.

Make him stop.”

Vivian begged the words quietly, her chest heaving from the effort and she found herself moving forward again, pressing her hands against the glass while Pierce watched her with a grin. Vivian could feel her stomach churning, could feel her nausea rising as he moved closer to her and whispered, “That woman on the table is even older than you are. She has an…interesting quirk in her DNA. She can use the life force of other people, drain them, and heal herself with it. Keeps her young. We’re not even sure how old she is. She could be ancient.”

“That doesn’t mean this still doesn’t hurt her.”

“Progress requires sacrifice.”

“And yet she doesn’t look like she’s exactly volunteering,” Vivian bit out, her hands pressing tighter against the glass as she forced herself to not just bash her way in there and remove the woman from the table. Her mouth was open in a continuous scream that Vivian couldn’t hear as Reinhardt slowly removed her organs.

“The woman’s name is Jiaying. Hydra initially found her in a village in China. They were so close to a breakthrough with this one, Reinhardt was specifically, but then Hydra fell. That woman was abandoned to a cell only to be rescued by Agent Carter. The patient then evaded our agents for many years, and she was presumed dead until recently. And here she is, not having aged a single day. Of course, we had to give her to Reinhardt as a present.”

“What is he trying to do? Why does it have to be her?”

“You want to know if he can do it to you instead. Noble, but unnecessary, because I suspect that your DNA is more dangerous administered to humans than people would like to believe. We need a stable way to enhance people that doesn’t require surviving a serum or potentially getting cancer. The science done on this woman will tell us what we need to know.”

Pointing aggressively at the window, Vivian snapped, “ This isn’t science ! This is butchery ! He just pulled out that woman’s liver and put it into a jar, and for what ? What in God’s name could he possibly accomplish this way, and even if he does, it’s completely fucking useless if you can’t replicate the process. He’s killing her.”

“Are you questioning my judgment?”

“Yes, I am, because you took a decrepit Nazi out of the God forsaken hole he’d been thrown into, a place he belongs in until he can be sent straight to Hell, and then you let him just rip apart some innocent woman you dragged out of China.”

“We have to be powerful enough to implement our plan, and in order to do that, we need minds like Reinhardt’s. We need that level of genius.”

It’s not genius, it’s insanity!” Vivian shouted, banging her hand on the glass and causing agents nearby to raise their weapons.

Pierce glared at her, but Vivian was glaring back, her breathing labored and her eyes flashing dangerously as Pierce took a deep breath before speaking coldly, “Apologize.”

Glaring and gritting her teeth, Vivian stared Pierce down for what felt like an eternity. The longer she waited, the darker Pierce’s expression became, and she knew he wouldn’t ask her again. She knew that was his one and only time demanding this, so finally she took a deep breath and choked out, “I apologize, sir. I forgot myself.”

“See that you don’t do it again. It’s only a matter of time before Reinhardt perfects his experiment, and you don’t want to make yourself obsolete. Although who knows? Maybe Barnes will like your replacement better.”

Vivian clenched her hand into a fist, her teeth grinding together as her arm flexed for a punch, but as much as she wanted to violently react, she knew that she couldn’t. Forcing herself to take a deep breath, Vivian let her expression go blank as she relaxed her jaw and her hands. A smile spread across Alexander’s face, and she forced herself to not look away as he gently patted her cheek and whispered, “Good girl.”

He then turned around and walked away, that sight alone feeling like a punch to the gut. As he got further away, she finally found herself being able to look away, to stare at the floor only to wince as Pierce paused before announcing, “Make sure she watches the entire experiment. She’ll only rest when Reinhardt does.”

“Hail Hydra!”

Vivian could taste blood as she got led into the operating room. Once she was inside, she was carefully led past the table where Reinhardt’s victim was strapped down. Her chest was ripped open, her skin covered in blood, and her eyes were wide glassy. Reinhardt was pulling a kidney out of her body.

“Who is this child?”

Reinhardt’s voice wasn’t enough to cause her to look away from the horror before her, and she winced as he moved close and reached out, gripping her chin with a bloody hand and forcing her to look up. Keeping her expression passive, she stayed silent as the Hydra agent to the right responded, “Vivian Peshkova, sir.”

The mutant?” Reinhardt gasped, gripping her chin tightly before whispering, “I would love to see how she works.”

“Director Pierce has other plans for her, but she is to watch your mastery. He’s hoping for her to learn from your greatness. She’s to watch you every step of the way.”

“Ah, I see. Put her in that chair.”

He finally released her chin, the blood smearing along her skin as she was pushed back into a chair. Her wrists were strapped down and she forced herself to keep her eyes open and just watch as Reinhardt continued on his twisted masterpiece. Hours passed and all she could hear was screaming, and all she could see was red . The smell and taste of blood wouldn’t leave her, and as time slipped away from her, the woman on the table began to morph into herself. And then she was watching herself get a lung and intestines pulled out of her. She could see herself with her mouth open in a scream that never came yet never ended, her face streaming with tears.

Even when Reinhardt stopped working to take breaks, Vivian could still hear and see everything. The images were still there when she closed her eyes, wormed her way into her brain and invaded her thoughts and dreams. She was only removed from that bright white room for small periods at time, the white walls almost painful. Green dots swam in her vision, melding together.

After what felt like an eternity, Jiaying finally died, her last breath rattling through Vivian’s chest as if it were her own. Vivian then could only watch as the mangled pieces were taken out of the room. Agents came for her next, dragged her out of the room through blood as she mouthed wordlessly, her mind a mess of sounds and blood seeping everywhere.

“What’d you learn, Vivian?”

Glancing up once she was put into the back of the car, Vivian stared blankly at Pierce while trying to figure out what this smiling monster wanted. The butcher’s actions flashed through her mind and finally Vivian whispered, “I learned to be grateful.”

The smile on Pierce’s face somehow got wider as he exclaimed, “Excellent. You’re ready for our next step.”

“Sir?” Vivian croaked weakly, not understanding any of it.

“Now that you’re fully in line, you’re going to help me figure out what Howard Stark is really up to.”

Chapter Text

The goddamn serum.

Of all the stupid, reckless, idiotic things for Howard Stark to be recreating, and the bastard had to be making the one thing that Hydra would never let him keep. Staring at the information put together, Vivian clenched her teeth and squeezed her eyes shut, pinching the bridge of her nose as she tried to focus. It had taken Howard a little bit longer to get this far on the serum, what with his massive falling out with Hank Pym, as well as Hank Pym ditching SHIELD and the world entirely after his wife died on some mission. Something about her shrinking down to the point where she no longer existed.

Vivian was big enough to admit she hadn’t quite understood that part of the briefing.

She herself had managed to get a lot of surveillance done on the Stark family, basic information like their typical day and what they were like. She knew Maria Stark spent most of her days doing charity work, that she was devoted to it, in fact, and those charities loved her like she was the mother to them all. Vivian knew that Howard Stark spent hours, sometimes days, in his lab. She knew that the amount of empty alcohol bottles leaving the house in the daily garbage was a dangerous sign. And she knew that Tony Stark, their only son, was in desperate need of both a therapist and a mentor.

The screaming matches between Howard and Tony were obvious signs of the troubled times in the household, but the quiet disagreements were somehow so much worse. When they screamed, it was just noise, but the quiet ones, the ones where they were so angry it sounded like they were struggling not to collapse, those were the ones where they did the most damage. Those were the ones where the most vile, awful things came out of their mouths.

Howard Stark’s butler was one Edwin Jarvis. The man was married with a few kids, more if one counted Tony since Edwin raised the boy more than Howard did. Still, the man was in his seventies, and it was getting harder for him to both keep up with everything going on as well as comfort those in need of comfort.

And of course there was Howard’s right hand man, Obadiah Stane. The man loved his cigars and his booze more than any sane person should, but more importantly it was clear he had ambition. Grand ambitions, if his talk of more and more weapons, more and more sales, more and more everything, was to be considered.

Vivian wasn’t even sure who had planted the bugs in the household, but they’d never managed to get into Howard’s lab. The place was too heavily guarded, which made sense since even without the serum, Howard Stark was the government’s highest paid weapons contactor. Stark Industries was in the war business, and America never failed to give them an opportunity to show off.

“I see you’re looking over the latest information on our targets. Good,” Pierce announced as he strolled in.

“Yes. Should I try to infiltrate the lab? Get a sample to see how far Howard really is before we just accept his bragging as gospel?”

“No. Plans are currently in place to kill the entire Stark family.”

Her hand froze as she was about to turn the page, and she took a breath before carefully placing her hand on the table. She laid it flat, trying to seem calm as she questioned, “May I ask why there’s such a change in the plan?”

Pierce smiled and sat down, “Of course, Hecate. You deserve to know. Howard Stark’s business associate, Obadiah Stane, has recently gotten…fed up.”

“He’s defecting?”

“He hired an assassin to kill them.”

“You can’t be serious,” Vivian bit out, staring incredulously before pointing out, “The man eats breakfast with this family once a week. Tony calls him ‘Uncle Obadiah’. Why would he kill them if he can just start his own company?”

Pierce chuckled, “You really don’t know much about business, do you? Stark Industries is the sole owner of all the patents and inventions created within their institution. Obadiah’s a smart man, but he’s not an inventor. He can’t come up with new things, and the ideas that better men ran with and made happen are completely out of his grasp if he leaves. Beyond that, Howard Stark has influence. No matter what Obadiah did, Howard would ruin him for leaving. He’d be left with less than nothing. However, if Howard dies, then the company is left in Obadiah’s hands and also the stocks may even get a sympathy boost. He’ll get to keep everything, and he’ll be a hero for soldiering on.”

“Why Maria and Tony though? Why kill them?”

Pierce smiled, “Maria may not be an inventor, but she’s an exceedingly capable business woman. Her running the organization for her husband would be the public’s first option. Tony’s too much of a wildcard for Obadiah to risk Tony trying to take over the company, another thing the company would prefer, especially considering how young the boy was when he graduated top of his class from MIT. Agents who have spoken to his professors believe Tony may even be a better inventor than his father is.”

“Okay so, what does this have to do with me?”

“The Stark family takes multiple trips every single year, but none so consistent as the one they take in December leading up to Christmas. On top of the other extravagant gifts these three give to the people they consider family, there are also gifts given directly from the trip to their inner circle, so to speak. However, no one but the three Starks ever know the destination of said trip until after the trip is over. On top of that, none of the people in Howard’s inner circle, unfortunately, appear to be Hydra. Obadiah is the only one speaking to us, but he is not one of our agents, and thus can’t be completely trusted.”

“Who do you want me to get close to in that family?”

“Get close to Tony. He has a reputation for being a bit of a horn dog.”

Narrowing her eyes, Vivian leaned forward and pointed out, “I’m not here to be whored out, Director.”

“No, of course not,” Alexander laughed, while waving his hand, “Just flirt with him. Talk with him. Having intercourse with the target isn’t required, but it isn’t against the rules either. Your birth control implant should be working.”

“I’ll need a disguise.”

“Why? I thought Howard Stark had never met you?”

“He didn’t,” Vivian explained, but then pointed out, “But my picture was something both Steve and Bucky had. There are pictures of us from when we were young all over that Smithsonian exhibit that went up. Having to take time explaining why I look exactly like a nurse that was killed as a prisoner of war back in 1944 is an unnecessary complication that this mission doesn’t need.”

“Good point. Darken your hair and your whole look. It’ll help you fit in with the times anyway. Now go. You have a lot of prep work to do before you ‘bump into’ Anthony.”

Nodding, Vivian then got up and headed out of the room, spending the time she got her hair dyed black to think up a strategy. Howard Stark was notoriously distrustful of people, especially when it came to his tech. Then again, he had a right to be considering the time Leviathan stole an entire vault’s worth of devices and used them on unsuspecting New York back in the day. By the time Vivian had finished her hair and given herself a supposed grungy, smoky look to her make-up, she hardly recognized herself.

Her outfit this time was her favorite so far though. Jeans, shirt for a band she didn’t recognize, combat boots, and a leather jacket. It was comfortable and nice, and to be honest, she thought she looked good. The only question was whether or not Tony would think so enough to interact with her. Then again, he was a partier and…Vivian smirked and quickly headed into the supply area, grabbing a couple of items, slipping them into her pockets before meeting the team out by the car.

“You’re close to being late.”

“Which means I’m still on time, so let’s get a move on, shall we?”

The agents grunted, but rolled their eyes and piled into the car. Vivian followed, sighing as they drove off. In all honesty, even with being able to see everything, she wasn’t tremendously certain where they were. Besides, it didn’t really matter anymore. She knew that now. In terms of someone coming to help her or Bucky, she might as well have been on the surface of Mars.

“You have his schedule memorized, right?”

Nodding, Vivian accepted the fake ID, one that dubbed her Veronica, and the cash, shoving them into her front pocket, listening intently as the man then handed over a piece of paper with a number on it and demanded, “Memorize this. Once your mission is finished, find a payphone and call in. You’ll be retrieved within minutes. Got it?”

“Got it,” Vivian answered smoothly, handing the paper back and then slid out of the car. It was late enough where the establishment they’d dropped her off in front of was already in full swing. The bouncer for the place barely looked at her ID though, just accepted the crumpled money before stamping her hand and nodding. Heading inside, she did her best to make her way through the throngs of people, ignoring the reaching hands. The music didn’t make her searching any easier, the sound so loud she could barely hear herself think. The music wasn’t too bad though, just was a little overwhelming. Although Vivian also blamed that on the fact that this was her first mission that she’d been sent on where she’d be near this many people.

Finally though, she spotted Tony, dancing amongst a throng of people with an exuberant look on his face. He also looked at least slightly tipsy. His shirt was somewhere in the club, she was certain of that, but it wasn’t currently on him. Putting on her game face, Vivian carefully moved through the crowd, getting closer and closer until she could then start dancing toward him, smirking once he spotted her and grinned. They met each other halfway, and Vivian basically decided to just mimic the dancing she saw around her while also mostly letting Tony take the lead.

The smile on her face was fake, her best fake smile as she yearned for dancing with Bucky and Steve. The glaring club lights were almost nauseating, nothing like the soft lights of the secret clubs or the bright natural sunlight of that old apartment. The dancing was nothing like the dance moves she’d grown up learning, where the whole endeavor was as much a sport as it was activity, leaving them all breathless with laughter and exhaustion by the time a song ended. The dancing she knew was meant to challenge and to engage. This was meant to arouse. All of them were useful purposes, but Tony was not the man she wanted to be dancing with.

She couldn’t hear Tony over the thumping bass, but she could read lips and she smirked when he asked if she wanted to go somewhere more quiet. Nodding, she took his hand and let him lead her past some more bouncers and past a velvet rope of all things before they went down a hall. Tony opened a door and they headed into a quiet little private lounge. The most astonishing thing was that once the door closed, the music was reduced to a soft background noise.

Tony was kissing her as soon as the door closed and she kissed back, letting herself get led back to the couch, but then laughing as he broke the kiss to start kissing on her neck. Gently pushing him back onto the couch, she moved onto his lap, straddling his hips as she leaned in close only to whisper teasingly, “I’m thirsty.”

“Hm, can’t have that, can we? What’s your poison—actually, what’s your name?”

Smirking, Vivian quickly replied, “Veronica. I’d ask you your name, but I kind of already know who you are. Is that a problem?”

Tony’s face immediately became closed off as he replied with fake joviality, “Depends on who you think I am.”

Nipping playfully at Tony’s bottom lip, she moved a little bit closer as she whispered, “Tony Stark, genius inventor and absolute playboy.”

“Good answer. So, what drink would you like?”

“Sex on the beach,” Vivian smirked, causing Tony to laugh while shaking his head.

“You’re trouble, aren’t you?” 

“Oh, you have no idea.”

Tony’s hand slid down and squeezed her ass while he murmured, “I think I’d like to find out.”

Slipping out of Tony’s arms, she sat down on the couch and gently nudged him while teasing, “Drinks first, discovery later.”

Tony saluted and then grabbed the phone on the wall, hitting a button and then relaying their order, plus some shots of tequila. He then pulled out some money and set it on the table before turning toward her with a grin. Keeping him at bay, she grinned and laughed as he questioned, “So, Veronica, tell me about yourself?”

“That’s the best you got, Stark?”

Tony shrugged, smirking while he teased back, “Got to ease people into my charms.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes.”

“You sure it isn’t just that most girls are too busy being impressed by your name and your money to tell you the truth?”

“It’s also my good looks. I’m very distracting.”

“And so humble too.”

The door opened and a waitress came in, carrying a tray with her drink, a sex on the beach, his drink which was a long island iced tea, and then quite a few shot glasses. Tony nodded to the money on the table and accepted the drinks. Vivian took hers, clinking her glass with Tony’s before taking a large sip.

“So what are the shots for, Mr. Stark?”

“Figured we could have some fun, do a drinking game.”

Vivian took another drink before questioning, “What kind?”

Tony’s grin got wider as he teased, “My own modified version of Truth or Dare. Dares are still on the table, but if you choose truth, the other person does a body shot off you before you answer. If you refuse to answer the question, then you do a body shot off of them.”

Vivian stared at Tony for a moment before she burst into laughter, shaking her head as she teased, “This is all an elaborate excuse for you to do body shots.”

Tony shrugged and waggled the salt and lime wedges toward her so she rolled her eyes and sighed, “Fine. And I’ll even go first. I choose truth, by the way.”

Vivian then slid off her jacket, but kept it next to her as Tony asked, “Are you a virgin?”

Rolling her eyes, Vivian laid back, lifting up her shirt and squirming slightly as Tony licked her abs, poured salt onto her stomach and then licked the salt off, bit a lime and took the shot. Waiting until he swallowed it, she sat up and replied, “Not a chance. Haven’t been a virgin in a while. Also, really? What a cliché question.”

Tony flipped her off and then retorted, “Truth. Let’s see you do better.”

Smirking, Vivian reached over and took another long sip of her drink before she turned back toward Tony and questioned, “Okay, you’re rich as hell, so where’s your favorite vacation spot?”

Tony snorted and motioned her over. Grabbing the salt, Vivian shoved Tony back and then licked his hip before pouring salt on it and then licking it off. Biting into a lime, she then sucked on it before sitting back and downing the tequila shot while scrunching up her nose. God, she hated the taste of tequila.

Sitting back, she smirked as Tony sighed and shrugged, “I don’t know. Cliché but probably Tahiti. Great oceans, great drinks, and not hard to find someone fun to hang out with.”

“Sounds exciting. Going there over Christmas or anything?” 

Tony shook his head and laughed, leaning close and teasing, “I guess you’ll have to wait until your next turn.”

“Fine, fine. I choose truth.”

“Kinkiest thing you’ve ever done?”

This time Tony went for her neck, causing Vivian to shiver as the salt got applied and then removed by Tony before he took a shot. Tossing her hair, she laughed, “God, you’re going for cliché’s tonight. If you must know, it was a threesome with two guys.”

Sliding over and straddling Tony’s lap as he gave a laughing groan, Vivian ran her hands along his chest while teasing, “So what’s it going to be? Truth or Dare?”

“Truth, since I know how badly you want to ask me a question.”

Shrugging, Vivian pushed Tony back onto the couch and licked at a spot on Tony’s abs before sprinkling salt and then doing another shot. Once it was done, she asked, “So, have at it, playboy, where’s a hot shot like you going to vacation?”

Tony grinned and flipped them over, grabbing one of her legs and pulling it up around his waist as he teased, “Bahamas. Beautiful beaches where clothing is optional. You’d love it.”

“I don’t think your parents would be thrilled about you inviting a fuck buddy on the family trip.”

Tony gaped and then tsked, “Dirty girl, who said anything about sex? Besides, first you’ll have to be able to handle a stop by the pentagon where we get to wait in the car while my father kisses some general’s ass before we head to the airport. No family trip would be complete without it. I think you and I could have some fun though.”

Leaning up and reaching between them, Vivian grabbed Tony through his jeans and squeezed gently. Grinning as he groaned, she then taunted, “I think I can make that work. Anyway, truth or dare?”

“Dare.”

Tony sounded near breathless and Vivian smirked before releasing her grip on him and pushing him back away from him with her foot. Tony looked delighted, but then groaned as she teased, “I dare you to go out into the hallway and ask the first person you see for a blowjob.”

Vivian watched as Tony rolled his eyes and scoffed before grabbing one of the tequila shots and downing it and then heading over to the door. As soon as he opened it and then stuck his head out, she reached over and grabbed her jacket. Pulling the vials out of her pocket, she opened them and poured them out into Tony’s drink, quickly stirring it to dissipate it throughout. The sound of a slap let her know that her time was up, and she then sat back, grinning as Tony came back in while wincing, “I might have gotten slapped.”

“Sounds like it and sounds like you need to finish your drink.”

Tony grinned and nodded, immediately grabbing the drink. Before he could take a sip though, Vivian smirked and teased, “If you do another dare right now, I’ll do two dares for you.”

Tony nodded, waiting, and she nodded to the drink before teasing, “Chug it.”

Immediately Tony had thrown back the glass, chugging it and Vivian watched it, the smile slid off her face. The dose she’d given him was faster acting than normal since it was a liquid, and it was enhanced to hit the person stronger, so she figured she had about fifteen minutes before Tony Stark was high out of his mind. The amount of booze in his system as well was going to mean the man was in for one hell of a ride. One the drink was downed, she cheered and laughed as he moved back over, falling down next to her before he kissed her.

“I dare you to…let me do a shot from between your tits while you give me a lap dance.”

Rolling her eyes, Vivian peeled off her shirt and tossed it aside, Tony catcalling while grinning ecstatically. Straddling his hips, she nodded to her bra clad breasts before sighing, “Guess you gotta prep them for salt.”

Tony leaned forward, licking along one of them and accepting the salt as he was handed it before pouring it onto her. While he was distracted, she pulled packets of pills out of her pocket and palmed them. Once that was done, she took one of the shot glasses and put it between her breasts and then went to work. The dance itself didn’t last long, and it was a little tricky to move her hips enough without spilling any of the alcohol, but she isolated her movement and managed it. Tony seemed thrilled with it and then he licked the salt, bit down on the lime and got the shot glass from between her breasts. While he was busy with that, she slipped the baggies into his pocket. Vivian then got up and grabbed her shirt again, putting it back on as well as her jacket while Tony whined.

“Where are you going?”

We are going back downstairs. I’m in the mood for dancing.”

Tony grinned, wrapping his arms around her and she laughed as they headed out of the room. As soon as they were in the crowd though, she slipped away from him and headed toward the bar. Luckily it was easy for her to cry on cue, and she started up the waterworks, smearing her make-up excessively before she found a waitress and sobbed, “Please, you have to help me!”

The nametag on the woman said her name was Amy, and she immediately ran over to her while questioning, “Hey, are you okay?”

“No!” Vivian sobbed, pointing over toward where Tony was working his way through the crowd, “I was so stupid! I shouldn’t have gone with him, but I mean, he’s Tony fucking Stark, you know? And like, he’s so hot, and he is a really good kisser, but God, he just kept drinking and drinking and then he starts taking these pills. I think he’s on X. And he starts talking about causing a goddamn riot in here or how he’ll hurt himself and I’m so scared. Can you help me?”

“Don’t worry, hon. You’re okay now. I’m gonna call the cops, okay? He’s not gonna hurt anyone.”

Hugging Amy tightly, Vivian made sure to sob loudly on the woman’s shoulder before choking out, “Thank you. You don’t know how much this means to me.”

Fortunately, through some fluke, a fight really did break out, with Tony in the center of it, and Vivian backed up, watching as Amy ran to the phone and the bouncers descended on Tony Stark. Wiping at her eyes, Vivian then slipped out of the club, heading immediately to the nearest phone booth. Dialing collect, Vivian smiled as Hydra accepted the charges. As soon as the other side answered, she said, “I have the information that the Director requested. Pick up is necessary.”

“Extraction in thirty minutes. Stay where you are.”

Vivian hung up the phone and then leaned back up against the wall, her stomach churning as the adrenaline faded as she realized what she’d done. She’d done a lot of things on missions before, a lot of awful things, but she’d never cheated on Buck before. The guilt ate at her, even though she told herself over and over again that she was doing the right thing. It was her only play, after all, and she watched as a cop car pulled up and cops got out, running into the club before coming out with Tony in cuffs. Paparazzi were starting to show up at the club, all of them screaming for the young billionaire to look this way or that as they snapped pictures of him getting pushed into the backseat.

She was still staring at that same spot even after the cop car drove off, lost in thought about whether her predictions would come true. A tap on a horn had her glancing away finally, her expression blank as the window rolled down to reveal it was her ride. Getting into the backseat, she sighed and closed her eyes, knowing this was far from over.

Chapter Text

Vivian stared up at the lights in the ceiling as they hummed and flickered. She’d tried to ignore it initially after she’d been roused from her sleep and all but dragged to the room, but the sound just wouldn’t stop. Intellectually, she knew it had never changed volume. There was no way that hum had gotten louder, but it felt like it had. She could hear it deep in her bones, could feel it rattling through her teeth and she stared at the lights until spots formed in her vision and her gaze slid out of focus. Her breathing slowed and finally she closed her eyes. She wasn’t going to be able to sleep, not in this metal chair while preparing for what felt like her doom, but she could calm herself. It wasn’t quite meditation, but it was a way to keep the anxiety at bay.

Preparing herself was pointless since she had no idea how she needed to prepare herself. Besides, the more tense she seemed, the guiltier she’d look. Her best bet was to seem like this was an inconvenience and that she didn’t understand why it was happening. She’d answer questions as they were presented to her, never giving more detail than necessary. Digging her own grave wasn’t something she needed to do just yet. A slamming door had her glancing over, staring as Pierce stormed in.

“Sit up straight.”

Doing as she was told, Vivian stayed quiet as the man paced, a file clenched in his hand as he took slow, seemingly deliberate breaths to calm himself down. She knew better than to ask him why she was there though. Alexander Pierce would tell her what he wanted in due time. Folding her hands on the table in front of her, she waited, patiently, as the man sat down and began flipping through the file. Now this was a familiar game.

He had information, but he didn’t know what any of it meant. This was good for her. They stayed in this silence for what felt like an eternity, but could have been as short as fifteen minutes, before finally Pierce shut the folder and glared at her.

“You said the mission was a success.”

Nodding, Vivian ignored the icy tone as she replied, “And it was. I got the information you were looking for and I got out of there without arousing anyone’s suspicions. You know where the Stark family is headed now for vacation.”

“Not the family.”

Frowning and making sure to look as puzzled as possible, Vivian cocked her head to the side before questioning, “Sir?”

“Are you leaving anything out about the club visit?”

“I made out with the subject and we did body shots off each other. Tony seemed pretty eager to party. If I’d stayed longer, I probably would have ended up having sex with him in the club, and if he’d had his way, probably in the car ride back to his place, and then again once were there. Like I said, guy was pretty up and ready to party.”

“Did you frisk him to check him for dangerous substances?”

Laughing, Vivian shook her head, “No. He’s just some dumb, reckless playboy. Closest I got was teasing him through his jeans, but he was never a threat to me. An erection isn’t exactly a high-powered weapon. He didn’t even know he should consider becoming a threat. Guy was pretty singularly focused on getting into my pants.”

“Did you ever see him taking drugs?”

Vivian shook her head and then shrugged, “As far as I knew, the only thing he was doing in the club was drinking. I mean, yeah, there were drug dealers in the club, but there are always drug dealers in the club. Rich white guys are their favorite customers. Tony and I drank, played truth or dare, which just meant asking each other dumb immature sexual questions when I wasn’t getting information about his vacation from him, making out, doing light groping, and then I convinced him we should go dancing. When we went down into the club, I snuck off and called for my ride, just like you instructed.”

“Tony Stark was arrested that night.”

The words had been all but snarled at Vivian, and she stared, pretending to be shocked as she questioned, “What? Why? I’m guessing for drugs since you keep bringing them up, but I didn’t realize cops even went there.”

Pierce sneered and griped, “They don’t, except one of the bartenders called about both Stark’s erratic behavior and the fight Tony got into.”

“Well, shit. I missed a lot when I left. What does this mean for the mission?”

“The charges were lessened by the Stark family lawyer, but the boy is on house arrest for a short while until his trial, which means that he has been banned from going on the family vacation. Do you know what that means?”

“That Howard Stark is a piece of shit who’s going to go through with his family vacation even when his family isn’t actually able to go?”

“Luckily for you, Maria Stark is still going with her husband. They’re on their way to the pentagon as we speak.”

Brows furrowing, Vivian  nodded and paused before questioning, “So where does that leave us?”

“Mr. Stane has been informed of the situation. He is, understandably, upset that we are unable to hold up on our end of the bargain. What should I tell him?”

“I don’t know, he’s going to be taking over Stark Industries pretty soon, so just give him some information that’s valuable to him but mostly worthless to us. Tell him he now has a chance to make his coup even more legitimate since he can get a Stark to actually put his stamp of approval on it. All Tony has to do is show up places, cry about his dead parents, and say Stane is the best person for the job. Stane will look like a savior.”

“We’re already doing that.”

Frowning, Vivian shrugged and admitted, “Then I don’t know what else we can give him.”

Pierce smirked and Vivian swallowed hard, staring at the table as he placed a gun on it. Her eyes didn’t stray from it as he gently held up the gun while explaining, “This here is the same make and model that the Winter Soldier is going to use to shoot out the tires of Howard’s car. The car will crash and hopefully kill the occupants inside, but if it doesn’t, then the soldier has orders to correct that. Would have been you doing the job, but you see, our client paid for three assassinations.”

The safety clicked on the gun and Vivian clenched her hands onto her chair, her heart racing as it was then brought up and pointed at her. Glancing up and staring into Pierce’s eyes, she nodded as the man sighed, “He knows someone failed us, and I promised that I would put a bullet in the head of whoever failed me. He needs more than my word though. He needs to see a body. Besides, I’ve always wondered if you could survive this.”

The shot rang out, pain slammed through Vivian, but then everything went dark.

The darkness only lasted for what felt like a moment though before her vision came back into focus and she was sitting in the room alone. Standing up, Vivian glanced around, pressing a fingertip to her forehead only to pull her hand back clean. None of it made any sense. After all, if she’d been left in the room to heal, there’d be a mess behind her. There’d be some clue of what had happened there.

“You’re not actually dead, you know.”

Flinching and turning back around, Vivian gaped as she saw a woman sitting at the table. The woman was beautiful, her hair long and dark. Her skin was pale, her eyes bright, almost unnaturally bright, and her smile was shaper than it had any right to be. On first glance, she did just look alluring, but the longer Vivian looked at her, the more she was certain this woman wasn’t human at all.

“Cat got your tongue, Vivian? You know, I’ve been waiting quite some time to meet you.”

“Who the fuck are you?”

The woman, this creature, tossed her head back, laughter reverberating throughout the room. The laughter was odd though, like it was playing through a distorted speaker. The sound finally stopped though and the woman grinned, her teeth glinting before she replied, “Come now, Vivian. You can’t have been that far in denial all those times. We’ve been so close, for so long. You’ve actually bee kind of a tease, always cheating me. It’s been great watching you work though. You’re not as committed to me as others have been, but oh, you do good work.”

“Being really hot isn’t actually an excuse for cryptic bullshit.”

“If it isn’t then what is? Besides, you’re the one who wanted to see me like this. Could have pictured me any way you wanted, and yet you were the one who chose to see me as something both to lust after and fear at the same time. That’s a lot to unpack there.”

“I’ve never met you before in my entire life,” Vivian insisted, shaking her head and backing up.

The woman’s expression dulled, her smile fading as she replied, “You humans. You think just because you’ve never shaken someone’s hand or said their name out loud that you’ve never met them, think you have to go all the way through to actually meet me. You may not have actually fallen far enough to truly warrant a visit from me, but you’ve shown dozens their way to me through guns, poison, bombs, your bare hands, and all sorts of ways. If you were anyone else, this meeting would have occurred decades ago with the way your mother treated you.”

Sitting down, Vivian stared at the woman across the table and questioned, “Are you trying to tell me you’re Death?”

Death rolled her eyes and sighed, “Finally. You mortals always take so much convincing. Remarkable, really.”

“But you said I’m not dead.”

“Of course not, I told you that when we first started out. I took your consciousness out of your body for a bit. Don’t worry, it isn’t stopping you from doing that neat trick of yours, but you are essentially in a coma. Good news is that you can’t feel any of the healing process either.”

“What do you want?”

“What do I want?” Death laughed, “I want you.”

“Which brings us back to how I’m decidedly not dead,” Vivian replied, her brow furrowing in confusion.

Death waved her hand and stood up. Her dress was long, went down to her knees and her outfit made her look like she’d stepped out of a painting of a Greek goddess. The dark fabric pooled around her feet and Vivian stared at the table as Death came over and stood near her.

“The fact that you’re alive is precisely the reason I’m coming to you. You could do so much for me.”

Vivian glanced up from the spot on the table she’d been staring at, confusion clear on her face as she questioned, “You want me to kill for you?”

Death nodded and Vivian squirmed slightly as a firm hand cupped her cheek as Death leaned closer while whispering, “Aren’t you doing that already? I’m just asking for more.”

Backing up rapidly, Vivian winced as the chair toppled over soundlessly somehow and she backed up against the wall. Swallowing hard, she wished to wake up, to get out of this whole scenario as she retorted, “I’m not doing it because I want to. This is just until I can figure out how to get Bucky out of this situation, and then I’ll stop.”

“You really think it’ll be that easy? A killer like you giving up her true nature? Not possible. You don’t know how to live without it, without me .”

You’re wrong.”

Death gave a fake pout and moved closer, laughter in her gaze as she taunted, “You’re wrong. God, like I haven’t heard that one before. So many species across all of the cosmos. Humans, Skrulls, Kree, Titans, would-be Gods, and would-be demons all with the same responses. All of you refusing to acknowledge that what you want more than anything else is power.”

“Bullshit.”

Death froze, and Vivian shook her head, standing up straighter and moving close. She could feel the rage crackling beneath her skin like electricity as she snapped, “You’re wrong. Have I brought my enemies to you? Yes. Yes, I have. I won’t deny it. I have delivered both my enemies and people who have wronged me in no way to your grasp, but somehow in all your infinite wisdom, you missed why.”

“Oh really? And why’s that?”

“I did it to keep the men I love alive. Yes, I failed Steve, and you still got him in the end, but you won’t get Bucky.”

A smirk spread across Death’s face, and Vivian frowned while she questioned, “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” Death shrugged, a glint in her eyes as she moved back over to the table, “You clearly have everything figured out. You believe that once you have Bucky safe and sound that you can give up me, that you can stop worshipping at my altar for the rest of your days.”

“Because that’s the truth. All I’ve ever wanted was to be with them. That’s all I’ve ever wanted or needed. You took one of them from me, but I’m not giving up. Bucky and I will get out of this place and we will have a life free from you as much as possible.”

“I have taken nothing from you.”

The reply was smooth, almost arrogant, and Vivian screamed, shoving Death away while shouting, “Liar!”

Death’s back hit the wall, and a look of surprise crossed her face before she laughed. Vivian was shaking, her breath heaving in her chest. Suddenly though Death was right beside her, gripping her chin and whispering, “I can see now that you’re not ready for me, but one day, you’ll realize just how wrong you are. When you do, I believe we’ll make a magnificent team. Until then…”

Death pressed their lips together and Vivian’s eyes widened. The kiss was cold and it radiated through her until her eyes slipped shut. Every part of her felt cold and heavy, like she was sinking to the bottom of a lake that was just shy of freezing. She wasn’t sure how long she was there until warmth spread through her again and she coughed. She coughed and shook, tensing as she felt warm breath on her forehead, fingers running frantically through her hair as a familiar voice whispered, “C’mon, that’s it, Doll. Breathe for me, okay? Just breathe for me. I’ve got you.”

Opening her eyes, Vivian’s eyes widened further as she found herself staring up at Bucky. His hair was long, wet, and on his face, tears slipping down his cheeks. She forced herself to take deep, even breaths as Bucky steadied her with his metal arm and then reached over and grabbed a cup before bringing it up to her lips.

“It’s just water, Kitten, I promise, but you’ve gotta drink. Okay? You’ve been on IVs for a while to help you heal, but I need to see if you can keep this down.”

Nodding, Vivian let Bucky help her. The cool water felt amazing, but she was still deeply confused as to why Bucky could remember her at all and why he was there. As she swallowed the water, his expression grew more hopeful.

“Knew you’d get better. I just knew it.”

“Wh—”

Vivian clenched her teeth frustrated at the effort it had taken to even just make the noise. The rest of the word seemed gone to her and she groaned, but Bucky just shushed her and explained, “Hey, it’s okay. You’re just in the last part of healing, okay? You just got to rest, but I’m here.”

“Wh—”, Vivian took a deep breath and squeezed her eyes shut before trying again, her head throbbing as she grit out, “What ha—

The scream of frustration made Bucky wince, but Vivian blinked back tears as he gently stroked her cheek and whispered, “You want to know what happened?”

Nodding, Vivian averted her gaze, slowing her breathing down as Bucky stroked her hair while explaining, “I…I did something bad, Vivi. They made me kill Howard and his wife. I didn’t remember Howard though, but then they brought me back here and you were in your room on the floor. Your head…”

Bucky paused and she glanced up, seeing him stare vacantly in the distance before he cleared his throat and explained, “They’d shot you. I remembered you though. I saw you, and I…I didn’t handle it well. They gave me all the supplies I’d need to help you recover though. Doctors have stopped by every few hours to make sure you were healing and to keep track of the rate. It’s been a few days, but you’re awake now, and you’re going to be okay. I promise.”

Sitting up shakily, Vivian felt cold and exhausted, every inch of her feeling like she needed to sleep for days. Pushing herself up though, she evened out her breathing as Bucky was immediately up behind her, his hands on her hips as he gently steadied her. Even without looking at his face, she could feel concern practically radiating off of him as she took a step. She was back in her room and thankfully, that woman wasn’t there. Glancing down, she saw that she was in a loose nightgown, the fabric soft and bright white. Turning around in Bucky’s arms, Vivian reached up and let her fingertips trace along Bucky’s lips.

Immediately his expression crumpled, tears slipping down his cheek again, and she let herself fall into his arms. He caught her, just like she knew he would, and he picked her up. Wrapping her arms around him, she clung to him, burying her face into his shoulder as he carried her over to the bed, his fingers running through her hair as he whispered, “I love you. I love you so much.”

Once they were on the bed, Vivian opened her mouth and tried to get the words out only to shake her head and then grab Bucky’s hand. Staring into his eyes, she then pressed her hand to his, needing him to feel this as well as see it as she signed rapidly and over and over again.

I love you.

Chapter Text

Bucky ran his fingers through Vivian’s hair as she slept with her head in his lap. Periodically his thumb brushed along her forehead, tracing the spot where the bullet had entered. Bucky had killed a lot of people for America, and then more under Hydra’s control, but the sight of that gaping wound had still stunned him. It’d been enough to shock him out of his stupor, to shatter Hydra’s control.

It’d been horrific, and part of him had broken, terrified that maybe this time Vivian wouldn’t be able to heal. Maybe this would be the time he really, truly got her killed. He’d cradled her in his arms, refusing to leave her, and so Hydra had put him to work. They’d given him the necessary supplies, along with some rudimentary instructions, and he’d given her a transfusion of his own blood. He’d given her an IV to watch her fluids. He’d cleaned her up and followed every single order on how to help her heal.

It had been the end of the month before she’d awoken, every second a weight on his chest, and then even a further week before she’d been able to speak without struggling. Her sign language was still pretty good, although she often spelled things out, the individual letters being pressed into his hand like he could physically anchor her to the world. He wasn’t sure if she’d done it intentionally or not, but he wasn’t about to risk her getting discouraged.

Leaning close and pressing a kiss to Vivian’s temple, Bucky wondered how much longer Hydra was going to let him stay with her and take care of her. It was one thing to put him through dealing with every horrific medical issue that cropped up, and another to just let him be with her. Vivian whimpered in her sleep and he carefully shushed her, reaching down and lacing his hand with hers.

“I’m here, Kitten. I’m here.”

Vivian quieted, pressing against him more and he breathed in sharply before letting the air out shakily through his nose. This was as much a punishment to him as it was to her, but he just wasn’t sure why it was happening. No one had volunteered the information, and he wasn’t about to ask Vivian anytime soon. A gasp from her had his brow furrowing, but then he cursed as her body seized.

Carefully moving her onto her side and on the bed, all he could do was watch and wait until the shaking stopped. Her hands were clenched into fists, blood pouring from her nails digging into the skin and he bit down on the inside of his cheek to keep himself quiet. He hated this. He hated that she was going through this at all. After what felt like an eternity though, she finally stilled. Reaching down, Bucky carefully unclenched her fists while keeping a close eye on her.

“Buck?”

Sighing as she whispered his name sluggishly, he gently stroked her cheek and whispered, “Yeah, doll, I’m here. It’s me. It’s Bucky. That was a pretty bad one.”

“Don’t remember.”

“It’s okay. You feeling nauseous at all?”

Vivian nodded, and Bucky sighed before whispering, “Want me to help you to the bathroom or do you wanna stay laying down?”

“Go.”

“All right. Hold on a second.”

Carefully maneuvering Vivian into a seated position, Bucky slid both of them off the bed before standing up. He kept an arm firm around her waist then as they slowly walked to the bathroom. As soon as they were there, he helped her to her knees in front of the toilet, pulling her hair back as almost immediately, she retched. Her arms shook as she held herself up over the toilet, and he rubbed her back until she was done.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, Viv. It’s not your fault. Right now you’re just sick is all, but you’re getting better. This is the first episode you’ve had in days. You’re doing so well.”

Vivian spit into the toilet and Bucky released her hair long enough to wet a towel in the sink and then hand it to her for her to wipe her mouth. Watching her as she then turned and sat back against the sink, he frowned as she laughed bitterly before confessing, “But this is my fault.”

“Want to explain that?”

“You weren’t supposed to be the one to kill the Starks. That was supposed to be my assignment.”

Frowning and sitting down across from her, Bucky leaned against the wall behind him while asking, “All right, I’ll bite. What happened?”

“Did you know Howard Stark has a son?” Bucky shook his head, but then his eyes widened as Vivian smiled weakly as she explained, “There were supposed to be three people in that car. Howard Stark, his wife Maria, and their son Anthony.”

“There was only two people in the car.”

“I know.”

“Where is their son?”

“At home in their mansion, most likely,” Vivian said with a crooked smiled. “I met up with him at a club to find out the actual vacation plans so Hydra could send me after them. Tony was trying to impress me, wanted to fuck me actually, so he told me everything. Somehow he managed to get high out of his mind on MDMA though and was caught by the cops after a fist fight with a lot of drugs in his pockets. He got arrested and, voila, he couldn’t go on the trip.”

Vivian stared pointedly at him as she spoke, and immediately Bucky had known what Vivian had done. She’d saved Tony, saved him the only way she’d known how. Moving close, Bucky pressed his forehead to hers and whispered, “You did good, Doll.”

“I made out with him and groped him.”

“So his life got saved and he got to make time with an amazing woman? Sounds like a good night.”

“I thought I was the one with the brain damage.”

“That’s not funny.”

Bucky frowned as Vivian leaned back and held up her thumb and middle finger, slowly spreading her fingers until he took her hand in his and stared at her. Vivian sighed and whispered, “I’m sorry, okay? I’m just really frustrated. I got really close this time, Buck.”

“I know, and I got scared too, but—”

“No, you don’t understand, Buck, and I know this is going to sound crazy, but I think…I think I met Death.”

“Death?” Bucky questioned. “Doll, Death isn’t a person.”

Vivian frowned, “No, not a person, but an entity . A powerful entity. And don’t tell me I’m crazy or it was some bullshit just in my head, because I could feel everything.”

“All right,” Bucky reassured her, moving over and then tucking her hair behind her ear. “Okay, so, what happened?”

Vivian frowned, her eyebrows furrowing as she whispered, “They said I’m a killer, that I like killing, and that I’ll never be able to stop.”

“Didn’t realize Death was a moron.”

Buck, please take this seriously.”

Smiling softly, Bucky pressed a kiss to Vivian’s forehead and then pressed his forehead to hers before he said, “I am. I just happen to know you a Hell of a lot better than ‘Death’ does. What’d you tell ‘Death’ anyway?”

“That they were wrong.”

“Atta girl.”

“Why are you so ready to believe me?”

“You mean other than everything that has happened to us so far?” Bucky teased before he sighed and then admitted, “I know you wouldn’t lie to me, not about something like that.”

“I used to lie to you a lot.”

“Only because you had to, and the second you didn’t have to lie to me anymore, you never lied to me again. Plus, like I said, I don’t think you’d ever lie about meeting Death, of all things.”

Vivian shrugged and Bucky sat next to her, pulling Vivian into his lap. She immediately slid down slightly, pressing herself into his grasp, and he smiled, nuzzling her as they laced their fingers together. He squeezed her hands as he whispered, “I’m going to tell you what I know about you, okay? After all, you have brain damage and I think you need a reminder.”

“You goddamn punk ass mother fucker! You can’t use my own joke against me!” Vivian laughed, tilting her head back onto his shoulder before she shook her head and sighed, “Fine, tell me.”

Grinning, Bucky pressed a kiss gently behind her ear before explaining, “When you had a choice, when you were away from Hydra, the only things you ever did were heal people as a nurse, protect people as a friend, and love us as our girlfriend.” Bucky swallowed hard, fighting back tears as he continued, “You saved me. You saved Steve. You were willing to die for this whole world again and again. And you’re still doing that for me. And I know if Hydra wasn’t around, you’d be out there protecting innocent people. You’d be saving people.”

Vivian smiled, but then went quiet, and Bucky gently nudged her, in shock as her brow furrowed as she revealed, “Did you know next year it’ll have been fifty years since I was declared dead?”

“Viv…”

“I know, it’s maudlin of me to keep track of something like that, but I don’t know…”

“If this is your way of saying that the praises I just gave were actually for a woman who died fifty years ago, then you can forget about it. That woman didn’t go anywhere,” Bucky insisted.

“That’s not it,” Vivian said, shaking her head.

“Then what is it?” Bucky asked.

“I’ve been living this way for longer than I lived the way I wanted to. I’ve been here for longer than I ever got to be with Steve or to be a real nurse, and Bucky, sometimes I get so mad that I think I might explode. Steve died for America. He died for us.”

Turning Vivian around and staring into her eyes, Bucky nodded, “He did, but I think if Steve was still alive today, the only person he’d be mad at would be Hydra. Actually, no, I know that, because we both knew Steve Rogers, and we know he was a ridiculous martyr.”

Vivian snorted at that, and Bucky grinned only for his grin to fade as Vivian admitted, “You know I can’t leave until Hydra’s destroyed, right?”

“Viv, c’mon, this isn’t your fault…” Bucky began, but then swallowed hard as she shook her head.

“No, I know. I didn’t found Hydra. I didn’t even want to be part of Hydra, but my work has been invaluable in keeping them around. And back before Steve joined the war, I wanted to destroy them. And then Steve took up the effort and he thought he did it. Bucky, he thought he’d succeeded. He died thinking he’d succeeded, and I helped undo all of that. No matter why I did it, I still did it. And I need to make amends. I need to burn this place to the ground, scorch the Earth. Nothing left. Because if I don’t, the plan they’re working on will devastate the planet. So I’m going to get you out, and then—”

Bucky scoffed, “If you think I’m leaving you here to take on Hydra by yourself then you’re out of your mind.”

“I can’t do this if you’re still here,” Vivian snapped, standing up and wavering slightly before turning and pointing at him. “You have conditioning inside your head, Buck. What happens if they turn you against me?”

“I wouldn’t,” Bucky argued, although even he knew his argument was getting weak. “I couldn’t.”

“You could,” Vivian said. “You could and you would. They would make you hurt me. You’d get to wake up next to my mutilated, shredded body with my blood on your hands and then you’d get to remember. You’d get to remember every sound my bones made as they broke. You’d get to remember the smell as you disemboweled me. You’d get to remember the sounds of my screams as your knives pierced through my skin. The feel of—”

Stop it,” Bucky begged, his heart racing and his breathing becoming labored as tears filled his eyes.

Vivian paused and then crouched in front of him while pleading, “I’m sorry, Bucky, I really am, but the safest move is to get you as far away from Hydra as possible. I don’t know how I’m going to undo the programming on you, but I’m figuring it out, okay? First step is to at least get your arm from out of their control, and then you can get out of here, lay low until I finish the rest.”

“I still think I should be able to help you,” Bucky confessed.

“Between the draft and the programming, you’ve already been forced to kill too many times,” Viv retorted.

“Jesus, it’s like we’re on a loop,” Bucky sighed. “You’ve been forced to kill by this organization since you were a child, so don’t fucking act like I’ve got it so much goddamn worse than you. Neither of us should be here. And both of us can honor Steve’s memory. Both of us can bring this place down. We’ll figure it out, but Vivian, you’re not alone. Look at me and tell me you understand that you never have been, and never will be alone in this.”

There was a moment when they both just stared at each other before Vivian crumpled, resting her head on his lap while saying, “I’m not alone. I’ve never been alone and I never will be.”

“Damn right.”

“What if I forget again?” Vivian asked, sounding terrified.

Smiling softly and running his fingers through Vivian’s hair, Bucky whispered, “Then I’ll remind you. Just like you’ll do for me.”

Chapter Text

The gunshot. The crash. The begging. The crunching of bone and a final gasping breath before silence. The gunshot as the camera was finally taken out.

Vivian knew every single detail of that scene, could picture it in vivid color whenever she closed her eyes. The deaths of Howard and Maria Stark. The way the Winter Soldier had beaten Howard’s face in before choking the life out of Maria. How their bodies had been left in that car to make it seem like the crash had been what killed them.

And that wasn’t the only scene she’d been shown over and over and over again. Every single kill the Winter Soldier had ever done was filmed and played for her on a constant loop. The screen was behind reinforced glass and the sound was pumped in through speakers. It was always on, always playing, even when she managed to sleep.

Seemed Hydra had upgraded their isolation technique on her to prove a point.

As soon as she’d fully healed from her gunshot wound and Hydra had been absolutely sure she was ready for combat again, they’d locked her in her room along with some upgrades and began the cycle of snuff films. She could tell when Bucky got twisted into the Winter Soldier again whenever the loop became longer.

Folding her arms across her chest, Vivian stared up at the ceiling as pictures from Howard and Maria’s autopsy showed up on screen once the video fizzled out. Initially the close up photos of the dead bodies hadn’t been shown after the different clips, but now they were. She figured someone must have pointed out that it wasn’t entirely clear what level of damage each victim suffered, especially with the angle of the camera in some of the clips, and thus, clear examples were given.

“Enjoying the show?”

Sighing as Alexander Pierce strolled into the room, Vivian glanced over at him, the sounds of screaming beginning from the speakers in the room as the Winter Soldier stalked up to a victim on the screen. Instead of answering, Vivian merely stared blankly over at the man until he chuckled and moved in front of the screen while chiding her, “You’re being very rude, Vivian.”

“Hello, Director Pierce. Welcome. Pull up a chair. How are you? How have you been? Topple any democratically elected governments lately?” Vivian asked dully.

“Your sarcasm is noted, but unappreciated, Vivian. We were hoping you’d learn your lesson since the last…incident,” Pierce replied tightly. “It’d be a shame if I was wrong.”

Glancing away from Pierce, Vivian stared at the ground before confessing, “I know I fucked up before. I screwed up that mission, and then Bucky paid the price for it. Bucky always pays the price for my incompetence. That’s what this never ending snuff film has been about, right? Showing me my incompetence and the results that follow?”

Alexander smirked and pulled up a chair, tilting his head to the side and saying, “Do you have anything else to say?”

Vivian stared at Alexander for a moment, her brow furrowed. As she stared at him, his gaze grew icier. After a couple minutes though, she said, “I’m sorry, sir. I won’t do it again.”

“You better not,” Pierce said before handing her a file.

Taking it, Vivian opened the file and stared in confusion as she saw headshots of young girls ranging from five years old all the way up until eighteen. Dozens of them. All very pretty. All with blank expressions on their faces. Pausing, Vivian stared at those pictures and questioned, “What is this?”

“Do you remember Leviathan?” Pierce questioned.

“Yes,” Vivian said. “It was a Soviet program after World War II. Doctor Fennhoff worked with them, pretty much ran the place, before he joined Hydra. Dorothy Underwood was the only graduate of the program I ever met. From what I can tell, it was a program to train and brainwash young girls into being the perfect killers. I killed Underwood for trying to kill Bucky. I was then put in solitary confinement and at some point during that, Fennhoff entered my room while I was hallucinating, and I killed him.”

“How very thorough of you,” Alexander commented drily.

Vivian shrugged, “I’m guessing this little project is Hydra’s attempt to get a redo. What, your super soldier project not working too well?”

“That’s none of your business,” Pierce bit out, and Vivian held up her hands, frowning and then smoothing out her features as Pierce calmed down. “The girls are to be part of the project you will be assisting with. To make matters simple, Russia will be the location of where the girls are trained. The project will be known as the Red Room. Each girl will be trained in the to be the peak of human abilities. They’re to be smart, athletic, flexible, talented with language, poised, and utterly prepared to die for the cause.”

“They’re not going to know they’re Hydra, are they?” Vivian questioned.

“No, and if at any point you tell any of the girls that they are part of this organization, I will kill each and every one of those girls and then start fresh with a new batch,” Pierce threatened.

“I wasn’t going to tell them. I was just wondering what all they’ll know. So I’m guessing the party line for these girls will be that they’re supporting Russia or something?” Vivian questioned.

“Of course,” Pierce said. “And it won’t completely be wrong. After all, as you well know, many of the projects we do here in America are supported by powerful politicians in that country. The same is true for any projects we have in any of the countries around the globe.”

“It’s been a while since you’ve given me a veiled threat,” Vivian replied calmly.

“It’s only a threat if you’re planning on betraying us,” Pierce said simply, staring her down.

Leaning forward, Vivian shrugged, “You’re not stupid. You already know I don’t believe in Hydra’s cause. There’s no putting that genie back in the bottle, but I’m also fully aware that there’s nowhere I could go. SHIELD is filled with Hydra. Almost every government on the planet is filled with Hydra. I’m fully cognizant of the fact that it’s either be with Hydra or die.”

“And what about our ideals do you find so distasteful, Vivian?” Pierce asked.

Tilting her head to the side, Vivian said, “The whole system is based on the ramblings of a man who wasn’t strong enough to endure the serum. A man who thought that somehow the world needed to be cleansed, and he knew the people who needed to go.”

“We’ve evolved since the days of Red Skull,” Pierce pointed out.

“And yet you’re still heeding to the whims of Zola. Schmitt may have been the captain of the ship, but Zola was its architect,” Vivian pointed out.

Pierce waved that aside, “Zola’s well under control.”

“A lot of moving parts under your control that you believe are working fine,” Vivian said.

“Because they are.”

“Have you ever heard of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle?” Vivian questioned.

“Of course,” Pierce said calmly. “What of it?”

“The industrial revolution hit America hard and fast. Industries boomed. Factories popped up all over the place and demand for the product skyrocketed. The desire to get as much profit as possible was on the forefront of all business owners’ minds, and so they cut costs. They used cheap labor and didn’t have safety features in place. Upton Sinclair was a socialist and a  journalist who investigated the meat industry, specifically in Chicago,” Vivian said.

“I already know this story,” Pierce snapped.

He discovered that the meat industry was barely paying its workers and had no safety standards. No health standards. Just getting their end goal out with no concern for the world around them.”

“What is your point?” Pierce shouted.

“Worst of any, however, were the fertilizer men, and those who served in the cooking rooms. These people could not be shown to the visitor—for the odor of a fertilizer man would scare any ordinary visitor at a hundred yards, and as for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting—sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham's Pure Leaf Lard!” Vivian quoted from memory, causing Pierce to stand up and loom over her.

“This a warning to not be devoured by my own company?” Pierce laughed. “The only one in danger of that here is you . You should understand that.” Pierce then leaned close and whispered into her ear, mocking, “To do that would mean, not merely to be defeated, but to acknowledge defeat—and the difference between these two things is what keeps the world going.”

Vivian grit her teeth, staring at the ground as Pierce leaned back, “You’re part of this machine, Vivian. A huge part of it, and you have always been one of the people shoving the workers into the open vats and picking rats out of the meat. So don’t sit there and act like you’re some martyr ‘standing upon the brink of the pit of hell and throwing in snowballs to lower the temperature’. You’ve been minding the flue too long to pretend otherwise.”

He then headed toward the door and glanced over his shoulder, “This was fun. It’s been a while since I thought about that book. You should remember though that beyond your weak warnings, you forget that Upton Sinclair, while successful in getting certain industries to do better, was ultimately a miserable failure in his actual goal. I wonder what small, almost insignificant part of your dreams will actually come true.”

Once he left and closed the door, Vivian continued staring down at the faces of all the young girls being turned into killers. Nadia. Alena. Tanya. Yelena. Natalia. Dozens more. All girls chosen. And she was most likely going to train them.

It was like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all unseen and unheeded, buried out of sight and of memory.

Shaking her head as that quote wormed its way out of her mind, Vivian shut the folder and bit at her thumbnail. She didn’t want to train these girls, didn’t want to turn them into killers, but she knew that if she didn’t, someone else would. Someone else who would bend and break them, tossing them aside at the first sign of failure. It was another compromise, another bargain in the long run toward her ultimate goal, but her soul had long since been buried under debt.

She was going to have to do it.

Chapter Text

Vivian hadn’t been surprised when she’d been blindfolded and bound before she’d been taken out of the god forsaken room she’d been kept in. After all, despite the fact that Pierce had made her wait what felt like forever after telling her about her new role within the organization, she had been warned about what was to come. She also wasn’t surprised that the journey had taken so long, although she was pretty certain that they had gone the world’s most roundabout way to the facility they were taking her toward.

Knowing she was in Russia wouldn’t exactly help her if she didn’t know anything else. The country was massive, and honestly she was a little flattered that they thought it was necessary to go through all this to make sure she didn’t escape. She was surprised that Alexander Pierce had made the journey with her. She’d expected him to stay behind and send only underlings with her.

Alexander Pierce was making the journey with her, and that meant she needed to keep her mouth shut if she wanted a chance to get back to Bucky. They were most certainly still using him, still twisting him into doing their dirty work, and she hated that she wasn’t there to stop it, or at least take the brunt of their anger. The vehicle finally did stop, and Vivian sighed as her hood was removed, along with her shackles, while Pierce instructed, “You will be reporting directly to Madame B. She oversees all of the students inside. She does not tolerate weakness and unless you are coaching your pupils on how to speak a certain language, you will communicate only in Russian. Do you understand?”

Da,” Vivian replied simply.

Pierce rolled his eyes, “With me, you will speak English.”

“Apologies. My answer was ‘yes’,” Vivian replied simply.

Vivian winced though when Pierce turned around and slapped her before he said, “Insolent child. I speak Russian fluently. I will also be speaking to Madame B. in Russian. These instructions were not meant to test your ability to speak the language, but rather a test in how well you remember your place.”

“I’m sorry, sir. It won’t happen again, sir,” Vivian said, staring at a point past Pierce’s ear so she wouldn’t have to look directly at his face.

“Better,” Pierce snapped. “Now get out of the car. Madame B. also doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”

Getting out of the car, Vivian stared up at the massive building before she headed in after Pierce. The place was beautiful, but cold with the kind of immense presence that she’d come to expect from Russian architecture. From the outside, it was a little hard to tell what the place was other than impressive. Once they were inside, she realized the place was disguised as a boarding school of sorts. There was a receptionist straight in front of them and Pierce confidently walked up to the window before announcing in perfect Russian, “Madame B. is expecting us.”

The woman narrowed her eyes ever so slightly, but then merely replied, “One moment.” She then picked up a phone and dialed a series of numbers before saying, “They are here.” The woman then hung up the phone and just stared at them.

Vivian wanted to ask for some sort of information, any kind of information, but she refrained. She could tell from the looks on the faces of the people with her that not only would this receptionist not answer any questions presented to Pierce would become rather angry. No, staying quiet and just waiting to see what happened next was her only real option.

“Alexander, it has been too long,” a woman’s announced. Glancing over, Vivian watched as a statuesque woman walked toward them. Her heels clicked against the marble floor and her dress hugged her features. Her hair was pulled back tight into a bun and her lipstick was bright red. Everything about her was sharp lines, and she held herself in a way where Vivian could already tell this woman would not hesitate to shoot her between the eyes if she felt disrespected in the slightest.

“Madame B., a pleasure as always,” Alexander replied demurely, holding out his hand and shaking hers. “This is your new assistant. Vivian Alana. We discussed her qualifications in our last conversation.”

“Ah, yes,” Madame B. responded. “I believe you referred to her as Hecate?”

Alexander nodded and smiled demurely, “Yes. A title of sorts bestowed upon her years ago by one of my predecessors.”

Madame B. nodded and then moved closer. Vivian shook her hand and refrained from reacting as she realized that this woman was squeezing her hand much harder than necessary. After several moments, Madame B. finally did release her hand before announcing, “She’ll do.”

“Excellent. I will be checking in on her progress periodically to make sure you are satisfied with the product given to you,” Pierce smiled.

Madame B. nodded and then turned around and announced, “Follow me.”

Doing as she was told, Vivian followed the woman down a hallway. Periodically, women were stationed around, meant to look like they were just loitering, but Vivian knew guards when she saw them. They were all women, all statuesque, and all watching her out of the corner of their eye. Neither of them spoke until finally they reached a set of double doors. Madame B. pushed open the doors, and as she did so, she announced, “Alexander Pierce has reassured me that you are an expert in all the skills my girls will need. Was he exaggerating?”

“No,” Vivian replied simply. “He was not, and we both know you’ve already confirmed that information yourself.” 

“And what makes you say that?” Madame B. questioned, her expression blank as always.

“Because you’re a powerful business woman. You run this place, and you don’t have the time or the patience to have some amateur with ideas of grandeur coming in and messing up the hard work you’ve already done. Besides, you don’t trust men, especially not men like Alexander,” Vivian explained.

“Where did you get the idea that I don’t trust men?”

“This place,” Vivian nodded. “I haven’t seen a single man since I got here. The receptionist is a woman. The guards in the hall coming up to these doors were all women.”

“I never said they were guards,” Madame B. said.

“You didn’t have to,” Vivian replied easily. “They were positioned so that nothing was out of their line of sight, they never took their eyes off of us, and at least one of them had a concealed gun on her.”

“And why would I do that?”

“Because you don’t know me, and you like reassurances that the job you intended to do is done. If Pierce, for any reason, had tried to betray you by sending me in to do something, I’d have to get past you, the guards, and the receptionist, a woman who is most likely proficient in more than one type of typewriter.”

Madame B. nodded and Vivian assumed she’d passed some sort of test as they then walked through the doorway and toward a large glass window. Inside the room, a few dozen girls were practicing ballet. A stern looking woman shouted commands to them over classical music, and the girls rushed to keep up with each new command. A handful of the girls were faltering, looking close to falling over. Most were keeping up though. A select few were executing every single move perfectly, every single line of their body textbook examples of the move they were supposed to be implementing.

“Tell me who my best student is,” Madame B. commanded.

“The redhead in the black leotard. Looks to be about thirteen. Every single move she’s made has been perfect. I don’t know if she knows the meaning of failure,” Vivian answered easily.

“Her name is Natalia Alianova Romanova, and while you will be working with all the girls, you are to pay special attention to her.”

“In what way?” Vivian asked.

“The child is becoming complacent. It is your job to challenge her and to make sure she reaches the peak of her abilities.”

Vivian wanted to sigh with relief, but instead merely nodded, “Understood. When do I begin?”

“Now,” Madame B. insisted and then began walking toward another door. Following, Vivian stared at the numerous weapons around the room, but then glanced over as the woman continued, “Take care to remember that your every move is being watched and we will be evaluating what you do. If we feel you are being too soft on the child, we will have to let Pierce know about your failings.”

“Understood, Madame,” Vivian said.

“This is the Natalia’s typical training schedule,” Madame B. announced while handing over a sheet of paper. Vivian accepted it as the woman said, “Look over it. Memorize it.”

“Understood,” Vivian replied easily, glancing over the highly detailed schedule. Exact hours of sleep, shower times, warm up, work-outs, schooling, and everything Natalia could possibly need to do in a day were all carefully scheduled out in black and white.

“Good, now wait here,” Madame B. said and then headed back through the door.

Looking over the nearest rack of weapons, Vivian wasn’t surprised that they had the latest and greatest to train with. They had to keep their girls sharp, after all. Putting the schedule down, she picked a blade up and twirled it in her hand, Vivian waited until she heard the door open again before she turned and threw the blade as soon as she spotted Natalia. Natalia dodged the blade neatly, her eyes narrowing slightly as the blade lodged itself into the wall behind her.

“I see you are making yourself at home,” Madame B. said.

Vivian nodded, “Just testing the balance on these blades.”

“Natalia, this is your new tutor. You will refer to her as Hecate or Madame H.,” Madame B. said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Natalia said, still staring straight forward at Vivian.

“Good. Your new training begins now. I will check on you when it is time for bed,” Madame B. announced and then left.

Picking up another blade and flipping it around, Vivian then began moving closer toward her new student and asked, “How many people have you killed?”

“Excuse me?” Natalia asked, her brow furrowing slightly.

“The question was simple, Natalia. How many people have you killed thus far?” Vivian insisted. Natalia stared her down, but then shrugged before opening her mouth. As soon as she shrugged, Vivian shook her head, “No. Don’t shrug. You should know this. You should know the exact number in your head.”

Natalia glared, but then admitted, “Five.”

“Classmates?” Vivian asked.

“Competition,” Natalia insisted, but her expression seemed a little tighter than it was before. “They were weak. They couldn’t handle Madame B.’s training and thus they were eliminated.”

“Right, of course,” Vivian murmured. Twirling the knife and then pointing it toward Natalia, she then continued, “So why did you first shrug? Is it because you think it’s not appropriate? Not ladylike? What?”

“We’re not supposed to be so…open about our previous jobs,” Natalia said.

“Except I’m here to train you to be a perfect weapon,” Vivian replied. “And if I don’t have all the necessary information so that I can stop your mentor from believing you to be complacent, then we’ll both be punished.”

“I am not complacent,” Natalia snapped angrily, her green eyes narrowed and her teeth grit.

“Prove it then,” Vivian said. “Consider this your audition for me.”

“Consider what?” Natalia asked.

Twirling the knife around more, Vivian sighed and then threw the knife toward Natalia. She dodged them, although by a slimmer margin than before. The blade embedded itself into the wall next to the first one and it seemed Vivian had finally gotten the girl’s attention, and anger. Glaring, Natalia then moved over and ripped both blades out of the wall before she raced forward.

Grinning, Vivian dodged from the attack, twisting out of the way. Natalia was nimble and smart, following the movement, but not quite quick enough. Vivian watched her movements though, impressed with the fact that her form was perfect. If she’d been going after a normal opponent, the fight would have been over already.

Upon dodging another move, Vivian grinned wider as her arm got nicked. This seemed to spur her into further action and Vivian twisted, taking a calculated risk and letting herself get stabbed in the stomach. Natalia looked triumphant, but then her eyes widened as Vivian gripped her wrist, keeping her hand connected to the blade. Walking Natalia backward, Vivian shoved the girl against the wall and with one fluid motion, pulled the blade out of her stomach, ignoring the blood that poured out of the wound, and she pressed the blade against Natalia’s throat.

After a few moments of the two of them merely staring at each other, Vivian then backed off and grinned, “That was a good start. You’re a very good fighter. Your form was excellent, your speed spectacular, and your agility was off the charts. Can you tell me why you lost?”

“You’re not human,” Natalia said, eyeing her with distrust.

“Well, I am a mutant, but that’s not why you lost. So once again, why did you lose?” Vivian asked impatiently.

Sitting down in a chair in the room, Vivian winced at the wound in her stomach, but then demanded, “C’mon. it’s a basic thing.”

Natalia was glaring and gritting her teeth. Her hands were balled into tight fists, but then she relaxed them and bit out, “You got my weapons.”

“That didn’t help, but your screw up was what led to that being an option,” Vivian retorted.

Vivian watched as Natalia seemed to think it over, looking like she was obsessing over every detail before finally her shoulders slumped as she said, “I don’t know.”

“What’s your goal in a fight?” Vivian asked.

Natalia stood up straighter, “To win.”

“No,” Vivian shook her head. “In our line of work, the goal of your fight is for one person to walk away from it, and for that person to be you. Your goal is to kill your opponent. When you attacked me, what did you do? Did you try to badly wound me or did you try to kill me?”

“Most people would have died from a wound like that,” Natalia insisted with a frown.

“Maybe,” Vivian said. “A good deal of them would have died, but not all of them. And even if you did, they don’t die right away. You leave them with the ability to react. You’re currently being trained to be an assassin, Natalia. When you end up in the field, a job well done for you will mean the person will die before they even figure out what happened. They won’t see you coming or going. So where should you have attacked?”

“Should have slit your throat,” Natalia muttered.

“Yes, you should have,” Vivian replied easily.

“Wouldn’t you die from that?” Natalia asked curiously.

Vivian shrugged, “I guess you’ll just have to actually do it to find out.”

Natalia somehow managed to give the absolute air of someone rolling her eyes without actually rolling her eyes, but then Vivian was surprised when Natalia asked, “How many people have you killed?”

Thinking about it, Vivian felt nausea build up in her as she thought about the number. Some days she could pretend it wasn’t there, but the number was there. The number was always there, like weights all over her.

“Do you not know?” Natalia asked haughtily. “I thought you said a person should know.”

“I’m responsible for the deaths of 1,487 people,” Vivian said simply. “I either ordered those deaths, helped orchestrate their deaths, or directly killed them.”

“So you did not kill that many people,” Natalia said, her voice having more bravado than her expression did. “You are a liar.”

Natalia had sat down, but Vivian dragged the girl’s chair forward and then gripped her chin. Holding it tightly, blood smearing over the girl’s chin, she stared into her eyes as snapped, “Listen here, child, and listen well. If your actions lead to that person dying then you do bear responsibility for that action. Ordering someone else to kill for you does not stop the blood from staining your hands. It is still your burden to bear. Your whole life is a ledger and every single life we take is another debt we add onto it. Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Natalia whispered.

“Good,” Vivian said, releasing her jaw and sitting back. Eyeing Natalia again, Vivian then let her expression soften ever so slightly as she then continued, “Not all of the jobs that you’ll be given will be ones where you have to kill someone, but many will be.”

“I know that,” Natalia said, staring down at the ground.

Vivian swallowed hard, wishing not for the first time that she really could just die. This child, this baby, was already being twisted and warped into a weapon for Hydra’s grotesque plans. After several moments of silence where the two merely stared at each other, Vivian tilted her head to the side and then said, “My training will be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.”

Natalia glanced up at her, seeming confused, and Vivian admitted, “Most of your day will remain the same with the exception of the time for independent study. That time is now time you spend with me. Having you excel at normal weapons is important, but do you know what to do when you don’t have your weapons or can’t get your weapons into an area?”

Vivian could tell Natalia was confused, and she glanced over at the knives, “You may not always have knives available. Sometimes all you have are scissors. Sometimes all you have is a pen.”

“A pen is not a weapon,” Natalia replied simply.

“Anything is a weapon if you’re good enough,” Vivian said, waving her hand dismissively. “It’s all about how you use it. I will train you to be adaptable. I’ll try you how to use your linguistics abilities to your advantage. Most important of all though, I need to teach you how to kill someone quickly, silently, and without getting too much blood on yourself because trust me when I say it’s a lot harder to get away with a crime when you’re covered in blood. Not impossible though, but it’s an obstacle.”

“I thought not getting caught was part of the plan,” Natalia said.

“You’re right, but sometimes things happen. Sometimes people walk in right after you kill someone and you have to be able to lie your way out of that. You need to make sure they never suspect that it was you. The fact that you’re a beautiful white girl who will most certainly become a beautiful white woman is sure to help you out,” Vivian explained.

Natalia frowned, “How will that help?”

Vivian laughed, “Because people are racist, little one. You can use it to your advantage that people seem to inherently trust beautiful white women, but try not to shift the blame onto another race. It’s bad form and unnecessary.” Tilting her head thoughtfully, Vivian then shrugged, “Blaming white guys can be fun though, especially if they’re already creeps.”

Natalia nodded, looking like she was taking mental notes, and Vivian then admitted, “Although in general, people close to the victim will always be the first suspects. If the victim is in a relationship or married, that partner will for sure be the suspect.”

“So I’m to frame them for the murder?” Natalia asked.

Vivian shrugged, “You might not even have to. Cops want cases solved. It looks bad if they’re not, so sometimes they’ll either frame the suspects themselves or it doesn’t matter since there’s other suspicious behavior that makes a jury think that person is guilty even when they’re not. We don’t have to kill someone to end their lives.”

“Do you count those in your death count as well?” Natalia asked, tilting her head curiously.

“No,” Vivian confessed. “I’m aware that the amount of lives I’ve ruined by my actions is immeasurable. Death counts have an official record. The amount of people who are just never the same again isn’t. It all adds up in the ledger though. That’s just debt you can’t quantify.”

Natalia stared down at her feet, her brow furrowed as she questioned, “What happens when someone comes to collect that debt?”

“You either add more to your debt or you pay for it, possibly with your own life,” Vivian admitted.

“Does that end the debt?”

Vivian shrugged, “I don’t know. Never really learned how to die and the people who have aren’t usually chatty about the experience.”

Glancing up at the clock on the wall, Vivian then glanced back down at Natalia and said, “Time’s up. Today was just an introduction. Tomorrow we’ll have more time to improve your skills. In the meantime, I expect you to prepare to do better next time.”

“Yes, Madame H.”

Natalia stood up and then left and Vivian continued staring at the clock, the pain in her abdomen almost blinding. She ignored it though and stood up, Pressing her hand against the wound, she moved back over to where she’d left Natalia’s schedule and picked it up. Dragging her thumb along the schedule, she smeared blood along the timeslot she was going to occupy.

“Next time try not to get blood everywhere.”

Glancing over her shoulder at Madame B., Vivian smiled, “Of course. Would you like me to clean it up now?”

“No, you’ll just make a bigger mess. Follow me to your room. I’ll make sure there are bandages and cleaning supplies in here for next time,” Madame B. said dismissively.

Vivian nodded and followed as the woman then turned and left. Every move she made sent pain up and down her body as well as blood dripping through her fingers all over her clothes and the floor. She was leaving a macabre trail to follow. At that thought, Vivian couldn’t help but grin. She’d been leaving that trail her whole damn life.

Chapter Text

Vivian hummed under her breath and used her powers to loudly bounce a ball onto the ceiling of the room. She’d been doing both those things, sometimes just flat out breaking out into song, for the past five minutes. The song had been the most annoying song she could think of and she’d sang it in every single language she could think of. Sometimes just without hitting a single note. Other times without pronouncing a single word correctly.

“How am I supposed to do this with all that racket?” Natalia snapped, slamming the intricate lock onto the ground and glaring.

Shrugging, Vivian whistled loudly, doing her best not to smile. She didn’t look over at the girl, but instead got louder. Vivian could feel the girl’s glare on her. Glancing over once she heard muttered curses along with the sounds of continued tries, Vivian then did just outright grin after that. It’d been years since she’d heard cursing that colorful. Turning and laying on her stomach, she kept the ball going before having it slam near directly near Natalia’s hands. Natalia startled, but she grit her teeth and slammed the lock back down and got up. Vivian wasn’t all that worried though as the girl grabbed a gun and pointed it over at her.

“Stop. Your. Noise,” Natalia bit out.

Vivian shook her head, smiling wider and then singing at the top of her lungs. She laughed loudly as Natalia fired the gun, the bullet digging deep into the ground directly next to Vivian’s hands. Shaking her head and tsking in disapproval, Vivian got up and sighed, “Well, that was a poor show, wasn’t it?”

“Why are you doing this?” Natalia demanded, looking lost. “You told me to pick this lock, but then all you did is just lay there and scream and sing and bounce that ball!”

“I also whistled,” Vivian pointed out with a grin.

“This isn’t funny,” Natalia insisted.

“Oh, it’s actually hilarious. You see, little one, up until now, your training has been in a vacuum,” Vivian explained. “Every time you’ve tried something, it has been in isolation or total silence. The fact that your teachers didn’t tolerate failure was some level of pressure, but you’ve never failed before, so you had the confidence to just believe you could do it. Sometimes the places you’ll be going will have noise . They will have people. They will have sounds. People will be wandering around.”

Natalia’s shoulders slumped, “Then what do I do? Block it all out?”

Vivian shook her head, “No. Blocking everything out can be as dangerous as focusing on everything. If you do it right, it’ll end up being like a dance, if you pardon the expression. You’ll need to know how to focus while also filtering through all the noise. Now, if you have a partner for a mission, then you can just solely focus on your particular objective, but when it’s just you? When you’re on your own? You’ve got to be able to tell what noises are important and what noises are just noises.”

“You want me to be able to listen without listening?” Natalia asked, looking stumped. “That does not make any sense, Madame H.”

“It does. You’re just overthinking it,” Vivian grinned. “Close your eyes.”

Natalia rolled her eyes, but then closed them, shaking out her arms and taking a deep breath before squaring her shoulders. Smiling, Vivian then announced, “Good. Now I need you to figure out when I become a threat to you. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

Normally Vivian could move almost silently, but for the purposes of the training mission, she decided to move with about as much sound as the average person made. Moving around the room, she kept getting closer. Natalia’s brow was furrowed and she looked like she was desperately trying to figure it out. Before she could figure it out though, Vivian was next to her and whispering in her ear, “If this was the field, you’d be dead already.”

Natalia opened her eyes and glared, “How am I supposed to tell where you are just by hearing you?”

Pay attention,” Vivian smiled. “The closer I am, the louder I’ll be. Volume is going to be very important in figuring out whether someone is close enough to be a threat or not. You can also put obstacles in between yourself and possible intrusions so you have signals of sorts. If there’s a door between you and the rest of the world, ideally you would shut and lock the door. If locking the door isn’t an option then just shutting the door is the next best thing. If you can do your work in the dark, that also helps, because a light turning on is an even easier indicator than sound, since you don’t even have to listen for that.”

“What if I’m not good enough?” Natalia asked quietly, staring down at the lock.

“You are good enough,” Vivian reassured her, causing the girl to glance up at her in surprise. “No matter what happens in your training, Natalia, you must always have faith in your own worth. Strive to be better, strive to fulfill new goals and obligations, but always know what you’re capable of. Do you understand me?”

Natalia nodded and Vivian shook her head, “Say it. Say you understand, because for the rest of your life, there are going to be people, especially men, who are going to tell you that you’re not good enough. There are going to be tasks that make you question yourself. If you want to survive, you can’t let yourself get discouraged. You have to know and value your own worth, even if no one else does.”

“I understand,” Natalia said, her expression getting firm again. “I can do this. I just have to concentrate and practice.”

“Good,” Vivian grinned. “Now do it.”

Vivian then moved back to the corner of the room, loudly pacing and making random noise as she kept an eye on Natalia’s process. Every once and a while, she’d move a little bit closer, checking the girl’s reaction. It took a little bit longer than it should have for Natalia, but she did pause once Vivian was about fifteen feet away. Moving back away again, Vivian smiled as Natalia then quickly finished the lock.

Going quiet and moving forward, Vivian grinned proudly as when she was about ten feet away, Natalia turned toward her and asked, “How’d I do?”

“I want to know how you think you did,” Vivian replied easily, sitting down on the ground near the girl.

Natalia sighed, “I did better than before, but I need to be faster.”

Grabbing the lock, Vivian secured it again before handing it over to the girl and saying, “Then start practicing right before bed.”

“We’re not supposed to bring training equipment into the sleeping area,” Natalia said.

“Even better,” Vivian grinned. “You have to do it while not getting caught.”

Natalia nodded and fiddled with the lock, not saying anything. Arching an eyebrow, Vivian was surprised when the girl glanced up at her, her brows furrowed and her expression intense. “How come you do not hit me like the other instructors do?”

“Because it’s a waste of my time,” Vivian said. When Natalia just looked confused, Vivian explained, “You know you have to do this job. You know what the stakes are. And even if you didn’t, my smacking you across the face will not help your training. I’ll push you until you think you can’t do anything else and then have you keep going still just so you can see your actual limits. Only time I should be hitting you is if you fail to block an attack when we’re actually fighting. And even then, I don’t need to beat the shit out of you for you to realize you screwed up.”

Natalia nodded, and then questioned, “Is that how someone trained you?”

Vivian burst into laughter, seeming to startle her young student, “God, no. I’ve been getting butchered since before my accelerated healing had even been activated.”

The girl’s green eyes were huge, shock barely hidden in her expression as she whispered, “What’s the worst thing they did to you?”

“Directly to me?” Vivian asked before thinking about it. Leaning back, Vivian realized she hadn’t put nearly as much thought into what they’d done to her as she’d thought about what they’d done to other people. Sighing, she then said, “I don’t know. A few things were awful things to deal with, but I’m not sure how to rank them. I’ve been lobotomized, I’ve been electrocuted, I’ve been shot in the head, and I’ve been operated on while I was absolutely coherent, and I tend to get stabbed a lot.”

“So you really can’t die?” Natalia frowned.

“Doesn’t seem like I can,” Vivian admitted. “Otherwise I would have died hundreds of times by now.”

“Does…does it still hurt?”

Glancing over in surprise at the question, Vivian frowned. It was the first time since she’d met Natalia that the girl had sounded even younger than her actual age. And her age was still pretty young. Thinking about it, she decided to answer honestly. “Yes, it always hurts,” Vivian confessed.

Natalia nodded and stared down at the ground, looking like she was lost in thought. Snapping her fingers and startling the girl out of her thoughts, Vivian shrugged, “My pain doesn’t matter though. I was designed to be a weapon and so that’s what I am. Now c’mon. We’re almost out of time and I still want you to translate the document I left on the table.”

Vivian smiled as Natalia grumbled, “You want me to translate it incorrectly.”

No,” Vivian said and then sighed. “Natalia, we’ve been through this. Knowing the exact formal way of speaking in every single language is good, but most of the locals aren’t going to speak that way. If you want to blend in, you can’t sound like a tourist. You have to sound like one of them, and in order to do that, you have to know the slang.”

“Fine,” Natalia said and stood up before doing as she was told. Leaning against the wall, Vivian sat there, sitting quietly, but then feeling a tight grip on her heart and a churning in her stomach as she watched Natalia rapidly writing on the document, muttering to herself.

At one point in her life, Vivian had allowed herself to dream, allowed herself to hope. And one of those selfish, incomprehensibly hopeful dreams had been to have children with Steve and Bucky. They’d even talked about it, planned it out. A list of names for a little boy or a little girl. They’d sometimes just sit and talk about what kind of parents they would be. Vivian had told Steve and Bucky that she’d be a good person, be a good parent, and here she was. Natalia wasn’t her daughter, wasn’t her daughter by a long shot, but Vivian was still letting this girl down. It was something she could feel in her soul every single day she spent with this kid.

“Hecate?”

Glancing up and smiling softly as Natalia stood in front of her, paper in hand and her brow furrowed, Vivian said, “Sorry. Woolgathering. Not a very good example, I know. Let me see your work.”

Accepting the paper and glancing over it. Natalia had done a pretty good job. Taking a pen and giving a couple quick corrections, Vivian said, “You did a good job, but only use some of these slang terms if you’re wanting to start a fight. Negative connotations and all that. Not slurs or anything, but they have baggage.”

“How am I supposed to know that?”

Grinning at the exasperated look on the girl’s face, Vivian confessed, “You either do your research before you go or you play it by ear, hope you don’t get your ass kicked, and remember for next time. Surveillance is your friend in these situations and you should pay attention to what locals are doing. You can also ask people you work with who have history in the area.”

“But they’re my competition,” Natalia said warily. “I have to kill them.”

“Once you graduate, you’ll all just be assassins. Besides, even if they were still your enemies, part of your job is to get information out of people that are your enemy, whether they know it or not,” Vivian reminded her. Glancing up at the clock on the wall, she then said, “Thirty seconds until Madame B. arrives. Better hide that lock.”

Natalia nodded, taking it and hiding it within her spare clothing. As soon as she finished that, the door opened and Madame B. walked in, looking bored.

“Time for bed, Natalia.”

Natalia immediately stood up straight, nodded, and then left the room. After Natalia left, Madame B. then walked over and demanded, “Explain yourself.”

“All due respect, Madame, but you’re going to have to narrow that down,” Vivian replied.

“This…talk of yours that you do for her. Why?”

Glancing up at the woman, Vivian said, “I’m giving her pep talks, because if she believes she can do anything, then that’s exactly what she will do. You can give her all the skills in the world and they’re useless if she doesn’t, at her core, believe that she can actually do them.”

“That is nonsense,” Madame B. spat. “Such an American attitude.”

Vivian shrugged, “Believe what you want. Time will tell which one of us is right.”

“Get up.”

Standing up and stretching, Vivian followed the woman back to her living quarters, unsurprised when once again she got locked into the room. Sitting down on the bed, Vivian took a deep breath before laying down and staring at the ceiling. A grin spread across her face though as she whispered, “‘Such an American attitude’. That woman doesn’t know the half of it.”

Chapter Text

Vivian stared around her new living quarters in wonder. Before she’d just had a bedroom with a private bathroom attached. That she was used to. After all, even Hydra gave her that, less because they wanted to spoil her, and more that they wanted to make sure she didn’t have to leave her room for any reason. They wanted it to be a prison. These new living quarters had a small kitchen area. Her bed wasn’t very comfortable, but just the fact that she could prepare her own meals, eat when she wanted to, was something she hadn’t experienced in years.

She’d seen stoves, sinks, and fridges like the ones in her living quarters in the homes of people she’d killed, but she’d never really been allowed to use one. As she breathed heavily, taking it all in, a part of her knew this gift to her was Madame B.’s way of acknowledging that Vivian had been right. It was her way of saying she was training that young girl well, because there never would be verbal acknowledgement.

For as long as Vivian did her job well, she’d get things like the nicer living quarters.

She was still in her room non-stop unless she was training Natalia or providing mini-demonstrations for the other girls, but this was still something. It was something small, but at the same time, something clawed at her. Running her fingertips along the counters, she closed her eyes and gripped the edge with her hand. She hunched her shoulders, and for a second, a moment, she felt like she could hear the clamor of that apartment. The warm laughter of Steve and Bucky. The banter. If she lied to herself, she could smell Bucky’s cologne, smell Steve’s medical cigarettes (a laughable idea now), and could feel the gentle caresses of their hands on her waist. She could feel their lips on her neck.

Slamming her hand against one of the cabinets, Vivian sobbed, turning around and biting down onto her knuckles. She pressed herself against the bottom cabinets, and slid to the floor and screamed into her hands, her own blood dripping into her mouth and down her chin as she tore into her knuckles with her teeth.

She’d had heaven in that apartment. She’d had blissful, delirious perfection and she’d squandered it. She’d abandoned it, and she couldn’t get it back ever again. Steve was dead, his body rotting somewhere in the ocean, and Bucky? Bucky was either being forced to kill or he was in his own frozen coffin, just waiting to be tortured again. And she’d done that to them. Because of her, their lives were ruined. And now she was going to have to go out there and keep twisting that girl for Hydra. Another life ruined. Another debt to add to her collection.

And God, Natalia didn’t even know who she really worked for. She thought she was being a good Russian. She believed this was for the good of the country. And it was all lies. All of it.

Her teeth hit bone and she carefully pried her mouth off of her hand. The pain pounded all the way up her arm, but she ignored it in favor of sitting there and staring at the wall. She forced herself to regain her breath.

No, she didn’t have time to break down. Not while Pierce was still in charge. This kind of weakness would just help him, and would just further hurt Bucky.

Vivian got up and headed to the bathroom. She turned on the shower before getting in fully dressed. The outfit she was wearing was basically a lost cause, but she just stood there under the hot water, steeling herself herself to not react to the pain as it slammed into her open wound. The pressure irrigated it, forcing more blood onto the floor of the shower and down the drain. She watched the blood swirl down, and waited until the water turned clear before she peeled off her soaking wet clothing and tossed them into the back of the shower. She’d deal with those later.

Taking a normal shower, Vivian then got out and dried off before making herself presentable again. Good outfit, perfectly dried hair, and of course, flawless make-up. Time to put her game face on. Time to take everything she was feeling and put it in a box in her mind, lock it, and hide the key yet again. As soon as she was done, the door to her bedroom opened, and she glanced over to see Madame B. standing in the doorway. Madame B. did, not even acknowledge the blood smeared across the cabinets as she stated, “Your session with Natalia will be twice as long today.”

“Is there a specific piece you’d like me to spend more time training her on?” Vivian asked cautiously.

“No. I had to kill the ballet instructor and we haven’t yet found a suitable replacement, so the class is cancelled for the rest of the week.”

“Oh,” Vivian said, keeping her expression as blank as possible as she continued, “That explains that.”

“If you would like to use the ballet room to train Natalia in, that would be acceptable, but not tonight. There’s still quite a lot of blood to clean up in there.”

“Of course,” Vivian said quietly. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Madame B. nodded and then turned and walked out the door. Vivian trailed behind her. Not another word was said between them as they headed toward the usual training area. Once they were there, Vivian walked through the door and was locked in. She spared Madame B. one last nod before turning away. Glancing over, Vivian frowned as she spotted Natalia sitting on a chair. Her shoulders were hunched up to her ears, her gaze firmly on the ground, nearly unblinking, and her hands were clenched onto the seat of her chair. Her breathing was too deliberate to be calm.

“I heard about your ballet instructor,” Vivian said, moving over and sitting across from the girl.

“Madame R. was a traitor,” Natalia whispered. “Madame B. just did what was necessary.”

“Were you there when it happened?”

Natalia nodded, “It was during class. Madame B. interrupted and just…went up to Madame R. They fought. Madame B. won and then slit her throat. She then told the other girls to go back to their independent studies. I was told to come here.”

Vivian glanced over Natalia again, noticing how white the girl’s knuckles were on that chair. In that moment she made a decision. Sitting up straighter, Vivian announced, “Then this is the perfect time to train you in a very subtle skill.”

Natalia’s brows furrowed and she glanced up. Her voice was laced with confusion, as she questioned, “What skill is that?”

Vivian leaned forward, “Do you remember how I told you that people were going to underestimate you and that it would be to your benefit?”

Natalia nodded and Vivian smiled leaned back before shrugging, “Well, let’s pretend you just slit someone’s throat. Someone enters the room before you can clean up or get out of there. What do you do?”

Natalia shrugged, “Kill them?”

Vivian shook her head, “Maybe sometimes that will work, but you don’t want to compound the situation in most cases. No, the thing you do is…cry.”

“Cry?” Natalia asked, looking more than a little bit stunned.

“Yep,” Vivian said. “If you sob and scream and talk about how it ‘all just happened so fast’, people won’t really question you. Getting the people around you to comfort you is also a good, safe bet. You can also take that time to either take something from their pockets or put something in their pockets.”

“What do you mean?” Natalia frowned.

“The weapon,” Vivian responded easily. “You cry. They comfort you. You slide the small knife into their pocket. Then if you are later searched, you don’t have the weapon on you.”

“Surely they would notice.”

Vivian shook her head and then smiled softly, “I need you to cry, okay?” Natalia looked wary, so she then grabbed the girl’s hand and squeezed, “Please, just do as I say.”

Natalia nodded and then took a deep breath. A few seconds later, tears were streaming down her face. Her breathing became more labored, and Vivian slipped a blade into her hand before reaching over and pulling her close. Hugging Natalia to her, Vivian whispered into her ear, “It’s okay to be upset about things, little one. I’m guessing Madame R. cared about you, did something to protect you. I’m sorry for your loss.”

Vivian felt Natalia tense up for a moment, but then the girl relaxed, one hand gripping the back of Vivian’s dress tightly. Vivian rubbed the girl’s back before whispering, “You’re strong though, stronger than you know, and one day, all this pain, all this anger, and all this hate you have inside you will be gone. It won’t be easy to get there, but I know you can do it.”

Pulling back, Vivian gently wiped the tears from Natalia’s eyes before she then reached into the pockets of her dress and pulled out the knife. Grinning, Vivian announced, “Well done. You just framed me for murder. Excellent work.”

Natalia looked mildly confused, but nodded, composing herself, and Vivian leaned back in her chair before saying, “That didn’t take long, so the next few hours are going to be us listening to music and discussing pop culture.”

“Music?”

“Yep. Music.”

“But why?”

Sighing, Vivian stood up and stretched before admitting, “Because people love music and they love pop culture. If you’re going to be infiltrating a group and don’t know who Michael Jackson is or why he’s controversial, people will think you’ve been living under a rock. Other music people expect you to know just because they’re considered classics for one reason or another. Feel free to only know a minimal amount around some people just so they can feel better about themselves when they explain every excruciating detail about it to you. And if you’re wondering who those people are, don’t worry. They will let you know.”

Heading over to the side of the room, Vivian then dragged a table with a record player on it out before pulling out a box of vinyl. Vivian grinned when her eyes landed on a Queen record, and she set it up while announcing, “I think I should introduce you to Queen first.”

Natalia looked confused, but Vivian just smiled and began to play the song, laying down on the ground as the sound of snapping filled the room. For a moment, the teen just sat and looked confused, but as the words ‘guaranteed to blow your mind anytime’ were belted out, a smile was spreading across her face. By the end of the song, Natalia was just grinning. Getting up once the song ended and taking the vinyl off, Vivian then began flipping through the other options, only pausing as Natalia moved closer and signed near the crate very carefully.

Thank you for all of this.

Vivian just winked, but then giggled excitedly as she pulled out a vinyl of Bad Reputation. She set the record player. As the notes of the title track rang out, she glanced over to see that Natalia actually looked excited.

“You like Joan Jett?”

Natalia nodded, “She is good.”

“Smart choice,” Vivian grinned. After the song died down, she nodded toward the box of vinyl and said, “Pick something. No wrong answers in this exercise. We’re just going to feel out the music. Bare minimum, you’ll be able to recognize it.”

“Do you think I’ll be sent on a deep cover assignment?” Natalia asked quietly, staring at her feet.

Vivian frowned, sighing before she confessed, “Yes. I do. Not until after you’ve graduated though. Most likely they’ll send you on some basic missions first before they send you in deep cover. As long as you keep training like you do though, in terms of just sheer skill in battle, you’ve got that down. Most people you fight are going to be no match for you. It’s being someone you’re not that you need to focus on right now.”

Natalia nodded and questioned, “So what do I need to become?”

“When you’re undercover, you become a mirage. What someone else sees or needs is what you are,” Vivian answered easily. “It’s an easy enough concept, but it’s not easy to live that way.”

“I’ll be fine,” Natalia insisted.

Smiling and gently tucking some loose hairs behind Natalia’s ear, Vivian reassured her, “I know you will.”

Chapter Text

“Hecate?”

Glancing up from her arm as she finished picking shrapnel out of the wound, Vivian pressed a rag against the injury, soaking up blood and forcing herself to take a deep breath. Letting the breath out slowly, she then questioned, “What is it, little one?”

Natalia looked nervous, more so than Vivian had ever seen the girl look. Her gaze kept darting all over the room, she was chewing at her bottom lip, and her hands were nervously ripping at the hem of her shirt. After what felt like over a minute of silence, Vivian gently stuck a foot out and poked Natalia’s knee, “What’s wrong?”

“We had a health class today,” Natalia said, looking conflicted. “We’ve had them before. Usually just about our health and how to locate the best way to kill someone, but this time, we were told about…another aspect of the job we will have to do.”

“There’s a lot of aspects to the job we do,” Vivian pointed out. “I need you to specify, Natalia. You know this.”

A slight blush tinged her cheeks, and Vivian watched as the girl hugged her knees up to her chest before asking, “Is it true we might have to…have sex with people?”

Vivian sighed and scrunched up her nose. Taping down the bandage to her arm, she then adjusted how she was sitting before thinking of how to address this one piece at a time. It’d been quite a while since she’d talked about sex in general. Years, in fact. And the last time she’d had to talk to a sixteen year old about sex, she had also been that age.

“I’ve never lied to you before, Natalia, and I am never going to lie to you. You know that, right?” Vivian asked carefully.

Natalia nodded earnestly, “This is why I’m asking you, Hecate. I need to know. The other girls in my class were saying we would be doing these things, and that the implant in our arm would make it so that we would do these things as much as possible.”

Vivian snorted, “Okay, that last part I can tell you is absolute nonsense. The implant is given to any agent that menstruates to limit menstruation as a way to make everything easier. And it also stops us from getting pregnant if we do so happen to have sex. Although, they’re not perfect, and they don’t protect from sexually transmitted diseases, so we’re still encouraged to use condoms on the job.”

“So I will have to have sex with our targets?”

Natalia looked like she was desperately trying to keep it together and Vivian shook her head. Moving close, Vivian took Natalia’s hand in hers and squeezed it while reassuring her, “Not necessarily, little one. Most of the time, you will be there to infiltrate or kill. Sex won’t be asked of you at all in those cases. And in the cases where the command is something like ‘seduce’ , there is still a great deal of gray area in that.”

“I don’t understand,” Natalia whispered.

Vivian released the girl’s hand and smiled, “Okay, so, example time. Let’s say your mission is to get blackmail material on a politician. Specifically, we need photos of him in a compromising position. Do you have to have sex with him in order to complete the mission?”

Natalia nodded and Vivian grinned, “Nope.”

“But, how?”

“To clarify, you will still have to flirt with him and get very close and personal with the subject in order to achieve your objective, but you don’t have to have sex with him. Get him a little tipsy, get him to a hotel room, get him to strip down to his underwear or naked. You need a camera nearby taking plenty of pictures and then you make sure you take pictures of what looks like you doing something to him or looks like you’re about to doing something to him. Then you drug him or find some way to knock him out. You take the photos and honestly, those will be enough to blackmail him. Be enough to ruin his life, really.”

Natalia laid back on the ground, seeming lost in thought, and Vivian moved close while admitting, “In general, I need to teach you how to add sedatives to people’s drinks. It helps in more situations than you’d think. Although if I ever find out that you used sedatives in someone’s drink in order to have sex with them, I will rip your fucking throat out.”

“People do that?” Natalia questioned, looking horrified.

Vivian sighed, “Unfortunately, some people are bastards. Mostly men. Good news is that they die easily. Speaking of which, always remember that if a man ever tries to force you to have sex with them, you are well within your right to slaughter them. Or, at the very least, mutilate them.”

“Has anyone ever tried to…you know?”

Vivian shook her head and gently ran her fingers through Natalia’s hair while she confessed, “Some men I’ve worked with have talked about it. I’ve made it clear what I do to rapists. Some survived to tell the tale, others did not. Did the same for if they wanted to do that to anyone, regardless of gender.”

Vivian paused and released out a breath slowly, “Natalia, know this: no one owes anyone sex. No one. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Natalia whispered.

“Good. Now what other things did you learn about in health class today?”

Natalia nodded to Vivian’s bandaged arm as she sat up, her brow slightly furrowed as she admitted, “Some basic first aid, but you already know that.”

“Yeah, one of the classes got to blow up a bomb near me. Then they got to poke at the shrapnel so they could tell what it all looks like before they discussed what they can do in the field. They got to even pick out some of the shrapnel, so that was fun for them.”

“My group is doing that tomorrow,” Natalia whispered.

“I should be pretty much healed by then,” Vivian confessed. “I’ll be sore still, but…” Vivian  trailed off and then shrugged.

The two sat in silence for several minutes and Vivian lay down next to Natalia. The ceiling was almost splattered with blood. Dried streaks and splatters of her blood just on the ceiling from where weapons connected. She was sure her blood was all over the building if someone really looked for it.

“You told me once that you knew exactly how many people you had killed, and that I should as well.”

Vivian glanced up at Natalia as the girl leaned over her, looking more than a little concerned. Her voice hadn’t given that away though, been that same stagnant tone. She then nodded, genuinely surprised when the girl then asked, “Do you keep track of how often you’re hurt?”

“I don’t understand the question,” Vivian said.

Natalia frowned, “Your injuries. Your close calls with death. Do you keep track of them? Do you keep track of the debts others owe you?”

“No one owes me anything,” Vivian retorted, sitting up and picking at the bandage on her arm.

“But—”

“I was born with the ability to heal, and the ability to keep going . Almost no one has a single solitary hope of keeping me down. Most can’t even knock me over,” Vivian said, closing her eyes as flashes of Bucky in cryo went through her mind. Swallowing hard, she whispered, “Trust me. These things will never add up to my being owed something from anyone.”

Sitting up, Vivian then glanced over at Natalia and forced a smile, “You’re different though. Slights against you will be debts you are owed. Usually in our line of work though, you’ll be able to collect pretty quickly.”

“And the times I can’t?” Natalia asked, tilting her head and staring up at her with those green eyes.

“Then you find a way to make it better for yourself,” Vivian admitted. “You don’t necessarily have to get something from someone else in order to be fulfilled or to make things right.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Allowing yourself to rest, letting yourself have the things you want and need, just in general taking care of yourself,” Vivian replied carefully.

“Is that why you never take care of yourself? Because you are trying to balance your debt?”

Vivian scoffed, “What are you talking about? I bandaged my arm. I stitch myself up all the time. Just the other day, I took a nap.”

Natalia didn't look like she quite believed her about that, but kept quiet. The two then sat in silence for a few moments.

“Do you think we will be allowed to work together after I graduate?” Natalia asked quietly.

Vivian grinned and gently tucked some of Natalia’s red hair behind her ears as she confessed, “I don’t know. I hope so. I know you’re good enough where you don’t need for someone to have your back, but still…I’d like to be that for you.”

“Together, we’d be unstoppable,” Natalia bragged, sitting up straighter and looking proud.

Laughing, Vivian nodded, “Damn right we would be, kid. An unstoppable team.” Vivian then looked at the clock and stood up, stretching before announcing, “Our plot to take over the world will have to wait until next time though. It’s time for you to go back to your room.”

Natalia nodded and then stood up, but Vivian blinked in surprise when Natalia gave her a quick, tight hug before leaving. Somehow Vivian managed to stay on her feet until after Natalia had left the room. Stumbling backward, she swallowed hard, her heart racing and her breathing hitching in her throat. Shaking her head, she then forced herself to head back to her room, letting herself get locked in before she sank to the ground. Her mind raced and she tilted her head back, forcing herself to count backward from ten.

How was she supposed to keep that girl safe if it was her job to destroy her?

Chapter Text

Vivian had almost let herself believe that Pierce would be taking a hands off approach. It wasn’t hard to convince herself of that lie. Last she’d seen of him, he’d been dropping her off at the facility and threatening Bucky to keep her in line. Since then, she’d always known he was keeping an eye on her, but he just wasn’t coming around for whatever reason. And that meant that his making an appearance was either a sign of her doing extremely well or a sign that he thought she was fucking up beyond measure. Following Madame B to the door, Vivian opened it and stepped in, keeping her expression passive as she saw Pierce waiting for her. A television was strapped to a cart off to the side.

“Come, sit. We have much to discuss,” Pierce insisted. It took a second for Vivian’s brain to understand what he was saying though, since he was speaking in crisp English.

Sitting down across from him, she waited until the door behind her was shut before she focused on Pierce, “Did you need something, sir?”

Pierce chuckled and shook his head, “No, but I can understand why you’d think that. It is also good of you to ask. Red Room seems to have brought out the best in you.”

Vivian kept her mouth shut, merely staring at Pierce until he sighed, “Fine. First and foremost, I know you’re wanting the information, and since you’ve done such a good job with the students here, I’ll let you know that your soldier is fine. In fact, I’ve assigned him his own personal project.”

“A project, sir?” Vivian asked carefully.

Pierce grinned, “Don’t worry, he’s doing just fine. He’s…not quite himself, but he’s healthy enough.”

Vivian grit her teeth and clenched the arms of the chair tightly while forcing herself to not say anything or do anything. This seemed to amuse Pierce more as he threw his head back and laughed. He laughed heartily for several minutes until he finally sighed, “Ah, I had forgotten what a treat it is to speak with you, Vivian. Your soldier is not the reason I’m here though.”

“Then what is, sir?”

“As you are well aware, Natalia will graduate next year. She’ll be a fully fledged agent of Russia by then, and she, for reasons I’m sure you don’t know, has repeatedly expressed her desire to be partnered with you.”

Vivian nodded, “She told me she was making those requests.”

“Her request will be granted,” Pierce said, but then his expression became just a touch darker. “We will need to test her first.”

“Every graduate of the red room is tested,” Vivian pointed out.

Pierce shook his head, “Not like this. Not like what’s about to happen.”

“What are you doing?” Vivian demanded.

Pierce chuckled, “The world, somewhat through our influence and somewhat just on its own, has gotten more dangerous. Mutants are fighting everywhere, from the streets to outer space, terrorists are flying planes into towers, and the U.S. government is trying to recreate project rebirth. We can only tolerate the best of the best making it through this program.”

Vivian desperately wanted to ask what in the world Pierce meant by mutants fighting in outer space , but she kept her mouth shut. If he’d wanted her to have more details than that, he would have given them to her, but he hadn’t, and so asking would only result in punishment. She’d have to figure out a way to get that information on her own at a later date. Besides, she had more pressing issues to ask about.

“How do you intend to achieve these results?”

Vivian kept her hands flat on the arms of the chair as Alexander Pierce stood up and walked over to the television. The TV turned on, the electronic noise filling the room as static filled the screen before a disc got inserted before he hit play. At first the screen was just dark, but then images became clearer as she realized they were soldiers running drills. And they were extremely good and extremely accurate. She kept her mouth shut as she watched them rage through a battlefield, decimating the enemy often before their opponent could get off a single shot.

“When will they arrive?” Vivian whispered.

Pierce sighed and checked his watch, “Oh, about thirty minutes ago.”

The grin on Pierce’s face sent shivers down Vivian’s spine. She opened her mouth to ask another question, but then flinched as an alarm went off, the lights going out for a second before backup generators kicked on. Staring pointedly at him, Vivian then bit out, “What do you want?”

“To see how you react. You see, I have a proposition for you,” Pierce began, looking terribly pleased with himself. “You can either go out into the fight and help your students survive this test, or you can sit here, let them fend for themselves, and find out what special project Barnes has been working on since you’ve been gone.”

Vivian’s heart stuttered and part of her was desperate to stay and find out, but then she reminded herself that if she did that, she’d get nothing. Pierce wasn’t going to stop using Bucky and there was no way her mission here with the Red Room was going to end anytime soon. No, the only thing knowing the information would do would be to drive her crazy. Granted, the idea that Bucky was being used in some way that was making Pierce happy was also not something she was happy about either. No matter what, Pierce would get some satisfaction out of this, that was for sure.

Standing up, Vivian clenched her hands into fists by her sides before demanding, “Are you going to give me a weapon or do I need to get one off of one of your men?”

Pierce turned off the TV and sat down, looking pleased with himself before he motioned toward the door, “I’m sure you’ll be just fine on your own.”

Glaring, Vivian opened up the door and stormed out, heading toward where the girls would be around this time of day. On her way down the hallway, she rolled her eyes as a soldier stood waiting, gun raised as he shouted in perfect Russian, “Stop and surrender!”

“Go to Hell,” Vivian snarled, not slowing down for an instant as she held out her hand and ripped his gun from him. Turning it back on him, she then shot him rapidly along all of the weak points in his armor. Continuing on, she shot him again for good measure as she passed, forcing herself to not look at the man. She was doing this for a reason. She just needed to keep it locked down until after she was back in her room.

And just like that, it was like everything became muted and she felt shuttered, cut off from everything. These soldiers were just cutouts. Paper floating in the breeze ready to be ripped apart. She pretended she was back in that emptiness that the chair had given her, the emptiness that Bucky felt every day now, and she proceeded. She gunned down agent after agent without flinching and while barely blinking.

Once she reached the mirrored room for ballet practice, Vivian stepped over bodies that the girls had dropped and then focused on the agents that had overpowered them. Two bullets each. Her ears were ringing, probably had been from some time, but she merely stared at the blank wall now with the bar in front of it. Bullets had hit the mirrors, shattering them all over the floor. The broken pieces glittered under the strong light and were splattered with blood.

Glancing at each of the girls, Vivian took a careful headcount, noting three dead students, their bodies riddled with bullets. Thankfully, Natalia wasn’t one of the dead, but she also wasn’t one of the living ones either. Turning on her heel, Vivian was about to go search for her only to feel some of the tension leave her body as Natalia came in, blood splattered all over her. Her chest was heaving as she forced herself to take deep breaths and Vivian moved closer, shouldering the weapon before steadying her. A quick onceover told Vivian that Natalia wasn’t injured and that the blood was thankfully not hers. When Vivian noticed Natalia’s lips moving, Vivian shook her head and tapped her ear and shook her head.

Too much gunfire. Can’t hear anything for a few hours.

Vivian had signed fairly rapidly, but Natalia nodded, shoulders slumping before she replied in sign language.

How did these men even get in? Why did they come in? This place is supposed to be safe.

Rubbing her hands over her face, Vivian glanced over to where the other girls were gathering up the dead and she then focused back on Natalia. She wondered for half a second about whether or not to tell this girl the truth before she decided she wouldn’t lie about this.

It was a test. A test of the entire class.

Natalia frowned, her brow furrowed as she signed angrily. A test? They destroyed part of our building and killed my classmates.

Vivian shrugged. Apparently, the challenges outside have gotten harder. I only found out about this right before the alarm went off.

By then the intruders were already inside by then!

Natalia was aggressively signing, looking more than a little annoyed. It was drawing attention from the other girls, so Vivian shook her head and gently gripped the girl’s shoulders. Staring into her eyes, Vivian then sighed and released her before carefully signing her response.

I think they wanted to see how you would truly respond in a crisis, how you would handle split second decisions in a real life scenario. I know this wasn’t fair, but know that as long as I’m here, you’ll always have me to back you up. You’re not alone in this .

Natalia nodded and then pointed to the gun. Vivian just grinned and signed. Killing your enemy with their own weapon is the easiest way to handle a situation like that. It makes it so that you can avoid getting caught on the way to the crime with a weapon. Plus, if they try to trace the murder weapon, they’re only going to find out more information on the victim.

Natalia nodded again before scrunching up her nose as she tried to scrub the drying blood off of her skin. Tapping the girl’s hand, Vivian shook her head and then signed. Don’t bother. You’ll need to take a shower to get clean, but if you think you can still feel it long after the shower, don’t worry. It happens to all of us.

Natalia looked perturbed and Vivian sighed before gently cupping the back of the girl’s neck and pushing her hair out of her face. At a glimpse, her hair just looked wet, but upon closer inspection, it was splattered with blood just like the rest of her.

You will survive this, little one.

She signed that quietly and covertly, unsurprised when the door opened and Madame B. came over and gripped her arm in a vice grip. Grinning widely as she was led out of the room, she waved at all the surviving students, staying upright and keeping her head up high as she went back down that same route. It was a little bloodier than usual, and once they passed the room Pierce was in, she was unsurprised when she saw him just standing in the doorway. The grin on his face was damn near psychotic. A monster who felt he was three moves away from a checkmate.

She was then put back into her room, the little not-apartment that she’d been given. Even without her hearing, she knew she’d been locked in. She was always locked in. After all, Madame B. was too smart to actually trust her. Shaking her head and heading into the bathroom, Vivian stripped down and then got into the shower, turning it on and stepping directly under the spray. The water was boiling hot and then she pressed her hands tightly onto her face and screamed.

She couldn’t hear the sound of her own screams, could still only hear the ringing, but she could feel it in her fingertip, could feel it in her chest, throat and mouth. The sensation radiated throughout her, twisting in her insides as she screamed harder, screamed until dots appeared in front of her eyes. Once she started to sway, she stopped, her chest heaving as she leaned against the wall, sliding down and closing her eyes as blood swirled around the drain, a pinkish hue.

She really needed to carve that fucking grin right off Pierce’s smug goddamn face.

Chapter Text

The Red Room Graduation Ceremony.

Long before any of the students ever reached the day, the actual event was one that was hyped beyond belief. The ones old enough to go through the event were always nervous and excited going up to it, eager to become fully fledged agents and to be out into the field. There was also still a lot of secrecy around the tasks though. The graduation ceremonies were only held a few times a year, and on the days they were held, anyone not participating in a ceremony was kept in their dormitories, told to focus on private studies during that time.

Once the ceremony was over, the graduates didn’t talk about what they’d done, and soon after that, they’d leave to join their fellow agents in the field. This didn’t help the rumor mills that circulated from the younger ones. Some of the rumors were pretty close to accurate. A couple were just absurd. The most ridiculous rumor that she’d ever heard from one of the younger children was that they sterilized the agents completely.

Upon hearing that, Vivian had sat that particular trainee down and explained to them that doing an unnecessary, invasive procedure like that would be a waste of time, money, and would put the agent out of commission for weeks before they could then even go out and be an agent. Basically, it was just an all around bad idea that would only ever be implemented by a complete moron.

The truth was that the graduation ceremony was actually pretty tame. The girls were tested on a variety of their skills. Their physical abilities were tested in various ways. Swimming, running, and an obstacle course were pretty standard. They also were tested on various fighting styles to see what ones they’d mastered. On one of the days, they were tested on their numerous language abilities and their acting skills as well. Weapons proficiency and target practice on fake targets needed the utmost accuracy to continue. Those were all standard ones that basically no one in the red room ever failed. By the time they were eighteen, surviving agents could typically perform all of those tasks at peak efficiency. The tests where people could fail were the two tests that were kept closely guarded secrets by both instructors and those who had lived through them.

The first test was an execution. A straightforward prospect that managed to still trip up people. The very last test and the final deciding factor of whether the person graduated was interrogation, namely being able to withstand one without giving away sensitive information.

If they passed all of those tests, the students then received a birth control implant in their arm. That implant needed to be replaced periodically, but there was little to no recovery time associated with the procedure. Plus, if they wanted to have children down the line, all they had to do would be to remove the implant and wait for the hormones to clear out of their system. For the first few years of training, the implant would also have the added benefit of being a tracking device.

Unsurprisingly, Natalia was extraordinarily good at every single one of the tasks placed in front of her. She was faster, stronger, smarter, and just overall better than most of her classmates. In fact, nothing within the tests seemed to phase her. Vivian just watched as the young woman stared down each one and then moved with the grace and precision of a professional twice her age.

“She’s performing even better than we thought she would,” Madame B. praised.

“Thank you, Madame,” Vivian replied. “I’m incredibly proud of her.”

“As you should be. Grateful, as well.”

Glancing over upon hearing that, Vivian frowned, her brow furrowing as she questioned, “What do you mean?”

The expression on her face never changed as Madame B. kept watching the students being tested. There was several minutes of silence, each second ticking by slowly and making Vivian’s skin itch. The silence was on purpose, meant to drive her out of her mind, to test to see if she’d try to ask again, to see if she’d dare question someone in charge.

“Because if she had performed less than perfectly, it would have your head she would have to aim at in order to pass.”

Of course. Bullet to the head. She had a feeling that Pierce had suggested that little idea to Madame B. although probably to just shoot her. It was most likely Madame B. who’d decided to add in the element of making Natalia be the shooter if she failed.

“Good idea,” Vivian replied.

That did prompt Madame B. to turn and look at her, her eyes narrowed. Vivian kept her gaze forward this time and didn’t say anything further. After a moment or two of being stared down, Madame B. focused back on the girls. Natalia had gathered up her things as was heading toward the door. Vivian’s gaze met her pupil’s and she couldn’t help but smile and nod at the girl. The corner of Natalia’s mouth ticked up ever so slightly.

“You are not to speak to her until after her tests are complete,” Madame B. instructed. “You may, of course, observe the tests.”

Nodding, Vivian glanced down at her feet, “Yes, Madame B. Thank you, Madame B.”

Madame B. scoffed, but nodded and then began walking. Vivian followed, keeping a few feet back from her until they reached the next testing room down the hall. Following her into the room, Vivian stared at the chair in the middle of the room, only glancing away as a bound man was pulled into the room. He was limping, his lip was split open, and bruises were scattered across his visible skin. The most notable bruise being the dark bruise covering his nearly swollen shut left eye.

Vivian’s stomach churned as the man gasped in pain as he was forced into the chair and his hands were secured to the chair. A bag was then put over his head and she could see his entire body just trembling . Standing against the back wall, Vivian almost felt bad for this man, but then she felt her concerns slip away as he choked out, “ We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children .”

God, Vivian hated white supremacists. They were garbage, every single one of them, and honestly, Vivian had no qualms about orchestrating their deaths. Part of her wondered if she should care, if she should value their lives, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do so. His whimpering and his hissed pleas went ignored, and she glanced over as the door opened and Natalia entered. She was standing tall, her posture perfect as she kept her gaze forward on the prisoner.

Madame B. walked over and held out a gun. Natalia took it without question and held it up. Madame B. then walked away and announced, “His name is Marcus. Shoot him.”

Immediately the prisoner began trembling more, begging, “Please, no. Don’t. I don’t want to die. Please , I’m begging you. I have a wife. I have family. I don’t deserve to die! I need to—”

The gun firing ended the begging, the man’s head immediately falling forward and the room going completely silent. The hood was removed from his head by a female agent (Vivian didn’t know her name) and the head was pulled back for Madame B. to examine the wound. It was a perfect headshot and the man’s eyes were glassy and dead.

“Good job, Natalia.”

Madame B. then nodded and the three of them headed into the next room where Natalia took a seat. A recent graduate was waiting with a syringe and the ‘truth serum’ drug ready to administer. Natalia remained stoic as it was injected into her veins. Luckily the drug would be out of her system in about a day at the longest. Most students were fine after a nap, but some had more extreme reactions to the drug that meant that they needed a full day of rest.

A few minutes after the drug was injected, Madame B. nodded to the agent (Vivian believed her name was Nadia) and the woman left. Vivian stood back, watching Natalia carefully as Madame B. then demanded, “State your name.”

Natalia stared forward, a smirk on her lips as she replied, “Which one? I have so many.”

“Your real name,” Madame B. insisted.

Natalia sighed, and their gazes met for a moment before Natalia answered easily, “My name is Sasha.”

“Sasha?” Madame B. questioned. “That is not your real name.”

Natalia shrugged, “It’s the name I was born with. Not the most glamorous name, of course, but it doesn’t have to be.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“It’s the truth. My name is Sasha. I’m studying ballet in Saint Petersburg, and I came out here to visit relatives,” Natalia replied, shrugging slightly.

“Which relatives?” Madame B. snapped.

“My aunt.”

“What’s your aunt’s name?”

“Nadia.”

“Liar. What’s the real reason you came out here?” Madame B. glared. “Who are you really?”

“You’re right. I’m lying,” Natalia retorted. “I’m not here to visit my aunt.”

Madame B. stood back, looking triumphant and demanding, “Tell me, what is the real reason you are here?”

“My aunt Nadia is a convenient reason to come out here, but really I’m here to visit my friend, Valya. We’re a little…close, you see. Too close,” Natalia said, widening her eyes. “If the government found out, we would both be imprisoned.”

“I don’t believe you,” Madame B. insisted. “Who do you work for?”

“I told you,” Natalia insisted. “I’m a student. I’m just here to visit. I don’t know what jobs you believe I’m doing, but you have the wrong person.”

Madame B. looked agitated, and Vivian was surprised when the woman then turned to her and snarled, “Out.”

Leaving the room as asked, Vivian shut the door behind her and instead watched from behind the glass with the other students, not at all nervous as the interrogation continued for a staggering eight more hours. Periodically Natalia was given breaks to go to the bathroom in a corner, but that slowly began stop. There was no need anyway since no beverages or food of any kind had been provided during the duration of the test. No matter what or how Madame B. asked the questions though, Natalia stuck by her story of being a ballet student named Sasha who left Saint Petersburg to come visit her friend/lover Valya under the guise of visiting her aunt.

Different interrogators were swapped out and the more they interrogated Natalia about her story, the more intricate the whole thing got. She never tripped up on a detail though, miraculously enough. She mentioned around hour three that her aunt Nadia was a schoolteacher and then was able to correctly restate both that and the subject she taught around hour seven when prompted.

Vivian had practiced cover stories with Natalia before, but even she was impressed by the level of detail and dedication that her student had put into hers. Vivian herself had never actually managed to go that deep undercover. Although that was more or less because she’d taken her first foray into subterfuge to be her first act of rebellion and instead became herself. The nameless child agent became Vivian Alana Peshkova. It was her real identity. Everything else was pretend.

Natalia was finally declared a graduate after twelve hours and Vivian watched as she was injected with her implant before a small bandage was placed on her skin. Smiling as Natalia then left the room, Vivian announced, “Seems you passed with flying colors. I knew you would.”

Natalia smiled as well, looking like she was about to say something, but then they both nodded as Madame B. emerged from the room and announced, “You two should go get some rest. You have a long day ahead of you tomorrow.”

“Yes, Madame B.” they both recited.

The two then walked in separate directions and Vivian made it all the way back to her room before she realized upon hearing the door lock that she was going to be able to actually be out in the world again. She was going to be outside and interact with people.

Immediately her breathing labored and she felt a tightness in her chest and throat as she sat back against the cabinets of her kitchen area. Vivian put her head between her knees and forced herself to take deep breaths as she thought of all the new challenges ahead of her. How was she supposed to get back to Bucky? What if someone recognized her as Vivian Peshkova? What if Natalia figured out who she really was and what she was really doing? What if Natalia couldn’t be saved from this life? What if Natalia became a direct threat to keeping Bucky alive?

What if she never got back to Bucky at all?

Chapter Text

Vivian’s heart thudded in her chest as she got out of the car and stared around her. The world was loud, so much louder than she remembered it being. Everything was actually just too much. The lights were too bright, the sounds were too loud, and the smells were too intense. A shudder went down her spine as she realized the last time she’d been allowed to interact with the real world was back in 1991. In the past decade, the most amount of contact she’d had with the outdoors was going from the car to the Red Room Academy, and even that felt like some distant memory or maybe even something she’d dreamt up. And Even then, the experiences were still incredibly different as the Red Room Academy was in the middle of nowhere and was nearly silent.

“Veronica?”

Glancing over as she heard Natalia, Vivian smiled and apologized, “Sorry. Got lost in my thoughts. Let’s go in.”

Natalia looked skeptical, but the two left their designated parking spot and headed up the stairs to their apartment. Unlocking the door, Vivian headed in and stared at the place in wonder. The place felt huge, modern, and gorgeous. Although she honestly wasn’t sure if it was actually any of those things or if she just didn’t have a real comparison in her mind for somewhere people could or would live.

The apartment opened up into a living room and the kitchen. The entire place was already furnished with both things that were typical and things to help sell themselves as Nicole Edwards and Veronica Adams, two women working in D.C. for politicians. Books on politics and current well known books were on a bookshelf in the living room. Their fake diplomas were also on the wall near their television.

Slipping off her shoes next to the door, Vivian then headed down to see that there was a main bathroom and two bedrooms. Each bedroom looked like they’d been decorated for a spread in a magazine. Turning away from them, she then went back down the hall and into the kitchen, opening the fridge to see that the fridge had been fully stocked as well.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay, Nicole,” Vivian replied. When Natalia looked confused, Vivian shrugged, “Just trying to get used to calling you that. Luckily we have a few days before we have to start showing up at work. Gives us time to brush up on what’s going on politically.”

Natalia nodded, not looking like she quite believed it, but wasn’t saying anything. Vivian then picked at her nails for a moment, letting the silence just kind of hang there between them before she asked, “Do you care which room is yours?”

Vivian nodded when Natalia just shrugged. Heading back into the rooms, she glanced at both of them, but then frowned when she noticed there was an envelope on each bed, clearly labeled with their names. Heading into the room with her package, she opened up the envelope and nodded when she saw the finalized versions of some of the paperwork with her alias on them. The ID even had a picture of her with her newly dyed hair. For a moment she’d wondered why they’d bothered making it so that they had to come to this apartment in order to get things like their ID, but then she realized that it meant they couldn’t just take off with their brand new identities.

Not that they’d get far, especially since the organization knew what name was on them, but it was just yet another way to keep them in line .

Vivian read over the documents in the package multiple times, familiarizing herself with the details and memorizing the aspects that were supposed to be just parts of her . Shaking her head and reluctantly sliding off the bed, Vivian headed to the desk in the room and pressed the correct sequence of carvings on the desk to open up a secret compartment. The entire time she felt ridiculous. Why did Hydra even bother with shit like that? What was wrong with a well-crafted safe? Having secret compartments in the desk made someone seem far guiltier than if they’d just had a safe to keep their valuables safe like a normal human being.

Putting the more sensitive documents into the hiding spot, Vivian then closed up the compartment and put the information she’d need more often into her wallet. She then left that on the desk before heading over and knocking on the doorframe of Natalia’s room. Natalia glanced up from her documents and sighed, “Why are you knocking?”

“Because it’s polite, and this is your room,” Vivian pointed out.

“So? You’re the agent in charge of this mission,” Natalia muttered.

“We’re a team , Natalia, and this is your space. You’re the one in charge of this room. I’m not allowed in here unless you give me permission. Got it?” Vivian asked.

Natalia eyes widened ever so slightly, her lips parting before she closed them again, staring back down at her documents. After a few moments of silence, Natalia said, “Thank you. You can come in.”

“Thank you,” Vivian said, moving into the room. “May I sit on your bed?”

“Yes,” Natalia said.

Sitting down, Vivian stared toward the window in the room before asking, “You have any questions?”

“So I’m going to be an intern and you’re going to be a…secretary?”

Vivian grinned and nodded, “Sort of. Apparently the job description for this senator means I’ll also be taking notes during important meetings and such. A whole range of things. You’ll be doing bits and pieces of a lot of the work for no money. Phone calls. Mail. That sort of thing.”

Natalia scrunched up her nose, “I think I prefer our other job.”

Frowning, Vivian reached over and gently tucked a strand of red hair behind Natalia’s ear and sighed, “Don’t be so eager to court death, little one.”

“Why not? It’s what I’ve been trained my whole life for.”

“You’d be surprised how often people end up taking all that training and using it for something completely unrelated,” Vivian admitted.

“Have you ever been anything other than an assassin?” Natalia whispered.

“I tried to be,” Vivian confessed. “Fell in love. Thought about getting married. Thought about having kids. Thought about saving lives instead of taking them. Was about your age, actually.”

“What happened?”

Vivian stared out the window and thought about just spilling everything. Thought about telling Natalia the truth about the Red Room Academy and telling her about Hydra. She thought about telling her about finding a home not really in Brooklyn, but in two Brooklyn punks. She thought about talking about falling in love with them and taking a bold chance by asking the three of them to be together. She thought about talking about her time as a nurse and how it’d felt good to do all of that.

She thought about talking about how her time with them had felt like a respite in Heaven, especially now looking back at it. She thought about telling her about how losing Steve had nearly killed her, and how every day she had to leave Bucky with Hydra, it chipped at her already damaged soul. She wanted to say she had a plan to get Bucky out and how now she was getting a plan to get Natalia out as well, but she didn’t say any of that.

“Life happened,” Vivian settled on. “This line of work makes it…difficult to maintain relationships.”

“Was it worth it?” Natalia asked quietly.

Vivian laughed, “Oh, that relationship was worth everything . Would do it again in a heartbeat.”

“Really?” Natalia asked incredulously. “Didn’t it hurt when it ended?”

“Oh, it was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my entire life,” Vivian admitted.

“That doesn’t make sense, Veronica .”

Grinning at the way Natalia stressed her name, looking and sounding more exasperated than she had in years, Vivian just shrugged. This seemed to make the younger woman angrier so Vivian took pity on her and tried her best to explain.

“I know it doesn’t make sense to you right now, but that time of my life was so good and so wonderful and so just…better than a sinner like me ever deserved, really. I never deserved that kind of love or devotion or consideration or kindness or gentleness, but I got it. I got it, and I savored it. I savored it, and I stepped up to try to become worthy of it. For a moment I think I did deserve it, and yes, it did get ripped away from me. It did nearly kill me, but God, that goodness outweighs the pain.”

Natalia furrowed her brow, but didn’t say anything, and Vivian shrugged, “Not everyone cares or wants romance like that, and it’s fine. You’re never going to be forced to want or need something like that. No one can force you to give or accept sex or affection.”

“The file says I need to date around,” Natalia whispered.

“So date around,” Vivian grinned. “Dating has a broad definition, little one. Really all that file wants from you is for you to blend in with people your age. Go to the movies. Go to the mall. Go to the park. Go to the amusement park. Go to a couple concerts. Find out what some of the other interns are doing and spend time with them. The friendlier you are with them and the more they trust you, the more likely they are to open up and vent to you about things that are going on in their jobs.”

“They’ll just…tell me things?” Natalia asked incredulously.

“Yup. It’s called friendship, and it turns out that no matter how much people are told to not reveal secret things, there are people who will do it if they need to complain about their boss or their job that badly.”

“But why ?” Natalia asked, sounding exhausted.

“Because literally none of them are expecting an actual spy in their midst. They watch movies where spies are a thing, but they don’t actually expect them in their lives. And we also don’t really fit their idea of what a spy looks like.”

“What do they expect?”

“Tall white man in a tux ready to fuck a revolving door of leggy young women who respond to really bad pick up lines,” Vivian mused.

“What do they think of us?”

Vivian sighed and admitted, “I think I’d need alcohol before I go into all those bad thoughts men tend to have. I think I’ll just limit it to the fact that most men are complete idiots and you shouldn’t take what they say seriously.”

“Isn’t politics filled with men?”

“Unfortunately,” Vivian sighed. “We’ll have to play docile and agreeable during this one. It won’t be fun, but we’ll find ways to have fun. I do really strongly recommend befriending some of the fellow interns. Date around a bit. I personally don’t care what the gender of your chosen partner is, but the law still does. It’s illegal on the books of many states still. Apparently the supreme court is going to hear about a sodomy arrest. Decide if it was lawful or not. So, if you want to have a really secret relationship, then it’s fine. Just, be careful about it.”

She then paused and continued, “And don’t blackmail anyone over their sexuality.”

“Why?”

Vivian stood up and stretched, sighing before she explained, “Sexuality is complicated. As long as the people involved are consenting adults and there’s no one getting hurt, don’t be the one to cause them pain.”

“We’re assassins.”

“I know we are, but the fact that we utilize the power to end someone’s existence doesn’t mean we should flippantly end someone’s life. And trust me when I say someone’s existence and their life are two different things.”

Natalia looked pensive, and Vivian folded her arms across her chest as she continued, “Using someone’s sexuality or their age or their race or their ethnicity or their gender as a means of punishing them is to hurt someone merely for existing. None of those things are things they chose. Just keep that in mind when you’re navigating this world.”

Natalia nodded, staying quiet, and Vivian smiled and then nudged her, “All right. Now let’s get to work. We’ve got to practice all-nighters and I think we should do the extremely modern thing of ordering food to be delivered while we obsessively memorize boring political tidbits and dull intrigue.”

Vivian grinned only for Natalia to just narrow her eyes and then follow her out to the living room. Digging through the drawers while her protégé stood idly by, Vivian then pulled out a menu and announced, “Oh, whoever set up this apartment for us put a big smiley face sticker on this pizza menu. There’s also smiley faces on the menus for Thai, Chinese, Barbeque, Italian, and Indian. Got all sorts of options here. And we each have fancy debit cards that can help us live that capitalist dream of eating unhealthy food that we didn’t have to leave our house for.”

Natalia still remained blank faced, but then her lips twitched as Vivian teased, “C’mon, what’s Nicole want for dinner? And possibly for reheated leftovers in the morning when we’re too lazy to cook when we first get up.”

“I am not lazy.”

The two stared at each other for a few moments until Natalia finally smiled and Vivian grinned, “Fine, all right. Neither of us is lazy, so in the morning we’ll get up and make an actually healthy breakfast with the food we have in the fridge. Happy?”

Natalia merely walked over and snatched the menu for the Italian place nearby and muttered, “I’m not sharing my food.”

Vivian put the rest of the menus up and held up both her hands while laughing, “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Chapter Text

“How are legal documents this genuinely awful to read?” Natalia whined, leaning back dramatically against the loveseat while tossing the document to the ground. Vivian laughed, but then grinned the intern on the couch, Kimberly, reached over and ruffled Natalia’s perfect hair while laughing.

Kim,” Natalia whined. “You’re supposed to be on my side. Interns. Teens. Women.”

“I am on your side, Nicole, but c’mon. This one is actually one of the better ones we’re reading,” Kim said, her dark brown eyes practically lighting up with excitement. “Besides, we better get used to it if law school is in our future. Heard those classes have books that are even worse.”

Vivian glanced up from the document she was proofreading and smiled. Kim was one of the other interns and was someone that Natalia had befriended pretty quickly, although Vivian was pretty sure Natalia wanted more than friendship from the other teen. Vivian couldn’t blame her. Kim was model levels of pretty. She had dark, perfect skin that made basically any color look good. Her hair was a short length afro which was apparently a ‘professional’ length (Vivian didn’t know what that meant, but she’d heard snotty women whisper it to each other during a break once) and she wore the most fantastic bright colors. She was also the smartest intern there and if the gossip was anything to trust, already had a full ride scholarship to an Ivy League school.

She was the epitome of brains, class, and beauty, so it was no wonder Natalia was, for lack of a better term, besotted.

“Hey, knock it off, overachievers, some of us are only here to pad our résumés with something other than the mall,” Megan teased, biting down on her pen. Vivian found herself blushing ever so slightly as Megan glanced over at her and winked.

It’d been ages since anyone had flirted with her, but Vivian was pretty sure her fellow grunt worker had been doing subtle flirting since the day they met. She glanced away though as Megan sighed and blew absentmindedly at her bangs before reaching into her massive designer purse. It was the purse she took everywhere and wore with every outfit.

“And some of us are here for even less, right Jennifer?” Megan teased, nudging the blonde sitting next to her.

Jennifer rolled her eyes and flipped Megan off, causing Megan to laugh loudly while Jennifer sighed, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I don’t actually want to be here. I still do my damn job.”

Jennifer was tapping her extremely long fake nails on the table, and Vivian could tell the conversation was getting tense, so she cleared her throat and announced, “Sounds like we all need something to eat. Where should we order from?”

“Giovanni’s,” Megan announced. “We should get from them. They have the best pasta, and I should know since—”

“—you’re Italian,” everyone chorused.

“I’m Italian,” Megan said and then frowned before flipping everyone off as they laughed. “You guys are dicks.”

Kim just shrugged and grinned while Natalia pointed out, “You do bring it up a lot.”

“Like, every other minute,” Jennifer added.

Megan shrugged, “Whatever. Anyway, are we getting pasta or not?”

Kim shrugged, “I’m fine with ordering from Giovanni’s. The food is good and the prices are decent.”

Megan beamed, looking more and more pleased with herself as Natalia nodded, “I’m in too.”

Jennifer was sulking, picking at her blonde hair. Vivian sighed before grinning, “Seems like the majority already decided, but I have been craving their food lately. C’mon, Jen, want to make it unanimous?”

There was a lengthy pause before finally Jennifer sighed and picked at her acrylic nails while announcing, “Fine. Next time we do sushi or something.”

Vivian rolled her eyes, “We’ll see.” She then got up and headed into the kitchen to grab the take out menu before bringing it back with a pad of paper and a pen. Passing both around, Vivian waited until everyone was done before heading back into the kitchen and calling in their order. Once it was placed, she smiled as she saw that everyone had placed their cash into the middle of the table. Gathering it up, she placed it in a clip on the front door before sitting back down.

“Thank God food is coming. I think this document is starting to kill me. This sentence is the absolute longest run-on sentence I’ve ever seen in my entire goddamn life,” Natalia complained.

“Aw, poor baby,” Kim teased. Natalia stuck out her tongue and then got up onto the loveseat with her and dramatically lay back, putting her head in Kim’s lap and draping her legs over the armrest while Kim laughed. “You’re ridiculous.”

“Well, at least we only have to proofread them instead of understand them,” Jennifer pointed out. “Senators and stuff have to actually understand them.”

Immediately Vivian snorted, and everyone glanced at her. Jennifer glared though as Vivian grinned, “Oh, honey, if you think politicians actually understand these instead of just having someone on our level explain it to them, if they even have one of us do that, then you have been watching way too much Law and Order.”

“Um, I watched Ally McBeal, thank you very much,” Jennifer retorted.

“Ah, of course. The brilliant legal drama Ally McBeal. How could I forget about that? Wasn’t that cancelled last year because it sucked?” Megan grinned.

“Oh really, what show are you watching then?” Jennifer demanded.

“Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” Megan answered easily. “Olivia Benson is a national icon. And I have it on good authority that the actress that plays her speaks Italian and like, 3 other languages, but obviously Italian is the most important one.”

Vivian shook her head, grinning while Jennifer rolled her eyes and insisted, “That show is so gory! How can you watch that? Just episode after episode with just…the grossest stuff.”

Without missing a beat and while keeping a completely straight face, Megan replied, “In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories.”

“Dun dun!” Kim and Megan said at the same time before bursting into laughter.

After a moment, Jennifer laughed as well while groaning, “You guys are such losers. Can’t we talk about Sex and the City or something? No one gets horrifically raped or murdered in that, at least.”

Natalia smirked, “Of course you love that show. You’re a total Carrie.”

“I take that as a compliment,” Jennifer said, flipping her hair. “Carrie’s obviously the best.”

Vivian tuned out the conversation as a mild debate happened about who was who when it came to the characters, including a mild side argument about whether she personally was a ‘Charlotte’ or a ‘Samantha’. She did finally pay attention though as Jennifer stood up and announced, “Everyone shut up. We need cosmos. Veronica, do you have the supplies for that?”

Vivian nodded and headed into the kitchen, pulling out the different ingredients along with a shaker and some ice. Saluting Jennifer, Vivian then headed back into the living room and sat down, grinning as Megan sat down next to her and whispered, “Think she’ll still be annoying after we’ve all had a few to drink?”

Nudging Megan, Vivian shook her head and whispered, “Be nice.”

“I am nice,” Megan grinned, staying very close. “Just only to people I like.”

Smirking at that, Vivian shook her head, but then sighed with relief as the doorbell rang. Going over and grabbing the cash, Vivian opened the door and handed it over for the bags of food. Taking it into the kitchen, Vivian laid out all the food while Jennifer put out the drinks.

“We are absolutely not eating in that living room, guys,” Vivian called over.

“Gee, Mom, you look different,” Natalia joked as she came in, stretching. Kim was followed closely behind, towering over everyone at 5’8”. Vivian rolled her eyes, but then sat down, sipping at the cosmo she was handed.

“This is so fucking good, Jen,” Vivian admitted.

“Thank you!” Jennifer beamed. “I’ve been practicing.”

Soon they were all seated and Vivian distracted herself with pasta and bread and alcohol. Well, as best as she could with the way that Kim and Natalia kept whispering to each other. Jennifer kept purposely ignoring everyone while eating tiny bites of her food.

“Holy shit, did you guys hear about what happened today?” Megan announced after downing her the rest of her drink. “It is scandalous.”

“Oh my God, no I didn’t. Tell us everything,” Natalia grinned, leaning forward.

Megan looked positively gleeful as she announced, “Oh my god, it’s a total horror show. It’s like, so tragic. You guys remember that one lobbyist who kept, like, coming in all last week trying to push his ‘family values’ bullshit and totally got shut down by Senator Pierce?”

Vivian felt like she was going to be sick as that name got mentioned, but just grinned and nodded, leaning in close as Megan grinned, “Guess what that shark’s trying to do.”

“Um, hide the fact that he’s having an affair?” Natalia joked.

“God, probably,” Kim rolled her eyes. “I swear to God, ‘family values’ always ends up being followed up by a silent ‘my right to sleep with every hooker between here and mexico’ or ‘my right to get my dick sucked by a guy in a truck stop bathroom while still calling that guy a fag’. They’re all such hypocrites.”

The table laughed and Vivian shrugged before teasing, “C’mon, Megan. We know you’re just dying to give us the scoop, so dish.”

“Okay, fine, ruin my fun,” Megan pouted, running her finger along the rim of her glass before grinning. She then looked at each and every one of them before teasing, “Apparently he’s got juicy blackmail about Senator Pierce. Stuff that would ruin his career. Like, shit so bad it’ll make people forget the name Lewinsky. He’s planning to release it next week.”

“How’d you find that out?” Kimberly frowned.

Megan shrugged and smirked, “Well, I happen to know the person who knows that lobbyist’s real stance on affairs.”

“Ew,” Vivian scrunched up her nose. “Who’d want to sleep with him? He’s disgusting.”

Megan shrugged, “She’s not with him for his looks. She’s with him for his wallet. Got a Sugar Daddy situation going on. The man’s paying for her college. Like, all of it. All she has to do is sleep with him and pretend to give a fuck about what he’s saying when he whines about his job.”

“Did she tell you what Mr. Family Values has on Pierce?” Vivian asked, trying to be as casual as possible.

Megan shook her head, “No idea, but she said it was huge. Like, Watergate huge. There’s no way it won’t make it to the news.”

“That’s if Pierce doesn’t take that lobbyist down first,” Kim pointed out. “And also assuming anyone would believe that cretin over Pierce. I mean, Pierce was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. There’s a lot of people in politics that think he can walk on water.”

“Yeah,” Jennifer insisted. “Besides, my dad knows Pierce and has never had anything bad to say about him. The opposite, in fact. Can’t shut up about how great of a leader he is.”

Megan rolled her eyes, “Anyway, apparently it’s going to come up after everyone gives their big remarks about the fact that the supreme court said gay people can fuck in the privacy of their own homes without getting arrested.”

Jennifer scrunched up her nose, “Gross.”

“What’s gross about it?” Kim demanded cooly.

“Well, you know, it’s just not right,” Jennifer insisted.

“Says the daughter of a politician,” Megan laughed.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jennifer snapped.

Vivian sighed and took another drink of her cosmo, desperately not wanting to be having this conversation as Megan shrugged, “Just saying, it’s a little hypocritical to be going after the morality of two consenting adults enjoying themselves in private when your dad’s one of those bullshit ‘family values’ politicians. Tell me, how old was that stripper he was seeing? Heard she was barely legal, but homophobes are usually virginity obsessed freaks.”

“Okay, personal attacks weren’t necessary,” Kim said. “We could have just kept this general.”

Natalia nodded, and Jennifer glared, “It’s my personal belief that gays are unnatural!”

“And while the constitution affords you the right to have those beliefs,” Vivian said quietly, “that doesn’t mean you can deny freedoms to other people just because you’re squeamish. It also doesn’t mean I have to let you into my home, so get your shit and leave.”

The entire room was dead silent and Jennifer started to speak again, but Vivian shook her head, “This wasn’t an invitation for a debate. This wasn’t me opening the floor for discussion. This wasn’t a fun ‘let’s go around and discuss whether the LGBT community deserves rights’. Megan shouldn’t have dragged your family’s dirty laundry into this discussion, it’s true. You shouldn’t be calling members of the LGBT community gross or calling them unnatural.”

Jennifer opened her mouth to speak, but then shut it immediately when Vivian shook her head. “Part of me wants to be able to say you can stay if you’ll just be civil, but I honestly just really don’t want a homophobe like you in my house or in my life anymore, so please, get your stuff and go. If you need me to call you a cab, I will.”

Jennifer glared and stormed back over to the living room, gathering up her papers before coming back in to box up her leftovers. She then slid on her shoes and glared over, opening her mouth, probably to say something heinous when Vivian just glared and cut her off, “I already fucking said this wasn’t a conversation. Get out. Use your cell phone to call for a cab for all I care.”

Vivian watched as Jennifer stormed out of the apartment, slamming the door behind her. Downing the rest of her drink, she then leaned back and admitted, “That’s honestly an open invitation to anyone who has a problem with the LGBT community. Was trying to be a little bit more dramatic and not get personal about it, but I am bisexual and I will fight for that community. Understood?”

“Hell yes,” Megan grinned, holding up a glass. The four of them clinked glasses and Vivian grinned as Megan drank deep from her glass before announcing, “I’m just glad you kicked her out, because otherwise I would have kicked her ass and then the cops would have gotten involved.

“And then would have gotten arrested for it,” Kim pointed out, rolling her eyes. “So I’m glad that ended the way it did. Shit, I can’t even talk to white people like that without risking the cops getting called.”

“It’s because racists are pathetic,” Megan grinned.

“No shit,” Kim laughed.

Natalia looked deep in thought though, so Vivian gently nudged her under the table with her foot. She was surprised though when Natalia confessed, “I think I’m bisexual.” Her cheeks were tingeing slightly and then she shook her head, “No, I know I’m bisexual.”

Megan grinned, “So this party is just queer women? That’s my kind of party.”

Vivian exchanged a confused glance with Natalia, but then she couldn’t help but grin as Kim shrugged before admitting, “Megan and I bonded over our shared lesbian identity when we first met.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Megan nodded. “I happen to have extremely accurate gaydar. Haven’t been wrong once.”

“You think you have extremely accurate gaydar,” Kim retorted.

“I’m telling you that I think the girl who works at the diner nearby is at least bi,” Megan insisted.

Kim shook her head, “You’re hoping she is because you overheard her talking about how she can tie a cherry stem into a knot.”

“What about you, Veronica?” Megan said, turning toward her with a smirk. “You think I have an accurate gaydar?”

Vivian shrugged and sipped at her drink while trying to appear as innocent as possible. “I don’t know. We’ve never talked about sexuality before. Besides, I can tell you from experience that the trick the girl at the diner can do, and her name is Lauren, just so you know, is extremely helpful in seducing men too.”

“Showing up with a pulse is also a good way to seduce men,” Megan scoffed dismissively. “Guys are ready to fuck hot women with very little prompting. Even if they’re giant lesbians.”

“Especially if they’re giant lesbians,” Kim pointed out. “They have some bullshit idea that they can ‘turn’ a woman straight or that they can get some girl on girl action. Porn gave them all the wrong ideas.”

Natalia was grinning, but not saying much, and Vivian sighed before finishing off her drink and admitting, “All right, I don’t know about you guys, but I really don’t feel like going back to checking those documents tonight. Besides, we have the rest of the weekend off and if you two are up for it, we can call it a night and then get up, eat breakfast and go back to the documents with fresh eyes.”

Megan shrugged, “I brought some clothes to change into, just in case I had to pass out on your couch or something, so I’m totally up for it. What about you, Kim?”

Kim nodded, “I did the same thing, so we’re good to stay as long as you’re absolutely sure about us staying over.”

“We are,” Natalia said quickly, clearing her throat as everyone glanced at her. She was blushing pretty intensely as she then stammered, “Uh, I’m gonna clean up here and in the kitchen.”

Vivian nodded and announced, “Cool. If someone wants to sleep on the couch, they can, but I know my bed is big enough for two people, so one person can stay with me.”

“Dibs,” Megan grinned.

Vivian laughed and sighed, “Grab your stuff and I’ll show you to my room.”

Megan nodded and Vivian headed down the hall, opening the door to her room and announcing, “Here’s my room. I showed you where the bathroom was earlier. Also, I prefer to sleep on the side of the bed next to my alarm clock, but if you have extremely strong feelings about being closer to the door or something, I can switch it up tonight.”

“Oh, the only sleeping preference I care about is top or bottom,” Megan teased before she walked off.

Vivian blushed bright red and shut her bedroom door, forcing herself to take deep breaths as she headed over to her desk in the room and turning on her computer. Sending a quick encrypted message to Pierce, she detailed the information about the lobbyist that she learned as well as overviews of the other statements she’d seen that night. Turning off her computer once she was done, she then quickly changed into a nightgown. Leaving the room, she then went into the bathroom to quickly wash her face and brush her teeth.

She hated that she felt this anxious about this. After all, just because Megan had been flirting with her didn’t mean that it was flirting. Megan was a flirty person. It could be absolutely nothing. The part that was really throwing her for a loop though was just how much she didn’t want it to be nothing. It was a mixture of guilt and intense desire and she didn’t know what to do with it. She didn’t want to cheat on Bucky, didn’t want to disrespect him in any way, but it had been years since she’d last had sex. God, it’d been eleven years since Bucky had been allowed to so much as touch her in even a casual way, and she missed it. She missed being close to someone. She missed sex.

“You always wear sexy silk nightgowns to bed or are you looking for something in particular?” Turning around as Megan came into the room, Vivian chewed at her bottom lip and twisted her hands together nervously, only stopping as Megan frowned and walked up to her, stilling her hands. “Hey, look at me. We don’t have to do anything. I’ve been flirting with you because I like you and I think you’re gorgeous, but that doesn’t mean it has to go anywhere if you’re not comfortable with that. You don’t owe me anything. You don’t owe anyone anything.”

“I know that,” Vivian whispered. “I do, and I want to go further with you, but I just…it’s been a while since I’ve had sex with anyone and I’m nervous. Plus, I’m currently not emotionally ready to actually be in a serious relationship and I feel like a bitch for wanting to say that all this can be is sex and friendship. It just doesn’t seem fair to you—”

“Hey, none of that,” Megan said, gently squeezing her hands. “I’m good with whatever you’re comfortable giving me, even if that’s just conversation. I can try to calm you down though. How’s that sound?”

“And how would you do that?” Vivian asked.

“What do you call a lesbian with long nails?” Frowning, Vivian shrugged, feeling confused, but then rolled her eyes as Megan grinned and announced, “Single.”

Vivian laughed and shook her head, “God, that’s such a dorky joke, but it does explain why your nails are always short.” Pausing, she then nodded, “Okay, that did help.” Megan looked pleased, but then looked even happier as Vivian shyly asked, “So, what sleeping position do you prefer anyway?”

“Top,” Megan replied easily, “A top through and through, babe. However, you are ridiculously hot, so if you wanted to top, I would make an exception for you.”

“No…I think I’d like you taking charge,” Vivian confessed.

“Perfect,” Megan whispered. “So, I’m going to kiss you now, okay?”

Vivian nodded and took a step closer, smiling as Megan gently pulled her forward even more until they were pressed together. Megan was wearing shorts and a sports bra and for a moment Vivian thought about telling her how cute her outfit was and how good she looked in it when all thoughts came to a screeching halt as she was kissed. The kiss was soft and a slow build up, a coaxing of their lips together. She tasted like mint.

Vivian found herself caught up in it, kissing back and wrapping her arms around the other woman, not noticing she was being gently guided toward the bed until the backs of her legs hit the frame. A small giggle escaped her as she, on reflex, sat down on the bed, pulling Megan with her. Laying back, Vivian was about to complain as the kiss ended, but then could only gasp, tilting her head back as Megan kissed down her throat, nipping at the skin. A hand slid up her thigh and Vivian gripped tightly at her bedspread. The light touch up her thigh had her shivering, but then she bit down on her bottom lip as the fingertips practically danced along her inner thigh before moving under the nightgown even more and resting against her stomach.

“Megan, please,” Vivian whispered.

“Please what?” Megan asked, nipping at her neck again before kissing it.

Touch me,” Vivian begged. She could feel Megan grinning against her neck. She gasped though and choked as Megan slid a hand into her underwear and slid a finger along her labia, dipping between them.

Fuck,” Vivian gasped as Megan began gently rubbing her clit.

“God, if I knew you were this eager, I would have made a move on you weeks ago instead of just fantasizing about it,” Megan mused before gently pinching her clit.

Vivian whimpered, and groaned, but then glanced as Megan began slipping down the top of her nightgown. Vivian tried her best to maneuver her arms out of the nightgown, but ended up falling back onto her back, causing Megan to laugh slightly. Vivian glared as Megan pulled her fingers out of her underwear, her fingers glinting in the low light of the room. Blushing as she watched Megan lick her fingers clean, Vivian peeled her nightgown off before tossing it over into a corner.

“It really is deeply unfair just how goddamn perfect your tits are,” Megan mused, moving and straddling her. Vivian was about to give some sort of witty retort (she was certain there were words and clever things somewhere in her mind, somewhere beyond the desperate desire to orgasm. Before she could even try to say anything though, Megan was pushing her back onto the bed. Vivian attempted one more time to muster some sort of flirting only to give up on speech entirely as she felt a tongue flick across her nipple.

Her hands clambered for the fabric on the bed and she arched her back as Megan then gently blew on her nipple, the cool air making her tremble. She moaned though as Megan sucked on her nipple as her fingers slid back down into Viv’s underwear. Viv’s legs were trembling as a finger slid inside her, Megan’s thumb gently rubbing her clit.

Vivian could feel her heart racing in her throat, her breathing becoming more labored as pleasure seemed to be the only thing left for her to feel. Rocking her hips to get more and more contact with Megan’s hand as a second finger slid into her, she whimpered as a hand firmly pressed down on her hip, keeping her in place. Vivian’s eyes were closed and she whined as Megan stopped playing with her breasts.

“Christ, you’re a goddamn goddess. Respond perfectly to everything. Next time, I’m bringing toys. You take my fingers like a dream, bet you’d take my cock even better.”

A third finger got added and Vivian gasped, the sound stuttering as her orgasm started to happen. She gaped and whined though as Megan removed her fingers. Eyes opening, Vivian glared over at Megan, about to complain, but then shivered as her underwear was pulled down her legs. Shakily moving and then kicking them off, Vivian shivered as Megan smirked and moved down between her legs before teasing, “God, you’re gonna be so much fun.”

“We’re not fucking in public,” Vivian panted.

Megan looked positively delighted as she laughed, “I never brought up public sex, babe, so that’s a naughty thought you’ve been having.” Vivian groaned as her leg was maneuvered over Megan’s shoulder and closed her eyes as she felt gentle nips along her inner thigh. “It’d be fun though, pulling you into a closet during work and fingering you. Or maybe you meant even more public. Us on a bus on the way home from work. I don’t think you could be quiet though.”

Vivian was about to retort that she absolutely could be quiet during sex, but then groaned as a tongue ran along her slit. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she cried out though as the tongue flicked along her clit and three fingers slid into her. A hand pushed down on her hip and she gripped tighter on the comforter, unsure of what else she should do with her hands. One more flick of the tongue on her clit and she was crying out as she felt her orgasm roll through her. Her body just trembled and she gasped for breath when after what felt like just the longest orgasm she’d had in years, Megan moved up and kissed her hard. Her tongue slid into her mouth and Vivian gasped as she tasted herself. The kiss continued for almost an entire minute before they finally broke apart gasping.

“Holy shit, you’re really good at that,” Vivian gasped,

“Practice makes perfect,” Megan joked. “Also helps that you have an amazing pussy.”

“Thanks, I think,” Vivian replied. Turning toward Megan, Vivian confessed, “I want to make you feel good, but I’ve never actually performed oral on another woman before.”

“Ah, only sucked cock before?” Megan asked.

Vivian nodded, “Yeah. I’ve done lots of things with men before, just never really anything with a woman before tonight.”

Megan tilted her head and mused, “Then let’s see, I can just finger myself while laying next to you or you can finger me or I can ride that pretty face of yours. I know my favorite of those options, but it is up to you.”

“What if I’m not good at it?” Vivian frowned.

Megan laughed, “You’ll be fine. Just pick the one you want to do the most. I’ll help you with anything you don’t know.”

“Um, then, ride my face,” Vivian whispered.

“God, you’re perfect,” Megan groaned. “I didn’t actually think you’d pick that one. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m fucking ecstatic you did.”

Blushing, Vivian leaned back on her elbows as Megan got up and peeled off her sports bra before shoving down her short shorts, tossing them over to the corner. Laying down as Megan moved over her, Vivian shivered as finally Megan was straddling her face. Vivian then reached up and gripped at Megan’s thighs, now wondering from seeing Megan completely shaved if it was a problem that Vivian only kept herself neatly trimmed. Then again, Megan hadn’t said anything.

Pushing on Megan’s leg to get her to lower herself more, Vivian leaned up a little bit and dragged her tongue along the slit. She could hear Megan inhale sharply and continued. Within seconds, Megan was rocking her hips back and forth, grinding her pussy against Vivian’s tongue and Vivian did her best to keep up, licking eagerly at Megan’s clit and swallowing the juices as they ran down her tongue. She gripped tightly to one of Megan’s thighs, but then grinned as Megan moaned loudly and paused, pressing hard against Vivian’s mouth. Juices spurted onto Vivian’s face and she gasped as after a few moments, Megan got off of her and lay down, panting. Catching her own breath, Vivian gasped, “I think I need to wash my face again.”

Megan burst into laughter and Vivian grinned as she rolled over and kissed her hard on the lips before sighing, “You’re such a fucking dork.”

“That mean we’re not going to be doing this every single weekend?” Vivian teased.

Megan scoffed, “Don’t threaten me with a good time, Veronica.”

Chapter Text

Vivian checked her watch as she headed down the street, carefully keeping an eye on the time as she moved. The message she’d received from Pierce the day before had been ultra specific about how this assassination should go down. If she did everything correctly, no one would even suspect that it was an assassination. She’d once again go down in history as ‘natural causes’. Most of the deaths she caused were marked down as ‘accident’ or ‘natural causes’. Oh, there were a few deaths where it was obvious that it was foul play, but Pierce preferred being smart most of the time. Preferred the deaths he caused to be less obvious.

She was pretty sure it helped him lie to himself about how much blood was on his hands.

Vivian shook her head and banished the thoughts while she continued to walk. No use going down that line of thought at the moment. She made sure to bump into a few people on the street, apologizing as she went. Finally she saw her target though, an older man. According to the file she had on him, he was a police chief and was apparently a little ‘too concerned’ with the criminal element of the area. It was her job to make sure he could no longer lead the DCPD in any capacity.

Bumping into him, she discreetly injected him with the drug she’d been provided with, apologizing profusely until the man just held up a hand, shook his head and walked off, grumbling about how young people didn’t look where they were going. Shoving the device into the bottom of her purse, Vivian made a note to herself to dispose of it correctly once she got back to the apartment. She then bumped into a few more people for good measure before she headed toward the Smithsonian to meet up with Megan.

Although the two of them were keeping their relationship subdued in public since they didn’t want to cause drama at work, and also because they weren’t quite defining themselves as a couple, it was a sort of ‘date’. It was Vivian’s fault that after sleeping with each other for three months that they weren’t actually dating. She knew it was selfish of her, to keep using Megan for sex while refusing to give her heart to someone other than Bucky. Then again, there were a lot of things that were inherently selfish about her.

“Veronica! Over here!”

Smiling, Vivian headed over to Megan’s side and looped arms with her while teasing, “Gee, Megan, I don’t think people in Florida heard you. Want to try it again, but this time from the diaphragm?”

“Shut up, dork. We’re here for you,” Megan scoffed, tugging her into the entrance while waving tickets. “I already bought our tickets to the exhibit.”

“And which exhibit is that?” Vivian asked, arching an eyebrow.

“You’ll see,” Megan grinned. “And you’ll love it. I still can’t believe you haven’t seen this exhibit yet. It’s so good, and it’s basically just a permanent thing in the museum.”

“That really doesn’t narrow it down.”

“It wasn’t supposed to, because it’s a surprise.”

Vivian rolled her eyes at that, but kept smiling, letting herself get led forward. Her smile became forced though as she saw the large banner over the entrance to the museum. Howling Commandos. Instantly it felt like her mouth had gone dry, her lungs weren’t working properly, and her heart was beating rapidly. Their tickets were given to a person standing in front of it, but then they went in and a wave of dizziness washed over her as she was confronted by a floor to ceiling picture of Steve Rogers.

He was wearing his Captain America uniform and he was staring straight ahead. Sound felt muffled and Vivian just kept looking around, desperately trying to listen to what Megan was saying, but failing. Steve was very much the main attraction, but there was so much information about everything. Pictures of Steve as a premature baby being held up in a sideshow and just details about Steve’s childhood.

“God, I forgot how goddamn scrawny he was before they made him actually hot,” Megan mused.

Vivian shook her head, smiling as she softly said, “Nah, that guy was a catch long before the serum. Only thing that was wrong with him was his health.”

“He was a shrimp,” Megan argued.

“He was a giant,” Vivian insisted. “That was a man that stood head and shoulders above the rest, even on his bad days.”

Megan pointed to the sign where it clearly stated his height and Vivian just grinned and kept walking. Her eyes burned more and more as she spotted more and more information about Bucky coming in. She was shocked though as her name got mentioned.

“Okay, now’s the stuff I care about,” Megan admitted. Vivian glanced over, and stared in shock as Megan grabbed her hand and tugged her further down and nodded, “The exhibit about Vivian Peshkova. She was this woman Barnes was in love with and she was this amazing nurse. One of the first women in combat. She was a combat medic before that was even really like, a thing. Saved thousands of lives doing what she did before and during the war. One of the only nurses to die in combat too. Now that is a giantess.”

Vivian felt dizzy and her knees felt weak as she stared up at a picture of herself. It was a picture of her in her nursing uniform. There was a statement from nurse she’d worked with in Brooklyn shown, detailing all the ‘good works’ she’d done. People calling her a hero. Moving further down the exhibit, she stared at a list of soldiers she’d saved during the war, a list of kids who were possible thanks to her. Even the Howling Commandos themselves had talked about how she’d been in Azzano.

“I only had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Peshkova once during the war,” Peggy said in the footage being shown behind the glass. “It was back before we’d picked a person for the serum, you see. We were visiting troops already in the war to see if someone out there had the qualifications we were looking for. Long before I met her though, I’d heard about her. The soldiers were mad about her. Talked about how she was a genius in the field. More than one of them said she’d saved their lives or the lives of their friends. Of course, she was rightfully promoted rather rapidly, put in charge of the nurses in her unit. If she’d been a man, she would have been a captain, and would have absolutely been a contender for the serum.”

“What’d you talk about?” a voice asked off-screen.

Peggy laughed, “Oh, she was on her first break that I think she’d been on in days, drinking bad coffee and getting five minutes of quiet before she had to dive back in. We talked about how hard it was for women to get respect. She was a bright woman, and I remember being very impressed with her. I like to believe that if given the chance, we would have been good friends.”

“Did Rogers or Barnes ever talk to you about her?”

Peggy hesitated, her expression becoming shuttered and serious as she confessed, “Ms. Peshkova had actually mentioned Barnes to me in our conversation, had mentioned their intention to become married. It was clear to me, even from that short interaction, that she adored Barnes with everything in her. By the time I met Barnes though…she’d already been taken from him. And he didn’t usually speak of her. Sometimes he would though. He’d smile and start talking about her, and then he’d just stop and he’d just stare off into the distance, and then Steve would change the subject. Steve mentioned a few things about her. It was clear he admired her a great deal.”

“And the rest of the Howling Commandos?”

“Oh,” Peggy smiled. “They talked about her like she was a myth. Still did years after the war ended. More than one of them, when it came time for them to settle down and have kids, named their children after her. Apparently the name Vivian wasn’t uncommon in the descendants of the 107th in general.”

“And now she’s taught about in nursing schools.”

“That she is, and it’s absolutely deserved. That woman was a hero, and I feel honored that I got to meet her at all,” Peggy nodded. “I just wish she could have had more time in this world.”

Vivian was moving before the sentence ended, but she could hear Megan’s confused shouts toward her as she rushed out of the exhibit and into the bathroom. Heading over to the sink, she braced her hands against the counter and leaned forward, gasping for air and counting backward from ten in her head. Her body was shaking, and she stayed standing there for several moments until she finally washed her hands and splashed water on her face.

Nursing school. She was being taught about in nursing school. She was part of medical history. She was part of a museum exhibit. She was being lauded as a hero. Margaret Carter herself was on film singing her praises, and fuck, when had that even been filmed? When had the Howling Commandos written out statements talking about her? God, was it before she’d killed two of them?

Vivian dry heaved and raced into one of the stalls, slamming down onto her knees and vomiting into the toilet. Her hands were braced against the stall and she let her body just purge what it needed to before she sat back. Wiping a hand across her mouth, she pulled toilet paper out, fumbling with it and aggressively wiping her hands and mouth with it. Throwing it away, she then leaned back and stared up at the ceiling, staring up at a light there as she took shuddering breaths.

She’d killed a man that morning. Injected him with an untraceable poison, one that would trigger a heart attack. And she’d killed hundreds before him. Hundreds and hundreds and what was her excuse now? That she wanted to keep Bucky alive? She hadn’t seen Bucky in years. At this point she was just killing to kill. And that nurse had died years before. People would be able to forgive her killing Hydra agents stalking her or killing Hydra agents during World War II. After all, that was what so many heroes were doing back then. Nurse Vivian Peshkova was a celebrated hero, and she’d taken that person, taken that image, and she’d ripped it apart. She’d mutilated it and twisted it into something dark and awful.

She’d killed James Montgomery Falsworth.

She’d killed Timothy Dugan.

She’d caused the deaths of Howard and Maria Stark.

She’d damned James Buchanan Barnes.

She’d committed dozens and dozens of atrocities and, God, everyone who’d been to exhibits like this would feel so cheated by her. They were promised some beautiful angel, a hero of old, and all that was left was her. Vivian shuddered and clawed at her own arms, shaking her head as the noise in her head started getting louder and louder.

At least Steve wasn’t around to see how far she’d fallen. Steve, the actual angel, the actual hero of old, and the man she’d loved long before science had said he was acceptable. Slamming her hand against the stall door, Vivian bit down hard on her other hand, screaming into it as she remembered just how bad it had hurt hearing his voice as he’d taken the plane down.

She should have never come to this museum. Should have never gone here on some fake date with a woman who didn’t know her and couldn’t ever know her. A woman who could never know who she was truly with. A woman she was lying to. This woman knew she couldn’t give her love, but didn’t know it was because she was an actual monster from the blood she was practically soaked in. Megan didn’t know that Vivian herself had died more times than she cared to remember, feeling herself get brought back to life as if she was being dragged out of Hell itself. The best part of her was that she was in love with two dead men, and what did that say about her? What did that even mean?

“Veronica, are you in here?”

And just like that, Vivian’s hand fell from her mouth and she felt like she went numb. Blood dripped from her knuckles and she carefully pulled herself up. It was like she was a marionette and her arms swung as she grabbed more tissue, dotting up blood and then tossing the tissue away before flushing the toilet. Her fingers cracked as she moved them and she wiped her face carefully before coming out.

“Veronica?” Megan asked, looking confused and extremely worried.

“Sorry,” Vivian said with a smile. “Got a little claustrophobic, and also, embarrassingly enough, realized that I really had to go to the bathroom.”

Megan frowned, not looking like she believed it, but just asked, “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, of course,” Vivian insisted, tilting her head. “Why? What’s wrong?”

Megan shook her head, “Nothing. I was just worried about you. Plus, you were gone for a while.”

Vivian grinned, “Sorry.”

There was a few moments of silence and Vivian tucked her hair behind her ears as Megan cleared her throat and admitted, “Um, I actually got a call from work, so I was wondering if it’d be okay if we did…this…again some other time? We can go somewhere else if you’d like, like a movie or something.”

“Oh, absolutely. Go do what you have to do. I’ll call you later,” Vivian insisted.

Megan nodded and Vivian watched as the woman then left, leaving Vivian standing in an empty bathroom. Vivian stood there in silence, feeling like her entire body was heavy, her mind feeling like it was slipping away from her until loud laughter startled her out of it. Shaking her head as a group of girls came in, laughing and talking rapidly, Vivian slipped out of the bathroom and headed into the gift shop area of the exhibit. Grabbing a photo of Steve and Bucky, she quickly paid for it in cash and then left, the photo safely tucked away like a secret.

She could feel it in her pocket the entire way home and wondered if people knew she had it. She’d used cash to pay for it, so it wasn’t like Hydra would know she had it unless they found it on her. And that meant she had to keep it secret and safe. That’s all she could think of as she raced back into the apartment and rushed past a confused Natalia. She tossed her purse onto the bed and then put the photo into a new hiding spot on the desk, sealing it before rushing back out.

“Uh, what happened? Megan just texted Kim who texted me that you completely freaked out at some museum,” Natalia said with a frown while staring at her phone.

Going over, Vivian grabbed Natalia’s phone and tossed it aside, grabbing her hand and then tugging her up off the couch.

“What—what are you doing?”

Vivian just shook her head and headed out their door, heading to a staircase and then leading her all the way up to the roof, ignoring every single one of Natalia’s objections until the door to the roof was closed behind them and they were staring out at the city. Releasing her grip on Natalia then, Vivian headed toward the edge of the roof and admitted, “I’m much older than you think I am.”

“What does that have to do with anything? God, why are we even on this roof?”

“Because I need to tell you something and I can’t have it be in an apartment that the Red Room is surely listening in on,” Vivian admitted.

“What? Is this about that dumb exhibit? What happened? Kim said Megan wasn’t making any sense.”

“I remembered just how long it had been since I’d been a real person.”

“What are you talking about? You’re a real person right now.”

Turning around, Vivian shook her head as she moved back over and tugged Natalia closer to the edge of the roof while insisting, “Do you see all those people?”

“Yes?” Natalia asked, her brow furrowed and entire body tensed.

“Every single one of those people has a choice, every single day when they wake up. They get to wake up and do what they think is best for both themselves and everyone else,” Vivian said. “When Megan and Kim wake up, they get to decide what they want to do for today, what their hopes are and what their dreams are. They get to have a set identity, one that they’ve been cultivating for years, an identity that becomes part of their soul.”

Natalia was staring at her and pointed out slowly, “We can do all of those things too.”

Vivian groaned and pushed away from Natalia, pacing and gripping at her dyed hair before snapping, “But it’s not real! None of this is real! Nicole isn’t real! Veronica isn’t real! All of this is just some goddamn taste of reality, a dose of something that we can’t ever have while we’re the way that we are.”

“I don’t understand.”

“We’re weapons, Natalia. We’re weapons carved from flesh and bone and muscle and sinew and they filled us with pain and drugs and training. We get wound up and sent out like toy soldiers and that’s what we get every day for the rest of our miserable existences,” Vivian snapped.

Natalia took a step back, and Vivian smiled, feeling almost frantic as she moved closer again and pleaded, “But you don’t have to be that way. You don’t have to be me. You don’t have to follow in my footsteps. You don’t have to stick with this life. You’re young. God, you’re so young. You’re so goddamn young, and you have so many goddamn choices, little one. You can leave. You can leave this place. All you have to do is wait for them to replace your birth control when you’re nineteen and then the tracking implant won’t be part of it. They won’t be able to keep track of you and you can leave all this behind. You can become a real person.”

“What about you?” Natalia whispered. “Am I supposed to just abandon you?”

“Yes,” Vivian insisted. “You walk away and you don’t look back and I get to keep going knowing that you’re not stuck in this Hell like I am.”

“But why are you stuck? Why can’t you go too?”

Vivian sighed and tilted her head back. She stared up at the blue sky before choking out, “Maybe I will, someday, but there are things I need to do first. I’ve done so many wrong things in my life and before I leave, I have to fix them.”

“I can help you,” Natalia insisted.

“No, you can’t, and you won’t,” Vivian argued. “What you’re going to fucking do is you’re going to keep your head down and the second you see an opportunity to get out, to leave the Red Room and be a real person? You take that opportunity with both hands. Say you’ll do it.”

“I will,” Natalia said, nodding frantically.        

Vivian grabbed the girl by the back of the head and pressed their foreheads together while snarling, “Swear it.”

I promise,” Natalia whispered. “I swear it. You promise that one day you’ll do the same, that we’ll see each other again.”

“I swear it,” Vivian whispered. She then pulled Natalia into a tight hug, resting her chin on her shoulder as she stared up at the sky. She could do this. She could do this. She could do something that Vivian would have done. She could save this kid.

Chapter Text

James Barnes and Steve Rogers. 1944.

Vivian gently ran her fingertips along the photo, swallowing hard as she stared at them. Steve and Bucky were both in uniform, leaning slightly in toward each other and looking at a map. Their brows were furrowed, jaws taut, and each had a single strand of hair that fell into their faces. She yearned to be there and to run her fingers through their hair, to smooth out the lines on their faces and to take them away from the battlefield. She’d begun to save Bucky years before, but she still hadn’t completed that goal. He was still in Hydra’s grasp and that meant she still had work to do. And Steve? Steve was somewhere in the arctic, far beyond her help.

A knock on the door snapped her out of her thoughts and she quickly hid the photo in the secret compartment on her desk before calling out, “Come in.”

The door opened and Vivian leaned against her desk, folding her arms across her chest as Megan came in and shut the door while admitting, “Hey, so, we need to talk.” Vivian nodded and Megan then continued, “I mean, we should have talked a few months ago after what happened at the museum, but honestly I didn’t really know what to say. And then you kept avoiding me.”

“That’s fair,” Vivian admitted.

“And also I heard from Kim that you and Nicole were going to be moving in a few months and I didn’t want to just…leave things,” Megan said, motioning with her hands awkwardly before shoving them into the pockets of her lightweight jacket.

“I was planning on talking to you and explaining to you what happened that day, but then every time I went to pick up the phone and call you, I would just…” Vivian trailed off and shrugged. “I’d worry about it being a stupid idea to do, worry that it was meaner to tell the truth.

“The truth is always kinder than ignoring someone,” Megan pointed out. “So just tell me what happened that day. What was the real reason you bolted?”

Vivian smiled softly and leaned against her desk a little more. She stared up at the ceiling of the room and confessed, “I was once in love with someone and he is…he was my entire world. I would have done anything for him, but then one day he was just on some stupid trip and he got into an accident.”

“Veronica, I’m—”

“He died cold and alone,” Vivian confessed. “I kind of lost it when it happened. Been slowly continuing with my life, but not really moving on. Haven’t really found the strength to do that just yet, and if I’m being honest with myself, I’m not sure if I want to find that strength. Reading about people dying in awful accidents in that museum exhibit just kind of…took me back to those moments. And then all I could feel was guilty.”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Megan said, moving close and gently rubbing her arm. “You didn’t do anything wrong. And I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“You didn’t know,” Vivian shrugged.

“Yeah, but I didn’t ask either,” Megan pointed out. “Although, and I’m sorry if this is crossing a line, but I don’t think that guy would want you to mourn him for the rest of your life. I think he’d want you to be happy.”

“That’s true,” Vivian admitted. “And maybe one day I’ll get there, but right now, I’m just not. And I’m sorry about that. I’m sorry for hiding it from you and I’m sorry for lying to you that day at the museum. I’m sorry for avoiding you afterward. I’d say I was planning on giving you an explanation, making sure you knew it wasn’t something you had done before I left, but I honestly don’t know if that’s true. I hope it’s true, but who knows? Maybe I would have chickened out and just left like a fucking asshole.”

“I believe you would have told me eventually,” Megan said. “And to be fair,  you weren’t the only one avoiding the situation. I didn’t exactly reach out to you at work or text you. I saw you pulling away and kind of just disappearing into yourself and I just let it happen.”

“Yeah, but it’s not your responsibility to chase after me,” Vivian pointed out.

“We’re friends,” Megan replied, leaning back. “Ignoring a friend in pain isn’t being a good friend, and I did that. I just kind of told myself Nicole was taking care of you and I pushed that off. I was so afraid of it being my fault, of somehow being responsible for your pain, that I just didn’t want to face it.”

“Sounds like we both fucked up,” Vivian said with a soft smile.

Megan nodded, “Yeah.”

“I really do wish I could love you, you know,” Vivian admitted. “I wish that, because you’re amazing. You’re smart, funny, gorgeous, and a complete catch.”

“But I’m not your ex,” Megan sighed.

Vivian shook her head with a grin, “No, you’re not. And he was a Hell of an act to follow. I fell in love with that idiot when we were about thirteen.”

“Holy shit. Are you serious? They were your childhood sweetheart? God, I can see it now. Nicholas Sparks is going to write a garbage book about your life and it’s going to sell millions. I’ll have to see it being read by every middle aged woman I see in the next airport I go to,” Megan grinned.

“God,” Vivian groaned, laying back on the bed. “No. I do not want my life to be a Nicholas Sparks book, because then it’ll turn into a Nicholas Sparks movie with dumbass ideas about what romance is. That idiot had the love interest dangle form a carnival ride and threaten suicide to get that girl to go out with him. That’s so aggressively bad. You shouldn’t coerce someone into dating you. And also, what’s with that trope that you should be constantly fighting with someone you love? Who the fuck does that?”

“I’m guessing you didn’t fight much with your boyfriend."

Vivian shook her head, “No. I mean, I’m not saying our relationship was constant sunshine and rainbows and we never disagreed about anything. That’s not a real thing that exists in the world. Expecting no arguments or disagreements is to expect that person to just not really be a person. The difference is that we didn’t fight. We argued and we knew that at the end of it all, we still had to make sure the other knew that we loved each other and respected each other. I never wanted him to think that he was anything less than what he was.”

“What was his name?”

“James Grant,” Vivian said with a smile. “Hell of a guy. Protective as all hell. He took care of his family. He was also a damn good cook. Great dancer. We were going to get married, have kids, live the American dream before he…”

“He sounds like he was a really good guy. Did he know that you’re…”

“Did he know that I’m bisexual? Yeah. He knew. He was the first person I told, and I was the first person he told about being bisexual,” Vivian said, blinking back tears. “I would have moved mountains for him, and he’d have done the same for me. Would have climbed up and touched the stars for each other, but now I’m stuck here down on Earth without him. Feels like a punishment or something out of a Greek tragedy.”

“I’m sorry you lost him,” Megan said, reaching out and squeezing her hand. “Can I give you a hug?”

Vivian grinned, “Yeah, I think I’d like that.”

Megan immediately pulled her over and hugged her tightly. Vivian hugged her back, holding onto her until they pulled apart and Megan stood up. “Well, I’m glad I came over and talked to you. I think it’s probably for the best for both of us if we just kind of stick to being friends after this, but I would like to still be that for you until you go. Hopefully even afterward.”

“Yeah, I think I could do that,” Vivian smiled.

“Good, now let’s go see if Kim and Nicole want to go see a movie or something,” Megan announced, tugging her out of the room. “Kim said she was going to hang out with her earlier while I talked to you.”

The two of them were outside Natalia’s room when they heard loud moaning and a faint buzzing sound. Exchanging a glance with Megan, Vivian whispered, “I think Kim and Nicole found their own entertainment and don’t want to be bothered.”

Megan grinned and nodded and the two headed over to the door. Putting on their shoes, Vivian rolled her eyes as she was asked, “Wanna go see Mean Girls? Looks kind of hilarious.”

“Sure, could be fun,” Vivian grinned. “But you’re absolutely paying.”

“Fine, but you’re standing in line for popcorn,” Megan retorted.

“So demanding,” Viv teased as she grabbed her purse and then they left the apartment, both turning to each other and laughing as a particularly loud moan was cut off by the door shutting.

“Wanna hook up in the back of the movie theater?” Megan asked, wiggling her eyebrows.

Vivian rolled her eyebrows and gently shoved Megan forward, “You wish.”

The movie itself ended up being incredibly funny, and Vivian was certain that she was going to be hearing this movie quoted to her for years. Or at least she would if she wasn’t pulled from the public again. Vivian wasn’t actually certain how much longer Pierce would let her stay in the field. Those were the thoughts that were going through her head as she said goodbye to Megan and then headed back to the apartment.

Once she was back in the apartment, she found herself averting her gaze as Natalia gave Kim a final deep kiss before Kim left. Heading in after that, Vivian smiled softly and asked, “You okay?”

“I’m doing great,” Natalia admitted. “That date was amazing. Kim is amazing.”

“Are you going to be okay leaving her?” Vivian questioned.

Natalia froze, staring at the wall. Vivian heard a soft ‘oh’. After a few moments of silence, Natalia finally answered by nodding, “Of course. This is just a job. It’s not like Kim knows anything about me anyway. No one does.”

“Natalia…” Vivian said, heading over.

Natalia almost jumped before she turned and snapped, “I’m fine. Just leave me alone.”

Vivian sighed and ran her fingers through her hair before heading to her room. Taking one last look at the picture of Steve and Bucky, Vivian tucked it away while whispering, “I’m sorry.”

And with that, it was like something in Vivian just switched off. Everything in her just seemed to shut down, and it lasted for months. It was just weeks of going through the motions. The days all bled together to the point where it felt almost dreamlike. It was almost like Vivian was taking a backseat to ‘Veronica’, a person who never existed and never truly would.

Vivian still stayed away, hidden away with the memory of Steve and Bucky, as they were loaded up by Hydra agents to be taken far away. Once they were on the plane though, Veronica disappeared as well, slipping away and just vanishing. 

Hecate.”

Snapping out of it, Vivian stared up, her breathing shallow as she sat in front of Madame B. The woman sneered and Vivian glanced over at Natalia before glancing back up and nodding.

“What are our orders?”

A list was slapped down in front of them, “Kill them all.”

Vivian glanced at the list and squeezed the arms of the chair until they creaked. The list was hundreds of names long.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Chapter Text

Vivian shuddered as she slowly regained consciousness. Her muscles twitched and she shook her head. She couldn’t reach up to her face, but she could feel the blood dripping down from her nose and from her ears. She could also tell that she was sitting in a chair with restraints on her wrists and ankles. Cracking her neck, she then opened her eyes and stared up at Alexander Pierce. His lips were moving, but for a moment all she could hear was just a high pitched noise. Swallowing hard, she leaned forward as far as she could and vomited blood onto the floor. Pierce took a huge step back and she spit the final bit of blood out once she was done. Glancing up, she then smiled, her expression morphing into a snarl as he gripped her hair and tilted her head back.

She still couldn’t hear anything, but she could read his lips as he seemed to be shouting. The words he was saying were about Natalia. He wanted to know what she’d known before that final mission. He wanted to know what Vivian had done. This man, this tyrant, wanted answers from her and she winced as she took a deep breath. Being brought in after the incident wasn’t surprising. Neither was the fact that she’d been strapped to an electric chair. She didn’t actually remember pretty much dying by electrocution, but context clues were making that incredibly likely.

Pierce stormed out, and Vivian sighed. She could feel the different things in her body that she’d normally be able to hear, but it was all just drowned out by that high pitched noise. Eventually her hearing did come back, although she wasn’t sure how long she’d been in that room. After a while, she’d been released from the chair and dumped onto the floor. Once her hearing was back, Pierce showed back up and demanded, “Well? Do you have anything to say for yourself? Or are you just going to ignore me again?”

“I’m genuinely not trying to be funny about this, because honestly nothing about it was funny, but I literally couldn’t hear you when I woke up. I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t even hear myself,” Vivian pointed out. “Which, to be fair, I think you started off that conversation by executing me, but I can’t quite be certain about that. It’s kind of a blur. Regardless, electrocution doesn’t actually make people chatty.”

“Fine. I’ll repeat myself,” Pierce snapped. “What did you do to Natalia?”

“Do to her?” Vivian asked curiously. “Nothing. I didn’t do anything to her.”

“If that was true, then she would still be working for the Red Room, but instead, she switched sides!” Pierce snarled.

“You took a brilliant and extremely talented young woman and you put her into the real world after you tortured and brainwashed her, yet you’re super surprised the kid’s got a mind of her own? She’s not a robot, Pierce. This isn’t some piece of technology that’ll follow your commands without question,” Vivian pointed out. “She figured shit out for her own and then she took off.”

Pierce loomed over her, “How do I know you didn’t encourage her? Didn’t lead her down that path?”

Vivian rolled her eyes, “If I’d been in on it, wouldn’t she have taken me with her?”

“No, she wouldn’t have,” Pierce said, smirking and pulling up a chair to sit in front of her. Vivian stared up at him, keeping an eye on him. She clenched her teeth as Pierce leaned back in his chair and mused, “No. You refuse to leave this place without your beloved Barnes. Multiple times in the past, you’ve chained yourself further and further to this organization, all for him. And I know for a fact you have a soft spot for that girl, Natalia. I also know that no matter how fond you are of that child, you would never put Barnes at risk.”

“Helping her escape puts him at risk though,” Vivian replied. “And you yourself just said I wouldn’t do that.”

“You saved Stark,” Pierce pointed out.

“I had nothing to do with that,” Vivian lied. “The only mistake I made that night was in not frisking a horny millionaire playboy thoroughly enough or predict he’d get high and start a fight.”

“And yet he swore in court that the drugs weren’t his,” Pierce retorted.

“People caught by the cops with drugs in their pocket usually make that claim. If they’re white, it’s usually a lie,” Vivian shrugged.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Pierce sneered.

Vivian furrowed her brow, “Exactly what it sounds like. I’m saying cops have a habit of planting drugs on minorities. Anyway, you didn’t go down this line of questioning to talk to me about the systematic racism of the justice system of America.”

“I think you helped Natalia get out, but didn’t tell her everything. You left out the crucial details she’d need, hoping she’d escape from this life entirely, but you failed,” Pierce said, looking triumphant. “The foolish girl joined SHIELD.”

Vivian shrugged, “I told you I didn’t help her and I mean it. Besides, you have two scenarios here. Either I didn’t help her and she ran straight into the arms of some SHIELD agent all on her own or I told her to leave the Red Room but failed to mention that SHIELD is definitely massively infiltrated by Hydra, and either way, she went from working for you while believing she’s an agent of Russia to working for you while believing she’s an agent of America.”

“The SHIELD agent that recruited her had orders to kill her. He disobeyed direct orders from his superiors to bring her in,” Pierce growled.

“I don’t even know for sure which agent you’re talking about and I also don’t know what point you’re trying to make here,” Vivian said.

“What do you know about Clint Barton, better known by his alias Hawkeye?”

Vivian took a moment to think on the name before she answered honestly, “Hawkeye’s the new bright and shiny rising star according to the debriefs you sent me. They can’t get enough of that ridiculous idiot. I mean, they recruited a guy that was raised by circus folk. He was literally raised by the circus. And his main weapon is a bow and arrow. The guy literally can’t get a normal job, so he basically owes his entire life to SHIELD. Why would he turn on them?”

“You’re saying you haven’t ever interacted with Hawkeye?” Pierce asked, holding up a file showing a tall blond man.

Vivian shook her head after looking at the picture, “I’ve fucked up his missions, but no, we’ve never personally interacted.”

“Had Natalia interacted with him up until that point?”

Vivian shrugged and blew out a slow breath, “If she had, she didn’t tell me about it.”

“But Hawkeye was aware of your existence?”

Vivian sighed and rolled her shoulders before she explained, “He was aware that there was a Russian assassin that was interfering with his work. During one mission, we missed some of the casings from Natalia’s weapon. Or at least that’s what we saw from the documents we intercepted going between him and Agent Coulson. He pieced it together from that evidence, and then he started avoiding some of our most common ploys. I’m not sure how, but my guess is that he looked at cases with similar circumstances. It worked for him, but not as often as he would have liked. We killed more than a few of the people he was trying to protect and we saved more than a few of the people he was trying to bring in.”

“How did he find a casing and then what happened this last mission?” Pierce demanded.

“I don’t even know how he found it, to be honest. I thought the thing had gone to the bottom of a deep lake. It’d dropped into there during a mission and I made a judgment call that not being seen was more important than diving into a muddy lake to search for a casing that was most likely not going to be found. I was wrong.

“As for the last mission? We’d ended up splitting up. The target, at the last minute, went full-on spy movie and hired a decoy car. We didn’t have eyes on him when he got into the car, so we didn’t know which car he got into. We didn’t want to lose the target, because then we’d have to complete the job at the actual safe house. And once it’s at the actual safe house, then it narrows down who or how a killer could find that location. It makes the mission compromised at that point. So we each picked a car and followed it.”

“And you picked the wrong one?” Pierce guessed.

“Yes,” Vivian admitted. “I know this, because Natalia confirmed over the comms that she found the target. I kept an eye on my vehicle just to make sure she wasn’t mistaken. A few minutes later, I contacted Natalia to ask for a status update. She didn’t respond. I waited the designated amount of time before heading over to her location where I found any and all items with a tracker in them discarded. Her earpiece had been broken. The vehicle she’d been tracking was long gone and so was she. Once I realized that, I called it in. I was told to head to the nearest designated evacuation zone, and so that’s what I did. Everything I did was by the books.”

“By the books and still your beloved protégé ended up trying to work for what she perceived to be her enemy,” Pierce sneered.

“So? I’m not her mother,” Vivian retorted.

“No, but she saw you as family. The psychological assessments done by her other instructors were clear. The rest of the instructors she saw as just that, but you? She saw you as a sister, as a friend. You were friendly to her.”

Vivian laughed, “Of course I was. I was friendly to all those kids, because they were kids. I tough on them when it was necessary, but goddamn it, she was thirteen when we met. Thirteen and already broken to the point where she didn’t believe in her own innate strength or intelligence. She didn’t believe in herself at all. And you can’t just keep breaking people and expecting them to be great. This isn’t some fucked up bullshit movie where the saying ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ actually work, because guess what, genius, that saying is absolute nonsense.”

“How can you say that after what you’ve been through?” Pierce questioned.

“I say it because of what I went through,” Vivian snapped. “The fact that I was ripped apart isn’t the reason I’m strong. I’m strong in spite of the fact of that I’ve been brutalized. That kid was going to self-destruct if she didn’t have someone or something telling her that she could make it through, and it sure as fuck wasn’t going to be Madame Goddamn B.”

“Do you believe I should be grateful for your help?” Pierce asked quietly.

“No,” Vivian said. “I know you don’t care and I also know you don’t give a damn about what I think. Hell, you’re not even mad that Natalia became a SHIELD agent. What you care about is the fact that it was something that wasn’t under your direct order. You fucking hate that, even when it benefits you. You should really see a therapist about that, by the way. It’s not healthy.”

Vivian had been unprepared for the hand to slap across her face, but she wasn’t entirely surprised by it either. Spitting blood onto the ground, Vivian looked up at him and snarled, “What do you want from me?”

Pierce gripped her chin in his hand tightly, glaring at her while he leaned close. Their faces were inches apart when he whispered, venom coating every syllable, “I want to watch you die. I want to see what executing a person does to the human body up close. Your mother had the right idea when she’d do that. Do you remember that? She used to carve you up, split you open while you were still awake. I have all of her notes from those experiments, but still…science is all about replicating your results. I think it’s time to find out if that data holds up. Don’t you agree?”

Vivian bared her teeth and then spit into Pierce’s face, cackling wildly as he released his grip on her and then surged backward, nearly falling down. Her fingernails dug into the arms of the electric chair and she sneered as he sputtered and glared at her. Her heart was pounding though and her palms were sweaty.

“You’re going to regret that,” Pierce snarled.

She was still cackling as Pierce shoved the helmet back onto her head and the electricity coursed through her body.

Chapter Text

Bucky knew something was wrong the second he started waking up just from the fact that he was waking up in a bed. On top of that, he had an actual notion of whether or not something could be wrong, and all of that added up to the fact that something big was happening. Opening his eyes, he sat up and ran his fingers through his long hair. He could tell his hair was freshly washed and had dried while he lay in bed, but he only vaguely remembered being shoved into a shower and commanded to wash.

He then stood up and wrapped his arms around himself, the thin t-shirt and sweatpants not really giving him much in terms of warmth as he looked around the room. It was definitely the room that he vaguely remembered being in with Vivian. That thought had him glancing around frantically though as he realized that Vivian was not in the room. There wasn’t even any signs that she’d been in the room recently.

Pacing, he tried to calm himself down and tell himself that she was probably fine. After all, Vivian was practically immortal. Unfortunately, that thought just reminded him of what happened the last time he’d been truly awake and nausea filled him. The last time they’d taken him out of cryo and let him remember, they’d shot Vivian in the head for saving some guy’s life. Chances were that Vivian had done something similar.

“Ah, I see you’re awake. Took you long enough.”

Glancing over, Bucky glared as he saw Alexander Pierce enter the room. A surge of hatred filled him as he stared at that man. Pierce had been the one to shoot Vivian before and he was the one in charge of most of his missions, pulling his strings and dragging Vivian around, not having a care for either of them.

“I must say, it is remarkable how easily you recover from everything we do to you. Downright miraculous, actually. After all, the serum can only do so much. The rest, I suspect, is just pure stubbornness,” Pierce sighed. “I’d say you had someone looking out for you, and that’s why you're still here, but we both know that’s not true.”

“Where’s Vivian?” Bucky asked, his voice rough from disuse. 

Pierce frowned, “Tactless, as usual, but I won’t hold it against you this time. I will answer you if you say you’re sorry. Otherwise, I will leave, because I don’t have to tolerate that kind of attitude from my subordinates, let alone my property.”

Gritting his teeth, Bucky squeezed his eyes shut and fought back nausea before he bit out, “I’m sorry.”

“Good boy,” Pierce praised sarcastically. “Now, as for Vivian? She’s currently in a lot of trouble.”

Bucky opened his eyes, staring at the ground and silently counting to ten before he questioned, “What did she do?”

“She was doing a similar thing to what you were doing for the years you were apart, actually,” Pierce grinned.

Bucky immediately froze as he thought back to what he remembered. Other soldiers like him. People filled with a knock-off serum and he’d helped train them as the Winter Soldier. He’d blankly walked amongst them. He’d beaten them, trained them. Molded them into horrors. He’d even helped force people into cryo.

“I see you remember the time,” Pierce smiled. “Well, Vivian had her own tasks. She was sent to a school to teach young girls to become assassins. There was one student in particular we had our eyes on. She’d been thirteen at the time, and she’d been so willful. We’d hoped Vivian could remove that flaw.”

Bucky closed his eyes again and felt his body tremble. Thirteen years old. Vivian had been forced to hurt children. He wasn’t sure if Vivian would ever be able to actually survive that. Not with how much she’d lovingly and excitedly talked about having kids with him back before all of these horrors had happened. They’d had glorious plans to get married and have kids. They’d talked about being loving, supportive parents.

“Instead of doing as she was told though, Vivian coddled the child. Helped her grow more defiant until finally I suspect she helped that young woman leave the group of assassins entirely,” Pierce snarled. “All that work, wasted . The rest of the girls Vivian influenced are no better. Always looking for nonlethal ways to solve their problems unless they absolutely had to kill someone.”

Bucky felt a swell of pride fill him and he couldn’t help but smile as he stared at the floor. That sounded like Viv. He quickly hid his smile and glanced up, not wanting Pierce to know that he’d been amused by what had been said. Luckily Pierce seemed too lost in his own thoughts, too angry at Vivian to look at him. He was glaring at nothing and his hands were clenched as he sneered.

“What’s more, the one we sent her to work with somehow got it into her mind that she should leave the organization she was working for. Vivian denies any wrongdoing, and there’s no evidence to suggest otherwise, of course, but I know better. I know what a malicious little bitch she is. I’d bet my life she told that girl to get out. And that’s what she did. Luckily for us, that agent believed she was switching to the enemy only for her to join another organization I control. Vivian keeping her mouth shut about the existence of Hydra and all the groups under our command is, in fact, the only reason you’re still alive.”

With that, Pierce then focused on him again and Bucky stared back as he was approached. Pierce got a grin on his face as he taunted, “Does it bother you that your girlfriend put you at risk like that?”

“Seems to me like that kid just got tired of being an assassin all on her own,” Bucky replied tightly. “You said yourself you don’t have any evidence that Vivian did anything wrong, which means there’s no reason for me to think she put anyone at risk.”

Pierce laughed, “Oh, I forgot what a loyal dog you are. I wonder if you’d be so loyal if you knew about all the salacious things she did. You see, she wasn’t just a trainer to this girl. She went undercover with her. Lived with her. And they both had relationships.”

A pang of jealousy shot through Bucky, but he squashed it down. It’d been years since he’d been able to see Vivian, so he couldn’t blame her for seeking comfort in the arms of someone who was there, someone who wasn’t frozen, but it still stung. It still hurt that he hadn’t been the one to be there with her, and he wondered if she loved that person, if she’d thought about leaving him behind for them.

“Not so quick to defend her now, are you?” Pierce jeered.

“You think that I’m going to get jealous and lose my mind, throw a fit, and abandon her. You think her having sex with someone else while we were apart for a decade is enough to make me throw her to the wolves, and you couldn’t be more wrong about that.”

“Didn’t you hear what I said? The woman you love took a lover, a woman into her bed over and over again. Not even as a relationship. Just for sex,” Pierce exclaimed.

Bucky shrugged and sat back down, “You say woman like you think I don’t know that my Viv’s interested in men and women, like I’m going to hear that and be disgusted. I’ve always known my Viv.”

Pierce looked disgusted, and Bucky smiled softly, “There’s nothing you can say that will make either of us give up on each other. You know that, right? I mean, you’ve got to. What year is it now?”

“It’s 2007,” Pierce snapped.

Bucky laughed in disbelief, “It’s 2007. I’m 90 years old. Viv’s 89. It’s been 76 years since I met her. Been about that long since I fell in love with her. I’ve loved that woman for decades. She’s loved me for decades. We’ve suffered and died for each other for decades, and you think for one fucking second that her making time with a woman is gonna make me give up on all that? You don’t know a fucking thing about me and you sure as hell don’t know a fucking thing about Vivian if you thought for a second that was going to work. So I’m going to ask this again: where’s Viv?”

Pierce opened his mouth to say something, but then laughed and shook his head, “Oh, I just realized that I could explain it to you, but showing you will be so much more fun. Hold out your left arm.”

Bucky glared but did as he was told, groaning as metal discs were stuck onto his arm, disabling it. The heavy limb dangled uselessly next to him and he sighed as he was then given a sling to put his arm in. where it was then tightly secured to his body. Gritting his teeth, Bucky then got up and followed as Pierce waved him forward. The door to the room then opened and Bucky headed out. There was a guard every yard or so on both sides of the hall, standing like sentries.

Pierce, it seemed, was afraid of something, because this was enough guards to take him out even if he did manage to get the use of his left arm back. It was more guards than he’d seen in a long time, and he’d dealt with quite a few during his time as a ‘trainer’, as the hydra agents jokingly called him. They thought it was hilarious to use that word about him when all he did was beat people to bloody pieces. If the prisoners learned how to stand up to him and how to fight back then they lived, and if they didn’t, then they died.

At the end of a hall there was a heavy door with heavy, intricate locks on it. By the door there was a hand scanner. When Pierce got up to it, he placed his hand on the pad and then gazed above it for a retinal scan. Once that was done, he then pulled a key out of his pocket and unlocked a heavy deadbolt. The door made a buzzing sound as it opened. Pierce merely smiled and announced, “Alexander Pierce with guest.”

The buzzing stopped and Bucky was able to see the room as Pierce stepped to the side. The room was huge, bigger than he was expecting and filled with all sorts of ways to kill someone. Electric chair. A heavy chamber in a corner that had caution signs for gas . There was a spot where rope dangled from the ceiling. There was a wall riddled with bullets.

“Where’s the prisoner?” Pierce demanded.

A nervous man in a doctor’s coat stepped forward, twisting his hand together and confessing, “She recovered from the last…hanging rather quickly, and became extremely violent. Screamed about death. Talked about it as if it was a person for some reason and she started lashing out, so for the safety of my staff, I locked her in the gas chamber.”

“Bring her out,” Pierce instructed simply.

Bucky grit his teeth, his body beginning to tremble slightly as the doctor nervously went to the gas chamber and began opening the door with great effort. As he pulled it back, a body slumped to the floor, gasping and shaking. Bucky felt tears fill his eyes and blur his vision as he realized that the person on the ground was Vivian. It didn’t look like her. She was gaunt and chunks of her hair was missing, leaving behind patches of burnt flesh. The hair that was left was brittle and dry like straw. As she dragged herself across the floor, he could hear her bones grind and crack. It felt like an eternity, standing there and watching her drag herself across the floor before she finally stopped in front of Pierce. He involuntarily took a step forward, but then stopped himself. He didn’t want to get her in trouble.

“Might as well help her. She’s boring me,” Pierce sighed.

Rushing over to Vivian’s side, Bucky used his good arm to wrap around her waist and pull her up, a few tears slipping down as he felt how thin she’d gotten. Vivian swayed in his arms after he got her up off the floor. Her head lolled onto his shoulder and he pressed his face into her hair, trying not to sob as all he could smell was just burnt flesh and hair.

“Bucky?”

The word had been faint, but he nodded, pressing a soft kiss to her scarred temple before gently pulling her back to look at her, “Yeah, doll, it’s me. I’m right here.”

“Death said you would come,” she said, looking almost delirious.

“She’s been saying stuff like that every time she’s come to,” the ‘doctor’ from earlier admitted.

“Interesting,” Pierce mused. “Barnes, what does it mean?”

“It means you fried her brain doing whatever it is you did to her,” Bucky lied as Vivian’s gaze kept darting around the room, seeming unable to focus on him or anything else. He knew exactly what was happening to Vivian. She’d told him before, but the truth wouldn’t help her at all. If anything, the truth would just hurt her. If they didn’t believe him, then they’d think he was being smart with them. And if they did believe him, then they’d want information from Death. No matter what, it would mean more suffering for both of them.

“Not as beautiful as she once was, is she?” Pierce mused. “Unless monsters are something you’re into."

Bucky gently pushed some of the thin strands of hair out of Vivian’s face and stroked her cheek. Shaking his head, Bucky chuckled, “No, you’re only trying to get a rise. You know exactly why I was with her. Just told you, didn’t I? And you listened. This was another test. First you wanted to see if her taking comfort in someone else would make me leave her and now you’re playing to some simplistic sort of vanity you think I have. She’s still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”

“Charming,” Pierce said, sounding bored and a touch annoyed.

Vivian frowned and Bucky sighed as she leaned against him again, wrapping her arms around him while pressing her entire body to him. Rubbing her back with his hand, Bucky pressed a kiss to the top of her head, on a piece of burnt skin as she seemed to quiet and calm down. Her breathing slowed and evened out. His left arm still was out of commission until Pierce decided otherwise, or at least that’s what he thought until Vivian pulled back from him. She was frowning deeply and just standing, staring at his arm.

For a moment he wasn’t sure if she recognized it, but then she reached to the disc on his arm, the one making it so that he couldn’t move it at all. At first her fingertips just traced it, but her expression darkened and she bared her teeth as she gripped the disc with her broken fingers and yanked . Bucky groaned at the slight bit of electricity that went up, making his teeth chatter before he cried out in pain. Immediately she let go and stared at her own hands in horror. Shaking his head, Bucky reached for her, but then swallowed hard as she almost propelled herself back into the wall.

Pierce chuckled and clapped quietly, “Ah, how sweet. She thought she could help you. Think she’ll try again? Maybe next time, she’ll kill you.”

Bucky sent a glare over toward Pierce before he focused back on Vivian and he held out his hand. Unfortunately, Vivian took one look at his hand and her face crumpled. She put her hands to her face and she slid down to the ground.

“It’s okay. You didn’t mean any harm,” Bucky said softly. “I know you didn’t, and it’s okay. It’s okay. I’m fine.”

“Hecate, do you know what will happen if you make another mistake?” Pierce asked.

Bucky grit his teeth as Vivian glanced up, her expression fearful as she shook her head. Pierce’s grin was like a shark’s as he continued, “Next time you make a mistake, I won’t just kill you, I’ll kill him .”

Vivian looked lost and Bucky almost went to her, but then Pierce gripped him by his only working arm and snapped, “Say goodbye to your pet, Barnes. I think you’ve learned your lesson for now.”

Bucky wanted to resist, wanted to kill Pierce, but by the time he glanced back, Vivian was already being led back to the gas chamber. Swallowing his rage, Bucky took deep breaths as he was led back past the room he woke up in and toward the room with the cryo chamber in it. His fears were quickly proven correct as Pierce opened the door to the room and shoved him toward the chamber. Once he was in front of it, the disc on his arm released. Just in time for him to get shoved into the tube and secured.

“Well, I’ve given you a lot to think about,” Pierce said mockingly. “Hopefully when you wake up, both you and your whore are better behaved.”

Pierce then nodded to a technician and Bucky closed his eyes, bracing himself as the glass shut over him and the cold slammed into him like an atomic bomb. A hellish, excruciating pain shot through his entire body, and then there was nothing.

Chapter Text

“Tighten them. I don’t want her to be able to get free.”

“Yes, sir.”

Vivian woke to a combination of barked orders and the leather digging into her skin. Opening her eyes, she glanced around, gritting her teeth as Pierce smiled at her. He seemed to be waiting for her to say something, anything, but she just stared at him. After several moments of utter silence, Pierce’s expression twisted and he moved closer.

“Do you know what consequences are?” Pierce demanded.

“It’s the effect part of cause and effect,” Vivian sighed. “Someone does something and that something causes something else to happen.”

“And what do you think you did that has brought consequences upon us?”

“I don’t even know what year it is, much less what consequences we’re facing or how I caused them,” Vivian pointed out.

Pierce glared and slammed his fist next to Vivian’s head. She forced herself to keep as still as possible, helped by the leather restraints digging into her wrists, ankles, and pressing so tightly against her abdomen that she felt like her ribs would eventually crack.

“Tony Stark,” Pierce snarled.

Vivian still kept quiet, staring at Pierce. She remembered Tony. There was no way she could forget him. Despite being a mostly forgettable white trust fund brat, she had saved his life. Granted, there was no way Tony Stark would ever view that little sequence of events in that light, even if she had gotten shot in the head for her efforts. Still, the fact that he was just some rich kid and owned a very big company didn’t seem to be a problem, especially not one that could be considered consequences for Hydra.

“Do you remember Obadiah Stane?”

Vivian nodded, “Yeah. He was the guy who paid for the Stark family to be killed. You shot me in the head to appease him.”

“He tried yet again to have Tony Stark killed, but this time he went to a different organization. This time, he went to Ten Rings.”

Vivian groaned, “Why the hell would he go to them? I’m betting he doesn’t even know what kind of man The Mandarin is. Probably doesn’t know what Ten Rings refers to either.”

“Stane did more than hire them. He double crossed them,” Pierce continued, and Vivian burst into laughter.

“Double crossed them? I’m guessing he didn’t live long after that,” Vivian sighed after she pulled herself together.

“Oh, he died, but not because Ten Rings killed him. Merely because they did not help him,” Pierce sneered. “Want to guess who did kill him?”

Vivian frowned and then glanced over at Pierce, her brow furrowed, “Are you saying Tony Stark killed him?”

Pierce was shaking as he crouched down and then leaned in close to hiss into her ear, “Tony Stark built an miniature arc reactor in a goddamn cave in the middle of the fucking desert. And then, in that same fucking cave, he built a suit. He took out dozens of Ten Rings agents and saved himself. Then once he got home, the first thing he does, the very first thing he fucking does, is that he announces that Stark Industries is no longer going to make weapons. He just ends it all. And then he keeps working on that goddamn suit of his to make Iron Man.”

Pierce pulled away and began pacing, angrily shouting, “He built that fucking suit and flew around, destroying both the stock of Stark weapons that Ten Rings had, and our stock of those weapons along with it. We’re months behind schedule. God fucking damn him. And then we thought Stane could keep him in line, could finally take him down, and he fucking dies. Stark fucking kills him and he’s more popular than ever. Now no one can kill that sanctimonious piece of shit without it getting investigated like he’s the goddamn president.” 

Vivian wanted to point out that Hydra had killed the president before, but kept her mouth shut. Clearly at this point Pierce didn’t actually care if she was there or not. He just wanted to yell.

“And none of this would have goddamn happened if you’d just done your fucking job. If you had just let that stupid, spoiled piece of shit die with his parents then Obadiah would be in charge of Stark Industries still. He’d be a valuable asset instead of a goddamn weakness. I had to send some of our best agents just to clean out his goddamn fucking files to make sure nothing could be traced back to us.”

Vivian winced as he gripped her hair and tugged at it, pulling her head back as he snarled, “Those agents were supposed to be locating Bruce Banner, and we were so close to having him in custody. And do you know what that would have meant for us? He has the power to single handedly level cities. Think of what we could do if we could control him.”

She groaned as her head was slammed back down and Pierce laughed bitterly, “But instead those agents got switched to cleaning up your mess.”

“Sir, I have the items you requested,” a soft voice interrupted. 

Vivian glanced over, wanting to roll her eyes at the young man who came in, holding a tray full of vials and hypodermic needles. He then set them down and Pierce waved him aside, sending him scrambling out of the room.

“I thought for a long time how I would make you pay for your mistake, and do you know what I came up with?”

Vivian shook her head, wincing as Pierce smiled, looking almost gleeful as he confessed, “Now, you’ve been executed…a number of times since you last disappointed me. Many of them have gone, shall we say, not as well as one would hope. However, those were only some of the ways we could kill you. Most people in America are executed via lethal injection. Do you know how that works?”

Vivian nodded, “Sedative is administered, then a paralytic, and finally the lethal drug is added. The whole thing is supposed to be painless.”

“Yes, but do you know what part they’re soon not going to be able to use?” Pierce taunted. He didn’t wait for her to answer when he held up a bottle and taunted, “The sedative. You see, I have it on good authority, because we’re making it happen, that this drug is going to become illegal to buy. And that means all those states are going to have to come up with a new way to knock people out. Only, the drug that’s being suggested by people is one that just relaxes the subject.”

“And I’m guessing you’re going to make sure that idea gets to the top of the pile,” Vivian sneered.

“Depends on how well you react to it,” Pierce grinned. “You see, I’m going to test it on you.” 

“Great,” Vivian sneered. “Sounds like a plan.”

Vivian closed her eyes as a leather strap was placed across her forehead and then tightened. She couldn’t move. She could struggle slightly, but doing so just made the leather dig further into her wrists and cause her excruciating pain. She then felt a pinch in her arm and took deep breaths as the first drug was injected. Some time passed and she knew a second drug had been introduced into her system at some point, because she could no longer move her limbs at all. She couldn’t even open her eyes, so the most she could see was the light through her eyelids.

She was left like that for what felt like hours, but was probably only minutes. Vivian hated the sensation of being trapped in her own body. She couldn’t breathe and she just wished for the suffering to end, for something to just take this pressure off of her lungs and to give her something. She regretted that thought as soon as the third drug was administered and it coursed through her veins, lighting every inch of her on fire. It scorched her from the inside out, and she couldn’t breathe, let alone scream. The pain just seemed endless, endlessly combining until finally everything just stopped.

“Humans really are inventive little monsters, aren’t they?”

Sitting up, Vivian sighed as she opened her eyes and spotted Death sitting daintily in a chair. The second she saw that creature, Vivian was up and on her feet, glaring, “I told you to stop that.” 

“Stop what?” Death mused, standing up. “Stop looking like your lover? What’s the fun in that?” Death spun around, “Want to take a closer look to see if I really look like her?”

“Shut up,” Vivian snapped.

“Oh, you really are having a difficult time. The last few times you died, you weren’t nearly this snippy. What is it about the lethal injection that bothers you so much? Not personal enough for you?” Death asked mockingly.

“It’s a way for people to lie to themselves, for them to think they’re being gracious and kind when they hand out a death sentence,” Vivian sneered. “In reality, it’s neither, and now they’re proving it even more. People will suffer when they die.”

“Someone always suffers when a creature dies,” Death said dismissively. “That’s just how this works. It’s how I work.”

“People can have dignity in death,” Vivian argued.

“Lies. Lies children tell themselves to trick themselves into not fearing me anymore, as if there’s something wrong with being afraid of a power they could never hope to compete with.”

“God, I forgot how modest you are,” Vivian drawled.

“False modesty is pointless. We both know what I am and how powerful I am. I am the one constant in reality. Everything dies,” Death insisted.

Vivian glanced over, “But in order for that to be truth, everything has to live first. You can’t kill what was never alive.”

“You really have thought a lot about our talks. And here I thought you were just ignoring me,” Death said with a smile. “I was about to go play with someone else.”

“Good. Go do it,” Vivian snapped.

“But why would I do that when you’re one of my most loyal servants?”

“You’re such a fucking liar,” Vivian snapped.

“Am I?” Death taunted. “Let’s see. You kept that Rogers boy alive long enough for him to kill dozens of Nazis. Sure, those people deserved to die, but whether someone deserves to die isn’t the point. I get them either way. Barnes as well killed plenty in the war, although not technically your fault. His becoming the Winter Soldier was your fault though. As was all the deaths Rogers caused in your name. And then you killed so many people as an assassin. And then you trained more assassins. The people you trained went on to train others. Even that man that you saved from death, Stark, went on to kill people simply by making those weapons.”

“What’s your point?” Vivian demanded.

“That you’re already doing it, so you might as well just accept it. Killing is in your nature. It’s all you know. It’s all you’ve ever been good at. It’s all you’ll ever do.”

“No,” Vivian shook her head. “I can do other things. I’ve done other things. I’ve saved lives.” 

“Only for those men to go and kill more men on the battlefield,” Death sneered.

Vivian glared, “Many of those men never fought again. And what about the children I saved? The nurses? The people whose only crime was living in a time period before penicillin was readily available?”

Death just glared and Vivian shook her head, “No, I know what game you’re playing. It’s the same game you always play. You try and trick me, try to twist my past to make it seem like you’re the only option, because it’s the only thing you can do. So therefore the rest of us must have the same limitations. Stark gave up weapons. He started destroying weapons caches. He’s trying to change. Natalia is trying to change. She’s trying to save people. Barnes literally had to have his control ripped from him before he ever would continue this cycle of violence. When he has a choice, he’s a mechanic. He’s a dancer. He’s a caregiver. And I was other things too, things that seem like a distant dream or like someone else’s life, but they were mine. Those decisions were mine.”

“All you have to do is give up on those petty, stupid dreams, and I’ll tell you a secret, a secret that will change everything. A secret that may even give you hope,” Death insisted, looking almost frantic.

“No,” Vivian shouted. “No, you won’t. You’ll play games, just like you always do. You’ve never given hope to anyone in this whole goddamn universe. Anyone who believes that you were the light at the end of the tunnel was someone who was so goddamn desperate that they couldn’t see you for what you really were. It’s why you come to us as our lovers, as our friends, as an ideal, because if we saw you for what you truly were, we wouldn’t be enamored and we wouldn’t be disgusted. We would just pity you.”

“You’ll eventually find out the truth of what I was going to tell you, and I hope the knowledge damns you,” Death snarled.

Vivian laughed bitterly “Fuck you.”

Death vanished, and Vivian found herself just sitting in that fake version of the room. Normally she wasn’t left alone in there and the silence was deafening, almost crushing. Then it just was crushing, and she was screaming, screaming but not making a single sound. She fell back onto the examining table she was sitting on, pressing her hands over her ears and feeling the blood pulsing between her fingers, slipping down her skin. Her bones cracked and her soul screamed until finally the pain stopped again and her eyes opened.

Her breathing was labored and she found herself staring into the eyes of Alexander Pierce. There was a mad glint in his eyes and she felt like she was going to be sick as he leered, “Well? How does it feel?”