Natalia Alianova Romanova was just a scared little girl in a woman's body. She knew her place--the one that had been forced on her when her father-figure sold her to the Soviets--and that was under a shiny boot, in an oblivious man's lap, surrounded by weapons she knew like she should have been able to know her future children. But the chance of a future had been taken away.
Though, when did Natalia ever listen to what she had been told?
She was going to get her future, even if she had to set forests to flames and move mountains. Even if she had to part seas and bite someone's fingers off. She would do anything. She was willing to do anything. She was going to get her future--her golden, beautiful future--in her thin, skilled hands.
And she was. Her fingertips were so, so achingly close. She was almost there.
Then the ghost passed in the shadows he knew all too well--too well for his own good--and the little girl inside her heart knew she was dead. Done for. Haunted.
But in her mind--god, her glorious, amazing brain--she knew she could face a story. A fairy tale. A ghost story to tell children to get them to sleep. The man would come in the night, twirling a knife in nimble, experienced fingers, the light from a candle or the moon glinting off his out-of-place limb, and do the one thing he knew--kill. After all, it would be the child's fault for staying awake to watch the stars, wouldn't it?
Their footsteps created a trail. The walls were their maze, and Natalia was adamant on losing him. She could do it. She had to be able to do it, no matter how much she wanted to run into the arms she once knew, that he wouldn't recognize when he gained consciousness and had electricity buzzing in his veins.
And, yet again, that would be her fault.
His breath came out as a hiss, a minuscule whisper that got lost in the dark, muffled behind the walls; "I know you're here, little spider."
"And what do you think?" She put her chin up, glaring through her eyelashes, gaze skirting over her flushed cheeks. Her breaths were coming fast, anxiousness jerking through her blood, but she had to maintain a level mind. Or she'd be on the floor, body broken and bloody. "Are you proud, Soldier?"
The man she once knew better than herself--James, a human being, a loving, generous, kind man who did not deserve any sort of bad that the world felt the need to give him--cocked his head, his lips tugging into a horrible smirk. His teeth glinted in the night-light seeping through the white lace curtains. "I see a girl, of fire and will. She was once owned, chained by ballet slippers, wrists tied behind her back." Natalia flinched when she heard one of his boots hit the floor, loudly. A warning, a war-call. "She's lost. She's cornered. She's scared. But above all, she's broken. Shattered to millions of pieces that are planted under the Earth. Stuck into the soles of shoes and walked on. Trampled under power greater than anyone can ever know."
She let her eyes fall shut, but only for a moment. She took a deep breath and goaded, "At least I remember." Really, it wasn't good, but she knew he would react. Cursed to remember, forced to forget. James was forced into everything--he was no longer himself, no longer truly a man. He was a machine. His movements were mechanical at best, well-practiced and engrained. He was the cast of a spirit that had gone into hiding so long ago, that was injured in the cross-fire and tucked way back in the soldier's mind. He still wore the face of a man who had a good life--but his hands, his mind, oh, his body. That was HYDRA's. His hands were marked with callouses, that could have come from his life before but were definitely worsened by the constant weapons and produced fight. They were drenched in blood, skilled in every verse of death; but years upon years ago, those skilled hands had touched her with nothing but gentleness and serenity.
The yell that followed had multiple layers--first was anger. The plaster cracked, white particles raining down to the floor, settling on his glove and sleeve. Second was betrayal. His mind deflected the horrors that haunted his ill sleep. Third was a desperate need for more, twitching hands itching to remake and rebuild the crumbling tower that was the Winter Soldier's mind.
He was made into nothing more than a weapon, with an off and on switch, and everyone knew it. His guns, his blades, they were an expention of himself, of the bits and pieces that were left for him to organize.
"You don't have to do this, James," she insisted, ducking behind another wall and hurrying on. "You've fought against your handlers before."
"You did it for me. For us."
"No!" he shouted--the sound met her ears, eerie and chilling. Pain. Heartbreak. Confusion. Longing. Nightmare inducing.
"Rose," she murmured, her chest rising and falling even faster. She couldn't bring herself to lead the chase anymore, leaning her shoulders against the wall behind her. "Our beautiful daughter. Our little flower." Natalia's bottom lip wobbled. Tears formed in her eyes. Her fingers found their way to her stomach, pressing on the soft skin beside her belly button. Her voice came out jagged and deep; "Dead. Because of them. Our keepers, the source of the hellish nightmares we shared. We shouldered them together, James."
"You're not meant to talk!" he bellowed;
The emotionally wounded woman, who housed the scared girl, screamed in reply, "Neither are you!" Tears fell from her eyes, slipping down her smooth red cheeks. She inhaled a scraping breath before she whispered, "We did it together, James. You were my everything. We braved the torture, we braved the Red Room--we did it together because neither of us could do it alone!"
There was a thud, close by, and Natalia jumped up, darting further down the hall. She pounded her fist on the section of wall beside the bathroom door, and kept moving. "You made me more than what they made me--I was real, with you, and so were you!"
"It was forbi--!" He was reeling. He was crashing. He was confused. He was spiraling.
"Why do you think I ran?" she exclaimed, bitterly. "You tried to go with me, you wanted to be there for our Rose--our blessing. Our curse."
Glass shattered, and Natalia whirled around. A dark shadow stood in the hall. Messy hair, dark and stringy from the lack of washing. Broad shoulders, moonlight sliding over leather straps and slings. Long legs, clad with canvas trousers and daggers that had seen more death than a butcher's cleaver.
The starlight shined in his eyes--blue and grey, like the Russian mountains they had tried to escape in. Tears clouded them, just like they did hers--immobalizing, unnecessary, weakness--and the corners of his lips twitched up and down, like he couldn't decide if he was happy to see her or not.
"We-ell." His voice cracked. Regret oozed in his voice, a sadness running so deep that it was all he was. She could see the gun in his hand, a shaking finger on the trigger--heavy, unbalanced, horrible form. The barrel glared at her neck, where he had once pressed so many tender kisses, where his teeth had scraped and his hot breaths had billowed. The source of her voice, that had once grounded him, had once coaxed him into an uneasy sleep. He flicked his eyes to her face, her pale, terrified face that hid calculation and even more terror. "I guess I found you."