Actions

Work Header

(all the way) from where we came

Work Text:

“Memory is all we are. Moments and feelings, captured in amber, strung on filaments of reason. Take a man’s memories and you take all of him. Chip away a memory at a time and you destroy him as surely as if you hammered nail after nail through his skull.” ― Mark Lawrence, King of Thorns

 

//

 

Her name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova.

The Soldier cradles her close to his chest, like a small package wrapped in a blanket. She is little and naked and afraid, her tiny body shaking against his. She smells of ice and smoke, but also of leather and that characteristic scent babies have, soft and powdery. There are microscopic holes all over her arms, sole remaining proof that she was repeatedly strung with needles, poked and poked and poked until she couldn’t take it anymore. He still remembers the sound of her sobs.

Her name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova. She is two. He can think of twenty-six ways to break her.

He’s too careful until he isn’t anymore, stops looking over his shoulder for a millisecond because he has to buy her formula. He tried giving her milk from a box and she puked, coughed for such a long time he thought she had stopped breathing. They are caught at the edge of Stalingrad, right before hopping on a train that would lead them away from the snow and the red. The Soldier kills thirteen men before they stick a needle into his neck, and he thinks hazily, this is how she must have felt.

He sinks into thick darkness and when he wakes up, he does not understand why it feels like his chest is too light, like there is something missing—a pressure against his heart, a welcome weight. He is given a mission.

 

//

 

Her name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova.

She wraps her thighs around his throat and swings her hips, brings them both down. He shakes her off just by moving his shoulder, sends her flying into a car as if she was made of feathers and she hits the sheet metal with a loud thump and still raises to her feet a heartbeat after.

Her aim is perfect, his men falling around him like dead flies as one of her bullets ricochets on the curved glass of his goggles. There’s an inaudible crack—he can’t see through the fissure and discards them without a second thought. He grabs a rifle, jumps over the short wall.

“She is mine,” he grits. It’s the truest thing he’s ever said.

 

//

 

Her name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova.

She doesn’t startle when he opens the door of her room and barges inside. Her gaze is too steady, the line of her back too straight. There’s a red tutu hanging from a chair, gossamer and satin gleaming under the moonlight.

“Natalia,” he says. He doesn’t know how many times he has forgotten her. She has forgiven him more than she should.

She is sixteen, and tall, and gorgeous. Her hair is like fire licking streaks down her naked shoulders, untamed and redder than blood.

“You are late,” she says. Her English is perfect. The warm glow at the center of his ribcage is pride, the voice inside his head supplies helpfully.

 

//

 

Her name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova.

The Soldier kneels in front of her, takes her little hand in his. The metal is ice cold against her fingers but she doesn’t want to let him go.

“Natalia,” he says, voice soft. She bites back a hiccup, makes a small hurt noise instead. “Natalia, dorogaya, stop crying.”

He hasn’t used Russian in weeks. It feels—foreign, strange.

“Papa,” Natalia sniffs, her accent indicating she intends to finish in Russian, “Ya ustal.”

He shouldn’t let her. Her English is still rusty, and she should practice. He told himself he wouldn’t indulge in the easiness of their native language until her pronunciation becomes flawless, until there is no way for anyone to tell her name isn’t Jenny or Rebecca or—Ann, whatever American name he’ll have to write down on her brand new passport.

“Natashenka,” he says anyway, his vowels a rich warm sound, “Papa can carry you.”

Her smile is hopeful and bright, the bone-deep exhaustion visible on her features. She lets go of his metal grasp at last, tries eagerly to climb into his arms.

“You must ask in English first,” he tells her, keeping her at arm’s reach. She stops smiling immediately, starts pouting in a way that could be cute but is just terribly sad instead.

Ya ustal,” she cries, grabbing at his sleeve. “Papa!”

He shakes his head, ignores the tear at the corner of her right eye.

“Natashenka,” he orders gently, “ask in English, dorogaya.” The pet names are a treat, like the candy he’d give if she had fallen and scratched her knee. He knows this must stop soon, too, but she needs it right now and his entire life orbits around her needs. It is not going to change.

“I’m tired,” she says finally, distaste for the easy-flowing words clear in her voice. “Father, can you pick me up?”

“You must say dad, or daddy,” he corrects as he lifts her into his arms, tucks her safely against his chest. She’s so small, so easily broken. He can think of twenty-six ways. She buries her frozen nose into the crook of his neck and inhales the familiar scent. “We can’t be too formal if we’re dressed like this.”

He doesn’t know how he knows this particular piece of information. It doesn’t feel like something they taught him. It feels older—it feels his.

 

//

 

Her name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova.

The first time he sees her, she is three weeks old and he’s just passing through a corridor. There is a glass window and behind, there are cribs. He glances at them because glass is dangerous and glass is a possible easy exit. She’s the only baby who isn’t sleeping, her big green eyes wide open.

She is mine, he thinks absurdly.

 

//

 

Her name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova.

He doesn’t have a name.

 

//

 

Her name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova.

She is wearing a long black dress, a fabric that follows every movement she makes like it’s water on her skin. He sees her across the hall and the sudden pull is so strong and sudden it leaves him panting. He is not used to wanting. He wants so much, though. Wants to pin her to a wall and feel her against him and breathe her in. Wants to bite her shoulder and leave his mark and make sure she’s real, and he doesn’t understand. This doesn’t happen. The Soldier does not want.  

He flexes his right hand—flesh and bones, human. If he were human… if he weren’t on this roof… He’d walk to her. He’d close his fingers around her wrist, his thumb feeling her pulse. He’d drag her to the nearest empty room, he would push her up against the door, bite at her lips. She is so beautiful and he isn’t human.

It isn’t right. It tastes—outlandish, wrong. He doesn’t want her this way, he realizes. It’s confusing and—he did not know. He didn’t know there was another way to want. He remembers—bodies, warm and pliant, he—

He remembers thin pale skin and brittle bones, blond hair and ocean eyes, and wanting the way he wants Natalia Alianovna Romanova.

Safe.

 

//

 

Her name is—

There is too much pain, too much

The sounds, and the colors, and the smell—he wants, she is

She smells of home and safety and he

Her name

Her name is—

The smell, like burnt flesh, the noise

There is an army inside my head, and they’re taking you

Natalia Alianov—

Natalia—

Nat—   

Mission report.    

  

//

 

Dorogaya,” he says, “open the door for me.”

She slides silently through the corridor, the sole of her black boots polished enough by all the walking—or, probably, because he taught her to always be ready. She is soundless. She is deadly.

Her body undulates around the streaks of red light, avoids every trap, every alarm. She gets to the door faster than he would have, and picks the lock effortlessly.

They are the Red Room’s most extraordinary exploits, its prodigies. He doesn’t think much of the fact he can’t seem to stop calling her darling.

 

//

 

His name is Steven Grant Rogers.

He’s the Soldier’s next target. They both wear stars. It’s meant to be.

 

//

 

His name is Steven Grant Rogers.

His name is Nicholas Fury, Jr.

His name is Samuel Thomas Wilson.

Her name is—

Her name is—

 

//

 

There is a red-haired woman and he doesn’t know her name. She isn’t his mission. She isn’t his target. The vehicle explodes and both her and the man he’s supposed to eliminate are propelled into the air, land brutally on the ground. The Soldier walks slowly to them. They cannot run. He takes his time.

She puts herself in front of the engineer, who is scared shitless and trembling behind her, grabbing at her arm. The Soldier pities him. His death will be fast and clean. The Soldier feels merciful today.

He doesn’t want to fight the woman. It’s a waste of time, and he doesn’t need to. He aims his gun, presses the trigger. The bullet sings.

It sinks into her flesh with surgical precision, right above her left hipbone, flies through her body. It hits the engineer right in the sternum. He dies silently, choking on a mouthful of blood. She looks down at the wound, her mouth a surprised O, presses her hand to it. It comes up red and red and red, dark and thick. The Soldier can hear the faint buzzing of a helicopter approaching. She’s not going to die. He doesn’t know why the information is important.

The Soldier disappears, leaving Natalia Alianovna Romanova bleeding in the scorching sand.

 

//

 

“He doesn’t remember you,” Sam says.

Steve looks away, unconsciously seeking warmth as he zips up his jacket. “He will,” he says firmly.

“He won’t,” comes Natasha’s voice from behind. Her arm has been patched up but she still can’t use it, and moving obviously hurts. She trots to them anyway.

Steve’s expression hardens, hurt. “You don’t understand. It’s Bucky, I—I’ve known him all my life.”

“He shot me twice. You have to trust me, he doesn’t remember you and he won’t.”

She sounds so sure, so tragically sure, Steve has to look at her. She looks younger, wrapped up in a black blanket, dried blood still on her chin. She didn’t even wash up, went straight to them.

“I lied to you,” she says, and it’s not a surprise but it still feels like a punch to the gut.

“You just asked me to trust you,” Steve points out bitterly.

Natasha smiles grimly, “I’m sorry.” She leans against the banister, winces because of the pressure on her injured spine. “Steve,” her tone is so soft, so gentle. He’s afraid of her next words. “I know him better than you do.”

He wants to shout, or maybe push her, shake her—nobody does, nobody—this is—this is Bucky, for God’s sake, how can anybody know him better than Steve—

“This is not Bucky Barnes,” Natasha continues calmly, “this is the Winter Soldier. And I know the Winter Soldier better than anyone.”

“How,” Steve rasps, and it doesn’t even sound like a question.

“Because he made me.”

 

//

 

They take away memories with a terrifying efficiency, but they can’t wipe away feelings, the ghost of a touch, or paternal instinct. They never could wash this savage protectiveness off him, and God knows they tried, scrubbing his every bone, his every fiber.

 

//

 

“Your name is James Buchanan Barnes,” the Mission says, and all the Soldier sees is violence and danger and he hits and hits and hits and

He remembers a bed, and himself crouching next to it, a ten year old girl sitting on the mattress with her legs dangling because she was too short to reach the floor. He told her, your name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova because she couldn’t remember and he knew, he knew how powerful you felt once you had a name. He told her, you are safe because she couldn’t stop shaking and he told her, I love you because it was true. It was the truest thing.

I am a ballerina, she had replied. I am training, I am good, she had frowned, I do not know you, this is not my name.

 

//

 

“Your name is James Buchanan Barnes,” Steve says, and there is blood on his lips and nose and there is blood on Bucky’s knuckles and he doesn’t understand—

 

//

 

Her name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova.

He observes her through his binoculars, follows the movement of her arm as she extends it to give Captain America a thin file. The Captain nods, and the Soldier can read a thank you on his lips. She leaves after that and he is torn—the Captain and the man who had wings are not moving, eyes still fixated on the tombstone he knows is empty. He wants to run after her, soak himself in her presence, but there is the Captain—Steve. He can’t choose. He can’t split himself.

Her name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova. He lets her go.

 

//

 

Your name is James Buchanan Barnes, he repeats and repeats and repeats, and maybe saying it a thousand times will make it truer. Maybe if he believes it he can make the world believe it too.

Baseball cap low on his head and collar up, hands well hidden in his pockets, he stares at the gigantic picture of the man who wears his face. Best friends since childhood, Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers were inseparable both on schoolyard and the battlefield. Barnes is the only Howling Commando to give his life in service for his country.

He thinks of the star on his shoulder and thinks, what country? He thinks of a little girl and of long winters and the familiar sounds of Russian nicknames and thinks, what home?

 

//

 

Steve Rogers chases him all around Europe, and then right into India. The Soldier loses him in Bangladesh, crosses paths with him again in China. He stays in Tibet for a while, relishes the cold stillness of the monasteries in the white mountains.

“Your name is James Buchanan Barnes,” he tells himself in front of the mirror in a ratty hotel room in Taiwan, loudly, multiple times. It feels like wearing someone else’s skin.

There is an odd longing nested in the hollow of his heart, a dead weight he drags behind him at all times and he wants to rest, he wants to curl up in this dirty bed and sleep until the Captain finds him. He wants—he wants—safety and controlled violence and he wants to protect.

“Your name is Bucky,” he tells his reflection, and it doesn’t feel right, but it doesn’t feel like stealing either.

 

//

 

He dreams of fiery hair and milky skin, he dreams of a famished face and a halo of golden locks. He wants to reach out, touch them, whisper I love you I loved you I’m sorry into their ears but he’s paralyzed—strapped to a chair that feels smaller and smaller and there are walls closing around him. Someone is laughing. He hears, wipe him, and start over. There is a finger-shaped bruise blossoming on his cheek, and it burns, like someone just slapped him. He hears, wipe him, and start over, and he screams.

 

//

 

He remembers Steve and it is like waking up, only he doesn’t stop waking up and he wakes up and wakes up and wakes up and he can’t stop, he can’t breathe, he can’t stop

He claws at his own face and screams and someone charges into the room, the door exploding. He convulses into strong arms, a steadying touch that doesn’t steady him.

“It’s okay, Buck, it’s okay, I got you,” Steve murmurs against his ear, and Bucky is shaking so hard he thinks he might die.

He was foolish. They never lost him, they were always there, he—he doesn’t even know how to escape anymore, he can’t be Bucky and he can’t be the Soldier and he is no one

 

//

 

He has woven his life around Steve’s because it is all he can remember doing. He can’t recall his sister’s name—Rebecca, Steve supplies—but he knows Steve used to almost die every winter. He is clueless about his own birthday but he remembers the apples he stole when Steve turned twelve with breathtaking clarity.

 

//

 

He remembers Natasha and it is like falling down, only the fall never ends and he jerks out of Steve’s bed and propels himself into the bathroom to throw up.

It is shockingly less violent than regaining a sense of self, or remembering the only man he ever loved. He sits down on the cold tiles, naked, the toilet stinking of vomit, and he gasps, “Natashenka.”

Steve finds him like that in the morning, and whispers “Oh, Buck…” before putting a giant fluffy towel on his shoulders. He cleans up the sink and flushes the toilet, wipes the corners of Bucky’s mouth with a Kleenex, and guides them both to the kitchen. He puts the kettle on and then seems to realize Bucky isn’t wearing anything save for the towel, because he runs to their room to find pants.

He circles around him awkwardly with his steaming mug, before asking hesitantly, “Did you remember something?”

“There was a girl,” he says, voice raspy. “A woman. With you.”

Steve nods, “Natasha.”

She was mine, Bucky wants to say, but he knows by now it’s a terrible explanation. “I knew her,” he voices. Steve doesn’t look surprised, and it makes things so much worse. The last memory he has is Natalia in the Red Room, fully grown and learning faster than the speed of light, blank of past and of any link to him. But if Steve knows, it is because she told him. And if she told him, she remembers. She remembers and he fought her and oh, God

“Steve,” Bucky croaks, falling to his knees. Steve crouches down immediately so they can be at eye-level. “I hurt her. I hurt—I shot my baby girl. And I couldn’t remember, Stevie—”

Steve wraps his arms around him, crushes him against his chest, a soothing hand running through his hair. “I’m sorry, Bucky, I’m so sorry…”

 

//

 

Steve sits them down on their bed—their bed, the bed they share—Steve lies down next to a murderer every night and sleeps peacefully—

Steve sits them down on their bed and all Bucky can think of is, I shot her. He remembers raising his gun, aiming for her neck. She should be dead. He tried to kill her.

“I held her in my arms,” he says. “She was so small. I remember thinking, I know twenty-six ways to stop her from breathing but none to soothe the crying.” He turns around to look at Steve, takes in the view of him worrying his bottom lip with his teeth, empathy written all over his face. He is hurting for Bucky, for Natasha, for the world, and Bucky wants to take a soft cloth and dip it into clear water, wipe the worry away from his regal features. “I don’t know why I took her. I think she reminded me of you. I knew—I knew she wasn’t safe, I don’t know how. The first time, she was just a baby, couldn’t even speak.”

Steve arches an eyebrow, surprised. “The first time?”

“They found us a few days later. Wiped me.”

“How many times?” Steve asks, horrified and amazed.

“Seventeen. Almost every year. When she was five, I kept her for months. She thought I was her father.”

He doesn’t say, I raised her, I made her, she is mine. He doesn’t say, she was my only escape, the one thing they didn’t own. He doesn’t say, these hands are the hands of a killer, but they kept her warm and they kept her alive. She was the proof I could be more than just a weapon.

“Did they—” Steve stutters, like he’s afraid to ask. “Did they erase her memory too?”

“Not at first. Later, when she was older, yes.” He looks down at his prosthetic arm, the plates of metal glistening under the bright light of the lamp on the nightstand. “When they sold me to Hydra, I think they changed the process. They needed a blank state, no residual loyalties. The Soviets wanted a soldier. A soldier has a personality. A soldier has—a home.”

“You kept remembering her,” Steve works out. “Because they didn’t take everything, just her.”

Bucky nods. He uncurls his fist, closes it again. “You know,” he says, and it’s the hardest confession he’s ever had to make, and that includes the time he had to sit in the confessional with Father Mathews in the little Catholic church of their old neighborhood in Brooklyn and breathe out that he dreamt of touching Steve, “they never had to erase you.” He doesn’t look up, doesn’t have to—he can imagine Steve frowning in confusion just fine. “I forgot you all on my own,” he lets out bitterly. It tastes like poison on his tongue. “I woke up and you were gone. I didn’t know my name. I didn’t have a mother. Everyone keeps assuming—but they never had to take my life away from me, it was already gone.”

Bucky,” Steve says, and it isn’t supposed to sound broken. Steve touches his face, his clavicles; ghost touches, kisses with his fingertips. He cups his face and kisses his lips, drinks him like he believes he can absorb Bucky’s sorrows. “You can come home,” Steve breathes against his mouth, “you can come home, I forgive you.”

“I remembered how to fight,” Bucky sobs. He’s so grateful for the lack of it wasn’t your fault. He knows Steve believes it, believes there is no pardon needed, but he gave Bucky forgiveness anyway. Bucky still has a hard time figuring out who he was before the war, but he knows deep in his bones this is why whoever that man was loved Steve Rogers, and this is why whoever he is now loves him too.

 

//

 

They curl up on their bed, like the world’s biggest parentheses.

 

//

 

The Soldier watches Steve Rogers eat his cereal and smile lazily at the television and he relaxes, allows himself to shift back—Bucky. His name is Bucky.

 

//

 

Her name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova.

He stalks her like a hawk, from rooftop to rooftop; he’s an eagle and she’s the egg sleeping in his nest, and he leaps and he leaps and he leaps and she is beautiful, she is deadly. The warm glow at the center of his ribcage is pride, the voice inside his head supplies helpfully.

He loves her fiercely, violently. He doesn’t know what her voice sounds like when she isn’t barking orders or playing at being someone else. He wants to find out, collect the decibels and bask in every note, like a lizard seeking the sun.

She is a five year old girl asking him to carry her in Russian, she is a twenty-seven year old KGB agent opening a door because he asked her to, she is a baby in a crib with the eyes of an adult, she is a heavy weight at the bottom of his heart.

Her name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova. She made it out alive.