It wasn't supposed to be like this.
It was all Mallory could think, as the truck bounced on the loose-dirt roads and the muffled shouts of men drowned her own breathing. Her life wasn't supposed to be like this. She'd imagined a simple, clean life with a nice man and maybe a couple of children. And a dog. She'd always wanted a dog.
She'd never imagined being escorted in the back of an international terrorists truck on the way to his latest heist with a bag over her head. Especially the added fun of the same international terrorist being an ex-boyfriend and still in love with you.
A crash from outside forced her fear back to her throat and she gasped under the black bag, squinting to see between the gaps of the fibres. The men around her were standing, shouting in broken English. Someone grabbed her roughly and forced her to her feet. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Angry tears stung her eyes.
The bag was torn from her head and bright light blinded her.
Here we go.
TWELVE HOURS EARLIER
"My name is Brock Rumlow. A few years ago, I was the leader to S.H.I.E.L.D's tactical STRIKE force. Now I am a criminal. A terrorist. Do not blame me for what I have become. Blame Captain fuckin' America."
Mallory's Smith found herself stabbing the pause button. The footage halted on the big screen. Rumlow sat cross legged in front of the camera. Or Crossbones as he was going by nowadays. His new costume was a perversion of Iron Man's armour with it's dark plating and scratched on cross insignia. A helmet covered his face, shrouding the true extent of his injuries from public view. Was he seated because he could no longer walk? It seemed unlikely. Mallory stared the figure she'd known down the screen, aware he could not see her and respond but also aware she was desperate to speak to him. What happened? She wanted to say. Why didn't you tell me you were alive?
"The one thing I didn't understand was why you came to me."
Around her stood a good half of the current Avengers roster. Steve Rogers, who'd never liked her due to her past affiliation with HYDRA and who liked her even less after he'd been told about Bucky. Natasha Romanoff, who was one of her only and closest friends. Sam Wilson, who was trying to like her despite her past HYDRA membership and Wanda Maximoff, a newbie Mallory had never met who still hadn't made her mind up.
Steve was the one who had spoken. "He's your boyfriend."
"Ex." She corrected, "Ex boyfriend. And that shouldn't matter. He's doesn't want me, he wants you."
The video itself had surfaced a while after Nat had informed Mallory that Rumlow was still alive. It hadn't been taken very well; Mallory had gone completely immobile with shock as her current boyfriend Liam had raged and screamed at Nat for missing his body in the debris of the Washington disaster. Nat had came to warn her in case Rumlow had decided to come after her but for a good four months the airwaves had remained clear and Rumlow was in hiding. Then this video had surfaced. It was sent directly to the Avengers but also the press; a big shiny dinner bell ringing loudly in the night. I'm alive! And I'm pissed off.
"Yes. We know that." Steve agreed.
"So does the world." Wanda interjected unnecessarily. Both parties shared a look of understanding and Mallory got the impression they were about to unload another bombshell. She really needed to stop answering the phone whenever one of them called.
"Then why am I here?"
"The video he sent to the press and the one he sent to us were identical. Apart from the length. Ours was longer."
Mallory's mouth felt dry. "What? What did he say?"
In response, Sam leant forward and stabbed play. Rumlow jerked into motion again. It felt like a jump scare on a bad horror movie; her chest felt tight when he suddenly moved. Mallory had watched this video endlessly on the news channels and on YouTube knowing there was still a couple of lines of dialogue she had memorized left for him to speak. She spoke along with him, her lips moving silently to these words.
"I used to fight for a cause. A wrong one, maybe, but a cause is still a cause. Something to get out of bed for in the morning. Apart from the love of a beautiful woman." Mallory eyes widened like they had the first time, when the picture had flashed up. Sure, he'd gone to the trouble of blurring it so nobody would know who it was but the news channels were looking. And Mallory knew it was her own face staring back at her.
"Now I don't fight for anybody but myself." Rumlow continued, "And I can promise you, I am dangerous. Ask Captain America." This shot was interspersed with scenes of each potentially world-ending event that had happened in the past few years; Mallory couldn't name them all but the Hulk was there, that alien that had come down in London a couple of years back and Loki. Now came the new footage, and Mallory had clenched her fist so tightly it felt the bones were going to break from the skin. "Do me a favour, Steve. Burton Star. Box 2364. Lilium candidum."
The video stopped. Mallory was left with more questions then answers, turning wordlessly to the Avengers who were watching her intently. Steve answered her unasked question.
"Burton Star is the name of a safety deposit box in Italy. Lilium candidum was the password to box 2364, a box which we found out later was owned by one J R. Cogburn-"
"Rooster Cogburn?" Seriously? Rumlow had bought a safety deposit box under the name of a character out of his favourite movie? It seemed an awfully ostentatious move for a damn spy. "What the hell-"
"This was inside." Steve passed two items along the table. The first was a plastic lily. The second caused her heart palpitations; a velvet ring box. Mallory's eyes were fixed on the thing until Nat stepped forward and gently touched her shoulder. Mallory jumped, gasped and then sighed.
"We've had it checked. The box, the ring… they're all clean."
Mallory opened the little, rattling velvet box. Inside was the engagement ring. A timeless piece, a simple silver band inset with a single diamond. Curiousity made her slide the ring on and admire it. It winked at her in the sun. He really did know her taste.
"Are you alright?" Nat asked. The ring felt heavy and awkward, the loose band slowly sliding forward and backwards with her movements. Mallory ignored her friend's probing and looked away.
"Why do you think he's doing this?" Wanda asked.
Sam shrugged. "A reminder of his love? Some twisted ploy to manipulate you? Take your pick."
"Has he contacted you?" Sam asked. Mallory shook her head.
"Are you sure?"
"I wouldn't lie."
Steve snorted tellingly. Mallory could see the gulf of space between them, a big metal arm of secrets that forced the two away from ever becoming friends. Sam and Wanda suddenly looked awkward but Mallory felt like she was being poked with a stick, baited into an argument with him. And as the way her life was going at the moment, she needed to yell at someone.
"If you've got something to say, Rogers, say it."
"You know my problem."
"I've told you, I have no idea where he is."
"Sure. 'Cos I believe that."
Mallory pushed her chair out from underneath her to stand. "Believe what you want. He didn't want to see you. He didn't want to disappoint you. He thought he could get better by himself and when he realized he couldn't he took off. If I'd have known-"
"You would've done nothing."
"I would've stopped him!" Mallory's voice was raised to a shout. Sam made a move to step between them but Wanda halted him, her eyebrows waggling, a clear sign for him to stay out of it. Natasha kept herself separate as well, knowing this argument had been brewing since Mallory had told Steve that James had been living under his nose after all this time of searching. "He was my friend, just as much as he was yours."
Steve made a low noise in the back of his throat, the tone indicating he clearly didn't believe her. The fact nobody had jumped in to defend her made Mallory feel like the big metal gulf was widening and she was standing alone from the entirety of the Avengers with nothing but the empty air to hold her. Mallory scooped the plastic lily and the empty ring box into her bag and looked at Nat.
"Are we done here?"
Nat nodded. "If you get any contact with him-"
"I'll call." She didn't say goodbye.
Liam was still at work by the time Mallory arrived home and she was glad. Aching and exhausted, a conversation with Liam wanting to know every single detail of being whisked away suddenly for a secret meeting would've just exhausted her even more. She read her mail and trashed the junk, then collapsed onto her bed in a pile of sore limbs and a pulsating migraine.
She'd moved back home the day after her mother had gone to rehab for alcoholism. In truth, Julie had suffered for a while in the throes of misery. The loss of her father had hit both of them hard but Julie had literally shattered, her heart failing with the extreme stress. She hadn't done irreparable damage to her liver quite yet but she was almost there. Mallory had worked with so many addicts her life as they passed through A &E but picturing her mother joining the ranks of the yellow eyed and scratching crowd caused her too much pain. So the agreement was set. Julie healed herself if Mallory promised to give her boyfriend a proper chance. And now she was stuck with Liam.
She was turning the ring idly as she stared at the ceiling. Rumlow had over-estimated the fatness of her fingers. She took the ring off and was thinking about to have for dinner when she noticed the lily.
It was identical to the one he'd bought her the last time. A single plastic lily in a plastic pot. Such an innocent gesture but it had been the undoing of them, since Mallory had knocked it off her bedside table and smashed the brittle plastic to tiny pieces, revealing the spying gadget within. An idea struck her. She picked the plastic up and threw it hard, against the wall.
Like the cousin she'd previously murdered, it shattered into a million tiny pieces. Amongst the multicoloured debris, she spotted a tiny bit of flimsy paper. Written on it in little, tight script was:
She thought the entire ordeal, the video, the code to the safe box had been far too obvious for him. He was a smart man and sending Rogers on a manhunt just to give her the engagement ring was an easy way to get a message across. And he was an ex-spy. Who knew who he was running with nowadays? She betted one of his new friends knew how to bypass a security network and scanners just to send a bit of paper.
Again, she'd been fooled by him and he was a thousand miles away. The thought made her teeth ache with fury as she ground her jaws against one another.
So what did soon mean? Soon he'd be here and they'd be living happy families once more? Soon he'd kidnap her and whisk her to whatever hovel he was living out of? Most likely, it was the latter.
Mallory stood and checked outside of the window. A black SUV was parked right across the street and just as she was watching, a couple of men exited the vehicle. Spending time around the STRIKE team, the Soldier and the Avengers afforded her some intuition; all were big, burly men of different ethnicities, like a coordinated street gang of black-dresssed thugs. She focused on who she guessed was the leader, holding a black bag in one hand. She analysed the way he walked, the iron straight posture and the harsh set of his shoulders. She watched him up until he disappeared from her window view, underneath to the entrance of her apartment building.
It took her a minute to climb the four-flights to her apartment. It'd take them 30 seconds. 30 seconds.
She leaped for her phone. Unlocked it. Pulled up her message list. She hovered between the top two; Nat or Liam? No contest. She quickly typed a message to her friend and sent. 17 seconds.
Now came the dilemma. Hop out of the window or fight with the baseball bat under her bed? She hovered on one foot, wasting precious seconds. Think, think, think. She couldn't, not with the racket of the clumping boots and the panic. She had five seconds left so she dived for the bat, in her underwear drawer. A white thong was tangled around the end. This was a stupid idea.
The door was kicked open and the men flooded in. James's week-long training kicked in and she swung, hard and fast. The clunk of his head was satisfying, and in the few seconds gap she'd created she ran for the door.
Someone had her hair. Dragged her back. She screamed but they were quicker, muffling her voice with thick fingers. He'd hooked his arms awkwardly around hers and the position made her drop the bat, loudly. She hoped it would wake downstairs and they'd help. She fought him every step of the way but there was five of them and one of her; she was forced on her knees.
She worked his thumb in her mouth and bit down on it, hard. Blood filled her mouth but she smiled triumphantly. If all else failed, at least she could take that tiny victory to her grave.
"Fuck!" The man let go off her, rubbing his thumb but his absence was not felt as there was still four of them holding her. Business-like, another produced the syringe from his pocket. Unlabelled but clearly a sedative, he forced her head aside and stabbed it in her neck.
She counted to ten then she was out.
Ew. Her mouth tasted vile like the dregs of whiskey in a glass. And burnt rubber, oddly. She was awake but she didn't want to open her eyes and be confronted with whatever shitstorm was waiting for her when she woke up. There were people standing around her and her hands were bound behind a chair, her neck aching from her head lolling forwards. She pretended she was still unconsciousness as she rolled it back loosely, fighting the urge to sigh.
"Mallory." A hand shook her this time. A rough accent, a voice she didn't recognize. Someone needed her to wake. "Mallory."
Where was she? Would could she smell? Bleach and metal. She screwed up her face instinctively at the mixture and felt something crust at her mouth; blood? Snot? Could've been anything. She doubted they'd tenderly wiped away the drool when she'd passed out from the sedative.
"I know you are awake." The voice said, firmer this time, "It'll make things easier if you open your eyes."
"Easier for who?"
Sighing, Mallory opened her eyes and instantly regretted it. Blinding light literally blinded her and she shut them again, blinking away the dark spots in her vision.
"There we go. Go tell him she's awake."
Footsteps grew distant and Mallory was left alone. Standing above her was a burly male, black with a shaved head and an impassive face. He produced a butterfly knife from his jeans.
"If I free you, will you hit me?"
"How much damage do you think I can do?" Her legs felt like jelly. She was still as weak as a baby from passing out. He was still cautious when he approached, swiping the connection of the zip tie in a quick stroke then jerking backwards. Mallory rolled her eyes and massaged her wrist, feeling perfectly fine where she was sitting. Someone came into the room.
"He said she has to come to him."
The black man rolled his eyes. "God. Do I have to carry you or can you walk?"
She wanted to stay seated but she stood unsteadily, "I can walk."
She didn't mind the black guy. He just wanted to do his job, no matter how illegal that job was. Mallory flirted with the idea of asking his name but knew if she named it, it would make it a lot harder to watch him eventually be arrested for his crimes. She had sent that text; people would be looking for her. Especially if she was where she believed she was.
They walked through high corridors and cold rooms. "So where are we?"
Jesus Christ. They'd crossed international borders. How had they managed that without her passport? Mallory shook her head. Was she really worrying about such a trivial thing when she'd been literally kidnapped? She wasn't frightened because she knew who had kidnapped her. He was a literal pain in the ass but he would never hurt her. You don't know that, a part of her warned, sounding suspiciously like James, you don't know Crossbones.
"Nigeria." She repeated, "Damn."
"I thought we were in Disneyland."
He shoot her a disgusted look, most likely confused to how calmly she was taking it. They stopped outside of a lone room at the end of the corridor and he opened the door for her, gesturing for her to go inside. He didn't follow her.
The room was a lonely one, save for a chair, a camera mounted on a tripod and a mattress on the floor. A man was sitting in the chair, dressed in a tight black t-shirt, tight cargo pants and oddly, a ski-mask. He looked up when she entered.
The voice softened the confusion. Deep and husky, it was a voice she had listened to for hours on end. Rumlow. Mallory stopped in the middle of the room and stood awkwardly, feeling a sudden urge to launch herself across the room and slap him.
"So you're not dead." She said, sounding angrier than she felt. Rumlow, behind that ski-mask, laughed.
"No. Not dead." He pointed to the bed, "Could you-?"
There was a first aid kit on the bed. Mallory started forwards and picked it up, raising an eyebrow at him.
"You want me to diagnose some yeast infection or something?"
He laughed again, "No. Uhm… I want your opinion. This might be a bit of a shock so you might want to sit down."
"I'm fine standing."
He stood and peeled off his shirt, careful of the ski-mask on his face. His toned torso was exactly how she remembered apart from the burns, of all degrees, decorating his chest and body like vicious pink tattoos. Some were still weeping, others covered in soiled bandages. Mallory's found her mouth was a little open and she shut it quickly; what the hell had she expected? He'd been trapped in a burning building. It was a surprise he could still walk.
He lifted the ski-mask off. The face was perhaps the least affected but it was still pretty bad; ordinary coloured skin but sagging, melted by the extreme heat. His right eye was drooping and red. Most of his hair had survived but was still thin, limp and missing in places. Patches of facial hair were also burnt off. She wished she'd sat down.
"I know. Awful isn't it?"
Over the initial shock, she stepped forward and said, "All things considered, it's not that bad."
"Rumlow, believe me. It really isn't all that bad," She took another step forwards, gripping the first aid kit, "Seriously. I've seen worse."
"I can feel it in some places but in others, I can't."
"It'll be the degree of burn. Third degree burns affect all layers of the skin tissue and destroy pain receptors. First and second don't." She finally reached up and lifted a hand, tilting his chin very gently towards the light, "How often are you changing your dressings?"
"You don't see me for almost a year and that's what you ask?"
She ignored him, "How often?"
"Twice a day on the body, once a day on the face."
"Up it to three." She guided him to the bed and sat him down, putting on the gloves in the first aid kit and beginning to remove the soiled dressings, "Especially in the arms. They're the worst affected. What'd your doctor prescribe for the pain?"
"Some high-dosage shit. I haven't been taking them."
Mallory sighed. She knew Rumlow didn't like admitting he was in pain. Getting him to take ibuprofen for a headache was a nightmare. "Antibiotic creams?"
"In there." He gestured to the first aid kit and watched as she got to work, "So how you been?"
She considered ignoring him out of spite. "Fine."
"I hear you're dating again. That's good. Shame he's such a pussy." Despite herself, Mallory rolled her eyes and was rubbing the cream a little harder than he deserved on the least burnt areas, "Ow."
"You been stalking me?"
"How romantic. Love it when someone does that, really shows how much they care about me." She finished lathering him in the cream and started checking for signs of infection, "Liam is not a pussy."
"Sure. He was jealous of Bucky."
"You knew he was living with me?" Surprised, she stopped ripping the bandages she was preparing and watched him, "Why didn't you tell anybody?"
"Not my problem." He said, then sighed, "Really. I don't care about that crap anymore. He's HYDRA's problem, not mine. And I didn't want to get you in trouble."
"How honourable." She started wrapping the bandages carefully, "Liam wasn't jealous of James."
"Sure. Show me a hot blooded male who isn't jealous watching his girlfriend living with an attractive guy with a tragic back story and I'll start knitting for a living." He snorted.
"You really think James is attractive? God. If you're gay, just tell me. It'll be another lie to add to the pile." Mallory said, smirking.
She wasn't bitter, Mallory found herself realizing. She genuinely did not feel any type of bitterness towards him at all. She was so tired of being angry at him that she'd forgotten just how easy it was to be around him.
"But seriously Mal, your ex? Really? Did it have to be him?"
"Are you jealous?"
"Course I'm jealous. I still love you, you know"
Mallory ignored his last statement, taping up his first set of bandages before answering, "You've got no right to be jealous."
"I think I'd rather you start dating the Soldier than that asshole."
"It'd be difficult to date someone who isn't even there anymore." She thought sadly to the letter he'd written her when he'd left. I will see you again. That's a promise.
She wrapped his second set before answering, "Yeah he left."
In the silence that descended, Rumlow watched her with unreadable hazel eyes as she finished taping his second set and was pulling off her gloves.
"I'm sorry." He said, and she believed he was being genuine, "I know he was your friend."
"He needed to leave. For him. It's sad that he's gone but… I respect his decision, y'know?"
The mood changed. Mallory watched as Rumlow redressed and moved around, making sure his bandages wouldn't come undone or fall off with movement. When they didn't, he sat back down on the bed and grasped her hands.
"I know you've moved on and that's good. I can't offer you anything beyond a life of running away from everybody but… if you still love me and there's still a chance… I'd give up all of this-" He gestured to the base, "-for you. As far as I'm concerned you're the only thing that matters."
Mallory was silent. She knew that with all of the water under the bridge, the correct response was to jerk away from him, slap his ruined face and say fuck no take me home you kidnapping bastard! But she was silent a beat too long. There was definite temptation there. The picture perfect idea of an unhealthy love, her and Rumlow hand in hand, running against the world, fucking in cheap hotel rooms and patching each other up in abandoned warehouses. It was worse than her dynamic with Liam but it would be something, something passionate and alive and exciting, a thunderbolt to the bland blue sky that Liam wanted for their future. And Rumlow was better in bed than him.
But living like that was no life. Despite all of her changes, she was still a good person. She carefully pulled her hands away from his and looked up at him through soft eyes.
"I'm sorry." Her voice was hoarse, apologetic, "I can't."
He nodded, still smiling. "I can't say I'm not surprised. But a guy's gotta offer, right? I guess we can charter a plane home."
Mallory smiled. At that moment, the door burst open and the black guy who escorted her here entered. He bent to Rumlow good ear and whispered something and the change in Rumlow's face was slight terrifying; the look of good faith and happiness faded into absolute furious rage. The black guy stood, was dismissed and the silent echo of the door shutting was all Mallory could hear.
"Did you alert the Avengers to the fact we took you?"
A/N: Yay! First chapter uploaded! Just to reiterate my point, this story is a sequel. It's on my profile if you're interested.
This story is going to be the multi-chaptered continuation of Mallory's story whilst following the Civil War storyline BUT be prepared; I will be changing some things I didn't like from the movie.
They will only be minor changes to certain things that really irritated me. It's not like I'm not going to completely rewrite the ending and have it revealed that actually the Winter Soldier is a cover story and Bucky's actually a famous cabaret dancer in France or something. I'm not saying I'm better than the Russos because I still think the movie was fantastic but there was a few elements of it that made me go 'oh hell no!' and think about how I was going to change it whilst I was in the theatre. It'll basically be some dialogue changes and a few actions by certain characters that will be changed.
Okay, I'm done. I hope you enjoyed reading this chapter and I hope you'll stick around! Thank you all so much! Much love! xx