1) This fic is a canon-divergent AU. Some elements from the canon storylines will still have taken place/be present, others will not (so, please, no one bombard me with "but shouldn't 'this' have happened?" I love you, but no, because fanfiction). There may also be some merging of comic and cinema canon in regard to background events and character histories.
2) Chapter lengths will vary.
3) I deliberately use an English spelling of the Russian form of Nat's name that has a Y instead of an I.
4) The Russian word спасение has more than one English translation, but for the purpose of continuity between summary & content, I chose to translate it as salvation.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or any affiliated characters/canon components.
SPECIAL THANKS to xxDustNight88 for giving me wonderful prompts to help this plunnie along.
* Golden retriever comment in reference to a tumblr post about the dangers of looking sad around Steve Rogers.
спасение [English phonetic pronunciation: spaseniye]
"You lied to me."
Nat arched a brow at Steve's simplistic view of the situation. Turning her attention to the jet's other passenger, she observed the Winter Soldier for a silent moment before looking at Steve, once more. James, well Bucky as he preferred to be called, was staring out the window, watching the chilled landscape of Siberia grow small and distant beneath them. She knew his hearing was good—that was a problem with super-soldiers, excellent sensory perception—so she kept her voice low enough that from this distance, he'd not make out her words even if he could hear that a discussion was occurring.
She arched a brow, that secretive half-grin Captain America was by now so accustomed to curving her lips. "Actually, no, I didn't. I never said I didn't know him. All I really told you was that I knew the Winter Soldier was more than a myth, and that I'd tried to find him—and failed—before. And then, I advised you not to pull on that thread, but you never questioned how I would know that you wouldn't like what you found. If you'd paid attention, you'd have looked deeper into everything I said. Though, seems like you haven't learned as much from me as Fury would've hoped by now."
She knew this was bound to happen with the three of them working together like this; she was bound to slip up. And at some point, Steve was going to notice the way she couldn't seem to stop herself from watching James Buchanan Barnes from the corner of her eye. Not like he was her enemy, but like he was her . . . .
And when Steve had asked directly, well, he'd always been such a good friend—such a good guy in general, damn him—that she felt he at least deserved for her to admit she and James had something of a shared history. Being friends with Steve Rogers was like living with a giant, adorable golden retriever. So often she wanted to tell him to go away, but those big soulful eyes almost forced her to talk. She'd been through countless torturous interrogations and never cracked, but one sorrowful expression from Captain America, and she was saying things she knew she probably shouldn't.
She schooled her features, waiting for his response.
Scowling, Steve shook his head. "But . . . when you said you'd tried finding him, you made it sound like that was nothing more than wanting to get payback for shooting you."
So much for schooling her features. Nat smirked. "No. You heard it the way you wanted to. I'm a specially trained assassin who's been an agent for both sides. You really think a little something like getting shot on a mission is enough to make me go out of my way to search for someone? He caught me by surprise, so that could've just as easily been a kill-shot. That it wasn't was deliberate."
Glancing out the nearest window, Steve couldn't help but laugh at himself. "So this history between you two . . . I take it you were close?"
"Now you're catching on."
He shrugged. "Well, given the point you just made—something I probably should've picked up on, I guess—now it makes sense why you were so upset when I told you who shot Fury."
"I hadn't come across him in so long, and I had no way of knowing who he was to you. Fury took me in, gave me the benefit of the doubt, even knowing my past." Her brows pinched together, a faraway look in her green eyes as she spoke. "That James—that Bucky—was the one who shot him was a lot to handle so unexpectedly."
Steve sighed, turning his head to look at Bucky. The dark-haired man was still looking out the window, but Steve could tell by his expression that his friend was painfully cognizant that the hushed discussion was about him.
Nat appeared troubled, and she usually hid those things, so he'd known it must be serious. Bucky, though, he seemed like his old self . . . or, at least, that near-old-Bucky he'd been since escaping HYDRA. Did that mean . . . ?
"Are you going to tell him?"
A surprised expression flashed across her face, so fast he caught just a hint of it, as she snapped her gaze up to lock on his. Only the space of a heartbeat passed before she got her reaction under control, however, and shook her head.
"Why not?" Steve couldn't help that his shoulders sagged at her response. Hell, if he'd had a second chance with Peggy, the whole world wouldn't have kept him from trying.
"To say it's complicated would be an understatement," she said with a thoughtful frown.
His brows pinching together, Steve chuckled at that.
"But . . . he said he remembers what he did on his missions as the Soldier, right?"
Swallowing hard, she dropped her gaze to her hands, her fingers clasped together and twisting in her lap. Fidgeting was unlike her, but she thought maybe she should've suspected that time in close quarters with James would eventually stir up her old feelings. She was having enough trouble with learning about the KGB's connections to HYDRA during her time with them practically on the heels of discovering just how embedded the organization had been within SHIELD made it seem like she couldn't escape them.
"And he remembers things from his life from before HYDRA? Details about you? About your friendship?"
Steve tipped back his head, staring up a the ceiling of the jet. "Yeah." He had an idea where she was going with this.
"That would be exactly why I won't." The smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth just then was small and sad. "All his other memories, he's managed to reclaim on his own. If he can't remember me without assistance, then . . . maybe it's better if he doesn't remember, at all. Some things just aren't meant to be, Rogers."
Nodding, Steve sat back in his seat. He let the conversation die on that point; he couldn't say he didn't get it, because he did understand. Though it would be extremely un-Nat-like for her to admit to it, filling Bucky in on her history with him to have him still not remember, or worse, to reject their past, would hurt like hell.
Nat was one of the strongest people he'd ever known, but even she would have a tough time with a pain that cut that deep.
Despite the speed at which the aircraft was traveling, it still felt like an eternity with that silence hanging over them. Steve was well aware Bucky wanted to ask him what that conversation had been about, exactly, yet he was equally aware that the man wouldn't ask, because part of him was afraid to find out. Nat stared off, rather pointedly in random directions, each time she pivoted her attention, she appeared to deliberately avoid both him and Bucky.
He just had to open his big, stupid mouth. Steve puffed out his cheeks as he exhaled. If he'd only kept his curiosity to himself, the quiet trip back to the States wouldn't have become thick with this unpleasant, weighty tension that now seemed to press on all three of them.
Then, the jet lurched. Just a little, barely even a ripple of motion, but enough that they felt it . . . that it alerted them to a sudden, but subtle, change in course.
Out of an instinct she believed long forgotten, her gaze sought Bucky's. His blue eyes were already fixed in her direction. Giving each other a barely perceptible nod, they were both out of their seats and crossing to the cockpit without a word. Steve knew better than to question either of them as he followed suit. Even without that split-second of silent communication between them, his own training told him to investigate.
"Shit," Nat said in a hissing breath at the sight of the man slumped over the controls.
The pilot was dead . . . not just dead . . . . The foamy substance dripping from one corner of his mouth told them all they needed to know. Bucky uttered a sound that was almost a growl under his breath as he unstrapped the body from the chair and pulled it free. Steve hurried to claim the seat while Bucky dragged the pilot off to one side.
Steve frowned as he fought with the jet's controls. They weren't responding, but that was when he remembered there was a tech aspect here that was beyond his skillset. "Nat, check the computer. I think the autopilot's compromised."
She was already ahead of him, but the craft's computer, as well, was unresponsive. "I'm trying, but the system's locked down. And it looks like the autopilot's locked on course."
His shoulders slumping, Bucky stepped up beside her. "On course to where?"
"Middle of No," she said, frowning as she tried to access the computer, once more.
Bucky pursed his lips in thought as he stared at the screen. Their current location, their trajectory, the distance until they reached their destination . . . . He had a really bad feeling.
"Cute, but I'm pretty sure it's not taking us to the middle of nowhere. I think I remember a base in that area."
She squeezed her eyes shut as she shook her head. "When you say base, you mean—?"
"HYDRA," Steve said, a sour tone edging his voice. "He means HYDRA."
Nat turned her attention to Bucky, an awful sense of dread and suspicion twisting in the pit of her stomach. "They're not after just one of us, are they?"
He swallowed hard, his gaze out the windshield. "No. This was planned. The two of us in the same place at the same time? They're trying to get us both back."
The responding alarm in her face galvanized Steve. Shaking his head, he climbed out of the pilot's chair. "Then we get out of here."
"The chutes are probably gone, a precaution in case we figured out what they were up to before we landed."
Steve nodded. "So we wait 'til the jet starts its descent. But I'm not letting them get their hands on you, again." He looked from her to Bucky. "Either of you."
"You know what this means?" Nat asked, her attention drifting aimlessly, now. "It's happening, again. HYDRA's got people on the inside, again."
"Not so sure they ever really left," Bucky said, scowling.
He thought he could sense their reluctance. Steve couldn't say he understood what they were really feeling in this moment, but he did know that they'd both thought they were finished with all that. They both thought they'd finally be able to stop running and hiding long enough to have an actual life.
"I know neither of you really wants to go on the run, again, but if you go back, we all know you might not get away from them, this time. Running, now, might be the only way for you to live."
Nat's brow furrowed as she looked at Steve. "What about you?"
He smirked. This was a terrible idea, but fighting their way out of a HYDRA base that was expecting them was an even worse one. "I did say we would get out of here, right?"
"Wait, wait." Bucky clamped his hand over his friend's shoulder. "Steve, you know you don't have to do this."
Steve's eyebrows pinched together as he let out a quiet, resigned laugh. "Yes, I do."
Sighing, Nat turned to face them, her hands propped on her hips. Super-soldiers, both of them, they'd have no problem getting out of the craft. "Okay, boys, then we better prep for one hell of a jump."
She felt herself hoisted up. Was her head being pillowed on something? She remembered Steve and Bucky wrenching the jet's door clean off—sure, it would alert those at the base the moment the craft came into view, but it wasn't like any of them would be sticking round to close the door behind them.
It was strangely almost peaceful, she thought she could even smell the fresh air of the wooded grounds they'd spotted beneath them as they jumped.
That peacefulness ended abruptly with a light slap to her cheek.
Grumbling at the sound of Steve's voice, she opened her eyes. Yet, it was Bucky's face she found staring down at her. She realized belatedly that he'd, indeed, shifted her against the ground to her pillow her head on his leg.
But she'd bet money Steve was the one who'd slapped her.
Captain America exhaled sharply, nodding as she shifted her gaze to focus on him, hunkered down beside Bucky. "Good. Sorry about that slap, the fall knocked you out for a sec."
Bucky lifted his head, scanning their surroundings. "We need to move. They programmed the jet's course, once it lands they're going to have a pretty good idea where to search for us."
Steve climbed to his feet and offered Nat a hand up.
"Well," she said as she slid her fingers into his and let him pull her to stand—her head was a bit woozy, after all, "it might be the middle of nowhere, but this isn't my first rodeo. C'mon, it's not what anyone would call close, but I've got a place we can lay low for a day or two and figure out our next move."
Sighing, Bucky stood, as well. He looked off in the direction of the jet. This was bad. He turned his attention to Nat and Steve. Already they'd started off.
He fell into step behind them, his gaze landing on the back of her head. There had been some flicker in her eyes when she'd first opened them and stared up at him. He couldn't be sure exactly what it was—luck was on their side in that it was night time, so tracking them now would be difficult, but the lack of illumination wasn't ideal for in-depth scrutinizing of facial expressions, or eye flickers.
Something about that look, though, made him wonder. He'd thought he was imagining the slips of memory he seemed to have about her. Just some pretty imagining to keep him from dying inside, entirely, whenever he was at the mercy of his programming.
But that flicker in her gaze, that hushed conversation with Steve, caused him to consider that maybe those slips weren't his imagination, after all.