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Blood in the Snow

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*

It is April 27th 1992, and the whole country is celebrating.

My father most of all.

Now that the regime has fallen and he is a Baron again.

He drives Nadia and I to our ancestral home.

It looks like a palace, but there has been fighting here too.

My sister says the house is like a shell that father is

trying to crawl back into.

 

It is 1929 and I’m buying gum from the newsstand. A small kid next to me asks for the latest of The Funnies. I’ve seen him around the block, but he always keeps himself to himself. Romano and DeLuca see him and start giving him grief. I step in because I feel sorry for the kid. I take them both on myself, socking DeLuca in the jaw and giving Romano a kick his grandchildren will feel. The kid thanks me, and says his name is Steve.

 

It is 2011, and Heike and I are watching the television as Captain America gives his first interview after being unfrozen from the ice.

He looks stunned by all the camera flashes blinding him.

Heike says this is American propaganda meant to lull us into a false sense of security, and I can’t help but agree.

He is the very embodiment of Nietzche’s Ubermensch and the culmination of years of HYDRA research.

And he looks absolutely terrified.

 

It is 1941 and Steve and I are at an art class when we hear the news. A man busts into the room saying that America has joined the war. We all put our pencils down. A few months later, I pick up a sniper rifle for the first time.

I am twelve years old when I pick up a gun for the first time.

The metal is freezing and heavy in my hand, but I don’t let it drop.

My father and his men are watching me, smoking black market cigars as snow catches in their beards.

I want to make him proud.

I don’t expect the deafening sound, or the force of it which makes me stumble and fall onto my back.

It is 1990, and the men are laughing at me.

 

(I am falling)

 

My legs are shaking as I climb the stairs. It is 1930 and I’m meeting Gina DeMarco on the roof of our apartment building. She is doing laundry, and pulls me behind the sheets hanging in the sky over Brooklyn. I tell Steve about it later, but not that I wish it had been him that I’d kissed.

 

It is 1996 and I am kneeling on the floor of an apartment in Paris.

Before me is man whose name I do not know.

My hands grip his hips as I take him in my mouth.

Afterwards, we lie together in his bed and he strokes my hair.

I have never felt so safe.

 

It is 1932 and I am sixteen. I am riding back from Rockaway Beach in the back of a freezer truck. My best friend in the whole world is sitting next to me as we freeze our butts off. We clutch hotdogs which were cold before we even got in the truck, but it’s worth it. Steve’s ragging on me for spending my last three dollars trying to win a stuffed bear for a red head named Dot.

 

It is 2005, and I am meeting Heike for the first time.

Her brother Stepan introduces us.

She’s beautiful, but when I flirt with her she isn’t impressed by my name or my money.

She’s intelligent and well-educated and we talk for hours about politics, philosophy, art.

We don’t go home together that night, but we do when we meet again several months later.

In all that time, I haven’t stopped thinking about her for a moment.

I wonder if this is what falling

in love feels like.

 

(There is blood in the snow)

 

It is 1932 and I am with Steve on Rockaway Beach. We’re walking on the pier and I tell him I’m glad that he came out with me today. Steve says he was only holding me back when I was coming onto that girl. I tell him that he’s being an idiot, and it’s not like I was in love with her. Steve asks if I’ve ever been in love, and I don’t know how to answer because I can’t tell him the truth. I ask him if he’s ever been in love, and he just smiles at me in that gentle way that makes my heart melt. I climb up onto the rail of the pier and look out over the water. Steve tells me that now I’m the one being an idiot, and that I’ll fall in. I tell him not to be such a worrywart, and he tells me that I’m the one always worrying about him getting into fights. I tell him that of course I’m gonna worry, because he’s my best guy. He pulls at my shirt and tells me to get down from the rail. I lose my balance and he half-catches me before we both fall to the floor. I land on top of him and we are both breathing heavily, and without thinking I lean down and kiss him. It only lasts a second, and when I pull back, I have never been so afraid in my life.

 

It is 2009 and I am waiting for my son to be born and I have never been so afraid in my life.

When I am finally called into the room, and I hold Carl for the first time, I think:

this is what love feels like.

Twelve years later, I am falling

It is 1988 and I am watching as my sister Nadia calls father decadent and corrupt.

At fifteen, she is five years older than me and already knows her own mind.

My awe turns to fear as father hits her across the face, and I

see her falling.

It is 1944, and I am falling

It is April 1st 1999 and I turn on the news and learn that the US has bombed Novi Grad.

When I call Nadia, she doesn’t pick up.

 

(I am staring at where my hand should be)

 

A year ago, I am in Austria tapping my fingers against the desk.

Nadia tells me over the phone that I have no idea of how bad things are in Sokovia.

She tells me that father’s business, my business, is only making things worse.

I call her a hypocrite,

because father pays for her artistic lifestyle and her chic apartment in Novi Grad.

She calls me a mobster and a thug, and tells me that people are suffering.

Then she tells me that this is not the way to create a better future for our country.

I hang up the phone.

This is the last time I will ever speak to my sister.

 

It is 1941 and I want to have a good time so I fix a double date for me and Steve. This way, I have an excuse to be with him on my last night in the city. The Stark Expo is like seeing the future happening in front of my eyes, until Howard Stark’s hover car craps out. I get mad at Steve for trying to join up again, because war isn’t a goddamn back-alley fight, and he’s going to get himself killed. But he doesn’t listen to me, and turns away. So, I get the drunkest I’ve ever been, and end up in bed with both girls. I realise for the first time that I might die in Europe, and even if I do come back I won’t be the same.

 

It is 1995, and I am watching a woman called Valentina move towards me like a snake.

Earlier that evening, father told me that her and Von Strucker were HYDRA.

He says it is best to keep on their good side,

because who knows which way the world will turn?

I soon learn that Von Strucker likes to watch,

and he does so sat in a chair next to the bed,

peering at me through his eyeglass.

 

(Where my hand should be and there is only metal)

 

In 1992, there is a man kneeling in the snow.

He is crying.

I am holding a gun to his head, and my hands are shaking.

My father says that he is a traitor,

My father says he has betrayed our family,

But I can’t pull the trigger.

My father asks me if I love my family,

I say yes.

My father says this man has hurt our family.

My father says this man tried to hurt Nadia.

My hands are shaking,

and when I pull the trigger it’s like they belong to someone else.

I watch as blood splatters the snow,

staining it red.

 I am fourteen years old.

 

It is 1931, and I am fourteen years old. Steve and I ride the Cyclone on Coney Island. Rogers throws up during the ride and it hits the people behind us. It is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

Nine years later, I am falling

It is April 1st, 1999. I am twenty-one years old, and I am in our villa on Ibiza.

There is cocaine under my fingernails and there are strangers in my bed.

I’m starting to wonder if this is all there is, and what is the point of anything.

 

I am twenty-four years old, sitting on the end of Pier 6 watching the sun go down in 1941. I’m wondering if I should just marry some girl and settle down, start a life. But I’ve never even left the city, and I’m starting to wonder if this is all there is.

 

It is April 1999, and father and I return home for my sister’s funeral.

There are so many funerals these days.

 

It is 1936, and Steve has just buried him mom. He’s got no family left now. But he’s got me, always.

To the end of the line.

 

It is the start of the new millennium,

and it feels like for the first time in my life,

I have a purpose.

I am training,

I am useful,

I serve the nation.

When they promote me,

it’s not because of my name,

but because I am the best at what I do.

I work hard,

all day,

every day,

and when I lay down to sleep,

I am exhausted.

 

It is 1941 and I’m training at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin. This is the coldest I have ever been, but it’s a warm summer’s day compared to winters in Russia. But by then, I won’t be able to feel anything.

Four years later, it is winter and I am falling

 

It is 2005, and I am lying in bed with Heike.

She is asleep in my arms,

and I am starting to realise what people can mean to one another.

I want to give her the ring that belonged to my mother and ask her to marry me,

but I am afraid that she will say no.

She makes me want to be a good man,

but I do not think I will ever be good enough for her.

 

It is 1944 and I am hanging off a rail on the side of a speeding train.

Steve begs me to hold on,

but the rail snaps

and

I

am

falling

 

Ten years later, I am listening to Heike’s last voice message.

She says that I should have seen Carl’s little face, and that she’s going to bed and that she loves me.

I delete the message because I know that I am about to see them both again.

I hear footsteps crunch in the snow behind me, but I do not turn around.

It is King T’Challa, come to avenge the death of his father.

He is a dutiful son.

 

I’ve just turned fifteen and pa says I should focus on running track and making the wrestling team. He says it’ll make a man of me, and why am I still hanging out with that Rodgers kid when all we do is draw goddamn cartoons together? He says if I don’t watch out, I’ll go soft. Turn into a nancy. I don’t tell him that when I lie awake at night I think about the other boys from the team showering after practice. I don’t tell anyone. Not even Steve.

Especially not Steve.

 

It is 1993, and I am fifteen.

My father is telling me that he must travel to renew his business connections.

He takes me with him so that I can learn the family business.

We go to Beijing,

Seoul,

Tokyo,

Shanghai,

Bangkok

and finally

to Madripoor.

He takes me to bars, and buys me drinks.

He tells me that I am a man now, but I don’t feel like one.

Not even when he brings me to the house of a woman named Selby, an old flame of his.

She says that her girls will take care of me, and I let them

lead me away.

 

It is 1920, and I am waiting in the stairwell with my little sister while ma gives birth to my brother. Pa’s pacing, tapping a packet of unopened cigars against his hand. He won’t open them until he hears the baby’s first cry and knows that his family is safe.

 

It is a summer’s night in 2010, and I am walking in the garden rocking my son to sleep.

He is one year old, and he is growing so fast.

Heike and I can barely keep up with him.

It makes me feel old and tired, even though I am only thirty-two.

But the sky is clear tonight and when I look up,

I can see the stars.

 

It is 1944, and I take another swig of my beer and tell Steve that the others are all idiots. Steve asks, how about me? Am I ready to follow Captain America into the jaws of death? I tell him hell no, but a fellow guy from Brooklyn who was too dumb not to run away from a fight?

I’d follow him anywhere.

Then I am falling, and then there is blood in the snow

 

(and I think, I am no longer human)

 

It is 2016, and I am interrogating a man called Vasily Karpov.

I ask him who was responsible for the murder of Howard and Maria Stark in 1991.

The man doesn’t answer,

so I leave him hanging upside down with his head in a sink slowly filling with water.

I don’t feel bad about it because he is HYDRA scum.

I don’t really feel anything anymore.

There is only the mission.

 

(I am no longer human, there are men around me writing notes)

 

It is 1989, and I am playing chess with my father.

He beats me almost every time,

but this teaches me never to go easy on my opponent.

I read books on strategy, and eventually I start winning.

The first time I win a game, he shakes my hand solemnly.

 

(writing notes and I don’t understand what they’re saying)

 

It is 2016, and I read the words in the Winter Soldier book over and over.

I must commit them to memory,

and my inflection must be

perfect Russian.

The maid knocks on the door of the hotel room, bringing me my breakfast.

I do not let her in, because there is a bomb in the closet and the body of in the bathtub.

 

(don’t understand what they’re saying. Soon I will understand)

 

It is April 1999, and Novi Grad is in ruins and people are protesting against the government.

They were supposed to protect them when America bombed the city, why didn’t they protect them?

There are riots and looting in the capital and my father says that we should leave the country again.

I call him a coward for wanting to run away.

He points a gun at me, and for a moment I think he’s really going to shoot me.

He says never to insult him like that, because he loves his country and there are tears in his eyes.

I think Nadia understood our family better than any of us.

 

(Soon I will understand, and I will forget everything)

 

It is May 6th, 2015 and my son is pointing out the car window at Iron Man soaring across the sky in a suit of red and gold.

Carl says he is like a space man and he makes zoom! zoom! noises, pretending to fly.

Heike is worried about the fighting in the city,

but I tell her that she and our son will be safe with my father in our house in the countryside.

I do not yet know

that in just a few hours rock will rain down from the sky like stars.

I do not yet know

that I will be thousands of feet in the sky, fighting in the streets of what was once my city.

I do not yet know

that it will take me two days to find their bodies.

I do not yet know

that when I finally find them my father will still be holding my wife and son in his arms.

I do not yet know

that my country will be destroyed, and that my world will be

shattered.

 

(I will forget everything, and become nothing)

 

It is 2016 and I am disguised as another man when I meet James Barnes for the first time.

As I take away his free will, I think that everything is going according to plan.

I am not pleased about this.

I am not anything.

(longing)

(rusted)

(seventeen)

(daybreak)

(furnace)

(nine)

(benign)

(homecoming)

(one)

(freight car)

There is only the mission.

*