My Favorite Dreams of You Still Wash Ashore

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Things are coming back faster now. Everything is pain and cold and blood and death. During the war, after it, and he wakes up screaming more often than not. Steve helps when he can, Sam gives him someone to confide in, but it doesn't make any difference. He's going to remember everything, apparently, whether he likes it or not.

He spends more time on the roof, staring out. It's a comfortable place to be by himself, which is what he prefers. Even if Barton or Natalia happen to join him, they never expect him to say anything. He sees more of both of them now, whether on a mission or not. He doesn't know what she told Hawkeye about their conversation, if she told him the whole truth, but it's none of his business. He appreciates the companionship.

When they are on a mission, they joke more with him. Steve did, before, but it was because he was remembering missions with Bucky. This seems more natural, though he feels guilty thinking that way. He enjoys the camaraderie, enjoys the unexpected feeling of belonging. He supposes that is what the Avengers are all about – giving some very ... unique people a place to be normal.

He still talks to Sam regularly, still spends time just being with Steve, but he's starting to think it's more than just going through the motions. It's less like an act he's trying to maintain. He feels almost comfortable in his own skin sometimes, which is a new (and pleasant) experience. Being part of the team, his mind no longer quite so much of a jumble, does great things. He's pleased to have come here.

Intermixed with the nightmares, the killing, comes something else, something wholly unexpected. He starts to remember feeling, well, human before. He can't understand why he feels so peaceful remembering being in some cramped concrete room until he realizes he's not alone in there. There was someone else, someone who was his... friend before. It's a surprise, to say the least. He remembers being kept on a pretty short leash, and entertaining guests was certainly not protocol.

He thinks maybe he is just confused, that he's misplacing some memory. Maybe it was in a bunker during the war – he certainly spent time in that kind of place. But what he recalls from the war doesn't mesh with this. He's almost positive that his left arm was gone, replaced by metal during these memories. Why would someone befriend him? He was a weapon, carefully maintained. There wasn't any reason why his handlers would send someone to him, or come themselves. It doesn't make sense.

After a few days of this, he is convinced his companion was female. He doesn't tell anyone. A few more and he realizes he was unfrozen for a while and was used in some instructional capacity. There were young women with whom he fought, but never without any lasting damage. The woman was one of his students, though close to his age. Well, she was a young adult, at any rate; his own age isn't something easily identifiable. He remembers teaching her hand-to-hand combat, though she was already skilled. She could beat him, sometimes.

She had red hair. Natalia has red hair, so he thinks perhaps he is projecting her. Perhaps he is uncomfortable with their closeness (with anyone's closeness), and is seeking to explain it in some way. But soon becomes certain that the girl is real. Was real. He's also sure he was the Soldier at the time because he can remember being careful with his metal hand when he fought with the girls. Not that it is any more likely to have occurred during another part of his life, teaching others to fight. There were quite a few of them, the young women, but they are hazy, indistinguishable. He remembers the redhead better every day, though definite ideas on what she looked or sounded like are difficult to grasp.

Sometimes she looks different, no longer redheaded. He's at first perplexed by the thought that another young woman was part of his life as the Soldier, but then realizes it is the same girl, in disguise. Sometimes they aren't in the training facility anymore, working in the field instead. He remembers being uncharacteristically nervous during these assignments. Perhaps he worried that their handlers would discover how close they were. He can't imagine it being allowed, him having a partner like that.

If Steve notices his change in behavior, he doesn't mention it. They go on missions much as before, most of his assignments still involving close work with Natalia or Barton. The others don't call her Natalia, but he can't think of anything that fits her quite so well. She gives a little smile when he says it, similar to the one she uses when Steve calls her Nat or Barton calls her Tasha, but not quite the same. Sometimes she speaks Russian to him, and he's always surprised by how fluent he is in the language. He has no memories of learning it.

Sam usually prods him to talk about what he's remembering, but he can't bring himself to mention the girl. Not until he can explain her presence in his life. Maybe it's his pride and he doesn't want to admit to something that could be misconstrued. He is fond of Natalia, certainly, but no more so than he is of Steve or Sam. All of them have made an effort to make him feel welcome, and like a person, and he appreciates that. The fact that she is female shouldn't matter.

Steve remembers him as a ladies' man. He isn't sure that was an accurate assessment of his actions before the war. He remembers wanting to find someone for Steve, since Steve was so generally in need of something to lighten his mood. Making him have to work a little harder to interest two girls in hanging out with him and his buddy (who often wasn't around to meet her), but it was never particularly serious. As far as he can remember.

So admitting to someone that he apparently taught over a dozen young women while he was supposed to have been a weapon makes him uncomfortable. It seems like it would add to a myth about him of which he is already less than fond. After everything else that he knows happened to him during the last seventy years, it hardly seems real. He was training them to kill, which was his area of expertise, but it's still incongruous with the rest of what he did.

His metal fingers run gently down the length of her back, and she shivers awake, turning to lean against him. "It's time to go," he says apologetically, in Russian, appreciating her warmth.

She sighs heavily, then slips out of bed. "Alright, get ready, comrade."

They are in a hotel room, a nice one, and he stretches before getting to his feet and dressing. They don't speak, just prepare themselves to finish the job they were sent here to do. He's comfortable in the silence, in her presence. It's dark outside, and they use the window to climb to the target's room. Things are going smoothly until they're not, and then they have to fight their way out. She uses a move that always works on him when they practice, wrapping her legs around her assailant's neck and bringing him down. Then she looks at him with a grin on her face before they make a run for it.

He wakes with a gasp, sitting up abruptly and coughing. If that was real... It was Natalia, there is no doubt in his mind. He doesn't know if she's kept this from him, or if she doesn't know, but it was her. He knew her, when she was younger, when she worked for the Red Room. They'd unfrozen him to be one of her instructors, and he supposes that is how he knew the name of her friend.

Leaning forward, he puts his head in his hands and closes his eyes, trying to decide what to do. If he wants to question her about it (he does), he will have to be careful. She's a consummate liar and their recent closeness could be used to explain why he would dream of her face on another woman's body. But it was her, he's sure of it; his dreams have been far too real lately to be fabrications. He's pretty sure of it, anyway. Possibly not as sure of himself as he had been about Steve, but close. No one else uses that move, no one else smiles with that kind of confidence.

The memory could be decades old, he chastises himself. It could have happened any time after 1950. But the arm, the hand in the dream... It was a recent model. Not the original, certainly, that one was heavier, less dexterous. The woman he's been remembering – she wasn't brought to mind because he feels close to people again. She came back into his memories because he's been seeing her in person.

Well, it seems likely, anyway.

Getting out of bed and dressed gives him something to do, though his fingers tremble with nervousness (the real ones). The sun is barely rising, but Steve's already out for his morning jog. He is relieved not to have to see anyone as he makes his way up to the roof. It's empty, which isn't a surprise. He doesn't think the others usually get up this early. Settling down in his usual spot, he considers how best to approach Natalia about what he's remembered. And what he wants to come from that conversation.

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