“This is the memorial?”
“Yes. Constructed from the rubble left of Novi Grad.”
It doesn’t feel like enough. There’s a feeling of anger, however small, that buds within you at the sight of the memorial; standing alone in a barren clearing of stone where a thriving metropolis had been leveled. Small as Sokovia may have been, to know that its destruction was the direct result of pride gave you a newfound understanding of Zemo and his motivations. You couldn’t understand the severity of his pain, but knowing that you would never have the chance, having lost so much without your knowledge, made the loss cut even deeper.
You look from the Baron to the memorial, and he offers you a nod, prompting you to take a hesitant step closer.
Whispers of panic and terror already whistle on the wind as you approach. You’re nervous. You don’t know if you could will your newfound powers to cooperate, but you find your hand reaching towards the memorial anyway. It’s like something is beckoning you forward, pained memories longing to be heard and experienced. When you enter a person’s mind, it’s like you can feel a door being opened for you. The memorial feels similar, but more akin to a doorway stripped of its hinges, laying in wait for you to see what lies beyond the threshold.
You press a bare hand to the cool stone, and close your eyes, jolting as you’re suddenly flooded with memories.
There’s no order. No definite beginning or end to the chaos that flashes through your mind. You see flashes of what once was, the progression of a country in development, people walking in the streets, children playing, hundreds of festivals passing by in only a second.
Then you see a church of stone, dilapidated in the center of a city that has evolved around it.
“Did you know this church is in the exact center of the city? The elders decreed it so that everyone could be equally close to God.”
The voice feels wrong, sloped with mechanical whirs and hums. It leaves a chill that’s unshakable as the memories continue to roll before you. You see the briefest images of yourself, both before and during your captivity, intermingled with the old walls of an ancient castle that had been taken over by what was once HYDRA.
Then you see the Avengers, some of which you knew, others that were unfamiliar. Fighting and searching for something, and it bleeds into the hostile takeover of Novi Grad. The fear is devastating, a child separated from his mother, families crying and screaming as they try to usher their own children and other citizens away from the fissures that fracture the city from the earth. It’s so much, it’s too much, lives lost to an automaton who sought to see the world destroyed to rebuild anew.
Then Novi Grad is vaporized in the sky, rubble falling to the earth, decimating the land around it.
You whip your hand away like the stone had burned it, coming back to your body with a gasp.
“What did you see?”
“Everything.” The wind feels like it has been robbed from you, leaving you shaking as you try and catch your breath. Zemo brings a hand up to your shoulder, squeezing it to offer you support as you slowly come back to yourself. Placing your hand over his, you stare at the monument with a newfound sense of pain, frowning heavily. “I wish things… could have been different.”
There’s an uneasy silence, before Zemo nods, giving a considerate hum of understanding.
“As do I, however,” He removes his hand, and you turn to look at him, watching him unclasp the necklace he wears. “Sokovia will live on, in us.” He moves to stand behind you, moving your hair out of the way to put his necklace on you. “And in our people.”
You touch the crest of the necklace where it sits on your chest, feeling the immeasurable weight that comes with it. You turn to face Zemo, and an insurmountable crushing realization that this may be your last time seeing him in person hits you. You observe him now, the man that you love, and can’t keep yourself from tearing up.
“Do not cry on my account, my dear.” He says, bringing a hand up to cup your face. “We will never truly be apart.”
“Will I ever get to see you again?” You both know what you meant, not in your dreams, but in person, face to face.
“One day, yes. Hopefully.” He leans in, placing a kiss to your forehead, and then to your lips. It’s a long kiss, yet not long enough at the same time. The world doesn’t stop to wait for you anymore, your time with Zemo is coming to a close.
He rests his head against yours, not willing to part from you just yet.
“I will miss you with every breath I take, until I see you again.”
You allow yourself to shed a few tears then, all of which are brushed away by this thumbs as he cups your face.
“I love you.”
“I know.” He sighs against your lips, placing another, softer kiss there. “And I love you as well.”
Baron Helmut Zemo takes a step back, and you know that it’s time for you to take your leave before Bucky and the Dora Milaje arrive. There are no words that could convey the depth of emotion that you feel when you look at him, and take your own step back, not prepared to leave quite yet. You’ll miss him, even if you’ll see him in your dreams. You’ll miss his presence, his comfort, his touch.
Walking away is the hardest thing you’ve ever done, and when you meet Oeznik where he stands by the car waiting for you, you wordlessly embrace him.
“Do not fret, your majesty.” The older man says, a comforting hand on your back. “Our Baron is a resourceful man, he will be alright.”
You pull away, and nod, smiling through the tears still stinging your eyes. “Thank you, Oeznik.”
“Of course, your majesty. Besides, there’s work to be done.” He opens the passenger side door for you. “Shall we?”
According to Oeznik, you’re supposed to be leaving for Washington D.C. in a few days' time. You’ve never been to America before, but you’re informed that all of the arrangements had been made for you by Zemo ahead of time. However, you have something you need to do first.
With a bouquet of flowers in your arms, you take a deep breath, before approaching the row of headstones marked off on a map for you. You read the names on each one, silently paying condolences to the graves that look like they haven’t been visited in a while, before you find the headstone you’re looking for.
“I half expected you to still be alive.” You say aloud, smiling at the headstone that marks Heinrich’s grave. “You’re so stubborn, I always thought you’d just… live forever.” You swallow thickly, ignoring the tightness in your throat as you lean down to set the flowers before his grave. “I don’t really know… um, grave etiquette. But I figured flowers were a safe bet. Oh!” You reach into your pocket, pulling out a small bottle of liquor. “I also got this, I know you probably weren’t allowed to have any when you were… you know.”
You set the bottle down alongside the flowers, awkwardly swinging your arms as you stand back up. “I… there’s so much I want to tell you. So I guess I’ll just. Give you the short version.” You look around the cemetery, finding it empty. It’s just you here.
“Turns out I’m a princess, I guess. I mean, to a country that doesn’t even exist anymore.” You laugh to yourself, starting to feel self conscious. “I know, it was weird to me too. But it… it’s nice to finally know where I’m from.
I wish… I wish I could have told you everything… when you were still here.” You finally break and let out a choked sob, muffling it with a hand over your mouth.
Sitting down before the headstone, you allow yourself to cry, thinking of your time with Heinrich. Your first friend. The only family you had known after escaping captivity.
“I’m sorry, I know you probably don’t want to see me cry. I just… I just miss you.” It’s like you can hear him making fun of you for being such an emotional sap. It makes you laugh through your tears, sniffling as you wipe them away. “I’m going to be okay, and I think… I’m finally going to make a life for myself. A really good one.” Smiling, you set a hand on Heinrich’s grave, remembering all the times that you’ve laughed together. “Goodbye, old friend.”
Picking yourself up from the plot, you dust yourself off, collecting yourself before you head back to meet Oeznik where he’s waiting for you.
“I took down the plot number so we could have flowers sent regularly.” Oeznik informs you, smiling and placing a hand on your shoulder. “And I’ve had groceries sent to the foodbank, at your request.”
“I can’t thank you enough, Oeznik.” You smile warmly at the man, who offers you a squeeze to your shoulder.
“Is there anything else you’d like to do?”
“No, I think I’m ready.”
Zemo’s absence feels the heaviest when you reach your flight, boarding the jet without him for the first time. You take his usual seat to avoid having to look at it devoid of your lover, and request that Oeznik sit with you on your flight.
You used to be so accustomed to loneliness, having adapted to it after years of isolation. Even after you had befriended Heinrich, your solitude had been a security blanket. But ever since Zemo entered your life, you hardly spent a moment alone. He became such an integral part of your every day so quickly. It makes that loneliness difficult to return to now.
You miss him.
While you try your best to conserve your energy, you occasionally allow yourself to reach out to him when you miss him the most, tugging on the mental connection that links the two of you to remind you that he’s still there. It’s not the same as his embrace, but it’s enough.
You visit him in your sleep, of course. But your time zones were so drastically different when you were in Europe and he was… wherever it was that they had taken him. You never seemed to get enough time with him. It had only been a few days, but those days dragged without him there with you in your waking hours.
Part of you felt foolish to admit, but you were excited to be in the same time zone as him again. Even if you’re meant to be here on business, you allowed yourself the quiet excitement of knowing you’d get more time with him when you slept.
You arrive at your scheduled meeting place early, as Oeznik had suggested. It’s not too far off from D.C.’s main hub, a small cafe decorated similarly to some sort of car garage. It’s overwhelmingly American, and you have trouble deciding on what to order before you settle for just a doppio. Deciding it would be best to take a seat outside, you find a table out on the wharf and make yourself comfortable.
Though you’re initially cautious at trying the espresso, you take a small sip to test it, making a face as you do.
“Is the coffee here always this bitter?” You ask Oeznik, sticking to Sokovian to avoid the possibility of offending anyone who may hear you. However, Oeznik just laughs softly, nodding as he sips on his own beverage.
“Don’t worry, your majesty, I brought some along for our trip.”
“Thank you.” You smile gratefully, before forcing yourself to take another sip.
The clicking of heels on the polished wood of the pier catches your attention, and you turn your gaze to see the presence of a woman dressed in purple from head to toe. There’s something about her that you can’t place, despite the smile that she wears, you can tell that she’s a woman of little patience.
“You must be Hase. Oh, my apologies, your majesty.” She does a mock curtsy, before claiming a seat across from you, brushing it off before sitting down. “Oeznik, I believe we spoke on the phone?”
“Good. Now, who am I?” She removes her sunglasses with a flourish, clipping them to the front of her blouse. “Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. Or Val. Usually I don’t let people call me that, but I like you.”
“A pleasure to meet you.” You’d be lying if you said you weren’t nervous. There’s a sharpness to her, and you’re left with the feeling that you don’t want to be on her bad side.
“I know how awkward it must be to be sitting here like a big girl, so let’s cut to the chase.” It’s hard to tell if she’s being insulting or considerate, but there’s no time to contemplate it, as she’s pulling a file from her bag.
“This isn’t much, but it’s a good place to start. I was able to get my hands on your birth certificate and all that business, but there’s still the matter of those pesky files that HYDRA had a hold of. Problem being, HYDRA hasn’t existed for a while now. So, if those files aren’t with S.H.I.E.L.D, my bad, SWORD-- spoiler alert, they aren’t --they’re probably over in Dresden.
But. There’s another problem. There’s security all over the place.” She pulls her phone out, flipping through until she finds what she had been looking for, showing you an image of a stationed guard outside of a large office-type building. “After the Blip, this is where those bastards resurfaced. They were cleared out not too long ago now, however, SWORD hasn’t moved in yet, they’re still waiting on approval from the German government. We need to get you in so you can get those files out.”
You look over the picture for a moment, absorbing the information, before the realization of what she was implying hits you.
“You want me to go in and get them?”
“I can’t be doing all the leg work here, princess. I’ve done my part of the relay, but the baton is in your hands now.” She snorts, retrieving her phone and replacing it in her bag. “I’m not going to leave you totally on your own, I can actually get you in! You’re welcome, by the way.” She pulls out a small USB drive, holding it up. “All you need to do is plug this into one of the computers and let it do its thing.”
“That’s it! Isn’t technology amazing?”
You’re still hesitant. She makes it sound simple enough, given there were undoubtedly more details to flesh out. But there’s one question that still nags at you.
“But if they aren’t HYDRA, who are they?”
“Clever girl. I can see why Zemo took such a shine to you.” She gestures with the USB drive as she talks. “That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Well, here’s the thing. As far as SWORD and the CIA knew, they were just another government research facility. But do you know the mythology behind the name HYDRA?” She doesn’t wait for your answer. “When one head is cut off, two more take its place. They might not have the same snazzy uniforms, but walks like a duck, talks like a duck. It’s a fucking duck.”
“So… it is HYDRA?”
“Gold star! Yes. Now, any more questions? Or…” She tips her head in question, holding the drive back out to you.
You reach to take it from her, only for her to hold it just out of your reach. “But! Before I just hand this over, we still have some business to discuss in regards to our friend Karli.” Her smile is one of amusement, though it just elicits a sigh from you.
“Right. So, you have an idea of where she’s headed?” You ask, leaning back in your seat.
“Not just an idea, I know where. She’s going to New York City to disrupt the GRC Patch Act, and according to my sources, she’s already there.”
“And you want me to try and stop them? By myself?”
“You and I both know there are already a few hands in the pot here, right? I just want you to go as… call it an insurance policy.”
“I don’t follow.”
“I don’t need you to go in and play hero, we already have enough of those, don’t you think?” She wrinkles her nose a little bit with her smile. “I just need you to make sure that we don’t have any loose ends. People are too concerned with justice here, that if those Flag Smashers are apprehended, they’re going to look like martyrs.”
You’re silent for a moment, processing her implications with a click of your tongue. “And you think that killing them won’t make them look like martyrs?”
“Not if it’s… let’s say a happy accident.”
You look to Oeznik for the first time since Val had joined the two of you, trying to gauge his feelings on the matter. You weren’t entirely sure how you felt about being involved to this extent; there was no telling what exactly Karli had planned, but Val seemed to have all the cards in her hand. It was like she knew how everything would play out from start to finish.
“Listen, we both want the same thing here. We don’t want to see any more Super Soldiers running around and making things more precarious than they already are, right? Only a few people know about your involvement here, and that makes you the perfect person to help with this.”
Oeznik offers you a nod, prompting you to turn back to Val. “Okay.”
“Perfect! I’m glad we had this little chat.” She sets the USB drive on top of the folder she had brought with her, and slides it over to you. “I’ll be in touch.” She rises from her seat, sliding her sunglasses back onto her face.
“But how will I get into the facility? You said you could get me in.”
“I did! I also said I’ll be in touch.” Val smiles widely, pushing the seat back in before walking away. “See you around, princess!” She calls over her shoulder, leaving you stunned.
“Are Americans always so abrupt?” You turn to ask Oeznik once she’s out of earshot, looking over the files she had left with you.
“I’m not sure, but it’s why I usually do my best to avoid them.” The two of you share a look, and you let out a little laugh, to which Oeznik smiles in return. “We’ll leave for New York tomorrow morning, would you like to take a look around while we’re here?”
You tilt your head, observing Oeznik curiously. “Is there something we should be looking for?”
“No, but I believe you’re overdue to have some fun.”
Fun turns out to be visiting the Smithsonian Museums of D.C. Most of the topics you had only general knowledge of, but the experience of getting to learn and physically walk through and see everything made it all the more easy to absorb. While it’s not the traditional definition of “fun”, it’s exactly the kind of break from life that you needed.
Oeznik takes you to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History last, which turns out to be your favorite out of all of them. You take your time wandering through the halls and exhibits with childlike wonder, participating in any interactive portions of the tour, included but not limited to getting to hold a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. Though its many legs initially frighten you, there’s an unbridled joy once the insect crawls into your hand. You then make it your mission to hold every bug and small animal that you can on your visit, showing each of them to Oeznik with a thrill as you do. You’ve never really gotten to interact with many animals, spare for the occasional stray when you were living in Germany.
Though Oeznik is clearly not as thrilled about the beasts as you are, he still smiles fondly when you present each one to him.
When you’ve completed your walk through the final museum, night has taken over the skies. Seeing the way the city and its many monuments light up in the evening is the perfect close to your day.
Being that your safehouse isn’t terribly far, you decide to walk in lieu of driving to fully enjoy the sights along your way.
“Thank you for this, Oeznik. Today was… really nice.”
“Of course, your majesty. I’m happy to see you enjoy yourself.” He walks alongside you, observing the cherry trees that have just started blooming. “There’s so much beauty in the world that you have yet to see. I would be honored to provide you the opportunity to see more of it, when possible.”
“Oeznik…” You start, coming to a stop, and turning to face him. “Did you know my parents?” Though it’s a question that may seem unprompted, it’s something you’ve been pondering since the discovery of your lineage. Zemo had told you that Oeznik had worked for the Barony since the Baron himself was a child, and while you knew that it didn’t necessarily mean he’d know all of Sokovia’s aristocracy and royalty, you still had to ask.
“I did.” He confirms, smiling sardonically. “Your father was a good man, with a lot of love for his country, as well as its people. He dedicated his life to relief for the Sokovian people, and the doors of your family’s estate were always open to those who needed it.” There’s so much emotion on Oeznik’s face as he speaks, but the smile remains ever present. “Your mother was a very fierce and ambitious woman, she had taken on the task of trying to preserve our culture, and restore monuments and historical buildings. I believe our Baron looked up to her quite a bit, as well. When you…” Oeznik is brought up short now, pausing to let out a long sigh. “When you were taken from us, the entire country mourned their loss with them. However, your parents were a paragon of fortitude. They were both lovely people. I only wish you could have known them.”
Feeling the emotion rolling off of Oeznik, you place a hand on his arm to comfort him, before you fully embrace him, overwhelmed with both his kindness, as well as what he’s shared with you.
“Thank you, for everything.”
There’s a serene air about Zemo’s dream tonight. The setting is unfamiliar, but picturesque; a seaside villa somewhere overlooking an impossibly blue ocean with a seemingly never ending sunset. It’s beautiful and vivid, like something out of a painting. You can almost feel the ocean breeze kissing your skin.
You find Zemo out on the terrace, leaning against the railing, waiting for you.
“It’s a shame that I didn’t have the time to take you here.” He says as you join him, turning to look at you. “I’ll have to amend that one day.” Taking your hand in his, he presses a kiss to the back of it. “How are you, my love?”
Lacing your fingers with his, you move to place his arm around you, huddling against his chest.
“I miss you.” You sigh, wishing that you could inhale the scent of his familiar musk. “But I’m well, Oeznik and I visited the museums in Washington D.C., it was nice.”
“And our contact?” He asks, pressing a kiss to the top of your head as he embraces you.
“She’s a character.” You respond after a moment of trying to find the words.
“To put it delicately.” He huffs out a laugh into your hair. “Did she provide the information that you needed?”
“Yes, Oeznik and I are traveling to New York tomorrow to proceed with the plan. I recommend keeping an eye on the news.”
“Of course. And what of the documentation in regards to you?”
“That’s another story, but it looks like we’ll be heading back to Germany very soon.” You sigh, leaning back to look up at Zemo, who dips down to press a soft kiss to your lips.
“Well, we have time.” He hums, running a hand through your hair as he looks you over, smiling that signature smirk of his.
“Would you join me for a game of chess?”