A love story? This is also a fairy tale. Once upon a time, when you were still a girl, you met a man. You fell in love.
Once upon a time, in a fairy tale, the man went on a mission to kill a dissident who had escaped to what he thought was a safe haven overseas. It turned out the dissident had a daughter; the daughter was with the dissident, and the man couldn't pull the trigger. He had memories, perhaps. Old recollections. You came out of the mists and took the daughter away behind the building and talked to her while the man put a bullet in her father's head.
"What was that?" The girl blinked. There had been a sound in the air.
"Turn around, sweetheart, and close your eyes," you say. Trembling, the girl does. You put the barrel of your own gun, properly silenced, against the back of her neck. It's bare and pale above the collar of her winter coat.
You pull the trigger, and she collapses forward into a snow bank. You did the job, so that he didn't have to, and when the two of you return to the room by the banks of the Moskva, they only put him to sleep on ice, rather than take him out in the courtyard and have you put the barrel of your gun against the back of his neck.
After all, this is also a love story.
They put him on ice. They take him off again. They put him on ice. They take him off again. They put him on again.
You see your chance, and you ask no one. You run.
Twenty years later, the two of you are in a dusty warehouse in a city that is -- well, a city that is very far away from countries where there is snow in the winter. Your hands are tied to a chair, and because he knows what you can do while tied to a chair, the chair is bolted to the ground. Your head rolls backward from the drugs that he's put into your veins, and he slaps you, not too hard, just to make sure you're awake.
"The Red Room doesn't own us anymore," you say to him. Your tongue feels thick in your mouth. "It doesn't exist."
"That's a lie." He hits you, hard and in the face.
"Do you remember that I left? I ran away."
"I remember," he says, and his expression tightens for a moment. You have no doubt that they did terrible things to him when they found out that you had gone. At that point, you hadn't worked with him for years because your star was on the rise, and his was on the wane, but the Red Room had a long memory.
He thinks about the memory a little more, relives a little of the terror and the pain, and then he hits you again, just because he can, just because you did that to him. You can taste blood in your mouth now. It's slow, sluggish, like everything else in the world. Sunlight comes in from the skylights far, far above.
"I work with people who will come looking for me," you say. "How long do you think you have?"
"Long enough to get you to tell me how to get back in contact with the Red Room." He woke, after all, in a dusty warehouse much like this. Sold off with a bunch of other junk, bought in bulk by mid-level idiots who had no idea what they'd just acquired. They probably didn't manage half of the de-thawing protocols correctly, and he had turned on them and ripped their throats out as soon as he woke. It was the trail of blood that led you to this city where it didn't snow.
"Did storage damage your hearing?" You let your head roll back, because you are very tired. "There isn't a Red Room anymore. I burned it to the ground a year after I left."
He looks at you for a long moment, then hits you, for the first time, with his metal arm. You smile at him, red at every tooth, and he goes to get the knives.
It might take up to two weeks for SHIELD to find you.
This is a love story this is a love story this is a love story, and once upon a time, after the day you shot a girl who trusted you and pushed her still-warm body into a snowbank, but before the day you joined SHIELD, you were young, and you were strong. You had confidence in the strength of your body and the sharpness of your mind: Budapest was not the first time that you tried to run from the Red Room, and you were in love. Decades later, you will say to a demi-god that love is for children. Where did you learn it except for a small room with a light on by the bed and a window that looked down at the banks of the Moskva? He trained you. He shaped you. He was so much of what the world meant to you; it was hard to think of life without him.
So you came by his room on the night you were making your escape, and you asked him to run with you. He had been lying in bed, reading. The bedside lamp was on, and he put down his book.
"Sit down," he said, and you sat.
He set off one of the new neural paralyzers by your ear, and as you sat, frozen in the chair, he turned it to face the door. Then, he began to hit you, over and over and over in the face.
He bent down. He put his lips in your ear: the Red Room takes birthdays from its trainees. There are no celebrations, no markers, and the serums change the body's response to time, but you know that at this point, he had been your lover for eight changes of season in the northern hemisphere. Two years. You were young. You were in love. How old did you look? Sixteen? Seventeen?
"Next time," he whispered, "Don't ask anyone."
And then he turned you in: you probably told the Red Room about his advice. In fact, when you think back on it, you almost certainly did.
Maybe this is why they didn't kill him when he failed: they thought you would never leave without him.
Maybe this is why they hurt him so badly after you finally did manage to leave.
SHIELD comes around in two days shy of two weeks; Steve Rogers, wearing a black tactical suit, leads fifteen other SHIELD agents in smashing through the skylight and rappelling down to the floor. At exactly the same time, two armored carriers carrying at least twenty men each roll through what used to be the front of the building. The Winter Soldier drops the knife. It turns out, in the end, that he was a friend of Steve Rogers before the Red Room found him; he escapes that time, but SHIELD runs into him a few months later in connection with the Tesseract, and Steve Rogers wishes for his friend's memories to come back again. You are still too injured to take part in that mission, and the Winter Soldier still needs to be debriefed and secured. Both things will take a while, and in the meantime, they are holding him in a glass cage usually meant for demigods and raging beasts. You strap yourself into your tactical suit with the Black Widow insignia at your belt, and you walk slowly, carefully. If he sees you limping, let him take it as a sign of how seriously you mean what you say to him.
"I hear you're thinking of joining SHIELD," you say.
He is sitting on a stool inside, and he shrugs. "Steve thinks that I have something to offer."
You let that hang in the air for a while, and then, you say, "The day you put a toe out of line, Winter Soldier, the day you so much as lift a gun and point it at someone in a SHIELD uniform -- that's the day I kill you," you say.
"I look forward to your attempt," he says, and he smiles back at you, white in every tooth.
You get three paces beyond the door to that room before your legs give out under you, and you collapse in the hallway, bleeding into your suit until somebody finds you and calls, frantically, for the medical team.
This is a love story. This is a fairy tale.
This is, after all, a happy ending.
As usual, destronomics basically had the good ideas in this. Both Natasha being tortured in the warehouse and what Bucky says to Natasha the first time that she tries to run are from her, including all of the non-lame bits of the dialogue. The comics supplied the part about Natasha shooting the girl when Bucky can't and being part of the reason why the Red Room doesn't summarily execute him.