A little girl runs through the crowded sun filled streets of Rome looking for her mother and trying her utmost not to breakdown and cry from the fear that threatens to steal her breath and swallow her whole.
As afternoon sinks into twilight and eventually night enfolds the city, the little girl takes a shuddering, tear stained breath and looks around her. Nothing looks familiar. Gone are the large stone buildings her mother was so eager to see. Gone are the crowded, loud streets.
Silence reigns over the dark, empty alley she finds herself in.
Far above the tear stained girl a shadow moves along the tops of the tight knit buildings. A light breeze carries the sound of a hiccuped sob of a frightened child up to the silent shadow. Pausing, he glances down into the dark, moonlit alley and makes out the figure of a small child.
The sound of shuddering sobs of a child triggers a long buried and forgotten memory of a fragile, pale boy with blond hair and the echo of protectiveness briefly floods him. Shaking off the memory of the little boy, the shadow finds himself standing in front of the little girl.
A slight breeze wafts through the dark alley carrying the sent of burnt gun powder with an undercurrent of salty rust. The familiar smell of burnt gun powder reminds the little girl of her daddy and the girl looks up to find a large man standing in front of her.
Tilting her tear stained face, the little girl studies the dark giant and silently raises her arms, outstretched, to the silent giant.
A moment of indecision and he answers the silent plea of the child. Bending down, he gathers the scared girl into his arms and continues his journey through the shadows to his safe house.
Tears soak the front of his armor as the child quietly cries herself to sleep in his arms.
Gently, the silent soldier places the small, sleeping child on his bed and covers her with a sheet. As he turns to walk away, the glint of metal catches his eye and he turns back to examine the girl.
Pale skin, brunet, no more than seven or eight, a tourist’s child by the style of her clothes, and a silver bracelet with an inscription.
Unfastening the bracelet from the child’s wrist, Isabella Swan he reads, the assassin takes the bracelet over to the table and turns on his computer.
Warm sunlight dances across her face and upper torso as a cool, gentle breeze caresses her small face and long brunet hair. Small eyelids flutter open to reveal warm, deep chocolate brown eyes.
Drowsily she stretches her small body and rubs the sleep from her eyes. Looking around the room her eyes land on the hunched figure of the silent, dark haired giant sitting in front of a computer.
The bracelet her daddy gave her on her fifth birthday lay beside the computer. He told her that if she every got lost, the bracelet would help her find her way home.
The rumble of her tummy attracts the attention of the man and he silently rises from the table and brings her a granola bar and a bottle of water.
Her eyes widen in curious surprise at the sight of his silver arm. When he hands her the food, she tentatively reaches out and runs her fingers over the smooth metal hand, staring at it in awe.
Silently he watches her inspect his metal arm with an innocent wonder. After a moment of silence, he says in a deep, quiet voice, “I found your mother. When you are done eating I will take you to her”.
Looking up from his arm in surprise, her face brightens and she beams up at him before she turns her attention to the granola bar.
Finding Isabella’s mother was relatively simple with the information the bracelet provided. Breaking into her hotel rooms with her missing six year old daughter, without raising an alarm or being seen, was even simpler.
Holding Isabella with one arm, the Winter Soldier pulls his gun from its holster and clears the rooms. Coming to a stop at the end of the king size bed, the assassin stares down at the sleeping woman and a slight frown creases his brow.
A myriad of unfamiliar sensations race through him at the sight of the unconscious woman and his frown deepens.
The woman had no idea where her six year old daughter was all of last night, if not longer, and yet here she was sleeping soundly, utterly oblivious to how close she came to never seeing her child again.
A cold, burning sensation fills him and his eyes narrow as he glares at the unconscious woman. Unconsciously, his grip tightens on the little girl and he pulls her closer to him.
Keeping the child was not an option. Hydra would kill her or at best break her and force her to become like him. Leaving her with this woman however, did not sit well with him.
From what he knew of their travel plans, they would remain in Europe, touring, for the rest of the month before heading back to the States.
Too much could happen in that amount of time. Placing Isabella on the side of the bed not occupied by the woman, the assassin leans down and looks Isabella in the eyes. In a low voice he says “Stay here. Do not wake your mother. I will be right back.”
With a nod of her head he turns and leaves the hotel.
Sneaking back into the rooms, the soldier finds Isabella sitting in the same spot he left her. When she notices his presence, her eyes brighten and she beams up at him with pure happiness. Unfamiliar warmth spreads through his chest and he finds the corners of his mouth itching upwards ever so slightly.
Pulling the pack from his back, he lays it on the table and quietly pulls out its contents. Walking over to the bed he picks up Isabella and places her on top of the table.
Picking up the syringe he holds it up and tells her “this is going to hurt a little, but it will let me find you if you ever get lost again.” Wide brown pools stare up at him and her nose scrunches with distaste but she nods her head and turns around when he motions her to.
With practiced ease he injects the organic tracer, that only he can track, into her shoulder. Turning her back around, he frowns at the sight of a tear rolling down her face. She rubs it away with the sleeve of her shirt and he finds himself gently laying his hand on her head. “You did good” he quietly says and is rewarded with another smile.
Turning his attention back to the table, he picks up another tracer that could be mistaken for a decorative pendant and fastens it to her bracelet. You can’t be too careful, he thinks.
Satisfied, he tells her “If you every get lost, twist the pendent like this and it will let me know.” Turning back to the table he picks up an untraceable small cell phone and shows it to her. “Keep this with you at all times” he says and gravely, as only a child can, she nods her head with a determined look.
The unfamiliar sensation of relief floods through him. With a curt nod of the head, the soldier gathers up the remaining materials and stows them in his pack. Picking up Isabella, he places her back on the bed and tells her, “when I leave wake up your mom. Do not tell her I was here.” Solemnly she nods her head and stretches out her arms to him.
Lowering back down he accepts her departing hug and is surprised when she kisses him on the cheek. Standing back up, he affectionately pats her on the head and says, “Be safe baby-doll” and leaves.
Florence, Madrid, Paris, and London. That’s how many times she got lost to the point of calling for him. Twice in Paris.
In Madrid and Paris he had been close enough, on a wet job for Hydra, to physically get to her. In Florence he had to talk her back to the hotel she was staying at.
In London he had to take her with him on a recon mission when she got lost a little too close to one of his targets. She ended up spending the day and night with him before he was able to get her back to her mother early the next morning.
For a little girl, she seemed to have an alarming affinity for finding dangerous situations. Just in case, he set up a couple back up contingency plans, with their own set of back up contingency plans and a back up for those too, to protect her in case he was ever out of commission when she needed him.
Keeping her off Hydra’s radar was a must. A couple of his contingency plans ensured that he would be there for her if Hydra wiped his memories while she was still alive.
The night before she is set to return to the States, he “kidnaps” her from her hotel room while her mother sleeps and takes her to the top of Big Ben to view London from inside the historic clock. Contently she sits in his lap and watches the busy streets of London at night.
Taking a black card from his pocket that would allow her and only her access to an untraceable account, he hands it to her. “If you ever need to buy anything use this. Never tell anyone that you have this or where you got it from” he tells her seriously. Nodding she accepts the card.
Eventually, she falls asleep in his arms and he returns her to her hotel room just as the early morning rays illuminate the bustling city.
Laying her gently in her bed, Isabella stirs and groggily opens her eyes. “Go back to sleep baby-doll” he says.
Groggily she reaches up for him and he acquiesces, leaning into her hug she kisses him on the cheek and whispers, “love you daddy.”
Kissing her gently on the head, he quietly replies “love you too baby-doll.