AN: Unless you've read Marvel Universe Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (2012) #5, there might be some missing context.
One might think flying alone in a Quinjet would get lonesome, but for Captain America, the monitors that connected to the mansion made the flight feel almost crowded.
"Are you sure this is a good idea, Cap?" asked Wasp. "What if this is all some sort of escape plan?"
"If she's planning an escape, all the more reason for me to be there," replied Steve.
"I still don't get why you're visiting the Vault in the first place," added Iron Man, "You don't owe her anything."
Captain Rogers sighed. None of his teammates had agreed with his decision to answer a prisoner's request for a visit, but neither had they tried to stop him. "She and I have an. . . understanding of sorts. The least I can do is hear her out."
"If that's what you want, enjoy your date," Wasp teased before signing out.
"Be careful, Steve," said Tony.
After his friends had hung up, Captain America focused on the landing platform ahead. The Vault's rebuilding had come a long way since the Breakout, and after the incident at 42, it was one of the better places to incarcerate villains. The Avenger was greeted by a couple of heavily armed SHIELD agents, who led him into the building.
"I go through the scanner here, right?" asked Rogers.
"We can make an exception for you, given everything you've done for the world," replied one of the agents.
Captain America shook his head. "Good rules apply to everyone equally. Besides, I'd hate to get you in trouble by skipping the procedure." After having his gear scanned, Steve walked deeper into the Vault. Eventually he found himself facing rows of glass windows and telephones.
"Remember, given the nature of who you're visiting, you'll only have an hour with the prisoner. Countdown starts the second she enters the room." Steve nodded and took a seat. After a minute of waiting, the door on the other side of the glass opened. In stepped a woman in an orange prison uniform, her hands cuffed in front of her. Her dark hair, possessing a green tint, covered the right side of her face. Sitting down, the woman placed her telephone up to her ear as Captain America did the same.
"Well Madame Hydra, you asked for me. What did you want to say?"
"My name is Ophelia. Hydra is as good as gone, so you may as well call me by my name."
Steve was silent for a moment, before asking, "Why did you want to see me?"
"I told you once that I was given a reason to hate people like you. I want to tell you what that reason is."
1 November, 1956
Ophelia listened to her parents' voices from outside their room. They had been arguing a lot more ever since that man, Nagy, she thought he was called, started talking over the radio.
"Going out there is suicide!" argued Mama, "We can't defeat the whole Soviet Army!"
"But that's exactly what happened in October!" said Papa. "We have our old Prime Minister back, and the Russians are going home. This is our chance to change Hungary."
"But what if the Russians come back? What if they kill everyone who took part in the revolution? Think about what will happen to Ophelia if you get killed playing soldier!"
"Dammit Woman, every day I think about Ophelia! I think about the kind of Hungary I want her to grow up in! One where she has enough to eat, one where she can choose her own leaders! I want a Hungary where our daughter is free!"
There was quiet for a moment, and then Ophelia heard her mother take a deep breath. "I want our daughter to live free too, but she needs to be alive to enjoy freedom. We can't be selfish and throw our lives away when we have a little girl to provide for."
"What would you have us do? Sit around and watch as our futures are dictated by others? I sat by when the Nazis invaded in '44, and I sat by again as the Russians imposed their will over us. But now I have a family I want to give a better future to, and the chance to make it happen. Don't you understand?"
"Of course I do. But there is no guarantee this will all work out. Hungary is too small compared to the Soviet Union."
"We aren't alone. The world is watching. Nagy called on the United Nations for support. Surely someone will not abandon us."
"I can't stop you if you're set on joining the revolution. But I still say you're making a mistake."
"I'm only doing this because I love you and our daughter, you know that don't you?"
"Of course I do, and I love you too."
Ophelia leaned further into the door to her parents' room, only to fall when that door swung open.
Looking up, the six year old girl saw the surprised face of her father. "Ophelia? How long have you been up? It's far past your bedtime."
"I had a bad dream," she lied. "Can I sleep with you and Mama?"
Papa sighed, "You're way too old for this. Fine, just this once."
Ophelia joined her parents on their bed. Although she was too young to understand everything that they talked about, the girl felt that everything would change, one way or the other.
2 November, 1956
Ophelia was walking to school when she saw them. They were men, but also young boys, armed with small guns. The girl recognized some of the boys as high school students that lived in her neighborhood. The ones who didn't have rifles or pistols carried Hungarian flags, but unlike the flag she had been taught to salute, these flags had holes cut in the middle to remove the communist emblem. A part of her wanted to follow the boys to see what all the commotion was about, but her desire to avoid a beating from her teacher kept her on the path to school. Still, Ophelia couldn't help but look back and wonder what sort of important things were others doing around her.
3 November, 1956
This time, the temptation was too great, and Ophelia decided that a quick look wouldn't hurt. The girl crept behind the young men as they carried various supplies towards the outskirts of the city. There she saw older men barking orders to the younger ones, who in turn build crude barricades. Their work had a sense of urgency, as if things could go wrong at any second. Ophelia's trip was interrupted when a calloused hand grabbed her arm.
"What are you doing here? This is no place for a child! Shouldn't you be playing with girls your age?"
Ophelia blubbered out an apology as she tried to explain why she had come. The man's gaze softened as he saw how much he scared the girl.
"So you wanted to see what the excitement was about, huh? Hopefully there won't be any excitement. Now let's get you home before you're missed."
As the man led her away, Ophelia tried to catch one last glance at the scene unfolding behind her.
4 November, 1956
It was Sunday, and that meant Mass at home. According to Papa, he and Mama used to attend the same church before the Soviets came. But now that the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party handpicked clergy, Ophelia's parents saw little good in receiving religious instruction from people who were communist mouthpieces. This time would be different, as Papa was nowhere to be seen that morning, leaving Mama to handle scripture reading.
"Where is Papa?" asked Ophelia after church was finished.
"He's. . . he's helping people in another part of town."
"Why? He said God always comes first."
"Papa loves you, Ophelia, so he's doing what he thinks will keep you safe. I'm sure God understands."
Even at six, Ophelia was smart enough to guess that Papa was doing something related to what she saw yesterday. The girl wanted to find her father and get the answers the other man hadn't given.
"Mama, could I play outside?"
Mama rolled the request over for a moment. "I'm sorry, Ophelia, but things have gotten dangerous lately. You're safe here."
Ophelia was disappointed, but she knew that there was still an opportunity. Soon, Mama would leave for the laundromat. That should give her enough time to sneak out and see Papa.
After Mama had left, Ophelia waited around five minutes to make sure she wouldn't accidentally run into her mother on the way out. After that, Ophelia made a beeline towards the outskirts of Budapest. The streets were empty compared to the day before, but that could be explained by Mass. Eventually, she arrived at the barricades, which had finished being built. Ophelia scanned the men with guns for her father. As Ophelia slipped through the crowd, she became increasingly worried that she would never find her father. She considered asking the men, but they would most likely take her home. Ophelia's search was interrupted by a booming voice over a megaphone.
"People of Budapest, by the orders of Ivan Konev, Marshal of the Soviet Union, lay your arms down and return to your homes!"
Ophelia looked up and saw a man in a red and black uniform, with a red star on his chest. Over his right hand was a round shield with colors that matched those of his uniform. As he held the megaphone with his left hand, he stood atop a Russian tank. The girl immediately recognized him as the infamous Red Guardian. According to the stories, he was a hero with superhuman abilities, and the USSR's greatest soldier. Many legends of his exploits against Western spies and fascist insurgents were known all over the Eastern Bloc, but given the confidential nature of his missions, it was difficult to separate the propaganda from the truth. Red Guardian's presence clearly unnerved the Hungarians, as did the armored vehicles behind him. As Ophelia studied the faces of the men, she thought they might turn and run. But before anyone could drop their weapon, a familiar voice rang out.
"Ruszkik haza!" Russians go home. Ophelia's eyes widened. That was Papa's voice! He sounded nearby. The girl scanned the crowd frantically for her father, looking in the direction of the call. But soon, Papa's cry was followed by countless others, all shouting in unison: "Ruszkik haza! Ruszkik haza! Ruszkik haza!"
Ophelia pushed her way through the crowd, who were too preoccupied with the standoff to notice her. Eventually, she spotted her father's coat, like an island of safety in a sea of strangers. He was shouting as loud as anyone, forcing Ophelia to tug hard on his arm to get his attention. When Papa looked down and saw his daughter, the defiant look on his face evaporated. In its place was pure horror.
"What the hell are you doing here, Ophelia! Does Mama know that you came!" shouted Papa as he struck the left side of her face.
"I just wanted to see you!" said Ophelia, tearing up as he held her reddened cheek.
"You couldn't have waited just one day for me to return? What were you thinking?"
Ophelia was about to answer, but something stuck out in the corner of her eye. Red Guardian was wordlessly pointing in her father's general direction, and a tank turret aimed where he had gestured.
Papa turned and saw what was happening, and instinctively threw himself around his daughter. One second later, a crash like thunder sounded and a fiery explosion erupted in front of the father-daughter duo. Ophelia found herself thrown on her back, pinned under her father. As she slipped in and out of consciousness, Ophelia felt as if every part of her body had needles lodged deep inside. The right cheek hurt worst of all, and the girl could feel the blood trickling down her face. The last thing Ophelia noticed before passing out was the sensation of strong arms lifting her up.
Ophelia awakened in a hospital hours later. She could hear distorted voices all around her. As she woke up, the voices became more clear, like a static radio transmission coming into focus.
"Will the girl recover?"
"For the most part, it appears that the man took the brunt of the shrapnel. Unfortunately, one piece apparently took off a chunk of the right side of her face. I doubt that will fully heal."
Hearing this, Ophelia touched the bandages around her face, wincing as a sharp pain spread throughout her body. Red Guardian noticed Ophelia's newfound lucidness and approached her. Getting down on her level, he put on a warm smile and asked in a voice barely above a whisper, "Hello little one. You're lucky I was there to save you from those fascists. A small girl shouldn't be wandering around by herself. Where are your parents?"
"Papa was with me and. . ." Ophelia's eyes widened as the realization hit her. "Papa! He was right there! Where is he! Is he hurt!"
Red Guardian's smile fell at the girl's outburst. The warm expression was briefly replaced by an angry scowl. But as soon as this stormy expression appeared, it dissipated and was replaced by a smile. "Your father is fine. He's waiting with your mother for you to come home. Now, what is your name?"
"Sarkissian. . . thank you. Rest well, malyshka," replied Red Guardian before leaving the hospital.
Ophelia was released from the hospital the next day. She had constantly pestered the doctors for her parents, but they only said that they couldn't get a hold of them. With everyone else at the hospital too busy, Ophelia was left to travel down Budapest's streets alone. The girl was taken aback by how many buildings were riddled with craters and bullet holes. Where Hungarians once went about their business, Russians with red stars on their helmets patrolled. Fortunately, the Russians seemed content to ignore a six-year-old girl as she made her way home. Anxiety filled Ophelia as she approached her apartment's door. Would her parents be overjoyed to see her, or angry that she had disobeyed by leaving their home and gotten herself hurt. The doctor told her not to remove the bandages for a while, and Ophelia was anxious to see what she looked like.
Ophelia was surprised to find that the door was unlocked. After gently creaking it open, the girl's eyes widened as she saw the mess her home had been left it. Shelves were broken, closets were emptied, and beds were overturned. Surely her home had not looked like this before she left.
"Mama! Papa!" the girl cried out. But no one answered. Ophelia attempted to calm her nerves before panic set in. Her parents had to come home. They always did. She just had to wait.
The first day, Ophelia tried to keep herself busy by cleaning the apartment. Surely Mama would be less angry with her if she did a good job.
The second day, Ophelia tried asking her neighbors if they had seen her parents. For some reason, when she explained she had last seen Papa at the barricades, the neighbors clammed up and didn't want to talk to her.
By day three, the remaining stored food was gone. Hopefully Mama would bring food when she. . . no, she wouldn't. She finally admitted that her parents were never coming home. Ophelia was on her own, for the first time and from now on. As denial gave way to dreadful acceptance, Ophelia finally allowed herself to cry.
Captain America resisted the urge to offer his condolences after being silent throughout Viper's story. He knew that she didn't want his pity, just his understanding.
"I was on my own for a long time, until Baron Strucker found me. He took me to a place with many other children. We were orphans. Little girls, all alone. Hydra gave us a home. Eight great houses. Twelve girls to a house. And in the end, the most determined... the most ambitious... the most aggressive... That girl would be the Viper."
"And that girl was you," said Steve. "I appreciate that you shared something so personal with me. But why me?"
"When you stopped Set, you saved the world from my mistake. My anger took me far, it helped me survive the trials to become Viper. It helped me survive my captivity with the Skrulls. But against Set, it only made him want to destroy the world. You had something that was stronger than my hate — stronger than the will of a demon. I want to know what that is."
"I don't have anything special, Ophelia. I just wanted to set right what was wrong. And I wanted you to see that's what heroes do."
From anyone else, Viper would have laughed at the cliche and empty platitudes. But from Captain America, she knew he meant every word. It finally sunk in for her that all her hatred was futile — not one of her actions had changed anything. Whatever motivated Captain America, it was something real, something pure, something that made a difference. "Why did you want me to see that," asked Ophelia. "You have nothing to prove."
Steve thought about his answer and said, "You're different. You are not a bigoted fanatic like Red Skull or someone who wants power for power's sake like Zemo. You're driven by a need to avenge the wrongs done by those who pretended to be heroes while they acted as enforcers for evil. I hoped I could show you a better way. I thought I could give you something better."
At this, Viper broke eye contact as her face flushed slightly. She wasn't sure if it was from Rogers's sincerity or the fact that he clearly cared about her, despite having no reason to. "Well, you're different too. You're the only real hero I've ever met."
Captain America wanted to insist that he was not the only one, but a squad of SHIELD agents entered the room before he could answer. Steve and Ophelia maintained eye contact until the guards had escorted the prisoner back to her cell.
One week later
"Hey Cap, Maria Hill sent us an update. Thought you might be interested," said Iron Man.
Steve took the tablet from Stark's hands and read the email.
Viper recently disclosed the locations of all undiscovered Hydra safehouses across the globe. After our agents confirmed her information, we were able to seize countless documents, equipment, and even Hydra assets in hiding. We now have a complete picture of our enemy's network, so they won't be rebuilding in the foreseeable future. When we asked why she was helping us, Viper said something about "not liking being in an enemy's debt." Whatever you said to her really made an impact. Don't suppose you'd like to have a chat with some of our other prisoners?
Steve smiled as he finished reading. He hoped that one day Ophelia would see the light completely.
"Just so we're clear, Madame Hydra can't join the Avengers even if you vouch for her. We don't want another Red Hulk incident," said Tony.
"I don't think Ophelia would. . ."
"Wait, Ophelia? Since when were you on a first name basis with her?" Stark's brow raised. "Oh don't tell me Jan was right and it was a date."
Steve rolled his eyes. "Sometimes, you guys can be too much."