"You know what? You two should talk about this," Natasha said, pushing herself to stand up. She gestured to the others. "Aly, Niko? Let's go and pretend to be interested in the view from the cockpit for a second. And shut the door behind us."
"I am not interested in the ..." Nik started, trailing off when he realized what Nat was up to. "Oh, I see," he murmured with a heavy long-suffering sigh. "Very well."
Giggling, Alyona rose to her feet, her hand gently curled into Nikolai's as she followed Nat out of sight and into the cockpit, which was swiftly shut up behind them.
Aleksandra rolled her eyes at the lack of subtlety, twisting in her seat to look at Maxim. "I am not sure I understand quite what is going on here."
Maxim waited, remaining silent until they were alone, trusting Nat not to eavesdrop on them. He turned to Aleksandra then, just barely stopping himself for reaching for her hand. "I know. I'm sorry for all this. It is because of me, Aleks. I am going to defect, and Russian Intelligence will not look kindly on that." It wasn't entirely about or because of him, but it had become obvious at least to at least one person on board the quinjet that he was doing it because of Aleksandra.
"But I have defect - wait, you defected?" She frowned, confusion overwhelming a mind that had been awake and busy for more than twenty-four hours now. "I thought you were A.E.G.I.S."
"Me?" he said in obvious surprise. Had she really thought he belonged to A.E.G.I.S.? "No, I am ... was Russian Intelligence. Russia does not like Hydra setting up shop inside her borders. My mission was to infiltrate the facility and inform them of Hydra's purpose there." She had never been part of his mission, not until she had contacted A.E.G.I.S., and he'd been ordered to help extricate her. "Are you disappointed?" he asked, the hint of a smile on his face.
She blinked, fighting a yawn even as a slow smile touched her weary face. "I ... no, I-I am not disappointed," she promised him quietly. "But you are defecting now. Did something happen to make you decide this?"
He noted her yawn with a smile. Perhaps this was not the time for this conversation, after all. "Perhaps you should sleep and we can speak on this later," he told her, unsure if she'd even remember this conversation later, as weary as she was now.
"In a little while," she said, shaking her head. "Agent Romanoff said we should ... that we should talk about this ... identity integration. Perhaps it would make things easier for the people in America to have things ready if they know in advance what we would prefer?"
"Perhaps," he said, though he didn't think there was any rush. After all, Natasha had said it would be a week or so before they were expected to show up for work. They'd have to sort out their new living arrangements long before that, though. "Aleks," he started, unsure just how to explain all this to her. "Russian Intelligence wants me to infiltrate A.E.G.I.S. ... to spy for them, to become a double agent. I love my country, but that is something I cannot do."
She frowned uncertainly. "You think they will come after you?" she asked, still biting down on the urge to yawn again. "They will come after me, too. At least you can defend yourself."
"That is not what concerns me," he told her, though it did, but that was not why he was telling her this - not entirely, anyway. She was making this very hard for him, and he wondered if he should just come right out and say it. "I promised to protect you, and I intend to keep that promise," he told her. "But if you do not wish me to, I understand."
It was a little too late for him to turn back now, though Mother Russia would probably take him back in an instant and then pick his brain for everything he knew about A.E.G.I.S.
Aleksandra watched him struggle for a moment, a slow look of comprehension touching her own expression, touched with the barest suggestion of wonder. She raised her hand, gently touching his lips with her fingertips. "Yes," she said simply. "Yes, I will be your pretend wife. I like you, Maxim. I trust you. And as selfish as it seems, I would very much like to stay with you. Perhaps, after a while, it won't be pretending anymore."
He wouldn't have asked her to pretend to be his wife, but here she was proposing it. Natasha had said they could not pretend to be siblings, and maybe she was right. He didn't want to be Aleksandra's brother any more than it seemed she wanted to be his sister. "Is that what you want, Aleksandra?" he asked, taking her hand in his and looking expectantly to her for an answer.
If he'd asked her that when she wasn't operating on no sleep, he would not have had a satisfactory answer. As it was, she couldn't muster even a lie to protect herself from being humiliated. "I would like the whole thing not to have been pretend," she admitted with a resigned laugh. "I like you, I wasn't lying about that. I ... I've had a schoolgirl's crush on you for months, and then you asked me out. But it was on orders, and for a mission, and I played along because it was nice to pretend for a little while, and because I knew that was what you needed me to do so I could get out. I enjoyed our strange little date. I wish it had been real."
"It was real enough, da?" he asked, slipping back into his native Russian. It hardly seemed appropriate to tell her what he was about to tell her in English. He had only been speaking it for the sake of the others, and they were no longer listening - or so he hoped. "It had been a long time since I have cared for anyone, Aleksandra," he told her, his voice quiet, his expression serious. Why her, he didn't know, but there was something about her that had made him care. Her vulnerability, perhaps, or perhaps, something more. Whatever it was, it seemed she had gotten under his skin. Did he really have to say it?
"It was real for me," she confessed softly, smiling as though she was expecting him to reject her, however gently. His words surprised her, but in the best way, raising a sweeter smile to her face. "Maybe not your wife, then," she suggested. "Your girlfriend?"
The hint of an amused smile tugged at his mouth. "You are too much a woman to be called girlfriend," he replied, lifting her hand again to his lips so that he could touch a kiss against her fingers. They weren't children indulging a crush, after all, but full-grown adults just starting to realize that they had feelings for each other.
Perhaps, if she had been less tired, she might have followed that gesture of affection with something more, but finally the yawn she had been fighting broke free, making her jaw click with its intensity. She laughed through it, her eyes full of apology for her lack of romance. "I am so sorry."
He only smiled, not blaming her for being tired. "It will be a few hours before we reach New York. You should get some rest," he told her, not offended at all that she was falling asleep on him. There would be time to talk when they got to New York - or so he hoped.
"So should you," she pointed out, but it didn't prevent her from resting her head on his shoulder as she relaxed against the startingly comfortable seat she was buckled into.
"Da, I suppose I should," he replied, making no promises, as he glanced down at the pretty face that was resting on his shoulder. "Słodkie sny," he whispered in her own native Polish, touching a kiss to the top of her head. Sweet dreams. So, it seemed he was fluent in more than just Russian and English.
She smiled at the words that were so familiar, yet so rarely heard, nestling a little more comfortably against him. Despite the tension and terror of the last twenty hours or so, she felt safe, protected. She knew Maxim would look after her in the new life they were winging their way toward.
He hoped he could do just that. It was why he was here, after all - in good part, why he had agreed to leave the familiarity of his homeland for the streets of New York, a place he'd never been. But it wasn't just about Aleksandra. Like some of the others he was joining, he had a deep abiding hatred for Hydra, and joining A.E.G.I.S. seemed the most promising way of destroying them.
If everything Nat had told him was true, A.E.G.I.S. was the only agency in direct opposition to Hydra, and what reason did she have to lie to him about that? She'd worked for too many agencies gone bad to be drawn in again. But any questions could wait for a few hours, at least until they'd landed on American soil. Their companions on the quinjet didn't disturb them as they slept away the remaining hours of the journey, not until the jet began its descent on the cusp of dawn, down onto an airfield in upstate New York.