|Red Dawn: Part 2|
|What: Natalia Romanova was the young woman set on the path to becoming the Red Room's most deadly spy; the Black Widow. Though she hadn't expected the first lives she would take would be those of her fellow students.|
Natalia has been part of Ivan's class for several months now. One of her fellow students seems somewhat bashful around her, perhaps smitten with the attractive young woman. She's been well taught how to read such signs. The other two men, however, have grown to loathe her for the perceived favoritism Ivan grants her.
It all comes to a head, one day. No one is quite sure what transpired, but the two resentful students are dead by Natalia's hand. An instructor found all four students in a room. The one man was tied to a chair. The two dead ones lay at Nat's feet - one with a snapped neck, the other with a pen rammed through his eye.
Ivan isn't the first instructor on the scene, but he's not far behind. Of course Natalia is relieved of any weapons and told she will be confined while this is looked into. Ivan catches her eye as she is being led from the room.
Natalia seems calm while being detained, but it's clear it's a forced calm. When Ivan catches her eye, she bows her head. Was is apology, sorrow? Or maybe it was shame. It was hard to tell. She doesn't have any other weapons on her, aside from a second pen. Once the surviving student is released and interrogated, he reveals that the other two had been 'practicing' torture techniques on him. When Natalia came in unexpectedly, they threatened to tie her down and torture her as well. She responded to one grabbing her by effortlessly snapping his neck. She then took a pen from her pocket and stabbed the other in the eye, watching him scream and bleed to death with a strange look on her face.
Ivan talks to the student himself, though he insists the young man's wounds be cared for while he talks. Ivan tries so hard not to get attached to ones like this..the ones he knows won't make it, but that he can't stop from being sent out, or killed like he might have been today without even making it as far as the field. The other two..they might have actually been able to survive, to accomplish missions for their superiors. But while he talks calmly to the frightened young man, and promises him at least a brief respite from his classes to recover, inwardly he suspects that in her place, he very likely would have done the same. At least Natalia is still a student, and allowed some leeway.
For Natalia, it's an hour, maybe more before the door to the nondescript cell of a room she was sent to is opened. Ivan steps in, his expression unreadable, or at least mostly. Natalia is so skilled with such things she may see hints of some conflict there. He looks her over and then tosses her a handkerchief. "So..would you like to tell me what that was?"'
He finds Natalia sitting crosslegged in the cell, her eyes unfocused. Her gaze fixes on Ivan's face, and then his feet, as he enters. She looks keenly uncomfortable, despite her calm posture. She picks up the handkerchief, and starts to try cleaning the blood off of her cheek and hands. "They were torturing Nikolai." she states, in a somewhat detached tone. "And they said they would do worse to me. One grabbed me - I don't remember which. I acted on instinct." She takes a deep breath. "The second one came then. Again, reflexively I struck back at him. I wanted to protect Nikolai." She looks up into Ivan's eyes, now. The gaze is steady, but there seems to be a note of - pleading, perhaps, in her eyes? "Did I do wrong, Uchitel?"
Ivan leans against the wall, though he focuses on her with arms crossed, listening as she talks. "...We're not to attack our comrades." he finally says, and she might wonder if she's being shamed. But then, "We're to protect them." he says, walking over and lifting up her chin to meet her eye if she won't look at him. "And that's what you did."
Natalia did duck her head when Ivan began to speak. She felt so ashamed, for some reason - she felt that she had failed a mission. But when Ivan lifts her chin, her eyes widen slightly. "But - I killed two fellow students." she replies, uncertainty in her voice. "I..." For a moment, Ivan can see under Natalia's mask of professionalism. Underneath is a young woman who is scared of losing the only way of living she knows. And a woman dealing with the fact that two men are dead, by her hands alone.
Ivan holds her gaze, and corrects solemnly, "You killed two enemies." he lets that sink in, then answers before she can ask; "Yes, they were also students. Yes, I could tell you those two had promise and now they're dead. But what they were doing crossed the line. -They- made themselves your enemies. And in doing that they earned the consequences. And yes, it's a shame to have wasted their promise, but if they bit off more than they could chew it's their fault, not yours. Do you understand?"
Natalia's eyes meet his, emotions flickering through their depths as she listens to his words intently. She nods, very slowly. The shame seems to drain from her, as she lets out a breath she didn't know she was holding. "I understand, Uchitel. Thank you." There's a pause, then, as she looks at her hands. Still red with blood, even as she tries to clean it off. "I... Feel uneasy, Uchitel." she admits, uncomfortably.
Ivan straightens up again, only to hook a flimsy chair with the toe of his boot and pull it over to sit across from her cot. "..Oh?" he asks, inviting her to elaborate. His hands are crossed in his lap, the bare one over the gloved.
Natalia lets her gaze shift to her teacher's hands - she had always wondered about the singular glove. But such thoughts were far from her now. "I feel... discomforted." she starts, clearly having trouble finding words. "I... I took someone's life today. Two lives. It could have easily been Nikolai and myself dying instead. And yet - I remember striking them and I feel cold."
Ivan...is quiet for longer this time. Finally he says, "..You probably should. Taking life may be part of the job we have to do...but it's easy to get trivial about it. Or worse, sadistic, like those two you killed. We need to function, yes, but enjoying death and pain is just another kind of indulgence that can control you. ..So maybe it's better that you feel cold when you kill. That you can feel the weight of it. So that you can remember that you once did, even when you've become numb to it..." he hesitates, seeming uncertain if he should say more, but finally adds, "Sometimes I wish I could."
Natalia is quiet for a long while, absorbing what Ivan is telling her. She's silent after he's done speaking. After a moment of internal debate, she tentatively reaches a hand out, and lays it on top of Ivan's. If she were asked why, she wouldn't know how to answer. It felt like the right thing to do. She doesn't speak.
Ivan seems surprised at the gesture, but not offended. After what she just experienced, and she's trying to comfort him..? He could laugh if doing so wouldn't have been sure to send the wrong message. Instead he shifts his bare hand to pat hers between his. "..Hey. Don't worry about me." he takes a breath. "..So. that still leaves us with the part where I should be reminding you that you didn't benefit at all by risking yourself for Nikolai..." but he glances to her with a look that's coy-- lively and conspiratorial in a way she's never seen in the classroom, like they were sharing a joke or secret. "..How about let's just skip that part. And if anyone asks, we'll say I did. Sound fair?"
Natalia finds herself smiling back, a grin that makes her look not like an operative in training, but a young woman plotting with a friend on how best to make mischief. "Da, uchitel. I understand." She finds something comforting in all of this; in the way Ivan smiles at her, in his warm hand atop hers. "Thank you."
Ivan nods. "Don't mention it." he assures. He gives her hand one more reassuring squeeze, then stands up. "This all ought to be patched up soon, but I'm going to go check up on how it's going." he scoots the chair back over to the wall, opening the door.
Natalia watches him go, suddenly finding a lump in her throat. She coughs, trying to ease the tightness. Realizing that the cough sounded like she wanted to say something, she taps her fingers together, twice "...Will I still be under your instruction?" she asks, biting her lip. How unsure of herself she sounded.
Ivan does turn inquiringly when she coughs, halfway out the door. He laughs quietly at her question. "..Yes." he answers. "Absolutely." he doesn't add that after her display of confidence and ability the higher ups wouldn't dream of derailing the path she's on. No..that's certainly not going to change. "Uchenik?" he adds, to get her attention again. "You'll be alright." he assures, seeming to mean it sincerely. And then he ducks out, the door closing behind him and leaving her alone again.