|Red Dawn: Part 3|
|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's coming to realize there are things she doesn't know about her combat instructor.. and things worth learning other than killing.|
As time goes on, Natalia's trend of excelling doesn't falter. Whether it's infiltration, stealth, problem solving, or combat, she knows she's turning heads. That Black Widow title may well be within her reach, if she can keep it up.. there are others older than her who have a head start, they're the main competition now. She just has to wring every bit of use from her studies so when she hits the mission field she can land running and never look back.
As Ivan assured her, her lessons with him suffer no interruption. At least not from the episode with her departed fellow students. New students are chosen for the coveted slots, and Nikolai makes sure the new arrivals know what happened. ..She doesn't think she'll have to deal with a repeat of that horror at least.. they both view her with wary respect.
But she does come to realize that the one time Ivan missed a class in the first few months was apparently not an isolated event; it happens a few times more, and her studied eye might note that he always seems somewhat drawn and tired the day after. Well..assumedly he has missions of his own, and must in general do other things than teach?
"Uchitel looks unwell today again." Natalia tells Nikolai, a frown on her face.
The young man shrugs, gesturing subtly with his hands. "Mission, you think?" he replies, briefly glancing at Ivan.
"Must be." Natalia's not happy about it, but...
Nikolai voices her own thoughts. "It's not our business, Tasha."
Still she can't help but worry for the teacher she adores, if only privately. She made a point to keep an eye on Ivan, trying not to be obvious.
Before they can exchange further words, Ivan calls for their attention-- there's no more time to speculate, and the lesson is still well enough to wear the students out. But with her eye peeled between classes, she notices Ivan ducking off down a rarely used hallway when his time is not otherwise spoken for.
Stealth training was Natalia's second favorite study after Ivan's courses. So when she sees Ivan sneak down a hallway, she follows him, stalking behind as silently as possible. Stalking-games weren't uncommon in the school, although it was usually student-pairs practicing on each other. She follows Ivan, her breath slow and calm.
She's won her share of sweets-- the bartering material of choice amongst the students-- besting others at such games.. or once or twice even stealing trinkets or tea outright from the school on especially daring occasions. She has no reason to doubt her abilities now, and Ivan shows no sign of noticing his auburn haired shadow. He heads to a dusty side room that looks like it's half full of storage, the other half empty and waiting for whatever else might need to go there. He slips between two racks of shelved boxes. They're all held shut with locks.. with the student games, it makes sense. But he pulls open one of the locks casually-- is it a fake one? And opens a box, taking something out...
Natalia holds her breath, releasing is as a silent huff, before breathing again. It took a great deal of effort to breathe silently. What was Uchitel taking? For an instant, a smirk comes to her face as she imagines stoic Ivan secretly being a chocolate addict.
Ivan walks a few steps, setting it on top of a pile of boxes by the shelves.. it's a radio. An old, worn radio. He turns it on, and she hears the crooning trills of a collection of wind instruments overlayed with the rich, lazy sounds of a woman's voice crooning in English. Ivan lets out a breath, murmuring, "Not too late." with a note of satisfaction
Natalia is enthralled. The music was so different than what she was used to, and yet - there was familiarities, too. The words she could understand, but she misses enough of them to the quiet volume that the meaning still elude her. It was beautiful, though. She finds herself closing her eyes to focus solely on the melody floating in the air.
The radio may not be playing very loud, but she catches something about something ending, or not ending? And something lingering, but being taken away? Though when Ivan starts humming along with a sort of abstracted look, it makes it all the more difficult to catch. The melody though is very loose and warm and comes in and out like a tide. It's far from the sparkling precision of ballet music, but somehow it still invites movement.
Music has always guided Natalia, and so the urge to move with the melody strikes her. She's in a sort of daze, being transported somewhere by this strange music. So she spins slowly, still careful to not make sound. A graceful step, a half-turn. Ballet steps modified and adapted to fit the unfamiliar cadence of notes. Her eyes are half-open, and now she performs only for herself and her own joy.
Ivan's humming turns to quiet singing-- his voice sounds..different somehow than when her teachers or fellow students speak English. Maybe he learned from someone with a different accent. He's..not the best singer, but he seems not thr least bit self conscious about it. Why would he be anyways? He's still staring over the top of the device, what reason would he have to know a silent Natalia was there, responding to the poignant music in her own way just outside the room.
Natalia continues to dance and weave, her steps becoming more sure of themselves. The song's melody reminded her of wistfulness, and somehow that translates into her dance, as she tiptoes side to side, sinking into a low bow before rising again. It was strange to dance to an unknown melody - but she was enjoying herself, an utterly relaxed look on her face.
The song finally ends with the whole band joining in, all brass notes and bold hits, and despite the yearning quality, it seems resolved and hopeful at the end. It fades, and in the brief pause before the next song starts, Ivan wonders with a wry sort of tone coloring the English he's still employing, "You gonna come in where you can hear, or just stand by the door, Nattie?" the nickname perhaps poking fun at the fact that by all intents and purposes, she shouldn't be here.
Ivan turns, and even if he's trying to keep a straight face, the amusement shows in his eyes. He looks a little surprised though, when he realizes she'd been dancing.
Natalia freezes when Ivan calls her out. Oh, that was embarrassing! Had he known she was there the whole time? Her ears burn red, for more than one reason. 'Nattie' was a strange nickname, at least to a Russian mind. But, somehow that made it better - it was something special. "That was beautiful, uchitel. I've never heard anything like it." There's a child-like curiosity in her eyes, even if the rest of her seems calm and somber. She edges in. "What was it?"
Ivan shrugs, but then he says as if surprising himself, "Ella Fitzgerald, Queen of Jazz.." he swallows, and switches back to Russian to ask, "So you like that kind of music?" A new song comes on over the radio, something more upbeat and swingy.
"I love music, Uchitel. If not for this school..." She trails off as the music starts up again She taps her foot to get the tempo, and starts dancing again, familiar movements made awkward by the unexpected beat. She's smiling though, broader than Ivan has ever seen. "Even though this music is different, it still moves me."
Ivan's head is already bobbing, and he grins in response to her smile. It's easy to forget when he's teaching, severe and businesslike... but when he smiles he really doesn't look that much older than some of the senior students. Most of the other instructors are middle aged. He blinks when she starts dancing, watching curiously at first, though finally he chuckles. "It's a long way from ballet, huh?" he was aware she was trained to dance, but until now it had never really registered that she was, in fact, a dancer. He notes in admiration, "Not that the switch-up seems to be slowing you down much..."
"It is... but it still flows. It feels..." Natalia tilts her head, even as she continues to dance, amending her ballet steps to match the music. "Smooth. In Ballet, you must always hold yourself in great posture. But this music - it feels as if it is meant for more relaxed movements." She blushes, frowning a bit at her awkward speaking. "Does that make sense?
He nods, watching her attempts with something in his eye that's soft. She's had ample occasion in the past to see many people look at her like she was valuable, desirable, coveted.. but it's likely rare indeed that she's seen someone's look in her direction be fond. "I think you're right. I think once I knew.." he trails off, as if surprised at himself for saying that. But then he pushes off where he was leaning, standing near her, and he wonders, his hidden left hand upturned, "Hey, hey..want to try?"'
Natalia stills, looking at Ivan with curiosity - and a prominent blush. That look made her feel so warm inside. "Will you teach me, Uchitel?" All of the trainees of the Red Room called him Uchitel, but somehow it sounded different when Natalia said it. She gently lays her hand on top of his, matching her posture to match him.
He laughs a little at the way it sounds different.. he never felt like a teacher. Not when he was just making more killers to go out and murder and die.. but this? This he feels like he could wear the name and take some perverse pride in it. Well. Assuming.. "I'm not sure how much I know." he confesses, but when she takes his hand, his bare one moves naturally to just between her shoulder blades. There's still something strange about the feel of that gloved hand-- but the way he snaps naturally into a dancer's frame could make her wonder if he was just teasing about his lack of knowledge. It may be a different type of dance, but she can tell with her skill that whatever form it is, he's well practiced in it. As the lively song swings around to the chorus again, he starts nudging her into motion, looking almost abstracted. He leads them in a simple step, but even though it's just the one, his motions are loose and low, almost lazy seeming compared to ballet, even though the tension in his arms never leaves her confused as to where the step is meant to take them. A slow grin starts to spread on his face, something almost like boyish delight as if this was just as new to him as to her.
Dancing was Natalia's first nature, her dance instructors had remarked with amusement once. But it could be true. Despite the unfamiliarity of the movements, she adapts easily, moving smoothly with Ivan. Her free hand moves to his waist, mirroring his position. The blush remains, as she thinks about how jealous the other girls would be, to have Ivan show such sweetness to her. She keeps looking into his eyes, a delighted smile on her face.
Ivan outright laughs when her hand drops to his waist and he says in English, "You better be pretty cozy with a girl to do that!" adding in Russian as he shifts her hand up towards his shoulder smoothly, "Your hand goes here." Though he seems to change his mind and ends up ducking his head under her arm and doing a quick little turn that follows naturally into spinning her about just after, a cheeky grin mirroring her smile.
Natalia laughs in return, surprised by hearing her usually dour instructor do so. Her smile widens even more as he takes her hand - but she wasn't expecting to be spun! She gasps, and laughs again, a free and careless sound no one would expect from the deadly competent young trainee. "May I be cozy with you?" she asks in English, the words rather heavily accented.
Ivan is more delighted than he entirely understands by the shift to English.. and if he enjoys the accent, it never occurs to him how strange it is that the accent of his 'native language' would stand out to him. He finds himself grinning at a statement that would have shocked him in any other setting. But somehow all of this seems terribly fleeting and special right now, so he answers with an accent that comes only from New York, "Anytime you like, Red." and spins her again, this time cheekily shifting it into a dip as the song ends.
Natalia feels the specialness of the moment as well, and she intends to treasure the memory of it. The strange accent - and the teasing of calling her Red - startle her. So she's almost literally swept off her feet when James dips her. The hand on his shoulder tightens, and one of her legs straightens and kicks high to counterbalance her. She pants a little, exhilarated by the dance. She stares into his eyes. "Thank you for a beautiful lesson." she whispers, still in English.
He tugs her back gently to her feet, still smiling, a wistful edge to it. "S'not many here who'd say so. But really, any time. I..oughta thank you too." he trails off again, as if he'd say something more, but ends up saying instead, "Your English's good."'
Natalia finds herself loathe to let go of Ivan, just now. The blush is still visible on her cheeks a she looks up at her teacher, smiling. "Dance is underappriciated. I'm glad someone else understands its beauty." she says, reverting to Russian now. "Your English is flawless. I've been trying very hard to learn - but it's such an odd language."
Ivan grins, though it's more restrained, with a bit less of the open, energetic quality it had before. He switches back to Russian as well. "Thank you. I understand I spent a lot of time learning it for missions there when I was younger."
Natalia tilts her head quizzically, the hand on Ivan's shoulder slowly dropping to her side. She doesn't let go of his hand, though. Not yet. "You..understand? Did something happen that you -? I'm sorry." She withdraws her other hand, looking apologetic. "I shouldn't ask."
It's not difficult to see his discomfort, but after all, the part he should be worried about was involving her in this at all..the dancing, the music. His circumstances aren't a secret, they just don't advertise it to the students lest they get distracted from his lessons. But he hardly has to worry about a driven, savvy woman like Natalia taking his lessons less seriously for such knowledge. "No, it's fine. I don't remember anything since.. It's difficult to say. I don't remember a lot, anyhow."
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have brought it up." Natalia apologizes. "I think you should make new memories, then. And cherish them." She smiles. "So... will you give me more lessons, Uchitel?" she asks, the smile becoming a wry grin.
A grimace answers her words at first... Ivan isn't sure what he hopes for when people find out, but pity is definitely not it, and discomfort is nearly as bad...but he's surprised by the opinion that follows. "..Make new ones, is it?" he nods, his own smile slowly returning. "...I'd like that." he says, and it's fairly clear he means on both subjects. Though both of them are likely well aware that the higher ups would never approve of private swing lessons between their combat instructor and their ballet-trained top spy. Still, in-school espionage -is- all but expected.
Natalia curtsies, a gesture she learned as part of her ballerina training. "Well then, I guess we start tomorrow?" she asks, wry grin still in place. Classes begin again soon, don't they? I should go before we get caught - after all, it would be rather unbecoming for Uchitel and his Uchenik to be together unsupervised." Definite sass on that one.
Ivan snorts a laugh, though he echoes her curtsy with a bow that's more cheeky than graceful. "You're right though, we should go." he glances to the radio. "..They tend to play the songs I end up recognizing around this time of day, and then again at night." apparently he doesn't have any recordings of his own. "I'd.. like to see how much more I can remember." he looks as if he's more nervous saying that than from any other action she's seen him take, oddly enough.
Natalia smiles, and nods her head. "Tonight, then? After my final lesson for the day?" She grins at his bow (so cute, she would think, if it were a fellow student). "I'd be honored to help you, Uchitel." she says, solemnly.
Ivan nods, seeming pleasantly surprised at the prospect. "Tonight." he agrees. "They usually start around ten."
Of course it would happen that later that very afternoon he is called away for a mission. She isn't told how long it will be, though perhaps because they value him as an instructor, she's never seen him be absent more than a day or two at a time. It's strange though.. he'd been gone only the day before as well.
It's dark and quiet in the hallways. The floors are tile, and there are no carpets. Students who dare to sneak out have to be skilled if they don't want to draw the attention of the instructors enforcing curfew. Of all the times Natalia's done so without being caught though, sneaking -towards- an Instructor may be a first.
Natalia has gotten very good at ghosting through the hallways, and so has no trouble getting to Ivan's room. She's a bit early, tonight. Maybe it was because she was worried. But in any case, she quietly opens the door, not risking a knock. She pokes her head in.
Surprisingly though, when she arrives at Ivan's room, it's dark. Not so dark though that she can't see that it's nearly as sparse as the student rooms, however.. When she's glimpsed the rooms of other instructors before, they showed much more signs of being lived in, trappings of their owners and their lives. In point of fact, even Ivan himself seems at first to be absent.. Ivan has little but a hotplate and some fixings for coffee, and some worn paperbacks on the table that houses the lamp by his bed. Which is where Ivan turns out to be. He did have a mission earlier, now that she thinks of it.. perhaps he turned in early.
Natalia creeps in quietly, closing the door behind her. Her eyes adjust quickly - and a small smile plays on her face. Ivan was asleep - it was an oddly sweet thing to see. 'He must be tired. I shouldn't wake him. Still... I should leave a present. I did get all the way here.' She ghosts over to the bed, intending to leave a hairpin there.
It seems like an innocent enough prank in lieu of the agreed meeting.. but as she draws closer she may notice how tightly his right hand is gripping the bed clothes. Ivan's murmuring quietly but it what almost seems to be fear, his expression drawn as he sleeps. Oddly, if she tries to listen, it sounds like what he's murmuring are English numbers.
Natalia's smile becomes a frown. Nightmares. Nikolai had them - and sometimes she would have to wake him up and comfort him. "Uchitel? Uchitel, wake up?" she whispers quietly, kneeling down next to the bed. She was afraid to touch him - one of the lessons the girls had been taught was to never wake a sleeping soldier by touching him.
And what stands for one soldier must surely apply to the one sometimes referred to as The Soldier. Ivan grimaces, curling up on his side. His muttering devolves into confused incoherence as she speaks, and she thinks he must be asking a question.
Natalia tilts her head slightly, trying to decipher what he was saying. A question...? "Uchitel, it's me, Natalia." she says, still a whisper. "Can you hear me?"
He grimaces at that last question, and makes an almost pained noise, twisting around the other way in response to whatever might be transpiring in his mind. He doesn't seem any closer to waking weather he registered her words or not.
"Uchitel..." Natalia's heart chills a bit - Nikolai's nightmares were often like this. She didn't want her Uchitel to suffer... "Wake up?" she asks rising up and placing some weight on the bed. She's leaning over him. "You're safe."
That does it. His eyes snap open, unseeing and hostile when her weight shifts the bed. One hand darts under the pillow for what is almost certainly a weapon, and there's a glint to one side-- he couldn't already have a weapon in his other hand, surely??
For a split second, Natalia's heart freezes, skipping a beat. And then she does what she did for Nikolai, once. When he had opened his eyes and seen her as his attackers.
She leans down, quickly, and kisses Ivan on the lips.
Something cold and metal clamps down on her right shoulder, pressure digging painfully into her collarbone...but the grip stutters in confusion and Ivan makes a startled noise, the kiss patently out of place for whatever night terrors he had been in the grip of.
The pressure on her shoulder lessens, only to shove her back and away abruptly. Ivan swallows, eyes darting about to take in the room, and her, and finally registering disoriented recognition. "Nattie?!" he gasps, and scoots to sit up himself. "What-- where the hell'd you come from?"
Natalia makes a pained sound when inhuman fingers dig into her shoulder. When she is shoved back she ends up kneeled on the floor, her hand on her shoulder, rubbing the bruising skin. She stares at Ivan wide eyed. "I... sneaked in here." Natalia admits. "U-Uchitel. You were having a nightmare. You looked like you were in pain." she explains, standing up. She's staring at the metal arm.
It's certainly apparent. He's dressed for bed, and there's nothing covering the glinting, overlapping plates that make up his entire arm from the shoulder all the way down, plates overlapping his collarbone on the left, and likely the shoulder blade too behind. The shoulder shines red from the star emblazoned near the top.
Well. There had been rumors around the school. even with the evidence of having sparred and later danced with him it may have been difficult to believe, but this rather puts the question to rest.
"Snuck..or skulked, if you wanna be extra shady.." Ivan corrects absently. For his part he still seems shaky from his dream, though he's rallying decently. One has to, in their line of work. He heaves out a breath, twisting to set his feet on the floor and offer her a hand up.. only to notice where she's looking.
He pretends not to notice. "You okay?"
Natalia notices then, when Ivan addresses her, that she's staring. WIth a bit of a blush, her takes her gaze away from his metal arm, and focuses on his face. "Just surprised. You've given me worse in class." she says calmly, coming closer to sit on the edge of the bed. "Are you okay? You had me worried, Uchitel."
Ivan rubs his right hand through his hair, folding the left over his knee where he sits. "Yeah it's.. I'm fine. You don't have to worry about that, Nattie. Why're you even.." he blinks, the facts slotting into place, and he punctuates that thought with a colorful term in English.
Natalia raises an eyebrow. She didn't know the word Ivan had just used, but she had a feeling the etiquette teacher would frown at it. "I was coming for our lesson. When I saw yoiu having a nightmare, I was worried."
Ivan rubs his face, the left hand seeming to bother him no more than the right, and he gives a rueful laugh. "After I missed out yesterday, I flat forgot. This is a fine how-do-you-do, isn't it?" he says, though at least he's smiling.
Natalia smiles a bit herself. "You're alright, now?" Shyly, she reaches out and put her hand on his metal shoulder.
"I'm fine," he assures. "Just a little bad dream." He gets to his feet then, barefoot and dressed in loose pants and an undershirt. He starts to reach over to the side table, but pauses, a little surprised when he registers her hand on his shoulder.
"I always wondered, why one arm seemed stronger than the other." she says, withdrawing. "I won't tell anyone, if you want it a secret."
Ivan shrugs, answering honestly, "It doesn't matter to me; it's just my arm. But the higher-ups want me to keep a lid on it here." It is unquestionably distinctive; in a school for spies, perhaps they're simply practicing economy of information.
Ivan steps around to the side table, flashing her a conspiratorial grin as he opens the cabinet section of it and produces a radio. "But anyhow, you came for a dance lesson, huh?"
Natalia nods. "Okay." She stands up then, and on instinct gives Ivan a quick hug. "Sorry, if I scared you." She grins as he brings up the reason for her coming here in the first place. "We're not too late are we?"
Ivan is surprised, but gives her a quick squeeze in return. "Hey, it was just a bad dream. Just be careful, huh? It's lucky I didn't snap something.." he sets the radio up on the counter by the hot plate, and checks the clock with a frown.. but she had the right time, and he lets out a breath. "No, they oughta have just started." he notes with satisfaction.
Natalia nods, and takes his metal hand with one of hers. "I'm glad. I woke you the same way I wake Kolya." she smiles some more. Pointedly, she doesn't ask why he has a metal arm. "I was looking forward to this. It may be my new favorite lesson."
Ivan notices all too well the words that aren't being said, and smiles from the small relief it represents.
She might have guessed he doesn't remember, but even if he did, he appreciates her accepting his hand to dance without being required to explain it first. This one is full of small surprises. He snorts at her words. "Better not let the others hear you say that." he notes wryly, leading her over to the more open part of the room and with a slight tug leading her into frame. But as he bobs his head to the music and lets his mind go blank while his body remembers the moves, almost like fighting, almost like killing, but so very much better, he admits, "Me too."