|Red Dawn: Part 4|
|What: Natalia Romanova, the young woman set on the path to becoming the Black Widow, goes on her first mission for the Red Room.|
Ivan continues to teach Natalia his equally complex but far more loose dancing on the side, and if they fall into a habit of speaking English at those times.. well, neither of them seem to mention it, so who can say if it means anything? At least it's another skill she's advancing in. But as Natalia's more observed skills increase and she gains more and more notice, it's only a matter of time before she was assigned her first real mission. She's given a couple of days warning, but that's all. Ivan gives an excuse not to meet that night, saying something about how she'll want to prepare.
Natalia was nervous that night, although she didn't let it show. Nikolai guessed anyway. "You'll do fine, Tasha. Whatever it is they have you do, you can handle it. Don't doubt yourself. Natalia smiles. "Thanks, Kolya. They'll be watching and judging me, so there's a lot of pressure. Waiting is worse than doing." Nikolai grins, hugging her around the shoulder. "Get some rest, Tasha. Dawn comes early." "Stay out of trouble while I'm gone, Kolya. If anything happens, go to Uchitel Ivan. He'll help." Privately Nat was upset Ivan had cancelled their dancing session. She had begun to eagerly look forward to them. But she couldn't worry about that. Giving Nikolai a gentle goodnight kiss, she snuck her way back to her own quarters to sleep.
The next day Ivan still seems as if something's on his mind. Nothing has happened but the announcement of her mission that she knows of, but he of all people should know that she can handle it, he's told her many times himself how impressed he is with her abilities.
"Uchitel?" Natalia was supposed to be leaving soon, and her handlers for the mission had given her some time to get ready. She had everything in order, and wanted to speak with Ivan before she left. "I promise I'll be careful. Please don't worry!"
Ivan isn't surprised when she comes to see him.. but he thought she'd be looking for reassurance, not trying to reassure him, of all things! It surprises him enough that he exclaims, "I know you'll succeed, it's not that that I'm--"
Natalia tilts her head. "You're what, then?" she asks. She checks her time; still some left. "I know I can do this. And when I get back, we'll dance again, okay? That'll give me motivation to not slack off." She has not idea what's bothering Ivan - and she might not understand, either.
Ivan smiles at her sadly, and reaches out to gently push a lock of hair away from her face. "..I know you can. And I know you will, too...and. ..And sure.. you bet. Tonight." between the expression and the smile, she can tell he doesn't believe what he's saying.
Natalia closes her eyes as Ivan brushes away her hair - why did he look so sad? It worried her far more than the impending mission. "I'll come back." she insists. She opens her eyes, and before she really thinks about it, she's hugging him. "So don't get all worried about me for nothing, do you hear? I need you to look after Kolya while I'm gone."
Ivan ends up hugging her more tightly than he meant to before he pushes her back with a hand on her shoulder and a smile that doesn't reach his eyes. "I know you will. But don't promise what you can't keep; no one's the same person they were yesterday." and with that confusing statement he nods. "I'll keep an eye out." he promises, and there's a solidity to the words that suggests he means it. "And I'll get some of that tea you like for when you stop by."
Natalia is confused by Ivan's statement. "I'm not going to stop enjoying dance..." she murmurs, clearly baffled. She looks at the time. "I have to go. Being late for my first mission would be too embarrassing. Goodbye... Uchitel Ivan." She stands at attention for a moment, before hurrying out.
Ivan stands at respectful attention to match...she's an active agent now, after all. He smiles. "We're peers now, you know. Or nearly. Once you go out there, you don't have to call me that anymore. Take care, Natalia."
Natalia turns around, and chuckles. "Just Natalia, now? May I call you Ivan?"
Ivan 's mouth curls up in a more genuine grin. "You've earned the right to call me whatever you wish as far as I'm concerned." he answers her.
Natalia winks, and waves a fond farewell before running off so she isn't late.
- * * * *
Whatever the case, she is barely on time. Her handlers are practical and unamused, but say nothing since she did make it without technically being tardy. They get her on a plane and briefed with cool efficiency. She knows her target, she knows the layout. She has time to memorize routes, and escapes, and where and in what numbers guards are expected. For her first mission they picked one where the intelligence was as complete as they could get... but that doesn't make it any less deadly if she's caught on the way to her goal.
Natalia studied everything, memorizing the exact path she needed to take. Target was stationary, for the most part. That made things easier than they could have been. Extraction would be easier than getting in, she hoped. This wouldn't be easy. Then again, she liked challenges. She could probably get to her target blindfolded with how she memorized the building's layout. She's quiet, and manages to get to her target without so much as encountering anyone.
It has her on her toes, to be sure-- a couple of times she only barely ghosts through before she hears guards patrolling by moments later. Right at the door is the toughest, as she actually has to sneak through a room that is constantly occupied, using blind spots and distraction to her advantage, but she makes it! She finds herself in a large room. It's very grand, just like the rest of the place. But rather than the cold aloof hard figure she might expect, with her own associations of finery and authority, she finds a young, sad seeming man. The heir to a company, she was told, standing in the way of one who needs the power he is not worthy to wield, even as his father who was struck down before him. And it was easy, during her briefing, to imagine someone careless and evil. But this youth.. he's looking out the window, shoulders bowed from loss, eyes upturned as if trying to find his way.
Natalia freezes in her tracks, staring at the back of the man. One her way here, she had placed stand-ins in her mind. The boys she had killed to save Kolya. A couple of instructors she was not fond of. Creepy old man. But, this man - he wasn't what she thought. She walks forward, slow, steady, and silent. Trying desperately to squash the apprehension and doubt that showed so clearly on her face.
Her target exhales quietly, lowering his eyes as he leans on the open window frame, pensive, and clearly in thought. When she's done, whatever he's thinking will never reach a conclusion, whatever is troubling him will have to go on without his existence. He doesn't seem like he'll leave his post any time soon. He has no idea what is behind him.
"...I'm sorry." Natalia whispers, jamming a knife in to his neck and severing his spinal cord. It's a quick, painless death. She wraps her free arm around the man's torso, gently lowering him to the ground. Suddenly, everything seems blurry - she was crying. There wasn't much blood - his heart had stopped beating almost instantly. What blood there is she cleans up from the floor. She takes the knife out, cleans it, sheaths it. Her hands are stained. Taking a breath, she gives the signal that the job is done, and makes her way out the window the man had been looking through, heading to the rendezvous point.
She's picked up tidily, and given approving congratulations... not a single alarm or suspicion was tripped so far as they can tell. One handler even pats her shoulder, and tells his fellow that he bets they've got the next Black Widow there before them...'
Natalia is numb to the congratulations, nodding faintly at the praise, but otherwise drawing into herself. If questioned, she answers succinctly and dryly. All through the trip back, she looks down at her hands. Why did it feel so different, now. She has killed before. She hadn't felt like vomiting back then.
The rest of the trip leaves her to her muted haze. When she is dropped off, she gets a few more curt acknowledgements of superior performance, and then is ushered off to clean up and settle down for the evening.. the trip and mission ate up the better part of the day.
Natalia washes and changes into a sleeping gown - she usually wore sleep shorts to bed. She drops herself onto her cot, staring blankly at the wall. When Nikolai knocks on her door, she tells him to leave. Something in her voice scares him, and so he makes his way to Ivan's room, knocking timidly. "Uchitel Ivan?"
Ivan already knows. He must, for if Natalia snaps out of her thoughts enough from the knocking to look around.. she finds a cup of cooling tea on her side table. The tea Ivan had optimistically suggested drinking together-- but it seems he knew even as he was saying it how things would really turn out. He left it for her. So he's surprised when there's a knock, and opens the door alertly..?
"Uchitel?" Nikolai looks sheepish to have disturbed Ivan. The shy man fidgets nervously. He was gifted in all things electronic in nature, but talking with others never was his high point. "Tasha - I mean, Natalia - She's back, but.. she sounds like she might have been hurt. Anyway, she wouldn't let me in her room, and that never happens, not without a reason. Could you... check on her for me?"
Ivan ..sighs, softening when he sees who it is. "Nikolai.." he starts, but then repeats the sigh. He suspects there's nothing he can do.. he's seen so many lose what flicker of innocence they had in this place, and he's really not in any hurry to see that look on Nat. But he knows Nikolai won't understand if he tries to say so, so he nods. "I'll check on her." he agrees. "Don't worry...I'm sure it's just nerves from her mission."
"Thank you, Uchitel. I just wish I was strong enough for her." Nikolai bades Ivan goodbye, and heads back to his own dorm before someone catches him out of bounds. If Ivan comes to Natalia's room, her door is unlocked. She's sitting up with her back against the wall, legs crossed. The cup of tea Ivan made is cradled in her hand as she stares at nothing, her cheeks wet.
Ivan pushes the door open gently. Her face tells her all he needed to know, though he's glad if the tea was some small comfort. "Hey." he greets, gentle, and not moving past the door for now.
Natalia takes a moment to look towards Ivan. She takes a deep breath, and with an effort sets the teacup down. Her hands shake ever so slightly. "...I didn't want to." she says, her voice sounding odd. She looks away, wrapping her arms around herself. It's a vulnerable gesture. "I'm sorry."
One might assume she was talking about missing their dance lesson. But he doesn't seem to. He steps inside, and lets the door close, letting her gesture of vulnerability at least be closed off from the world at large. "..It gets easier." he says, though whether he considers that a good thing or not, is anyone's guess.
"...I don't want it to get easier." Natalia admits, still not looking at Ivan. She's afraid of what she'll find in his face. "I don't - I don't want to forget..." She draws her knees to her chest, looking not like a Black Widow, but a normal, frightened young woman. "Does that make me weak?"
It feels like something's twisting in Ivan's gut, but he still summons a conspiratorial smile for her, sitting down on the side of the bed. "..You want the truth, Nattie?" he asks her, and if she doesn't say otherwise he tells her frank and up front, "..I figure if you can shoulder the work we have to do and not forget..then you're stronger than anyone else I've seen come through here." he pauses. "..Guess that includes me." though in his case, he can't even remember how or in what way he sacrificed that.
Natalia sighs, looking over as Ivan sits down. She smiles faintly at the affectionate nickname - something unique to him. "I'll remember for you, then." she whispers, shyly reaching out a hand to grasp one of his. She needed something to hold onto, and she doesn't care whether it's a steel hand of a flesh-and-bone one.
Ivan takes her hand, and it might say something about her unremarked acceptance that he doesn't really notice which one it is either. He chuckles..but by now he's almost starting to wonder if she keeps herself strong by being strong for others. It's another alien concept in this place where students have been known to, and sometimes even encouraged to injure or kill one another. Another rare thing about her, and also hauntingly familiar. So he doesn't chide her for thinking of others...and he doesn't admit it if he finds himself touched by the sentiment. He just says, "You're something else, you know that?"
Natalia manages a laugh. It's not a carefree chuckle like when they danced to music together, but is is a laugh. "Well, I guess. I'll take your word for it, Ivan." She leans towards him, subtly, maybe not realizing it herself. "You are quite different yourself. In a very good way, I mean, Ah- well..." she blushes.
Ivan wraps his other arm around her, reassuring. "Just shows you have good sense." he retorts, perhaps encouraged by the brittle laugh to nudge her with some gentle teasing. "..Anyhow, you'll be fine." he doesn't respond directly to her comments about him being different. He rarely does. The same as how he's always incredibly careful not to mention their dancing, or, indeed, speak English when they aren't sure to be alone, despite it being a skill all the Red Room students are taught.
Natalia relaxes in the embrace, smiling a bit more. "You always know just how to cheer a girl up, huh? Maybe you should teach Kolya how to smoothtalk." she teases, resting her head on his shoulder comfortably. "...Thank you for the tea."
Ivan chuckles at the mental image of Nikolai trying to smooth talk girls in a smoky dockside bar.. and then hesitates as he wonders where the image came from, only to have it and any meaning twist away like a dream does when it realizes you're examining it too closely. "Hey, don't mention it." he replies.
Natalia smirks, getting her own mental image of Nikolai being adorably dorky. She looks better now, the spark back in her eyes "I owe you a lot, Ivan. And I intend to repay you somehow. I'm not sure about how... But I will." She looks at his face, and blushes again.
Ivan heys. "For now, let's just focus on today. Okay?" and he tugs her over to press a kiss to her forehead. "You'll be alright." he assures her again. It's a fact, as far as his expression is concerned. And if anything he's more heartened now than he's been in days, to see that even after today, there is somehow some remnant of that spark still alive in her eye.