|Red Dawn: Part 5|
|What: Natalia Romanova was the young woman set on the path to becoming the Black Widow. But the student she came to befriend in the unforgiving Red Room may not have a future as assured as her own..|
Natalia left and returned, having weathered the milestone of her first mission..her first cold blooded killing. Maybe she can never go back from that, but at least Nikolai still looks at her with nothing but adoring admiration, and Ivan seems quietly reassured that whatever worst case expectation he had for her was averted. Life looks like it will, in fact, go on.
But then Nikolai's turn comes.
None of them, Nikolai included, have any illusions that his performance will be anywhere near as assured as Natalia's, though those with any kindness don't say so to his face.
And those with any instinct of self preservation don't say it to Natalia's face. Or likely Ivan's.
Natalia silences Nikolai with a kiss. "Stop worrying. Worry will only undermine you. I believe in you, Kolya."
The man blushes. "Ah, thank you... I need to get going I shouldn't be late."
"I'll be waiting for you here. That should be motivation enough to get you through, da?"
Nikolai blushes again. "R-right! I'll be back then, Tasha!" He runs off, to meet his handlers...
As the day draws to an end, Natalia slips her way to Ivan's room, knocking on her instructor's door. "...Ivan?" she calls out quietly, clearly upset even if she tries to hide it.
It's that hour of the night when the last few contraband English songs can be heard when the door cracks open, playing just quiet enough not to be audible otherwise. Ivan smiles at her, an expression that offers welcome in spite of acknowledging a shared solemnity. "Hey."
He steps aside to let her in. He's become close to Natalia over the last few months, true, but she's also had occasion to observe how on edge he gets when he can't protect the rather meek Nikolai. If anything he has an easier time around Natalia, because she, he trusts to be strong enough to get by on her own. Nikolai...well. Suffice it to say, there's signs that Ivan is every bit as rattled as she is.
"Ivan..." Natalia steps inside, and closes the door. Only when they are protected from the world outside, does she hug him tight. "I'm scared for Kolya." she admits, letting go of Ivan just as quickly as she had seized him. "I wish I could protect him always - he's smart, but not tough. He's a good fighter, but..." She sighs weakly. "He's not like me, Ivan. He can't be what they want him to be."
Ivan returns the quick hug, affectionate and unreserved despite the cool feeling of the metal arm which he doesn't bother to cover when he's by himself. "Yeah." he agrees, walking over to the pot where he usually makes them coffee on these late night visits. C affine late at night may seem a bad idea, but he always assures a cup won't do a thing to him, and that they'd dance it out anyhow before they were done. "I know. I know, Nattie. A guy like him never should have ended up here. But he is smart...he's got a good shot."
Natalia sits down on the edge of Ivan's bed, shoulders slumped. "...I love him, Ivan." she says, in English as her habit when they're alone. "I know I shouldn't fall in love, they told me that again and again... But I..." She doesn't realize she's crying. "I don't even know when it changed from affection to something deeper..."
Ivan can't help but smile despite the situation, recalling their conversation about that word. "..I know." he answers, and rests his right hand on her shoulder, so as not to catch any of her hair when he rubs it reassuringly. "...But he's one of ours, at least. Not that I figure I gotta worry about you ever having your head turned by a mark..not you."
Natalia manages a laugh and a smile, rubbing away her tears. "You might turn my head." she says, somewhat cheekily. "...I am worrying too much, aren't I? Sorry." She looks down. "Do you think they'd let me get married, eventually?"
Ivan still tends to use a lot of slang when he speaks English, but at least ferreting it out has markedly improved her conversational skill over the months. The whole taboo of the matter may seem strange, since surely some of the other students could benefit from his knowledge. He laughs as she turns the phrase back on him. "Well, I hope so; A fella's gotta stay in practice." he jokes back, even if the assertion is absurd. He nudges her with his elbow playfully. "It's up to Nikolai now. We're his friends, so it's up to us to believe in him. Yeah?" he asks, and goes back to the burner and the pot he uses for coffee. He gives a complaining curse when he realizes he hasn't replenished his little stash. She's caught him cursing in English rarely even in the main facility.
"Language, Ivan." Natalia's tone is a perfect mimic of one of the instructors who heartily disproved of any vulgar sounding talk. She stands up. "No coffee? I don't mind. Why don't we have tea, instead?" she asks, pulling out some carefully hidden-away tea. It looks to be the stuff only instructors could get ahold of...
Ivan snorts, leaving no doubt about how he feels about such remonstrances. Though there -is- one markedly matronly instructor who he does defer to on that point, though he'd never admit to it. He starts to say, "I don't have any t--" when he sees the packets she is waving in the air, produced as if by magic and he laughs under his breath. "..Even when you're worried, you don't waste a chance to get an edge, do you?" he challenges her affectionately, assuming she lifted it on her way over here.
"Well, when opportunity presents itself..." Natalia shrugs, smiling a bit. "Although I've held on to this for a while. I was... hoping for a special occasion, maybe." She walks over to Ivan, handing him the tea. "But... you are special. So I don't mind." She blushes a bit.
Ivan chuckles. "I love an opportunist." he answers glibly, though he blinks when she hands it over. "..Hey, watch it, or I'll get a puffed head." he considers the packets in his shining hand, and admits, "..I..don't actually know how to make it. You put these right in the water, or..?"
Natalia blinks. "But... didn't you make me tea, after my mission...?" she asks, thoroughly confused. "...Or did you have Nikolai make it?" She gives Ivan a look, somewhere between worry and doubt. "...Are you okay Ivan?"
Ivan admits, "I swiped some from the etiquette instructor's pot." he chuckles a little at the confession, but pauses at her question, tensing a bit. "Why wouldn't I be?" he demands. It's not her, but it's the sort of question that tends to have a loaded meaning when it's angled at him..
Natalia can't help but snicker at Ivan's admission. Clearly, she both over and underestimated her instructor. Her expression grows solemn at his nervousness. "I just worry, is all. You mean a lot to me, Ivan. I care about you."
Ivan immediately feels a bit sheepish. She, of all people wouldn't be here to evaluate him.. hell. If she were, he'd probably have been gone months ago. "I..yeah, I know. Didn't mean to press you like that. It's just.." well. It's true..after all these months, it's a bit late to be guarded, isn't it? "A lot of people are waiting for signs of me not being right upstairs. Guess I'm just jumpy."
Natalia tilts her head slightly. "You seem fine to me, if a bit strange. But that's okay." She shyly takes his shiny hand in hers, tea packet and all. "You're so different from everyone else here. You remind me of a sudden gust of wind, or..." She cuts herself off. "Sorry, I didn't intend to sound poetic..."
Ivan raises his eyebrows, but then chuckles when she cuts off. "Seeing as I'm pretty sure I compared you to a fire or something once, don't think I can tease you on that one. A breath of fresh air...is that what you're going for?" he nudges her again, even his metal elbow playful when moderated. Having trained with him so much, she knows better than anyone that he's not going to cause harm with it he doesn't fully intend to.
Natalia chuckles a bit, nudging him back this time. If she had ever had siblings, she would have felt that Ivan was like a brother to her. But all she knows is that she's fond of him. "Fresh air, yes. That's what I meant." She plucks the tea from his hand, setting it on the counter. "First, we heat the water up." she says, a grin still tugging at the corners of her mouth.
Ivan nods. "Okay, not burning water at least I can handle." he states with a carefully straight face.. and turns on the little burner plate with a click.
Natalia tries not to snicker. Really, she tries. "Once it's boiled, then you put the tea in to steep. Usually for about five minutes." She looks at ease, now. She's distracted from her worry over Nikolai, for the moment.
Ivan is distracted as much by distracting her as the activity itself...she's not the only one who feels better when he's helping someone he cares for. "In those little packets? What about at the end, you throw 'em away?"
"Well, I suppose you could use them twice - but yes, you throw them out, like used coffee grounds." Natalia says, shrugging. She idly plays with a lock of her hair - she's been growing it long.
Ivan chuckles. "We used to toss the old ones in with the new, so that.." he suddenly hesitates, still holding a packet of tea as his gaze goes distant and confused.
Natalia makes a pretty amusing face. "That just sounds unpleasant." She even sticks her tongue out as if trying to get rid of an awful taste. "...What's wrong?" she asks, looking at him with concern. She takes hold of his living hand, squeezing it softly. "Hey, what is it? What are you remembering??"
Ivan blinks, drawing a breath as he looks back to her, and forces a smile. "I..I dunno. It's just..snatches, you know? Gut feelings and facts and nothing to connect 'em to anything real. Usually.." he sighs, shifting the pot with his metal hand a bit to seat it better on the burner. "They tell me not to think about 'em too much."
Natalia stands a bit closer to Ivan, still holding his hand. "Well, I'm curious to know what strange and intriguing adventures you've had." It's a gentle verbal nudging. "I guess if it's painful to remember, you shouldn't try - but I wonder why they would discourage you..."
Ivan can't stop a cheeky grin at that. "I bet there's some good ones." he replies, plenty self satisfied for a man with amnesia. "It ain't always -bad-, just..." he shakes his head. "I dunno. I dunno what they think would happen.." he gives her an almost entreatingly stubborn look and says, "I'm one of their top agents. I've handled...I've handled a lot. You'd think I could handle dealing with a few lost memories, wouldn't you?"
Natalia hmmms, watching the pot heat up. Of course, neither of them know the adage that a watch pit never boils... "I know you can. Your body, your heart, remembers dancing, even if your head doesn't." She blinks, frowning. "...That made sense right? It's like all the combat training you've given me - I don't need to think about it, I just do it."
Ivan nods.. "That's exactly how it feels." he admits. "I just..know what comes next, even if I couldn't have sat down and told you with words for the life of me."
"So, I propose that we dance some more - and maybe everything will fall into place?" Maybe Natalia's just trying to be sweet in her own way, helping Ivan as he has helped her. She turns off the pot, which has just started to bubble, and drops the teabags to steep. "Well, shall we?" she asks with a grin.
Ivan's lips quirk up again.. maybe he knows what she's doing, but even if he didn't appreciate it, he's not about to turn down a dance. "You said the magic words." he jokes, and goes to turn the radio up ever so slightly, glancing at the clock. "..We oughta have about two more songs." he confirms, and then offers his hand with a wide grin.
Natalia gladly takes his offered hand, resting the other on Ivan's shoulder, just like he showed her. She's gotten very good at dancing to his music, even if she still didn't grasp the full meaning of the songs. She's also gotten comfortable, at time even leaning her head on his shoulder if it's a slow song.
Ivan starts to dance, though they both realize fairly quickly the beat is wrong. It's a lively but measured sort of beat, and James huhs, pausing as the singer demands, "But if you really love me, say yes! And if you don't dear, confess... but please don't tell me..."
Natalia tilts her head, listening to the lyrics. Only now she actually understands not just the words but their meaning, and is momentarily overcome by emotion. She presses herself to Ivan, tears falling noiselessly down her cheeks. "...Perhaps, perhaps..." she echoes the song. "...I do love you, but not like I love Koyla..."
Ivan was swaying around, waiting for muscle memory to catch..but blinks when a tear drops down and soaks through his shirt. "Nattie?" he asks, stepping back, though he keeps hold of her hand in his metal one. "Hey, hey..what's all this?" he asks, and taps her chin lightly. "I know." he tells her. "Now come on, Nikolai won't want to think you're crying while he's gone, right?"
Natalia sniffs. "I'm sorry, just - the music. The words. I haven't told either you or Kolya how much I care. The other instructors say that getting attached will only cause pain, and maybe it is painful, but.." She smiles bravely. "I think a life cannot be lived without some pain."
Ivan stares at her, and if he at first seems bewildered, he eventually laughs, and smiles in a way that's..almost proud. "..If you don't feel anything, seems to me you ain't really alive anyways." he answers. He hesitates, then says, "..And..I can't really back up why, but. I've always kinda figured that you never fight for yourself the way you can for someone else." he tugs her in close again, wrapping his arms around her in a reassuring hug.
Natalia hugs Ivan back, relaxing as she stops crying. "Thank you, Ivan." She looks up at him, smiling wanly. "I guess I do in a way, fight for you and Koyla. Even if a bit selfishly, I want to come back to you."
Ivan nods.. "Fighting for a country.. it's noble and all, but. I think it's just not in my bones. It's just not the same." he agrees, starting to sway a bit again-- half reassurance, and half his apparent complete inability to hold still to the right music. He lifts his head after a bit and beams that boyish grin at her. "Say, I think I got it."
Natalia can't help but smile back. "Well, then. Carry me along, Ivan. I'll do my best to keep up." She does, quite well. But Ivan might not expect her to sneak a quick kiss on his cheek as they dance!
She does admittedly get a pretty good opportunity for it, as the frame for this one is a lot more snug. It also involves going in a straight line, so until James starts remembering or modifying moves to increase their mobility, there's some laughing and bumping into furniture. He's just turning them around to try again when she sneaks the kiss, and she could swear she actually surprised a blush out of him right then. Of course a moment later he laughs and dips her low enough her growing hair brushes the floor, pulling her up into a little spin, and then they're off again...at least until the last drawn out murmurs of 'perhaps...'
Natalia ends up with her head resting comfortably on Ivan's shoulder. eyes half-closed and a happy smile on her face. In this moment, all seemed right with the world. Even if Nikolai was on a mission, Natalia felt that he must return, of course. She doesn't want the moment to end.
The song fades, and a brassy bright one takes it's place, changing the quiet mood. Ivan ahhs, and waves a hand at the radio. "End on a good one, at least!" he chides the radio, this one doesn't event seem to have words for him to remember. He's smiling though, and still has his right arm resting light on her back in a comfortable way. He smiles at her as if to say, 'well, what can you do, right?' And besides, "We got a new dance." he congratulates them both smugly.
Natalia laughs, and for Ivan alone it's pure and carefree. He's the only one who hears her laugh like this - not even Nikolai gets her to make such sounds. "We did, didn't we? I'm glad. For both of us."
Ivan nods, nudging her again as he walks over to the burner. "..And I learned how to make tea. It's the age of wonders." he chuckles. Her laughing like that reminds him...not in sharp disorienting slivers of memory, but through some basic feeling, a rightness in his gut, of something good. It's like she said..his head may be a mess, but the rest of him remembers plenty. And there's always time to build new memories.
Natalia nudges Ivan right back, in the ribs if he's not quick enough to block. She sniffs the tea, and nods. "Smells about right." She grabs two cups, and pours tea for the both of them.
Ivan snorts a laugh, not having stopped her since he wasn't expecting her to go for the ribs. "Punk." he chides her, but leaves off whatever plans he might have had for retaliation as she is soon pouring two steaming cups of the stuff.
Natalia hands Ivan his cup, a mischievous grin still on her face, before she picks up her own cup and sips the tea with obvious relish.
Ivan ...takes his tea with a very dubious sort of expression. With a little glance to Natalia he sips his own cup slowly like she did, as if wary to let too much pass his lips until he was sure if it.. whereas he usually downs coffee like there's no tomorrow. He wrinkles his nose in intense ambivalence, and the jury may be out on whether this is a hit or a miss in his book. But for all the strange faces he makes, he seems set on trying more.
Natalia watches him with amusement over the rim of her own steaming cup.
Ivan notices her looking and sticks out his pinky dramatically to give an over-exaggeratedly dainty sip, imitating one of the language instructors.
Natalia laughs so hard, she spills her tea!
Ivan grins, and even if the question of what will become of Nikolai is one neither of them can answer for now, they're able to put aside their worries, at least for another evening.