|Red Dawn: Conclusion|
|What: Natalia Romanova, the young woman set on the path to becoming the Black Widow, finally completes her journey.|
Natalia had heard the news. Ivan had returned from he mission - without Nikolai. Word spread quickly throughout the school about his death, and the young woman had to keep her anger in check everytime she heard a classmate make a disparaging comment about the man. After classes she withdraws to her room, not even going to see Ivan. If he visits, she's curled up on her bed, weeping silently.
Ivan for his part is anxious to talk to her, update her on the truth of the matter, since she must think Nikolai dead. But he has his own wounds to be treated, and a debriefing to give. He hopes perhaps she'll be around, that he'll run into her before that, but they don't cross paths. He reminds himself that he can stop by as soon as the debriefing is completed, but..it goes on uncomfortably long. He expected them to be suspicious when no body was retrieved for Nikolai, but.. this seems like more than that.
The higher ups wanted to know where Ivan saw Nikolai last. Normally, they would have assumed that either the man had indeed died, or perhaps run off in the confusion of battle. This wasn't a normal situation. "We know there were two forieng spies in the vicinity.' they said, clearly demanding answers. Already, they wonder if the Winter Soldier should be sent to dream once more...
While Ivan may not be the new up and coming Black Widow, he's dealt with his share of espionage.. and lying. His brow furrows, and he shakes his head? "You think they captured him? I don't know, if they were there, they were smart enough to keep their heads down, or they got gunned down in the crossfire." he sticks to his story, but he has no good explanations for Nikolai's unretrieved body, and despite being one of their most thorough agents, he claims he saw not so much as a sign of these other spies.
Inside though he's badly shaken.. he didn't expect their superiors to learn about those spies, certainly not so soon.. or did they know in advance? Was the hit scheduled because they suspected the spies that might be lying captured there..? But what if one of the others did find them? What if they learned he was involved?
"Is that all?" he says.
His superiors murmur to each other. Some nod, some frown, one shakes his head. They look at the metal-armed man carefully. "Get some rest, Winter Soldier."
Before he leaves though, one steps up to him and asks, casually, "Are you alright, Ivan?"
Ivan is only too glad to be done.. he needs to find Natalia. He hesitates when one of them walks over and speaks, tamping down his unease at the question. "Of course, Sir. Why wouldn't I be..? It's..just a shame to lose an agent like that."
The man smiles, thinly. "I understand. You were rather close to that one, weren't you...? You shouldn't get so attached. One way or another, our children leave us." He dismisses Ivan with a nod, allowing Ivan to leave, finally.
If Ivan knocks on Natalia's door, she's awake, but takes a moment to respond. "Y-yes?" She's trying to mask her emotions, afraid that someone is here to evaluate her...
Ivan only knocks faintly to give her warning, and opens the door a moment later to slip in. "Hey," he says intently when he steps in.
Natalia turns to look at Ivan as he enters. Tears are clear on her face - she doesn't even try to hide them "I-Ivan..." She's bundled in her blanket, looking like a child woken by a nightmare. Except for her, there is no waking up. "...He's not in pain anymore, is he." He voice is almost a whisper.
Ivan's half grin in response may surprise her.. there's a sad edge to it, but in general it's far too enthused for such grim news. He steps forward briskly and shakes her shoulder lightly through the blanket, "He will be." he answers in hushed tones. "Nattie, he's alive. He's out.. like he always shoulda been."
Natalia blinks then, disbelief in her eye. "But - how? How?" Hope, however faint, rekindles the light in her eyes. "Please don't be lying. Please don't let me be dreaming..." She reaches out for Ivan. "You saved him - oh, Ivan..."
Ivan answers, "Caught a break..grabbed it. There were prisoners there.. we saved 'em, sent him in their care in return. He's gonna be okay." he assures, that quirk of a smile still firmly plastered to his face.
Natalia manages a smile back, but she's still crying. "...I already miss him, so much... I just wish-" her voice catches in her throat and she grabs Ivan in a hug, resting her head against his steel shoulder. "I wish I'd had more time..."
Ivan tucks the metal arm around behind her, tugging her into the hug. "I know... maybe someday, huh..?" he tells her, even though he has no idea how she might be able to hope for such a thing. He says it just the same.
Natalia knows Ivan's just being kind, but all the same, his reassurance makes her feel a bit better. "...I owe you a lot, Ivan. I don't know what to do for you." She seems at a loss. For now she hugs her teacher - her one remaining friend, and lets the grief fade away.
Ivan laughs quietly, and sets his chin on her head in a way that might be over-familiar, but he seems to just view it as comfortable. "Hey, you already have.. just. Having someone to talk to, especially about...with the radio'n all. I dunno if you really get how much a relief that is, to.." he pauses. "It happened again, y'know.. on the mission."
What happened?" Natalia doesn't mind the gesture If anything, she likes it. A smile makes its way to her face. She's listening to Ivan breathing, the sound odd when echoed by his arm. "...A memory?"
Ivan nods a little, more felt than seen with his head on hers. "Yeah.." he answers, tensing a bit. "With Nikolai.. he wasn't sure about leaving at first, leap of faith, right? And I was spelling it out for him and he argued and..for a second I was just.. -certain-, just positive he wasn't going to go. And I shouted at him, and I called him some other name without even thinking about it, like it was just habit or something.. got a flash of someone for a second, but. It, I..couldn't catch it." he laughs a little though, saying, "Just like Nikolai though to worry about us when he was the one in trouble, huh..? I told him you'd never forgive him if he didn't take the chance to live."
Natalia sighs a little, the breath of air a hum in her throat. "That is like my Kolya. He always worries so much - such a sweet man..." Tears escape down her cheeks. "He would have been a good father don't you think Ivan?"
Ivan chuckles, nodding again. "Yeah.. I figure he would have." he agrees, and scoots back a bit so he can face her. "..Meant to tell you all that right away, but red tape."
Natalia nods. "I understand, Ivan. No need to apologize." She wipes her tears away with a hand. "...Ivan. I want to give you something. As thanks. Close your eyes?"
Ivan looks at her sidelong, "You don't owe me anything, Nattie. You know that, right?" he tells her. He didn't do this to put her in his debt, that's for sure. He's still not sure why it mattered to him so much, but he knows it did.
Natalia smiles. "Still. I want to give you something. Please?" She looks earnest. "Close your eyes. I want to surprise you."
He smiles, heaving a sigh. "Alright, alright." he says, and closes his eyes. "I'm curious, now, anyhow."'
Natalia stands up once Ivan has his eyes closed. She goes for something hidden away in her desk, digging for a moment. It must have been buried deep. She returns to Ivan, and presses whatever it is into his flesh hand. It feels like something made of yarn. "Okay, you can look." When he opens his eyes, he's holding a small yarn creation. It's probably supposed to be a Siberian Huskie soft toy, but the eyes are plain brown buttons. "I made it myself."
Ivan's eyebrows raise even before she tells him to look, and he blinks at the soft doll in surprise. "You made this? How?" he asks dumbly, perhaps forgetting that Black Widows actually get trained in a lot of terribly domestic things for the sake of blending in, weather at a diplomatic soiree or a knitting circle if need be. He smiles a little though, tapping one of the button eyes with one metal finger with a little *clk*clk*. "Cute little guy."
Natalia chuckles. "I saved up scraps from the knitting class. I thought you'd like it." She looks immensely proud of herself. "Huskies are such handsome and smart creatures, and well-" She stops suddenly, blushing. "Well, I thought you'd like it!"
Ivan's eyebrows quirk up again, but he laughs, looking the little doll in it's button eyes. "I always did like dogs." he answers, "Thanks, Nattie. This fella come with a name?"'
Natalia hmms. "Well... I like to call him Fang. Because of his teeth." She points at two white bits sticking out of the toy's mouth. "It's a good name!" She's trying to defend her choice before Ivan can naysay it. "It's a tough name for a tough guy."
Ivan laughs, flipping around the little cloth teeth affectionately. " 'Fang', huh? Nah, it's tough alright. Toughest way I've heard to say a guy's got buck teeth." he teases. "I like it."
Natalia peers at Ivan. Her English has gotten much better, and she can pass for a native speaker if she chose. But she still hasn't grasped all of the slang. "Buck?" she asks.
Ivan is still looking over the little doll with a distracted grin and answers, "What?" and then blinks, freezing up a bit as his eyes drift up to the wall and his mouth presses into a flat line.
Natalia's eyes widen. "Ivan?" she asks. "What is it?"
At first he just looks like he recalled something worrying, but as he fails to respond to her queries, it starts to get alarming.
She grabs hold of his shoulders, looking into his eyes. "Hey c'mon!" She seems scared.
His breathing is shallow, and when she grabs his shoulders, they're shaking faintly. When she stares him in the face he finally gasps, wrenching away from her forcefully. He backs off a couple paces, leaning back into the wall, and trying to get his breath back.
Natalia flinches back, eyes wide. She's still scared, but now its a mix of fear for Ivan - and of him. "Uchitel?" she asks, meekly. "..I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you. Don't leave me Please, please come back."
Ivan still seems badly bewildered, his back still pressed to the wall. He slides down to sit on the floor, the shaking much more obvious now, though at least he's clearly looking at her. He gulps another breath and waves a hand as if trying to reassure her, but seems at a loss for what words to form to give any substance to that.
Seeing that Ivan seems aware now, Natalia rushes to him, wrapping her arms tightly around him. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." she whispers, holding him tight. She keeps whispering apologies to him, running a hand through his hair, the same way she would comfort Nikolai after his nightmares. "I'm here, Uchitel."
Ivan catches her hand in his left, and finally murmurs, "Don't, you didn't..didn't do anything." he's still clutching Fang in his right hand, perhaps having forgotten the doll is there. He tries to push her back gently, reminded how uncertain she still is in ways. He ought to be setting an example, giving her something to rely on, not falling apart when she just lost the person closest to her.
Natalia refuses to let Ivan push her away. She felt he needed her. She brushes away his hair from his face, concern in her eyes. On impulse, she kisses his cheek. "What happened?" she asks. She's kneeling in front of him.
Ivan pats her arms reassuringly, somehow even managing to summon up a smile. "H-hey.. it's okay, don't need to worry about me. Was just..just another memory." he swallows, and looks at her, almost entreating. "Toldja everyone got spooked about it before.. but I can handle it, alright..?" he hasn't told her, but he knows if she panicked and told the others all that he'd been doing, all he'd been remembering, they'd try to make him forget.. at the least.
Natalia manages a small smile in return. "...It's okay. I don't know what it is you're remembering, but..." She pokes his nose, forcefully trying to be cheerful for Ivan's sake. "It's our secret. I promise. Wouldn't want anyone worrying, after all. They count on you." Sadly, Natalia doesn't know why they'd be worried about him remembering... "I know you can handle it. And, I promise I'll stay strong. We've go each other, right? And Nikolai is safe somewhere. That's enough for me."
Ivan does smile more naturally as she beeps his nose. He listens to what she says, and nods with the conviction of someone who believes what she's saying entirely. "You've got that right." he agrees. "Whatever comes our way, we'll weather it and come out on top. That's how people like us are..just like we've been doing."
Natalia seems greatly cheered. "It's a deal, then." she quips. "We'll stay strong, for each other." She glances at the time - far past when the last of their songs would play on the radio. "Now, you should get some sleep, Ivan." Suddenly, she blushes. "May I kiss you? You look like you need a kiss." If he lets her, she'll lean in, and timidly kisses his lips.
Ivan flushes, and angles his head to rest their foreheads together instead of meeting her lips this time. "Hey, now..you're a knockout, don't get me wrong... But you just lost someone real close. Maybe.. when we both got ourselves figured out a little better, yeah..?" he asks, though there's a faint twinkle in his eye, and a smile on his face that is more than a little hopeful.
Though there is also the point that getting involved with her would be inviting a reprise of what happened with Nikolai in some form or another.
Natalia nods, her forehead pressed to his. She wasn't sure why she wanted to kiss him - maybe it had something to do with her lessons on how to charm people. She smiles. "Well, alright. I'll have a kiss waiting for you whenever you ask." She pokes his nose again, wanting to see more of that smile.
It has the desired effect-- he seems both warmer and calmer for the distraction. The shaking is gone, and he ruffles her hair affectionately. "..I oughta go. Dance tomorrow?" he asks, and his hopefulness there is entirely unconflicted.
Natalia nods enthusiastically. "Right! We need to practice that straight armed dance - less running into stuff will be good." She laughs, sounding much better herself. "Goodnight, Ivan. No nightmares, alright?" She stands up. "Oh, and don't forget to hide Fang somewhere, okay?"
Ivan chuckles, getting back to his feet. "It's called tango." he supplies. "If that no-nightmares stuff goes for both of us, you've got yourself a deal." he says, and then looks down at the little knit dog. "..And you bet. 'Night, Nattie." he says, and heads for the door.
I love you!" Natalia says. She waits until Ivan leaves to crawl into bed falling asleep with a contented smile on her face.
However... Ivan only gets about halfway to his room before his superiors catch up to him. "You're starting to remember too much." They won't take any chances.
Ivan puts the stuffed pup inside a pocket, thinking of where he might hide it when one of the higher ups steps out and addresses him. His blood runs cold, but he just faces them to blink and say, "What're you talking about?"
"We know what you and our new Black Widow were saying." another says coldly, from behind Ivan. When did he get there?
The first one continues. "You're remembering things best left forgotten."
And now Ivan realizes then the game is truly up... his stomach twists, but unwilling to just give up, he keeps trying to bluff his way through. "Sirs, what happened in the past makes no difference to my effectiveness now." he says, and then tries to change the topic, "..You've made your decision, then? It's her..?" at least they don't seem to be holding whatever it is they know against Natalia..
"Aren't you proud of your student, Ivan?" the first one says, smiling gently. He's letting the man behind Ivan get in position.
Besides, they had been told it was best to give him something positive to dwell on as he slept - for however long that might be...
"She'll be a fantastic Black Widow, and we have you to credit for that."
Ivan's hands close into fists..while he may not have been certain of the double meaning in those words, he's very much aware of the telltale shifting of the man behind him..to him, it all but broadcasts intent to attack. "She will be." he agrees, and he believes it. "And you don't want to do this..you don't -have- to do this, I'm telling you--"
"Actually, we do. We regret it, of course - you're an asset. But, the Winter Soldier must sleep. Don't worry. The Black Widow shall take your place."
Before Ivan can react, the man behind him grabs his metal arm - and disconnects it, dropping it to the ground. "It'd be wise not to resist."
Ivan lunges forward trying to drag his attacker along to put him off balance-- only for the point of anchor, his arm, to be efficiently severed, throwing his balance instead. He whirls, getting his back to the wall so he can see both of those present, his remaining arm raised warningly, "Stop! Listen to me, damn you! I've made it this far just fine, there's nothing to worry about! This is..this is crazy!" if either of them come at him, or draw a weapon, he tries to take them down, perhaps inadvertently defeating his own point.
The men sigh. Really, they regretted having to put the Winter Soldier to sleep - but they couldn't risk him remembering anything else. Besides, there was just one more thing needed for the Black Widow to finish her training...
The first man bellows a command phrase, something which sounds like nonsense, but with cause Ivan to lower his guard, involuntarily - enough for the second to take him to the ground.
Ivan's guard falls before he even realizes what is happening, and the next thing he knows he finds himself pinned to the floor. "Wha-- stop! Stop, don't do this! I'm loyal! I'm capable! This doesn't make any sense..!" he shouts in protest. Why won't they listen..? What are they so afraid of?? Is this really just to finish for Natalia what they started with Nikolai? He can't believe that, but it certainly doesn't seem to be dissuading them..
Natalia. He said they'd handle this together.. he struggles, possibly giving the man holding him a narrow run for his money despite being down an arm, shouting again, "Don't do this!!"
"Stop struggling, Ivan. It's time to sleep." The man pinning Ivan is having a hard time keeping a one armed man down. But he does, long enough for the first man to come over with a syringe. "Maybe you'll awaken to find her a teacher here. Or maybe you'll have to hunt her down. Either way, Spring has Come, Winter Soldier." He injects Ivan - a sedative which won't work instantly, but will lull him into a sleep which he will not awake from for years...
Ivan lets out a frustrated shout, trying and failing to twist out of the way of the syringe. "No, no no no!" he grits in frustration...what will they even tell her? How can he abandon her right after Nikolai? "I'm a soldier, I'm -your- soldier! Give me a chance!" he shouts, but he can already feel it in his system.. even if he broke free now he wouldn't make it down the hallway.
He dare not say it aloud out of some vain hope one of them might see reason, that he might wake up tomorrow to prove his words.. but he thinks it, none the less. 'Natalia, I'm so sorry..' though if the woman in question heard any of that, there is curfew in effect; she's still a student after all. ..But the next day Ivan is nowhere to be found in the Red Room. And if she goes to his room, she finds it being emptied.
They take Ivan to a special room, which has a casket like chamber. This is where the Winter Soldier will sleep until he is needed again. And his sleep will eat at his memories, until all he's left with is a sense of needing to follow orders.
Natalia, of course, has no idea what happened. She finally gets enough nerve to ask someone the question that's been eating her. "What happened to Uchitel Ivan?" She's hiding whatever she's feeling.
The other instructor answers smoothly enough, "I'd say it's none of your concern, but you -are- soon to graduate as the new Black Widow, Natalia. --You may not have known, but Ivan suffered from an instability the doctors have been helping him keep in check. He had an episode the other day, and has been relocated. He's to be off active duty for now."
Of course with what Natalia heard from Ivan, the fairly innocuous sounding answer may be far more chilling than intended.
"I see." Natalia seems unaffected. "If it's possible, please... let him know how grateful I have been for his lessons." With that, she carries on with her day. It isn't until the end of the day that she is allowed to retire to her room. She shuts the door - and buries her face in a pillow, screaming. It's the last time she'll cry for a very long time. For when she wakes up the next day, her eyes don't have the sparkle they used to, and she is much harder. If feeling hurt so much, she would do without.