Black Widow #2
The darkness, the blackness and stillness of the night surrounded the two of them. Their bodies moved as one, the rhythmic dance that nature intended — always intended. She gripped his shoulders, closing her eyes tight. For the past week, she’d found herself here every night. First at the club, then inevitably calling him, and then the rendezvous. As always, Natasha kept her emotions separate; she was there for the physical and he knew that — the need she felt deep in her bones, and in her soul, and the itch that wasn’t being scratched in any other way, and so she filled her time with meaningless pleasures.
He was satisfying, also as always, but the red letters on his clock, and the stillness, and the cold, it made her mind go elsewhere; back to somewhere and someone who had been better, someone who had been more passionate, more thorough, more enjoyable. When her emotions and her physical acts had been joined for once. Natasha thought back to James, no, Bucky, in the vast reaches of Russia and the far corners of her mind where she’d tried her best to push him and failed every time. He had been good; nights spent together, non stop, pushing her until she was at the edge, toes curled, fingertips gripping bed sheets until they cramped, mind racing and then going blank. Wiping damp hair from his brow, eyes boring into hers. Whispers in the dark. Leaving before morning, almost always, so no one would ever know, so Ivan, so Alexander Pierce, would never know. To the outside world they were partners, nothing more. To each other, they had been everything.
Nat let his name slip out, and she immediately knew it was a mistake. No matter how much she and Ryan played with fire and didn’t care about getting burned, saying the wrong man’s name in bed was never a good thing. He stopped what he was doing, and her eyes flew open.
“Who’s James?” He asked, rolling off, sighing. It had been a good time while it lasted.
“I’m sorry. He’s… God. A lover from a long time ago.” She got up, beginning to pull on her clothes.
“I knew we were just here to get our minds off of things, Nat, but come on,” He grumbled.
“It’s Natasha.” She corrected him, retrieving an errant boot from beneath the bed.
“I’m sorry. It just slipped out.” She stood at the foot of the bed, half dressed, looking down at him. He was cross, but not without sympathy. Natasha made it a habit to surround herself with decent people now.
“Shit happens. Come back to bed.” He shrugged.
She shook her head. Her mind was telling her that it was time to go. “I’ll let myself out. I’ll call you.”
“No, you won’t.” He watched her leave. He knew.
Randy Lander presents
Marvel Rebooted – The Black Widow
Issue #2 – Dirty Pretty Things
by Tex Marquis
PART ONE: SINNERS AND SAINTS
Siberia, 11 December, 2002
The Black Widow pulled the binoculars from her eyes and handed them to her left to the tall man standing beside her. They were both cloaked in white, she in fur, he in canvas and wool. The snowy reaches of Siberia stretched before and behind them, the ledge they were on jutting out of the mountain like a small shelf. She turned to him as he took the eyepiece and put them up looking through them. “He’s in the second vehicle. I’m sure it’s him.”
The Winter Soldier nodded, standing tall and strong against the swirling snow and peering down at the caravan that had just arrived at this outpost far in the Northern reaches of Russia. “He leaves tomorrow at dusk. I’ll be ready.” He handed the binoculars back, turning towards the cave cut into the hillside; along the wall was a case containing a long range sniper rifle, his specialty, she’d discovered, in the last three months of training and working together.
Natasha watched him move away from her, his long strides carrying him into the cave, his long wool coat sweeping behind him. She was taking first watch. She settled down, keeping a close eye on the compound and a close watch for the American that had just gone in. She knew the Soldier was probably getting a few hours of sleep inside of the cave.
The redhead lay motionless on the mountainside for hours. The snow whipped itself into a frenzy, and soon she could not see the door to the low building or even the building itself. She heard footsteps behind her, measured and sure and not trying to be silent. It was him, she knew, and so she didn’t bother to turn around. She felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Romanova. The weather is too harsh. Come in.”
“I can’t abandon my post.” She still didn’t turn around.
“No, but you can’t die out here either.” His light touch on her jacket tightened a bit.
“Go back in, Soldier. My watch isn’t finished.”
“I’m not dragging you back frozen tomorrow.” His response was nearly a growl. “You can’t see the building. I can’t see to shoot. If he leaves during the blizzard, the mission is over. Come in.” He tightened his grip even more. “I don’t need a dead partner.”
Natasha relented, picking herself up off of the ground. She couldn’t see the way back to the cave; could barely see him. His hand drifted down, following the line of her body from shoulder down to arm, grasping her gloved hand and leading her back towards safety.
The cave was dark; a heavy cloth hung across the entrance to block out the light from the extremely dim lantern glowing in the back. He dropped her hand, shaking the snow from his coat and retreating to the blankets spread out in the reaches of the cavern. “You can rest. It’s almost time for my watch anyways.” He gestured at the pallet, picked up his thermos, and came back to the entrance. He dropped to the ground, leaning against the wall.
Natasha nodded, making her way to the back. She clicked out the light; she didn’t want to leave it on long, blizzard or no blizzard. A light visible on a hillside would give them away. She lay down and pulled the blanket up around her. It smelled like the Soldier. It wasn’t altogether unpleasant; she’d gotten used to his scent as the days and weeks had passed and they had spent so much time training, travelling, and killing. It was almost comforting to her now. Clean and masculine.
She lay there for a long time, and he sat there for a long time, and neither of them moved.
Finally, she spoke. “We’ve been working together for three months now, Soldier.”
He was silent, still, for a few more moments.
“Did you hear me?”
“I heard you.”
“You don’t talk much.”
“Neither do you,” He pointed out, his deep voice echoing through the blackness. “But I was thinking of what to say.” He paused again. “You know we’ve met before.”
Natasha froze. She wasn’t sure what he was talking about. Before being introduced in September, she had never laid eyes on the man before. “No, Soldier, you’re mistaken.”
“Yes. You are. I’d remember you.”
“We worked together once before. Two years ago. An arms dealer in Austria.” He fell quiet.
She wasn’t sure if he was waiting for her to speak, but she was at a loss. She gulped. She didn’t know him. She had gotten to know him in the previous few months, but had no recollection of him prior. A sinking feeling placed itself solidly in the pit of Natasha’s stomach. She had her suspicions that something in her life wasn’t quite what she expected; things out of place, memories not quite meshing. “When was this exactly?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve been… wiped since then as well. But I remember you for some reason. I know it was you.”
“You must be mistaken.”
“No. I remember. You told me that you’d trained with the Bolshoi Ballet when you were young.”
“I was never with the Bolshoi Ballet.”
“You have a tattoo of a spider. Beneath your left breast.”
“How do you know about that?” She had been laying with her eyes closed, but at the mention of the tattoo they flew open, greeted only with darkness. Natasha had gotten that tattoo a little over two years ago, on her birthday, by herself in Paris. The timing was right. What exactly had happened while on this supposed mission to take out an arms dealer in Austria that the Soldier had seen her hidden ink?
“You got hit with a blade. I stitched you up. You have a scar right below it,” He stated, seeming to anticipate what was going through her mind and alleviating the curiosity.
She did have a scar there, but she hazily remembered getting it training with Yelena. Natasha shook her head. This didn’t make sense to her. She knew the Bolshoi Ballet was a cover for some of the agents, and the mind games were too, but not Natasha; never Natasha. But how certain could she be that Ivan had never dealt that hand to her, really?
“I’ll… have to look into that,” she said.
“I thought it would jog your memory. I’m sorry.” He sounded almost sincere, almost sad, over there on his side of the freezing cold cave.
“It’s not your problem,” Nat replied briskly. “Is your weapon ready?” She changed the subject. She wouldn’t think about all of this now, but she’d think about it later.
“Yes.” Another few minutes of silence.
“How long have you worked with Hydra, Soldier?” Natasha finally let curiosity get the better of her. She was well aware that she herself lived a solitary life, but from what she could piece together of his life, it was beyond terrible. She didn’t know how long he’d worked for them, but they were even more ruthless with him than the Black Widow Program could ever hope to be, even if they had erased some things from her recollection. She was sure they had good reason if they’d done so. She couldn’t believe that her whole world would do something like that to serve no purpose.
“I don’t know. A while,” he replied. He moved slightly, and she felt the cold air hit her. He must have moved the fabric over the door a bit to check the night sky. The cold subsided. “I don’t remember much. How long have you been with the Black Widow Program?”
“Since I was five.” Natasha smiled to herself. She’d never trained with any ballet.
“When was the first time you ever killed anyone?” He inquired. She heard him pick up something across the cave and heard him setting it back down. His rifle, she assumed. A small light came on, and she could see him checking all of the settings.
“I was nine. She was eleven.”
“That seems a little young.”
“Not for a Black Widow.” Natasha rolled over, watching his blurred outline. He was interesting. Like his outline in the dark, he was vague. A shadow she couldn’t catch, a fleeting image she couldn’t quite see. “How old were you?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“How can you not know?”
“Other than you and Austria, I don’t remember anything before our meeting three months ago.”
“How is that possible?” She asked. That made no sense. She knew they could make a person forget a few things, or reprogram memories. But was she really supposed to believe that this man remembered nothing? He’d been in cryo, and that was an odd enough concept in and of itself, but it seemed to fit; Hydra had advanced technology, and the tales of the Winter Soldier reached far back into the Cold War, beginning barely after World War 2. Either the figurehead was comprised of different people, each one taking up the mantle upon the death of the last, or he had been frozen and kept young the entire time. But memory wipes? Remembering nothing? She’d never counted on that. In all of her years of espionage, of hunting, of living in the darkness of society, the thought of erasing a person so completely still sent chills through her. Natasha wasn’t a whole person, not by a long shot, but she knew who she was at least. Or believed that she did.
“I don’t know,” he said the same thing again. He seemed oddly unconcerned with it. He sat there, checking out his gun, adjusting things here and there.
“How come I have to call you Soldier? Don’t you have a normal code name? An alias? Like a real name?”
“They call you Soldier?”
“If they call me anything.”
Her heart broke a little hearing that. And that was strange for Natasha. Her heart had been hardened, a little more each day, since she was five years old and her training had begun. She had very little capacity for empathy or sympathy but was feeling it now for this man sitting before her with no concept of how awful it was that he didn’t have a name. “That’s not right. I was calling you Soldier because I thought it was your call sign.”
He shrugged. “You can call me Soldier.”
Natasha shook her head. “You need a name.”
That got his attention, and he turned. She couldn’t make out the expression on his face; all that she could see was a silhouette, but his entire demeanor changed. “You want to give me a name?”
“What do you want to be called?”
“I can’t think of anything,”he finally said, a little defeated. “Will you come up with one?”
“I.. I guess so.” Natasha paused, thinking. This was a strange situation to be sure, but she couldn’t leave this man with no proper name. She thought for a while. Nothing seemed to fit. He was a tall, dark, handsome, tough specter of a man, who’d come out of the darkness and would eventually go back into it. He shot to kill and he took no prisoners, and he moved with a purpose and a grace that was otherworldly. The Winter Soldier fit the man much better than it could ever fit the legend, but that wasn’t a name. That wasn’t something a person could call someone over a cup of tea, or sitting around a campfire. “James,” she finally stated. “What do you think of James?”
He waited a beat before speaking. “I like it. James.” He tested it out a few times. “You can never call me that in front of anyone.”
“I know. It’s just between us. James.” The Black Widow smiled into the cold night air.
“It’s just between us, Romanova.”
* * *
“Do you have a clear shot?”
The big, dark-haired man adjusted his sight, letting out a low grunt. “Yes.”
She waited. It was nearly sunset the next day. The American, and his convoy, were preparing to leave. Natasha watched through binoculars as two cars pulled away. She felt the Soldier, James now, tense from his position prostrate in the snow on the mountain ledge. She counted silently, and on three, heard the gun discharge and saw the man near the building fall a moment later.
“Target eliminated,” he informed her, even though she’d seen it and knew already. It was a formality, the Soldier was big on formalities, crossing his T’s and dotting his I’s.
The few guards snapped to attention, some rushing to the dead man’s side to check for a pulse that had since vacated, others immediately scanning for a gunman. James grabbed the rifle and crawled through the snow back to Natasha, and the two of them took off down the back side of the mountain, bullets plummeting into the snow behind them. The duo reached the zipline down to the the ground, and the Soldier stepped aside. Firm hands spanned her waist and lifted her up to reach it before she even had time to jump as planned. Wind whipped the hood of her fur coat down as she sped along towards the ground. She couldn’t hear him but she knew he was close behind — could feel his presence like she always could feel him when he was around.
Natasha dropped and rolled at the bottom, springing easily to nimble feet. Fedorov was waiting with the snowmobile.
“Best be going. They aren’t thrilled we shot their man,” Natasha informed him, climbing onto the back. The Soldier settled down next to her, the big coats keeping her from feeling any of his body heat. Body heat, or any kind of heat for that matter, would have been nice right then. It was freezing; the cave had been a doable temperature, but it was beyond uninhabitable outside. She pulled the hood up and her scarf to cover her face from the subzero temperatures, sliding a glance sideways. He too was in ski goggles, a heavy scarf, his hood covering his hair. Even if the two of them had been spotted, no one could identify either one. He was silent, as he usually was.
“Roger that, Romanova.” Fedorov stepped on the gas, and the three of them sped out of the narrow gulf between mountains, and towards the pick up zone.
PART TWO: DIRTY PRETTY THINGS
Natasha sped home in her little black sports car, back to the tower. Her interlude with Ryan; saying the Soldier’s name in bed by mistake. She knew why she’d done it. It was the reason she had even called Ryan in the first place.
After she had been witness to Cap and Bucky talking in the kitchen a week ago — found out that Bucky’s dreams were filled with a forgotten mystery girl who she was certain was actually her, Nat had taken off to her safe haven, her hiding spot. She wasn’t ready or able to deal with that reality right now, and so she wasn’t going to. She was so fully committed to not handling it at the moment, she had been visiting her secret getaway nearly every night. An underground club in the city.
It made her think of home. It was dark and gritty, strobe lights flashing and music thumping in the silvery blackness, and it had a neon sign out front, visible from the street. It had reminded her of a club she had once been assigned to stake out for a few nights 13 years ago, Bucky by her side, looking for a member of the Russian mafia. The sign was a red spider.
She had texted Ryan that night; the pilot had been her occasional hookup for a while now. Neither one of them was looking for anything more than what they were currently getting, and so the arrangement worked for Nat, and currently she needed Bucky out of her head.
But tonight, she had been dancing and having a good time, when out of the corner of her eye, amid the shadows and strobe lights and men in tight tee shirts and women in slinky dresses, she had seen a familiar form. Dark hair, a leather jacket, five o’clock shadow, and a single black glove on his left hand.
Bucky was at my club.
He had been at the bar, a green bottle of beer in his hand, chatting up a blonde woman in a short red dress. She had been smiling and touching his arm, and he was laughing, setting his hand on her waist.
As soon as Natasha saw him, she dropped back, a cold feeling surrounding her; why would she feel like that? It had been how many years? He didn’t even remember you. She shook your head, frowning to herself. She turned her back. Why was he even here? How had he ended up at the same club, of all of the places he could go in the city of New York?
She departed across the room, against the wall at the far side, and texted Ryan. He replied, saying he would meet at his place. Natasha turned to make her way to the exit and found herself face to face with Bucky.
“Nat.” He’d looked down at her, smiling, as though glad to see her — glad to find a familiar face in a sea of strangers, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear. “I thought that was you.”
Natasha forced a grin onto her face, tugging the hem of her tiny black dress down a little bit. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I… I’m not sure.” He looked around. “I saw the sign from the road the other night, and… I think it reminds me of something that, well, that I can’t remember. Like it should be familiar, but I just can’t remember why.” He shrugged, like such a problem was entirely normal, like he was used to such things by now and it was just a small nuisance in the grand scheme of things. “I came to check it out.” He peered down at her. “Is something wrong?”
Nat let out a low sigh. “No one knows I come here, Bucky. This is my place.”
He looked confused. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I… I won’t come back?”
She shrugged. Her mind was racing, her heart pounding. She had come here because no one knew to even look for her here, and now the one thing she had been hoping to escape, the past she couldn’t seem to outrun, had caught up with her. “Doesn’t matter, I guess.” She tried to be as cold as possible. “Where’s your blond?”
“Who, Kim?” He looked around. “I told her I had to go find a friend of mine. She’s waiting for me at the bar.”
“You probably shouldn’t leave her waiting for too long.” She knew she was being rude, or not rude exactly, but distant.
She wanted to say yes to the drink, and thank him for the compliment, she really did, or part of her did. Part of her remembered what it had been like to be with this man, so totally and completely; but part of her remembered what it had been like to lose him so totally and completely, and then to be shot by him. His cold eyes looking at her as he fired a round into her body, through her, to kill a scientist in Odessa. His un-recognizing gaze on the overpass, the sound of his boots, measured steps stalking their prey before she felt the bullet pass through her shoulder in DC.
Hurt ripped through her chest just thinking about it. She took a deep breath. She needed to solidify that she wasn’t going to let this happen. She wasn’t going down that road, wasn’t opening herself up like that. He doesn’t even remember you.
Natasha put on a cold front. “No, thank you, I’m on my way out. I have a date.”
His expression fell slightly, though she expected he didn’t even know why he was disappointed at all. “All right, then.”
“Have fun with Kim.” It came out more snarky than she anticipated, but it was probably better this way.
“I’m sure I will,” he replied, every bit as testily as she was being to him.
She had left, and now, hours later, she was pulling up to the tower, tired yet knowing that she would be unable to sleep. She ascended the elevator, bypassed her apartment, and went instead to the common room. She didn’t have a television in her quarters; had never wanted one really. But she needed to watch some mindless television tonight.
She tossed her purse on the table by the door, flipped on a light, and turned on the TV. She went to the kitchen down the hall for a mug of tea; when she returned, Bucky sat on one end of the sofa, staring blankly at the television set. His dress shirt was slightly wrinkled and unbuttoned at the collar; rolled up to his elbows, no longer trying to mask his metal appendage. He turned to her as she entered.
“Bucky,” she nodded at him. She hadn’t expected to see him again tonight. She hadn’t expected him to even be back at the tower this evening, really; he’d appeared to be getting on pretty well with the blond in the red dress at the bar.
“Nat.” He raised his hand in a small wave. “I didn’t expect you to be home tonight.”
She shrugged. “Date was a bust,” she said simply. Anything else was none of his business, none of anyone’s business, and not anything she would want to share with anyone, ever. Maybe Clint would hear about it someday. Maybe. She usually eventually told him her stories of being a bonehead. But maybe not this one; not when it had to do with Bucky. “I didn’t think you’d be back. You didn’t go home with Kim?”
He appeared to blush a little, but the light was so dim, she couldn’t be sure. “I did,” he replied. Her heart immediately sank for some reason. She steeled herself against any emotion whatsoever. This was ridiculous and she needed to stop; it had been 11 years since James had been taken from her and replaced with a man who had tried to murder her; 11 years in which he had probably known plenty of women, and she had definitely known plenty of men. Being jealous of one blond that he’d just met tonight was just foolish and wouldn’t do Natasha any good.
“It didn’t go well?” Nat asked.
“It went alright.” He shrugged. “Pretty well, I guess. But I wanted to come home. I don’t think I’m ready for… meeting new people like that, yet.”
He seemed hesitant to talk to her about it at first. She could understand why. They weren’t the best of friends. For all he knew, he’d shot her on the overpass a year ago, and just actually met Natasha Romanov two months ago when Steve had dragged him back to the tower. He didn’t know that at one time she had known all of his secrets; or at least, she had known everything about him that he himself had known.
“My date was a pilot who used to work for Shield. He knows what I do. He knows not to ask questions.” You replied, staring levelly at Bucky. You were honestly still so surprised he was considering Avenger Tower home. In all the time you’d known him, he’d been very much a man without a home. You both had been that way, but he even moreso than yourself.
“That’s… convenient.” He looked at the floor, then back up at your face. “Is he a nice guy? Is it serious?”
“Yeah, he’s a nice guy.” You gave him a small smile, your lips upturning at one end coyly. “But nothing’s ever serious when it comes to me.” You ran a hand through your red curls.
“Do you get lonely ever?”
“No.” You lied. Kind of. You’d really never noticed you were lonely, not until he had shown up and you’d started really thinking about all of the things that had been taken from you. Time heals all wounds, is how the saying went. You were discovering this wasn’t entirely true. Time covers things up, but it doesn’t fix them. Now you were standing in the common room of the home you shared with your amnesiac former lover, who was also your former attempted murderer, talking about the romantic interludes you’d just had with other people. If you weren’t so well trained in controlling your emotions, it would be really hard to breathe right now.
“Do you mind if I watch TV with you?”
You shook your head. The need to be distant, to keep him at arm’s length, had dissipated in the early hours of the morning. Now, you were just two people, two insomniacs, looking for a common goal. Not to hurt each other, or to love each other; just to relax enough to maybe find some peace tonight. You’d both been unable to find it with your previous romantic partners; the quiet and hollowness of the witching hour would be spent with one another. “You can stay. You can’t sleep?” You knew the answer already. He had never been able to sleep.
“Don’t you have a TV in your room?”
“Yeah. It’s not really working though. I don’t feel like trying to fix it right now. Plus, I really don’t know how.” He clicked the remote. “What do you want to watch?”
“I don’t care.” You settled down on the opposite side of the couch. He finally picked an old episode of Star Trek Voyager, and you watched in a comfortable silence for a long time. When the second episode ended, you glanced over at him; he was sound asleep, laying sprawled out on the extended lounge chair part of the sofa. You were feeling sleepy, and cold in your tiny dress. You stood, covered him with a blanket, and left. “Goodnight, James.” You whispered back into the room, giving one last look to his sleeping form, clicking off the light, and retreating down the hall. He’d always been able to sleep when he was with you.
Kaliningrad, 23 December, 2002
The Soldier waited for you on the platform of the train station. He wore black slacks and a black peacoat, a suitcase resting by his feet. His hands were shoved deep into his pockets; a gray scarf wrapped around his neck. You tightened your gray wool coat around you, checked to make sure your blonde wig was on just so, and stepped out of the ladies room, carrying your suitcase as well. You waved at him, rushing towards him, feigning excitement. He smiled at you, seeing you across the way.
“Dmitri!” You called the fake name, rushing up to him. You dropped your suitcase on the ground beside him, wrapping your arms around his neck; he pulled you close, and you pressed your lips to his. You pulled away, your lips buzzing in a way you hadn’t expected. You’d kissed plenty of people on covert missions, to sell a cover or to get information, or in this case, to make people not look at you. Public displays of affection make people uncomfortable. None had ever been anything more than the feeling you’d get kissing yourself in a mirror; but kissing the Soldier was different. You shoved it out of your mind.
“I wasn’t sure you’d make it in time.” He said to you, low enough to not be conspicuous, but loud enough to be audible should anyone be listening. You needed to sound like any other couple about to take a train ride.
“Of course I made it. Happy anniversary.” You smiled up at him. He stooped, picked up both suitcases, and you made your way to the locomotive that had just pulled into the station. Your mark was on this train, or would be at the next city; in the cabin next to the one you would be in. The man, another American, a spy named Mark Harvelle, was slated to take the train from Moscow to Vladivostok, clear across Russia. He was planning on it, but he wouldn’t make it that far. You and the Soldier, who you were now used to calling James in private, were going to make the man disappear before he could get to Vladivostok and make his way to it’s sister city in the USA, San Diego. You weren’t privy to whatever information Mark Harvelle had stumbled upon, or what exactly he had done to have a target painted on his back, but you and the Soldier were going to be the ones to finish the job.
You followed James onto the train, a hostess directing you to the appropriate car and to your sleeping quarters. His broad back and shoulders in the black peacoat nearly filled the narrow corridors; he was careful and deliberate not to hit your suitcases on anything. You’d both gotten through security easily, as you had no guns. You had a garrotting wire concealed in the handle of your purse, and a carbon fiber knife strapped to your leg. You knew he had the same kinds of weapons somewhere on his body as well, underneath the layers of clothes. Once at the door to your room, he stood to the side, letting you unlock it with the keycard, letting the two of you in. He set the suitcases by the door, stepping in and taking off his jacket and sitting on the edge of the low bed. “It takes 22 hours to get to Moscow. Do you want to bug his room now, or wait?”
“I think we should do it during dinner hour.” You doffed your wool coat as well, examining the ceiling. “I think that panel moves. Can you reach it, James?”
He stood and nodded, seeming to perk up a bit upon hearing his new name. He always seemed happier to be called this, rather than Soldier, though you made sure that no one save the two of you knew about it. It would not do for Ivan, or Alexander Pierce, or any of his handlers or your handlers, to know the two of you had anything resembling friendship. That would be frowned upon, and a mind wipe wasn’t something you wanted. James approached the corner, reaching up and moving the ceiling tile easily over to the side. You glanced up into the dark space he had revealed.
“Thank you.” You nodded. “During dinner, when everyone has cleared out so nobody hears anything. I’ll climb up there and put the bug somewhere he won’t find it, and we’ll sneak in and replace his light bulb with the fake one.” You stated, referring to the listening device disguised as a regular bulb, that you had brought with you. A spy would know how to spot a regular bug.
James nodded once in affirmation, replaced the panel, and sat back down to wait, his hair falling in his face. He brushed it aside, staring out the window. “Do you want a book, James?” You asked, hauling your suitcase to the bed and opening it. You were accustomed to waiting as well, in far worse places than a warm train car, but it was going to be hours; you’d brought things to do. Discipline was a great thing to have, however, it wasn’t necessary all of the time.
His eyes travelled to the contents of your case. There wasn’t much. A change of clothes, and a few old paperback novels. All things you wouldn’t be sad to ditch at the end of the mission. He glanced over the silky stockings and underwear folded neatly beside the books; diverting his eyes politely and instead studying the titles. “We’re allowed to read on the mission?” He questioned, looking back to you.
You shrugged. “I don’t see why not. We have nearly a day to kill before he even gets on the train.”
“I’m not sure. Alexander is pretty strict about missions.”
“Alexander had them partner us so that you could become a spy as well as an assassin. Alexander is going to have to get used to you exercising your mind.” You pulled out a book and handed it to him. He hesitated. “Listen, James. I’m not your superior. I’m your partner. I’m your colleague. You can do whatever you want. You can sit here silently and stare out the window for 22 hours, or you can entertain yourself.” You shrugged. He took the book.
* * *
You lay in bed that night, staring up at the ceiling panel in the corner. During the dinner hour, you’d crawled up into the small space above the rooms and planted the bug, while James had picked the lock into the room next door and replaced the bulb with the surveillance device; then the two of you had gone to the dining car and pretended to be a couple enjoying an anniversary dinner, you in your blond wig and he in his slacks and dress shoes. Now you were back in your quarters, getting some sleep before Mark Harvelle boarded at 9am the next morning. You could both sleep tonight; since the mark wasn’t on the train, neither of you needed to take turns keeping watch. Since you were posing as a couple, you were sharing a sleeping car, and a bed. You were keenly aware of the muscular form of the Soldier beside you. Heat radiated off of him, so much so that it was nearly getting to warm under the covers. You were at least a foot away from him; he was facing the wall on his side of the bed, and you were staring at the ceiling on yours. He seemed to be sound asleep, which was odd for him. You knew he had trouble sleeping, but this evening, his breathing had gotten slow and rhythmic almost as soon as you’d both climbed into bed.
You’d been lying there, staring at the ceiling for quite a while, when beside you, his breathing got faster. His fingers began gripping at the bedsheets, and he started making noises under his breath. At first you thought he was having a nightmare, but then you realized the noises he was making weren’t nightmare noises. You peered over at him, slightly embarrassed. You were pretty sure he was dreaming about sex right now, and you weren’t entirely sure what to do about it.
You didn’t have to make a decision, though. He let out a low moan, his hands reaching up to grasp his pillow, and then he seemed to jolt awake. He sat up, his eyes travelling over to you.
“Shit.” He let out a low growl.
“Bad dream?” You asked, feigning like you’d just been asleep.
“Uh… Not exactly.” He fell back onto the pillow.
You guessed that he wasn’t buying your “I just woke up” routine, and so you quit pretending. “Don’t worry about it. We all have those dreams.”
“Yeah, okay.” He sighed.
“Can I ask you a question, though?”
“Sure, I guess.”
“You’ve had your memory wiped completely. You even remember that? How long have you been with Hydra? Are you sure you’ve ever done that?”
“My dreams are pretty vivid. I know what I’m doing in them.” He replied drily.
“But you don’t remember?”
“I. Know. What. I’m. Doing.” He said the words slowly and deliberately, much like he did everything else, and so you let it drop, and an awkward silence enveloped the room.
“I got a look at some of my files.” You finally said into the night.
“What did they say?” James’ voice was almost a whisper back to you.
“You were right.” You replied. “I didn’t ask Ivan; I couldn’t get you in trouble.”
You could feel him roll over beside you, feel his upper arm brush yours and come to rest against it. He was very close now, but it seemed that you both were comfortable, because he didn’t move, and you didn’t either. “No. We’ve both had our memories erased. Probably for a reason.”
“I was in Austria in December of 2000. It just says that I took out an arms dealer, and was assisted by an ‘asset from Hydra’. I’m assuming you were that asset.” You continued. “It also says that the false memories were replaced after that.”
“What did they replace them with?”
“I don’t know.” You sighed. “Sometimes I still dream about the ballet. I always wondered why I did. I guess it’s because I used to think I trained there.” You frowned, your thoughts bitter. You were fairly sure that the childhood you remembered now was the real one, but you weren’t positive.
“I’m sorry that happened to you, Natasha.” More sincerity from the killing machine.
“It’s fine, Soldier. James.” You smiled over at him, even though he couldn’t see itin the dark. “I remember a lot more than you do. Do you know any more about your life than you did last time we worked together?”
You felt him shake his head beside you. “No. All I can remember is what’s happened since September, really. And what I dream about, maybe it’s real. Maybe it’s not.”
“What do you dream about?” You asked him. Other than sex, which was pretty obvious.
“All kinds of things. Mostly bad things. Mostly killing. But sometimes there’s a man, I think he’s my friend. Sometimes he’s small and sometimes he’s bigger and strong. I don’t know if he’s real. It seems like it all happened a long time ago. Nobody dresses like that anymore.”
You wondered where Hydra had found this man, whom he had been. Did he have a family somewhere? Had he ever? If he was as old as the stories said he was, his family was long gone. He was from another time completely. The likelihood of whoever he saw in his dreams still being alive wasn’t good.
“Natasha?” He spoke, pulling the blanket up under his chin, against the cold night air.
“I’ve been thinking. If you have a name that only you call me; I should have a name that only I can call you.”
You thought about this for a few minutes. You’d been on a few missions and spent a bit more time training with him since he had become James to you instead of the Soldier. You were beginning to feel a kinship with this man, for better or for worse, you couldn’t tell yet. You finally answered. “All right. That only seems fair. What do you want to call me?”
“маленький паучок. (Malenkii Pouchok) I thought about it. And.. you’re stealth and you’re quick and you’re dangerous.” He fell silent.
“Like a… pet name?” You queried, trying to understand. “But I’m already the Black Widow.”
“More like a nickname.” He shrugged. “It’s how I see you. It’s what I call you in my head.” He spoke it like it were everything else in his life; to the point and specific, but not without emotion. There was a flicker of something there, you were sure.
You actually kind of liked it. You liked that this person thought of you not as Natasha the spy, or as Black Widow the killer, but as the Little Spider, маленький паучок, something endearing. You were possibly the only friend he had, and that’s what he called you in his head. You turned towards him on the small bed in the train cabin, snaking your hand under the blankets and finding his, taking it in your own. ” маленький паучок. I like it.”
“Yes. I do. James.”
* * *
“You ready?” James asked you, slipping back into the room two days later. You were strapping your carbon fiber knife to your thigh with a velcro strap, your skirt pulled up to near indecent levels, your leg propped up on the edge of the bed. You saw his eyes flicker up your leg for a millisecond before settling on you face.
You smoothed out the velcro and straightened up, handing James the garrote. “I’m ready.” The room had been wiped down, even though you knew neither of your fingerprints were in any database in the world, and your suitcases had been thrown out the window a few minutes earlier.
“In and out. The car is quiet. The guard just left the northern exit; he’ll be back down in twelve minutes. The southern door is unlocked.” He rattled off the information to you. Cool and collected and on a mission. James was the Soldier right now.
“Let’s go.” You slipped out the door, him hot on your heels, and you used your modified keycard on the room next door. The light on the door turned green, and the lock clicked open. You exchanged glances, and quietly opened it.
It was dark in the room; Mark Harvelle was sleeping, and you and James were on him in a second flat, before he had a chance to awaken, to yell, to do anything. James flipped him over, and you smothered him, and it was all over in less than two minutes. Hydra and the KGB needed this man gone, and the two of you were comissioned to do it, no questions asked, though you were secretly wondering why on earth Alexander Pierce, an American high ranking official with Hydra, would want to assassinate members of his own government. You had decided early on that you didn’t like Pierce, and everything you and James were made to do only solidified this.
James stood, slinging the body of Mark Harvelled over his shoulder easily. You tossed the room; you pocketed a thumb drive, slung a laptop case over your shoulder, and looked out the door. The coast was clear. You checked your watch. You still had six minutes before the guard came back. You motioned to James, and you both hightailed it down the hallway, out the southern exit, and up the ladder to the top of the train. It had all been planned, very carefully, in advance. The train would be slowing down to cross a river at 11:02 this evening, and that’s when the two of you would jump, along with the operative’s body, into the water below. It was 11:00 now, and the train was slowing down a great deal, but the winds on top of the train cars were still hitting you with a force that was brutal. You steeled yourself against it, and dropped low, waiting for the right moment.
The river came into view. As the train began to cross, James tossed the body off the side. He looked over at you. You weren’t sure what the look on his face was, but it wasn’t his usual calm, or his usual bravery. You thought it was fear. You’d never known this man to be afraid, or even slightly bothered, by anything. Until now. He was peering off the side of the locomotive, and in the moonlight you could see the color drain from his face.
“James, what’s wrong? We need to jump.”
“I don’t know if I can.” He looked down, and he looked terrified. He looked back up at you with big eyes. The train was going incredibly slow, but what you two were about to do was still very dangerous.
“I’m not thrilled about it either, but I’m even less thrilled to be caught on top of a train with a murdered agent. We need to go.” You gripped his arm.
“I think I’ve done this before, and I think it ended badly.” He shook his head as though to clear it. “I feel like this is how I died.”
“You aren’t dead. You’re on top of a train with me.” You pulled on his arm now. “James, we need to do this. Do you trust me?”
“Do you trust me?” Your hair was whipping around your face, and so was his.
“I’m scared too. But we’ll be fine.” You held out your hand. He took it.
“I trust you.”
“Then let’s go.” You stepped to the edge. The train was in the middle of the river now. It was going to be quite a swim to either side. You pulled him with you, but before you could jump, he stopped you. You turned to face him; he had pulled you gently towards him, his hand settling on your cheek, cupping your face. He pressed his lips to yours; there was that fire again, that buzzing, that feeling of being alive. On top of the train, with the soldier, about to jump. He pulled away as quickly as he’d kissed you. “What was that for?”+
“For luck.” He took a deep breath, and you both leapt from the train and into the dark water below.
Next time in Marvel Rebooted: the Back Widow: Like Satellites
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