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Ashes, Ashes (we all fall down)

Title: Ashes, Ashes (we all fall down)
Authors: rayruz
Fandom: Marvel Cinematic Universe
Rating: R
Characters: Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton, Tony Stark, Thor Odinson, [OFC] Faina Sannikova, (background Clint/Natasha)
Summary: Following the elimination of the final members of Red Room, Natasha is tasked with assisting the young operatives's recovery. She struggles with her own past, wondering if she is truly equipped to help these girls
Length: ~4300
Warnings: non-con/dub-con, underage, suicide, 
Notes:  This is technically a follow-up to Fearful Passage, but it stands alone as well. Thanks so much to sugar_fey for the beta and workerbee73 for listening to me babbling incessantly. 



If there is one thing Tony hates, it’s being woken up before noon.

If there is one thing Tony despises, it’s being woken up at four in the morning due to a security breach. That’s just not right.

When he drags himself downstairs, the “breach” is a teenage girl in a hoodie, pajama pants, and bare feet, with eyes that make Tony wonder if she could very well kill him with her brain.

He’s actually kind of impressed. “How did you get in here?”

“Natasha Romanoff is here, yes?” the girl asks, thick with a Russian accent.

And then, the lightbulb goes off. “I get it now. JARVIS, let Agent Romanoff know one of her ugly ducklings is here.”

The girl tilts her head a fraction of a degree. “I am not a duck.”

+

Natalia’s hands are too small to hold on as the man rips the stuffed bear from her fingers.

It’s singed, patches of its fur burned away, and it smells of ash and smoke. But it’s hers, the only thing she’s brought here, and she can’t keep a grip as it’s torn from her hands.

“This is unnecessary.”

She is small and she is weak, so she does the only thing she can think to do--she cries.

The back of his hand cracks against the side of her face, sending her sprawling down on the stone floor. It’s the first time she’s ever been hit. Her cheek stings fiercely and she wants to cry some more, but she stays down, silent and shaking.

“Tears will get you nothing.”

+

“Ms. Romanoff.” Natasha is awake as soon as JARVIS starts speaking, or however it is JARVIS communicates. “Sorry to disturb you, but Mr. Stark requires your assistance downstairs.”

“I’ll be down in a minute,” she says.

She extricates herself from Clint’s arms, managing not to wake him. Natasha pulls on her thigh holster and her robe and is in the elevator in less than thirty seconds.


“Agent Romanoff,” Stark oozes. “You look lovely at this ungodly hour.”

“I’m armed.”

“Right. Well, my problem is over there. Please deal with it.”

He gestures to the girl on the couch.

“Faina?” Natasha approaches. “It’s four in the morning.”

Faina sniffs before she even looks up. “You reek of sex.”

If she hadn’t just woken up, perhaps Natasha could come up with a response more coherent than, “What?”

“I thought we were sharing observations.”

Natasha blinks for a moment. “What are you doing here?”

“Sitting,” Faina replies flatly.

“I meant ‘why are you here?’”

“Looking for you,” she says, as irritated as Faina is capable of sounding.

Natasha takes a deep breath, asks calmly, “But why?”

Faina’s gaze drops to the floor. “Katya’s dead.”

“Dead?” Natasha echoes. She moves slowly, sitting on her knees in front of the couch and coming down to eye-level with her. “How? What happened to her?”

“She happened. It was herself. I went to get a cup of water, and she was on the kitchen floor. She bled out.”



+

Natalia is nine.

They match her against a girl almost twice her age and arm Natalia with a gun.

The door is locked and they watch from beyond the two-way mirror. A lesson as much as a test for them both. Natalia is smaller and faster and she has a weapon, but the older girl has something else--drive, passion, desperation.

Natalia doesn’t even know for sure the gun is loaded until the girl takes it from her. She puts the barrel in her own mouth and pulls the trigger. Blood and brains splatter against the mirror.

+

“Do you want any tea?”

“Yes. I’d like that.”

Natasha is beyond grateful that Faina’s accepted the offer. She needs to do something with her hands because her head is reeling. She needs to tell Director Fury about the suicide, there are protocols when... something like this happens but she just needs a minute.


Faina sits on the table in the kitchenette while Natasha fills two mugs with water. She watches in utter silence as Natasha heats the tea in the microwave and stirs in some jam to sweeten it. Faina doesn’t say a word until her hands are wrapped around the mug. “It’s the archer.”

“What about him?” Natasha asks, raising an eyebrow as she takes a sip from her own mug.

“He’s the one. You let him fuck you.”

It is an extreme effort not to spit the mouthful of hot liquid onto the girl. Natasha manages to keep the majority of her composure. “That’s--this really isn’t... I’m not discussing this.”

“Why?”

“Because that is a private matter.”

“No!” Faina slams her mug against the table, startling Natasha with the sudden outburst. “Why do you let him use you!? Why don’t you stop him?!”

+

Natalia learns about the femoral artery--one of the weakest points on the human body. One cut at the right angle will leave the mark unconscious in 30 seconds, dead in three minutes. She remembers her handler showing the right way to bring a mark to his knees, leave him vulnerable and exposed and give her perfect opportunity to sever that artery.

She’s twelve. Her handler shows her hands how to undo the buttons. And she </i>can’t breathe<i>. Instinct takes over and she tries to pull away, her body fighting for air. But, he holds her head still, hands tangling in her hair and pulling hard.

“Don’t be afraid,” he tells her. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Her legs are shaking too hard to stand when it’s over. She sits on her knees, hands braced against the floor. The room spins and her stomach hurts and the taste in her mouth makes her want to throw up, but she doesn’t want to know what will happen to her if she does.

He pulls her to her feet but does not touch her any place else. “You’ll learn to do better.”

She does. The next time she’s prepared, figures out how to breathe, isn’t scared. She swallows and doesn’t feel like throwing up -- much. He starts to teach her, instruct her, tells her what to do with her lips and her teeth and her tongue and is rewarded by the knowledge that she can bring any man to his knees.

By thirteen, they tell her she is perfect.

+

The force of the words all but knocks the breath out of Natasha. Of all the impossible situations she’s imagined herself in, needing to give a bird-bee talk to a young woman already subjected to the same... training she’s undergone has never been one of them.

Natasha slowly sits down next to her, hoping the table will support the weight of them both.

“Faye,” she starts with a gentle voice. The girl looks up at Natasha with a questioning look in her dark eyes, but doesn’t correct her or tell her to use her full name or... anything. She just waits and listens. “Sex doesn’t have to be a weapon or a tool. It isn’t just about how to make someone else weak, and enjoying it won’t make you weak, either.”

“Enjoy?” Faina echoes. “You... enjoy sex with that man?”

Something about her voice breaks Natasha’s heart just a little bit--she sounds confused but with an almost painful need to understand. Has she truly never been touched outside of her training? “There’s no mission, no objective, when I’m with Clint. I don’t have to be anyone or anything, I can just...relax.”

Faina’s hands fold in her lap, her knuckles turning white. “You know you cannot bear him a child.”

Spies have no use for children. They must have given Faina the same line when she woke up with a fresh scar low on her belly.

“That’s not why we... our lives aren’t exactly compatible with being parents,” Natasha sighs, trying to push the thought Faina’s dug up to the back of her mind where it belongs. “There are other reasons to have sex, though. It’s just... it can be very...pleasant.”

She’s silent for a long moment, considering the possibility. “For you, as well?”

+

“They tell you men want to take pleasure in you,” Katerina, one of the older girls, tells her. “But they never show you how you can take pleasure from them.”

She kisses Natalia as she works at the buttons on her uniform. Her hands are soft and gentle as they brush her stomach, cup her breasts. She pulls Natalia into her lap, slides her hands down and pulls her flush against her body.

Katerina kisses her jaw and neck, puts her mouth on her breasts and makes Natalia feel warm inside. Her fingers are gentler inside her than her handler had touched her there. She presses her mouth against Katerina’s shoulder, trying to be quiet as her body does something bright and new and amazing.

Laughing, Katerina lays her down on the bed. “Felt good, didn’t it?” Natalia just nods, unable to speak, her body just trembling in a very nice way. Katerina trails her fingers down Natalia’s torso, stopping just below the belly button -- she knows this move, she’s learnt it, too. Katerina leans in, whispers. “I want you to return the favor.”

+

Clint wakes to the feeling of Natasha easing into the bed next to him, he doesn’t even have to open his eyes to know it’s her. “Early morning emergency?”

Her lack of response is enough to get Clint to open his eyes and sit up. Natasha sighs. “Faina is here. She set off Stark’s security sneaking in.”

“At four in the morning?” Clint arched an eyebrow.

“Yes. I gave her some tea to calm her down. She’s asleep downstairs in my room.” She looks at him, then down at the covers. “One of the girls from Ushuaia... she committed suicide last night.”

It takes a moment for him to register the words. “Fuck,” he mutters. There’s pretty much nothing else to say. “How did this happen? Why wasn’t anyone watching her? Why didn’t Fury--”

“She wasn’t on base,” Natasha says, tucking her knees to her chest. “The four girls who had been with S.H.I.E.L.D. before we infiltrated the facility in Argentina--I told Fury I thought it would be best for them to start transitioning them to civilian life, move them into an apartment off-base, let them learn to take care of each other. I didn’t consider--”

“If you’re going to blame yourself, just stop talking,” Clint says, his hands settling on her shoulders. “You couldn’t have seen this coming.”

“I can’t help them, Clint.” Natasha shakes her head ruefully. “I made a choice to leave Russia, join S.H.I.E.L.D. They’ve gone from one set of captors to another.”

“No. They haven’t. This is different,” Clint insists. “We can’t just recruit kids into S.H.I.E.L.D., maybe when they’re older... if they want to... but they need homes more than anything else.”

The look she gives him is almost vicious, but the resentment isn’t targeting him. It’s turned inwards. “They aren’t kids, Clint. They’re not children. They are trained spies. Their age means nothing.”

“Well it should. The little ones should be playing on playgrounds and their worst injuries should be scraped knees and they should have someone to take them out for ice cream to make it better. The older ones should be hanging out with their friends after school and sneaking a little pot or booze when they think no one knows and trying to figure out their futures. No one should have to go through what they went through...”

Clint reaches out, his fingers brushing her cheek. “No one should have to go through what you went through, Tasha.”

+

On her fourteenth birthday, or something close to it, her handler gives her a dress. It’s black and short, and shows how her body is starting to become a woman’s now with curves where her body used to be plain and flat.

“Your mouth is not your only weapon, Natalia,” he tells her. He lays her out on the floor, pushes the skirt around up around her hips. The difference between her at ten and her at thirteen, she now knows how to mask her pain better.

If her handler is disappointed by the few times she gasps, he makes no indication. He is pleased when she’s able to identify his weak spots, her openings and opportunities. He has her clean up, change back into her uniform. She goes to bed that night with a horrible ache between her legs. She doesn’t cry because tears will get you nothing.

+

“Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it,” Tony says over breakfast the next morning. “She’s creepy.”


“Leave her alone,” Rogers says, giving him a stern look across the table. “Going through a hard transition right now.”

The subject of their conversation sits at the end of the table, well within earshot. She just methodically eats her Lucky Charms and makes no indication that she hears them.

“No, it’s more than that.” Stark ponderously pokes his waffles with his fork. “You know, I thought she’d be more like Natasha, being trained by the same people and all, but she’s... there’s nothing femme-fatalish about her. I think she’s a little...” Tony makes circles near his head with his index finger.

“Is your mouth even connected to your brain?” Clint balks.

“What means--?” Thor mimics the circles as he shovels another pop tart into his mouth.

“It’s an incredibly rude way of insinuating that someone is... well, crazy,” Bruce supplies.

Clint thinks it’s for the best that Natasha’s asleep upstairs, because otherwise there would be a lot of broken bodies in this kitchen.

“She has to be,” Stark says. “Who walks around Manhattan barefoot? Crazy hobos, that’s who.”

Crazy hobos, that’s who.”

Clint wouldn’t believe it if he hadn’t seen it. It was Faina’s lips moving, but it was Stark’s voice coming out.

“Son of a bitch.”

Son of a bitch.” Again.

“That’s... incredible.” Banner’s eyes go wide.

“Speak for yourself!” Stark says, slamming his hands on the table as he rises. “That is my voice. That’s copyrighted! I could sue.”

That is my voice. That’s copyrighted! I could sue.” Faina shoots to her feet as well, her body language perfectly mirroring Stark’s.

“Impersonations!” Thor shouts. “Delightful! Mimic me next!”

You know, you’d think my ego the size of Manhattan would be enough to keep my individuality from being threatened by the idea of someone sounding like me. No, the truth is I’m so deeply insecure that I have to use deprecating humor to make myself the most interesting person in the room. And I have a prick like a bendy straw.”

Stark sits back down and clears his throat. “She’s really not that funny.” But he does, gloriously shut up for a few minutes. Faina seems serenely smug as she picks up her empty bowl and takes it over the sink. Clint follows close behind and claps a palm against her shoulder. “That was the coolest thing I have ever seen,” he says.

And she does something else he didn’t know she could.

She smiles.

+

The archer is a worthy opponent, Natalia thinks. Death at his hands would be fitting. He’s pursued her for weeks, at least that she’s been aware of. She finds herself looking forward to the inevitable fight with her would-be assassin.

And he brings her release from this life, not in death but in rebirth. Natalia Romanova of Red Room becomes Natasha Romanoff of S.H.I.E.L.D. And yet, as ever, she remains Black Widow.

In some ways, she feels like a newborn foal, stumbling it’s way through the beginning of a new world, unsure what misstep will bring her crashing down. People watch her like she is dangerous--she is--and give her a wide berth in the corridors--they should.

She is working alone with a punching bag, hailing down blows when the Director approaches her.

“I’m starting to think you’re antisocial,” he says.

“I’m starting to think your agents are cowards.” Natasha wipes sweat from her brow. “No one wants to fight me.”

Fury volunteers. “Don’t assume I’m a easy target with a blind spot,” he says.

“Don’t assume I’ll go easy on your because you’re in charge.”

She doesn’t. In three seconds she’s got her thighs around his head and uses her weight to him down onto the mat. He stands up, shakes himself off, and congratulates her on a job well done.

The archer, it seems, has been watching the whole time. He comes up to her and flashes a grin. “That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” Something about his smile quirks the corner of her lip. “Can you teach me to do that sometime?”

Natasha scoffs, but it’s actually a laugh, but she doesn’t laugh so she gives him a light punch in the arm and walks off.

“No, serious. That was awesome,” he calls, picking up his pace to follow at her heels.


+

Natasha wakes again shortly before noon. When she goes to salvage the last of the coffee from breakfast, she hears the telltale tones of someone playing Mario Kart in the living room.


“No,” Thor booms in his helpful voice. “One needs to wait until the light turns green before depressing the button of A. Otherwise the automatic carriage will fail to start properly.”

Natasha peers into the room to find Thor and Faina sitting on the couch with the Wii remotes. “Having fun in here?” she asks flatly, raising an eyebrow.

“Verily,” Thor replies. “Lady Faina learns with an impressive speed.”

Faina tosses Natasha a look that seems to say is he always like this? Natasha smiles and gives a small nod of her head, gesturing for her to come out into the hallway.

“You spoke with the Director, didn’t you?” Faina asks, once they are out of earshot.

Natasha nods. “I did. He wants to bring you and Zoya and Tatiana back to the base for now.”

Faina’s body goes rigid, eyes flashing dangerously. Her hands curl into fists at her sides, fingernails biting into the palms of her hands. “No.”

“Faina--”

“I won’t go back,” she says, her voice edging into an octave Natasha hasn’t heard before. “I won’t!”

She sounds like a petulant teenager whining about how unfair life is--but it’s true. Both parts, she is a teenager and it isn’t fair. She’s been a captive most of her life, controlled and contained through fear and manipulation. Natasha had arranged for the girl’s first taste of a free and independent life and now, only weeks later, it is being snatched away like everything else she has known.

“I can’t make any promises,” Natasha says. “But I’ll see what I can do.”

+

The first time Natasha Romanoff meets Faina Sannikova, the girl presses a knife against her throat. She slips out of the dark, and Natasha only hears her a split second before she feels the cool steel against her skin. There is not a doubt in her mind that Red Room has sent this girl to dispose of her, which means her self-defense options are limited to non-lethal means.


She easily dislodges the weapon, twists out of the grip and pins the girl’s arm behind her back. Her moves are the same ones Natalia learned before she honed them with time and pain, so it’s easy for Natasha to pin her to the wall and immobilize her.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Natasha tells her.

“You seem confused,” the girl hisses, trashing against her grip.

She is strong. Natasha is stronger.

“No, I’m quite aware of who you are, why you are here, what they’ve done to you.”

Natasha whispers in her ear, weaving a patchwork of tattered memories, divulging secrets that she hasn’t told a soul. Only they aren’t secrets, not to this girl--she’s reciting pages from the book of her life. The girl’s heart races, her breath quickens; she is trembling in Natasha’s arms. “I’m going to release you, now. Don’t make me put you down.”

Faina turns in her arms, eyes wide and dark with realization. “You’re her. You’re Black Widow.” There’s fear lingering even in the strength of her voice. “I thought you were dead.”

“They lied to you.”

“You’re going to kill me,” she says, emotionless like it’s inevitable, despite the fact that her body is still shaking, “like you killed Katya and the others.”

“The only people dead are the people who’ve done this to you,” Natasha says. “Katya’s with my organization. All of them are. I know my word isn’t worth much to you, but Red Room’s is worth even less. You could kill me, go back to them, let them continue to--”

Before Natasha can finish, she hears someone behind her. The girl’s eyes flash dangerously as she sees what Natasha doesn’t.

Before she can turn, Faina’s shoved her aside.

Before she knows what has happened, Faina’s kneeling over the body of a man in a black suit--her handler--slit sternum to groin. Natasha approaches in slow, measured steps, taking great care not to startle her.


Natasha slides off her jacket and uses it to wipe away the blood staining the girl’s hands. She regards Natasha blankly, allowing her to touch her without flinching, even though her body is trembling in a state of shock. “It’s all right,” she tells her softly. “He can’t hurt you anymore.”

She gives no reply.

Natasha stands slowly. “They’re going to be looking for you. You can go your own way, but I think it would be safer for both of us if we stick together.”


+

Natasha is in the middle of unpacking her dufflebag when she finds something she knows she absolutely, positively did not pack. Beneath her clothing, at the very bottom, is a small purple teddy bear.

A small note tied to its leg read: I know you sleep better with something to hold. CB

Natasha shakes her head. Clint is so damn sentimental sometimes. It’s part of why she loves him.

Before she can pick up her phone to chide him, there’s a knock at her door. She’s not surprised to see Faina standing in the hallway wearing jeans and a t-shirt and almost passing for a normal teenage girl. Natasha can’t help but smile.

“You are really staying here now?”  Faina asks.

“I am,” Natasha holds the door open and nods for her to come inside. “Just for a while and just at night.”


Faina stands awkwardly in the center of the bedroom that used to belong to Katya.

“I promise, I’m not spying on you,” Natasha teases, and she sees some tension drain from the girl’s shoulders. “I just thought... it might be better if someone was here for you in the middle of the night.”

Faina nods slowly, and then without preamble digs into her pocket and pulls out a small booklet, thrusting it out towards Natasha. “Look.”

It’s a U.S. passport, Natasha realizes. She opens the cover to reveal a picture of Faina, stoic as ever. “Faye Sanders,” she reads. “Did you pick that yourself?”

Faina, Faye... she nods. For a moment, her body moves in small starts, like she is unsure of what to do with herself or possibly having the beginnings of a seizure. And then all at once, she surges forward, wrapping her arms tight around Natasha and pressing her face against her shoulder. It takes Natasha a moment to realize what has happened, but she slowly puts her arms around her, rubbing small circles between her shoulders.

“Thank you,” she murmurs, so softly Natasha almost misses it.

When the other girls arrive home at the apartment, Natasha decides it’s worth ordering a pizza, or two. And she’s glad she did. Faye and Zoya eat like the food might be taken away from them at any minute--the latter eats so fast, she gives herself a bellyache. Tatiana barely eats at all, like she still fears being poisoned.

Slowly, with time, Natasha knows care and trust will start to wear down the edges sharpened by Red Room. A very long time.

She watches them all with a dull ache in her chest.

+

It’s four in the morning when Natasha is woken by a small sound of distress. She checks each of the bedrooms, and finds Faye sitting up in her bed. Even in the dark, Natasha can see the cold sweat on her brow, her fingers curled tightly in her covers as she tries to just breathe.

There are tears in her eyes but she doesn’t cry, because tears will get you nothing.


“Here,” Natasha says softly, holding the stuffed bear out to Faye. “I think you need this more than I do.”

“I’m not a child,” Faye says, her voice to scratchy to sound serious.

“I never said you were.”

Faye hesitates for a moment before reaching out and taking the bear from her. Wordlessly, she turns her back to Natasha and curls up into a ball keeping the bear clutched tightly to her chest.

Natasha fights a small smile as she pads back to her room. She crawls into bed and pulls the covers up before reaching for her phone. If Clint is irritated by the early morning call, he doesn’t let her know.

Tasha?....What’s--

“Thank you,” she says.

There’s a long pause on the end of the line, and she can tell he’s smiling. “You’re welcome.

“I’ll see you in the morning.”

--End--


Comments

chimeriques
Jul. 15th, 2012 06:23 pm (UTC)
Ah I just love this. The relationship between fania and Natasha was, for lack of a better word, sweet, and while the flashbacks were incredibly disturbing, they were written beautifully.

We are all so spoiled with the lovely writing going on for this ship and I can't wait to see what else you have planned!
rayruz
Jul. 21st, 2012 11:12 pm (UTC)
I'm glad the dichotomy worked. I started writing those flashbacks independently and then when I wrote Faina into Fearful Passage, I knew I wanted a story with her in it... and the combination of the two just sorta made both better.

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