1965-04-04 - Constellation: Which Way to Moscow?
Summary: Black Widow and her husband have a little talk. Notably about their future.
Related: None
Theme Song: None
rogue black-widow 

On the road to Moscow. Train. Penza Oblast.
Evacuation from Medveditsa was an orderly thing for Alexei. It helps to have a personal armoured train, for one, for which a few select individuals end up in compartments and priority boarding counts for those shuttled inside. A few doctors and engineers, scientists, and the injured take up a car. Three belong to the Crimson Dynamo, though Vanko's nowhere to be seen at all. Vanguard — Nikolai — retreats to a bunk, shuts the door and falls into sleep for hours. Natasha and Alexei have another to themselves, humble, but still a hell of a lot better than walking or being tossed down a flooding canal. There's a pair of bunks. The bathroom is shared only with Nikolai, and he simply isn't seen in the adjacent car. Food is hardly anything to write home about but food it is, and a selection of fresh clothes, a robe, even a few books to read. It counts as a bit of glory.

Alexei has a nip of vodka and shares without complaint, going for ersatz coffee otherwise. He has his collection of bruises and scratches, the shield tilted up against the wall while they chug through the grey flat lands of near eternal winter. He can't take his eyes from her, watching every last nuance of motion with a wonder almost bashful in its way.

Natasha is using the luxurious afforded for relaxation, dressed for once in the robe provided, sharing the vodka with Alexei. For her it's an odd experience, like jumping in a time machine, to visit a long dead loved one, and be able to speak with him again. It's quite surreal. Though the fact he wasn't dead, and the very people who told her he was, knew of it, has triggered her full attention on this little investigation. She's happy that Alexei decided to join her, as it is very much a shared tragedy, and they should get a chance to share in the verdict assigned to those involved. Though Natasha isn't quite sure if Alexei would share her opinion on the matter, the Red Room has instilled in her very distinct sense for causality. She was wronged, her husband was wrong, their marriage life was destroyed. That bears a price to pay, and the bill is long overdue.

Natasha's blue eyes are beset mostly on Alexei, much as he is looking at her, they were after all in love. They were married. She mourned his loss to a degree that saw her become a willing Red Room agent, the best Black Widow produced yet. Now, she longed for a normal life she knew wasn't very likely to ever return. She cannot simply return to the Bolshoi, and Alexei will not stop being the Red Guardian. They each have a path paved for them. But what if…

"Husband, it is so wonderful to share a simple train ride with you…" Natasha offers quietly, "the simple things in life, are the best, aren't they?" She rises her glass of vodka to him. "When we are done, and those who did this to us get what they deserve, do you have any idea what's next?"

They could use all the comforts of home and place, given the opportunity. But those will have to wait. "I am sorry for this noisy old thing. We are lucky to have this much, though. The rail lines are shut down on account of the flooding," Alexei isn't really grumbling so much as making honest apology. He sprawls back in his seat and works on mending a tear in his pants, far from idle with a needle and thread. Nothing serious, but the tears don't wrap themselves up by brownies or sluagh when no one looks. He plunges in the steel and pulls it back, taking care to make the stitches at least somewhat straight.

Vodka is about the greatest luxury they have other than sleep and time to mostly be alone, though the occasional knock to check if anything is needed or afford the Red Guardian an update on affairs grows tiresome after a bit. A lowered lamp with a coat thrown over it at least keeps them in a dimmer situation, hopefully avoiding unwanted attention from folks trammeling by to see if that really is his wife or the secret of the Closed City leaked out somewhere.

Mostly, he just chuckles. "The simple things. I thought that we had everything figured out as simple before. Do as I'm told. Go where I am pointed. No, not quite." He exhales, almost sighing and not fully that. "What is next? At our speed, maybe springtime. A walk in the park somewhere, yes? It's not necessary to have a break."

"If you'd like, I can do that for you," Natasha remark, a most mundane thing a wife might do for her husband, it seems so utterly foreign, she just had to make the offer.

"Funny how we should be on similar paths, heroes of the Motherland, one in light in glory, a famous face, and one in shadows, unheard of and unacknowledged…" she muses, before noting, "though some in Red Room and KGB must appreciate my worth, Omega Red didn't eliminate me when he had the chance." Yes, she escaped him, but she's well aware he was toying with her. If he wanted her dead, she wouldn't have eluded him while injured as she is.

"I would like that," Natasha admits, though the look in her eyes suggests that everything has changed. Alexei may have gotten a sense of it from her harrowing cry upon their unexpected reunion. She will not easily forget, nor forgive what was done in the name of 'the good of the Motherland above all'.

"You need not do anything unless you want to." No desire on Alexei's part to force her into the handiwork and handicrafts of a demeaning position, so it would seem. He may have learned a thing or two in their years apart, maturing as men are wont to do in the absence of mitigating factors.

The needle flashes, thread drawn back and forth, knots created of the fastidious hole that closes up bit by bit. "Are you unhappy not to be known? Ah, my darling. You must credit yourself. The spotlight is there for you if you want it. I'm happy to show you to the cameras and the public. You would do them good when they are seeing and hearing of so much trouble in the skies and abroad." As much as filters through the Iron Curtain, anyways, though his smile fades away when she mentions Omega Red and the others. "I want to think there is reason. A bad command, someone who realized what was going on. You have questions, so do I. But they may take time to resolve, and I still carry the responsibilities and duties on my shoulders, Natalia. To do right and be alert. Will you be satisfied if we have days in the apartment that have not unearthed an obvious clue, and we may just have to read or listen to music?"

"I was offering because you are my husband, and it has been many years since I was able to offer any token gesture to you at all, thinking you were gone forever," Natasha remarks, and before drinking more of the vodka, notes, "I trust it's all the same for you? We make quite a pair, they may well add us to Russian folk lore."

"I was just taking note of the facts," Natasha is quick to point out when Red Guardian offers to share in the spotlight, "there's Winter Guard for the public, what Widows do…it's better the less is known, the Red Room isn't wrong about that."

"I will read by your side, I will listen to music with you, even better Lyosha, I will dance with you…if you will dance with me," she smiles flirtingly with Alexei, so easy to forget that dancing used to be the only passion in her life at one point.

"But I was trained by the Red Room, I've done ops under KGB command, I've caused mayhem all over the world to enemies of the Motherland. The people behind this will not evade me forever, I will find them…." and she leaves it at that. What she'll do once she does, left unspoken, there's no need.

The train's slow-motion path threads through the depths of Russia, bound ever northwest to the seat of power, the heart of an empire by any other name. Creature comforts like a properly sprung seat or a halfway competent heater are surely welcome after the rough trek across southern Soviet territory.

Sewing, Alexei spends a little time lining up the torn edges before he starts to stitch them together. The little sewing kit rests on his thigh. As Natasha speaks, he continues to move, probably finding something somewhat therapeutic about the familiar act of mending his own clothes. His pants could probably use a bit of tending and washing on the way home, but do the best one can under the circumstances.

"The spotlight and the public's attention always follow me, and you would rather they didn't go after you," he sums up her statement thus. "Can't say that I like it, Natya." His breath blows out in a puff, his cheeks filled out. He needs a razor and a chance to look in the mirror, but only fools try to shave on a train. It's like trying to wrestle with a wet pig, things end badly that way.

His smile cracks a moment later, lingering. "Being by myself is enough. The rest, we figure out as we go. I don't intend to announce you were in that role from every rooftop, at the very least." The best someone can try to do under the circumstances, and he sighs.

Natasha spends much of the time observing Alexei as he meticulously goes about the mending of his clothes, no doubt taking some sort of therapy herself by this uniquely mundane activity. "It is a bit of a conundrum, is it not? How do I keep in shadows when you bring so much light with you…" her smile turns a bit bitter as she reflects on Alexei's wisdom. In but a sentence he described precisely why things will ultimately not turn for the better, as if life hadn't thrown them that nasty surprise along the way. The drive to reunite and go about married life is strong, but it is a fantasy…

"I would imagine the weight of the people's adoration is heavy on the shoulders," Natasha muses, her experience of fame as a prima ballerina for the Bolshoi must have been distinctly different, it was purely artistic. An empty celebrity affection for a dancer of high skill, someone who was not expected to change the world in the least. Not so for the Red Guardian, one of the USSR's premier heroes.

She does seem to take a great deal of solace out of nearly outright staring at their wedding ring on his finger, "I appreciate that, Lyosha, and if I can take a small comfort…is that I know a good man is wearing the mantle of the Red Guardian, a worthy one…and I can't wait to meet those who ruined his marriage."

Soon enough the mending is complete, at least sufficiently to the man's standards. It should work for the train. Moscow exists by a different standard than the rest of Russia, and the Red Guardian has a certain appearance to uphold. He sets aside the pants and leans over, unlacing his boots and removing two of the buckles that fit the top leather tongues to his calves. The reinforced armour his to command happens to be stowed away where it belongs in a bulletproof crate, fully within sight. Pulling his feet free, he sighs in absolute relief.

"There are recourses for staying out of the spotlight, you know. Giving the public a taste of you at the right sorts of events will satisfy any curiosity," he says. Socks stay put, but he unthreads his belt from the loops on his pants, preparing to exchange the better slacks for the mended ones. "After all, Pravda is not about to badger the wife of a Soviet hero without authorization. They will not have that. A few choice appearances to give them something to hope for, would that not be too much? I would far prefer the cameras show the happy families in outlying villages or celebrating achievements of our young students and scientists. But a pretty woman, no one resists that." He breaks into a grin in her direction, almost boyish in that sense. "Ah, Natya. You can have them in the palm of your hand without trying. Together, think what we'll be able to do. Some real good where there may be lingering calcification for positive changes, if that is where your heart is directed."

He rubs his hairline with his fingertips, and a few locks stick to his brow. The impressions left by the padding of his helmet are still vaguely visible. "There are good hearts still. I hope you know that. The Major, he has always worried so much about the fate of the country and our people. The others… Nikolai, he is almost too much the idealist. No brass on that one. But so much a good man."

"I can see the merit in that," Natasha remarks, reclining in her seat for some comfort as she observes her husband. She smiles at the concern he takes for her, and nods, "I'd expect they would not…I know some of the people who would make them consider to never try." She looks a bit distant for a moment, as she considers his words, "…I wish I could just go back to dancing, but that's a different life now, they won't waste me like that…" she levels her gaze with Alexei as he dons his mended pants, "that is a possibility."

Taking a bit of a pause, she soon asks, "did Laynia ever tell you I was the one who taught her how to fight?" She wonders whether Darkstar was forbidden from mentioning her name to Alexei, it's possible, he likely would have sought her out given an inkling that she was alive. "The Winter Guard has some special, respectable people…it is Omega Red that worries me. And the people who think they command him…I have seen him eliminate an entire village for no reason. I am sure that was not a command he received…"

Aleksei makes short order of switching pants, and he gives a careful tug to the leg just to be certain of his handiwork. While it wins no prizes, his effort proves perfectly serviceable in every other respect. With his shirt untucked, he resembles more a tired worker than a mighty hero of the Soviet Union. "Not everyone is perfect, you know that well as I. But does it help to think of those who struggle every day to make things better and contribute to general wellbeing? The puffed-up soldiers and politicians aren't my favourite dessert, but I only have to think about the good things to remember why. As for your predicament of an occupation, have they ever asked you if you want to continue doing what you do?"

The delicate way he skirts around the simple fact of Natasha's reality is telling, and perhaps not. "It's not as though you could not serve the country in different ways if you wished. Never let them tell you 'the investment' this and 'the sacrifice' that. We know better."

Her question doesn't seem to trouble him too much, and he shakes his head. "Laynia is rather private. Buttoned-up. Maybe overawed a little between me and Anton. She is good at what she does, and a credit to your tutelage." Blowing out a breath, he shakes his head and pats the seat next to him. "I'm not sure what entirely Omega Red ever thinks. Be assured had he turned on us, I'd be the first in line to stop him, with Nikolai a swift second. With the American in the field, we had every reason to suspect they might use civilians as cover too."

"Of course it does…that is what makes us better, is it not?" Natasha replies, well aware of what train she is riding and where. Truth be told, her encounter with Peggy aside, she was a firm believer in the Soviet way. What else could she be with the peculiar training and upbringing she experienced. Still, the two of them are convinced she was a ballerina when they met, and she's convinced she only wound up with the Red Room due to the perceived death of her husband. Life is hard to figure out when you don't know the truth of your own story. But the ideal is there to believe in, and with lack of evidence to suggest otherwise? Why not follow the one truth one has experienced. "The people are fortunate to have you, Alexei Shostakov."

"What!?" Her musing and thoughts are cut off entirely when Alexei presents a ludicrous sounding possibility, "tell them I want to stop?" There are many scenarios that ran through Natasha's mind, none of which included her simply asking to stop. "I am not too sure that is a possibility, Lyosha, I fear what might happen if I speak those words."

Natasha moves to sit at Alexei's side as he pats the seat next to him, rather casually leaning against him, "I think Omega Red cared only for Omega Red…he think us all expendable. If you ever have to face him, I wish to be by your side."

The train plunges ever onward towards a date with destiny, rarely stopping except for the necessity of clearing something off the tracks or receiving mail, which is terribly far between stations. For the most part, the residents within get to enjoy comfort and a direct source of travel. Only flight or teleportation beats the way the chugging engines devour the miles.

"The people are fortunate that I have you once more, Natya Shostakova." He taps his thigh decisively with one finger. "With you, I feel that I can conquer every darkness and shake the dust out of the curtains or the rugs." Such a homely sentiment for a cultured, ambitious man. He tries not to sigh too loudly when Natasha puts paid to a simple idea. "You never know. Especially not until you try. Is it not reasonable to simply say that you want another arrangement? We all put down our tools at one point or another. It's not like the old days where your apprenticeship dictated for life what you were, who you were, and where you lived." His nostrils flare at the very notion and he grimaces. "The Great Patriotic War taught us that much, didn't it? You might fear those words, my little sparrow, but you are not without resources. I'll stand behind you and Nikolai. Laynia. The rest of us, I'm sure we can make a very good explanation for how you can serve the Soviet Union another way. One that meets with what you want to do as much as what the country needs. You will be at my side one way or another. And I at yours. I don't ever intend to let you dash off into the snow without at least giving me a kiss first."

Natasha looks quite happy to hear the words Alexei says about having reunited with her. It harkens back to the early days when they just started dating. It was a whole new kind of thrill compared to being on stage, something far more personal and intimate. "I think you are not fully understanding why I want to track the man, woman, or people behind our misfortune. That was not mere accident. Someone orchestrated events to push me to where I am today," she looks a moment deeper into Alexei and laughs, "the idiots didn't even know that with you all they had do was ask…you'd have taken the Red Guardian mantle even without thinking I had defected. Shows how little they truly know."

She doesn't have the heart to elaborate any further, she doesn't want to explain to Alexei that the people of the Red Room will never share his sentiment. She is a Black Widow, and all Black Widows serve their purpose. Particularly when held as a paragon for all others still in training. "I would love to hear that explanation," Natasha says before taking the initiative to kiss Alexei right there and then, not having to wait for another parting, but once the kiss breaks, she repeats, "we will find those people, Alexei. And they will pay."

"I understand, Natya." He sounds a little tired by now, not only for the lack of sleep but the prowl through a subterranean ZATO and the emotional rollercoaster that followed. His arm sweeps around her waist and pulls her close, the more that he might be sure his eyes do not deceive him with a fata morgana. She may well be flesh and blood; still, it's the scent of her, the old memories slotting into place, that ease him. "Do not think I'm holding back far too much anger. I have to be responsible and not arbitrarily lay waste to everyone that stands in my way. Questions first. Anger after." A grim twist of his mouth gives way to a frown, the tension in his shoulders leaving them a rigid line beneath the shirt.

"I want to believe this was idiocy. Idiocy I could forgive. Not betrayal of the highest order. But however this goes." He tightens his arms a little around the span of her body. "However, I will not be separated from you again, not by them or the command of the Politburo. They will see reason, and if reason fails, I can throw our record at their feet as evidence enough. It will have to be done tactfully. Things have changed in the past few years, with better leadership."

"Yes, of course…questions first, I agree." Natasha appeases Alexei, though truth be told, she really doesn't care about the 'why'. She cares about using the skills she was taught to even the score. She's beyond livid, but she does well enough to keep her visage mostly frozen. Aside from the occasional warm smile allowed to her husband. This entire train ride has been a much deserved vacation. A trip into some whatif scenario, almost like those Nevers, where she served the side of good. Saving an asset, rather than use them and discard. Here too, she can dream of just being Alexei's wife, that asking to be released from service in favor of some other service will yield a desireable outcome. She truly thinks Alexei is far too optimistic to think such a request will ever be considered.

He drowsily sighs, the general expenditure of energy clearly dipping into his reserves. Even the most powerful of men sleep sometimes, and their female counterparts with it. "Good. You are smart and reasonable, and I am glad to have you at my side." He rubs his two fingers up his cheekbone, and Aleksei manages to blow out a low, deep sigh that deflates his chest. Pulled directly into the weight of her body, he rests against her. "Come, Natya. Let's sleep and face what we may in the morning. Surely we shall do just fine once we are back and home. Getting in to the apartment will be a start to normalcy. Once we are there, we can regroup and decide how to pursue everything." He manages a bit of a grin, albeit the weariness he struggles to suppress while he can. "Or for all I know, you'll be crawling out the window to find some mischief of your own to make while I'm left sadly to fill out reams of paperwork."

"Yes, we shall do that…and we will be successful," Natasha concurs, and at his comment of what he might expect of her, she just leaves a mischevious smile on her face as her reply. If he'll be buried in paperwork, he can bet on her getting a head start on this investigation. She's no doubt the Winter Soldier's presence would be of more pressing interest to the Red Room, particularly as it affirms her report from months earlier, that she has it verified that he's defected to join SHIELD under his new guise, Bucky Barnes.

The two find some well earned sleep the rest of the way to Moscow, at morning, the Black Widow will start her self assigned op.

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