Rating/Warnings: 15/R (to be safe, darker than my usual), highlight to view warnings, tell me if I’ve missed any or have been unclear: *child abuse, murder, violent murder, murder of children, things that explode out of people (aliens), implied rape, implied underage sex, implied sex as a means to get close and kill someone, vampires, possible desire to commit suicide, massacre*
Length: 1,820 words
Summary: They come in the night, the takers of children. A story about darkness and monsters. A story about the people that try to take Natasha away and the one person who finally does.
Fandoms: Highlight to view all: Avengers/*Sandman/Doctor Who/Angel characters being Natasha; Cain, Abel and Dream; Eleven; Darla and Drusilla*
She is born after the Berlin Wall comes down and before the collapse of the USSR, when some believe that the world will carry on as it is whilst others see the fall rushing towards them and reach out desperately, both kinds snatching at anything they think may be of use.
They come in the night, the takers of children. They come for her.
They tell her about the monsters in the dark. She already knew about them; all children do. This is different though, because these are the monsters outside of the fairytales and this is naming them: child killers, rapists, human traffickers, capitalists, warmongers, horrors hiding behind masks of normality. This is different, because this is the monsters themselves doing the telling and it’s too late for her, she’s already been taken. All she can do is swear to herself that she will never be taken again.
That could be the monsters talking, she’s not sure, because they’ve taken her and they won’t give her back, don’t want to lose her, and they’re keeping her by making her hold to them. She can’t tell. They break her and reshape her over and over, into a puzzle box made of puzzle boxes and a lie within. They train her to kill and train her so that she cannot demonstrate to them, on them, just how well she has been taught, taunting her with their soft underbellies and bared necks.
She dreams in blood; tastes it in her mouth when she wakes.
There are two brothers in her dreams. The eldest is tall and thin. He delivers death like it’s a compulsion. The younger is short and fat. He dies over and over and never leaves.
She isn’t sure which one she has the most in common with.
“He bleeds for me,” the eldest tells her as he peels back the skin of his brother’s stomach, exposing the fat and muscle beneath.
It is the same every night, the first brother killing the second, and at first she just watches. Then she makes suggestions and watches more closely.
“If ever we could keep a dreamer,” the eldest tells her, his brother in pieces between them, “I would ask for you.”
She does the killing then, no fancy method, fast and brutal. For the first time the eldest brother dies. She will not be taken.
“That is not the way it goes,” says a man that she has not seen before, stepping out of the shadows, taller and thinner even than the eldest brother, with bone-white skin and the manner of one who expects to be obeyed.
She does not dream of the brothers again.
She travels across most of the country; leaving when ordered, returning when ordered. When they are confident that her leash is secure they send her abroad. She slides into character there as well, taking up and discarding languages and clothes, seamlessly blending into the local scenery. She can talk about films and art that she has never seen, books that she has never read, places where she has killed but never taken the time to truly look or explore. She is required to know and that is all.
A man on a train next to her leaves his book behind on the seat, a cheap paperback with dogged pages and coffee stains. ‘Heaven to read, and you’ll laugh like hell’ it says on the cover. She doesn’t pick it up.
Another man wanders up and down the train three times before she decides to follow him, because she’s bored and observing people is always allowed. He doesn’t fit in at all, in an obvious manner. The tweed coat and bowtie could be written off, but he is too loud, too present, he doesn’t blend.
“Hello,” he says what she corners him in the last carriage.
He smiles. He continues to smile whilst a thing explodes out of a person, whilst there is a lot of screaming and running, whilst he aims a gadget at things and she uses a gun, which is much more reliable, whilst she loses count of the number of times she could have killed him and didn’t, whilst somehow everything is sorted out. She has never met anyone who smiles so much and appears to mean it.
“I love trains, don’t get me wrong,” he says as they pull into the next station, “but I have a much better means of travel.”
He straightens his bowtie using his reflection in the glass of the door as a guide and she doesn’t tell him about the bits of fake skin from the exploded people still stuck in the back of his hair.
“I could show you the stars,” he tells her, but he’s surrounded in a miasma of lies parading as truths and she’s smarter than that. She won’t be taken.
“This is my stop,” she says and it is.
This is her destination: a family in a house, sleeping quietly, oblivious as she slips in through a skylight.
The youngest boy has stars on his ceiling that glow softly in the dark.
They make everything that she is into a weapon. Everything is a means to an end and nothing is her, nothing is hers.
She hears people talking about emotions and their power, but they don’t seem at all powerful to her, those feelings that cause people to stumble and fall. They’re just another weakness, a bait for a trap, and she watches how people are taken in.
Love is for children. Sex is a tool.
She’s strapping a knife back onto her thigh and pulling her skirt back down, hiding the streaks of blood between her legs, when two women saunter into the alley, like women rarely do in dark alleys at night.
One presses delicate fingers to the blood still pulsing from the mark’s neck and paints her lips with it, red, red, red.
“Can I have her?” the other says, with wide eyes and her smile a slash across her face.
“Would you like that?” says the first.
She can see their faces change and their teeth stretching into fangs as the first steps over the body, gently raises her chin with bloodied fingertips, and says, “I think you would.”
She slams a knife into the woman’s heart, the thing’s heart, slipping it between bones, and the creature laughs.
“We don’t die so easily, little girl.”
It kisses her goodbye, lips slick, and she already knew the taste of blood, but not like this.
“Maybe when you’re older.”
The Union falls, names change, things are lost, but she continues to serve her purpose. She is what she was made to be.
Sometimes she thinks that she is also ever so slightly something else as well, but she can’t tell. She’s always gentle with the children, letting them slide from sleep into deeper darkness, and she’s harsh with those that deserve it, but she can’t tell if that’s because she’s meant to be. She is regardless.
She’s fifteen when she finally, first, meets the one who will take her away, a child still to a world of marks and targets, underestimated, but never a child to herself, not anymore.
She’s at a party for rich young things, dressed for the occasion with a champagne glass in her hand, and either no one notices that she’s a few years shy of the average age or no one cares. Her mark is charmed, by the attention she gives him and not by her. He has gangly limbs that he will never grow into and pimples that he will never grow out of.
“Ask me to dance,” she tells him with a flutter of her eyelashes.
He blushes, tells her that he’s never danced with anyone before, and she knows that. She can at least give him a dance before she takes everything else away.
There is a feeling burrowing into her between her shoulder blades as they move around the floor and she knows what it means, even as she stumbles and stabs a high heel into her mark’s foot, even as he insists that it’s his fault and apologises for being a poor partner, even as she surreptitiously presses a needle into his skin.
It is night and she is ready, she is always ready for the child takers, but this is different. Something inside her settles and stills when she accepts the eyes and aim that have fallen on her. This is different, because this time someone has come to kill her, not a taking after all but a setting free.
Her mark collapses, on his way to fetch her another drink, and in the chaos that ensues she stands still, the perfect target, and allows herself to smile.
The shot doesn’t come, darkness doesn’t fall, and that is the shock, not that someone could be good enough to take her out, but they would chose to let her go.
She tracks him, follows him, stalks him, to a low concrete wall where he sits to eat breakfast bought from a small bistro as the sun rises. His expression doesn’t change when she choses to show herself, sitting next to him on the wall, cross-legged and too far away for him to reach out and touch. She takes the opportunity to observe him at close quarters: the calluses on his hands, the shape of his skull beneath his face, his scent.
“Why didn’t you kill me?” she asks eventually.
His lack of reply burns under her skin.
“I should kill you,” she says and she could, quite easily, this man who is so clearly a marksman and unused to close combat.
She doesn’t though. She has not been ordered to.
She sees him again and again as she makes her way back, but he never acknowledges her. She’s not offended. She is nothing to be acknowledged after all, just another monster in the dark.
She sees him again when he destroys the place where she has been made, arrows through soft underbellies and bared necks. Arrows in hearts like a parody of broken love. Breathing ceases in his wake. He slaughters and lays waste with precision and she watches closely. It’s how she knows to run when the explosions start and fire cleanses what is left of the place where monsters hid.
She stands outside, feet bare, as it rains ash and water.
“You smiled,” he tells her, shrugging and putting his bow away, the only words he has spoken to her.
It isn’t what he says though, but the look that he gives her, as if he’s seeing more than she choses to show to the world and she wishes she could see what he sees, pull it out into the light and examine it, everything that she is underneath. If she is anything underneath.
When he walks away she follows him.
She says that she owes him a debt.