Rating/Warnings: PG13; mild swearing, murder, lots of blood, wanting to die.
Length: 1,230 words
Summary: for the prompt A linguistic interaction is first and foremost manipulative. Natasha and words. from dictator_duck at the be_compromised epic and wonderful promptathon.
Author Notes: this is a prologue of sorts for the small acts verse by workerbee73 and bob5fic, also with an epilogue by sugar_fey, the master list for which can be found here. This verse took over my brain. Thank you for letting me play in your sandbox! The title is from Richard Siken’s poem Wishbone from which bob5fic took the title for the small acts installment your killing floor.
“Once upon a time,” begins the storyteller.
Language is a lens through which the world is viewed and the ones that tell the stories paint the glass so beautifully, making an art out of lies.
Natalia, Natasha, Natalie, Nadine, Nancy, Naomi.
Romanova, Tsarina, Slut, Bitch, Whore.
Words are names and labels put to objects and ideas, and names and labels, she knows, are nothing. Words are like breasts, hips, and thighs: things to use, to manipulate people with, and deadly. Words are weapons. Truth can only be learnt from action. People can only be judged by what they do. Experiences are the only thing that can be trusted and even there she treads warily.
So when the Ambassador escorts her outside, telling her that they’re going to his fancy car and then to his home, seductive words falling from his mouth, she is ready. She is ready for the dark of the abandoned factory, the bullets, and the pain.
She is ready, but from the surprise on his face when the doll that has been hanging from his arm all night transforms into a monster that snaps his neck he is not.
Admittedly she isn’t ready for her cover to have been blown this early or the number of men lying in wait, but she rises to the challenge, until she is covered in blood and dripping with it, blood plastering the silk ballgown to her legs, blood in the air and in her mouth, only some of it hers.
Enough, too much, of it hers.
There is a legend of a Countess who bathed in blood, reputedly to remain young and beautiful. This is a not a story told to children, but it is one that she has been told. It is one that hides behind the lie of a tale spun with pretty words, a woman drenched in blood.
She breaks the Ambassador’s neck, takes his gun, uses his body as a shield whilst she shoots three men, drops the dead weight and lunges, steals another gun, lashes out with her feet, shoots, slaughters.
She dances, death come alive, but she was not ready for this number of men and her mouth splits into a smile as she realizes that she will die here. It stings, that these people will be the end of her. Not the dying. She doesn’t mind the thought of dying, but she aches to die at the hand of someone who could rise to the challenge of killing her, who would make an art of it and her, not this flood come to wash her away.
A bullet drives her back, punching a hole through her that somehow misses her heart, perhaps because she doesn’t have one.
Something moves, fast, in her peripheral vision and the one who shot her in the shoulder falls with an arrow in his eye.
Arrows are a distinctive way to kill. She’s been aware of the man tracking her, codenamed Hawkeye, has been leading him in a dance of another kind, but he hasn’t used his reputed weapon of choice until now, perhaps thinking to avoid her notice. He ends four more as she ends two and she will admit to being impressed.
She’s under no illusion that she too is a target to him, but she dances in a rain of arrows and it is glorious.
Arrows and bullets until they are the only two still breathing, her barely, and he drops down from the shadows in the rafters as she spins around. Hampered as she is by the wound in her shoulder and a dislocated knee his arrow flies before she can shoot. It hits her two inches above the wrist, pinning her to one of the wooden posts holding up the ceiling, and her gun clatters to the floor.
She is not dead. This is a surprise.
He stands facing her, bow drawn, and she isn’t dead.
It is a small, still moment in the factory that they have turned into a slaughterhouse.
With her free hand she fingers the shaft protruding from her arm between the radius and the ulna, a wound that shouldn’t cause permanent damage and she’d call it a lucky shot if she hadn’t seen him in action.
He moves closer, cautiously like approaching a cornered animal and at the same time confidently like stalking his prey, until the sharp point of an arrow presses against the centre of her forehead. He lowers his arms without changing his stance, ghosting the point down the length of her nose until it comes to rest on her lower lip, pricking the skin. She tastes blood again and this time it is definitely her own.
He stares at her lip in fascination for a moment, then takes a sharp step back, hands steady even as his breath catches.
Such small things: a drop of blood, a step, a breath.
“Do you want to live?” he asks.
Words sound so intrusive here.
She shakes her head, or at least lets it loll from side to side, and thinks what a picture, what a painting she must make, in the midst of carnage bathed in silk and blood.
He returns the nocked arrow to his quiver and lowers his bow to the ground, then reaches out to take her trapped hand, holding her hand, reverently, as if giving comfort to the type of person who dies in a bed.
She lets him.
Her hand is wet with sweat and red, his wrapped in an archer’s glove, but they fit. He reaches with his other hand as well, trails fingers down her wrist to where the arrow pierces her, and the hand holding hers squeezes tight as the other snaps the shaft of the arrow and both pull her away from it. She grits her teeth and tries to trap the sounds of pain behind a vicious smile, but they escape as the arrow slides through soft tissue and blood pulses from her arm unhindered.
He releases her as she slumps down into the growing pool of blood that has been forming beneath her and she burns with anger. She should have known that his words, his offer of a choice, had been a lie.
“Tie yourself up,” he says quietly, softly, using his feet to push some of the wires and cables dumped on the floor, dirt and dust covered, towards her until they touch her leg. “Wrists and ankles. Hands where I can see them.”
She does as she is told.
He watches as she follows his orders, biting through her tongue as she secures her ankles and gasping for breath as she forces herself to sit upright once more. She winds a length of wire around her wrists and forearms tight enough that it rubs raw against the arrow wound beneath, tight enough that it will mark her but not scar as the arrow wound will, then raises her eyes to his and licks her bloodied lips.
He has yet to look away and if he cannot see the monster instead of the doll then she will teach him.
The bonds are easy enough to slip out of if she wants to, but she hasn’t the strength left to make him leave her to die. The only thing left to want is to see what he will do next.