"Let's see what you retained."
Characters (this chapter): Natasha Romanoff, Jemma Simmons, Bucky Barnes
Content Warnings: Memory issues, minor body horror (ballet is hell on your feet)
Simmons is a cautious driver, but she has a precise memory, and overall they aren’t delayed more than is reasonable. Simmons nudges her gently just as she’s pulling up to the interstate tollbooths. Natasha straightens, pulling the sun visor down to cover their faces. They discuss strategy, Natasha swaps a few less gory anecdotes and allows Simmons to grow comfortable with her. When they enter the city, Natasha directs Simmons to one of her satellite warehouses on the edge of the less exclusive neighborhoods.
They stop for supplies at a hardware store; Simmons hands Natasha a list and waits outside. It’s an easy trip. She pays in cash.
They unpack together. The warehouse is well-stocked and secure enough, though Natasha will have to make some improvements if this is going to be a long-term base of operations. Which means more errands. Simmons seems content to stay behind, fiddling with the chemical formula. Which means Natasha can keep her appointment.
She doesn’t dress for the occasion, and she arrives late, through a staff entrance. The music is swelling as she takes her seat in the northwest balcony. The entire box is booked in her name, every Sunday, every matinee. The audience below isn’t packed, far from it; there are a few retirees that come every week, a rotating group of young couples taking advantage of the earlier show’s cheaper ticket price. Occasional student groups, though not today. No unfamiliar faces, even among the staff.
She chooses a different dancer this week: Nina Peterson.
The music swells and her body sways, and Natasha memorizes the steps. Nina’s not the lead, but she’s a good dancer. Natasha knows this; she investigated every dancer in the company. She knows their heights, ages, years spent training, and where. This is a familiar routine; Nina is the mirror image of Angela, the girl Natasha watched last week. It doesn’t matter. Her left arm dips when last week, it was the right one. Little details like this matter. Her shoes are newer, and Natasha makes a note of it.
She rises from her seat before the curtain call. She’s stayed for it, a few times, but that part of the performance does nothing for her. And it’s not worth the wait. If she stayed, she would have to wait until the entire audience departed, and slip out with the theater employees.
Just because she's not hiding doesn't mean old habits are easy to break.
Besides, someone out there wants her dead.
Natasha is outside before the music fades away.
The studio is nearby. It’s not in use at such a late hour, and the owners have a modest security setup. Natasha goes to the locker room after she checks the perimeter. She’s stashed her set of slippers on top of the lockers. They’ve been specially made for her (well, for someone named Erica Ross, a retired guest teacher that used to work at the studio). The space is dusty, but her bag is fresh, the material dark enough to be invisible beneath the pipes.
She dresses in front of the mirror, binding her feet inside the shoes the way Nina had. She stretches. She does her normal routine of crunches, pull ups, sit ups, and rollouts. Her wrist is a little sore, but it’s negligible. She discovers no new injuries during her inventory.
When she’s done, she lays a mat down on the floor, calculating where she’ll need it. She finds the CD she needs, slips it into the radio, and hits play.
There’s an overture, and a few more beats before she begins to move. She thrusts her right arm outwards, palm down, fingers extended. Graceful. It’s easier to breathe this way, knowing that every breath is orchestrated. She can envision the set, the glittering lights, the smell of dust burning against them, and sweat dropping onto the floor, commingled with makeup.
Coupé. Her toes ache as she performs en pointe, and she feels her toenails splitting again where she cut them a few weeks ago. Her body works through the steps, picking up speed with the tempo, and she can feel the presence of the other dancers behind her, echoing her steps in perfect unison. Temps lié. There’s something in her thigh, just beneath her hip, a twinge, and she closes her eyes, trying to feel it. Her right shoulder is tight as her arms form a circle above her head, swaying like wings. Dégagé. The ache reminds her of the taste of steel, cold and harsh between her lips- but she knows that part. She keeps moving. The music changes.
This next part is a solo, and she’s already walked through it. She waits, patient, not disappointed when the ache fades away, a memory. She knows disappointment is just a distraction.
This next part is a group number. She leaps onstage, legs in the air, and she lands, and the tremor shoots up through her leg. Demi-plié. The old break is giving her trouble, it always does. There are a lot of circles in this part. It reminds her of her training, the defensive aspects are similar. There’s the circle around your body, and the circle around your attacker, or attackers, and as long as you move your feet around the edges of those circles, you can stay out of the line of fire long enough to strike back. Similar, but not the same. Fermé. These circles are part of a group assault, a flock of swans. Natasha dips her hand into the circle, knowing the part is coming.
There it is.
The twitch in the music. She feels the moment in her gut, wrenching, and there’s a scent of something sour, brisé, at the periphery of her senses, and this is the moment where she leaps, choreography abandoned, eyes shut, chasing the memory-
She doesn’t land on the mat.
Arms, strong arms, too solid and mismatched to be mistaken for any other, cradle her. The smell fades, the impression in her muscles forgotten. She opens her eyes. The Soldier’s are wide and blue, glittering above her, brighter and darker than any stage lights.
She’s solid, dead weight, stony.
“Swan Lake, actually.”
He nods, looking at the space on the floor just past her shoulder.
“Would you like me to let you go, now?”
She starts to nod, then flips over his arm, grabbing him. Of course, it’s the metal one, she can’t get enough leverage on it to throw him, not from that position anyway. They grapple, and it ends in an awkward stalemate. She glares up at him when he refuses to give any ground, even though she’s already demonstrated that she is the superior fighter.
“We have a meeting tomorrow. Any reason you decided to move the schedule up?”
He gives as good as he gets, cheeks drawn tight in what must be a semi-permanent scowl.
“You’re planning to arrest me tomorrow.”
She shrugs, not loosening her grip on the sturdy metal wrist.
“It’s nothing personal.”
His eyebrow curves, he’s attempting to mimic one of her signature expressions. The effort he’s putting into it is amusing.
“It won’t stop the operation. Might slow it down. Not for long.”
She lets go of him.
“Were you able to get more information for me?”
He lets her circle him, scowling.
“I know about the Bolshoi.”
Her brow twitches.
"You know where it is, or you know it exists?"
"I have a lead."
Thank you so much for reading!!!
I'm so happy to hear that everyone is enjoying this. We'll find out what Bucky knows next week!