Chapter 1: From Russia
Anastasia's feet pounded against the pavement as she ran. Talia is gonna kill me, she thought, tossing a glance over her shoulder at the group of guys chasing after her. She ducked into an alley and rolled into a hole in the wall, holding her breath as the boys ran past, cursing as they went. She slipped out and took off in the other direction until she reached a small shop. Anastasia went around to the back and up an old, narrow staircase. She grimaced when she heard a soft humming coming from behind the door. Bracing herself, she turned the handle and stepped inside the small apartment. At the sound of the door opening the girl who was humming spun around defensively. Her blond hair whipped around and her sharp green eyes were wary. When she saw Anastasia she relaxed, at least until she took in Anastasia's condition. Anastasia's blond hair was tangled and dirty and minor scratches crisscrossed her arms and legs. Her eyes were filled with apology.
"Stasia..." The other girl sighed.
"I'm sorry Talia, but-" Even as Anastasia started to defend herself, her twin cut her off.
"You said it wouldn't happen again Stasia. We both agreed not to live like that anymore." Talia, or rather Natalia, pursed her lips together disapprovingly.
"I can't just wave my hand and change the way we were raised Natalia!" snapped Anastasia. "It's not easy for me like it is for you!" She turned and stormed down the hall to the room they shared, slamming the door behind her.
A few hours later there was a slight tapping on the door. Anastasia was curled into a ball on her bed, tear streaks drying on her cheeks and sporting puffy red eyes.
"Stasia?" Natalia poked her head around the door. "мир?"(peace?) Stasia looked up. She never speaks in Russian anymore.
"Я не хочу говорить." (I just want to talk)said Natalia, closing the door behind her and coming over to Anastasia's bed with a plate of cookies.
"Затем," (So talk) replied Anastasia, not bothering to move from her position on the bed.
"Я знаю, что вы думаете я использую из нашего прошлого; что я пытаюсь забыть," (I know that you think that I'm running from our past; that I'm trying to forget) began Natalia, "И вы правы. Я использую. Я использую потому что боюсь, Stasia. Боюсь, что они сможете нас найти еще раз. Боюсь силового они За нас. Я не хочу жить смотрит через плечо Stasia. Именно поэтому мы скрыть. Именно поэтому мы не показывать кому-либо какие они подготовку нам Не." (And you're right. I'm running. I run because I'm afraid, Stasia. I'm afraid that they'll find us again. I don't want to live life looking over my shoulder, Stasia. That's why we hide. That's why we don't show anyone what they trained us to do, to be.) Natalia set her head down in her hands, "Потому что боюсь Stasia." (Because I'm afraid, Stasia.) Anastasia finally pushed herself up and wrapped her arms around Natalia who had started to cry. Anastasia felt her own tears resurface and she simply clung to her twin, taking support as much as giving it. Softly, so only someone with hearing as good as Natalia's would hear, she whispered,
"Я слишком." (I am too.)
So for the next few weeks, Anastasia tried. She didn't pick fights and she kept her head low-as much as she could anyway. It was probably the longest she had gone without coming home to Natalia's disappointed look. They were both wondering how long it could last, and they were sure it wouldn't be for long. Sure enough, they were walking home from the store one evening when Anastasia saw something she simply couldn't walk away from. A young girl, about four or five maybe, was surrounded by menacing looking boys, cracking their knuckles and closing in on her. Before Natalia could react Anastasia had shoved the groceries she was carrying into Talia's arms and taken off sprinting toward the girl. She ducked under the arm of the largest guy and stood protectively in front of the little girl, drawing her close to her side.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you." She said calmly to the one who was clearly the leader. He looked at her with disbelief.
"I don't see why not." He sneered. Anastasia picked up the kid and whispered,
"When the fighting starts, I want you to run over to the girl who looks like me, okay? I'll be right behind you." The little girl nodded mutely, fear prominent in her big green eyes. Anastasia set her down just as the leader sent his first punch. The kid took off running while Anastasia caught the wrist of the leader and flipped him onto his back. The rest of the gang was paralyzed with shock, giving her the advantage. She elbowed the next guy in the gut and when he doubled over she kicked him in the head, knocking him out. She let the momentum from her kick push her into one of the guys from the other side that had recovered his senses and started for her. She head-butted his chin but he grabbed her around the waist, pinning her to his chest. She swung her legs up and wrapped her thighs around his head. She flipped him over, landing him on top of one of the guys who had been coming at her. Two left, she thought. She ducked under the first one's punch and gave a quick kick to sweep his legs out from under him. As he fell to the ground she reached behind her without even looking and grabbed the forearm of the last guy standing, who had been about to punch her. Using his own momentum she swung him up and down, hard, onto his fallen companion. Satisfied with the sickening crunch that she heard, Anastasia walked back over to her twin and the little girl. Natalia had set the groceries down and gathered the girl into her arms. Now that she could get a closer look, Anastasia could see that the girl's red hair was jaggedly cut and extremely knotted. She was very skinny and her shorts and t-shirt were ripped and dirty. She lives on the street, Anastasia realized. She reached the pair across the street and took the girl from Natalia, who started to retrieve the groceries from the sidewalk. When she stood, Anastasia was surprised to see that Talia's face was devoid of annoyance.
"Существует хорошая причина." (There was a good reason.) said Natalia, slipping into their native tongue without a second thought. Anastasia nodded slowly and looked down at the small figure in her arms.
"What's your name sweetie?"
"Rani." Her voice was barely above a whisper.
"Is there anyone who takes care of you hon?" Natalia asked. Rani shook her head.
"All alone," she whispered, burying her face in Anastasia's neck.
"It's okay honey, shhh, it's alright." Anastasia felt Rani's tears wet her neck and rubbed comforting circles into the little girl's lower back. She sent Natalia a look. We are so taking her home. Natalia sort of sighed, but she knew that Anastasia was right. She nodded and grabbed the last bag from the ground.
"It's okay sweetheart," said Stasia soothingly, "we're gonna take care of you now." Rani looked up at her with tear filled eyes,
"Promise." Stasia pulled the little girl even closer to her as new tears spilled from Rani's eyes-tears of joy.
"Coulson." Agent Maria Hill glanced up as Phil Coulson walked by her desk on the helicarrier. "You should take a look at this." Coulson diverted his path so that he ended up standing in front of her computer monitor.
"Why am I watching a street standoff?" Coulson asked. He didn't see why a small girl being beaten up had relevance to S.H.I.E.L.D. Sure, it was horrible, but this should be something for the local PD, not a high level government agency.
"Just watch." Hill said. Out of nowhere an older girl with an agile, though slight, frame ran up and butted in. Coulson watched in amazement as the older girl rescued the little one and singlehandedly took down the entire squad of burly looking boys. Hill looked over at Coulson.
"I get it now," he said, "what happened next?" Hill tapped the mouse a couple of times and a different feed popped up. Coulson blinked, not quite sure what he saw.
"Twins, from the look of it," confirmed Hill, "They're going by Angela and Naomi Smith but there's no guarantee that those are real names. We need you to put a team on this. A good one," she added as an afterthought. Coulson raised an eyebrow.
"Surely you or Fury have a team for this. Why do you need one of mine?" Hill had obviously been expecting this. She hit a few more keys and the camera zoomed in on one of the twins.
"We don't have audio, but we ran this through our lip reading software. Guess what she isn't speaking?"
"English." Coulson looked at Hill, "and your point is...?" Hill pulled up the lip reading results. Coulson nodded.
"I'll get some people on it."
"Not just some people Phil," called Hill as Coulson walked away. She glanced back down at the computer screen before she closed the windows.
Anastasia looked at Rani who, as it turned out, was five. The little girl giggled as she played with the bubbles that Stasia had put in the bathtub. Natalia was in the next room over, making up their extra bed for Rani to sleep on. Anastasia rubbed some shampoo into Rani's hair. It really was a beautifully rich shade of red once you cleaned all the dirt out of it.
"Alright,малыш, time to get out." Rani made a pouty face but let Anastasia pull the plug out of the drain and rinse the last of the bubbles from her hair. Stasia gently toweled the little girl off, being extra careful around the bruises that Rani had from her time on the street. She slipped her into some old sweatpants and a tank top that the twins had managed to scrounge up, letting her short red hair hang in damp ringlets. She scooped Rani up, causing her to squeal with delight and carried her into the small kitchen. Natalia had already cooked the hot dogs that they had picked up that afternoon and was in the process of cutting one up for Rani. She set the plate down in front of the five year old who smiled angelically.
"You're welcome sweetheart," replied Talia, her heart melting as Rani dug into what was probably her best meal in a long time. Natalia passed Anastasia a hot dog, then grabbed one for herself and sat down.
"Так что же нам не нужно о ее?" (So what are we gonna do about her?) asked Talia quietly.
"Мы можем смотреть после ее," (We can look after her.) answered Stasia, "Не в первый раз мы приняли к кому-либо в соответствии с нашими крыла." (It wouldn't be the first time we took someone under our wing.)
"Это разные. Она очень молодые." (This is different. She's very young.)
"Мы можем сделать это," (We can do it.) insisted Stasia. Rani looked back and forth between the two of them.
"Why are you talking funny?" she asked, tilting her head to the side in confusion. Natalia smiled.
"It's called Russian honey. It's a different language than English, but it's the language that Stasia and I learned first."
"Oh." Rani seemed satisfied with this and she returned to her hot dog. Talia turned back to Stasia and Stasia smiled, because she could already see Natalia giving in.
"Да, согласен. Мы предоставим его на дороге," (Alright. We can give it a go.) consented Talia. Anastasia smiled, then eyed the clock.
"Alright, Принцесса, time for bed," Stasia stood up from the table and picked up Rani as Talia started to clear away the dishes.
"Awwwwwww," Rani frowned.
"C'mon sweetie, don't you want to see the comfy bed that Natalia made up just for you?" Rani brightened a little at that prospect.
"Okay," she decided, "night night Talia!"
"Good night sweetheart," Natalia stepped over and gave Rani a little hug, then Anastasia took her off to get ready for bed.
Coulson entered the training room to general chaos. Not again, he thought exasperated, how many times have we told them to leave the trainees alone? He watched as the recruits did their best to dodge deadly accurate arrows, although these were simply shot to pin their hair or clothes to the wall. Those that weren't eyeing the skies were warily watching the shadows, then jumping halfway to heaven when a silent red-haired assassin dropped from the support beams and took them by surprise. Coulson stepped forward.
"Alright! Practice is over! Agents dismissed." The recruits all headed off in the direction of the locker room.
"Not you Romanoff." Coulson glared at Natasha as she turned back around, a hint of guilt just barely visible on her face. Coulson looked up into the rafters. "Barton I know you're up there and you have two seconds to have your ass down here before I drop you from active field duty." A muscular figure dressed in all black swung down and landed in front of Coulson, wearing even less remorse on his face than Natasha. Coulson glowered angrily at both of them. "What have we told you about the recruits?"
"We were bored Coulson," Natasha said, "It's not our fault that we've been stuck here for three weeks without a mission." Clint nodded in agreement. Coulson rolled his eyes but let the matter drop.
"I want both of you in my office in ten. Looks like you've got that mission you want so much." He turned his back on the two assassins and walked out.
"Tell me again why you're sending us on a mission to pick up potential recruits?" asked Clint approximately 20 minutes later, "Isn't this like, level six stuff?" Natasha was flipping intently through the mission file, analyzing the two girls that constituted their main target.
"The level agent needed varies on the target," answered Coulson, "You know that Barton."
"Well yeah, but Nat and I haven't been on a recruitment mission since we hit level seven." Natasha gave him a look.
"What?!" demanded Clint, "it's true!"
"Isn't it obvious Clint?" Natasha smirked, "Maybe not to you, I suppose, although it should be."
"Well why are we on this mission then Miss Know-It-All?" Natasha flipped the file around and slid it over to Clint.
"At least one of the girls has been extensively trained, pretty close to S.H.I.E.L.D. level training from the looks of it. It's pretty safe to assume that if one of them is trained, the other one probably is as well. S.H.I.E.L.D. is sending us in because these two appeared out of nowhere a few years ago and they speak Russian. Well." Natasha sat back in her chair and looked at Coulson for confirmation. He nodded.
"That's pretty much it. The address is there. I suggest that you at least try a diplomatic approach first, but that decision is yours to make." Coulson looked at both of them. "Be careful, you two. Dismissed." The two agents nodded to their handler and headed out the door.
Anastasia was sitting at the table while Natalia cooked pancakes when they heard the sound they never wanted to: a knocking at the door. They exchanged a glance, then Anastasia stood and opened the door. A man dressed in black pants and a sleeveless black shirt stood before them. He was wearing sunglasses and fingerless gloves.
"Miss Smith? My name is Agent Clint Barton, I'm with S.H.I.E.L.D. I wonder if I could have a word?" Anastasia glanced over her shoulder at Natalia. They both knew that they couldn't turn him away without looking guilty, so Anastasia stood back to let him into the apartment.
"We just have a few questions for you." Said the agent.
"Who is we?" inquired Anastasia.
"S.H.I.E.L.D." answered the agent, "the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division."
Natalia and Anastasia froze at the word homeland.
"Вы думаете, что им известно?" (Do you think they know?) Anastasia asked Natalia, completely disregarding the presence of Agent Barton.
"Конечно, они знают, зачем же тогда бы они здесь?" (Of course they know, why else would they be here?) hissed Natalia
"Как мы будем играть?"(How do we play this?) Anastasia searched her memory, trying to think of a way out of this situation.
"Мы выкладывать, дайте ему играть." (We just have to let it play out.) Natalia shot a glance at the agent who was looking at them curiously. "По крайней мере он не говорит по-русски."(At least he doesn't speak Russian.)
"Фактически, он не будет. Он только удивительно ужасного. К счастью, он меня захватывает его слабину." (Actually, he does. He's just terribly awful at it. Luckily, he has me to pick up his slack.) Both girls spun around as the unknown voice spoke into the room. They found themselves looking at a woman dressed in a black cat suit with short, wavy red hair and green eyes. They froze, eyes widening as they looked slowly at each other then back at the woman, ensuring that they were seeing the same thing. The woman took in their expressions and nodded.
"Вы знаете, кто я, разве нет? Я подумал, что это может быть, что способ." (You know who I am, don't you? I thought it might turn out this way.) She nodded to the other agent, who had drawn a funny looking pistol while the girls' backs were turned. He calmly shot each of them with an ICER round and they crumpled to the ground.
"My Russian isn't that bad," complained Clint, slinging one twin over each shoulder.
"Пожалуйста. Это ужасно." (Please. It's terrible.) Natasha snorted at Clint's confused face. "There you go, proving my point."
"Oh shut up Tasha," Clint scowled at her, "go get the little one." Natasha was gone for a few seconds, then returned holding a sleeping girl wrapped in a blanket. She reached up and tapped her earpiece.
"Alright Coulson we've got them. Send in the extraction team."