Natasha had not spoken a word since she had been captured by SHIELD. She cooperated when she felt like it, followed some instructions, nodded or shook her head, but she did not speak. It felt like some kind of threshold she would not pass. One last piece of defiance, like staring down her interrogators rather than just looking at a wall. She would not let them have this last thing.
Agent Barton was interesting. He seemed to genuinely want to help her, but Natasha wasn't sure what help she needed right now. Besides, she rarely saw the archer since Fury had decided he was 'too involved'. Or whatever.
When she wasn't being interrogated, Natasha was alone. She trained by herself, ate by herself, and slept in a room that was really just a cell. She didn't care. She had slept in worse. She knew that there were agents watching her every move, waiting to see what she would do, ready to press some big red button if she tried to escape. As if she had somewhere to go.
The nights were the worst. Natasha couldn't sleep. Didn't want to, because then the nightmares would come. No, calling them nightmares made her feel like she didn't deserve them. Memories.
On the plus side, the people on her night watch were either very lazy or very trusting, because she was free to wander the corridors of this massive complex.
Every night she would find something new.
The hallways always felt very quiet. Even her soft gait echoed around the linoleum floors. The lights only ever felt dim, and the cold felt like before.
Something about the sterile environment reminded Natasha of the hospital, and she had to stop for a moment to force the memories from her mind. Not now. Not when there were people watching her every move. The air was stale and dusty.
Her flat shoes clicked on the floor and Natasha spied a door at the end of the corridor that she had not been through before. Possibly an escape from this one. Moving from one echoey hallway to another, probably. Things rarely changed, in Natasha's experience.
This was a change though. The room she entered was large and filled with empty office cubicles. There was carpet beneath her feet, and boxes filled with files around her. Interesting that no one had come to stop her yet. Any of these files could be potentially dangerous. Unlike the musty air of the hallway, this had the artificial freshness and slightly too cold feel of air conditioning.
She moved silently around in the dim white light, taking in the area. There didn't appear to be anyone around.
There wasn't much paperwork at her last job. The compulsive need to document everything both confused and fascinated Natasha. Every thought, every event, every step, written down, stapled together and put in a file where no one would ever read it again.
Her thoughts were interrupted by something that she couldn't quite define. Natasha supposed that it could have been a noise, but she certainly didn't register is consciously.
She crept around the next cubicle, staying low and out of sight, trying to figure out what it was. Probably a mouse or something, but it was best to be sure.
Scratch that, whatever it was, it wasn't a mouse. The noises were too big, too forceful to be a tiny mouse scuttling around.
Natasha peered around the cubicle wall and was shocked to see that there was a woman seated there, reading through some documents. For a moment their eyes met and time froze, then the woman let out a soft breath and continued reading. Something on her face seemed to say, 'if you're here to stab me in the neck just get on with it.'
Natasha stared. This woman was odd. She looked to be in her late thirties, Chinese, attractive. But there was some sort of quiet to her. And not the good kind. She looked like Natasha felt, like she just didn't care what happened to her now. After whatever she had been through.
Natasha sat down cross-legged on the floor, and saw that the movement caused the other woman to involuntarily tense up. It was subtle, but the Russian knew a warrior when she saw one. Anyone quiet enough to elude her was someone worthy of note.
After a few minutes Natasha was handed a stack of documents and a stapler, still without a word being spoken from either woman.
It was all Natasha could do not to smile. She had no idea who this woman was, but she liked her. How many people would get the Black Widow, their prisoner, to do paperwork? Maybe it was some strange interrogation technique.
She stapled the different sections though, putting them down with a rustle beside her. Revelling in the repetition, the quiet company. The paper was smooth and cold in her hands, the sharp click of the stapler grounding her with every document.
The cold permeated through her clothes, her skin, chilling her, but Natasha was grateful for it. The cold kept her alert, and it kept her from falling asleep.
She wondered if that was why this woman was here too. Part of her wanted to ask, but the silent part won out.
The next thing Natasha knew it was morning, sunlight creeping through the venetian blinds, and Coulson had arrived to take her back. He looked at the woman and the amount of raw emotion in his eyes surprised the Russian. They must be friends, or something.
Coulson didn't say a word to either of them, instead nodding Natasha towards the door and gently, momentarily, putting one hand on the other woman's shoulder.
She didn't move, except to take another stack of paperwork.
Coulson actually spoke to Natasha on the way back to her room. "How is she?"
Natasha said nothing, but gave him a meaningful look.
"I know." He sighed, then smiled humourlessly. "You two are a bit of a pair, huh?"
She shrugged. Natasha wanted to ask for the woman's name, but she didn't want to break her silence just yet. She didn't trust these people. It seemed that they had made someone as broken as she was, which was no mean feat.
She returned that night.
And the next.
Even on the occasional nights when Agent May – Natasha had glanced at her nameplate – wasn't there, Natasha would take whatever hadn't been done and complete it in her absence, leaving neatly folded and sealed documents on Agent May's desk for filing.
No one else was ever there at night time. The only other person Natasha ever saw was Agent Coulson, who would collect her in the mornings and gaze at Agent May with his deep blue eyes, indescribably sad. Wishing for something.
Natasha wanted to speak. She had never spoken to Agent May, or to anyone else here for that matter, and the two of them had only made eye contact a handful of times despite how close Natasha felt to her. She wanted to know this woman better, she wanted to know, from this person who she had come to like, if this was a place she could trust.
If whatever had happened to her had been worth it.
Natasha Romanoff had no idea why she spoke that night. She hadn't been planning to. There was nothing unusual about that night. She was seated on the floor beside Agent May, stapling papers together like she had the first night she had found her here.
"I killed a little girl." The words were out before Natasha realised she had spoken them. She hadn't heard her own voice in months. Her throat felt strange, her Russian accent not entirely purged. And she had killed a child.
Agent May made no indication that she had heard her at first. When she put down the papers she had been stacking, she released a long breath. "Me too." She mumbled.
Natasha's eyes begged for some kind of guidance.
Agent May fixed her eyes on her desk. The office was as silent as the grave. "It wasn't meant to happen. Her mother was... enhanced. We didn't know she had a daughter." Each word sounded carefully chosen. "She wouldn't stop." No elaboration, but Natasha was smart enough to fill in the gaps.
She half wanted to tell her own story, but for one thing couldn't remember most of it. For another knew that it wouldn't help her. Instead she sat in silence. "Was it worth it?" The only question that needed to be answered.
"I should have saved her." Bitter, self-hating words that didn't answer the question.
"If you couldn't." Natasha pushed.
A pause that felt like time had stopped, but eventually May nodded quietly, not saying another word.
Neither of them spoke again for the rest of the night, but when Natasha stood to leave, before Coulson arrived, she farewelled the other woman with a soft, 'thank you.'
She found Agent Coulson pretty quickly, walking up to his usual hiding place where he stood, typing into a laptop. "I'll be one of your agents."
Coulson looked at her with a crooked grin Natasha had never seen before. "May's already volunteered as your supervising officer."
Natasha felt a strange warmth grow in her chest. This felt... good. It felt like making amends. It felt like making her own choice, and her own choice was to do the right thing.