It is snowing. Flakes gently cover the barely lit streets of the outskirts of Moscow. Passer-bys flit here and there, but for the most part, the cold winter night is bare and empty.
A laugh bubbles up from a street corner. The voice is high pitched, sluggish and expressive. The woman is pressed against a crumbling brick wall, dressed in dark blue and furs and jewels—she must be very rich, or at least, the man nuzzling her neck must be.
White flakes cover her blonde hair, causing her to look older than she really is. How old, no one might know, but the gentleman she is with certainly is. His hair has passed greying at the temples. His suit is now crumpled; he whispers something in her ear.
The woman throws her head back, exposing her pale, clear neck. She lets out a loud laugh, pressing him even closer to her.
The man chuckles to himself. What a catch he must have found; he hadn't ever seen her before at the bar, but he is now glad he has. After the long day he's had of countless papers, meetings, and…difficult people, a willing woman in his bed was very much deserved. Even if it was only for his money.
She reaches up and takes his wrinkled hand in hers, smoothing it over with her fingers, watching the invisible patterns they created. "K vashey komnate?" To your room?
The man smiles, teeth showing yellow and brown stains. "Da." Yes.
They stumble together up the stairs of a nearby hotel, the man having hastily shoved a wad of rubles in the manager's hand. In Russia, one never knows when such luck could ever happen again. Warmth is scarce in the land of forever winters.
A single bulb illumines the room. The carpet is stained and green paint is peeling from the walls, mold running up the corner near the window. A dresser crafted far before the woman's time rests on one side of the room, a long mirror hung precariously over it surface.
The man shuts the blinds.
The bed creaks and shakes as they move against it. The man grunts in frustration. Already there are too many layers. He goes to reach for his belt, and then pauses. His hand… is he seeing double? He shakes his head, thinking it must be the cold.
But then he cannot move his hand.
He coughs over her, trying to grasp for his throat, but he cannot. He is frozen, stuck in place. What is happening? he asked himself.
As he looks down at the woman in blue before him, her lipstick skewed and hair mussed, he knows the truth.
But he will not accept it. His eyes look down at her, pleading, begging for help.
There is no life in her eyes. They are bright, but they are passionless.
As the man walks backwards, foam collecting in his mouth and spewing from his lips, she does not move. Only after he stops sputtering and twitching does she blink, tilting her head, as if inspecting him.
Wordlessly, she lifts his prone body off her legs, swinging them off the bed and to the carpeted floor. She wiggles her toes, stretches her back. She walks to the lone chair opposite the bed and retrieves her furs, wipes off her lipstick with them. She takes off her dress, peeling it from her frozen skin. A shiver runs down her back.
Turning it inside out, she shakes her head in disbelief once again at Alexi's ingenious. The dress is completely different on the inside. She slips it back on, green this time. She takes off her wig, exposing her fiery red. She stuffs it in her purse; she would ditch it in a dumpster 5 miles away.
With care, she buries the man's body in blankets, shifting him to his side.
Already she knows the headline for tomorrow's paper. 'Minister of Finance, 69, dies in sleep in hotel room' it will read.
It will speak of a mysterious blonde that he lead up to the top floor of the most lewd hotel in Moscow. The cause of death? Well. His ticker just couldn't take the strain.
Before she leaves, she catches her reflection in the mirror. A woman of average height with wavy red hair, inquisitively arched brows, and curves for miles. She smiles at her reflection, touching the earpiece hidden behind her hair. "Eto zakoncheno," she says. It is finished.
She hears static for a moment, and then, in a crystal clear voice: "Khorosho. Vozvrashchaysya domoy, Chernaya Vdova." Good. Come home, Black Widow.
"Da, ser," she replies. Yes, Sir. Always, Sir. For the Motherland, Sir…
She locks the door to the hotel room before she leaves, those impassive eyes staring back at her in the mirror haunting her mind. It is deep in the night now. No one is in the streets, and if they are, then they are prey. The snow continues to fall, continues to carpet her world in ice.
She runs from one block to the next, keeping in line with the shadows, finally stopping in front of a large, crumbling building alongside a liquor store, its neon sign blinking and flickering red against the white snow. No one lives here. There is no heat, no light, no electricity.
This is her perfect hiding place.
She goes to the third floor; there is no need to lock the door, for there is none. In the dark she finds her combat outfit. She quickly slips it on.
In one room, she takes out a suitcase underneath fallen floorboards. Her weapons. Mechanically, she cleans them, feeling with her fingers where the objects are in front of her.
She cocks her pistol.
Was that a noise?
…no. That was nerves.
She returns to her rigorous cleaning. Satisfied, she takes the suitcase with her to the next room, and the next—her passports, her papers, her case files. All spread out over the third floor of an abandoned building.
When she is finished, she takes everything with her to the ground level. Her booted feet make no sound over the decrepit floor. Stepping outside, she meets her contact.
"Ty opozdal," he says, taking a drag of a cigarette.
He is in the dark, but leans forward into the the light of a streetlamp. Her eyes take him in, the strong-bodied muscle of a man, metallic arm against a pristinely waxed and cleaned motorbike. His mask hides half his face, but she can tell by his eyes he is smiling.You are late, he had said.
She doesn't smile back. "YA rano," she replies. I am early.
He chuckles, nodding his head.
She decides that she likes his smile.
Her arms are around his waist and against her better judgement, she presses into his leather uniform a little more than usual.
He notices and slightly tightens his grip on the handlebars, urging the bike on even faster.
She tells herself it is because of the snow. Who knows what might happen should they encounter ice and slide off the road?
They would survive, she knows. He would grab her with his arm, or she would jump in the air and remain unscathed.
But it is a very dark night. And it is very cold.
So she leans in even more.
Hands gripping the handles, he is surprised. Not completely surprised. He is a master of observation. And yet he is still surprised nonetheless.
Despite the freezing weather, she is warm against his back. He finds he doesn't mind the warmth. It puzzles him somewhat, since he is so used to the cold.
His right arm yearns to reach out and touch her. His left arm stays on the handle. It feels nothing.
He reminds himself for the seventh time that month that he must be careful around this one. She is the best of her class. She is impassive in her work. In fact, he rather admires her work. But she is warm. She makes him think things that he shouldn't.
He thinks back to when they first met. Five years ago.