Echoing Your Voice Just Like the Ringing In My Ears

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She thought he was dead. It had been years, over a decade, since she'd thought of him. She'd married him and was in love (wasn't she?) and he'd been killed in an accident. She'd gone to his funeral. She'd mourned, and had served her country proudly in his memory for years before she couldn't take it anymore and had defected. At least, that was the story she knew. But now it was clear he hadn't died then. And branded her a traitor. Why had he faked his death? Why was he taken from her? What did it matter now if he was dead, and at her hand?

The roof was usually a calming place, though Clint frequently staked it out. It is empty because of the stormy day and finding a spot out of the snow is difficult. She manages, though it's not the most comfortable. She doesn't want it to be. It seems that she'd finally lived up to her code-name in a completely literal sense, and she can't decide whether to laugh or to cry at the realization. Fighting off either reaction is a challenge, but she's a professional. She can be whomever she wants to be now, she reminds herself. But it doesn't work today.

She wants to be Natalia Shostakov, married to the charming officer Alexei. She wasn't a real housewife, of course, and the union had been set up by the Red Room so she could get close to political enemies. But she'd thrown herself into the role and it was the best assignment she'd ever had. They weren't supposed to actually fall in love, but she hadn't thought it was much of a problem for their cover to be more believable. Until they came to say he was dead, and she'd had to move on. Which she had. But it was funny how old ghosts could come back and still throw you, make you feel just like you did then.

Something changes and she is aware that she is no longer alone. Peering around her hood, she is surprised to find Barnes standing not far away, looking out over the skyline thoughtfully. His expression is usually blank, so she is further perplexed by the softness in it now, and frowns. She doesn't need his pity, if that's what he's come here to offer.

When he notices her looking at him, he walks over and drops down next to her, albeit a foot away. "Hey," he says casually, as though they frequently meet like this.

"What's up?" she replies in the same tone.

He shrugs. "I thought you might want someone... neutral to talk to," he answers.

Her frown deepens. "And that's you?" she asks with forced politeness.

Something like a smile twists his face briefly before it becomes blank. "Barton is your partner and you're close, but you don't tell him everything. Steve is a great confidante, but it's important to you that he thinks of you a certain way. You wouldn't tell Stark's kid anything about yourself, and Miss Potts isn't in town."

She cocks her head at him, unaware that her feelings were so obvious to everyone. Well, maybe just him. Reading people had to have been part of his training at some point, she supposes. His silence and unobtrusive nature makes it easy to forget what he can see with those cold blue eyes of his. "What about Banner and Thor? Or Hill?" she suggests.

"Banner's not the type for confiding, it's not his temperament." She wonders if he knows this from personal experience; he spent a lot of time in the labs downstairs when he first got here. "Thor's off-world right now and Hill's in DC."

She smiles wanly at him. "Alright, so you're the best candidate from my perspective. But why would you want me to tell you my secrets?"

Other people would be hurt by the question, but he doesn't seem bothered by it. He shrugs again. "It's just... You're compromised. You're on my team."

Her fake smile fades and she looks at him, considering his earnestness in answering her. He's right, though, so she sighs, turning her gaze elsewhere. "When I was working for the Red Room, I was assigned to marry Alexei. He was one of us, so we were both undercover. But it became more than that. I was young," she adds a little wistfully. "He was Alexei Shostokov then. They told me he was dead, had been killed in an accident with his plane. I mourned. Went to the funeral. I had no reason to suspect he'd survived. But he did, and I don't know why, and now I've killed him. And there's no one left to question about it," she finishes abruptly, slightly unnerved by her uncharacteristic oversharing.

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