11th December, 1991
General Svetlanov's Interrogation Compound,
"Do you know what your father is, Natalia?"
The general is an old man. His face is weary, and the cold air condenses his breath before it has even left his mouth. "Do you know what he's done?"
The little girl frowns, confused. Her father is perfect- to her, anyway. Sure, he works most of the time, and he and her mother argue a lot, but he brings her toys. All of her favourite toys were bought by him. He also reads her bedtime stories whenever he is home on time. Stories about brave young soldiers who become victorious in battle. Some are about girl soldiers, and her father tells her that she will become like those courageous fighters someday. Natalia thinks that those stories are the best.
"He is not a bad man. He is good." She informs the man adamantly. Her little chin is sticking out in defiance, and she is still glowering at the general. The Russian winter is harsh, especially for young children, and she shivers without her parka to keep her warm. "You are wrong. You've made a mistake."
General Svetlanov shakes his head sadly, avoiding the eight year old's gaze. He's too old for this, he thinks. Though he soon realizes that telling the children of war criminals about the crimes their parents have committed will never become easy. Age has nothing to do with it.
"There has been no mistake."
"Prove it." She says, to his surprise. "I want proof."
"He doesn't even know that you've gone. He doesn't care that you're outside, alone, at night. He didn't even notice when we took his only child." He snaps.
"That is not true!" She cries.
"It is!" He yells. "He may act like he cares, but the only reason he keeps you is to brainwash you into another one of his soldiers. He is a master liar and manipulator."
She flinches, but continues.
"I want real proof."
"I don't think it would suitable, Natalia-..." His tone has taken on a more sympathetic edge, and he awkwardly places a hand on her shoulder.
One look at her pouting face tells him that she's not the kind to give up. He walks over to the cabinet in the corner of the interrogation room, and silently leafs through the many files. Once he secures the manila envelope he was searching for, he hands it to her. Despite being almost too small to see over the top of it, she insists on placing the file on the desk, facing upwards. She wants to read it like a grown up. Svetlanov almost smiles.
"Who is this?" Her voice trembles as she points at an emaciated woman in the first photograph. The woman is running, and she is holding a bundle in her arms. "What is she running away from?"
He answers by showing her the next photo. It shows her father, in full uniform, holding an assault rifle. She remembers that uniform. He wore it one night, to show her and her mother. He had rocked her to sleep while wearing that uniform.
"You didn't answer my first question." She reminds the general.
He grimaces. "That woman was your mother, Natalia."
"She is not my mother. My mother has blonde hair..."
"This," Svetlanov points at the woman's terrified expression. "Was your birth mother."
"Was?" She whispers.
The word seems to echo in the elderly man's eardrums, nearly causing him to wince. He looks her in the eye for the first time since she's been here. Large green eyes stare determinedly back at him.
"Was." He confirms.
She nods slowly, understanding. She looks down at the photos, and flips through them one by one, the images growing more and more horrific until she reaches the final picture. Her father, the former Major Romanova, holding the gun high over his head, crying in victory.
Natalia blinks many times, during and after seeing the images. She sniffs, and pushes the envelope and its contents away from her.
"Take it away, please."
Svetlanov slips the photographs back into the filing cabinet.
"What do you want me to do?" She inquires.
"Let us find him, so we can make sure that he does not do this again."
12th December, 1991
"Where were you last night, Natalia? I was getting worried. You arrived late." Major Romanova's tone is not angry, he simply sounds concerned about his daughter. Like any caring father would.
"I was playing, Father." She replies, without skipping a beat.
"You left your parka in your bedroom."
"I did not need it." She smiles sweetly, and bats her eyelashes. She can almost see his suspicious gaze melt away. He ruffles her hair, grinning down at her.
"I have a new story book for you today, darling..."
He is interrupted mid-sentence by the sound of glass shattering. Panes of glass rain down on the dining hall, sending Natalia screaming and her father running into the instinctive combat position. His eyes flicker towards his rifle in the corner. He makes a break for it, only to be gunned down halfway across the room.
She feels her blood run cold, too horrified to even scream any more. They had told her that they were just going to talk, that nobody would get hurt.
For the first, but not the last time in Natalia Romanova's life, she had been manipulated.
13th December 1991,
A kind-looking man bends over and smiles down at Natalia.
"Who's this, then?" He asks the stern, terrifying agent that is directing her towards a hallway.
"Romanova's daughter. Just to warn you, Trainee Agent Coulson, she hasn't said a word since we got her from him. I wouldn't expect much from her."
Coulson dismisses the agent's warning with a wave of his hand.
"Hey there, Nat. Can I call you Nat?"
She glares at him.
"OK, then. Well, you helped us a lot."
"You killed him." She mumbles.
Coulson clears his throat, uncomfortable.
"That was not the way I wanted it to end. You were in danger, Nat, and he had a gun. He's not going to hurt you anymore." The surprise registers on her face. "That's why you are so angry, right? Because he lied to you?"
"Well, do you know what we are going to do today? We are going to give you a makeover. A new look. A new start. How about a new name?"
This catches her attention.
His smile falters slightly.
"We don't want anyone tracking you, now, do we? I still like the name Nat, though. How about we change it up a little bit...Natasha?"
A smile breaks through the frustrated expression of the little girl, as the younger Phil Coulson leads her towards the makeover station.
"Well, Natasha Romanoff, I am going to take care of you. I promise."
She turns to him, questioningly.
"I want to help stop them. The bad guys. I want to be trained."