When they ask for her name she tells them, “Anastasia.”
Her family have been murdered, she has been left behind, one of many lost children, and these people who are telling her stories to lure her, why should she give them anything but a story in return? What does it matter what her name is?
“Anastasia,” she says.
The myth, the legend, the story. She is one and will become one.
“Agent Romanoff, this is Agent Barton. Barton, Romanoff.”
They introduce him to her as if she has never met him before, as if they hadn’t ordered him to hunt her down and take her out, as if he never disobeyed.
He nods, once, finishes packing his bow away, and walks out.
“You’ll be okay working with him?” she is asked, as if she has a choice.
She nods, once, eyes busy searching the target range for evidence of the skill that she knows Barton possesses.
“I owe him a debt.”
They force her to speak with a refined accent, teach her poise and grace, and provide her with an education worthy of a member of the last ruling family of Russia. They force her body to contort, teach her how to kill and murder and slaughter, and provide her with an education worthy of people who execute families.
“Don’t you want revenge against the bad people?” they ask her, voices mocking.
“Romanova,” they laugh as they yank her head back by her hair and fuck her mouth.
She will make the joke be on them.
His voice sounds like he’s underwater.
“Hey, Nat,” he says, drawing her attention, the first time he has called her anything of the sort. “Don’t bleed to death on me.”
She tightens the straps of her own seat, using them to secure the towel she has pressed against her abdomen. It’s a towel from the hotel were their latest mission ended, white before she soaked it with blood, and a gold logo, embroidered and rough beneath her fingers.
“I’m not dying,” she tells him.
She isn’t. She isn’t even close to dying. She is, however, rather annoyed and not just because their mark was able to wound her. Every assignment that she has gone on with Barton so far they have completed without injury and without any interaction between the two of them other than those professionally required. That he choses now to compliment her and stick a nickname to her, like the towel sticks to her broken skin, insults her.
“Shut up and fly the damn plane,” she says.
“Tetchy.” He flicks three switches overhead and raises the wheels. “It’s the good drugs for you when we get back.”
“There are no such things as good drugs,” she mutters.
He doesn’t shut up, anchoring her to consciousness, but he does fly the plane.
Nadine Roman, Laura Matthers, Nancy Rushman. She slips under the skin of women who do not exist and what is a name without a person to inhabit it? What is a person who inhabits many names?
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” she has heard said. “Roses have thorns. Make them bleed, Natuska. Tsarina. Romanova.”
She is the Black Widow, weaves the truth of that around herself, and that is the one name from which she will never be free.
“I’m fine,” he snaps when she steps through the door and into his line of sight.
He’s covered in bruises and knife wounds with a graze from a bullet on one arm. None of his injuries are fatal but at least three will scar.
“Are you blind?” she asks him without thinking and he smirks.
“Are you? This isn’t your room.”
“You need stitches,” she says, for the slice on his left shoulder blade that is still bleeding sluggishly, a red trail creeping from it down his back.
“You offering?” He turns his head to look at her instead of her reflection and there’s something in his eyes that she hasn’t seen before and cannot label. “I wouldn’t ask, but I can’t reach, obviously.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” she tells him, because they’re partners and even she, who has only ever had this one partner, knows that asking is not needed.
She uses the supplies he has spread out on the narrow shelf above the sink. He has scars already, patterns of his past on his skin, kissed by history. She reads him as she stitches and doesn’t question why he isn’t in the infirmary. Barton, she knows, does not like hospitals, clinics, infirmaries, doctors, or anything along those lines.
“Sure, Tasha,” he says, a soft shortening of her name, and she can hear that he’s smiling. “Whatever you say.”
She has chosen names for herself on occasion before and the trick is to pick one that sounds familiar, so that she will easily catch it when addressed or when people are talking about her. She is close to being Natalia Romanova here, the same part in someone else’s play, so she says, throwing it out, “Natasha Romanova.”
“Ro…man…” the man filling in her paperwork repeats slowly.
They have pages and pages of paperwork, easier to discard and destroy than computer files she supposes, but there hasn’t been a room that she has been allowed to enter so far that has had a computer and there hasn’t been a room without a security camera. It amuses her, the cautionary lengths that they are going to and the uselessness of them.
“Sorry, how do you spell that?”
She spells out Romanoff instead on a whim and with a smile; a male, Americanised, bastardised version. Let the world make of that what they will.
She sits next to him, carefully, and then leans back against the wall, letting her crutches fall to the floor.
“They’re going to find you in here,” she tells him.
He doesn’t reply, just slowly, ever so slowly, leans sideways until his head rests on her shoulder.
“Your head is in my personal space and you are therefore in danger of losing what little of your brain remains,” she informs him.
Then she reaches out and places a hand over his.
“Natasha,” he says softly, a name that she chose leaving his lips like an offering.
“Clinton,” she replies with a bite to it and he laughs a little, a small sound.
“God, don’t call me that.” He wraps his hands around hers, gently, enclosing not trapping, and steady even now. “It’s Clint, okay?”
She has never been given someone else’s name before, not like this, not a gift and a right. It is such a small thing, to be told a name, but it feels like a large thing to be given one, to have someone name themselves for her. She is used to being labelled and making those labels her own. That is fine, people rarely chose their own names, saddled with them by parents or institutions. That people can, however, chose what name to give to people, what name to be called by, to be called by by them, is not something that she has considered before.
Romanoff, Nat, Tasha, Natasha.
Clint drifts into sleep as she thinks, his head a trusting weight on her shoulder.
“Natasha,” she says quietly, but in her own mouth it’s not the same.
She lets her own head tilt, just a little, until it rests lightly against his.
“Yes,” she replies, tossing her hair back and smiling.
The myth, the legend, the story. She is and always will be the Black Widow. To them.