In hindsight, Maria should have seen this coming. It isn't so much different from the Army where fresh recruits got stuck with the most menial tasks. Even so, guard duty on the helicarrier isn't how she'd imagined her first week at HQ would go. The move was supposed to be a step up in her career. This doesn't feel like a promotion; it feels like being back on her first tour, stuck on gate duty. It is fucking gate duty.
She doesn't understand why they even have a prisoner on the helicarrier to begin with. It seems like a waste of resources to have someone constantly guarding one prisoner. Oh, she's heard the rumours. They'd been eager to tell her once people knew where she is being stationed, despite Maria's insistence that she really doesn't need to know. She's intrigued, but the rumours went from fascinating (some sort of double spy) to downright ridiculous (alien mutant creature) so that Maria couldn't put much stock in them. She'd find out soon enough anyway.
Either way, the security in itself is already impressive enough. The section of the helicarrier where they're holding the prisoner had been completely emptied -save for the guards -and god, they really aren't kidding around with the number of guards they put on this detail. There are guards stationed at the entrance of the hall, another pair at the dead end. Two more are on each side of the door and another pair across from them. If Maria isn't mistaken, they're right in the middle of the helicarrier, as if someone believes the prisoner might just break through the bulkheads, grow some wings, and take off into the sunset.
They even felt the need to pat her down- twice - and Maria's curiosity becomes more piqued as her irritation grows. She pushes it back as they let her inside the room, the person she's replacing slipping out wordlessly, but Maria hardly pays them attention as her curiosity gets the best of her. It's just another room like all the other crew quarters, only even more bare. There's no desk, just a bed (which looks distinctly more uncomfortable than her own bunk) and a chair that she assumes her predecessor vacated moments go.
And then there's the woman. Maria can't help how her gaze lingers a moment too long, taking in the red hair and green eyes, hard and unyielding, looking straight through her, and Maria looks away as she takes her seat in the chair.
Whenever anything changes – not that change is a common occurrence – Natalia is used to re-evaluating her situation. This morning (Morning? Afternoon? It's hard to tell; she hasn't seen natural light in days) is no different. She awoke to the same dull steel walls as always. The same reinforced steel door. The same bulletproof observation window masquerading as a blank section of wall. The same air vents in the corners, too small to fit much more than her forearms into. The same regulation pathetic-excuse-for-a-bed (though admittedly it was better than the ones she grew up with). The same single flimsy aluminum guard chair, the kind that would crumple without transferring enough force to incapacitate someone with. Not that she will have the opportunity to hit anyone with it; the chair and the bed are both bolted – no, riveted – to the floor. It may be monotonous, but at least it's a comfort to know they respect her abilities enough to fear her.
The woman who comes on shift next is anything but monotonous. Hers is the first new face Natalia has seen that has merited a second glance. For one thing, her brown eyes meet Natalia's for an impressive several milliseconds longer than any of her generic predecessors' before looking away. They always look away. She's young, surprisingly so, with a military bearing and a passive, utterly annoyed expression.
Natalia looks up at her from her spot on the floor. <<So they put you on babysitting duty. Congratulations. How does it feel to know you are expendable?>>
Maria blinks, glancing down at the woman and tilting her head as she tries to decide what language she's speaking. Definitely Eastern European, but it'd be such a cliché if it's Russian. She shrugs at the words, and if she's going to be studied, she isn't going to look away. It gives her a moment to truly take in the woman in front of her.
She's smart, this one, Natalia thinks. It's clear she doesn't speak a word of Russian, but Natalia wouldn't put it past her to learn if she's indeed assigned to guard duty for any extended amount of time. She's brave, too; when they lock eyes the second time, the guard maintains eye contact without so much as a hint of apprehension. Her eyes tell of curiosity; maybe Natalia can use that to her advantage. This one's too smart to be foolish, but curious and reckless is also a good combination. She'll have to keep an eye out for the latter trait. Maybe if she's really lucky, Natalia will hit the trifecta with this one: curious, reckless and queer enough to be seduced. Natalia licks her lips experimentally, her eyes never leaving her guard's.
The movement catches Maria's attention and for a moment she's staring at the woman's lips. It's a moment too long, she knows that and she straightens up in the chair, moving her attention back to meet the woman's eyes and resisting the urge to wet her own lips. If the guards outside weren't obvious enough, she's now even more aware that this woman is dangerous.
"If you want an answer, you're going to have to repeat that in English," she says in a clipped tone.
Okay, so this one is also buttoned-down and no-nonsense. Natalia can work with that. She'll have to learn the woman's name somehow, though, if only so she can stop referring to her as This One in her head. Now, to decide on her plan of attack...
Natalia chooses to present herself as the opposite of her guard's personality (what little she's gleaned of it from their brief interaction so far). She lets her limbs loosen as she leans back against the bed frame and rolls her eyes. Let's see how quickly I can push your buttons...
"<<Not very hospitable…>> I just asked if you have any gum."
Maria raises and eyebrow and she shifts back in her chair, creating a little more distance - or at least the idea of it - between them as she shakes her head. "I think you're smart enough to know that even if I did, I wouldn't be giving it to you."
Natalia shrugs. "It was worth a shot. You really think I'm smart?" She bends forward at the waist and reaches for her toes, stretching out her legs and back, but also reducing the distance her guard was so clearly trying to maintain.
Maria snorts and leans her head back against the metal panel behind her. It doesn't do much to create more distance, but at least she's still sitting higher. "I don't have to think about it. You wouldn't have all this security just for you if you didn't pose a risk."
She's not above being honest, it's right there to see, but she wonders if she shouldn't be engaging, if this is already a mistake.
Natalia raises her eyebrows and blinks a few times, her face a picture of mild surprise. It's all an act, of course, but she wants to see if this young guard can tell the difference. "Oh? You mean there's more than just you and your big, fancy gun, those other men on the shifts ahead of yours, and whoever's on the other side of that window?"
Maria's snort is rather inelegant and for a second, her lips curve into a grin, but she pushes it back, reminding herself that she shouldn't be amused by her mission. "Are you going to try the I'm innocent line next? That'd be insulting."
Natalia's eyes instantly darken and her brow furrows. She glares hard at the woman. She's breaking her facade, but she doesn't care; she can slip it back on as easily as a glove in a moment. Right now, though, she needs to make one thing perfectly clear: "No. I am absolutely not innocent. I would never claim otherwise."
The glare cuts through her and Maria suppresses a shiver as she catches a glimpse of the danger that this woman is hiding just underneath the surface. She hopes her nervousness doesn't show on her face as she simply nods her acceptance of the words.
Natalia finds the way This One flinches away from her words incredibly satisfying. Good. Keep her on her toes. Natalia tilts her head this way and that, letting her neck crack a few times before shaking out her arms and letting them rest comfortably at her sides. Her face returns to its previous neutral, almost bored expression, her facade sliding back into place as if it had never faltered. As a final touch, she curls her lip into a casual approximation of a smile and meets the guard's eyes again.
"Are you sure you don't have any gum? My mouth is really dry."
It's disconcerting, but it confirms everything Maria expected and, in a way, that makes this easier. Maria isn't nearly as good as the woman in front of her. Not by far, but she thinks she manages to keep her expression clear of any emotion. It's only the comfortable weight of her gun that keeps her from showing her nerves. She doesn't miss much about being a soldier, but its presence is familiar and there's still a part of her that's meant to be a soldier.
"I can get you water, that's it."
Natalia notes the way her guard tightens her grip on her weapon. There's no doubt in her mind that she won't hesitate to use it on her if she were to do anything to warrant the use of force. The thought makes her mouth twitch into a bit more genuine of a smile. Natalia can respect that. Maybe that's what keeps her talking rather than ignoring the woman outright, the way she does the other guards.
"You don't know who I am, do you." It isn't really a question.
"I don't need to know who you are," Maria says matter-of-factly. That doesn't mean she's not curious; her eyes drift over the woman's body like she might be able to figure it out if she studies her long enough.
"Yeah, well, apparently neither do I," Natalia shoots back, gesturing to the twin bruises on her temples.
Maria's grip on her gun tightens as she takes in the bruises. It's a play, she knows it is. The woman must have resisted to earn her the bruises, but it's stupid and childish to even think that. S.H.I.E.L.D. is not a police force; it's a lot more than that.
"You don't," she says instead, shrugging a shoulder. "I'm just a guard." That annoys her.
Natalia's eyes harden again, just a little, not enough to break her facade. She chooses her next words carefully.
"You don't know who I am or what I've done, yet you still think I deserve this?"
"You think it matters what I think?" Maria snorts and she leans back again, but her body stays tense, her feet planted firmly on the ground so she can push off the instant the woman makes a wrong move. "I'm a guard. Nobody gives a fuck what I think and trying to play at my sympathy will get you nowhere. I don't know what you did, but you're not here for speeding so cut the crap."
She knows it's already a mistake to reply, and she very much doubts the woman doesn't already know everything she's saying, but she never did think she'd make it as one of those English soldiers who have to stand still hours on end as tourist pull the stupidest crap around them. She never did have the patience for that; never did manage to take orders without thinking. She just learned to live with it when she didn't like them and she's not going to let this woman make her shirk away from it now.
Interesting. Everyone has a line, but Natalia was not expecting to cross this woman's so soon. A few more details fall into place in the profile she's building for her in her head: contrary, argumentative, short-tempered. She'll have to tread carefully with this one; she gets the sense that finding that line and knowing when she's about to cross it will be a moving target, depending on the day, the woman's mood, the situation. Perhaps she's a light trigger today out of indignation over her job. It's clearly killing her that they've stuck her on guard duty. In anyone else, that indignation would tell of arrogance, but with this woman it's more likely ambition. Smart, ambitious, and short-tempered. This woman has the potential to be quite dangerous herself, but at least she seems to strike with words first. Very interesting.
And then there's that snort thing she does. It's a scoff, almost a laugh, not quite derisive, but definitely indignant. There's a power behind it, too, like a bull. The thought makes Natalia shiver inwardly. She's intrigued, too, by the hint of a sense of humor just under the surface. She can't help but be drawn to it, to this enigmatic woman in front of her.
This enigmatic woman with a semi-automatic leveled at your left kneecap, idiot. Don't get distracted.
Since she's already found the line by taunting her guard verbally, it's time for a new technique. Natalia stares blankly up at the corner of the ceiling, ignoring the woman. She begins to fidget, drumming her fingers on her thighs and tapping a toe against the wall every once in awhile.
The silence is almost unnerving and Maria wants to curse when she realises she really did say too much. Her fingers flex against the side of the gun as she keeps from moving, making her annoyance with herself obvious. This woman is good and her gaze drifts involuntarily towards the prisoner's fingers and down to her feet.
She knows this game and she forces herself to look up, her jaw clenched as she meets the prisoner's eyes defiantly.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Really, it's just going to make her more stubborn about it and Maria settles back against the bulkhead. She forces herself to relax, lets her shoulders sag, and she doesn't look away now. If she focuses, she will lose, but it's so damn hard not to focus. Although, the prisoner has interesting eyes and it makes her wonder, almost enough to get lost for a moment. She doesn't even know where she goes. Dark places with gunfire ringing in her ears and the taste of blood at the back of her mouth. And the tap tap tap continues. Like a faucet running that you can't stop and that keeps you from sleeping. Slowly, slowly grating until she moves her finger against the side of the gun, following the beat and making it her own.
Once the woman picks up the beat, Natalia suddenly goes deadly still. She simply freezes in place, ceasing all movement in her fingers and toes. She even slows her breathing so the rise and fall of her chest is barely perceptible. Fixing a cold, unblinking stare on her guard, she remains absolutely motionless, waiting to see what she'll do.
Maria's own beat ceases instantly and for a moment she just watches the woman. It's completely ridiculous, and the moment the thought enters her head, she has the insane urge to laugh. She squashes it, but her lips curve just a little and she exhales slowly as she finally glances away from those eyes.
Natalia continues to stare her down, unmoving, unblinking. She's a bit surprised; she expected her to keep up the beat, out of stubbornness or refusal to admit she'd been mimicking her. After a few more seconds, Natalia's vision begins to cloud, but she fights the urge to blink, just to see how long it takes to unsettle her guard. She also fights back the need to shiver. It's cold - always cold, uncomfortably cold - in this little room. The plain black jumpsuit they put her in is as devoid of insulation as it is of pockets (or fashion sense, for that matter).
She refuses to shiver. She won't give anyone that satisfaction.
Maria refuses to look back for a moment, but she room is too quiet. The constant hum of the engines are barely even audible here, right at the center of the helicarrier, and there is really nothing else to look at. She wonders briefly what the other guards do when they come here; she might have to bring a book, but that's probably not allowed.
So she's left staring again, but the eyes that meet hers aren't as cold as before and the vulnerability catches her off guard for a moment. Her lips are already moving when she remembers, reminds herself what she's here for and how much this woman seems to be eager to play her.
She really wants to know who dumped her ass in here because it's going to be a long fucking week.