"Loki..." Natasha's voice broke and a little piece of Laura's heart broke with it, because she knew that sound by now, that little hitch, knew what was about to come out was something painful. "Loki," she tried again, "gave Clint nightmares, not memories. He left him struggling with what he'd done and wondering how responsible he'd been and with images and thoughts he never wanted to see, but he was still Clint. He was still him.
"Every time I woke up, I wouldn't know who I was. I couldn't be sure what was me. I thought it was me because you don't ask the question until you learn you have to, and they didn't give us much time for questions." Her eyes drifted back and forth, floor to ceiling, tracking out of ingrained habit but not really seeing.
"I was never a ballerina, but I remember my first pair of shoes, and how I tied the ribbons around my legs. I remember giggling with other girls behind the teacher's back waiting for the music to start, and the lights of the stage that burned your eyes and the musty lavender smell of the curtains and the lace of the costumes scratching my skin, but I was never a dancer. Those things didn't happen, but I remember them, as clearly as I remember Lila's first steps." She took a shallow breath. "She made me remember things from my past, but differently."
Clint had said punk kids with a big stick, and Laura could only assume "she" was one of them.
"She threw me back in the Room, waiting for them to cut me open."
They'd talked about it before, one night over a bottle of wine on the back porch, while Clint and Cooper camped out in a tent with marshmallows and hot dogs, while Lila slept in her bassinet sitting just inside the door so Laura could hear her. There'd been a bloodless dispassion in Natasha's description then, but her fingers had tightened on the neck of the bottle, her white knuckles standing out in sharp relief in the moon light. She hadn't given any detail, just the simple facts that she could not have children of her own, and why. That she'd been young, it had been part of the program, and that was all.
Laura had seen the rage there, though, a flicker in Nat's eyes before she'd taken one more drink and pushed off the steps and walked away, five steps into the yard but no further. She'd watched the flex and relax of Natasha's hands as she'd pulled herself together and banked the violence that had been missing from her words.
Now, Natasha sat on the foot of the bed, her hands limply folded around her change of clothes, and stared at an indeterminate point on the wall. Drained. Laura refused to think of the word "beaten".
"Before, I thought I killed my trainer when they tried to take me, when they caught me trying to sneak out. That I'd broken the arm of one of the guards and they strapped me down and had to keep me drugged until they were finished. I thought that was the first time they erased me, and ever since, every day, I've wondered when it will happen again. Not if. When. When will I wake up and things will be different? There's this feeling sometimes, you learn what it feels like. Things... slip, at the edges. You don't know what's missing, just that it's gone."
"I still remember, but this time, I didn't fight back. I was small and scared, and I tried to fail so that they wouldn't want me. I didn't fight back," she repeated, and finally, finally she met Laura's eyes.
"I'm not angry. I would get so angry, and that was better. I could do something with that, burn it out and build something new. Me. Something. I'm not angry. That's what's missing, but I don't know how to get it back."
She'd never heard Nat talk this openly, before. It should've been cause for celebration, a relaxing, a trust, but instead it was horrifying. Not what she was saying (that too) but how. She knelt in front of her and grabbed her hands, not caring that the clothes tumbled to the floor. "Then I'll just have to be angry enough for the both of us until you do."