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Satin Ribbons Backstage

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He falls silent and she lets his own thoughts invent the reply he needs.

She remembers the force of his shoulder against her ribs and the jar of her own return strike. She can still feel the texture of his hair from when she threw his skull into the metal railing. She does not rub at her palms. Beside her, he gazes at his own hands. The medical team cleaned his wounds before strapping him to recover, but there is always blood on his hands, just as there is on hers.

She remembers watching ash falling like snow, a blanket of grey, nuclear winter in her memories. She knows it isn’t real, but she remembers it. What the scientists call implanted memory, she holds as history. She has a hundred lifetimes, one for each passport: socialite, secretary, journalist, scientist, wife. Every passport has a name and none of them are hers. All of them are hers.

She stands and turns to face him. He has an old scar on his chin, a remnant of some mission, or possibly not, maybe even a mark of something from before he learned to draw a bow. She doesn’t remember learning to fight. Hours of practice, yes, training, repetition and honing, but not the first time she made a fist on command. She holds out her hand and he takes it, but does not rise. Instead he places her hand against his cheek and closes his eyes. The skin between his eye and his ear is stiff with scratches, dried blood. From when he hit grating of the walkway, perhaps, to have abraded the skin that badly. The red mark at his wrist is from the restraints, she knows. She remembers fighting similar restraints, leather belts and heavy buckles. Not all of those memories are real. Not all of them are false.

She remembers hours at the barre, the flutter of anticipation while tugging at skirts and ribbons, the physical force of applause, the weight of roses in her arms. She knows she never danced, but she can recognize the view from the wings of the Mariinsky.

Hawkeye stands, letting her hand drop. She tilts her head a fraction, he nods infinitesimally, and they leave the room together.