5970/Flashback: Swan Lake - Red Room Variant

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Flashback: Swan Lake - Red Room Variant
Date of Scene: 17 April 2021
Location: Red Room Academy
Synopsis: Delving much on her failed takedown of Natalia Romanova, Yelena reflects and for a moment relives her initial meeting with Natalia, under much different circumstance, when she got to experience training with Natalia first hand.
Cast of Characters: Natasha Romanoff, Yelena Belova

Natasha Romanoff has posed:
    A long time ago...

    Yelena Belova was stood in a line with many other girls in a drab, lifeless, but spacious room; as unremarkable as the space that they occupied, in that, like all the others, she was rather fit, and showed potential for great beauty. Their purpose here isn't a mystery - ballet lessons were always at this time. However there's a certain odd tension in the air as your instructor enters the room, looking as weathered and severe as they always do.

    <Attention!> She demands sharply in Russian, expecting everyone present to straighten up in a row. <Today you are to be gifted a rare honor. You are to be... inspired by the greatest graduate this Academy has ever produced.> The instructor rubs at their temple with a sigh. <... I reccomended against it.> They look over the group of young women harshly and says <Do not embarrass me.>

    With that, they clap their hands twice loudly, and the door at the far end of the room opens up, revealing - perhaps shockingly in these circles - Natalia Romanova. THE Black Widow, walking into the room with simple quiet grace, her vibrant red hair longer than it would be in later years, dressed in that era's standard uniform for the Black Widow. Natalia stops in front of the center of the lineup, and slowly rotates in place until she's facing all of them, with her hands clasped in front of her. Her eyes are bright, but cold, her expression set and serious. <Young ladies.> She greets in an even, controlled tone.

Yelena Belova has posed:
In the beginning, as with many of the other younger girls who start at the Red Room, ballet time was not particularly something to look forward to. The Red Room variant of ballet was not taught like in after school classes, catering to parents and being protective of children. Here flexibility was painstakingly earned, by will or by force. Strength was honed. Form was drilled by rod. By the end of a cadet's full training schedule, assuming she survives the program, she could easily fit as a prima ballerina in any ballet troupe. Of course, that is never the end goal.

Older now, and considered one of the leading cadets, perhaps even a prime candidate to become a Black Widow herself, Yelena has learned to love the ballet portion. She has become quite numb to the pain, and she has honed herself to quite the killing machine. These lessons, however, still gave semlance of normalacy, hope for some kind of future that wasn't all about death, risk taking and duty. For a moment, she got to feel as if she was an actually ballerina, it was comforting. An escapism if you will. Good thing Starkovsky never learned of these musings.

All meandering thoughts end the moment 'attention' is called for, while most were girls of varying ages, they were all cadets in the Black Widow Ops of the Red Room, they all had exemplary discipline.

While some were wondering what great honor they have been gifted, there was no doubt in Yelena's mind, not with that kind of introduction. The ghost of a smile even surfaced on the very tips of her lips. They were about to witness Romanova first hand! A great honor indeed!

<Black Widow!> Yelena joins the others in greeting Natalia almost in perfect unison, all standing at attention, perfectly lined up in rows and columns. Though they are supposed to look straight ahead, Yelena steals a few glances at Natalia, awed by her presence. She's heard so much, saw so much, and read so much...not all of it willingly. She's made a habit of infiltrate the archives for 'extra' study sessions in what little spare time was allowed. That she wasn't yet caught was a testament to the level of training she received at the Red Room.

Natasha Romanoff has posed:
    For a split second, one might swear that Natalia's eyes focus on Yelena for a second, catching her in that stolen glance. If she did, she says nothing. She merely nods her head slowly in acknowledgement of their greeting, no more disturbed by the cult like atmosphere as anyone else inside these walls. <I am told you have been progressing well.> She says, her voice somehow both gentle and authoritative. <To have made it this far means you have become strong. ... Means you are survivors.> Natalia knows full well that the group in front of her is smaller than the group you all started with. <That is good.> She says kindly, but her face grows stern as she tilts her face downward, keeping her eyes staring straight ahead ominously. <But it is not enough.>

    Slowly, Natalia begins to pace back and forth, looking at each girl in kind as she passes over them again and again. <Your country needs more from us.> She says, not accidentally including herself among them. <It is not enough to merely become strong; to merely be agile. While the dance benefits us in those ways, that is *not* what the dance is for.> Natalia's hand unclasp and her arms fall to her sides. <The Motherland needs us to be...> Natalia stops briefly, and Yelena might swear that Natalia is looking directly at her. <... Whomever she needs us to be.>

    Natalia pauses for a moment before resuming her gait, though it begins to subtly change, <When needs be, we must become...> Natalia subtly but fully transforms, her expression full of warmth and vulnerability, her voice soft and kind, her movements speaking to a certain simple-hearted vulnerability <... The Wife, the Mother, the gentle, shy hand that wouldn't hurt a fly...>

    Natalia changes again, her movements seamlessly transforming into a sensual, provocative, yet not over the top gait, her eyes smouldering, teasing, <... You must be the temptress that draws men to her, confidant enough to make their hearts race, and inviting enough to assure them you will make them feel *strong*...>

    Finally, suddenly, Natalia turns on a heel and slams her hand into the wall beside Yelena's head with an impact that's deafening in the echoey room. Her eyes are cold. Cruel. Somehow amused. Like a cat playing with a wounded mouse. <... You must be devil...> Natalia pinches Yelena's chin between two fingers and tilts her face upward, <... to whom they would sell their first born child just to be spared the pain you'll bring them.>

    With all of that, Natasha returns to her collected professional tone as she backs away. <All of these things must be true when you need them to be. None of these things can be true when you don't. You must make the truth... what it needs to be. In that way, you will never lie again.> She lets that hang in the air for the moment. <This is part of why Swan Lake, of all things, has featured so strongly in your short lives. The two Princesses with the same face, enrapturing the Prince once with warmth, and then driving him to betrayal with wantonness. Today...> Natalia clasps her hands in front of her once again, <... I wish to meet the White Swan among you. To that end..." Natalia smiles a bit wryly, <... Today I will be your Prince.> Natalia reaches out with one hand, and asks of everyone, <Who will be the first to dance?>

Yelena Belova has posed:
Yelena's eyes remain glued to Natalia, growing wider as she notes this one moment of recognition. Regardless if it was good or bad, it was one singular moment where the great Natalia Romanova was aware of her existence, looking directly at her. It's about the greatest feeling she's ever gotten in all her years at the Red Room. A moment of near validation. Better than Mother's manipulative praise for performing satisfactorily, this was the most meaningful acknowledgement she's received yet, even if not verbal. All the girls are silent while the Black Widow speaks, and yet they are all aware of the same. Every one of them still standing is a survivor, and by now, they've all been in the Red Room long enough to not pay any mind to those who are no longer there, the weak, unworthy of protecting the many citizens of Mother Russia from untold horrors of the outside world.

When Natalia stops dramatically after repeating for the girls that they must be what is needed for them to be, they all answer in unison, <yes, Black Widow, we will be what we must!> There is a rather alarming conviction in their young voices, not a single soul in the room hesitant about giving their all to a cause none of them can truly understand at their age.

When Natalia explains, and better yet, acts out the different things they might be expected to become, Yelena is staring transfixed. That change in emotions, in intent, in the whole spirit and essence of being that Natalia projects is astounding. It's just a inflection here and there, the kind of look in her eye, the subtle change in tones, but she goes through personas without any disguise. Yelena is awed. Sure, Yelena has practiced how to feign helplessness, fear, and at the same time absolute resolution, and terror. But this seamless change was something, Natalia could do it on a flip of a switch.

That fist that flies shy of her ear, to connect resoundingly with the wall behind her, has Yelena's full attention with sharp focus on Natalia. To her credit, Yelena doesn't flinch. It doesn't mean she wasn't afraid, or worried Natalia would hurt her, only that if Natalia thought it right to hurt her in that moment, Yelena was perfectly fine with it. She naturally allowed Natalia free reign of her own body, letting her shift her face upwards without a sound of protest.

Of course when Romanova asks for a volunteer, all hands go up, it just so happens that after nearly getting punched by Romanova, Yelena is just a bit closer, and easier to notice when her hand flies in the air, <I would fight for the honor!> She not only volunteers, but rather invites any of the other cadets to fight her for it, something that after the last several months of training, they are not as keen of doing. Yelena was making a name for herself. Enough to earn Mother's disdain, as she constantly been compared to Romanova in unfavorable terms, regardless of how she performs.

Natasha Romanoff has posed:
    Natalia Romanova was not surprised by the uniform choice to volunteer, but young Yelena's outburst draws Natalia's eyes to Yelena without betraying her own surprise. To make oneself stand out so was unusual indeed. In fact, it was downright impertinent.

    Starkovsky seems to think so. The older woman slams her cane on the floor with an echoing impact and begins to growl, <Belova->

    <Madame Starkovsky.> Natalia interrupts her with an even tone, never breaking eye contact with Yelena; yet the sense that Natalia's senses are trained ominously on Yelena's teacher is hard to ignore. <... You know that I would never wish to undermine you in front of your promising students.>

    For the first time in Yelena's entire life, Starkovsky sputters, shuffles back, and shuts up.

    Natalia smiles softly to Yelena. <Take my hand, noisy girl. Show me what you can do.>

Yelena Belova has posed:
Yelena of course was well aware she was supposed to volunteer just like every other girl, and that's it. But her drive for perfection, coupled with her outright adulation of Romanova pushed her to do what she thought necessary to ensure she will win this chance over any other cadet. But the sharp tone coupled with the strike of the cane on the floor has Yelean quite crest-fallen. Her gambit didn't pay off, and she's likely in a world of trouble for it.

But then...Romanova speaks, and gets an instructor to quiet down instead of further condemnation of Yelena? That has to go down as Yelena's greatest moment in her entire life. Well, other than being called 'noisy girl' by Romanova, but at least it turns out perhaps her gambit paid off after all.

Yelena offers a full salute, before following by a proper martial arts' bow, as she takes Natalia's hand and follows her lead. The look in her eyes says it all, she outright worships Romanova, and this to her was as close as someone gets to walk with the gods. <I will not disappoint,> she promises.

Natasha Romanoff has posed:
    Whatever worries may have, whatever genuine temptation Starkovsky may feel to take this out on Yelena later, one will find that few in this organization would risk being perceived as going behind a Black Widow's back. Especially not this one.

    If nothing else, Natalia has some seniority over Starkovsky; though she has aged considerably better.

    "Hmmm." Natalia purrs softly, showing amusement, though one can only guess at her sincerity after her earlier display. <Everyone will get their turn. You are spirited.> Natalia says kindly. <You will need that, from time to time.> Hatalia's expression becomes more serious, more focused, as she says, <But I need you to show me something else, today.>

    Without breaking eye contact - and, frankly, looking so cool - Natalia extends one hand out to take yours, and reaches the other hand to the side, towards Starkovsky, and merely clicks her fingers loudly. Starkovsky wordlessly turns on the music, the beautiful tune of the White Swan's ill fated courtship with the Prince. <Show me hope...> Natalia says,

    <... and doom.>

    And Natalia dances. Oh how she dances. The Prince is, by all admission, not the most physically demanding or complex role in the play, but Natalia embodies it with absolute grace, precision, and confidence, all the while living the body language that tells the story, of the Prince's absolute, stunned infatuation with an ethereal beauty; the sympathy and righteous outrage of an unfair faint... the arrogant confidence that they can be the hero of the White Swan's story.

    And yet, all the while, Natalia studies Yelena... intently.

Yelena Belova has posed:
Yelena naturally expects she'll be punished after Natalia has left, and the class is dispersed, but at least for the time being, it feels great to be vindicated. She nods with more humility when her spirit is noted, but remains quiet, standing so close to a real living legend.

And then it's time to dance, and naturally, the movement by any Red Room cadet are flawless. Form ingrained into them with physical rigor, and a complete lack of mercy, those first few months of lessons have a constant soundtrack of pained wailing and sharp cries of pain. At this point, however, it's absolute calm and all have progressed enough to perform flawlessly. It is no longer about form, but rather as Natalia pointed out, the intent.

Asked for hope, Yelena's movement are wide and full of flourishes, the curved outstretching of arms, the head and neck angling upwards with each flourish, the jumps, steps and pirouettes weightless as to give the slight illusion of momentary levitation capability. There's unrestrained joy in Yelena's visage.

But comes the moment to shift into doom, the graceful slow flourishes turn sharp and double in speed of execution. There's no longer effort to regale with beautiful lingering motions, everything is direct and the shifting from one posture to the next is a tireless assailing of the senses. Whereas moments ago Yelena seemed to be dancing, now she seems just a step or two away from being engaged in sparring. And yet, the movements of the dance are unmistakble ballet. Just one that highlight aggression and malintent over beauty and youthful charm.

Natasha Romanoff has posed:
    The dance is never not rigorous and taxing, yet the seemingly effortless grace on display is, as always, a wonder to behold for those with the right eye for it. Natalia will have to repeat this many times today, yet she betrays no sign of wear or discomfort by the time the music fades away, with Natalia so briefly holding Yelena up in the air, gracefully spinning both of their bodies once before setting Yelena down and spinning her once more with her hand over her head, before drawing her close.

    A moment after the music stops, Natalia expression returns to a neutral look as she says, simply, <Good.> She looks out to the rest of the girls, and, with a blunt lack of ceremony, calls out, <I expect at least as much from all of you. Now. Who will join me next?>

    It's a rather sudden end, but as all the hands rise up again, Natalia fixes Yelena with a gentle smile and says, <You danced well, Little Swan. Perhaps we will dance again.>

Yelena Belova has posed:
Yelena is clearly quite taken by Natalia, relishing any second of this dance, perhaps a bit more than she should, as soon as the dance is done and the music is turned off, the expression shifts from character, into a slight jovial smile of Yelena herself. Feeling fortunate to have been given this opportunity.

By the time Natalia reviews Yelena's performance as 'good', Yelena herself as returned to the professional expressionless look. Having caught herself in time. No doubt she'll be hearing about it later from the instructors.

She flashes a smile to Natalia, whispering a faint <thank you for the chance, I would love to dance out there sometime,> fully intending she wishes to be worthy of going on a field op with Natalia, but who knows if that's in the cards. At this point, it's not even clear if Yelena would still be alive for the next phase of training, as she rushes to retake her spot, before another girl has her chance to show her work to Natalia.