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Visions of Red

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The shadows seemed to stretch on forever, twisting into oblong shapes which could not be defined, which could not be understood. A single, solitary light flickered somewhere down the hall; from here to there was darkness.

Natasha couldn't explain exactly why she was awake. Something silent had called to her, some uncanny urge which had sent her out of her quarters and into the hallway. She knew no fear, only a strange curiosity. Her fingers trailed along the wall as she moved, one foot in front of the other, her senses on high alert. She knew no fear, had never allowed herself to feel fear, had had fear beaten out of her long ago, and yet she remained cautious. They were not the same thing at all.

Yet when the flickering light began to change from yellow to red, when the walls creaked loudly and began to move inward, Natasha halted in the middle of the hallway and felt her heart begin to race. Beads of sweat broke out upon her forehead, and she felt a prickling at the back of her neck, as though she were being watched.

She broke into a run. If she could get to the exit before the walls closed in on her, if she could only escape....but there was no escape. Had there ever been an escape?

Red light filled her vision now, obscuring reality. She had never really escaped, had never freed herself from the monsters. From the ceiling they descended, even as the walls crept closer, spiders and corpses, men riddled with bullet wounds and bruises. Natasha recognized their faces.

Something deep within her struggled to be heard, shouted words of warning and logic, but Natasha was deaf to everything. Her feet stumbled as she ran, and she catapulted forward, somersaulting hard on the floor. Coming to a stop against a corner, she gasped for breath, eyes wide with terror as the horror closed in on her.

They would tear her apart, they would drag her back to prison, they would taunt her for her sins and banish her to hell. What sick illusion ever made her think that she'd atoned for the past? She was a damned soul and there was nothing she could do, she would die and she'd deserve it.

Glistening fangs and bloody fingers, red lights flashing and the crack of a whip...Natasha's body burned with the rage of her position, rage against those who would bring her down and rage against herself. She was her own worst enemy and this proved it, she was weak and she would always be weak, no matter what lies she tried to pretend that she believed....

A hand touched her shoulder and she reacted on pure instinct, grasping the wrist and pulling, attempting to flip the attacker over her body. Instead she felt a yanking on her own wrist and an arm go around her torso. As she spun the world twisted upside down before coming sharply into focus. Natasha blinked; she was awake.

She was awake, and staring at Maria Hill.

"Romanov? Are you okay?" Hill seemed concerned, suspicious even, perhaps. And for good reason; good agents weren't supposed to be caught whimpering in their sleep.

It was the third night in a week that Natasha had found herself sleepwalking. These episodes came on from time to time, particularly after a difficult mission. Being strong could be tiring at times. It was then that the memories came back, dark and twisted visions of red.

Natasha pulled her arm back, stepping out of Hill's grasp. "Yeah," she said, struggling to catch her breath, to sound normal. "I'm fine."

Maria wasn't buying it. "You know I'm here," she said, eyeing Natasha carefully. "If you ever want to talk about anything."

Nat shrugged and shook her head. "I'm okay. Really."

"Okay," said Maria. She nodded. "Okay."

Still, they stood there for a moment, neither one of them eager to walk away. There was something there that Natasha could not name, some longing urge that frightened her perhaps more than the nightmares did. She would not give in to it.

Not tonight, anyway.

"Good night," she said brusquely, slipping past Maria, heading back into her quarters. This time, she made sure to lock the door behind her. It made her feel weak, having Maria Hill see her that way, tousled and breathless, lost and frightened. And one thing Natasha could not stand was feeling weak.

It was the whole reason for the nightmares, anyway.

To reveal herself to anyone, especially Hill, who always seemed so confident, who never backed down from anything, who never looked weak? Impossible.

Natasha swept her hair back and climbed into bed.

And elsewhere, Maria Hill stood in the middle of a hallway and wondered how on earth Natasha could manage to always seem so strong, even when it was clear that she was floundering. A piece of her admired the hell out of that. A piece of her wanted to tear down that wall just to get to the inside.

A piece of her could still feel the sensation of Natasha Romanov brushing against her skin. But that was a weakness that she would never reveal.