They'd known she was going to run.
Not like her mother, the first Klavdiya. She wasn't going to sell her own daughter to these people, just for her own freedom. Klavdiya would die first. But perhaps they sensed that in her, somehow. That she wasn't going to break like others had, but that she wasn't going to let them decide her future. Their brainwashing and reprogramming hadn't completely taken root in her, at least not to her core like it did some of the others.
Natalia was the one the thank for that. Well, that and Kalvdiya's all-too-annoying stubbornness. But mostly the woman who had been her guardian when they were both students, far beyond the three months required of her, and even now checked on her when she could, when it wouldn't be noticed or remarked on.
It hadn't been recent enough for Klavdiya to tell her that she wasn't going to go through with the graduation ceremony. She wished it had been. Maybe she could have avoided this... Hadn't Natalia also tried to delay it, stall for time by pretending to be incompetent? Advice would have been appreciated...
But it probably wouldn't have saved her. The Red Room had been doing this for so long. Klavdiya wished she could still cry easily. They'd drugged her, and if she was waking up enough to have thoughts, they must have finished the surgery already. It was too late. She was now a graduate.
Voice spoke over and around her, sounding like gibberish to her. One male, one female. Suddenly, she felt her world shift and realized she was being moved. Pressure under her knee and back told her she was being carried by a male or at least someone big enough to pick her up--not one of the other girls then. She expected them to put her back down on another table or something, just moving her from one place to another.
But no. He carried her, at a hard, bouncing trot that hurt. But it was the only place she hurt. What was going on? She tried to wake up faster, but it wasn't doing much good. Okay, inventory what she could tell. Male was carrying her, what happened to the female? She couldn't smell or hear her. All she could smell was the crisp, clean smell of the male's cologne, his sweat, and leather, outside of the clinical smells of the surgery prep still lingering to her. His steps were heavy but pretty quiet, impressing her. She had good ears, and never got snuck up on in training.
"Hold on," a male voice said in English, shocking her. Outside of lessons, no one spoke anything but Russian here. His voice was quiet and fierce. "I think she's waking up."
Her equilibrium shifted again, and this time she could tell she had moved down. A thick, rough hand cradled the back of her head carefully, holding her against a leather-covered shoulder so she wouldn't hurt herself but she could look up at him if she could just... Her eyelids felt heavy, but she managed to pry them open. It took a second longer to make her eyes focus on the face in front of her.
Young, probably near Natalia's age. Skin was smooth except for premature wrinkles settling over his forehead, probably because the way his brows were currently pinched was an expression he took too often, a bad habit. A wispy bit of beard/goatee thing grew around his mouth, making him look roguish. His hair was not quite a buzz-cut, growing out on top, and a sandy blonde-brown. It was his eyes though, that caught Klavdiya's attention. Her world had become one of dead and cold gazes, except when Nat felt they weren't being watched. Yet this man looked at her with such kindness and warmth...
It scared her how strongly she reacted to it. Almost more than the fact she didn't know his face. She inhaled sharply, intending not on screaming but on raising the alarm.
A smaller hand clapped over her mouth instantly, gloved but fingers exposed. And familiar as her own. Klavdiya instantly relaxed. "Nat," she mumbled into the palm.
Natalia used her grip on her mouth to turn Klavdiya's head, making it possible for them to see each other. The redhead raised her finger to her mouth, a silent warning not to make another sound. Klavdiya managed a weak nod--wishing the drugs would fade faster--and suddenly they were up and moving again. She had to close her eyes and let the stranger do all the work, her stomach rolling as her eyes refused to focus long enough on her surroundings to make it more than a disorienting, nauseating blur. It galled her to have to be the damsel in distress here. She was one of the best that the Red Room had to offer, and she was being carried away like some normal milk maiden...
Klavdiya's eyes opened in shock, just as they got outside of the medical facilities and into the courtyard. The light was bright out here, where it was thankfully empty of trainees. They were rescuing her? She wasn't going to graduate? Only years of stemming her emotions kept her from bursting into tears right that second and blowing whatever cover Natalia had established to get them out without Madame or the other instructors discovering them. It wouldn't last long, not when her "ceremony" was supposed to begin soon, and she had to help them use what time they had efficiently.
They reached the outer walls. She shivered when bare snow hit her skin, the stranger setting her down in the snow while he pulled something off of his back. Klavdiya blinked when, with a snap of his wrist, he turned it into a collapsible bow. She managed to turn enough to look at Nat, raising one brow and looking between him and her with an expression easily read. "Where did you find this nut?"
Natalia smirked and shrugged...but there was something there that Klavdiya didn't like. Her big sister (since she could think that now and not risk slipping) was hiding something from her.
He fired an arrow from the highly mechanized quiver on his back, and it expanded in mid air to form a grappling hook with a thin cord trailing behind it. He jerked his head at Nat, and with ease the redhead (though her hair was much darker and shorter than it was when the girls were young) scaled up the wall. She lowered a much heavier line, and the stranger looked down at Klavdiya. "Are you strong enough to hang on to my back?" he asked quietly.
She was going to have to be. Her legs didn't feel strong enough to hold her weight yet, but she could hook herself around him easily enough. "Yes," she said, pressing her mouth into a thin line as she set herself a task. And to keep her teeth from chattering, reminding herself that she didn't feel cold, not anymore. Not after they started the ice baths, to get her used to inhospitable climates.
He turned and knelt down beside her, offering his back to her. She managed to wrap her arms around his neck, her legs hooking over his hips. His quiver made it awkward, but she managed. The stranger started to climb, and she gritted her teeth, forcing her body to stay awake and aware, in her control. It was exhausting, since whatever drug they had used to knock her out had been strong. But they reached the top, and the trio got to the other side of the fence just as easily.
It was Klavdiya who heard the dogs barking first. "They're coming," she gasped in the stranger's ear. Natalia heard it too, and exchanged looks with the man. He shifted Klavdiya back into his previous carry on the run, as they took off like spooked deer in the direction of the woods around the edge of the complex. Klavdiya could only shiver, wanting to tell them to drop her and leave her, to get themselves out...but at the same time, being too selfish. All that was left for her back there was a complete graduation or death. Neither were prospects Klavdiya wanted to entertain.
Under the cover of the trees, some sort of vehicle came into view. Natalia lowered the ramp, and the stranger ducked his head to make getting inside easier with it still working to raise. Once all three were inside, Natalia closed it while the stranger set Klavdiya down on some sort of table/bed that had been pulled out before her arrival. The mat was thin and clinical, the same for the pillow which was attached to it. He pulled a blanket over her, rubbing her arm to try and warm her cold flesh, but not for long.
He went to the front, hitting switches and Klaviya tried to see what he was doing, despite a new onslaught of weakness. Was this a plane? She felt her skin crawl. She hadn't flown since before she came to the Red Room. No, no, no...!
Before she could completely panic, Natalia was there. "Easy now, sister," she said, reaching out to stroke Klavdiya's blonde hair, cut in a tight, curly bob before the sugery. "It's alright. You'll be safe now."
The tears were coming again, making Klavdiya blink hard. Tears weren't allowed.
Natalia gave her a slight, sad smile, taking one of Klavdiya's hands in her free one as the plane, jet, whatever they were in lurched up into the air with all the grace of a wounded duck. "You can cry, just this once," she said in Russian, mimicking the first night they had known each other. "I won't tell."
It was enough. Like that night, Klavdiya burst into tears, hard sobs rocking her body. But this time, there weren't restraints holding her down, or the beginnings of a life of death ahead of her. She was free. She wasn't going to be sterilized, she wasn't going to be forced to be a killer anymore. Natalia continued to hold and sooth her, whispering in a mix of English and Russian...and using the name that Klavdiya barely remembered was hers, from before the Red Room. "Shh, Barbara. You're safe. Your future is yours, now. I'm here, nemnogo peresmeshnik. You're safe, Barbara. I'm here."
Her tears led to exhaustion, and this time, Klavdiya--no, Barbara--could tell that it was a more natural one. She let it wash over her like waves. She remembered waves, real ones, on golden beaches with bright sunshine, and warm laughter. Could she go back there...? Did she want to?
"So..." the stranger drawled from up front. "You going to give some answers, Widow?"
"What questions, Hawkeye?" Natalia fired back, stopping her words of comfort but continuing to stroke Barbara's hair.
That was a strange name... And what was this Widow handle of Natalia's? Barbara now tried to wake up. This seemed important. But Natalia's touch was too soothing, the emotional upheaval too great. She barely heard the next few exchanges.
"Well, you two don't look like sisters to me, and Barbara is not a Russian name. Care to explain?"
"How about that thing you called her? Nemo pair-shnick?" The man's Russian was absolutely atrocious. It would have made Barbara laugh, if she wasn't almost asleep.
Instead, she managed to sleepily murmur the answer, even if Nat was going to be mad at her about it later. "Mockingbird... Little mockingbird..." And then the dark took her, into places where her guilt almost drowned her in the blood she had spilled, even if it had been in the name of her own survival.