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Avengers (2012): "Prayer" (Clint/Natasha)

Title: Prayer
Author/Artist: Koren M. (cybermathwitch)
Disclaimer: Not mine. Technically Marvel's.
Pairing: Clint/Natasha
Rating: M
Warnings: mentions of blood, (consensual) knife-play, violent imagery, sexual imagery, non-specific religious thought/imagery/subversion (how do I even tag for that?)
Word Count: 1,119
Summary: There is nothing childish about her religion.

Author's Notes: I started this last year, then let it fall by the wayside in the face of too many other stories. But I thought of it when I read over sugarfey's prompt "fun with knives". Many thanks to workerbee73 and sweetwatersong for the beta.

Definitions from Dictionary.com




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religion (rɪˈlɪdʒən) — n
1. something of overwhelming importance to a person
2. a. the practice of sacred ritual observances
2. b. sacred rites and ceremonies
[probably from religāre to tie up, from re- + ligāre to bind]

******

prayer (prɛə) — n
4. a form of devotion, either public or private, spent mainly or wholly praying
6. an earnest request, petition, or entreaty
7. slang a chance or hope

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Loki told her she was a child at prayer.
He was only half right.
There is nothing childish about her religion.


*****

The religion of her childhood was based on hard and brutal dogma. You do this because we tell you to do this because this is what you do. She practiced it because there was no alternative, and its name was survive.

She obeyed to survive.

She fought to survive.

She existed to survive, to be filled by the whims of others who would cause her to cease existing if they found her to be without use.

Being useful meant she survived.

Excelling at what she did meant she survived.

It was a religion whose rituals took the forms of brief and debrief, missions and training, filled with a never-ending cycle of devotions made out of murder and blood. The murder and blood of others given as an offering so that she could survive.

It was brutal and empty, but she didn't need softer, fuller things, so long as she survived.

*****

He holds out his hand, when he knows what she can do to an undefended palm. No one who knows her has ever made that offering; it has always been her, holding herself out to them so that they can remake her as they choose. She wonders what he wants.

What would he turn her into or fill her with?

What are her chances of surviving it?

She has come to realize that perhaps survival is killing her, slowly and by degrees. That maybe, just maybe so much of herself is being eaten away by what they ask of her that she's really dying, even if her body lives on and that makes her question the very definition of her faith. What does it mean to survive? She has a moment of clarity, where she transcends the dogma of her childhood and has a brief glimpse of a larger truth.

That she is small, but not weak. She has never been weak. That she can act, rather than be acted upon, or through.

"Trust me," he says, and they are the first words she hears him say.

She has no idea what they mean.

*****

No one else at SHIELD trusts her. That's a comfort, that's familiar. They debrief her, and the ritual is wrong because they are amateurs at cruelty and if she'd known what it meant she might've likened it to playing dress up, but she has no concept of "play".

She's aware of every weapon on every person who enters her cell (they charitably call it a holding room, but she knows) and she can gauge their probable threat and training by the time they've taken two steps inside the door.

He comes to her unarmed. Still dangerous, she can read that on him, and while she knows she could take him it wouldn't be easy and it would take too much time for her to escape. He wouldn't be any less dead, though. He even turns his back on her and she views the motion with scorn. Men who do that are the ones who see the girl, not the killer, and they die every time.

When he turns back and meets her narrowed eyes, she realizes it's not that he doesn't understand her threat.

He just doesn't seem to care.

"Why aren't you scared of me?"

He shrugs. "You won't hurt me."

His answer doesn't make any sense. She realizes later, if he'd done the same thing with fear in his heart, she wouldn't have hesitated. She wouldn't have given it a second thought but would have fallen back into her training and bled him dry.

He doesn't fear her because he knows she won't attack.

She doesn't attack because he isn't scared.

*****

He lays in the bed stretched out beneath her, and she straddles his thighs. Their gear is nearby, close enough, and she's holding one of their knives in her hand. She contemplates the blade, wicked sharp and gleaming, and how she used its twin on a young man outside of Berlin who took her home from a club. He'd defected three years before. She was his belated going-away present.

Clint's skin gives slightly with the press of the knife as she sets it against his throat, just like she did then. "Why do you trust me?" she asks him, distantly because she is of two minds, in two places.

He doesn't flinch, doesn't move - but the air of calm surrounding him hasn't wavered. He still isn't afraid. This is the point where they are always afraid, no matter who they are, this point where they feel the knife on their skin or the gun to their flesh and she stops hiding the truth in her eyes of what she really is. She meets his eyes and shows him what is there, what she's done.

He's not afraid, and that makes him different.

It makes him real.

"Because I know you," he answers steadily, no thought or hesitation necessary. The movement of his throat as he speaks is just enough extra force to draw the thinnest line of blood on his flesh.

If he is real, then maybe she is too, and something in her world shifts from gray to red.

She stares at the blood, then at the knife and then at the point where the two intersect under her hand.

*****

Religion comes with a price, because as you move into it, try to understand it, you cease to accept the world at face value. It's the move from rote praxis to spirituality and it is not for the faint of heart.

If he is real, and his blood is red, what does that say about everyone else? If she trusts him when he says he knows her, does that make her real, too?

She used to look at her hands and see shadows. A world marked in stark chiaroscuro that shifted but didn't really change. Her hands were gray - sometimes pale like paper, sometimes dark like spilled ink.

Now everywhere she turns all she sees is red. It flows under and over her skin, hers and everyone else's, and she wants it to stop. Gray was safe, it was familiar. It was a world of orders to be followed and questions not only unasked, but unheard of.

Now everything is a question, and she finds herself without any answers.

Except one.

She trusts him.

*****

She hands him the knife and stretches out before him. His blood is still there, just on the edge of the blade.

*****

"Because I trust you."

This is their church.

Trust is her prayer.

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