#TUS 8. Beauty had turned Beastly

“Kelsey please say something,” Natasha begged from her position on the floor. Kelsey continued the pacing she had taken up some minutes ago, barely looking at her.

“I need a minute,” she muttered as she walked to the other end of the room.

“Could you at least stop pacing,” Natasha groaned. Kelsey glared at her and continued walking back and forth across Natasha’s room.

When Kelsey walked by right in front of her again, Natasha grabbed her hand.

“Kelsey.”

“I said I need a minute!” Kelsey snapped, wrenching her hand out of Natasha’s grasp. Natasha shrunk back against the closet door, shocked and hurt at her rebuttal.

“You had ten, can you please talk to me now?” she pleaded.

“Oh I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that the standard reaction time on the news of your best friend owning a gun is ten minutes. My bad,” Kelsey snapped.

“Just say something. Anything!” Natasha said. Kelsey stared at her, breathing heavily.

“You had a gun! An actual gun, which you got from goodness knows where and did goodness knows what with…” she trailed off and stepped back from Natasha, horrified expression on her face.

“Oh my God, did you kill Henry?” It came out as a whisper but Natasha heard it and stared dumbfounded at Kelsey, tears welling up in her eyes. She folded her knees up to her chest and buried her head in her hands, crying .

“Answer me damn it!” Kelsey screamed at her.

“I didn’t do it!” Natasha yelled back, raising her head. She wiped furiously at the tears trailing down her cheeks and stood up looking livid.

“Then why did you get a gun?” Kelsey pressed. She believed her friend hadn’t killed Henry but she was still suspicious of her intent behind buying the gun in the first place.

“Was it because of Max?” her tone softened a little. Natasha nodded and Kelsey shook her head, considerably calmer now.

“Look, I get it. I’d have wanted to kill Max too and I would have if you hadn’t dragged me away from him when he slapped you. But if someone slaps you, you bitch slap that warthog faced jerk right back, not buy a bloody gun,” Kelsey said. “That was a rather rash and possibly stupid reaction.”

“I was scared, okay!” Natasha threw her hands up in exasperation. ” It wasn’t just the slap! Max beat me up and left me for dead in my own living room and then his monster of a father came and told me to keep my mouth shut or else he’d destroy every single person I love! I was powerless, defenseless and all alone. I didn’t know if Max would come back and beat the crap out of me or whether his father would send his evil henchmen to slit my throat instead.”

Kelsey stared, astonished at Natasha who now had tears running down her cheeks. Her hands were balled into fists beside her and despite the shudders that racked her body, she continued to speak.

 “I couldn’t go anywhere without looking over my shoulder the whole time, wondering if someone was tailing my every move to make sure I didn’t talk. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I bore the weight of their memory on my own. I wished someone would see through me and all the lies I kept telling and save me but no-one did. So I saved myself. When I finally had the gun in my hand I could breathe again. For the first time I felt safe. I felt…powerful. I wasn’t scared anymore.” Natasha took a deep breath as she collapsed onto the bed, feeling drained.

 The revelation left Kelsey reeling and she joined her friend on the bed. She sat staring at the wall for a few minutes before reaching out for Natasha’s hand.

“It wasn’t just the slap,” she said softly.

“It wasn’t just the slap.” Natasha re-affirmed.

“So you’ve never used it?” Kelsey asked.

Natasha paused. “Well…”

“I don’t need a babysitter mum. I’m 22,” Natasha complained over the phone as she kicked off her boots and untied her hair.

“I’m not saying Elle has to be right by your side the whole night. I’ll just feel a lot better if I know there’s someone in the house with you. After the whole mugging thing, I don’t like leaving you alone,” Lily said.

Natasha almost laughed even though she was the one who had explained away Max’s attack and the resulting scars as a mugging. She shook away the memory and shrugged off her jacket.

“If you really don’t like it then don’t leave me alone.”

“I wish I could honey but I have to stay in the Capital for this case,” Lily said.

“Yeah, whatever mum. I have an assignment to do.” Natasha walked over to her closet to hang up her jacket.

“Okay then. I love you,” Lily said resignedly.

“Love you,” Natasha said half-heartedly then hung up and tossed the phone on her bed.

While she was rummaging through her closet looking for her pyjamas she heard a light knock at her open bedroom door..

“I’ll be down to see you out in a minute Elle,” she called out without looking back.

“Uhhm, hie.”

Natasha swiveled around so fast that the room spun a little. She held on to the closet door, suddenly at a loss for words as she stared wide-eyed at Max.

“I hope you don’t mind, Elle let me up.”

Natasha still couldn’t speak and her hands were trembling. She gripped the closet door tighter in an attempt to stop the shaking but to no avail. Her mouth seemed glued shut and her throat felt clogged but she finally found her voice when Max started walking towards her.

“Don’t,” she choked out.

“I just want to say I’m sorry I hurt you.” He continued on his path to her and her heartbeat became erratic. She moved backwards seeking apparel refuge but the zippers offered no bite nor did the scarves leap for Max’s throat in her defence.

“I was drunk and I didn’t know what I was doing. There was so much happening, I just…” Max was almost five steps away from her now. She groped behind her for something other than fabric to throw at him but she kept coming up empty until her hand touched something wooden and hard on a shelf, set close to the back. Then she remembered. She didn’t have to be scared anymore. Max didn’t have any power over her. She fumbled with the box still behind her while Max continued to stalk over to her. She barely heard anything else he said, all her focus was on getting to her only saving grace.

He was right in front of her when she finally found what she was looking for and she quickly brought her hand out of the closet. Max blinked in surprise at the gun in Natasha’s hand. Fear flashed in his eyes and it gave Natasha the courage to lift her hand and point the gun at his face. Though her hand was still trembling and her legs felt as if they had turned to rubber, she spoke bravely. Fear started to ebb away as she reveled in the feel of the cold metal against her fingers. She wasn’t afraid of the Beast anymore – she’d become one too.

“Don’t come any closer,” she said. Her voice was low but Max heard her command loud and clear.

“Put the gun down Natasha,” Max said, remarkably calmly. “I just want to talk to you.”

“Get out.”

“I’m sorry. I love you and I want us to find a way to get past this,” Max took a tentative step forward and Natasha automatically moved back further into the closet.

“No! Get away from me!” she yelled at him, pushing the gun further ahead of her and closer to Max.

“You need to put that down before you hurt yourself,” Max urged her but Natasha just stared at him, chest heaving. The gun slipped a little in her hand from the clamminess of her palm so she gripped it with two hands to steady it.

“You can’t shoot me. If you really wanted to, your finger would be on the trigger and right now I bet you don’t even know what a trigger is,” Max said and he raised his arm, trying to take it away from her.

Natasha put her finger on the trigger stopping Max’s actions immediately. She moved her left foot one step past the other, shoulder-width apart and kept her right elbow straight as she leaned forward a bit. Max eyed her curiously and when he finally figured out what she was doing he laughed.

“Reading about the proper firing stance on Wikipedia doesn’t suddenly make you a gun expert. I bet that thing is fake too,” he smirked.

Natasha ignored him and the pounding of her heart. “This…” She swallowed and started again. “This is a Taurus Judge, five shot revolver chambered for .45 colt cartridge with a 3 inch barrel and a 2.5 inch cylinder length,” she rattled off the technical details as if she had rehearsed them several times.

“This is the hammer,” she moved her finger to a piece of metal sticking out on the gun. “Once I pull it, the cylinder moves a bullet into position and it’ll be ready to fire.” She carried out the motion she had described and Max took another step back upon hearing the gun cock. “If I shoot you right away, I’ll have a hard time explaining it away as self-defense but if I shoot at a wall first, that counts as a warning shot. Then I can shoot you and no one will even blink an eye.”

“Natasha…” Max held his hands up.

“Get out. Now. And don’t ever come near me again or next time I won’t hesitate to pull the trigger,” Natasha said. She placed her finger on the trigger and smiled cockily at him. “That’s this thing right here, isn’t it?”

“Look, this is crazy and you’re…”

“Get out!” Natasha screamed advancing towards him. Max finally got the message and left her. Natasha dropped her aching arms and took deep breaths but before she could recover she heard someone coming up the stairs.

“Tasha! Are you alright?” Danielle called as she ran up the stairs. Natasha panicked and put the gun back in her closet just before Danielle ran into her room.

“I heard shouting then I saw Max leave. Is everything okay?” she asked worriedly as she walked up to her.

“We broke up,” Natasha said fighting down her tears. It wasn’t entirely a lie but she couldn’t exactly tell her the truth. Danielle hugged her and apologised for letting him up to see her.

***

“So Max is the only one who’s ever seen it?” Kelsey asked when Natasha had finished her recap.

“Yeah.”

“And now the police came searching for a gun in the exact location he saw you take it. That can’t be a coincidence.”

Natasha sat up straight, having remembered something.

“What is it?” Kelsey asked alarmed.

Natasha reached for the warrant that she had carelessly tossed on the bed a few minutes ago and scanned through it. She gulped when she found what she was looking for.

“It wasn’t a coincidence.” She handed Kelsey the paper and pointed to a section for her to read.

“The property in question is a Taurus Judge, five shot revolver chambered for .45 colt cartridge with a 3 inch barrel and a 2.5 inch cylinder length,” Kelsey read aloud.

“That’s exactly what I told Max about the gun. To the letter. He’s sending me a message,” Natasha bit her lip nervously as Kelsey re-read the warrant.

“What message?”

“I made a deal with Nathan to give a statement about all the crap Max did to me. He must have gone and charged Max and this is Max’s way of retaliating. This has to be his way of telling me that if he goes down he’ll drag me down with him,” Natasha said running her hand through her hair.

“Who’s Nathan?” Kelsey asked.

“He’s one of the Detectives who arrested me,” Natasha replied.

Kelsey eyed her dubiously. “And you’re on a first name basis with him? Do we need to have another conversation about your choice in men?”

“Shut up. It’s nothing like that,” Natasha said defensively. She sighed and held her head in her hands. “I don’t understand why so much shit has been happening lately. First I got arrested and I have no idea why. Then my mum started acting shady and I’m pretty sure I heard her confess to having something to do with Henry’s murder and there was the whole thing with the missing call log and now the gun is gone…”

“Slow down, you’re making my head spin” Kelsey complained. “It’s obvious Max is the one who stole your gun. He’s the only one who knew about it.”

“Yeah, I guess. This is such a mess.”

“I need a drink,” Kelsey said standing up and extending her hand to Natasha.

“You don’t drink,” Natasha pointed out, letting Kelsey pull her off the bed, out of her room and down the stairs.

“Pretty sure you’ll agree this is a great time to start,” Kelsey said firmly. They had just entered the kitchen when they heard the doorbell ring. Natasha immediately started to panic.

“You hide, I’ll stall the police,” Kelsey said, half seriously. Natasha laughed weakly and shook her head. Kelsey went and opened the door while Natasha stood nervously in the kitchen. She started breathing again when she saw Kelsey lead Nathan into the kitchen.

“Hie,” she managed to say while Nathan looked at her with an indecipherable expression.

“Hie,” Nathan said back and he paused, just looking at her, before he spoke again. “Are you okay? I heard the Chief was here.”

“I’m okay,” Natasha said quietly and they stared at each other silently for a while until Kelsey cleared her throat loudly.

“I have to go feed my cat so I’ll leave you two,” she said.

Natasha cocked her head at her. “You don’t have a…”

Kelsey cut her off with a glare and she finally got the hint. After Kelsey left, she sat by the kitchen counter with Nathan.

“We need to talk.”

***

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