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When the growing pain subsides

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"Hey, Maria, here's Natasha. I'm just calling to make sure you are okay so please, please call me back, alright?"

She faltered in her words, her breath hitching with suppressed sobs. This couldn't be it, no, not her. Not Maria. The phone was still recording, sending the silent tears to her mailbox. A deep breath later and she continued.

"Please, just-just call me, text me, whatever. I need to know you are alive. I love you."

The last sentence was a whisper, barely audible and she would have never said it if she didn't already know deep down that there was no answer to come. Natasha pressed the red button on her phone and ended the call, leaving her in uncomfortable silence. Blood was still drying on her body and clothes, her wounds were still hurting and she was pretty sure the concussion would take a while to go away, but she couldn't make herself care.

After everything, they had lost. The Avengers, she, had failed in protecting humanity. In protecting the one thing which meant the world to her.

For the first time in decades, the Black Widow cried.

She wasn't alone. Time moved on and they worked on fixing the damage that had been done, trying to repair what they failed to keep whole. Just mending what has been broken inside herself seemed impossible.

But in a world with gods and heroes, with men of iron and world-saving women, it wasn't so unlikely a brown patch of hair and a smile could restore even the widow's heart.