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Natasha, Daughter of Ivan

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Natasha, Daughter of Ivan

CHAPTER 1: Vormir Again 

            “It should be ten seconds for us,” Bruce said as he keyed up the quantum realm device.

            Steve picked up Mjolnir and was promptly sent into the past to put the Infinity Stones back on the timeline.

 

After returning all but the Soul Stone and many decades later from Steve’s perspective. (Perhaps to be explored later, or not?)

 

            “Steven, son of Sarah…we meet again.” The cloaked figure drifted down the stone steps to approach the former Captain. Steve’s helmet retracted. His white Avengers suit was dusty, but not frayed; like it had sat in one place for a very long time, but not worn more than a handful of times.

            Former Captain Steve Rogers was painfully old. He was finally looking his true age, really. “Red Skull,” Steve breathed in disbelief. They stood almost eye-to-eye once the Nazi-turned-eternal slave settled both feet on the ground. Steve had lost height in his old age, and now more than ever did he feel that weariness in his bones. They had both come a long way since that day on the doomed aircraft.

They stood in silence for an uncomfortable amount of time when Steve burst out laughing, because of course it was the Red Skull. “Captain America,” the wraith that had once been Johann Schmidt growled. He looked intimidating, but also somehow less than he was in World War Two.

“How are you here?” Steve rasped. He wasn’t as angry as he was straight up confused. The way the wind was blowing really highlighted the high fantasy-like feel the Nazi exuded.

“After claiming the Tesseract as my own, all those decades ago, it judged me. You see, it was not mine to possess, and so for my arrogance, I was sentenced to an eternity here. I am the Guardian and Caretaker of the Soul Stone,” Red Skull finished his story to a slow clap from Steve.

“I have it here,” Steve said as he pulled the glowing orange stone out of his pocket and it sat there gently, pulsing in time with his slightly elevated heartbeat. He then took out several letters each with different names emblazoned across them.

“What are you doing?” The Red Skull asked. There was no animosity in his voice.

Steve had taken notice. “I thought you’d be angrier with me, you know regarding this whole situation,” he finished lamely gesturing at Red Skull and then all around them.

“I’m at peace, Captain Rogers. As near it as I’ll ever be,” Red Skull hedged. He noticed the letters. “What are those?”

Steve smirked to himself. “I’ve come to make a trade. ‘A soul for a soul’,” he recited Red Skull’s words from the future.

Red Skull’s eyes widened. “You’ve been here before? In the future? My future?” he was remarkably quick to grasp the situation.

“No. But my friend was, and I’d like her back.” Steve replied with steel in his sharp greying eyes.

Red Skull tilted his head in consideration. “And the stone?”

“Goes back to whatever form it is before the sacrifice is made. I don’t want this thing anymore, and I’m going to trade it for my friend’s life.”

Red Skull’s eyes widened, “You would die for him?”

“For her. Yes.” Steve squared his shoulders, letters clutched in one hand, stone in the other, nestled gently against his wedding ring.

Chapter Text

 

CHAPTER 2: Trading Lives

            “Your wife? The soul stone doesn’t give life like that you fool,” Red Skull sneered.

            Steve paused for a moment, looked down at his ring and smiled. “No. Not my wife. My friend.” Steve stared out over the edge of the abyss. The solar eclipse was enchanting, in a way. All of Vormir had an air of decayed elegance, an eerie and inhuman beauty about it that still chilled the centenarian. He thumbed at his wedding ring and held in the tears that had begun to build up, “She was there for me at a time when nobody else was.”

            “And what, you think if you plunge over the edge with the Soul Stone that you can bring back some wayward woman? She probably died some meaningless death very far away, and by the looks of it, a long time ago. That’s not how the Stone works,” Red Skull replied calmly, if annoyed. The former Johann Schmidt had spoken with enough fools who came here and thought they could out-think the Stone. It never worked. But he wouldn’t exactly protest the suicide of his greatest mortal enemy.

            “You’re wrong. She died right here.” Steve waited for Red Skull to realise the significance of that.

            “Natasha, Daughter of Ivan. Yes, she was determined to die that one. She and the other one, Clint Barton tried to best each other. She won. But that doesn’t help you, the Stone claimed her soul.” Red Skull seemed surprised at first, but then quite confident in his conclusion.

            “A soul for a soul, right? Isn’t that how it works?” Steve replied.

            “This isn’t merchandise, Rogers, you cannot simply return a sullied item for credit. Especially when that credit is a soul.” Red Skull responded curtly.

            Steve thought for a moment, shifting his weight between his feet. The veiled shield he commissioned remade in Wakanda was held on his back, and so he placed on the ground. His knees were not what they used to be, and serum or no, humans weren’t meant to last as long as he had and retain their health. Granted, he could still win a bar brawl if he needed to, but just not as casually as he used to be able to. “When the Tesseract brought you here, were you given some kind of orientation course? How are you so sure a second sacrifice can’t bring back a first?”

            Red Skull thought about it and shrugged, “I was gifted knowledge about the Soul Stone. And while there are clear rules about how a person can’t be brought back using the Soul Stone alone, or even all Six together, there is no knowledge the Stone bequeathed to me that would aide you here. None have attempted a second sacrifice using the Stone to bring back another who had died to claim it,” Red Skull admitted grudgingly.

            “So what you’re saying is that you have no idea do you? There’s a chance this could work,” Steve grinned softly. While Red Skull was startlingly calm for being around his former nemesis, he was scandalized when Steve began disrobing.

            Or rather, he detached the nanoparticle generator and set in on the ground next to the shield, which was still wrapped. Along with it, he laid the Pym Particle vial. The letters tied together with a rubber band were laid next to them. While he wasn't quite naked underneath the white time travel suit, Red Skull was still slightly perturbed. “What is the meaning of this, Rogers?”

            “Supplies for her journey home,” Steve replied. “Are you bound here forever?”

            Red Skull sighed and said, “As long as the Soul Stone is here, I am as well. It has a habit of reappearing once it has been used.”

            “Others have come here?” Steve wondered.

            “While they did not have the capabilities or ambition of the Mad Titan, yes. There have been many others,” Red Skull responded with a wave of his hand.

            Steve looked at him for a moment and said, “Make sure these items get to her once I’m gone.”

            Red Skull rolled his eyes. Of course he wanted to refuse, but he was bound to the transaction. And this man, no matter who he was, was a part of the transaction between the Soul Stone, and the sacrifice. Rogers’ wishes must be respected. Even if the Red Skull believed them to be asinine wishes. “It will be done,” he muttered.

            Steve nodded and approached the edge of the abyss, clutching the Stone in his hands. As it tapped against his ring again, he considered for a moment, before walking back to the pile of items for Natasha once she was returned to the land of the living…hopefully. He took off his wedding ring, and slipped it inside Bucky’s letter. He smiled sadly for a moment before whispering, “This is the last stop Buck, end of the line. I love you, and I’m sorry.”

            As he stood up, looked upon his old foe with clear vision. “Goodbye Dr. Schmidt.”

            “It won’t work, Captain. You’re gambling everything on a such a small chance that might as well not even exist,” he spoke plainly. He wasn’t angry, just bemused more than anything. Captain America nodded to himself and turned away. He walked towards the end.

            He was on the precipice when he suddenly turned back to look Red Skull in the eyes one last time, “Even if there’s a small chance, I owe it to her, and everyone else who loved her, to try.” He spared a look at the Soul Stone in his hand once more, and made a wish.

            He jumped.

            Red bloomed around him upon impact with the ground.

Steve Rogers was gone.

The sky lit up in thunderous recognition of the sacrifice and light poured down the mountain and into the abyss.

 

            Natasha awoke at the top of the cliff.

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CHAPTER 3: Waking Up

Natasha sucked in a shaky breath, and started to get to her feet. She stumbled a couple steps before tripping on something. When her foot connected with the obstacle, there was a slight ripping sound as the paper wrapping tore to reveal Captain America’s vibranium shield. There were other things there as well, some letters and a metal object that looked like…it was a nanoparticle generator. “Clint?” Natasha rasped. Something was wrong, where was Clint? What the hell is going on here? What is Steve’s shield doing here? Natasha’s thoughts were quickly spiralling before Red Skull spoke up.

“He really did it,” the Red Skull sounded almost impressed.

“What?” Natasha asked, voice still parched. Her red hair falling over her shoulders untethered. “Who? What? What happened?”

“You died of course,” Red Skull stated blandly. “Your friend Barton left this place with the Stone in his possession, made possible by your sacrifice; your death. Though I confess I know not how Rogers appeared here in his old age.”

“Steve was here?” Natasha said aloud. She looked at the items strewn about in her rare bout of clumsiness. And then she noticed the letters. Specifically, that one was addressed to her. Horror gripped her as she looked up to the Nazi. She then bolted over to the edge. She looked over, and sure enough, she could see the corpse of a man at the bottom: Steve’s corpse. He’s dead…no, what the fuck? No, no, no, he couldn’t be. What, “What the fuck happened?” she shouted. Her shrill, petrified voice carried. It echoed off the mountain.

“You died, woman. I’ve already told you. Barton gained the Soul Stone, and then returned via how he got here. And then Captain Rogers appeared. He was old, painfully old. He held the Soul Stone. We talked, and then he threw himself over the edge, hoping his sacrifice could bring you back to life.” The impartiality with which the Red Skull spoke chilled Natasha.

Steve was dead. Died for HER. Why would he DO THAT? Why he was old? If that’s the case then did they win? Or did he waste away slowly…NO. “How much time has passed,” Natasha asked softly. The fear coursing through her veins was nearly a concept to her. She had felt fear before, of course she had; she was only human. But the cold dread settling in her gut was different. The loss of autonomy in the whole situation is what terrified her. If Steve was old, then is everybody else dead? They must’ve won, right? I have to believe that, I have to. Lila, Cooper, Nathan, and Laura NEED to be alive, I don’t know what I’ll do if they aren’t. Natasha’s thoughts were coming quicker. Which was a good sign, it meant she was recovering quite well.

“For me and you, it’s been days.” Red Skull replied. He ghosted over to the edge and peered down at his unvanquished foe. “Hail the victorious dead,” Red Skull muttered with finality. He looked over to Natasha who had tears streaming down her cheeks as she picked up the letter addressed to her. Ignoring the prying look of the wraith, she began to read.

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 4: A Long Goodbye

Dear Natasha,

As of right now, you’re dead. You’ve been dead for about ten years from my perspective, as skewed as it is by time travel. Sorry, that’s really not a good way to start this.

We won the war. And it took a lot. But we won. The time travel worked, and even with a few hiccups we managed to complete the gauntlet, and Bruce snapped everyone back. He tried to bring you back too. He really did, but apparently it doesn’t work like that.

Our plan went a little side-ways: Thanos captured our Nebula in the year 2014. Rhodey got out fine with the Power Stone though. Thanos he sent her younger, dark version back. And she was able to summon Thanos, his armies, the Chitauri, and his miles long space ship to the compound. He was even more twisted, if that’s possible. He wanted to re-write the universe, but he swore he’d destroy the Earth, out of spite.

We fought him, I even picked up Mjolnir (You won that bet, I’m sure Clint will pay up if you remind him. God, he’ll be so happy to see you again. He and Wanda have been so devastated. ) but it wasn’t enough. He summoned his armies, and wow I’m getting really long winded. I’m sure you’ll hear about it from the others. But I can’t help but want to tell you the basics about it.

There was a battle there, Dr. Strange, the protector of the Time Stone opened portals that allowed ALL of our allies to show up at once. I’m still not sure how that worked, but we would’ve been done for without him. The battle made the skirmish in Wakanda look silly. Really, it was terrifying.

You’d be proud of Wanda. She got the upper hand on Thanos, I don’t think she’d ever used her power like that before. It was awe-inspiring Nat. Not even me, Thor, and Tony could do that when the three of us were working together. Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes at me. ‘Of course Wanda’s stronger,’ you always told us. Well you were right. But before she could end that monster, he panicked and ordered his space ship to rain down fire on us. It was as big as one of those star destroyers from Star Wars. I thought it was the end then. I really did. Blue lasers so powerful they changed the geography pounding us into the ground. There was nothing we could do against a space ship. Not even Tony or Wanda or Thor.

And then Captain Marvel saved us. Carol really did show us up a little there. Thanos’ ship stopped firing at us for a short spell. They were suddenly firing into the sky, into the cloud cover.

They were firing at Carol, not that it fazed her at all. She just crashed through the atmosphere and cut right through the ship like it was paper; taking multiple shots head on without flinching. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was glorious.

I know I’m getting a bit detailed, and I’m sure you’ll get more coherent versions from the rest of our friends who’ll remember it far better than me, especially Carol. It’s been so long ago for me. But damn, I’ll never forget it.

     Carol nearly killed him. But by that point he had the gauntlet with all six stones. He tried to snap again. But she stopped him at the last moment. She actually stalemated the stones Nat. It was something else. But he ripped the power stone out and hit her with its full force. She’s fine. She was only down for like ten seconds. But she delayed him enough for Tony to do his thing. Tony…

 

We lost Tony. He got the stones using his nanoparticle suit and he snapped Thanos and his forces out of existence. But it killed him to do it. I…I’ve lost so many people, but this. This was both better and worse than the rest. He died saving us.

Remember when we went to him at his cabin, and his daughter, Morgan, came out and sat in his lap. God Nat, I see that moment in my nightmares, all the time. Morgan crying at the funeral broke me. And while I wouldn’t have changed what we did to get him aboard, I’d be damned if I didn’t admit Morgan growing up without a loving father breaks my heart. That girl is going to have to grow up without a dad, and I feel like that’s on us. On me. Maybe you could tell her funny stories when you’re back.

I’ve been writing this letter for years. I’ve written a few others, for when or if I get the chance to deliver them. Or have you deliver them. I’ve had an inkling it’ll be you for a while now. I’ve been working on a plan.

You really were my best friend. I miss Bucky. And Sam too, but if it weren’t for you…those five years of hell would’ve been the end of me. YOU kept us together. The Avengers would’ve died out without you there holding us together with both hands while everyone else just left. Well, the men did anyway. Carol was carrying several planets’ weight of responsibility if we’re being honest. Nebula was tireless as well.

I’m the one who volunteered to return the Stones to their original timelines. So far, I’ve done Reality (Asgard is very cool), Time, Power, and Mind (Hydra took the scepter and it made my skin crawl). I had to remind myself without Hydra gaining the sceptre; we would never have had Wanda join us.

When I took the Tesseract back to its place, I went back a couple decades and a bit early.

I found Peggy, Natasha. I finally got my date, and then I had almost sixty eight years with her after that. We got married and had two beautiful kids. Our daughter is named Natasha, for you. And our son, Michael; named after Peggy’s brother who died in the War.

Eventually, in the seventies, I put the Tesseract back where it belonged. I caught a glimpse of Tony and myself on the base that day. We had to take a detour from 2012 since Loki absconded with the cube, but that’s a headache for another day. It hurt, seeing Tony again. But it was good too I think.

I was with Peggy at the end, in 2016. I’m even the one who sent the text to my younger self, notifying him/myself of her passing. I saw you, at her funeral. It took everything I had not to go up to you and give you a hug, or talk to you. But timelines must be maintained and all that nonsense. I don’t know if I ever told you how much it meant that you were there for me when none of the others were. It was so kind of you, and it sticks with me even now.

It helped I think, after losing Peggy, that I got to see your familiar face.

I’ve officially spent thirty years writing this letter, and I now remember how much I prefer those speeches I used to give. I’m much better on the cuff than this drawn out type of thing.

My son Michael…he died in Vietnam. I just don’t have words. It’s…it’s so horrible. I finally understand why Clint was so lost back then. I wish I didn’t. Oh God, how I wish I could still be baffled with how he went so far off the rails. But I just put my little boy’s remains in the ground and everything I see is red.

 

This letter is officially too long. Little Natasha ‘Tasha’ (who’s nearly a senior citizen herself now) is yelling at me to get my ass downstairs.

It’s Christmas. She and her wife, yeah you read that right, and their daughter is downstairs waiting on me to get down there for dinner. She was married to a nice man named Satoshi, and they had a daughter, Maggie, together. But Satoshi died when Maggie was very young, doesn’t really remember him. A drunk driver mowed him down in the middle of a crosswalk.

But my Tasha is strong, she got through it, with the help of her best friend Hildegard. Eventually, without telling us until way after the fact I might add, they started properly raising Maggie together as two mothers.

I’m a grandfather. There’s never a day where that doesn’t boggle me. My granddaughter, Maggie brought her fiancé to Christmas. To my surprise, her fiancé is Carol Danvers’ daughter Monica. When I found that out I laughed so hard. It’s a small world. Fury’s her godfather, as I found out. He was not pleased with having to keep my existence a secret.

Carol was more okay with it; God, the stuff that Carol knew. She said that she’d seen stranger than time travel, and with all the time she’s spent flying around space, I think I might believer her. I think the idea of time-travel really played with Fury's mind a little. But there’s nothing quite like having Nick Fury draped in a terrible Christmas sweater sitting at my dinner table curled up with his cat like a Bond villain.

I survived the snap. If there’s one positive from Peggy’s death, it’s that she never had to witness the world fall apart the way we did. And part of me is wishes that I didn’t have to do it a second time. Knowing that it all worked out, I wish I took that dirt nap for five years. Tasha, and Hilde dusted, right in front of me. I knew it was coming, and I told them a day before it happened. They were holding hands. I didn’t think I’d get used to having a second daughter, but Hilde’s loss hurt me deeply too.

I held on so hard to the fact that we won in the end. But it didn’t stop the grief. For five years, I was a father without a daughter But miraculously, Maggie and her wife Monica survived. I’ve gotten closer with them during these five terrible years. Monica’s mother, Maria, Carol’s best friend was dusted. I think at some point they had been something more, but Monica hinted that Maria couldn't live with the long-distance part of their relationship, and their romance settled back into the ironclad friendship they had from the start. I had no idea, back when we met Carol for the first time. She was living with such grief too. I had figured Carol thought herself above our little planet. I couldn’t have been more wrong, her haircut was in remembrance of Maria, actually.

She visited Earth, you know. During those five years, in secret. So she could spend time with Monica and Maggie, and sometimes even me. She’s a devastating chess player. And not too shabby at those new video games either.

 

Okay…I think I figured out the Soul Stone. Or, I have a plan. I think I can sacrifice myself to get you back. And yes, I’m absolutely willing to make that trade. It’s a no-brainer for me, so don’t waste a minute feeling guilty about it. You literally already were in those shoes and chose the sacrifice play. Rationalize it however you want, but your death is the one terrible thing that happened in my life that I have the power to change now. You know me Nat, you can’t deny going out like this isn’t my style.

The battle is a week from now, and after Tony’s funeral, younger me goes back in time. I still have the Pym Particles on me, and I’ve said my goodbyes to Carol, Monica, and my granddaughter Maggie. They understand. Carol will take care of them now. I think I’ve finally convinced her to stay on Earth, where she is the most loved.

I think my daughter Tasha and Hilde won’t be too happy. Well, they’ll understand as well as they can. I don’t think ‘Dad is going on a suicide mission’ will ever sit well with my family, but I’ve made my decision. And it’s not like I’m young anymore anyway. For all I know I’ll drop from a stroke any day now. It’s not like my side of the family were in the best health when they die.

Tony’s funeral was yesterday, and I’m watching my younger self prep for his long journey home. I’ve written letters for the others, please give them out. I’ve left you the Pym Particles necessary to get back to the present day, roughly ten seconds after I leave it. Bruce, Sam, and Bucky will be there when you re-enter the timeline.

I leave my shield to you. I got Princess Shuri to repair it. Thanos cut it in half during the last fight.

Before you argue, I considered giving it to Bucky, or Sam, but in the end I decided it should be yours. You were the leader of the team in our darkest days. You were our shield when we needed you most. And so it’s fitting that you carry it, in my humble opinion.

Even if you decide to leave the Avengers like Thor did; he’s going into outer space with Rocket and Nebula’s crew. Valkyrie is Queen of New Asgard now. Did you know her actual name is Brunnhilde? They said it at her coronation, and I was surprised about it.

Thor’s departure is probably for the better, honestly. He needed to move on from Earth somehow, and he found a new path, I can’t be mad at him for that.

Even if you leave the Avengers, the shield is yours. If Bucky or Sam want one, they can call up King T’Challa and Princess Shuri.

This shield is yours now Romanov, however you decide to use it. It could be used to save lives, or as a sled for the neighborhood children, or your children, if you ever adopt like you thought about doing during the dark years. Any child should be so lucky to call you their mother.

Also, I won’t be hurt if you change the paint job, I know star-spangled isn’t really your style.

This is goodbye. I hope you find your happiness. You deserve it Natasha. You really do, and don’t let anybody (including yourself) convince you otherwise.

Steve Rogers, Signing off.

 

P.S.

Look after Peter Parker please. Just check in with him now and again. Tony was the closest thing he had to a father and he’s taking it really hard. Maybe you could drag Carol along, the two seemed to have a connection after the battle. Goodbye Natasha, thank you for everything. Your ledger is officially in the black, no more red in sight.

 

P.P.S.

If this really, truly doesn't work...well, I'm going to Vormir, and I'm going to give it everything. If karma or God or the science of soul-trading really isn't on our side today then when I hit the bottom of the cliff, you won't be back. And I'll have failed. We'll both be dead. IF that's the case, and this attempt to save you fails spectacularly? 

Well, Romanov? I'll see you in a minute. 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 4: Re-Entry

           Natasha wasn’t really a crier in general. Today was different. Today was a hard day. From her perspective, she came here with Clint, and then they fought each other over who got to die. She couldn’t let it be him. The thought of looking Lila and Cooper in the eyes, never mind Laura, and telling them that daddy wasn’t coming home…Natasha knew that would break her. She couldn’t do it. Not because she wanted to die to save the universe, but because she knew she couldn’t face down the grief of two kids and the kind woman who were the only family she’d ever known.

       And she had done it. She remembered the fall, it hurt more than she thought it would’ve. Her legs hit first, head last. And then she was awake again. And Steve was gone.

     “I wonder if the Stone alone without his sacrifice would have been enough?” Red Skull wondered aloud. “I suppose he didn’t want to risk it.”

     Natasha barely held in her sobs as she read the letter Steve had written her. She went through it once, and folded it up, and put it back into the envelope, which she stashed with the others tucked into her belt.

            She secured the shield on her arm. She trembled as she did so. It fit perfectly. “Shut up,” she said as she turned to face the Red Skull, eyes blazing, “Steve Rogers died a hero.” The tears coursing down her cheeks did nothing to lessen the ferocity of her statement. With nothing left to say, she applied the nanoparticles and Pym Particle device. She crouched down, and hit the button, disappearing from Vormir for the last time.

           

            “Holy fuck,” a whispered exclamation is the first thing she hears. She’s on a platform much smaller than the one they used before. She straightens up and is immediately being hugged by a very gentle giant.

            “Bruce? I’m alright, you can let go now.” Bruce stepped back. His eyes still wide. Sam, Bucky, and Bruce stood there with varying levels of confusion, joy, and fear. Natasha deactivated her helmet. It was then that they saw her red eyes and tear-stained cheeks. As one, she saw three pairs of eyes gravitate to the shield on her arm. It was her shield, now.

            With a stuttering breath, she deactivated her quantum realm suit, revealing the envelopes pinned to her with her belt. She stepped forward and handed one to each of them. Briefly looking at the remaining ones, she saw there were several still left. “I’m so sorry,” Natasha whispered to them. To Bucky most of all.

            The former Winter Soldier nodded, fighting down an agonized expression. He looked inside the envelope and took out a ring; Steve’s ring. Confused, he immediately began reading the letter. He couldn’t have gotten more than a few lines in before he started crying.

            Natasha immediately felt uncomfortable. Not because she’d never seen Bucky exhibit anything other than a stoic veneer at all times, but she’d never been good around expressions of grief. She squeezed his shoulder and brought him in for a hug. Thankfully, he didn’t sob into her shoulder, but pulled back after a respectable time. “Thank you, Romanov,” he breathed. He managed a weak grin, and Natasha knew he’d be all right for the moment. She looked at Sam, who had a haunted look in his eyes, but nodded to her with small smile.

            She and Bruce left Steve’s two close friends alone for the moment as they walked back to Stark’s Cabin.

            “In his letter to me, he said Tony died,” Natasha said hollowly. Somehow, she needed to hear him say it. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe Cap, but it wasn’t the same seeing it in writing. She needed to hear it. And then she did, and her heart twinged a little at another great loss.

            “Yeah. He was killed by the power of using all the stones at once. The human body wasn’t capable of taking it, and he knew that. We’d established that when I used the stones,” he gestured to his ruined arm. Natasha instantly wondered if there could be a prosthetic made for him. Maybe the Wakandans would show monumental kindness once more.

            “I’m sorry I missed his funeral,” Natasha replied.

            Bruce actually laughed at that, “Oh, I don’t think anybody will blame you for that.” He considered for a moment before saying, “Clint and Wanda are at the Barton farm. They actually flew back earlier this morning. You know if you wanted to go there first, I’m sure Fury, Hill, or Carol would be able to make that happen.

            That got Natasha’s attention. “Fury? He’s here?”

            “I am.” Natasha’s head snapped at the sound of a voice she’d come to miss so very much.

            And there he was, leaning against the side of the cabin. Carol was there too actually; speaking of both devils seemed to summon them. They had clearly been talking. “Barton said you died,” Fury said as bluntly as he possibly could.

            He couldn’t fool Natasha though. She learned to read him a long time ago, and she could tell he was immensely relieved to see her. “I did.”

            “Captain America died on Vormir to bring you back didn’t he? He’d been thinking about it for long enough. I’m just glad it worked, because I think he was gonna die there no matter who tried to talk him out of it. ” Carol asked in a softer voice than Natasha had ever heard from the flying Captain. Fury shared a look with Bruce that caused the green giant to retreat. With a gentle clap on Natasha’s shoulder, he returned to the woods where Sam and Bucky were.

            “Yeah,” Natasha whispered. She couldn’t bring herself to say more than that. She consulted the envelopes again, and was surprised that Steve had written one for Carol as well as Fury. She dutifully handed them to their recipients.

            “Even in death, the guy has you delivering mail for him? Stubborn bastard.” Carol said with a grin.

            Natasha let out a peal of laughter. She couldn’t help it. Maybe it was the sorrow building in her chest coming out. Maybe it was the fact that Carol was clearly trying to cheer her up, in her own way. But it was something that put a hole right through the tank holding her emotions. A normal person would’ve burst into tears and started sobbing right then. But Natasha wasn’t normal. Her ability to chokehold her emotions had literally saved her life more times than she could count, starting when she was five years old. But Fury knew. He always knew what she was feeling around him.

            “I think it’d be a good idea if Carol dropped you at the Barton farm. I need to talk with King T’Challa and that spit-fire sister of his.” And with that, Fury had left the two women alone.

            Carol regarded Natasha with a look of surprising empathy. “C’mon, let’s get you to your family.” Natasha just nodded as Carol led them to what looked like a prototype for the quinjets. “It’s a quadjet. The only one of its kind; capable of space travel. But we won’t be doing that today.”

 

            Take-off was a blur. To her embarrassment, Natasha fell asleep in minutes. When she awoke, some time later, Natasha said, “You knew old man Steve.” It wasn’t a question.

            Carol turned to regard Natasha with curiosity. Natasha pulled out the letter Steve wrote to her, and handed it to Carol. “Yeah, I knew him. I had so many arguments with him about what went down in Wakanda. I kept trying to tell him that I could’ve made the difference there. But he insisted everything stay the same.”

            “Did you know Tony was going to die?” Natasha asked. She wasn’t angry, just curious. While she considered Tony her friend, his loss wasn’t an overwhelming emotional one for her. He had treated her too poorly for her to deeply mourn the man himself; mourning his daughter’s loss, Pepper’s loss, maybe even humanity’s technological loss, sure. But Tony Stark was not in her good books for at least eight years.

            “Yes. I got Steve drunk once and interrogated him about it,” Carol confessed easily.

            “I thought he couldn’t get drunk?” Natasha asked.

            “You forget I’m half-alien. There are a bunch of more potent liquor options in the galaxies more than capable of catering to an ultra-high metabolism like mine, or his.”

            “That must’ve been a hard secret to carry,” Natasha said.

            Carol shook her head, “No heavier than some of the other secrets I’ve been saddled with over the decades.”

            Natasha considered that but didn’t reply. “So you and Steve were in-laws? That must’ve been interesting.”

            Carol laughed. It was in moments like this Natasha realised how human Carol sounded sometimes. It brought her down to earth a little for the spy. “Oh hell yeah. I’ll tell you all about it, if you really want to know; but later though. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of each other. But as for now, we’re coming up on the Barton farm.” And so they were. They touched down twenty meters from the house a couple minutes later.

           

 

           

      

 

           

Chapter Text

 

            CHAPTER 6: Sad Wanda

            Wanda Maximoff had found herself at the Barton farm in the fortnight since Stark’s funeral. It was all just too much. From her perspective, she’d lost Vision, and then less than an hour later, she had lost Natasha. The Russian Avenger was the only one who really understood her. None of the others understood what it was like to have been at war since childhood. But Natasha did, she held Wanda after losing Pietro. She listened when Wanda told her about when she couldn’t sleep properly after Stark’s new military friends had put a collar on her when she was in the Raft. They did that to her with a smile on their faces, and Stark just stood there and watched.

            Was all that really so long ago? Wanda wondered to herself as she caught herself pondering the state of things again.

            Clint looked older. It’s been five years, six really, since she’d seen him. His eyes were colder, in the moments the kids weren’t in the room. But there were lines in his face that didn't used to be there.

            He didn’t talk much about what he had become after their death, but Wanda knew. She could see his dreams when he slept, and they were so very sad. She saw his victims. But what bothered her most is when she saw how Natasha died. She didn’t mean to pry, hell; she’d give anything not to have seen Natasha’s death. But her powers had only grown, and with Natasha’s…end…she wasn’t in a great mental space to wrangle them when she slept.

 

            And now Wanda herself had nightmares of that cliff top with the floating red skeleton wreathed in shadow, the purple sky, and eternal solar eclipse. But what haunted her even when she woke up was the image of Natasha’s corpse splayed out at the bottom; blood and brains in a macabre halo drenching her crimson hair.

            Wanda shook herself out of her darker thoughts and turned her attention to the task at hand: signing up for online classes. Laura had found her a nice university extension program from Los Angeles. Wanda had mentioned her interest in writing…to Clint, years ago, after the mess with Ultron. He remembered. Wanda had tried painting her grief, but didn’t have the geometric eye for it. Perhaps that was ironic, given her powers played with physics so casually. Similarly, her talent for music was negligible, unlike young Nathaniel who was already showing promise with the piano.

            One of the reasons that Laura Barton had recommended taking classes was that Wanda still lacked an education. When Wanda had complained that it cost serious money, Laura pointed out that S.H.I.E.L.D. had not been stingy over the years, and even with three children, they were not overly concerned with providing their children an education; granted, if they weren’t incompetent.

            One of the first things that Natasha had ensured Wanda did after joining the Avengers was to study for and pass her GED test. She was still a minor when she joined the team, and Natasha was insistent on a basic level of education. When Steve tried to argue with her, the Russian pointed out that even the current day armed forces rarely accepted anybody without a high school diploma or equivalent.

            As it turned out, Wanda had a talent for writing; poetry was decent, essays…less so, but her skill was in story telling. Even if the stories that Wanda had to tell were dark ones.

            With a sigh, Wanda closed the laptop. She still had a week to choose her classes, and she could feel herself getting drowsy again. Maybe she should’ve taken a shower today, which tended to keep her awake for longer. She wasn’t sure if it was the recovery from overextending her powers against Thanos and his armies, or her steadily deepening depression. She didn’t particularly care. But as she got up to return to the office they’d retrofitted as a makeshift bedroom for her upstairs, she passed by the window.

            There was a large aerial vehicle touching down on the lawn. The side of the vehicle was painted. Judging from the wear and tear, it was an old paint job, maybe as old as her, even. It said ‘Avenger’ in military block letters. She waited for someone to come out, but nobody did for a couple minutes.

            With a shrug, she changed directions; instead of going upstairs for what was becoming a daily depression nap, she opened the door and stepped outside. The autumn air was crisp as it swept across the Barton farm; making the trees moan and the grass swish.

            She stood before the quadjet as the ramp started to lower in front of her. She heard a confident but gentle voice say, “Brace yourself, they’re hurting worse than you right now.”

            Wanda’s head quirked in abject confusion as she heard the reply, because…that couldn’t be possible could it?

            “Know that from experience?” a painfully familiar voice asked with a vulnerability Wanda had never attributed to its speaker. It couldn’t be…could it?

            The voice her logic brain didn’t reject out of hand spoke again in a sombre tone, “There was never a definite permanence about their deaths. You know it, I know it. Even after we lost the Stones, it didn’t quite feel real to you did it?” the more confident speaker paused for a reaction Wanda couldn’t see. “I thought so. You’re not the only dead soldier to come marching home to the people who love you. Trust me, they had it worse. Chin up, tissues ready; it looks like your mini-me is already here.” Carol. That was Captain Marvel’s voice, Wanda belatedly realised.

            The ramp lowered fully, and Wanda finally saw what her ears alone refused to confirm: Natasha Romanov was the second voice. Wanda didn’t even feel the tears making their way down her face as her eyes widened in more emotions than she cared to count.

            “Hey there Wanda, long time no see,” Natasha breathed with a trembling voice as she took in the sight of her sobbing protégé.

Chapter Text

 

CHAPTER 7: Best Friends

            “I don’t know if I’m ready,” Natasha whispers. She found herself slumped against the wall, trying to control her breathing. “It’s silly, I know. But I’ve never been this nervous in my life. It’s been five years Carol.” Carol had never seen the redheaded avenger so fragile before.

            Natasha took in a shuddering breath. And to her surprise, Carol sat down next to her. Carol had changed during the fly over. Natasha belatedly realised that had she woken up at a certain point earlier, she would’ve seen Carol changing. This though did not actually help calm her down.

            Carol’s Kree Starforce suit was hanging over the back of the pilot’s chair. On one of the other chairs was a neatly folded set of fresh clothes Natasha hadn’t noticed before. “You look so surprised,” Carol said with a chuckle. “I don’t wear that thing all the time you know. It smells gross after a fight.”

            Natasha cracked a smile at that. “You’re looking formal though.”

            Carol glanced down at her smart black blazer and button up shirt. Curiously, the sleeves of both were noticeably too long; just by couple inches.

            She shared a short look with Natasha before unbuttoning the collared shirt. Underneath that was a white shirt that had hot pink stylized letters across it in hot pink ‘Ask me about my feminist agenda!’. Natasha failed to contain a snort of laughter. “Really?”

            Carol shrugged before saying, “Don’t tell anyone, but I stole this ensemble. I slept in the day of the funeral and didn’t have anything to wear. It’s just one of those things that never mattered in space, and it just kinda went over my head that maybe wearing my armour to a funeral among allies in America isn’t really something ‘civilized people’ do.” Carol said, using air quotes.

            “Did you raid some hipster store?” Natasha asked with a grin.

            “Nah, my daughter’s dresser for this shirt. And my best friend’s closet for the rest; she’s taller than me,” Carol added as she unbuttoned the cuffs so that they flared out over her outstretched hand.

            ‘Carol’s best friend?’ Natasha wondered. She remembered what Steve had said in the letter, that she’d been involved with her friend. “Your girlfriend?” Natasha asked softly.

            Carol’s eyes widened before she let out a laugh, “Well, you wouldn’t be the first to say that.” Natasha suddenly felt embarrassed for trusting Captain America’s gaydar all of a sudden. Carol noticed the change in Natasha’s features before adding. “We used to be. Before all this happened,” Carol made her hand casually flicker with godly powers, “And we tried after I left to ah, attempt to redeem myself. You know, resettle the Skrulls in a safe quadrant of space. But it didn’t really work out.” Carol’s expression had changed from a smile to something a little more pensive. It wasn’t sombre or dire, just more thoughtful.

            “My memories had been tampered with you see, so when I came back to Earth after six years being the tip of the spear for the Kree’s special forces, I came back a stranger. An awesome stranger, but I wasn’t the Carol Danvers that Maria and Monica had lost. Maria’s the friend and Monica’s our daughter,” Carol quickly clarified. Natasha just nodded. “I started to come back to Earth more frequently when Monica was a teenager, took on a more active role in her life. But things…” Carol took a breath, “Things were never as they were for Maria and I, romantically. We tried, and there was certainly a spark in those early days after my return, but the perpetual long-distance thing wasn’t good for either of us.”

            “I’m sorry,” Natasha said. What else was there to say?

            Carol turned to notice Natasha’s frown, “Oh, this doesn’t have some tragic ending or something. Maria eventually met the love of her life, a flight attendant hilariously enough from Ireland named Katie. And I couldn’t be happier for them.” Natasha couldn’t help but roll her eyes at Carol. The pilot smiled and shook her head, “And no, not in the ‘suffering in silence but I’m pining forever’ kind of happy, but genuinely. I was Maria’s Maid of Honour when they got married legally.

            Maria and I grew as people. And while there’s nobody else I trust as much as her, except Monica, we just aren’t the right people for each other in that way anymore. But our evolving relationship status never made me any less Monica’s second mother, in either of their eyes.” Carol’s eyes shined with pride.

            Natasha scrutinized Carol during this entire little backstory telling interlude. Carol really was telling the truth. “So your best friend’s married? What about you?” Natasha asked clearly. She wasn’t coming onto Carol, or implying anything, really. But even Natasha couldn’t stop the slightest tinge of a blush in her cheeks sitting next to this goddess while discussing such human-like things like relationship statuses.

            Carol shrugged. “Single. I mean sure, I fuck. When the moment presents itself, but a relationship has been a virtual impossibility considering what I do with my life.”

            Natasha blamed the really emotionally draining past several days (from her time-warped perspective) for her inability to regulate her physical reactions to Carol’s words and proximity. Carol looked at her because of her silence, which didn’t help Natasha’s reddening face. Carol’s lip twitched in something that was between a smirk and a smug grin before she schooled her expression. “Now isn’t one of those moments,” Carol leaned in to whisper in Natasha’s ear, sending the spy’s blush down her neck to her collarbone. Carol lightly tapped Natasha’s shoulder and rose to her feet.

            “You should change. You’ve been wearing that black spy suit of yours too long. I asked Fury for your sizes and paid for your clothes.” Carol gestured to the clothes sitting in a folded pile on the one of the passenger seats. “I won’t look,” Carol had the gal to wink before promptly turning around.

            Natasha dressed quickly: faded blue jeans, mercifully plain top, and a blazer-styled leather jacket with a hoodie lining. “Oh, I had this lying around too,” Carol, quipped once Natasha had indicated she was done. The tall blonde pulled an old baseball cap from one of the compartments above the passenger seats and without ceremony plopped it on Natasha’s head. It was an old S.H.I.E.L.D. hat. Natasha rolled her eyes and handed the cap back to Carol, who was grinning.

            “Sorry, but I don’t wear shitty hats unless I’m undercover, and that,” Natasha emphasized, pointing at the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo, “is not covert at all.”

            Natasha was not prepared for Carol’s full-bellied laugh. She just collapsed in laughter, and Natasha realised that Carol had this involuntary little snort when she laughed hard enough.

            “I wish I caught that on line on camera,” Carol said. “It’s an old inside joke I had with Fury, and you totally just took my side.”

            Natasha rolled her eyes and walked over to the ramp. When Carol hit the release mechanism is when the spy really remembered whom they were about to see. She put a hand on the wall to stabilize herself as her breathing kicked up.

            “Whoa there, it’s gonna be all right,” Carol said, all humour gone. Her voice was kind, but firm. She really believed it, and it showed. “Brace yourself, they’re hurting worse than you right now.”

            Natasha looked up at Carol with lost eyes, “Know that from experience?” Natasha returned in a soft voice. Carol nodded, placing both her hands on Natasha’s shoulders in a decidedly comforting gesture.

            “There was never a definite permanence about their deaths. You know it; I know it. Even after we lost the Stones, it didn’t quite feel real to you did it?” Carol said softly. Natasha considered briefly, but made a non-committal shrug. Carol smiled, “I thought so. You’re not the only dead soldier to come marching home to the people who love you. Trust me, they had it worse. Chin up, tissues ready, it looks like your mini-me is already here,” and she was.

            Wanda was standing there in sweatpants and a t-shirt, looking very much not herself. But Natasha saw the young woman’s eyes, wide with wonder and breathed, “Hey there Wanda, long time no see.”

            Wanda burst into sobs, and Natasha sprinted down the ramp. She lifted the girl in a crushing hug and spun them around once before letting herself break a little, crying into Wanda’s hair.

           

Chapter Text

 

CHAPTER 8: Nerves

            The tears came fast and heavy as the two women hugged. Carol stood back and smiled. Some people might feel uncomfortable watching such a personal moment, even if it was entirely platonic. Not Carol though. If there were any interaction she prized above all other, it would be reunions like this: when zero hope and grief become the opposite.

            They stood there for a solid two minutes toddling back and forth in each other’s arms, just crying. “How are you here?” Wanda murmured into Natasha’s shoulder before pulling back to make sure this wasn’t some grief-fuelled hallucination.

            Natasha’s expression dimmed, “Are Laura, the kids, and Clint here right now?”

            Wanda nods, “They’re out in the field behind the barn. They may have seen the plane, but it was surprisingly quiet, so they may not have heard it.”

            Natasha nods again before looking to Carol, then back to Wanda; “I think I’d better just explain it once. It’s not exactly a happy story,”

            “You’re back with us,” Wanda states in a trembling but fierce declaration. “Yes? This isn’t a dream?”

            “Would I be here in one of your dreams?” Carol smirked from the hold of the modified quadjet. Natasha shot her an annoyed look. Carol gave her a Gaelic shrug as she positively strolled down the ramp two where the scarlet-themed pair was standing on the grass. She proceeded to pull the younger woman into a quick hug as well. “I never met you before the battle, but I was told you made Thanos shit himself, and you will always be in my good books for that,” Carol said with a savage gleam in her eye.

            Wanda was suddenly shy. After all, the blonde had single handedly torn Thanos’ ship apart, in seconds. Carol Danvers was a hero to Wanda; especially since in blowing up the ship, and preventing Thanos from making the snap, she had quite literally saved the universe.

            “Don’t sweat it kid, I’m gonna go inside, maybe wrangle the other Bartons first though,” Carol said as she walked past them. But then she turned around and looked at Natasha, “How do you want to do this? You walk into the room with them sitting down? Have them walk into the room with you waiting for them? Or run across the meadow over there and meet each other halfway like we’re in a romantic movie or something?” Carol smirked with the last one, but it didn’t make her question any less serious. Coming out as well…alive was an important moment in Natasha’s life going forward, and Carol wanted the best possible scenario.

            Natasha thought for a minute before replying, “If you can go get them in the house first, that would be nice. I think. Yeah, I’ll walk in with Wanda so they know it’s legit.”

            “Are you saying I’m illegit?” Carol put her hand over her heart in exaggerated mock offence. Carol let out a small laugh and flew over to herd the Bartons into the house.

            “That’s not a word,” Natasha muttered pointlessly as Carol was already probably talking to the Bartons.

            Wanda looked to where Carol had disappeared over the barn and then back to Natasha with an eyebrow raised. Pointing between the two, Wanda asked, “Did I miss something when I was dead?”

            Natasha huffed and replied, “No. Carol was off-planet for most of those five years. She said she had ‘bigger and more dangerous’ problems than what we dealt with on Earth. At least, she led the Avengers to believe she was off planet for most of that time, I recently got some information indicating otherwise.” Wanda continued to stare at Natasha, and Natasha raised her eyebrows, “It was a long five years, you missed a lot. Most of it was bad. Was there something in particular you were interested in?”

            Wanda wasn’t sure if Natasha was being intentionally dense, or lying to her outright about Carol’s obvious flirtations, but either way, there was something much more important to do right now.

            “Hey Wanda, want to come back inside?” Carol boomed from the house.

            Wanda put her arm around Natasha as they walked towards the house. “Wanda, I’m so happy you’re back. If tried to revers the Decimation and then failed, I don’t know what I would’ve done,” Natasha says softly.

            “Hey, you did it. You saved us. Nobody should make you think your contribution was anything less than Stark’s, anything less than critical. Our victory stood on the back of your sacrifice.”

            “Stark had a daughter though,” Natasha replied forlornly.

            Wanda nodded slowly, then stopped them both before looking into her mentor’s eyes and replied softly, “Why did you do it?”

            “What?”

            “Why did you jump off that cliff, Clint told us what happened, Natasha”

            “I…I…,” Natasha tried to form her exact thoughts but for some reason was struggling.

            “Did you do it to die? Because you thought you had to redeem yourself for acts you committed decades ago?”

            “Well, I–,”

            “Why did you jump? Was it because you wanted to die? Was that it Natasha?” Wanda’s eyes were intense, just a flicker of red overtaking her normal greens.

            “I jumped because of you! And Lila, and Cooper, Nathan, and Laura! I did it because I love you, and I NEEDED to remake a world that you existed in.” Natasha nearly shouted back. She belatedly noticed Wanda’s small knowing smile, the red in her eyes dissipating instantly.

            “Exactly. Because you love us,” Wanda said as she brought Natasha into another hug; Natasha was never going to take these hugs for granted again. “And it’s for that reason that Stark’s sacrifice wasn’t any greater than yours.”

            Natasha nodded curtly and murmured a muffled “Thank you,” into the taller girl’s hair. “I needed this little talk,” she continued as she pulled away. She slowly reached down and retrieved one of the letters that were now folded into a holster. “This is from Steve,” Natasha said as she handed it gingerly to Wanda.

                  For the first time, Wanda seemed to realise that Natasha was carrying the Shield on her back. Wanda closed her eyes and read Natasha’s emotions. Grief. Because Steve was gone. He was gone, so that Natasha could have this reunion. “He went to Vormir. He traded his life for mine; I’m alive because he’s dead.” Natasha whispered in a quiet horrified tone. Natasha didn’t think she’d ever really be over it.

            “We should go inside,” Wanda finally said, brushing a tear off her cheek. “He made the right choice, Natasha.” Wanda allowed a small smile as she reached out to open the door to the main house.

Chapter Text

 

 

CHAPTER 9: Carol and the Bartons

            “Carol!” the three-year-old, Nate, chirped as he waddled as fast as he could to the slightly glowing lady who just descended from the sky. He didn’t make it far before his foot connected with a divot in the ground and he face-planted.

            Carol crossed the distance and lightly lifted up the little boy, whose lip was wobbling in an attempt not to burst into tears. Carol gave him a blinding smile and booped him on the nose, which seemed to be the magic remedy to halting his meltdown in its tracks. “Slow down there Speedy, learn to walk before you sprint, okay?” Carol was really trying her best not to burst out laughing. While she may adore children, they were still infinite wells of hilarious mishaps.

            “Captain,” Clint saluted her with a small grin as he walked up to them, followed by Laura, Lila, and Cooper. “Are you here for Wanda? She’s back in the house, probably skiving off her algebra coursework,” his casual admonishment of Wanda’s study habits brought a grin to Carol’s face.

            “Everyone knows the high school maths are the worst Hawkeye, it was a miracle I even graduated high school,” Carol replied.

            Clint rolled his eyes; there was no way an engineer and pilot who could casually use Stark’s tech like she’d been around it her whole life was also someone who struggled that badly. “You sure about that Carol,” Laura replied. Carol turned to Laura Barton and pasted the little boy in her arms to his mother.

            “Wanda strikes me as more of a poet, if we’re being honest,” Carol said with a smile. Clint raised his eyebrows at that, but didn’t really offer any further comment. “But no, I didn’t come here for her. Or…it’s a little more complicated that that,” Carol trailed off as she thought about how to explain things. Actually, I only need them in the house, Natasha’s in a better position to explain…things.

            “Is everything alright?” Laura asked as she put a hand on her daughter’s shoulder.

            Carol took this moment to retrieve the bow lying on the table next to their hot dogs; one of which inexplicably had mayo on it. Who dares do desecrate the holiness of the hot dog with mayonnaise? Even the Asgardians aren’t that bad. Carol’s mind wandered for a moment before knocking an arrow, aiming at the well-worn target on the tree. She missed. “Well, can’t be perfect at everything,” Clint teased.

            Carol shrugged and handed him the bow as she walked past him. “Let’s go inside, there’s something we all need to talk about,” instead of indulging the deluge of alarmed looks and questions at the tips of several lips, she didn’t turn back.

            “Dad, what’s happening?” Lila asked as she skipped to keep pace with him.

            “Don’t know, Hawkeye, but Carol didn’t seem too concerned so I don’t think it’s anything bad,” he ruffles her hair a little before taking Nate from his wife. “And you! You remember Carol? You met her like two weeks ago, once.”

            That question was a little long for the toddler to follow, but he said, “Carol pretty and bright,” and the rest of the Bartons burst into laughter.

            “Wow, he’s so got a crush on Captain Danvers,” Cooper laughs.

            Lila smacks his arm, “And you don’t? Mister ‘can I have a photo of her to put on my wall’?”

            That puts Cooper in his place, pinkness traveling up his neck.

            A newly freed Laura pokes her daughter in the shoulder to get her attention. Laura raises an eyebrow at her teenage daughter. “Stones and glass houses much?”

            Laura rolled her eyes. “She’s the strongest avenger! Of course I look up to her.”

            Clint just rolled his eyes. He was glad his family was happy. He really was, but he couldn’t help but resent Carol a little bit for stepping into Nat’s shoes. Even if it was just a little.

            Once they got inside, they saw Carol had unceremoniously raided the fridge. No shame, that one. “Thanks Mrs. Barton,” Carol said through a mouthful of leftover pasta Bolognese.

            “Seriously Carol, we’ve been over this, call me Laura.”

            Carol walked over to the front door, opposite to the one they came in from and hollered, “Hey Wanda, want to come back inside?” When she walked back into the room with the Bartons, she noticed Clint had light in his eyes again; probably not as bright as before Thanos. But he was visibly better than he had been during the depths of violence she found him in years ago during the dark years.

            “Hey Clint, can I talk to you alone for a minute?” Carol said. The earlier mirth was all but gone.

            “Yeah,” Clint said, slightly confused, but not quite concerned yet. “Here you go, Nate. Be nice for Big Sis.” He handed the squirming toddler to Lila as he got up to join Carol. “Wanna take this upstairs?” He asked. At Carol’s nod, they went up to his room.

            “Are you going to tell me why you’ve suddenly dropped by my farm?” Clint asked with an almost resigned tone. “Did Fury tell you to check up on me? Make sure I’m not the a monster anymore?” His tone became a little darker, but it wasn’t malevolent.

            Carol put a hand on his shoulder, and looked up slightly into his eyes, “I don’t think you were ever a monster, Barton. And no, Fury didn’t ask me to come here to check on you.”

            She didn’t immediately say anything else before he turned to look out the back window and replied, “I never thanked you, properly. For not killing me, when you found me three years ago.”

            Carol gave him a weary look and said, “I don’t have the same moral hang-ups about killing that the other Avengers do. As long as you didn’t hunt down good folk, you had nothing to fear from me. You, Natasha, Nebula, Bucky, and myself were made from sterner stuff. Well, darker stuff, really.” At Natasha’s mention, Clint flinches. It was impossible to miss.

            But Carol took his silence as an opportunity to continue. “Do you have any idea how many personnel it takes to fly a ship like Thanos’? The Sanctuary II was at least two miles long, which means that was a crew of at least 3,000 people. And I killed every single one of them without consequence. It’s not the first time I’ve killed a whole ship that big either. Look, when Natasha asked a favour for me to hunt you down all those years ago, she wasn’t asking me to kill you, dummy. She wanted to know if you were okay, and if you were ready to be brought back into the fold. You were absolutely fucking not. So I let you be.”

            Clint looked at the woman in front of him. When she destroyed Thanos’ ship, he’d felt so relieved. He never thought about the fact that Carol would always be counting how many lives she took, even when violence was impossible to avoid.

“Did you bring me up here to see if I’m okay again?” Clint asked. His tone was more accommodating than before.

            “I brought you up here to tell you that Steve Rogers returned the Stones to their timelines. But you’ll never see him again because he took a detour. He went back to the 40’s to live out the rest of his life with Peggy Carter.”

            Clint was shocked for a moment, but he allowed himself a smile, “He must’ve died a happy man, surrounded by grandkids then huh? Damn, I’m happy he got that, he deserves–deserved it.” He had a slight watering in the eye, though he just brushed it away.

            Carol could hear the shocked gasps below as the door opened and surely Wanda and Natasha entered the house. So she decided to be as blunt as possible, “Steve lived until last week, haggard and old, and a widower, though I’m definitely going to introduce his spawn to y’all.” Carol said with a genuine smile.

            But it was time to get to the point at last, and Carol knew it. She looked Clint in the eyes and stated, “He took the Soul Stone back last, Clint; to the Red Skull on that purple cliff. The reason he died on Vormir, alone? Well…he certainly found a way to make his sacrifice worthwhile,” Carol smiled as the sounds of sobbing could be heard from downstairs. “She’s standing downstairs if you wanna say hi.”

            Clint connected the dots, was out of the room, and sprinting down the stairs before Carol got to ‘hi’.

            Carol followed him at a leisurely pace.

Chapter Text

 

CHAPTER 10: Welcome Home

            Carol stood midway down the stairs, respectfully out of the way, as she watched this family knit back together.

            “Nat?”

            Natasha tried to play it cool, for some reason, and raised an arm in greeting. Lila was wrapped around her shoulders with Cooper around her waist. Laura had seemingly hugged her first because she was a couple steps away from the Natasha and covering her mouth as tears coursed down her cheeks.

            “Hey,” Natasha began before Clint crossed the room and pulled her into a long hug. “I’m okay, I’m alive.”

            Clint didn’t let go for a good couple minutes. “Don’t…don’t ever do that again,” Clint pleades. “I can’t…I can’t live with you dying for me. I tried, and I can’t.”

            Natasha sighs and releases him. “I won’t die for you again, okay? I’ll let you take the next one,” there’s a slight smile playing at her lips.

            Clint nods and steps back. There’s an awkward silence, because what do two spies say after that?

            “Hey, on the flip side, you guys can compare notes about what being dead feels like?” Carol speaks out from her perch on the stairs. She’s immediately leveled with several severe looks, and Wanda casually bewitches a lemon from one of the fruit bowls on the counter to fly at her face. Carol casually vaporizes it, and says, “Okay, lesson learned. No fun allowed.” Wanda levitated another before Carol replies, “Jesus, fine. I give.”

            Carol raises both her hands in a mock surrendering gesture. The kids crack up. Carol gauges the faces around her, and her dumb joke did exactly what she wanted it to. “Well, do you want to start with the exposition, or would you like me to do that?” Carol asked Natasha.

            “I’ll do it,” the redhead said as she slumped onto the couch; she was instantly pounced on by all three kids, including the full-fledged teenager. Chuckling at their childish exuberance, Natasha pushed them around so they weren’t all on her lap, but contact was maintained with all of them. This was going to be a long talk. Looking at Clint, she starts with, “How much did you tell them about Vormir?”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 11: Resurrection Stories

            How they all got through the breakdown of what exactly happened on Vormir, Wanda didn’t know. Carol was the only person in the house who wasn’t an inconsolable mess. Well, Natasha wasn’t inconsolable per-say, but she was certainly not dry-eyed. It was as if all or most of the walls the Russian put up to protect her from her emotions were beginning to truly come down. There was a part of Wanda that wondered if that had more than simply dying to with it.

            Perhaps the Soul Stone had affected her? Seriously, nobody knew what the Soul Stone even did. Obviously, the Tesseract had demonstrable powers. The Mind Stone could control people and in the forehead of her dead boyfriend shoot beams of energy reminiscent of Stark’s pulsar weapons; the Reality Stone was self-explanatory, as were Time, and Power.

            Wanda decided to ask Natasha about it later. Carol had been quite anticipatory and made sure they all had tissues and had hastily cobbled together a small pot of Mexican styled hot chocolate for everyone. She brushed off their surprise by saying it was something her daughter couldn’t get enough of when they were stationed near San Diego in the 1980’s.

            It didn’t escape Wanda’s notice that the adults added a liberal dose of tequila to theirs, taking their cue from Carol. Wanda didn’t though, not when Laura shot her a reproachful look when she tried.

            She wasn’t old enough; not in America at least…savages, she thought with annoyance. However, when Clint was talking about waking up in that vast shallow water, and everyone was distracted, Carol surreptitiously offered to switch identical mugs. Natasha acknowledged the exchange with an ever so subtle toast and a cheeky wink in Wanda and Carol’s direction.

            Wanda flashed Carol a quick grin in thanks. Seriously, nobody should have to listen to this horror story without something to take the edge off, Wanda thought as she savoured the burn of the whiskey infused chocolate going down her throat. Well, she savoured the third sip. The first one nearly made her spit it out in surprise, and the second one wasn’t that much easier.

            To cover Wanda’s near-mishap, Carol spoke up, “Did you guys know that the Red Skull lead Hydra in the 1940’s?”

            “Those bad guys who crashed those ships in DC a few years ago?” Lila spoke up.

            Carol raised an eyebrow at Clint who gave her a nod, “Yeah, those guys. But like, original Nazis.”

            “He said that he was there because the Tesseract sent him there,” Natasha said.

            “Yep. It turns out that Fury may have been right to worry about touching the thing with his bare hands,” Carol said, though mostly to herself.

            “I saw him touch it,” Clint said.

            “Wait, really?” Carol asked, totally not expecting theat.

            “For less than a second when he picked it up off the floor and put in in a briefcase. Then I shot him in the chest,” Clint balked at the look that had immediately darkened Carol’s face, “Thor’s brother was using the Mind Stone to enslave me at the time,” Clint admitted.

            Carol’s dark expression was instantly replaced with an empathetic one. “You have my sympathy Barton. Having your head messed with is the worst,” Carol finished before standing up to refill hers, Natasha’s and Wanda’s mugs from the generous portion of hot chocolate she had made. It really was lucky that the Bartons had a well-stocked and sweet tooth friendly pantry.

            “I don’t know, isn’t dying the worst?” Laura asked. She was a lightweight, as it turned out. Or maybe she overestimated herself when she switched hers and her husband’s mugs; Clint don’t play around with alcohol.

            Carol shrugged as she gently ladled a third scoop into Natasha’s mug and walked back to the group settled in a rough circle among the couch and stools, “Imagine if you came across your children and you spouse, but didn’t have any idea who they were to you.” Carol’s eyes dimmed a little before looking back at Laura.

            Laura immediately looked stricken. It was clear Carol’s hypothetical…was not a hypothetical for the Captain. But before Laura could muster an apology for casually drudging up terrible memories, Carol shrugged and muttered, “I’ve done both.” She didn’t elaborate as she handed Natasha and Wanda their mugs. Carol proceeded to plop down into her previous spot and pour a generous (horrifying) amount of tequila into her drink. She was taking a long pull from it when she realised everything was a little too quiet.

            “Carol?” Natasha asked with only a little horror in her tone.

            Carol looked up with a chocolate moustache adorning her top lip. “Natasha?” she replied with a little confusion.

            “What do mean when you say you did both? You died??” Wanda asked quietly.

            Carol internally berated herself. Dammit Carol, you just had to open you big fucking mouth again, didn’t you? “Um…you guys wanna hear about how Wanda wrecked Thanos?”

            “We’ve already heard about that from dad,” Cooper spoke up. Carol shot him an ‘et tu Cooper?’ look with narrowed eyes, but Laura was on her in an instant.

            “Nah ah, nope none of that.” Laura directed at Carol, who rolled her eyes and tried to look to Natasha for backup. Natasha did not help her here, she was just as curious as the rest.

            “Your attempt at deflection has failed spectacularly,” Clint pointed out casually as he removed the mug from his wife’s slack hands and traded her an hour-old glass of water that had been left sitting on the coffee table.

            Carol sighed and downed her mug unceremoniously. Laura involuntarily winced at the appalling manners.

           “You don’t have to talk about it, if you don’t want,” Lila spoke up to everyone’s surprise. “I know dad and Auntie Nat don’t tell us most of well, everything they do with the Avengers. Like, today is literally the only time we’ve heard everything and it took all of us,” she rapidly gestured to her brothers, her mom, and Wanda, “dying for them to spill anything real to us.” Laura, Clint, and Natasha looked at the young teen in a new light.

            Lila took a deep breath, having said everything previously in just one. “So if it’s too hard for you to talk about it, you don’t have to.”

            Carol held Lila’s gaze for a moment before she said, “You reminded me of my daughter just then. You’ve got some potent emotional intelligence kiddo. More than this lot,” Carol gestured around her with a wink, so Lila knew the Captain wasn’t totally dissing Lila’s whole family.

            Carol wasn’t particularly reluctant to talk about it from a position of trauma. She was just particularly annoyed with herself for accidentally making this conversation all about her.                “I’ve died twice, that I’m aware of,” Carol confessed plainly.

            “How…how is that possible?” Laura asked?

            Carol started with maybe a little too much snark, “Well, when your heart stops–,”

            “Carol,” Natasha said softly, surprisingly cutting off the older woman’s reflexive barb.

            Captain Marvel let out a long breath and started again. “When I got my powers, I died. My heart stopped, my brain died, and I was like that for at least 24 hours. When all the power of the Tesseract entered my body, and kind of made me like I am now…” Carol trailed off while trying to think how best to articulate the next bit.

            “You don’t have to tell us,” Wanda said quietly as she gently prodded Carol in the arm.

            “I started to, it wouldn’t do if I quit now,” Carol replied lightly.

            Carol took a deep breath and started again, “After I exploded the Tesseract engine that gave me these lightshow powers, an alien race called the Kree, the assholes who shot me down, took me back with them to Hala, their home world. Kree blood does funny things to humans…a single vial of it is capable of healing any wound. And when we got there, one of their elite soldiers gave me a bone marrow and blood transfusion. It brought me back from the dead, and while my brain healed almost perfectly, they used that opportunity to tamper with my memories, erasing my daughter, and my long-term girlfriend. But I eventually got those memories back, using another scarily complex alien machine to mine my subconscious.”

Carol tried to smile at the last part, but it turned out more like a grimace when she took into account everyone else in the room were wearing expressions in varying stages of horror, even Natasha. For a reason Carol wasn’t particularly ready to interrogate right then, it was Natasha’s wide eyes that cut her the most.

            Carol just decided to rip the Band-Aid off, “During the battle at the Avengers Compound in New York…Thanos killed me when he unleashed the full might of the Power Stone.”

            Natasha’s half-full mug slipped from her hand and shattered on the floor.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 12: Strong Together, Deadlier Alone 

            “WHAT?” Natasha didn’t shout, but she might as well have for how cleanly her question cut across the room.

            Carol ruffled her hair before replying, “The Power Stone is the single most destructive force in existence. Or…it was, until Rogers put back on the timeline and destroyed by ‘our’ Thanos, five years ago.”

            “But you died?” Wanda asked.

            “Spoiler alert, I’m right here,” Carol said while doing jazz hands. “I’m fine, now. But damn did I get outmanoeuvred there or what? Ironically, if he punched me with the Gauntlet, it would’ve been far less effective. It’s like this,” Carol said as she got up and moved to the kitchen. “Where are the knives again?”

            Wanda telekinetically opened the proper drawer.

            “It’s like this,” Carol started again, holding four knives in one fist, blades protruding from between her fingers. If I slashed you with this, it’d hurt. However, if I did this,” Carol removed two of the knives, “My cutting power is actually better, because of the pounds per square inch rule. There’s less pressure being diluted over two extra blades. But this is the strongest option,” Carol explained as she took another knife from her hand, leaving just the one blade protruding from between her ring finger and her middle finger. “The most cutting power is when you use a singular blade. With the Infinity Stones, it’s similar. It’s not an accident that the feats of power in combat were achieved using the Stones individually. Using them at once was only for the one magic wish, and carried a horrifying personal cost. I grilled Stark and Nebula for what must’ve been days about their fight with him on Titan. The moment where he all but won the fight, reducing their fighting number to just Dr. Strange and Stark, was when he used the Power Stone alone to shatter the moon in orbit, and rain down debris. That little purple pebble was LITERALLY as powerful as the Death Star,” Carol took a breath before continuing.

            “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I’m the strongest Avenger. Hell, as far as I know, I’m the most powerful being in the universe in terms of ‘baseline power set’; at least as far as I know. Granted, I’d definitely feel it if Banner decked me, or if you,” she pointed to Wanda, “blasted me, but if I returned the favour while meaning to kill, I would. Thor told me that when Thanos extracted the Tesseract from Loki’s possession, he used the Power Stone to torture him, nearly killing him; to force Loki to surrender the Stone in return for his brother’s life.

            The Mad Titan held it against his head, like this,” Carol put down the knives and gently put the back of her knuckles on Natasha’s temple. Natasha shivered involuntarily as Carol’s slender fingers, flickering with power, brushed beside her ear.

            “When Thanos tried to Snap our universe out of existence, I stopped him, but only just. I was able to overcome the power of the Stones, because they, like the knives, may seem stronger together, but really aren’t. I represent the power of the Cosmic Cube, and as such was able to carve a path through the Six’s blockade, so to speak. Maybe it’s not exactly like that, but that’s sure what it felt like.”

            Clint shifted in his seat, bringing toddler Nate into his lap while Carol continued her story, “I almost had him, seconds away, really. But I fucked up.” It was a testament to how engrossing Carol’s speech was, since nobody reprimanded her for dropping an ‘f’ bomb in front of impressionable children.

            “I forgot that the Stones could be used individually too. The part of the Gauntlet I was destroying was all that held the Power Stone secure.” Carol stopped for a moment and took a shaky breath. Wanda briefly squeezed the blonde’s hand in encouragement, Carol squeezed back, even as she resumed speaking to everyone, “So he picked the Power Stone out of its fractured fitting, and smashed it into me with its full power. I’m stating a fact when I say that whole planets have been ended by less output from that Stone, just ask Nebula and her crew. The Power Stone wrecked most of my rib cage, cleaved my sternum in two, and caused catastrophic damage to my lungs and heart. I died. It was only for a few minutes, but I remember it.”

            Carol abandoned all decorum, and walked up to the liquor cabinet, and to the shock of everyone present, fished out a fifth of vodka and poured an unholy ratio of it into her mug of hot chocolate. “I’m strong. But I’m not that strong. Like, I’ve literally absorbed the power of a binary star system, but the power stone is tied to the destructive forces of the Cosmos, it’s too focused. It’s on another level. By the time I awoke, the fight was over, my ribs were still broken, but my heart and lungs were back, thankfully. I think it was something like fifteen minutes between getting hit with all that purple light, and waking up, maybe? I’m still a little unclear on that; it took a while to walk back to the battlefield as well. But there you have it,” Carol finished with a mock bow.

            “Hey Carol, I think you skipped over the part where you came back to life. Are you sure you didn’t just y’know, pass out?” Clint asked blandly.

            “I know what it’s like to pass out. This wasn’t that. When I came to, my eyes were open, and one of T’challa’s people had just put her cape over my face. In respect, for a fallen soldier. I scared the shit outta her when I sat up.”

            “What started the reset then?” Natasha asked.

            Carol scrunched her eyebrows and nose in confusion and thought before realising the spy did in fact have a valid point. “Oh yeah. So, Kree blood can resurrect humans and has ridiculous healing properties, and that’s in small doses. I have a whole body full. It’s a quirk of genetics; ironic really, because the Kree don’t have a way to resurrect themselves, they’ve tried. So during the time I was dead, the blood in my veins was reconstructing my broken body. In addition to that, my powers derived from the Cosmic Cube, the Tesseract, helped me absorb the vast majority of the energy Thanos blasted me with. I’m sure that helped to a degree that I’m really not sure how to quantify. My cosmic powers also renders my body basically invincible in most cases, so that helped stop me from being disintegrated by the power stone. As long as I’m not totally disintegrated, I’m in a constant state of regeneration.”

            This time when Carol paused, Clint spoke up. “I saw it. From a distance, but it was pretty crazy. I didn’t actually see the initial hit, but there was a bright violet streak that flew past and created a ‘boom’ when it landed in the distance. You were cocooned in that violet light. At least, that’s what it looked like at high speed.” Clint locked eyes with Carol, who tilted her head.

            “Cocooned in purple energy? Really?” she asked. “I guess that makes sense. I lost consciousness there pretty quickly when I felt my chest cave in.” Carol finished her mug of hot chocolate.

            “You absorbed the Power Stone’s energy? Like when you did the same with the Tesseract?” Wanda asked for clarification.

            “Yeah,” Carol said as she settled back down on her stool. “I did. I think that if I took the same hit now as I did a couple weeks ago, I’d be able to walk it off much more casually, and that’s terrifying.”

            “Why?” Lila asks quietly.

            “Guess how old I am,” Carol said without humour. Natasha felt her stomach drop. Oh.

            “Twenty-five?” Cooper guessed immediately. Carol spared him a small smile.

            “It’s a trick question isn’t it?” Lila asked with a sceptical expression on her face.

            Carol nodded. “I was born in 1960, which makes me sixty-three. I’m old enough to be a grandmother. Hell, if Maggie and Monica decide to have kids, I will be a grandma.” Carol let that sink in for a moment before shaking her head of the image and continuing, “My point is that I don’t age anymore. I haven’t since 1989, when I was twenty-nine, almost thirty years old. And that’s me, potentially forever.”

            “Well, I mean, there’s always Stormbreaker,” Clint tried to joke.

            “I tried that,” Carol replied. Realising what she said she immediately clarified, “I just mean I tried to see if it could break my skin. It couldn’t. Thor was impressed, insisted we go out and drink a pint about it,” Carol chuckled a little darkly.

            “You’re immortal,” Wanda breathed. Carol’s jaw twitched, and nodded.

            “If the Power Stone couldn’t end me, I really think I might be,” Carol declared with a quiet certainty. ‘I’m wondering if it judged me, and liked what it found,’ Carol pondered to herself.

            There was quiet after that for a little while. Laura and Clint cleaned up the hot chocolate pot, and put the mugs in the dishwasher to be cleaned properly later. “Are you alright?” Natasha asked.

            Carol didn’t respond, she seemed to be lost down the rabbit hole of accepting the fact that she might not ever die a true death. She felt a hand against her cheek, looking up to meet Natasha’s questioning gaze. Carol let out a short gasp and said, “Yeah? Sorry, I was in the clouds for a moment there, did you say something?” Carol’s eyes were wide. She did not expect to see that soft look on Natasha’s face.

            Wanda was a few feet away, and spared a glance away from the children to see her mentors’ interaction. She suddenly felt a weak thrum of desire from them. Damn my psychic powers, she cursed to herself. She really didn’t like invading people’s privacy like that, even if it wasn’t exactly her fault for picking up on vibes with her perpetually functioning powers.

 

            “I asked if you were alright?” Natasha repeated with a small smirk. It looked like some of that spy swagger was back.

            “Yep. Just having an existential crisis, you know, totally normal Tuesday,” Carol shot back as she rose to her feet a little too quickly, breaking Natasha’s contact with her face. Carol promptly floated over to the kitchen and handed off her mug.

            She then noticed the pasta with Bolognese she had left on the counter from before Natasha made her entrance. There were just a few bites left, so she wolfed it down in seconds, much to the amusement of Wanda and the kids. Laura shot the Captain an ‘act your age, dammit,’ look, but Carol brushed it off and smoothly walked over to put the plate in the dishwasher.

            She turned around to face everyone with a genuine look of confusion, “What happens now?”

Chapter Text

 

CHAPTER 13: Moving On

            After that heavy discussion about Carol, the kids wanted to check out the ‘amazerballs’ plane that Carol and Natasha flew in on. With Laura herding the children, it left the four Avengers alone to talk. Carol had assured the parents that she had made sure the kids couldn’t get into any trouble on the quadjet because she had activated the biometric locks on the plane’s functions. Natasha decided directness was the best way. So, like with Carol, Natasha let Wanda read the letter Steve had left for her.

            “Steve is dead. I’m sorry, I just. I need to process that…and everything else.” Wanda said with a hoarse voice. Once she finished, she had tears tracking down her face.

            “Yeah, he really is,” Natasha said. Whether it was deliberate or not, Natasha’s arms were crossed in a self-hugging motion. It made her seem smaller, ashamed; at least that's what Carol thought as she looked on three younger Avengers. “I’m s–,”

            Both Wanda and Carol started to interrupt the spy, but it was Carol who continued through, “Don’t apologize,” Carol interrupted. “He spent decades knowing that he’d die trying to resurrect you. You can be sad, but your guilt is misplaced.” Carol wasn’t cruel in her tone, but she wasn’t exactly soft either. She was intense.

            Natasha opened her mouth to respond, but when met with Carol’s raised eyebrows, she decided better of it. She lowered her head and let out a sigh. “Now you have an idea how I felt, when I awoke with the Soul Stone in my hand,” Clint said softly.

            Natasha looked up at him and breathed, “It’s so horrible,”

            Wanda pulled Natasha into a hug and confessed, “I may be very much out of line, but I’m glad he did what he did.”

            Clint clapped Wanda on the shoulder and said, “Me too kid.”

            “He wrote me a letter?” Wanda asked in confusion, even as she held the envelope that Natasha handed her. “I understand giving one to you two,” she said, vaguely gesturing at Clint and Natasha, “But I’m just…”

            “Just what?” Natasha asked softly.

            “Me,” Wanda mumbled lamely. It wasn’t often that Wanda looked her age. When she was on the battlefield, or helping out around the house, or doing her course-work, she seemed to have an air of almost etherealness about her. She seemed mature beyond her years, and she was.

            But that was the thing; she wasn’t even twenty yet, and she’s fought in no less than four battles. Her eyes had long since lost that optimistic light most people her age had; or at least those who hadn’t been left over by the Decimation. One of them, firmly on Captain America’s side, one of them, where she had killed more opponents than anybody else on their side except maybe Thor, and one where she had very nearly murdered Thanos. Carol didn’t think she was the only ‘adult’ in the room that was secretly glad that it had not fallen to Wanda to slay the Titan. She didn’t need her hands filthy with that monster’s blood.

            “He talked about you a bit,” Carol said from behind the counter. She was working her way through the unlabelled miscellaneous leftovers in the Bartons’ fridge. If there was a drawback to her powers other than the immortality thing, it was her unceasing ravenous appetite.

            Carol was interested in the young woman who was just barely out of her teenage years. Old man Steve had always been soft when talking about her, mentoring her. He once said that she had saved over a hundred people from an explosion in Lagos, but in doing so unknowingly sentenced a dozen others to die. He always pointed out that he would’ve been the first of those potential casualties if she hadn’t saved him. But what haunted him about it weren’t the deaths of the civilians, which he had long since accepted as inevitable. Horrible? Yes, but unavoidable all the same.

            No, what stuck with Steve, decades after the last time he saw Wanda alive, was her inconsolable guilt. So when Carol saw her eyes widen in tears and surprise at being bequeathed with one of Steve Rogers’ final letters, the image of the girl Steve had built up in her head matched the real thing. “He used to talk about you,” Carol said. Wanda looked up at her in confusion. “He thought of you like family. I think the only reason he was really able to talk about you and the others, was that he knew in the end, that you’d be all right.”

            “Thank you,” Wanda said with a small smile.

            Turning to Natasha, Clint asked only half jokingly, “Are you the new Captain America?” “Since his new and improved shield is yours now?”

            Natasha didn’t even have to think about it, “I’m nobody’s captain.” There was a beat of silence before she realised how harsh that may have sounded. “I don’t know if I can even…if I…” she breathed out a long sigh before she confessed in a quiet voice, “I don’t know if I even want be an Avenger anymore.”

           

Chapter Text

 

CHAPTER 14: Evening on the Barton Farm

            Immediately after Natasha’s revelation the kids burst in, effectively silencing any response from the other Avengers. Natasha got up to hug each of them, surreptitiously brushing away any lingering wateriness in her eyes. She picked up Nathan and blew a raspberry against his tummy, eliciting a cascade of giggling from the toddler.

            “Are you guys alright? You look kinda bummed out,” Laura said as she took in the expressions of the Avengers other than Natasha.

            “We’re good,” Carol said as she gave Laura one of her trademark smirks. The housewife just leveled Carol with a look that said she clearly didn’t believe the blonde.

            “It’s alright Honey, Natasha’s just a little low,” Clint said as he got to his feet and pulled Laura into a hug.

            “Well, I suppose dying like she did would take a little while to process,” Laura mused to herself. “Never mind being resurrected. That’s strange, even for your team.”

            The day passed pretty quickly after that. Some time after a late sunset, Clint and Laura herded the kids to bed. Well, the younger two at least. Lila was in her room, though she was doubtlessly online or reading a book or something instead of falling asleep. The adults both came downstairs to bid goodnight to the other three Avengers. “Carol? Natasha? We made up the guest room for you two.”

            “I can sleep on the quadjet,” Carol was quick to interject.

            “You’ve lost this argument before, and you’ll lose it again, so let’s just skip to the end, shall we?” Clint chipped in before Carol could argue about how badass her Spartan sleeping arrangements on the quadjet were. ‘I’ve slept in the vacuum of space!’ was not the most convincing of comebacks to open hospitality, and Carol had indeed learned since her first stay here...mostly.

            Natasha spoke up, sensing Carol’s reflexive excuses about ‘not wanting to impose’ welling up. “Thanks guys, we’ll wind down in a bit.” And with that, the Bartons all went to bed, leaving the three women downstairs.

           

            Carol and Wanda busted out the chess set. Wanda was good, but not as good as Carol. “Ha! Three in a row!” Carol crowed, lightly punching the younger girl on the arm.

            Wanda rolled her eyes; she had lost by two moves. And despite Carol’s effusive victory, it was 80% relief, because damn, Wanda was learning fast. “You know if I used my powers, I’d stomp you in this game right,” Wanda stated bluntly before taking a sip of the tea Clint had prepared.

            “Yup. But that’s not the point Maximoff,” Carol replied.

            “Can I have a round?” Natasha asked.

            “Think you can handle all this Romanov?” Carol said with a smug grin.

            Natasha shrugged, “I guess we’ll see, won’t we Danvers?”

            Carol moved first. But it was a short game. A humiliatingly short game for Carol.

            Natasha calmly put the pieces back in their starting places while taking in Carol’s gobsmacked expression. “That’s how to play chess.”

            “How are you so good?” Wanda asked, also impressed.

            “I’m Russian,” Natasha stated as if it were obvious. She denied Carol’s demand for a rematch with a mirror of Carol’s earlier smug smile. “Sucks to suck, сука,” Natasha’s mirthful expression took the edge off the profanity, and Wanda bent over in laughter. From across the room, the Bartons watched the three’s interaction with soft looks.

            “I’ve never heard that laugh,” Laura whispered to Clint and Lila.

            “That’s cause we’ve never seen her happy before,” Lila replied frankly.

            Both parents shared a fond glance with each other over their daughter’s head. Lila was getting smarter.

            “So that’s how it’s gonna be? Alrighty then,” Carol matched Natasha’s expression. She looked to say something else, but a buzzing came from her jacket pocket. She visibly reigned in whatever comeback she had herself “Sorry ladies, it looks like you’ve been spared my amazing resurgence,” Carol boasted before walking off to answer her Nokia cell phone. Natasha snorted. “Hey Lieutenant Trouble, how’s the wife?” The back door closing muffled Carol’s laugh at ‘Lieutenant Trouble’s’ response.

            Wanda raised her eyes at the low-tech; even the Sokovian government ensured their war-torn country had better phones than that. “I’ve never seen you like this before,” Wanda said to Natasha as Carol let herself out the backdoor, screen door closing with a soft slam and a hasty ‘sorry!’ from the blonde.

            Natasha’s smile left her face, and became a thoughtful look. “Well, the last five years haven’t been a cake walk. This me? This is new I think. It’s not possible to have gone through the last five years and remain the same as I was. And then…” I committed suicide for a noble cause went unsaid. Natasha realised every time she walked into a room with people who knew her...that would always go unsaid. It would preface her every word. There was no escaping it. She was the woman who died to save the universe, but she also came back.

            Natasha thought about what Steve had put into the letter, about looking after Peter Parker. He idolized Tony. On the flight over to fight Captain America, in Germany, he wouldn’t shut up. He was such a fan boy, and he was a child. According to the census, he was an early high schooler when he fought then. And part of her, a large part of her, wanted to HATE Tony for bringing a child to a fight like that. The fact that Parker had been so obviously ideologically aligned with Steve just made it worse. Tony had lied to Parker about what they were doing, and told him that everything out of Steve’s mouth was a lie.

            Despite Tony’s deceit, he cared for the boy. That much was obvious. Natasha wouldn’t have handled things the same way Tony did in the intervening years, but his willingness to carefully look after him as he developed as a hero. Spiderman was a blessing for his section of New York, and looking further back, she could see that he had been an active crime-fighter months before he and Tony had even met.

            After the funeral, apparently he went back to school. A quick search told Natasha that around 70% of Parker’s classmates had also died in the Decimation, which was a little odd, but not unprecedented. After all, nothing was a simple coin flip. If it were, Clint would’ve had at least one child left after the Decimation.

            “Hey, Natasha? I think I lost you there a little,” Wanda murmured as Natasha’s mind went further down the path thinking about the lonely teen hero from Queens. “It’s alright if you want to retire, you know. This?” Wanda gestured around them at the house, the farm, the Peace of it all. “This is worth wanting too. Even if your version of it is much more ah, subtle, smaller.” Wanda said with a smile. She met Natasha’s eyes, and saw something there that she wasn’t quite sure what to make of.

            “Just thinking about what Steve asked me to do. He wanted me to look after the kid, Peter Parker.” Natasha said. It’s not that she was ignoring what Wanda had said about retiring, but she’d put that on the backburner while she took a few days to sort out her complex thoughts on the matter.

            “The spider guy?” Wanda asked, acknowledging Natasha’s deflection while not raising any protest. “I don’t think I’ve ever really met him. I saw him flying away with Mjolnir while holding the gauntlet during the last battle though. It looked hilarious if I’m being honest,” Wanda thought for a moment and said, “Yeah, it was an odd moment in the scheme of things.” A small smile grew on her face. Her smile died with Natasha’s next words.

            “I wish I was there,” Natasha replied softly.

            “Well I don’t,” Wanda shot back, “We all got extremely lucky Carol showed up to save us when she did. I don’t know the total number of dead people on our side, but it was around a hundred. If you were one of them?” Wanda shook her head of the possibility before saying, “Tony may have struck the final blow, but it was only that. I’m so fed up with the world’s perception being that he’s the only one who gave something that day.”

            “Wanda, he’s dead. You don’t need to be angry with him anymore. Let it go,” Natasha advises cautiously. Wanda looks a little lost for a moment before her jaw clenches and she announces that she’s going upstairs to bed.

            Natasha lets out a sigh. She wished that the younger girl would let go of her deep dislike of Tony, but also realised that Tony had hurt Wanda specifically in ways that he hadn’t hurt anybody else. And it wasn’t Natasha’s call when the right time was to let go of that anger, even if it hurt her to see Wanda holding such a grudge. Natasha also wished she was more tactful than to bring up that hurt look in Wanda’s eyes and force an earlier end to the night than what would’ve been natural.

            Carol stepped back in. She forgot about the screen door snapping back into place again with a louder than likable noise. “Fucking door. Every goddamn time,” Carol muttered as she put her archaic mobile phone back in her pocket. “You alright Natasha?”

            Natasha schooled her features and said, “Yeah, of course.”

            Carol just stared at her for a moment before saying, “As a non-subtle person, when I see your frown turned upside down like that, it’s a little freaky, and obviously dishonest. Trust me, Fury was great at that, but it never lessened the problems on his mind.”

            Natasha’s jaw twitched while she considered a variety of options. She eventually decided on saying, “You’re smarter than you look.” Nailed it, Natasha thought.

            Carol’s lips quirked into a smile at the juvenile barb from the Black Widow; “Oh, and how do I look, Romanov?” Carol walked up to Natasha with a raised eyebrow.

            Natasha’s reply was instant, even if it lacked any heat, “Like a lesbian jock.”

            Carol burst out into laughter as she ran an errant hand through her hair. “Fair enough. Touché.” Carol was standing right in front of Natasha now, looking down into her eyes even as the humour melted off Carol’s face, “Look, you know you don’t have to tell me, right? Like, I’ll listen to the stuff going on up there,” she lightly tapped Natasha’s forehead. “But I’ll never demand it. You don’t owe me that.”

            Natasha nodded as she repressed a variety of emotions from showing on her face in front of her friend. “Thanks Carol.”

            Carol brought the redhead in for a surprise hug, which Natasha felt she really should’ve seen coming. She was however glad that the blonde couldn’t see the heat visible on her face. “You know that Clint and Laura are making us share a room right?”

            Still in the hug, with her head resting on Carol’s shoulder, Natasha replied, “I’ll take the couch down here,”

            “And live that down tomorrow when Laura comes downstairs for her morning run? I don’t want to look like the asshole that couldn’t share. You know I’ll get chewed out for that shit. And they already shot down my sleeping on the quadjet plan.” Carol rationalized, not inaccurately.

            “You, scared of little old Laura Barton?” Natasha smirked as she finally stepped out of Carol’s firm arms.

            “You’re fucking right I am. She reminds me too much of Maria, my Maria, not Hill. And Maria Rambeau, much like Laura Barton, is not somebody to slight lightly.” Carol said with a straight face.

            Natasha blew air out of her mouth in an oddly childlike manner, “So, after you?” Carol rolled her eyes as they started up the stairs.

            “Oh, that was my daughter on the phone earlier. She wants me to go home tomorrow.” Carol started. “Would you be interested in coming along?”

            Natasha considered for a moment before saying, “Can I get back to you on that? I want to touch base with Wanda in the morning, I think I managed to make her angry with me.”

            They arrived on the landing, and walked to the guest room. When Carol opened the door, she moved quickly to cover her snort of laughter. “Of course they got rid of the twin beds. Probably moved them into the kids' rooms. How do feel like sharing a bed with me Romanov?”

            Natasha just pinched the bridge of her nose and muttered, “Fucking Bartons.”

            Carol was still shaking with mostly repressed laughter as she began to shamelessly shed her clothes for the night, not caring in the slightest about Natasha’s suddenly scandalized expression.

Chapter Text

 

CHAPTER 15: The Witch’s Collar

            The sun was just barely rising above the horizon when Wanda burst out of the blanket cocoon surrounding her in a sweat. It was one of her older nightmares, the very first of hers born from trauma. It had followed her for years. It was less a nightmare as it was a recollection of her worst memory, well, one of her worst memories.

            In the memory, or nightmare, she’s sitting at the dinner table with her parents and brother. And then the explosions in their district started. The building trembled as it was struck with mortar shells. Ten-year-old Wanda met her mother’s eyes in the heartbeat before her life was destroyed. Their mama had screamed ‘Run!’ as the floor opened up into a maw of fire and debris that swallowed both her and Wanda’s father whole.

            Her brother, Pietro, had grabbed her and thrown her under the far too small bed they had to share. In the dream, the Stark Industries shell sailed through their roof and hit her brother right in front of her. It didn’t detonate, but it sprayed his entrails everywhere as the force of it crushed him in half. Covered in gore, his face made the same expression he did when Ultron killed him in Sokovia: this confused disbelief that he had gotten hurt, like he didn’t know what happened before the life left his eyes. The difference between the dream and reality was that Pietro survived that day, the mortar shell landed three feet from their faces. The white letters proudly emblazoned the mortar shell read, ‘Stark Industries.’

            Wanda tried to shake her nightmare away, and thankfully, it was fading, if slowly. From Wanda’s perspective, it was only last month that she was with Vision in Scotland, figuring out where their mutual attraction would lead. To her shame, she didn’t realise she loved him until she had to end him. But by then, it was far too late.

            At Stark’s funeral, she immediately sought out Wakanda’s greatest pride: Princess Shuri. Shuri had to have saved enough of Vision to a hard drive right? The must’ve been SOMETHING left of him right? Shuri had broken down in tears at Wanda’s question. The truth was somehow even more devastating than Wanda thought possible: while Shuri had managed to save enough of Vision’s mind onto one of her heavy duty hard drives, the sheer magnitude of the data transfer meant Vision couldn’t be stored offsite, at least not at first. But Thanos’ lieutenant destroyed the drive irrecoverably. Shuri was almost sobbing when she tried to explain how the special properties of the massive blade allowed it to carved through the vibranium drive, destroying most of Vision’s backup and corrupting everything else beyond hope of repair. She had to dispose of the corrupted code lest Vision’s foundational programing, the Ultron Program, rise from Vision’s corrupted code.

            Princess Shuri had hugged a shell shocked Wanda as she informed the older girl that Vision was dead, and he was never coming back.

            Wanda yanked the covers away and got up, put on a sports bra. She changed out of her sweat-stained sleepwear and put on her exercise kit. One of the things that fighting for her life had taught her was that she was weak without her powers.

            She got outmanoeuvred too easily in Scotland, and her stamina left much to be desired. While she knew she was powerful enough to have rendered Thanos’ two lieutenants stains on the train station’s floor, she was too exhausted to fight at her full potential, and needed the assist from Natasha, Sam, and Steve.

            When she overpowered Thanos at the Avengers facility, Wanda was powered by a blood rage, and she knew that. But without the rage, she was not strong enough maintaining herself as the heavy hitter everyone relied on. So cardio in the mornings it was, even if she was up an hour earlier than normal. Even when motivated, Wanda firmly believed that mornings were evil.

           

            While Wanda tied her shoes she thought about her and Natasha’s talk last night, specifically how it ended poorly. ‘Let it go?’ Were it so easy, Wanda thought tersely.

            It’s just…Stark stirred her negative emotions more than just about anything or anyone. Her nightmares didn’t exactly encourage her to let go of that anger any time soon. Her memories of the man were almost worse, because no amount of defence after the fact could change how his actions had traumatized her.

            At least with Thanos, she got closure, right? He was an outright enemy. She saw him vanish; fade to the nothing he was. But in the past few weeks following that final battle, she was deeply regretful that it hadn’t been her to do the deed. Logically, Wanda knew that it might be petty; her desire for personal revenge, but it was real to her as it rattled around her head.

            Weapons that Stark designed killed her father and mother, traumatized her to this very day. Upon joining up with the Avengers, she did her research, ‘Maybe he didn’t invent those exact weapons? Perhaps it was just the company with his name on it that was responsible?’ she had thought…naively, as it turned out. During her brief research period, she found an interview conducted by a young reporter of him boasting about how powerful that specific line of weapons was, and how it was his ‘secret sauce that give my babies their big bangs’. When asked what his ‘secret sauce’ was, he proceeded to sexually harass the increasingly panicking woman.

            That interview rattled around her head, especially after he stood by while she was literally collared and put in her cell on the raft. One of the guards whose sweaty fingers she could still sometimes feel on the back of her neck was droning on about how high tech the device was at the time. Stark had jokingly called him ‘Big D.’ Big D was sure to heap most of the praise on Stark himself, who had apparently designed the collar specifically to combat Wanda. Big D had later informed her while leering at her that Stark called the anti-power collar ‘Project SCARLET WITCH.’ At first, Wanda had been in denial. Surely…SURELY Stark couldn’t be so deliberately cruel? Not to an ally, right?

            But when Natasha and Steve had broken her out of the Raft several weeks later, they managed to get the collar off with the help of another enhanced girl. Natasha had called her Quake.

            To Wanda’s dismay and horror, on the shiny titanium collar it neatly read in small letters: ‘STARK INDUSTRIES…SCARLET WITCH MARK III.’

 

 

            The Sun’s light was just barely peaking through the leaves of the surrounding forest. ‘You don’t need to be angry with him anymore. Let it go,’ Wanda shook away Natasha’s earlier plea for the younger woman to forgive Stark. She opened the screen door and walked down the steps onto dewy grass.

            “I don’t fucking think so,” Wanda muttered darkly as she pulled her hair into a messy ponytail and started her morning run.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 16: Everything Changes With a Whimper 

 

 

     When Carol awoke from slumber, she almost flipped out. Firstly, she was surprised to realise she had been sleep-levitating. But that wasn’t what had really surprised her. 

 

        Natasha Romanov was on top of her, snoring slightly, with her arms linked behind Carol’s waist. The spy’s luscious locks of red hair splayed out across Carol’s chest. Carol wasn’t sure whether she should be glad that she was wearing a loose fitting t-shirt, or cursing her choice to wear clothes to bed. Well, she didn’t want to make Natasha uncomfortable by sleeping naked like she normally did.

 

      But still...

    

  Carol could feel the blush spreading up her neck and across her face, and she was thankful to whatever gods may be that Natasha hadn’t woken up yet. 

  

 

         Natasha’s dainty breaths puffed across the blonde’s face. Carol internally groaned, even Natasha’s morning breath was somehow still attractive. Because of fucking course Natasha was that perfect. It smelled like the hot chocolate Carol had made last night, and there was something about that meaningless fact which turned stirred something in Carol. 

   

      Carol floated down to  the bed and noticed that as she moved, Natasha clung to her even more tightly, her open hands became fists clutching at the t-shirt behind Carol’s back. Her bare legs entangled themselves with Carol’s. Carol silently rolled her eyes at her forgetfulness to adhere to Terran American beauty standards.did. Maybe I should’ve shaved first?  I keep forgetting humans are so...obsessed about that. 

 

 But what cleared Carol’s mind of errant thoughts was when she heard Natasha the badass Black Widow and Leader of the Avengers   let out an honest to gods long and terrified whimper

     Carol's priority was immediately no longer ‘get down to the bed and leave the room with a little dignity...maybe take a nice long shower and work out these sexual frustrations.’

      Carol’s priority now entailed making sure the redhead never made that sacred and vulnerable sound again. Wait, what the fuck Danvers??? Carol thought as Natasha’s breathing returned to normal after the small effort at descent. I can’t be having a crush on her! She’s one of the most gorgeous women you’ve ever met, sure. And she managed the Avengers Initiative for five years post-apocalypse. But she’s only ever been a FRIEND. What the fuck changed??

 

And then it hit her with almost as much force as the goddamn Power Stone: Natasha fucking died. That’s what changed. That’s why being around the redhead was different, it’s why having Natasha on top of her was more intense than so many of the trysts Carol had had across the decades and planets. 

 

I like her...like I used to like Maria...

 

Carol breathed in Natasha’s scent as she held the sleepingredhead closer. Captain Marvel used the barest hint of her powers to stop Natasha’s shivering since they had long lost the blankets to the bed below them. 

      Carol’s quiet revelation led her thoughts to an inevitable phrase, though Carol wasn’t sure which of the meanings applied... or maybe just didn’t want to irreversibly admit it to herself yet....

Fuck me...

    

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 17: Casualty Notification

When Natasha woke from slumber, it was in more comfort than she’d felt in a long while. As she motionlessly took inventory of her surroundings, she realized that Carol had woken before her and left the room. Natasha rolled over and took in a breath, and breathed in what could only be Carol’s scent, still there even after she left the bed. Natasha immediately took another longer breath and smiled into the pillow before sitting up.

For the first time in a too long time, her dreams hadn’t woken her in the night. She had had the oddest dream though; she had been flying on a golden cloud. It was…nice. Natasha rubbed some of the sleep from her eyes before going to the bathroom down the hall. She ran her hands though her hair as she turned around. The time was early for her. She supposed Carol’s former life as a soldier sort of bit her in the ass as far as taking a break was concerned; always up way too early. Or maybe Carol was just a weirdo. Smirking a little bit, Natasha settled on the latter option.

Damn, my hair is too oily. I guess it’s been a hot minute since I’ve had a shower. Well, three days isn’t terrible but it’s definitely overdue. Natasha was about to leave the room when it occurred to her that the extra clothes Carol and Fury of all people had gotten for her were back on the Quadjet. Natasha walked over to the folded pile of clothes she had discarded last night and sniffed them. They were totally acceptable.

She picked them up and made her way towards the bathroom, where she ran into Lila, who had a towel in her hand, clearly meaning to take a shower as well. “Oh, sorry Auntie Nat, you go first.”

“What are you doing up so early kiddo?” Natasha asked with a warm smile.

“Taking a shower, duh,” Lila’s soft smile negated her clipped words.

“I’ll let you go first then alright,” Natasha said.

“Not a chance, mom would murder me if I wasn’t exhibiting the epitome of hospitality,” Lila responded with aplomb.

“‘Exhibiting the epitome of hospitality?’ That’s a big word for you,” Natasha smirked at the pouting teen. “And it’s pronounced epito-mee, not epi-tomb.”

“I’m studying for my SATs alright?” Lila responded with a grimace at her embarrassing mispronunciation, “The least those awful tests can do is learn a bunch of new words.” Natasha’s smirk prompted Lila to roll her eyes and revise her statement. “Expand my vocabulary like all proper ladies must,” Lila smirked back, rolling her eyes.

Natasha smiled with misty eyes and suddenly the shorter girl into a damn near bone-crushing hug, “I missed you so much Lila.”

To Lila’s shock, Natasha was crying into her hair, right there in the hallway.

She returned the hug with as much feeling as she could manage. “I missed you too Auntie Nat,” Lila murmured into Natasha’s shoulder. She allowed herself to weep as well. It was only two weeks or so ago for Lila, but she remembered the day everything changed:

When Dad had gotten off that quinjet and basically tackled them with his hugs and his tears, she hadn’t gotten it. She didn’t understand why he was such a mess.

It had been like, twenty seconds between passing out and waking up on the ground by the tree with the target in it. Even the arrow was still right where she had shot it.

Mom had shouted for Dad. But he wasn’t there. It was like he disappeared into thin air. “Dad!” Lila had called out as well. Where the hell could he have gone?

“Mommy, where did daddy go?” Cooper asked as a confused Nate clung to his shirtsleeve.

Laura had pulled out her phone and called him, put him on speaker. She had a deeply worrying look on her face, the look that Lila recognized from that time Auntie Natasha had called to tell them that Dad had been hurt in Sokovia.

The call connected, and Dad was sobbing from the start.

Lila remembered that. She’d never seen or heard her dad cry before; and even if it was over the phone, it shook her to the core; the only thing that he’d been able to say before the call cut out was, “Laura? It’s been five years since you all…died. Lila? Cooper? Nate? Are you guys there??”

“Where are you dad?” Lila had asked with concern.

‘Yeah, where did you go? You disappeared! Like magic!’ Nate squeaked excitedly. He didn’t get it. He didn’t understand or even acknowledge that his dad was crying. It wasn’t his fault per say, he was just a toddler. Maybe he would’ve been less cavalier if he had seen his dad on his knees trying to suppress his sobs in the Avengers complex in upstate New York.

The call cut out after that, and they didn’t hear from him until he landed in a quinjet and sprinted to them across the meadow.

He had been clinging onto them like a koala for several minutes longer than any hug Lila could remember. She remembered him sharing a look with Mom over her head. He stepped back and said, “Hey Lila, can I talk to you alone for a minute?”

After they walked a little bit away from the two younger kids, he turned around and bent down a little. “Lila, I need to tell you something.”

“Dad, you’re scaring me,” Lila said quietly. He had gone from sad to the happiest she had ever seen him in the last five minutes. And now he was…grief-struck.

He seemed to struggle for a moment before shaking his head as if chasing away a horrible thought or memory. “Lila, Nat…you know how we had to save the world again?” he asked after aborting his first attempt to tell her.

“Yeah?” Lila could feel where this was going, but it couldn’t be. Right? Natasha was fine. Auntie Nat was ALWAYS fine.

“Well…um. Lila, honey, your Auntie Natasha fell. She’s…she’s dead. I’m sorry sweetie, I’m so –,”

Lila had tuned him out after he said DEAD.

It was like someone had pumped ice water into Lila’s gut; and continued pumping and pumping until that horrible bone-shredding chill had dispersed over her arms and legs, through to her toes and fingertips.

Auntie Natasha was dead.

And suddenly Lila was living in the worst day of her life so far.

Lila didn’t remember her howl of grief as she crumpled to the ground.

 

Reliving the memory, Lila let herself purge all her tears into Natasha’s shoulder even more.

            With her little Lila in her arms again, Natasha decided taking a shower could wait a little bit.

Chapter Text

 

CHAPTER 18: I Am Owed

            Carol wasn’t exactly happy about leaving Natasha in bed, but she wasn’t sure what else to do. The blonde had woken up just before the crack of dawn. But then after floating in place for thirty minutes she eventually began to get restless. So she floated back down to the soft bed. With shameful ease, she was able to slip out of bed without waking the spy, and decided to go for a walk.

            She hadn’t expected to see the bloom of crimson from inside the dense shade of the woods; Wanda was either training with her powers, or working out some anger. Probably both. So Carol naturally flew over to the younger woman, prepared for anything.

            “I think the next tree might put up more of a fight if you don’t destroy all the branches before blasting it apart,” Carol’s bright tone belied the instant concern she had for the younger girl.

            Wanda’s sports bra was soaked through with sweat; her hair had come loose from the ponytail it was in before. Despite her breaths heaving in and out, when Wanda turned to Carol, there were tears in her bright scarlet eyes. “Wanna talk about it? Fight about it? Just tell me, kiddo,” Carol said in a softer tone, as if she was corralling a wild animal.

            “I’m fine,” Wanda huffed. Carol didn’t even need to raise an eyebrow to point out atrociously dishonest Wanda was being with herself.

            Carol didn’t say anything; she just raised her left fist and totally atomized the rest of the doomed tree with a casual burst of white, blue, and golden light. Well, Carol could differentiate the colors. Wanda just closed her eyes to avoid developing black spots in her vision.

            “Sorry, I’m usually more careful about the whole ‘brightness’ thing around other people,” Carol conceded.

            “It’s alright,” Wanda said as she opened her eyes.

            Carol stood there for moment, put a gentle hand on Wanda’s shoulder and said, “It’s alright to feel, Wanda. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,”

            “Everyone is mourning Stark, and I don’t…I’m…” Wanda huffed in frustration as she tried to square her feelings with her words.

            Carol gave her a sympathetic smile.

            “I feel like I’m being torn apart. I don’t know how to be just fine that Stark is dead. I’m not sad about it. I hated him while he lived. But he’s a hero right? Like, I don’t even get to be mad about it. Because now he has a beautiful daughter who’ll never really know him. And I know what it’s like to he that girl. And I’d be a monster for bringing up any of the terrifying shit he was involved in before Thanos, even after he was an Avenger.” Wanda’s eyes were glowing red as power flickered up and down her arms. She sat down in the leaves as she tried to get her breathing back under control

            Carol lightly plopped down next to her and just waited.

            Wanda got her temper under control soon after, but she didn’t stand back up either. The birds in the forest made a racket as the sun properly rose into the early morning.

            Carol wondered if she should’ve left a note for Natasha. It’s not like we were intimate though, and I’m not running out on her or anything…kinda the opposite really, Carol mused to herself.

            They waited in silence for a while more while the soft whistling breeze picked up some the dying leaves and blew them into their laps. Carol scrunched her nose, but didn’t comment. Wanda however made to stand. Wordlessly, they both started the walk back to the Bartons’ house.

            “So, you and Natasha?” Wanda broke the silence at last. To her great satisfaction, Carol’s first, uncontrollable reaction to Wanda’s question was to blush hard.

            Carol’s expected splutter of denial was waved away by the younger woman. She lightly pointed to her head and said, “I’m not reading your actual coherent thoughts or anything, but your emotions are like a bonfire. It’s…nice actually. You shouldn’t be ashamed Carol.”

            Carol managed to say, “A bonfire? Really?” she said as blue and golden strands of power coursed over her arms into her fingertips, which she wiggled at Wanda like a child pretending witchcraft.

            “Everything has just been so…” Wanda sighed. She didn’t want to make Carol feel even more sorry for her. “You’re nice to be around. It’s not that you’re happy all the time; because even in the short time I’ve known you I can tell that you’re not some kind of dummy who has an endless well of silly hope or faith in God or something. It’s more than that, you have complexities in your emotions.”

            “Thanks?” Carol chimed in.

            Wanda ignored her, but not unkindly, “But your confidence? That is constant. And it’s not some kind of misplaced boundless optimism, either. You’re so confident. It’s magnetic enough that I think even some of the others are drawn to you. But for me, with my powers? Carol, being around you like being a plant on a window, leaning into the sun.”

            “That might be one of the nicest non-sexual things anyone’s ever told me,” Carol said honestly. It didn’t stop Wanda from hitting her on the arm in indignation.

            “Why did you have to make it weird Carol?”

            “What? I said what I said,” Carol replied with a grin. “But seriously, thank you Wanda. And I know you’ve got a lot of emotions and feelings to work through, and more importantly than that, it will take time.”

            “If you’re going to offer to be a shoulder to cry on, don’t.” Wanda replied quickly. “If you’re just going to fly back into space again, I’d rather not rely on you.” Wanda flinched at how that sounded. “That’s not…I don’t mean to sound so cold,” she finished lamely.

            “That’s a good point to bring up,” Carol started with a sad little smile. “I’ve flown away from people who needed me before. But honestly, if the last half-decade has taught me anything, it’s that while there is a lot do out in the wider universe, Earth somehow finds a way to be the attention whore of the cosmos. It’s the focal point. Or at least until something truly catastrophic happens elsewhere, I think I’ll stay right here.”

            “Do you mean that?” Wanda asked. She hated herself for how childish she sounded, for how relieved she was that Carol wasn’t going to fuck off to space like everyone had whispered she probably would.

            Carol let out a long sigh, “I thought that the rest of the universe needed me more, and that if Earth needed me, I’d get called back here. That was a flawed notion. Look at where that led. I wasn’t here, and all the billions of lives I had spent thirty years helping suddenly turned to ash. Because I wasn’t here.”

            They reached the house, but neither entered. They stood on the porch and continued their conversation, heedless of the ears that listened in from inside the house.

            Wanda seemed like she was going to interject, to tell Carol that it couldn’t have been her fault. But Carol was faster, “Wanda, I want you to look me in my eyes and answer my question without lying, alright?”

            “Okay,” Wanda said quietly.

            “If I had been here, in Wakanda, five years ago, do you really think Thanos would’ve stood a chance against both of us working together, without all Six Stones? If you hadn’t needed to play defence, and we took on Thanos will all our power, do you think he could’ve stood up to us?”

            Wanda thought about it. Two weeks ago, she’d been seconds away from killing him alone. But he didn’t have the gauntlet, Wanda thought. But then she remembered how with only half her power, she held him back and killed Vision with the other half; if 100% of that power was aimed at him, in combination with Carol’s?

            “He wouldn’t have stood for long, no.” Wanda concluded.

            Carol let out a sad chuckle as they reached the house. “I have been a soldier since I was seventeen years old, Wanda; first in the USAF, then the Kree Starforce, and finally my self-imposed prison of servitude. No breaks, no family any law let me call my own, no real rest; not for 46 years.”

            Wanda’s eyes widened as Carol laid her life out in that stark context. She lightly grabbed the blonde’s hand and squeezed reassuringly. Carol’s emotional presence was a roiling hurricane behind her bright brown eyes.

            Carol seemed to reach a conclusion, and Wanda felt the storm calm a bit. “I am owed a long fucking vacation, years, at the very least. And even after that, I think I might stay here anyway. I have served, and I have been of service. I have done my time, and I am owed.”

Chapter Text

 

CHAPTER 19: Porches Are Public Listening Spaces

            Clint, Natasha, Laura, and Lila stopped their casual conversation about Lila’s impending entry into high school when they heard Wanda and Carol return. They heard Carol say, “I thought that the rest of the universe needed me more, and that if Earth needed me, I’d get called back here. That was a flawed notion. Look at where that led. I wasn’t here, and all the billions of lives I had spent thirty years helping suddenly turned to ash. Because I wasn’t here.”

            Laura immediately looked guilty for eavesdropping, but Lila frantically motioned for her mom not to interrupt. Clint and Natasha just both went unnaturally still. Neither of them thought about it like that.

            Natasha wasn’t privy to the whole conversation that Wanda and Carol were having. But she heard enough already to feel sad for Carol. Natasha didn’t know the whole story, but she did know Carol spent a significant portion of the last thirty years in space, away from her family. To have that sacrifice turned into meaninglessness on top of all the death was just cruel.

            The horror of the Decimation was just another atrocity in the decades long war that had always been Carol’s life.

            Natasha played a part in that. Granted, Carol stepped up to the plate, being the one-woman Galactic Avengers Initiative. But Natasha was basically her handler for several of those years. Natasha could slap herself for putting even more of a burden on the blonde’s shoulders, especially since the seeming invincibility of the woman herself wasn’t absolute. Deep down, Carol was only human after all. Natasha believed Carol was human in some of the best ways, but with those positive qualities came unique vulnerability. Just because none of the other Avengers had really seen her all that emotional over the five years from hell didn’t mean anything. Natasha could recognize emotional suppression when she saw it; Carol was just too Carol to hide her feelings from everyone completely. Natasha reflected sadly that it was about time that Carol let someone else see the feelings she’d hid so well.

            “If I had been here, in Wakanda, five years ago, do you really think Thanos would’ve stood a chance against both of us working together, without all Six Stones? If you hadn’t needed to play defence, and we took on Thanos in all our power, do you think he could’ve stood up to us?”

            Natasha closed her eyes and tried her best not to be even the slightest bit angry. Because of course Carol was right. If she had been at that fight, she would’ve been able to stop Thanos. Or at the very least, helped give Wanda or Thor the assist in killing the Mad Titan. Not even having the time stone stopped Thor from landing a surprise attack, or Wanda’s continuous bombardment.

            Wanda’s quiet, unknowing, agreement with Natasha’s sentiment was heart-breaking. But what Carol said next made her stop and look around at the others’ reactions.

            “I have been a soldier since I was seventeen years old, Wanda; first in the USAF, then the Kree Starforce, and finally my self-imposed prison of servitude. No breaks, no family any law let me call my own, no real rest; not for 34 years. I am owed a long fucking vacation, years, at the very least. And even after that, I think I might stay here anyway. I have served, and I have been of service. I have done my time, and I am owed.”

            The sadness in her voice was just…Natasha got up and made her way to the door. When she opened it she found Wanda hugging Carol who still had a haunted look in her eyes.

            Natasha laid a hand on Carol’s shoulder and gave her a reassuring squeeze. “Ever been to Tahiti? I’ve heard it’s great this time of year,” Natasha managed to rasp out with the semblance of a smile.

            Carol chuckled despite herself. She quickly pressed a kiss to Wanda’s forehead before releasing the younger girl. “Enough of that super depressing shit for now, yeah?” Carol just manages to hold in all her tears as she faces the rest of the Bartons.

            “You okay Cap?” Clint asked softly.

            Carol’s jaw twitched at the familiar nickname usually reserved for Steve. She supposed there might be a new ‘Cap’ staying around in town now, “Yeah. I’m good. Or…I will be.” Carol looked at all of them and let out a long-suffering sigh. “You heard all that didn’t you?”

            Laura, who was most reluctant to eavesdrop, answered first, “I’m so sorry Carol!”

            Carol stepped back into the house; parting the others unconsciously like Moses, “Don’t worry Mrs. B. I would’ve listened to me rant too…” Carol cut off abruptly. She frowned and said, “I struggle with my emotions, and the horrible conditioning that I was pressed through for six straight years to smother them. Like, I’m normally super expressive with everything, but every once in a while something terrible happens and all the practice I had smothering my feelings begins to look really fucking tempting rather than actually deal with the emotions. I guess this little outburst is a little overdue.”

            Lila’s breath hitched at the swear word, but it was Laura who properly flinched.

            “At least you don’t express yourself like me,” Clint said with a weak shrug. Laura looked sad at that and Natasha shot him a reproachful look.

            Carol seemed to consider revisiting the alcohol she indulged in from the day before, but visibly refuted that plan with a jerk of her head. None of the adults missed that first step towards the alcohol cabinet and obvious rejection of that plan. Laura subtly laced her fingers through her husband’s. Natasha’s eyes widened in silent shock; Carol just might be a high-functioning alcoholic.

            “Oh, by the way, I’ll be going soon. I wouldn’t want to totally overstay my welcome,” Carol said almost bashfully while the rest of them were still looking at her with expressions ranging from Lila’s outright sad pout to Natasha’s grim contemplating expression. Wanda walked over to put her hand on Carol’s shoulder in a mirror of their earlier conversation in the woods. But before she could voice her solidarity with Carol, there was a ruckus from the stairs.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 20: Samus vs. Zelda

            Cooper sped down the stairs, hopping the last three like a boss, still in his pyjamas, and totally oblivious to the dark moment Carol just had in front of them, “Hey Dad? Can we have pancakes?”

                  “Yeah Dad, can we?” Lila jumped on the opportunity for pancakes awkward tension or no. Nate had waddled to the top of the stairs, so Lila went to go help him down. She through a raised eyebrow at her parents as she went.

            Laura just smiled cheekily at her husband and Clint rolled his eyes and sighed, “Fine, you kids can get your pancakes today. Special guests and all.”

            With a fist pump of victory, Carol let out a peal of genuine laughter and just like that, things were good again. She patted Wanda’s hand on her shoulder before removing it. She gave the slightly shorter woman a quick hug before going to the fridge to retrieve some things. But before she could so much as get out a bowl to start helping mix the pancake ingredients, Natasha grabbed her hand and practically dragged her out of the kitchen. Well, Carol let herself be dragged out of the kitchen. Carol wasn’t going to torpedo Natasha’s badass cred in front of the children by making Natasha look like she was trying to futilely pull a mountain behind her. “Oh c’mon,” Carol groaned in not-quite faux annoyance.

            “Not a chance,” Natasha replied with a grim shake of the head to Wanda and the Bartons, who all looked befuddled at the odd behaviour.

            “What did she do?” Wanda asked. She was genuinely intrigued by this new interplay between the two women.

            “Avengers compound in upstate New York was blown up right?” Natasha asked.

            “Yeah, Thanos shot it to–,” Clint cut off as Laura lightly elbowed him to cut off the incoming profanity. “Thanos wrecked it, and then there was a Lord of the Rings: Return of the King style battle. It’s gone. Why?” he amended his statement. He and his wife swiftly worked in concert to prepare breakfast.

            Natasha’s reply was utterly deadpan, “Well, that’s good. At least the rest of it now matches what Captain Marvel here did to our kitchen when she offered to cook for us the one and only time.”

            “It wasn’t that bad, you traitor,” Carol huffed and crossed her arms like somebody’s disaffected niece. “I was trying to be helpful, everyone was so depressed after we got back from Thanos’ retirement farm.” Despite the mention of Thanos, the Bartons were barely concealing their laughter now. Even Wanda was smiling at the antics of the other female Avengers. 

            “Well, saving the rest of the building from the inferno you started was certainly a bonding exercise. Even bedridden Stark had to chip in. I think F.R.I.D.A.Y. still hasn’t forgiven you.” Natasha shot back.

            “Stormbreaker isn’t a viable replacement for the fire extinguisher, it was a valuable lesson to learn. I did what anyone would’ve,” Carol replied with a flat out grin.

            “You tried to cook the bacon with lightning, causing an explosion of an oil fire, and then you exploded the boiling pasta water on the adjacent burner all over the stove to cancel it out! Never mind that pot was unusable again. Everyone knows not to put water on a oil fire, Carol,” Natasha was barely holding her full-blown laughter at bay. Everyone else was though.

            “Fine, I’ll leave the cooking to the masters then,” Carol gave the Barton parents a mock curtsy before plopping down on the couch like an overgrown teenager.

            “How is it you made us hot chocolate so good then?” Lila asked.

            “Because it was my best friend Maria’s recipe, and if I messed it up, she’d hear about it somehow and hunt me down on principle for disgracing her good name,” Carol replied honestly. “Our daughter would help her actually,” Carol mused as she remembered Monica laughing her head off the one time she messed the recipe up and Maria chasing Carol around the house with the ladle with a wicked grin the whole time.

            The kids sat down at Carol’s feet, turning on the Nintendo Switch, and immediately started playing the newest Smash Bros. game. After Carol had routed the two younger boys (who were playing as Pikachu and Mario respectively) as Samus, Wanda’s turn as Zelda put the blonde to shame. “What?” Carol asked of the screen, as Zelda was crowned winner. After Wanda then repeated her victory twice more, casually destroying Carol’s Samus again and gain, much to Natasha’s amusement, Carol turned to the victorious Wanda, “When did you get so good at this?”

            “Who says I was anything other than excellent?” Wanda replied with some snark. “I grew up with a twin brother and a GameCube, Captain. I spent my first ten years devotedly training for this moment.”

            Carol decided that smugness was a good look on the younger woman, as long as it wasn’t earned by wrecking Carol. “Very well, oh Crimson Queen, I concede this round to you.”

            Wanda wrinkled her nose at the nickname but was definitely satisfied at her resounding victory all the same. Better than ‘Scarlet Witch, Wanda thought to herself.

            After Carol handed the controller back to an eager Lila, Wanda also gave hers back to Cooper. “You won though,” Carol said in askance.

            Wanda spent the next minute in thought before finally asking in a small but hopeful voice, “Can I go with you, when you leave here?”

            Carol turned to meet Wanda’s brilliant green eyes’ beseeching stare. She didn’t even have to think about it. “Of course, Wanda. I’d be honoured. Besides, I think you’re the only one who can keep up with me in a sparing match.”

            Wanda shook her head, “Thank you Carol, though I don’t really know martial arts. I don’t know how good a sparing partner I’d be.”

            “True sparing is a combination of hand to hand defence in conjunction with your other assets. I learned that lesson a long time ago. I used to have this handler that insisted I never use my powers when we sparred. Never let yourself be caged by somebody else’s’ rules, don’t play their game. Always fight using all your skills together, even when sparing. I think I could teach you how to be unconquerable.” Carol looked at Wanda seriously with an appraising look. “Besides, Nat will be there to help too, won’t you?” Carol asked as she turned to Natasha, who had been standing behind them the whole time.

            Natasha’s eyes widened in something that was almost surprise, but she didn’t let on that Carol had totally blind-sided her. She had honestly expected the blonde to go off again. If not to outer space, Natasha thought Carol wouldn’t be weighed down by anyone else really, even on Earth. “You’re serious?” Natasha asked with a small hitch in her voice.

            Clint looked over to the conversation happening near the TV and sadly smiled. He knew Natasha wouldn’t stay here long. Laura had guessed that last night as well.

            “I–,” Natasha briefly looked over to Clint for something. Not permission, certainly, but

maybe support. “I want to,”

            “We’ll be here when you need us Nat,” Clint spoke up from the kitchen while he loaded the cooked pancakes into an impressive trio of towers; each on their own serving plate.

            “That won’t be changing anytime soon,” Laura said with a loving smile.

            “Well? Mom and Dad gave you the green light,” Carol said with a smirk as she humbly accepted Natasha’s light punch on her arm. Carol’s expression became a little shy when she said; “Last night was also the first time in over five years I’ve gotten through the night without a nightmare, so I think you might be a good omen. Just something to consider.” Carol finished in a tone that was almost shy.

                          That revelation, more than anything made up the spy’s mind. After all, Natasha had time to figure out that it was Carol who provided the deeply peaceful and carefree feeling she had when she woke up. “Alright then Captain. We’re leaving after breakfast then?” Natasha asked with a rare warm smile.

            The blazing smile that Carol flashed at the redhead was deeply affecting, but the blonde managed to channel all her obvious relief and joy at Natasha’s agreement into a sing syllable, “Yep,” Carol said, popping the ‘p’ at the end. “If that’s alright with you two?” she asked, glancing between the two eastern Europeans.

            “I’ll need a few minutes to pack and shower, but I’ll be ready,” Wanda said.

            “All my stuff’s on the quadjet,” Natasha shrugged. “And I already showered all the much from Vormir off of me, thank God.” Clint flinched at that. He was thankful no one else in the room had to see Natasha broken at the bottom of the cliff. It was just then that Wanda sent him a sad sympathetic smile and a shrug that sent a chill down his spine as he remembered her telling him that she sometimes eavesdropped on loud dreams in the night. And he hadn’t dreamed about anything else.

            “Cool, now that that’s been settled, which of these is mine?” Carol asked while pointing at the leftmost of the giant pancake towers as Laura laughed and Clint face palmed, knowing that he’d miss Carol, but confident she’d show up from time to time, if for nothing else because he knew she not so secretly loved spending time around the boundless joy of children.

Chapter Text

 

CHAPTER 21: Departure                       

            Breakfast was an unremarkable affair, other than Carol demolishing all three children in an impromptu pancake-eating contest to the chagrin of Laura and Clint. Wanda and Natasha were both were face palming, but could enjoy the spectacle without worrying about Carol helping form bad habits for the younger ones.

            Natasha assumed it was solely because of Carol’s powers, but when she claimed her victory over a surly looking Lila and Cooper, Captain Marvel crowed that, “All those dumb county fairs from when I was a kid have finally paid off!”

            For all the fanfare of their reunion, their departure was far tamer. The kids had school, Laura insisted, and Carol was getting antsy to leave. Natasha could tell that being around such a close-knit family unit was just making her miss her own. Wanda was in an obviously better mood now that she was leaving the Bartons’ place. Wanda liked life at the Bartons’ farm, but as the days went by she was beginning to spiral. Wanda needed a change.

 

            While the others were cleaning up the dishes and pestering Carol about her terrifying appetite, Clint pulled Wanda aside into Laura’s office and gently closed the door. “It’s alright you know, leaving.” Clint said as he went over to the desk. Wanda did not take a seat, but stood there with her arms laid gently across her chest, lightly hugging herself. “You need something that you can’t get here, I don’t know what it is,”

            “I don’t either,” Wanda muttered dejectedly. “And you’ve done so much for me, but I just…” she trailed off helplessly.

            Clint gently tapped her under the chin so she raised her head and made eye contact. “That’s totally fine Wanda. Just…don’t forget to give us a call or a letter every once in a while alright? We can’t replace the family you’ve lost, and trying to do that would be a lost cause.” Clint paused as Wanda blinked back a few tears. “That said, after the whole shit show with Tony and the Sokovia Accords, Laura and I talked about it and had some paper work done. One of the many issues that kicked off that whole mess was something Steve brought to my attention; that you didn’t hold citizenship here. And since Hydra had you officially declared ‘deceased’ when they experimented on you–,”

            “Since we volunteered,” corrected Wanda, lightly.

            “Volunteered,” Clint amended. “And since you’re gonna go traveling with Carol and Nat to who knows where, you might want this with you,” He pulled out a small blue booklet, a U.S.A. passport. Wanda was stunned; her hands trembled as she took it.

            Clint continued, “You’ve officially got a new family here, whenever you need us. And if I’m being honest,” Clint turned slightly to look at his kids, “I think Lila really likes having a big sister, so be sure to keep in contact with her, even if you’re not ready to talk about your stuff with us adults, okay?” Wanda opened the passport to find her picture, one taken of her when she became an official part of the Avengers Initiative. “I think she’ll need you as much as you might need her.”

            Next to Wanda’s picture was the name: Wanda Maximova Barton. The ‘issued’ date was February 21st, 2021. “Natasha and Steve handled getting it processed during the Dark Years. The original application was from 2018 actually. Laura and I wanted to surprise you after you came back to the states from your Europe trip with Vision. We changed the name a bit so it wouldn’t trip any algorithms in the system that would’ve been set up by a few different agencies since your ‘Avengers identity’ was a public one. We would’ve gone the normal route for adopting you, but we decided that there would be too many enemy eyes in high places that could’ve stopped it going through if we went that route. So Natasha and I worked some of our spy magic and had a judge we like sign off on the whole thing. We also hired a genius-level hacker Fury recommended to make sure all the electronic files were in the right place too. The hacker’s handle was ‘Skye’; she even left us with a way of contacting her in the future. So even if our enemies like Secretary Ross caught wind of it, there wouldn’t be anything they could do.”

            Wanda was tracing the words on the passport with her finger in a trance-like state while Clint ran his hand over his appalling haircut. “And after the world ended there weren’t too many people who were eager to oppose Steve or Natasha Romanov, who were the public face of the Avengers after Stark left the team to play attack dog for the government. Nobody at the State Department wanted to stand in way, even if it regarded processing paperwork for one of the V-Vanished.” his voice cracked on the last one. “Natasha was the one who made sure it all went through. I was to busy being an international mass-murderer, so she came by and dropped it here; told me about it before we tried to save the world again last month.”

            Wanda pulled the archer into a hug, to his pleasant surprise. Wanda’s Sokovian accent dominated her voice as her emotions welled up, “Thank you Clint. Thank you so much… I don’t know how to–”

            “There’s nothing to repay, kiddo. You’re family now,” Clint was quick to correct her as he patted her back. She just hugged him tighter as she cried tears of happiness.

            “It’s good to be an older sister again.” She eventually managed to get out before pulling back and rubbed the tears off her cheeks.

            When they re-joined everyone else, Wanda made a beeline to Laura and threw her arms around her. Laura caught the waif-like girl with a laugh and held on tight.

            The goodbyes were much more low-key than their arrival had been. Laura made sure that Wanda was still set up for her online classes, much to the young Avenger’s loving annoyance. Clint gave her one of the best hugs she’d ever had as he (mostly) jokingly told her not to let Carol be too much of a bad influence. Natasha smirked at that, and nearly laughed out loud at Carol’s faux betrayed face at the archer’s words.

            Wanda pulled Lila aside and said, “If you ever need to talk, I’ll be there for you, okay little one?” She ruffled Lila’s hair, earning her an indignant huff, and pulled the shorter girl into a bone-crushing hug. “I’m going to miss you…sister.” Wanda murmured into the top of Lila’s head. Lila broke away for a moment and smiled wide enough her jaw would ache a little later and returned Wanda’s hug with a vengeance.

            Carol gave each kid a fist-bump packing an extra kick, to their squealing delight, and then swaggered out the door back to the quadjet.

            Natasha hugged each of the children, pressing a phone into Lila’s hands, “To call your big sister or your crazy aunties when you need us, okay?” Lila nodded vigorously. “Make sure you train hard, you won’t be shooting better than your dad without some serious dedication little Eagle,” Natasha winked.

            “Natasha…” Laura drawled with faux annoyance as Natasha turned to face the older woman with a ‘what? Me?’ face while Clint watched from the side; admirably holding in his laughter.

            “I will, Auntie Nat.” Lila said after she finished chuckling at the adults’ antics.

            “Are we going or not?” Carol called from the jet. She didn’t mean to be an ass, probably, but she got an eye-roll from everyone else anyway.

            A couple minutes later, the Barton family sans-Wanda waved from the ground as the quadjet rose into the air, and then disappeared above the gathering clouds.