The risk was always part of the job. The risk used to be easy - still is, if she focuses hard enough like she was trained to do all those years ago; it’s not even death she’s greatly afraid of. She would rather not die, that’s for sure, but she was more afraid of leaving behind the life she worked hard to create for herself than dying. After all, there were worse things than death.
If you had asked her all those years ago where she’d imagine herself in the future, she would have told you something along the lines of ‘anywhere but here,’ before possibly shooting or punching you in the face. Never in her wildest dreams had Natasha Romanoff imagined finding people who cared for her - people who loved her. A family. But then Clint showed up, or rather was sent after her, when things got too far and she made herself known to S.H.I.E.L.D. She knew it was his job to track her down, to finish her off, but he made a different call. He made a choice - one that would impact her future for the better. He showed her that she could be more, she could be a part of something bigger than herself; he showed her that she is more than what they made her to be.
She knew she would never physically be able to have a family of her own and the thought alone killed her, but knowing that there were people she loved enough to call family healed her heart in more ways than she thought possible. Natasha would do anything for them, whatever the cost, she should fight for their futures.
It seemed almost poetic that the one thing she thought she could never have was now the thing she was willing to sacrifice her life for - for them, and so much more.
Clint continued to pace back and forth, mumbling under his breath but speaking up from time to time only to mock the Red Skull. Natasha’s heart shattered, knowing what was to come, what she was about to do and knowing that her death would break her best friend, especially if it didn’t work in the end. But it had to - they’ve come too far and have been through too much for anything less.
“Don’t,” He mumbled, his voice rough.
“Don’t what?” She had questioned, wanting to support her friend, to bring him hope and a home the way he had all those years ago.
“Don’t give me hope.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t give it to you sooner.”
The pain and desperation in his eyes, and the roughness in his voice had hurt her heart more than she had thought possible. When Thanos had killed off half of all living things, they all lost: they lost loved ones and they lost their way, but while she had tried to cope on her own and still had Steve at the Avengers compound, her best friend had no one. He was all alone.
“How’s it going?” Clint mocked the Red Skull as Natasha sat there, her elbows on her knees as she contemplated over their dilemma. He had to be the one to live, she knew that; when they won and their loved ones came back, he would have a wife and children waiting for him. Her heart ached even more knowing she could never have that kind of family, but she had the Avengers - she found a family with them, which made this a painful yet easy decision. She would do this for them, she would gladly give her life if it meant the safety of those she loved, if it meant victory. Her mind was set.
They continued to argue over the situation, and although neither of them dared say who was going to jump, they both knew what was coming.
She rested her forehead against Clint’s, knowing this was goodbye. Tears began to collect in the corners of her eyes, not out of fear of what was about to happen, but out of heartache knowing the grief her best friend would feel.
‘Whatever it takes,’ She chanted in her head.
“Okay,” He pulled back. “You win,” He gave her a close lipped smile before kicking her legs out from underneath her and knocking her to the ground. “Tell my family I love them,” He grounded out and she felt him tense up, knowing he was about to flee towards the cliff.
“Tell them yourself,” She clenched her teeth and knocked him off her, sprinting for the edge of the cliff. She was almost there, getting ready to jump when an arrow whizzed by her. It exploded and she flew to the side, hitting the ground hard. She groaned both out of discomfort and irritation.
‘God, he was always so damn stubborn.’
He flashed her one last grin as he jogged past her. She watched with wide eyes as he launched himself off the cliff, limbs spread wide as he accepted his fate. But like hell was she about to sit there and watch him die. When all was said and done, he would have a family to get home to.
She quickly scrambled to her feet and leaped after him, latching onto his back as they fell towards the ground. Thinking quick, she shot a grappling hook from her gauntlet, attaching it to Clint as they painfully rammed into the side of the mountain. She allowed herself to continue falling, but Clint caught her wrist and gripped it tightly like his life depended on it, but she did not return the action. This had to be done.
He tried reaching for her with his other hand, but couldn’t maneuver his arm properly in his current position.
“Damn you,” He hissed but not with venom, but rather out of grief. She knew that look, she knew him long enough to know when he was blaming himself for something - Natasha knew he felt helpless.
“It’s okay,” She choked up, but tried to make the words come out as even as possible. She had to remain strong.
“Don’t,” Clint gasped, his face scrunched up in agony as tears began to fall. “Please,” Never before had Natasha heard him beg, and the sound almost convinced her to grab his hand and pull them both up, to find another way. Almost.
“Let me go,” She gave him her best attempt at a smile. She had to let him know that this wasn’t his fault, that this was her choice.
“No,” He pleaded, his voice breaking as he openly cried. “Please, no!”
“It’s okay,” Natasha breathed out peacefully one last time, a small, sad smile painted on her lips as she tried her best to reassure her dear friend. Without warning, she kicked off from the mountain side, and Clint lost his grip on her wrist.
Despite the high winds that made he ears pound, she could hear his desperate cries as she fell to her death. But she wasn’t scared. No. For the first time in a very long time, she was hopeful, she was thankful. She hated that her time was cut short, that their hands were forced, but she was thankful that she could die a heroes death nevertheless. She was dying for those she loved, and for the sake of the universe, not on some mission as she worked for the KGB. And while she wished she had more time with them, she would have done this all over again just for them. She was hopeful, knowing that with the soul stone, they now had an even higher chance at beating Thanos once and for all. She knew they could do it, she believed in these boys; she only hoped that Carol, Okoye and any other woman that was able to wouldn’t leave the fight to the men. After all, for a change, her legacy may not end with red in her ledger.
Her mind raced a hundred kilometers an hour, knowing she was nearing the ground, as she fell it felt like she had so much yet to little time. With her final seconds, she thought of the ones she loved in order to keep her sanity as she reached her end.
She thought of Thor Odinson, how he never failed to make her laugh with his blunt honesty and humble abroad. Oh, how she desperately wanted to introduce him to more pop culture things like the Ninja Turtles or Star Wars to see how he’d react. She would’ve gotten a kick out of that.
She thought of Bruce Banner, and their short lived romance. Even though they drifted apart, she still cared for him. She still wanted him to see that he wasn’t a monster, or at least, not the only one on the team. She was proud that he had finally accepted the Hulk as a part of him, even if she missed the smaller, dorky Banner.
She thought of Steve Rogers, and how they remained loyal to each despite their differences. He was a good friend, and beyond that, a good man with a large heart - he made mistakes, but she knew he would do anything to make things right. And she had to admit that taking down a corrupted agency by his and Sam’s side was a fun ride, too.
She thought of Tony Stark, in all his arrogant glory. Oh yeah, she was going to miss him. He got on her nerves from time to time, but she admired him nonetheless - even if they didn’t always see eye to eye. But he was always there, never failed to support her when she needed it, and she saw how deeply he cared for not only the ones he loved, but the public. He really was a hero, even if the world didn’t always think so.
She thought of Clint Barton. She thought of how for nearly twenty years, he was her friend. He gave her a chance at a fresh start, he introduced her to his family, he made her feel accepted - he was there for her when no one else was. She knew her death would break him, but she had faith that he would learn to let go. It was their job after all, “don’t get attached to things.” She wanted to snort at the irony. Look where that got them.
And lastly, she thought of herself. She used to have nothing. She came from a dark past, but then she found this family and she knew she wanted to better, that she could be better, and eventually she learned to let the light in. She allowed herself to love, to heal, to grow. She wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot, but she had come a long ways. She never imagined she would die this way, but she was grateful that she got the chance to redeem herself beforehand.
She wasn’t sure what was to come after death, but it was a risk she was willing to take for them, if it meant victory for them.
Knowing that she must be nearing the ground, she closed her eyes for the last time, allowing death to take her as she slammed onto the stone ground. Her body broken, her skull shattered, but her soul at rest.
Natasha Romanoff’s battle was over at last.
Tony Stark’s breathing was rigid, and every bone in his body was aching as he charged at Thanos one last time. Without the mad titan noticing, he cleverly transferred the infinity stones via his nano tech into his gauntlet before he was forcefully shoved away.
Thanos had an even darker glint in his eyes as he flexed his wrist, a smug shadow of smirk tugging at his lips as he thought he finally had victory.
“I am inevitable!” He roared, lifting the gauntlet and snapping his fingers. Tony felt his gut leap in satisfaction while he watched the bizarre look on Thanos’s face as he realized he no longer had the stones. Instead, by the time Thanos had snapped his fingers, Tony himself was already wielding the power of all six infinity stones.
Everything was happening in hyper speed, but it seemed like eternity as he thought of the faces of the ones he loved most in order to help him cope with the pain and burden of wielding the stones.
He thought of the Avengers. Although they fought a lot, and disregarded his ideas and how he felt more than once, he knew they still cared for him deeply - and he cared for them equally as much. They were family after all, and they always came back to help each other out no matter what, even if they had to take time to come to terms with it all. He loved them all individually, even if there was baggage.
He saw Harley Keeper’s face flash through his mind. Man, was he ever proud of that kid. Tony was glad he kept in touch with Harley after he saved Pepper and the President - he was a bright kid and helped him out. Harley had seen Tony suffer from his brutal anxiety attacks but even after Tony left, Harley had still wanted to keep in contact with him and that warmed Tony’s heart in more ways than he thought possible.
He knew Peter Parker looked up to him, but he only wished he could teach the boy that although he may be undoubtedly awesome, Peter only needed to be himself in order to go far in life. Peter had a bright future ahead of him, and though Tony knew he wouldn’t be there to see it, he was damn proud of him. He sure was going to miss that kid and all his dorky pop culture references. It was the biggest relief to see him again, to know that he was alive and well - he gladly gave the kid a hug, knowing that after everything that had happened, they were ‘there’ now.
Oh, Happy, Happy, Happy ... He had put up with so much of Tony’s shit. But despite it all, he remained a loyal friend. Tony knew that along with Rhodes and Pepper, no doubt, that Happy would be well, happy to keep an eye on Peter and Morgan for him. He wish he had said thank you to him more often, to one of the people who never left him even while he was on a course of self destruction. This lost, broken world needed more loyal friends like Happy Hogan.
Tony thought of his best friend of twenty seven years. James Rhodes, like Happy and Pepper, never left him. Rhodey stuck his neck out for him, even when he was at his lowest; he only ever wanted the best for him. Even when Tony constantly let him down by arriving to important military related conferences late, even when they fought while Tony went off rails, even when he was suffering from crippling anxiety and placed all his focus on his suits, Rhodey was always there. Rhodey was more than a friend at this point, he was a brother. They fought from time to time, but they always had each others backs no matter what. He knew that Morgan would have a good fatherly role model to look up to, when all is said and done.
He thought of Pepper, perfect Pepper. He wished they could have more time together, because twenty six years were far to short to spend with the love of his life. Although he wanted more time, he knew he wouldn’t have it any other way. Though their time was cut short, they lived a good life together; they went from simply being the boss and his assistant, to friends, to lovers, to husband and wife, and now they had a child. Together, they did something Tony never thought he could ever have - they made a family. They were a family. If he had to go through all the pain, all that suffering, and self hate just to be with her, for them to have a family and be happy, Tony would do it all over again in a heart beat.
Tony was heartbroken, knowing that he would never be there to see his daughter grow up. He wanted to be the one to teach her to ride a bike without training wheels, to show her how to tinker with tools if that’s what she wanted, to drop her off at her first day of school, to threaten her first boyfriend, to cheer the loudest out of everyone at her graduation, to walk her down the aisle, to see her grow into a strong and amazing woman like her mother. He wanted that, more than anything. However, he knew that Rhodey and Happy would be able to be the fatherly figures that she would need in her life after he died, even if he wanted to be the one for her to look up to. He wished he could give her one last hug, to eat another juice pop, to tuck her into bed and tell her stories of his wild adventures ... He desperately wanted to tell her that he loves her three thousand, and that no matter what, he’s so proud of the person she’ll grow up to be.
He took a deep breath, closing his eyes as he flexed his arms and neck, trying to muster all the strength he possibly he could as he attempted to control the pain.
Imagining every person who had helped him - from his butler Edwin Jarvis, to Ho Yinsen, to Rhodes, to the Avengers and Nick Fury, to Nebula, to Pepper ... everyone, he felt nothing but love for them. He was doing this for them, and he would gladly do it all over again if it meant their well being. God, he hoped that Yinsen was proud of him because Tony didn’t waste his life, and he now knew that full well. These heroes, and Harley Keener, Peter Parker, Morgan - they were all his legacy. He only hoped that he’d done right by them, and that they would all continue to live their lives fighting for what’s right, but more than that, that they would give themselves time to heal and to love and to feel joy.
Keeping that all in mind, he lifted his chin and stared down his terrible, most vile persecutor.
“And I,” Tony panted, pain radiating from his arm, but he had to do this. This was their only shot. He was in the endgame now. “Am... Iron Man!”
With one final glare at the being that caused him eleven years worth of pain and trauma, the one responsible for the death of trillions and devastation of half the universe, Tony Stark took his last rebellious stand. Gritting his death, he snapped his fingers and they were all enveloped in a blinding white light.
And in that single moment, Tony Stark felt a flicker of something he hadn’t felt in a long time: unbridled hope and peace.
For over twenty six years, Pepper Potts had personally known Tony Stark.
It took her a while at first to actually like him; he was snarky, arrogant and insanely wealthy, and she was finally done her post secondary education and was looking for a job. However, after working with him for a few months, and despite him being completely and utterly reckless and rude, she knew she cared for him in her heart, otherwise she wouldn’t be booking his appointments or occasionally taking out his trash.
It wasn’t until he went missing for three months that Pepper couldn’t deny her affections for Tony Stark. Those three months were a living hell for her as well as it was for Tony - the thought of never seeing him again continued to haunt her to this day, which made him being stranded in space for so long after half the population turned to dust, made her fear the absolute worst.
But then he came back, as he always did. After he rested and healed, they married and he built them a house by the lake where they wanted to raise their child. They spent the next five years in a bliss, despite the shadow of trauma that was always there knowing that while they got lucky, trillions of others did not. Then, when he did the impossible and figured out time travel, Pepper couldn’t help but be proud of the man she loved, but just as every day of her job before, she worried for him. Nevertheless, she supported him because she knew that in his heart, he needed to do this.
The next day, she’s called into battle and what does she do? She doesn’t stress this time, she doesn’t freak out like she would have a couple of years ago. No, she suited up and fought alongside the love of her life and hundreds of others. She participated in the fight for their lives.
Taking off her helmet now, after the blinding flash of white, Pepper wiped the sweaty hair out of her eyes and scanned the area for Tony, needing to make sure he was okay. She had saw him in the distance, wielding the gauntlet with all the stones in place - now that’s when she panicked. She was already flying towards him when he snapped his fingers and then all she saw was white.
She saw Peter Parker hovering over someone, and she felt dread wash over her as she had a good idea of who that someone may be. Sure enough, as she got closer, she saw the red and gold iron suite.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, she carefully ushered the weeping kid away from Tony. Rhodey took his shoulder, supporting Peter as he cried, while she saw him and Tony eye each other, both knowing that they were silently saying goodbye. The sight broke her heart all over again. Out of the corners of her eyes, she saw the other Avengers circling around them but giving her and Tony a respectful distance.
She knelt by him, and tears immediately sprung in her eyes at his condition. He was so battered and bruised, and the entire right side of his body was terribly burnt. His breathing came out in short, rigid gasps, and his eyes were slowly drooping closed and it looked like it took all the energy he had to open them again.
“Pep,” He gasped when she knelt beside him, and he tried to raise his hand to grasp hers, but he had trouble moving at all. She caught on to what he was trying to do, and she lifted his hand in hers, holding them on his chest above his heart and the arc reactor.
‘Oh, Tony. You’ve really outdone yourself this time.’
“It’s okay,” Despite the tears already falling down her face, she gave him a watery smile. She wanted him to know they’ll be okay, that he doesn’t have to worry. “When I drift off, I will dream of you. Because it’s always you,” his words from his video log for her while he was in space, swam in her head. She needed to do this for him, for the last thing he sees before he drifts off to be her smiling face. “We’re safe.”
His breathing had drastically slowed, and his eyes were barely open. Even in the face of death, Tony Stark was still fighting to hold on.
Even when he was struggling to rest, all Tony ever wanted was to keep the ones he loved safe and well protected. He remained to do so until his dying moments, and Pepper knew that he would go down in history. He saved them all, after all.
For almost the entirety of the time she had with him, Tony barely slept. It got so much worse after the attack on New York and began suffering terrible panic attacks and PTSD. The time he spent awake in the early hours of the morning, he would be down in his work shop tinkering and finding new ways to improve his suite, finding better defensive systems, trying to figure out ways to keep them safe. It didn’t matter whether he was awake during the night or day, Tony Stark dedicated almost all his time to defending not only the people he loved, but everyone else too. But now that he finally defeated the big bad, he could rest, at long last.
She lovingly caressed his face, her voice breaking as she told him, “You can rest now.” ‘You won.’
She kept on smiling, trying her best to not break down in hysterics as she watched the love of her life take his final breath. His eyes closed. The arc reactor’s glow slowly faded.
Tony Stark, the universe’s best defender, was finally at peace.
Leaning over, Pepper kissed his cheek, letting her lips linger as she finally broke down, allowing her grief to take over. Her sobs racked her body as she dropped her hand from Tony’s. Rhodey crouched by her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders and she gratefully gripped his forearm. The two of them sat there for the longest time, grieving over their beloved friend and husband together.
“He’s gone,” Pepper croaked, her throat dry. “He’s actually gone -”
“And he died a heroes’ death, Pep,” Rhodey reassured her. “We all know he would have gone through hell and back just to make sure we’d be safe.”
“A heroes’ death,” Pepper wiped her tears and sniffed. “You know, he used to think he wasn’t a hero.”
“I know,” Rhodey nodded solemnly. “Trust me, I know.”
“He really thought he wasn’t cut to be the hero type. People always told him so, and deep down, he believed them. And maybe he wasn’t, but he always fought for what he believed in, and he always stuck his neck out for people,” She stood up, her knees cracking and every other bone in her body aching as she felt the after affect of the battle. “I want people to know that. That he wasn’t perfect, but he beat himself up over and over again to keep us all safe. That he gave his life for the lives of trillions.”
“And they will know that,” Rhodes promised, taking her hand as a supportive gesture. “The world will know that Tony Stark might’ve been a pain in the ass sometimes, but he had a good heart.”
Pepper smiled at that, remembering his first arc reactor, the one the Ten Rings had placed in him and that had started them all on this journey. He hadn’t wanted to keep it and had asked her to throw it away, but she secretly kept it and gave it to him as a gift with the words “Proof that Tony Stark has a heart,” written in bold letters around it. Ironically, it was the same reactor that had saved his life a few days after that. God, that felt like a life time ago!
Pepper had told the heroes that were gathered around them that she wanted to move his body, that they couldn’t leave him there. With the help of Rhodes, Peter and the Avengers, they all decided to carefully carry their fallen friend and loved one away, the way they couldn’t do for Natasha who also gave her life for the fight. Pepper mentally noted to make sure the world knew that as well.
Natasha Romanoff and Tony Stark would not be forgotten.
It was peaceful.
There was no feeling of fear or the lingering feeling of an impending battle. There was only the sense of rest and utter peace, and it was a nice change.
She stood at the Avengers compound, in the same room she had stood in after the battle against Ultron, when Steve told her there was no word on Banner’s whereabouts. Except this time, she wasn’t staring at the wall. She was looking outside, staring at the green surrounding the campus.
She doesn’t feel any pain, not even when she falls down. She doesn’t cry as she puzzles together her life before. All she feels is satisfaction and steady calmness, for she knows she lived her life right.
She walked out of the room, walking back to the room where she and all her friends had sat together at the party before Ultron showed up. She fondly remembers the laughter, the friendships that were further solidified, the memories that were made and stories that were told. They had many nights like that - minus the robots. There were times after a mission or at times every month where they would get together and spend time with one another, drinking and laughing.
When she thought of them, she missed them but not in a way that would give her heartache like it would in another reality. Instead, she feels unbridled love for them and happiness, knowing they were living their lives and that she would one day see them again.
She doesn’t know how long she sits there for, fondly reminiscing over her past life, but she watches the sun slowly lower down. It was nearing sun down when she hears it: music.
Normally, that wouldn’t be odd considering she listens to music as she goes about her day from time to time. However, she doesn’t recall putting on any tunes.
The music gets louder and she recognizes it as AC/DC’s “Shoot to Thrill.”
She suddenly gets the sensation that she’s not alone. It doesn’t alarm her, though. It feels calming, and familiar.
She turns around to see who had turned the stereo on and smiles warmly. She would recognize that wild hair do and oddly shaved beard anywhere.
“Agent Romanoff, did you miss me?”