After Thanos, everything felt like a terrible dream. Returning home from Wakanda was the brutal awakening. The reality was suffocating, the need unending, and the future more terrifying than what had happened. Natasha went to the farm as soon as she landed. Up until then she assumed part of the family must have survived. She had tried Laura's and Clint's phones. Nothing. She'd tried their private backup comms. Nothing. She'd tried the radio at her off the record safe house, and every possible frequency. Nothing. She should have prepared herself, but she held out hope right up until the end.
When she arrived there, everything was still. The front door was not locked and the house was quiet in a way she had never known it. The first thing she found was the ankle monitor lying broken on the floor. Clint was alive.
There was no indication of Laura or the kids' disappearance. She learned their fate from the evidence of Clint's unravelling. He had packed, but he had not mourned. With almost nothing but weaponry, he had disappeared in The Snap like the rest of them.
They were gone. All of them. She cried for each one and slept that night on the floor of Nate's room. When morning came, she went back to Avengers headquarters.
Five years was a long time to hold out hope, but she did. She coordinated the efforts of the remaining Avengers, gave them some semblance of organization, of a mission. But since that visit to The Garden it had been nothing but pounding on a steel door from inside of a cell with no windows, not even a handle. Just a deadbolt with the key broken off in the lock. Still, somehow, she held them together. She kept on looking and kept on hoping. She didn't even know what for, but she did it for her scattered family and for the lost. Clint, who had first given her hope, wasn't gone but she had lost him just the same. She owed him a debt and would hold on to his hope for him until she could return it.
For those first two years she searched for any sign of him knowing full well he did not want to be found. News of decapitated sex traffickers with their rescued victims recounting a japanese sword was his first blip on the radar. She had kept up with him a little in secret during during her exile and his house arrest. She remembered he was at least glad he could finally train in kendo. He'd always talked about it but never had the time. For those two years he had plenty. She breathed her first sigh of relief. Clint was still out there trying.
He had lost everything. In all likelihood he knew by then that Natasha had survived, but without his family he couldn't be the man she knew. He had become a ghost, out there serving blind justice. Putting right, in his mind, the blind injustice of Thanos' work.
Across the globe she tracked him, following his trail of vigilante justice. Aching for him, disgusted with him, and proud of him all at once. She missed him.
When she could no longer spare the time to keep tabs on his whereabouts, she put Rhodey on the case.
Natasha knew Rhodey would never actually find Clint, but the tail he kept on him was the only piece of her friend she still had. Proof of life was enough for her. If, when she finally could offer him something, anything, she would find him. There was nothing he would be able to do about it. Still he half heartedly fought her, a final push before she closed the few feet between them on that rainy neon street.
Tired, hollow, his ledger dripping red.
"Don't." He pleaded, but only with his words.
Every other part of him begged her, "Please give me hope."