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Breathe

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3 weeks earlier

From those who had disappeared perspectives, the final battle was over fairly quickly.

They hopped through their portals, fought aliens like it was no biggie and watched as Thanos and his army turned to dust.

None of those that had reappeared had had any time to breathe or even completely understand what was going on before it was go time.

Maria Hill was no exception. She woke, got told that somehow five years had gone by and that they had to go right now because the battle had already begun.

Pretty much all of Maria's thoughts had been of her wife. She was nowhere to be seen, neither was her brother by all but blood, Clint. Nick woke right beside her though, which told her they reappeared with the same people they had disappeared with and she had, unfortunately, been nowhere near Natasha at the time.

Not seeing Natasha wasn't too worrying. She hadn't seen a lot of the people snapped away until she stepped through her portal. Knowing her wife, she was already deep in the fray. Either that or...or Natasha had been left behind and had been deep in the battle from the very beginning.

Maria didn't have time to contemplate how awful it must have been for Natasha and those left behind, if her wife truly had been on the Earth for five years without her. Didn't have time to think about how life had changed, how everything was different. She was a spy, and a damned good one, and she was sure as hell not going to miss this fight again.

She threw herself fully into it, fighting and fighting and fighting. For the world, for herself but really, for Natasha and all those she held dear.

And then, all too soon, it was over.

There were sobs and soft screams caught in throats to her right and as she cast her gaze over the ruins, over the bodies and the piles of dust, she saw the young boy crying.

Peter. The mini Stark, taken away with the snap, crying over the body of his mentor.

Ice filled Maria's veins. Tony Stark was dead.

It hurt. It hurt bad and she didn't need to turn to find Nick to know that the man was devastated. But Tony was surrounded by those who loved him the most and Maria had one last mission.

Find her wife.

It took an hour for her to find, not Natasha, but someone close.

"Clint!" The agent called out, running as fast as her burning legs could carry her. She didn't care about decorum. She threw her arms around the archer, clinging tightly to the first piece of home she'd found since coming back.

Clint didn't return her embrace, didn't lift her up or swing her around like he usually did, didn't ruffle her hair and Maria was suddenly struck again with the realization that what had been mere moments for her had been five long years for Clint.

She pulled back, gaze once more lifting to the ruins.

"Where is she?" Maria asked, clutching his bicep with her fingers. She was almost giddy. They'd won. Everything was different now but they'd won. She was home. She would be reunited with the love of her life, they would get to-

Except Clint's eyes filled with tears, his lips pressed into a thin line, his jaw clenching. He opened his mouth but no words came out.

Maria took a step back, a frown falling across her face, eyebrows pulling together. "Where's Natasha? Clint, where is she?!"

The tears the archer had so desperately tried to contain came tumbling down his cheeks and Maria's entire being froze. Heart hammering in her chest, the agent shook her head.

"No." She whispered, rapidly shaking her head. "No. No, this isn't...where is she?!" She demanded, moving towards Clint, hands pressing against his chest. "She's not...she's not. Where is she?" The last word caught and Maria wasn't aware that she was falling until her knees hit the blood stained ground and those arms finally wrapped around her.

A hoarse voice whispered against her ear. "I'm so sorry."

Maria didn't think she would ever stop falling.

How could she ever breathe again?

Now

Maria unlocked the door to the apartment, exhausted and thoroughly fucking done with everything as she slammed the door harder than necessary.

Was it too much to ask for to be given time? Just fucking time. To grieve her wife. To just fucking breathe.

But no, they'd fought the battle, had a mere week to pull together funerals, just a day to attend said funerals and then it was back to work.

The whole events of the past two weeks were a blur. She was exhausted in body and soul, defeated in more way than one. Tired. So tired.

She kicked off her boots and made her way in the dark through the hall and into the living room.

As she turned on the light, something soft wrapped itself around her legs.

"Hi, baby." Maria murmured, bending to pick up Liho, pressing the cat to her chest and letting the purring of the animal seep into her bones.

19 days ago

Maria could barely see as she walked into the apartment she shared with Natasha. She hadn't cried. It still didn't feel real, none of it did.

Maria was sure Natasha was just going to come around the corner with that smirk  of hers.

S he would say, "you didn't think I'd miss you coming home, did you?" She would wrap her arms around Maria's neck and they would kiss and everything would be okay.

Except only darkness greeted her, closing in around her with the faint smell of her wife's perfume lingering in the air.

Heading straight for the liquor cabinet, Maria was surprised when what she'd assumed was a wire she'd stepped on, hissed at her.

"Liho?" She whispered, fumbling for the light and dropping to her knees.

The cat in front of her looked like Liho but was decidedly bigger and had a few white hairs sticking out from her little forehead. Maria knew half the animals had been taken too but Liho must have remained. She was glad that Natasha had had their pet.

"It's me, do you remember me?" Maria whispered, offering out her hand to the cat who watched her with wary eyes. As soon as the black animal sniffed the offered hand, she pounced forward into Maria's lap, purring happily as she kneaded at her pant legs.

"I'm back." Maria whispered, cradling Liho, pressing her face against the soft fur that smelled like her wife.

It was there, in the semi-darkness, with Liho in her grasp, that Maria broke down.

Chapter Text

As she had done those weeks ago, Maria moved towards the liquor cabinet. She was wallowing, she knew that, she just didn't care.

She didn't touch Natasha's favorite brand of lethal vodka, instead she grabbed scotch and forgoing the glass, carried the bottle through to the halls, stopping outside their bedroom door.

The few days she'd actually been home and not flying or in another city or country, Maria had ignored their bedroom like the plague. She’d stayed in the guest room or even just on the couch.

It hadn't been her bedroom for five years so she knew that every little thing in there would hold Natasha's memory, her scent, her life.

Knowing it would end badly, knowing she was self-destructing, Maria twisted the doorknob and pushed the door open.

She hadn't expected the room to look pretty much the same as when she’d left the covers two mornings before the world fell and she wasn't sure whether it was better or worse that it did.

Their wardrobes, the mirror with the post it notes still taped around it, the armchair with the blanket thrown over the back, their favorite wedding picture hanging proudly behind the bed.

Tears pricking the corners of her eyes but not falling, Maria took a couple of big swigs from the scotch bottle as she stepped towards the bed.

The now familiar ache in her chest deepened as of their own accord, Maria's fingers reached for Natasha's pillow. There, across the pillowcase sat one red and blonde hair.

Giving in to the ache deep inside her, an exhausted Maria pulled back the covers, holding her breath as she lay down and pulled them over her.

It was immediately an assault on her senses.

It smelled like Natasha. God did it smell like her.

Unable to stop herself, Maria buried her face into the pillow, pulling in a breath.

It was her. It was Natasha.

She would lift her head to find her wife laying beside her, leaning in to give her a kiss before breakfast. She would smile and tug Maria closer and the agent would go willingly, as she always did and always would.

But when Maria opened her eyes she was alone, in a bed made for two, with nothing but Natasha's memory to hold her.

5 years ago

Maria had been away on mission when everything went to hell.

She didn't receive any of Natasha's calls until it was too late.

The woman had been excited when she'd seen the call, pressing the phone to her ear with a smile. "Hey, baby." She'd hummed.

Something in Natasha's voice had terrified her. "Where are you?"

"About to leave for the airport..." Maria frowned, "you okay?"

Natasha had explained then, in a rushed and frantic manner, all that had happened.

"Nat, where are you?" Maria had asked, stomach flipping, a chill deep in her bones.

"Where the fight is." Her wife had breathed, sounding scared, something Maria rarely heard.

"Nat , please." The agent had pleaded, eyes full of tears.

"No matter what happens, Ria, I love you so much. Thank you for being my wife."

There had been crashing and voices on the other end then and Maria had ceased breathing as Natasha spoke next.

"I have to go."

"I love you." Maria had just about managed to choke out, her heart pounding so hard she thought she would die then and there.

There was a click at the other end of the phone and Maria was left with silence.

With terror and panic settling in for the ride, Maria called Nick.

"We need to get to Wakanda."

They hadn't even made it to the airport.

More tears building, Maria pulled the pillow to her chest, eyes staring at the wall the pair had painted together, and then again when they’d both hated the color.

She just wanted it to be over. She just wanted to sleep and not think about anything that had happened. She wanted to be left alone without her dead wife hiding behind every corner.

She drank her way through half the bottle, laying on her side curled around the pillow. The whiskey burned her throat and numbed her mind just a little. Just enough so that she could finally get some sleep.

...

Of course, even the agent's sleep brought nothing but more pain. Natasha's face and voice floated around her head until they were standing at the edge of that cliff. The cliff she should have been on. The cliff she should have jumped off, not Natasha.

Suddenly she was belly down on the rock, hand wrapped around Natasha, who dangled over the edge of the cliff. Maria tried so hard to hang on, whispering broken I love you's and begging Natasha to come back up.

Then her wife let go of her hand and Natasha was falling and falling and falling and-

Maria bolted upright not twenty minutes after she'd fallen asleep, mouth dry and bile rising up in her throat.

The woman clambered from the covers, breathing hard, the pain in her chest agonizing.

Drunk and off balance, she stumbled back first into the dresser, items scattering and before Maria could even reach out to stop it, Natasha's perfume bottle was crashing to the floor.

Maria could only stare at the mess of shattered glass and liquid as the scent burned her eyes and flooded her mind with yet more painful memories.

13 years ago

Maria wrapped her arms around Natasha from behind, resting her chin against her girlfriend’s shoulder. “Looks pretty good.”

Natasha gazed around their newly decorated bedroom, a grin on her face. “Not bad for a days work, huh?” She turned in Maria’s grasp, her own arms sliding up around Maria’s neck, tugging her down to her lips.

The kiss had been wonderful. Light and free and bursting with prospects before they pulled apart to finish unpacking their bedroom in their brand new apartment.

Of course though, they’d been unable to keep their hands off each other in the process and eventually decided after many stops and starts, to just christen their new bed already.

Maria grinned as she pulled Natasha onto the bed, gazing up at the redhead as she sat straddling her. Unable to stop herself, Maria pulled Natasha too her chest, kissing her, hands sliding up her back as she peppered kisses down the woman’s exposed neck. “You smell so fucking good.” Maria had breathed against her skin.

Natasha laughed delightedly, head tilted back. “Thank my perfume.”

“I will do no such thing.” Maria grinned, leaving teeth marks in her wake. “It’s you, Natasha, you’re just too fucking sweet.”

Natasha had well and truly shut her up after that.

Unceremoniously, Maria followed the perfume's descent, slumping down on the floor, staring at the remains of her wife's last bottle of perfume that she had been fucking dumb enough to break.

Tears building, Maria let out a sob, slamming her fist down into the mess on the floor. Glass stuck into her hand, blood welling across her skin as she screamed, low and keening and broken.

breathe breathe breathe

She wasn't so sure she wanted to anymore.

Chapter Text

1 week later

Maria hadn't left their bed for more than five minutes at a time since she'd smashed the perfume.

The whole room was filled with the scent and she was loathe to leave for long. If she came back and the smell was gone, if Natasha's smell was gone, she wasn't sure what she would do.

She slept a lot, as much as her body would let her, and most days she used alcohol to help tip her over the edge into sleep.

She moved only for the bathroom, more drinks and maybe food about once a day, if she wasn't sick to her stomach.

Her phone, which had rang constantly for those first few days, had long ran out of charge, and sat silent on the bedside table.

She'd caught glimpses of the names flashing on the screen; Nick, Clint, Clint, Clint, Nick, Phil, Clint.

Fury probably wanted her to come in and work and Clint probably called in the hopes he could squash some of his guilt for leaving Natasha for all those years. Phil hadn't even been at the funeral, so God knows why he called. She didn't care enough to find out.

The one name she wanted to see was one she would never see again.

Long into the morning of the seventh day holed up in their room, Maria woke up sick.

Natasha had always joked that she was a lightweight and Maria had stubbornly protested. She could drink Barton under the table, she just couldn't beat Natasha in a drinking game because she was Russian and that wasn't fair. 

Maria wasn't really a lightweight, she'd just had too much to drink and nowhere near enough food. Plus, she hadn't really had a break the entire seven day binge. 

If she stopped drinking, if she let her mind get clear again, then Natasha would be everywhere, the memories would be everywhere. No, the drink helped dull them, helped dull her.

She couldn't bear it. Seeing her wife everywhere.

The funeral had been excruciating. She'd seen Natasha in all those she'd touched. In Clint's broken expression, Lila's eyes, Wanda's tearful gaze. In Sam and Steve and Bruce and Thor and Bucky.

She'd held it together then, somehow, maybe she was just being stoic, maybe it hadn't sunk in yet, but somehow, she hadn't broken down.

3 weeks earlier

They'd held joint funerals that day. Tony and Natasha. It was just easier for everyone, since it had taken some work to get everyone together at the same time.

Maria wasn't upset that Rhodey and Happy had decided to have the funeral at Tony's home. Pepper had a kid that she had to worry about and that was fine.

The scenery was beautiful, the lake was beautiful, the sunset had been beautiful. It was a great place to hold the funerals, it just...held no meaning to Natasha or Maria.

But she understood why it was there and why they couldn't have separate funerals, she just wished they all could have made it a bit more personal for Natasha too.

Maria stood beside Clint, Laura and the kids, and Wanda.

It didn't feel right to stand with Nick or with Bruce or Steve or anyone else other than where she was.

With the man who had saved her wife and brought the pair together. With the family and the children that had embraced Maria with open arms and called her sister and auntie. With the broken still just a girl, who had lost so much and held her grief close to chest.

They were her family, even more than Shield had been.

It didn't feel completely right however and Maria would realise later that it didn't feel right, not just because Natasha wasn't there, but because she was also angry at the archer.

But at that moment, Maria put all the uneasiness she felt, on the fact her wife was dead.

She didn't remember...anything that had been said really, any of the speeches that had been made.

And then it was her turn and Maria found that even though she'd memorized every word of her eulogy, she couldn't do it.

The words in her head were not for anyone else. They were for Natasha and no one, not even her family, deserved to hear them. They were private.

So she'd shook her head, curled her hands into fists and stared out across the water.

Clint had gone up instead.

Later, with the service over, Maria headed over to the lake. She sat down, arms around her knees, the vice around her chest never once loosening up.

She stared at the setting sun on the horizon, feeling nothing.

It had been a blessing to feel nothing.

After hunching over the toilet for at least twenty minutes, Maria forced herself to rinse her mouth out, dragging her still exhausted body back to bed.

She returned to the covers, pulling them over her head like a cocoon.

She wasn't entirely sure when she started crying, just that now she was, she couldnt stop.

Gasping sobs tore through her chest as the pillow beneath her head quickly became damp.

It hurt so much.

Everything hurt.

Maria must have drifted off again because the next thing she was aware of was a rough knocking at the door.

With a soft whimper, Maria burrowed herself more under the covers, willing whoever it was to go away.

The knocking subsided and the agent hoped it would be left at that. But when had she ever gotten what she wanted?

Instead of knocking, Maria next heard the telltale rattling of a door lock being picked.

With a groan, thoughts stormy, Maria pulled herself from under the covers, picked up her gun from the floor and shoving her way out of the door.

Whoever it was really did not want to fucking test her.

Still a little drunk, the agent used the wall for support as she moved through to the hallway, gun pointed up as the door opened and light filtered through.

"I suggest you leave. Now." Maria grunted, clicking off the safety of the gun.

''I'm not going anywhere, Maria, put the gun down." The voice moved closer towards her.

Maria all but growled, eyes narrowed. "Fuck you, Barton."

"Yeah, I've heard that before."

Chapter Text

Maria grunted and threw the gun over to the sofa, rolling her eyes. She stumbled her way over to the now nearly empty liquor cabinet, rifling through the contents until she found something, anything she could drink.

"I would offer you a drink," she said dryly, back to Clint, "but I really don't want to."

The archer said nothing for a moment as he leaned against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. He watched as Maria drank her way through those mini bottles of alcohol they sold at airports.

As she went to open the third, Clint moved from the wall.

"Maria, what are you doing?" He asked quietly.

"What does it look like I'm doing? My wife is fucking dead, Barton, so I'm drowning my sorrows." She threw her arms up, the small action making Maria stumble and knock right into the corner of the coffee table.

"Son of a bitch!" She cursed, clutching at her knee. Seconds later, pain already forgotten, she growled softly and kicked right at the glass of the table top, watching with idle interest as it shattered.

She returned her attention back to the alcohol in her hand.

Clint's pained gaze followed the woman's movements as he debated over what to say.

"Look after her for me." Natasha had said to him, as he clutched at her hand, moments before she jumped from his grasp. "Please."

Look after her for me.

"You're coming to the farm." Clint took a step towards the woman.

"I'm not going fucking anywhere!" Maria exclaimed, a little whiskey sloshing from the bottle and over her hand.

"You know this isn't right, Ria. You know this isn't what Natasha-"

Maria's expression moved quickly from annoyed to full on storm in about two seconds flat.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, hold the fuck up. Are you really that fucking brazen to tell me what my wife would have wanted when you left her for five damn years?!" She spat, bottle forgotten about she she moved towards him, her eyes swirling with rage.

She pushed him square in the chest as she backed him up to the wall. "Because I think you wouldn't be stupid enough to dare say that to me."

Clint swallowed, hands up in surrender. He wasn't going to hurt her. "Maria, come on-"

"No." The agent growled, angry tears in her eyes. "You don't get to barge your way into our home and tell me what my wife wanted when you ignored what she wanted for five fucking years." She pushed him again, harder this time, his back slamming into the wall.

"You don't get to decide when you care about her and when you fucking don't! You fucking left her!" She shouted, voice rising as she got angrier.

Clint couldn't say anything in response. He had. He had left her. So blinded by his own grief that he'd turned his back on the one person he had left. The person who had always been there for him.

He would never forgive himself for that as long as he lived. And, so it seemed, neither would Maria.

He understood.

"Say something!" The agent spat, arm moving up to press against his neck, trapping him against the wall. "Fucking say something, traitor!"

"I'm sorry." Clint said quietly, voice strained due to the fact her arm was across his damn throat. "I'm so sorry."

Maria's face twisted and this time her fist barreled into his face. Clint knew instantly his nose was broken as blood spurred across his face.

Maria didn't seem to see it, didn't seem to realize or care, so consumed with rage.

Despite the pain, Clint just lifted his chin, resisting the urge to wipe at his face. "I'm sorry." He said again, voice thick.

Maria pulled in a heaving breath, her entire being shaking. "Sorry isn't good enough." She growled, and attacked.

Clint didn't fight back, didn't even lift his hands to protect himself, just took each blow as it came, even if they came fucking sharp.

"You left her for five fucking years. Do you know what I would do for five years? Anything. And you fucking wasted them. You wasted them all. She was your best fucking friend and you abandoned her. She had to do everything herself and she fucking died for everyone and now you're sorry? You weren't sorry when you wasted the five years of her life I would fucking kill to have gotten, you selfish! Fucking! Bastard!"

And with that last word, Maria collapsed onto her hands and knees, a sob tearing itself from her chest. A low, keening wail escaped her lips as she buried her face in her hands, sobbing.

Clint peeled himself from the wall, barely feeling the injuries as he absently swiped blood from his eyes.

He knelt beside the woman, pressing a hand to her back.

Clint was sure he was probably about to get punched again when instead, Maria turned, fingers clutching at his shirt as she dropped her head to his chest.

Clint wrapped his arms around the woman, around his sister, all but pulling her onto his lap. "I know. I know. I've got you. It's okay." He murmured against her hair, rocking them both from side to side as Maria sobbed brokenly against him. "I know."

...

Neither agent were sure how long they sat like that.

Clint was only aware that his face was really starting to fucking hurt and Maria was acutely aware that she was potentially going to throw up.

She pulled away from Clint, sliding away to sit about a foot from him, her arms wrapped around her knees.

There were tear marks mixed with the blood dripping down Clint's face.

Maria's heart clenched.

"I'm sorry." She said quietly.

"Don't be." Clint assured, shaking his head as he warily prodded at his nose.

"It's broken." Maria murmured, wincing in sympathy.

"Yeah, I'm getting that." The archer gave her a crooked smile, and just like that, things were back to normal.

"I'll help you set it." Maria murmured, groaning softly as she clambered up to her feet, one hand pressed to her stomach.

"Ah shit." Clint muttered, hurrying over, urging Maria over to the sink.

He held her hair back, soothing her quietly as she threw up again, body quivering.

"Okay, the nose can wait, let's just get you onto the jet." Clint murmured, rubbing her back. "Do you need anything? You've still got all your stuff at the farm."

Maria swallowed and spat out a mouthful of water into the sink. "Toothbrush, we'll need to put Liho in the carrier. Uh..." face falling, Maria dropped her forehead to rest in the palm of her hand.

"Maria?" Clint asked cautiously, squeezing her shoulder. "What is it?"

The woman pulled in a shuddering breath, tears building in her eyes again. "I...I had a nightmare. I was drunk. I fell into the desk and..." She sniffed and shook her head. "I smashed Nat's perfume.'' She finished weakly.

Swallowing, Clint hummed. "Well let's go see what we can save."

...

Ten minutes later, Maria and Clint sat in the jet as it took off for the farm.

The woman had Liho curled at her feet and an old Chinese take out container in her lap.

After examining the place the bottle had fallen, Clint had grabbed a roll of tissue paper from the bathroom and had managed to soak up the perfume still wet across the floor.

He'd folded it up and put it in the container. It wasn't elegant but now Maria still had the scent of her wife with her.

She cradled the box tightly in her hands, staring out the window at the sky.

The bag beside her held only her toothbrush, cat food, her and Natasha's wedding photo and one of Nat's red sweaters.

Inhaling shakily, Maria pressed her forehead to the window and let the gentle vibrations and Clint's absent chatter lull her to sleep.

Chapter Text

When Maria and Clint headed into the house, there were no kids in sight.

Maria was actually glad for that. She was a whole ass mess and though she didn't regret what she said to Clint, she had kinda broken his nose and there was blood everywhere. The kids shouldn't have to see that though.

Laura was clearly trying to do her best at pretending she wasn't waiting around for the pair, but it was pretty obvious she was.

As soon as the brunette heard the door, she was moving from the couch, her hands clasped together, eyes flitting over the two.

Maria winced as Laura's gaze settled on Clint's bloody nose.

Cheeks flushing with what might have been shame only crept further up her face as Laura looked next at her.

Maria couldn't stand it for more than a few seconds, dropping her gaze to the floor, rubbing at the back of her neck.

She knew what a freaking mess she looked like. Hell, what a freaking mess she was.

Her hair was greasy and ruffled, her clothes were pyjamas and kinda dirty, her eyes were red and bloodshot and swollen. Her hand still had remnants of dry blood clinging to the skin, and the jagged cut the smashed bottle had left was inflamed. She knew she probably smelled gross.

Despite her outburst at the archer, he was right. The wasn't what Natasha would have wanted.

Maria found her eyes filling with tears once more, spilling over her cheeks as she fought to just fucking stop crying for one fucking minute.

Laura was going to be so mad at her for what she'd done to Clint, was going to think she was disgusting. She'd be able to smell the alcohol on her and the woman's disappointment would be a hard blow to take.

Unable to speak, Maria stood there, shifting her feet like a scorned child, body trembling as her teeth bit into her lower lip.

It felt like she'd stood that way for hours but it had probably been mere seconds because the next thing she was aware of were two arms wrapping around her.

Maria lifted her hands to the woman's back, hiding her face against the shoulder of the soft cardigan Laura wore.

"I...I..." the agent stammered, breaths catching in her throat.

"I know." Laura whispered, her fingers stroking through Maria's probably real fuckin' gross hair. She didn't seem to care.

Nat had always joked she was a kitten when it came to affection. Maria loved having her hair stroked, loved gentle touches and laying her head in her wife's lap.

It was her weak spot for sure and Laura knew that.

"Also, for the record," Laura hummed as she continued to stroke through Maria's hair, "I think he deserved that punch and he knows it too."

Maria froze, pulling back from the woman, brows furrowed. "He does?" She turned to look at Clint, to find that he'd snuck away somewhere.

"Ria, love, he's going to feel guilty for leaving her his entire life." Laura's eyes sparkled with tears.

Maria swallowed and dropped her gaze once more, the guilt building inside her. She didn't want Clint to suffer like that. They couldn't go back and change anything.

"I was just...I was so mad, Lor. He had...he had five years and he...he didn't see her once and I...there are so many bad things I would do for just one percent of that time." Maria whispered, shaking her head. "I'm just...a whole ass mess right now."

"There's a lot of that going around." Laura said softly, thumb brushing over Maria's cheek. "Now, you're going to go upstairs and shower. There are clothes in the guest room. Dinner is in an hour."

Maria didn't have the wits about her to argue, nodding and offering a tight smile before she headed up the stairs.

...

After nearly 35 minutes of just standing there in the shower, Maria finally forced herself to wash her hair, wincing as the cut on her palm oozed blood down her wrist.

With a small sigh, the agent made sure she was actually clean and didn't have shampoo left in her hair, before clambering out and wrapping herself up in a towel.

She had to admit, she did feel a little more human. Especially after she brushed her teeth.

The guest room, she was both relieved and pained to see, held no outward signs that it had been her's and Natasha's, only the pile of clothes on the bed indicated she'd even been there before.

Actually, it was more relief than anything. Laura was freaking smart.

She was also happy to find as she got changed that the clothes were sweatpants and a shirt. Anything more than that and she probably would have gotten overwhelmed. Again, smart lady.

Taking a quick glance at herself in the mirror, Maria started a little at the figure looking back.

She wondered if the figure would ever stop looking so sad.

Shaking her head, Maria pulled in a breath and headed to join the family.

As soon as she reached the bottom of the stairs, a small figure came barreling towards her. Maria immediately reached down to pick the boy up, pressing her face to his hair. "Hey Nate." She said softly, eyes burning once more as the boy's arms locked firmly around her neck.

"Auntie Ria." The boy murmured, snuggling into the dip of her collarbone. "'S dinnertime."

"Well we better get to the table then, bud." Maria murmured, feeling just a little more human again as she carried Nate through to the dining room.

Clint smiled as he saw Maria, "we tried telling him to wait but he just wouldn't listen."

The words, that's because he's named after Natasha died on her lips.

She wanted to run and hide.

Lila must have noticed the shift because she was quickly standing and moving over to them. "Nate stop hogging Auntie Ria."

Nate grumbled the entire time as Maria lowered him into a seat at the table.

Lila caught her hand and smiled as Cooper waved from his seat. "Hi, Auntie Ria." He said quietly.

"Hey, Coop." She breathed, looking down at Lila.

"We missed you." The girl murmured, "but we understand. C'mon, mom made spaghetti."

Maria let Lila pull her to her seat as she tiredly looked over at Laura.

The food smelled great. The food always smelled great. And spaghetti was one of her favorites. 

But this time even the thought of biting into anything made Maria feel queasy again.

She must have looked a bit green around the gills because Laura carefully knocked her foot under the table. "I'm not asking you to eat a horse, Ri, just eat a little." The unspoken for Nat hung in the air.

Maria nodded and picked up her fork. The first mouthful of pasta was difficult to get down, and the next, and the next, but as she made her way through the meal, she finally realized how hungry she was.

Once her plate was clean, Maria didn't have to say a thing. Clint got up, got her some more food, and sat back down.

That happened once more before Maria finally didn't feel starving hungry anymore. By the time that happened, the kids had already been sent upstairs to play and Clint and Laura had finished eating.

"Sorry." Maria murmured, a little embarrassed.

"Don't be, love, you needed it. God knows you haven't been feeding yourself." Laura raised an eyebrow but Maria knew she wasn't actually mad or anything like it, just concerned.

The agent stood, picking up her dish. Her and Nat had always washed dishes after a meal at the farm.

Maria moved towards the sink, looking a little lost. She'd never done it alone.

A hand touched the small of her back. "Dishes can wait." Clint hummed, ushering her into the living room.

Laura gestured at the space in front of the chair she was sitting in. "Come here for a moment." She held a brush in her hand.

Maria raised an eyebrow but did indeed sit on the floor, pulling her knees to her chest.

"Your hair's a mess, babe." Laura murmured kindly, smiling as she slowly and gently began to pull the brush through the tangled mess that was Maria's hair.

She loved getting her hair brushed. Maybe she really was a kitten.

Not realizing her eyes had slipped shut, Maria startled when calloused fingers wrapped around her hand.

She opened her eyes to a small smile and Clint holding a first aid kit.

"You probably coulda done with stitches but it's a bit late now." He murmured as he methodically cleaned her hand, wiped away dried blood, sprayed antiseptic, used butterfly stitches to pull the skin together and then lastly wrapped a white bandage around her palm and wrist.

By the time he was done, Laura had finished with her hair and Maria could feel the never-ending exhaustion seeping into her bones.

She'd slept so much and was still so fucking tired.

Wincing, she rubbed a hand over her eyes, still gritty and itchy from a week's worth of crying.

Laura smiled softly, stroking her fingers through now tangle free hair. "Let's get you to bed."

Maria wasn't about to argue.

...

Ten minutes later, Maria was all tucked up in the guest room.

Clint had helped her up the stairs and had gotten her into bed, pulling the covers up over her and pressing a kiss to Maria's temple.

"Goodnight, Ria." He'd said softly. "You know where I am if you want or need me."

"Mhm, night." She'd murmured, blinking tiredly.

Laura had swapped with Clint then, holding a cloth in her hands.

The brunette instructed Maria to close her eyes and get comfortable, which she did, then she carefully dabbed at her cheeks with the cloth. It was cold but nice. Soothing.

After pressing against her cheeks for a little while, Laura lay the cloth over her eyes and they actually began to feel a little better pretty quickly.

Laura brushed over her temple and tucked a strand of hair behind the woman's ear.

"You can come get us for anything, Ria, okay? No matter what time." Laura murmured, dropping a kiss to her forehead.

"Sleep well, sister."

Maria was asleep before the door closed behind Laura.

Chapter Text

Maria woke up the next morning to a busy house.

She vaguely remembered that sometime during the night she'd woken up, possibly screaming, and that Laura had come in and sat with her until she fell back asleep.

There was that nice, ten, twenty second reprieve as Maria opened her eyes that morning. As she woke up and her brain kicked into action.

Twenty seconds of just being awake, not remembering, not thinking about Natasha.

But then the twenty seconds was up and Maria sat up in bed, pulling her knees to her chest as it hit her all over again.

Would this be what it was like from now on? Reliving her wife's death over and over and over every single time she woke up until she went to sleep at night?

Jeez, she needed a drink. Or ten. Maybe eleven if she was pushing it.

A quick glance at the clock told the woman that it was already past eleven in the morning, which explained the crazy house.

She heard hushed voices outside the door then, Lila very sternly whispering, "mama said do not disturb Auntie Ria."

"But she missed breakfast." A soft voice lisped, "what if she's hungry?"

Lila sighed. "Nate, Auntie Ria isn't feelin' so good, okay?"

"I know," the boy replied, "that's why I wanna go in."

Lila groaned softly and there was the sound of shuffling feet. "Here's the deal, we're gonna look in and if she's asleep, we're going back down. If she's awake, we're gonna ask if she wants breakfast, not barge in there."

Maria's heart hurt.

Letting out a shaky breath, she tried to force a smile as the door very slowly creaked open and two faces poked their way around it.

"Morning, guys." She said quietly, cringing at the hoarseness of her own voice.

"See, Lila, Auntie Ria is up." Nate began to clamber into the room before stopping suddenly, biting his lip, as if remembering the deal with Lila.

Maria didn't ever want the kids to look like that again. Like they were afraid to talk to her or come into her room, for fear of upsetting her.

"Well Auntie Ria's still waking up so how about before coming down to eat, you guys hop up here with me?" Maria patted the bed beside her.

Nate instantly ran forward, jumping up onto the bed, crawling until he was pressed against Maria's side.

Lila looked a little more hesitant.

"You don't have to, Li." Maria said softly. "But if you want to, I would like it."

Lila nodded, slowly moving towards the bed. She got up on Maria's other side, laying back against the pillows.

The girl's eyes were misty and as she looked at Maria, the agent saw that her lower lip was trembling.

"Hey, what's going on, love?" Maria asked, carefully cupping the girl's jaw.

"I..." Lila sniffled and closed her eyes for a minutes. "I know we used to come in in the mornings all the time and sometimes it would just be you or...Or Auntie Nat but...now...now..." she hiccuped, shoulders shaking as Nate cautiously peaked around Maria, looking sad.

"I know." Maria whispered, pulling Lila to her side, leaning her chin against the girl's head. "I know. It hurts so much to realize the last times."

Eight years earlier

Maria woke to multiple elbows digging into her side.

Blinking, she shuffled a little to the side to find herself sandwiched between her wife and three kids.

Natasha grinned over at her, “morning.”

“Mmm, good morning. And good morning to you, little monster.” Maria laughed, gently tickling under a two year old Nate’s chin. The boy squealed and laughed, his fingers jabbing at her neck in an attempt to mimic the action.

“That’s not how you do it, Natey, this is how you do it!” Cooper proclaimed, leaping on Natasha, fingers skirting down the woman’s side, causing Natasha to burst out laughing, the most beautiful sound in the world to Maria.

And then, somehow they found themselves in the mists of one hell of a tickle fight.

Natasha went for Lila, Lila went for Maria, Maria went for Nate and Cooper and Nate did his best, still more just jabbing his fingers into places.

It was a perfect morning.

"We're never gonna come in and...and spend the morning with Auntie Nat ever again." Lila sobbed, making Maria's heart break anew.

"I know, Baby girl." She whispered, tugging Nate onto her lap so he could reach out to his sister too. "It hurts like hell and I can't tell you it's going to get easier because...I have no idea if it will. But you're not alone in your thoughts, in your feelings, we're all going through it."

"I love you so much." Lila whispered against her shoulder, fingers curled into her shirt.

"I love you too, Li." Maria whispered, squeezing her eyes shut

The day passed quite pleasantly.

Maria helped Nate with his spelling, drew with Lila, played catch with Cooper, helped Laura with lunch and Clint with the animals.

It was nice, fun even, but there was always that weight on her chest, the knowledge that something, someone, was missing and always would be.

As the sun set, Maria swung absently in the bench outside the front door, gazing across the colored sky.

She wasn’t alone for long, Clint and Laura sitting either side of her as the kids enjoyed a film inside.

Sure, Maria had spent days with the Barton family alone before, if Natasha was on mission or wasn’t able to make the trip, but there was that constant niggling in her mind at how different it was.

She always knew that Natasha would join her soon, either at the farm, back at their apartment, or at Shield.

Now, that would never happen again. No waiting for her wife to come home.

Maria said nothing as the pair joined her, just ran her fingers over Liho’s fur, watching as the sun went down.

Laura disappeared inside for a few moments, coming out with three glasses of something.

“Sparkling cider, non-alcoholic.” She said softly, passing a glass to Maria and one to Clint before re-taking her seat to the left of Maria.

“I thought it was about time we shared a drink to Nat.” The woman said quietly, clinking her glass with the other two.

Maria could feel that well inside her opening up again.

“She loved the sunset here.” Maria murmured, taking a sip of the drink. “Said it was better than any she’d seen all over the world.”

Clint hummed, leaning back. “It is pretty perfect.”

“It’s just missing her.” Maria whispered, hand shaking around the glass.

“Then let’s just sit here and remember her for a while.”  Laura said, her free hand slipping into Maria’s as Clint wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“To Nat.” Maria breathed, fresh tears on her cheeks as the sun dipped low.

“To Nat.” The others reiterated.

Maria headed up to bed a few hours later, shoulders slumped and chest aching.

She burrowed herself under the covers without changing or brushing her teeth, holding her hand up to the moonlight coming in through the window.

The light glinted off her ring, as she remembered the day Natasha had given her it.

11 years earlier

Maria came home that night to find Natasha pottering around in the kitchen. The table was set, candles lit, an open bottle of wine waiting for her.

The perfect end to a shitty day, she thought, not realizing it could get even better.

She poured a glass of red wine as she waited for Nat to appear from the kitchen

She couldn’t help the wide smile that crossed her face as Natasha came out, carrying fresh plates of her favorite pasta dish ever, a recipe she’d picked up in Italy at least five years ago.

“Hey love.” The redhead murmured, leaning down to kiss Maria.

“Mm, hi baby.” Maria grinned, tugging the front of the apron Natasha wore until she was sitting in her lap.

They ate like that, sharing forkfuls of food in the candlelight, talking and talking and talking until the candles died out and they were left with only the moonlight to see one another.

“There’s something I want to show you.” Natasha murmured, pulling herself off the woman’s lap and holding out her hand.

Natasha seemed nervous and she definitely did not do nervous, so interest piqued, Maria followed the redhead to their bedroom.

“Look at the dressing table.” Natasha told her, holding that air of mystery that had first pulled Maria to her, stunning good looks aside, of course.

Following the directions, Maria found herself looking at the most beautiful bouquet of flowers she’d ever seen.

“Oh Nat, they’re beautiful.” She breathed, picking them up and inhaling deeply. “But what’s the occasion?”

She turned to find Nat down on one knee on the floor, a small black box in her hand. The redhead’s cheeks were flushed and she had the most beautiful smile on her face.

Maria’s heart beat faster.

“The occasion is I love you.” Natasha said quietly.

“Nat…” Mari whispered, unable to say much more due to the lump in her throat.

“I thought it was time,” Natasha said softly, flicking open the box to reveal a stunning silver ring, with something etched into it that Maria couldn’t quite see.

“So, Maria Hill, will you marry me?” Natasha’s eyes were misty.

Maria stammered through words until she found the right ones. “Fucking hell, Nat, as if you have to ask, get up here.” She tugged at the woman’s hand until they were face to face.

Maria put absolutely everything into that kiss, holding the love of her life close to her.

“Is that a yes?” Natasha asked teasingly, trailing kisses up her jaw.

“Yes. Of course it’s yes, Nat, a thousand times yes.” Maria breathed.

“Good.” Natasha hummed, eyes wide as she held out the ring, slipping it onto Maria’s finger.

It fit perfect and up close, the agent could see that the engraving was of a tiny spider. The date they’d met beside it.

It was beautiful.

It was perfect.

They married one month later at a safe house in Hawaii. The women had no blood family and the whole thing was very small. Clint, Laura, Phil and Nick were there, and that was all the pair needed.

They made love on the beach that night and it was Maria’s dearest memory. Sand in her hair, hot breath against her skin, the delighted laughter of her wife in her ears.

Heaven.

Maria exhaled, blinking back more tears.

She fell asleep crying, her hand pressed to her chest, the metal against her skin.

When she woke, there was someone beside her.

Opening her eyes, Maria expected to find one of the children, but instead she saw red hair and green eyes staring at her intently.

“Hey, Ria, did you miss me?”