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where the world went when i closed my eyes

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A girl is six months old, beautiful and perfect, and she never knows her name or her parents’ names.

A girl is five years old and she is called Natalia, because she was taken from her parents on Christmas Day.

A girl is fifteen years old and she is called Vanya on her first solo mission; she is blonde-haired and blue-dyed and has teeth and claws of steel.

A girl is nineteen years old and writes Natasha on a piece of paper that she hands to an American man, who nods and says, “Natasha. I like it.”

A girl is nineteen years old and realizes it’s the first time someone has treated her like a person and not an object, and she thinks, I like it, too.

 


 

 

“Are you supposed to be here?”

The question startles Natasha, and she almost spills the coffee she’s holding on the folder of papers she’s been poring over for the past twenty minutes. She looks up and glares, making a careful save as she gracefully transfers her cup to the table in front of her.

“Are you supposed to be here?”

Tony looks affronted, like he’s surprised Natasha would even dare to challenge him with his own question.

“They took Rogers and Wilson in an hour ago. T’Challa says he wants to see you.”

“Oh.” Natasha reaches for her coffee again and takes another sip as Tony shuffles across the floor. He snorts quietly as he plops down in a chair across from her, and she feels annoyed he can obviously tell she’s uncomfortable.

“What, you don’t like cats?”

“No,” Natasha answers, rolling her eyes. “I like cats. I’m just not exactly a fan of meeting new people. Especially new superpowered people with egos.”

“Wow, I’m hurt.”

“Tony, I don’t even think about your ego anymore.” Natasha pauses. “No offense.”

“None taken,” Tony answers smoothly, a small grin appearing over his lips. “Never from Natasha Romanoff, the people’s person.”

Natasha raises her left eyebrow and only her left eyebrow in reproach. “You know I could still get Ross to kick your ass, right?”

“Thanks, but no thanks.” Tony winces as he wiggles his fingers around. “I’ve had enough ass kicking for one day.”

Natasha looks down at her hands; she’s been trying for most of the day to forget Bucky’s attack for various reasons but Tony’s words unsettle something inside her and she can’t ignore the feeling gnawing at the insides of her stomach, the one that she knows has nothing to do with the fight that took place earlier that day.

“Tony…”

“Nat.”

Natasha swallows, trying to make sure her voice is secure enough that it won’t crack when she speaks again. “Tony, this is bad.”

“Which part?” He sighs, rubbing a hand over his face. “The part where Steve is refusing to listen to me or the part where apparently no one remembers or gives a shit about the fact that we’re responsible for all the crap the world’s been dealing with for the past few years?”

Natasha sighs back. “Both and neither.” She wants to be upfront with him, she wants to tell him she can’t lose them, that she can’t lose this family -- her family -- but the words won’t come out. She bites down on her lower lip, letting her top teeth sink into the soft flesh and tastes blood. Wolves and girls, she thinks wryly, licking away the copper with her tongue. Both have sharp teeth.

“Did I ever tell you what happened after the whole Hydra ordeal?”

“Yeah,” Tony says with a wave of his hand. “You disappeared. Spy stuff, I assume?”

Natasha shakes her head, leaning back on the couch. “Not exactly. I went to find my parents.”

Tony inclines his head, and she can tell he’s been caught off guard by her response. “Your parents? You had parents?”

Natasha shrugs, trying not to take the words as an insult. “I did, but I never knew them. Not really. I mean, I knew I had a mom and a dad...I knew I was taken away from them at some point. But I didn’t know who I was, or who they were. I didn’t know where my name came from or how much I even looked like them. I never saw a picture or heard voices I could remember.”

Tony blows out a heavy breath, reaching for his glasses. “Well, guess that’s better than constantly being associated with your parents.”

Natasha laughs quietly, tossing him a gentle look. “I don’t know. At least you knew where you came from.”

“Really?” Tony asks with a groan. “That’s your silver lining? I was a copy, Natasha. You of all people know that -- you saw firsthand how much my father’s influence fucked me up.”

“I know I did,” Natasha admits, giving him a small smile. “But I also saw someone who was so sure of himself that he knew the legacy he carried, and he let that become his identity. You had that to hold onto, to grow...I didn’t. I still don’t.”

Tony falls silent, tapping one foot against the floor in quick succession, a beat Natasha finds strangely soothing in an otherwise silent room. “So did you find anything? I mean, about your parents?”

“Not really.” She pauses. “Two little gravestones by a chain-link fence. I’m not sure if that was even them, but I left flowers anyway. I had to believe I had some closure.”

Tony leans forward, finding her eyes, and Natasha’s not surprised to find that they’re warm -- gentle and sorrowful, the look of a friend who knows what it’s like to have so many layers that sometimes, it hurts to peel them off because they’ve been stuck to you for so long.

“Guess it’s to make your own legacy, then.”

“Ha.” Natasha gets up from her chair, putting a hand on his shoulder as she moves away from the couch. “Easier said than done.”

“Is it?”

She’s left the room before she can answer, but as she makes her way down the hall, she realizes she can’t answer because she doesn’t have a response.

 


 

 

A boy is six months old, beautiful and perfect, and he has parents who love him.

A boy is five years old and he is called Anthony, named because he is priceless and inestimable worth, two things his father believes he’s going to grow up to be.

A boy is fifteen years old and he is called “Howard” by everyone he meets because he has his dad’s smarts, his dad’s face, and his dad’s name.

A boy is nineteen years old and writes Tony on his name tag at MIT; he meets a young African-American at a frat party who nods and says, “Tony. I like it.”

A boy is nineteen years old and realizes it’s the first time someone has treated him like a person and not an object, and he thinks, I like it, too.

 


 

 

“Are you supposed to be here?”

Natasha blinks, trying to remember what happened. She had fallen -- yes, she remembers falling. But she doesn’t remember hitting the ground, what she knows should feel painful and jarring. She doesn’t remember falling through any kind of portal, or seeing any kind of doorway. She simply fell and then she was standing up in the middle of a deserted park.

“I don’t know.”

“Yeah, I don’t think anyone does.” Tony waves his hand around and lets it settle beside his thigh. “Wanna sit?”

Natasha makes her way over to where he’s sitting on a park bench. She notices his palm is rotted and sore, and it takes a moment for the reasoning behind the injury to sink in.

She knows she might be dead -- she’s not that dumb to think she’s survived what she knows is her inevitable end -- but at least her mind has enough awareness to remember her life, or the end of it.

“You did it.”

“Nah.” Tony looks at her, a small smile on his face. “You did it.”

Did she? She had fallen, which is what she had to do to get that stupid stone. She had made the decision to die, even though it honestly terrified her. She had stopped Clint from killing himself, even though she knew that was something he was going to end up carrying around for the rest of his life.

“I guess.”

It seems strange to reflect on the past, knowing that there’s nothing she can do to go back. It seems strange to think about how much meaning every thought, every step, every word once meant now that there was nothing ahead of her except endless existing. Tony’s hand snakes into her own, cold burned fingers curling around still-warm flesh.

“You okay?”

Natasha nods slowly. “Yeah. It’s just...when we got to Vormir, to get the stone...it was being guarded by this skull guy. He knew my father’s name.”

Tony furrows his brow, turning his gaze away from the open sky. “I thought you said you didn’t know who your father was.”

“I didn’t. I mean, I don’t. But I believed him.” Natasha pauses, looking over with a resigned smile. “That’s stupid, right? He was a guy on a cliff guarding a dumb stone, there’s no way he could know who my father was.”

“Maybe,” Tony says with a shrug. “What about Clint?”

Clint, son of Edith. Natasha knew she was the only person in the world who had enough access and knowledge when it came to Clint’s personal life and beyond that, anything that wasn’t readily available in a SHIELD file.

“Yeah,” she says after a moment. “He was right about that.”

“Well, then.” Tony releases their hands, placing both palms on his legs. “it’s probably true.”

“Maybe,” Natasha agrees with a quiet laugh. “I mean, I’m dead now, so I guess I’ll never know.”

Tony clears his throat before he speaks again, twisting his body so that he’s facing her. Straight on, Natasha realizes he looks younger, more like the Tony she knew when she first came to Stark Industries so many years ago as opposed to the one who had seen so much death and sadness and heartache. “When we were time traveling, we had a problem with New York and ended up having to travel back to the 70’s to get the tesseract. I saw my dad there.”

Natasha feels her eyes widen in surprise. “You did?”

“Yeah, and wanna know what else was weird? My mom was pregnant with me. I had a whole elevator ride where I talked to him about his impending fatherhood and pretended I didn’t know jack shit that the baby he was talking about was me.”

“That…” Natasha trails off, letting the words sink in. “What was it like?”

Tony’s quiet for a long time and Natasha knows that he understands she’s asking more than what the question poses on the surface.

“Interesting,” he says finally. “What’s funny is that it took five years for me to finally figure out what made me happy, and it took one time travel trip to finally realize that maybe being Howard Stark’s kid wasn’t so bad after all.”

“If it makes you feel any better, you didn’t leave a legacy as your dad,” Natasha reminds him. “You left a legacy as you. As Iron Man, as Tony. Not as Howard.”

“So did you.”

Natasha wants to refute his words, largely out of habit, because she knows it’s not the same. Her legacy had so many layers in it, she almost wishes it had been as easy as shedding the skin of an authority figure who had overshadowed her for so many years. She had scrubbed out so much red, made so many apologies, bettered the lives of so many people, and she has no idea if anyone will even remember or care.

“You really think so?”

“What, you think that the world isn’t throwing Black Widow memorials right now? You think every kid doesn’t want to be you for this year’s Halloween?” Tony grins. “Maybe you should have some faith.”

Natasha leans back on the bench, training her eyes to the sky. She still has no idea where she is, how long she’ll be here, if this is even where she’s meant to be. But for however long she’s here, it feels right and it feels good that after everything, she’s here with a friend.

"You know what?” Natasha smiles and reaches for his hand again. “I think I can at least have that.”