Natasha might have run away after her decision at the airport. She might be an absolutely horrible person for doing so, when she had multiple teammates injured on Tony’s side, but Ross arresting her on whatever charge he could cook up was not on her list of things to allow while she was still alive. Neither was making Tony have to deal with that on top of whatever legal miracle he was going to have to pull once Steve pulled his head out of his ass. But she was not a fool, nor was she callous. She kept an eye on things to find out whether anything happened.
So, when all of her alerts went off at once, she thought for a second that FRIDAY and by basic association Tony, had turned her in. An atrocious thought to have about a teammate who hadn’t done anything to her even when she had deserved it a time or two, but the red room had taught her well not to trust anyone. But, no Tony was in the hospital. That wasn’t right. Siberia should have brought an end to the fight. Tony would have helped with the winter soldiers, and there was no bloody way the winter soldiers could have overpowered Tony in the suit alone. Not if Tony was aiming at them with all he got.
Even worse, was when her alerts didn’t go away in the first hour. Because that meant that Tony was unwell enough that he couldn’t demand to get released. The lack of press statement from Stark Industries sowed worry as well. Until she couldn’t justify anything but going to his side. She might have made the wrong call, but she wouldn’t know for sure until she saw him.
So, she hacked the hospital records to find out how bad it was, and whether if she snuck in right then, she could actually speak to the man. What she found was not what she thought she would. She thought she’d find some clue that suggested Barnes had been triggered and Tony had helped Steve block attacks until they could snap him out of it. Instead, she found clear markings in every portion of his charts that Steve was the one who attacked Tony. And that Tony was currently unconscious and that the arc reactor was going to have to be put back in if he wanted to still be iron man, and that his medical proxies were trying to let him wake up to make that decision.
She had to fight her impulses to fly to Wakanda where Rogers had ran off to after Siberia to carve his heart out and shove it down his throat while making sure the others either didn’t know or didn’t comprehend, because if she found out anything else, there bodies would be joining Steve’s on the pile of dead bodies accumulating because she was not playing around. She wouldn’t even have to play the game of hiding to get there. If she had read those charts right, then Pepper would have read those charts as well, and with one call she’d be armed with enough money and weapons to be able to manage her mission without a single issue arising.
However, Tony might not want Steve dead. For whatever reasons the billionaire had gotten into his head, he could easily decide that this isn’t a reason to kill someone, and she didn’t want to isolate him further. Because she wanted his help, yes. But also, because he was her family too. She wasn’t supposed to get an ending like that. She wasn’t supposed to be allowed a family, but she had one because Tony Stark had let them stay, because Tony Stark had fostered them when otherwise they would have been nothing but agents who fought aliens. Steve claimed the rights to the family, but Tony had built them up, refused to let them fall, had protected them when nothing else would have worked. Oh, she wanted to watch Rogers burn. She wanted that more than she wanted to breathe right then, but she talked herself down each time.
All she could do was run, hide, and wait. As soon as he was up, she would go to him. She’d get the full story from Tony’s mouth, and then probably knowing him, he’d show her video footage, so she had no reason to doubt him. Then, she could make decisions and try to handle the situation, because if Tony was injured, it would fall on her to make sure that they don’t break during this time. So, she waited and waited for him to wake up.
It took almost a month before Natasha could afford to sneak into the hospital to speak to Tony when he was both awake and none of his family was at his side ready to snap off the heads of whoever showed up. She let herself in without any fanfare, she didn’t doubt that he saw this coming. He was always a genius and discounting Tony Stark was a good way to wind up dead or wishing that you were dead.
“Hmm, the house won. I figured you would have gone to Wakanda by now.”
Natasha blinked. That was the last thing that she expected Tony to say. “You were injured, since when have I ever left a teammate injured where I couldn’t still reach them if a threat against them arisen? I mean I didn’t even leave Rhodey where I couldn’t reach him if danger had come for him, I figured FRIDAY knew that.”
Tony scoffed. “Sure, let’s play the Natasha Romanoff cares card today. You betrayed us, tell me why I shouldn’t call for the police to come arrest you right now.”
Natasha recoiled from his words. “Do you want to start with that or with Siberia? We’re going to have to hash both out.”
“Given that I’m still debating calling for someone to escort you out in handcuffs, I’d severely stress that you should definitely start with the one that will buy you some good will, which is unlikely,” he snapped.
She couldn’t blame him his anger. A teammate left him for dead by the looks of things, and trust doesn’t come easy after being burned. Trust didn’t come easy, period. After betrayal it was like slime on top of being hidden under rocks, where it would slide out of your hands. So, she nodded to him.
“The accords are good, not perfect and certainly in need of some revisions. I joined your side because one, I trust you and your legal team when it comes to laws like this and two, because I truly believe that we needed oversight. But, we were fighting people I called family. The person who saved me all those years ago, the witch that I was trying to mentor, that I was trying to save the same way I was saved, and a man that I trusted with every fiber of my being. And yet, I still threw punches, and I was treated like someone they would step on, Wanda threw me into a building because Clint wasn’t willing to go for attacks that would keep me down. Then, I saw T’Challa going for Steve and Bucky, and you know as well as I do that T’Challa was going to kill Bucky. He had no patience for a trial, and he was a grieving son,” she began.
Tony gave her a brief nod at that statement. Giving her just an inkling of hope that he’d see why she chose the path that she did. She wasn’t happy about it, no question. But she had made the choice the best that she could.
“And I knew that Steve would be lethal in his defense. He had proven that time and time again. The tunnel and Lagos. So, I hit T’Challa because of the two of them, I had more of a shot of getting Cap to just run instead of kill, and I couldn’t live with that blood on my hands. Tony, I couldn’t let a family member die, and that was the option where our side one that skirmish, and if Steve had won, well then he’d have committed murder for this fight and whatever tether that Wanda was holding onto would be gone, and I figured she’d come after us.”
Tony stared at her for a long moment. “Judgement call, then?”
“Of course. I did not want to break faith, and I certainly wanted to run to Rhodey when he fell. But, I knew that if you had to deal with my legal battles along with everything else on your plate that day, you would have been overwhelmed. I planned on coming out a few days later once the tension had come down to a 3 instead of an 11.”
“Steve didn’t come in peacefully after the threat was taken care of. Steve broke out all of his team out of a prison designed by Ross who somehow managed to gain power after that human rights abomination.”
“Pepper’s on that,” Tony interjected.
Natasha grinned at that. About time that the merchant and his amazing legal team went after that bastard for daring to do what they did. “Then, I got the alert that you were in trouble. I expected you to check out in an hour. You didn’t, so I stole medical files. Steve gave you those injuries, and I was spiraling. I don’t know what to believe or what to do. And I came damn close to calling Pepper and asking for enough supplies to go rip Roger’s heart out and feed it to him and going dark side again. I came so damn close when I realized that you weren’t awake. That you had to put that damn metal heart into your chest again.” By then the smile on her face was done, replaced by a look that screamed winter storm coming for you in the darkest hours of any day.
Tony pursed his lips. “One question before I start explaining?”
“What happened to my parents?”
Natasha arched her eyebrow. Tony hadn’t asked her about them since Steve told him a year ago right after they collapsed SHIELD. “So, as Steve told you, HYDRA placed a hit on them. None of those were successful, so they chose to send in a winter solider. I’m not confident in which one it was, but based on the file that I saw, they sent in the best, which was always Barnes. Why?”
“You knew,” he snarled and reached for a phone. The fire in his eyes brighter than anything she had ever seen, and she knew fear again. Because if Tony Stark wanted her to suffer, her only real option was to suffer. That was often the price of such things.
Natasha’s hand shot out to stop him without thinking. Her fingers wrapped around her wrist and her eyes shining with genuine confusion. “Of course, I knew. Steve said that’s one of the reasons you never moved to the compound, because you didn’t want to see Steve and I for a little while. I was respecting that this whole time.”
Then, it dawned on her. She had known, Steve had known. Tony hadn’t. Steve had never told him. And she let out a small whimper. “He promised he told you.”
“What?” Tony’s voice was still hard, but he wasn’t pulling away from her grip. He wasn’t telling her that they had nothing left to talk about. He wasn’t going to kick her out before she could speak. Not this time.
“We found out while we were taking down SHIELD. I had to go undercover right away, because I was trying to pull as many good, burned agents as I could. I couldn’t easily protect them, but I could at least go after them. I told him that you needed to know. That you deserved to know, Tony. I swear. And I told him that we could tell you when I got back. But, when I got back, Steve was ushering me into the compound and telling me that he told you alone, since it was time sensitive. I thought you knew. I thought you knew and were angry that I couldn’t bear to tell you myself.”
Tony narrowed his eyes in her direction. “And what brilliant deduction gave you that idea, since as you said you were called out on a mission right away?”
Natasha closed her eyes. “Would you like me to recount all of the lies that I am now forced to realize that the captain told me in regards to this? Would you like me to explain how one of the three people that I trusted completely apparently made sure that I betrayed one of the other three?”
“So, you knew. Simple as that, I guess. But you thought I knew. You swear that?”
She nodded. The truth wasn’t nearly as simple as he’d prefer, but she’d play by his rules. She’d play by his rules, because this wasn’t his screw up. She should have confirmed. She shouldn’t have placed her trust in Captain America, because he should be dead.
“If I asked you to go kill him, you would, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes.” Natasha paused for a moment. “Unless you are the one who tells me not to, he will probably be dead before the end of the year is out regardless. Because he betrayed me, and you, and probably Clint. I don’t think that Clint knows.”
“Clint implied that Rhodey’s injury was my fault while I was trying to go save Steve and Barnes. So, you’ll forgive me for not being willing to believe that for the moment.”
“Clint’s always been good at being an asshole, especially right after he’s left his wife and kids. And apparently Steve told them that you knew about the threat and were going to do nothing about it because of the accords.”
Tony chuckled low in his throat. “Does any of this mess not have blame to be laid at his feet?”
“Of course. The witch has her own share of the blame,” Natasha retorted. Her distrust of Wanda had grown over the course of trying to train her. Oh, she had hoped that Wanda could be saved the same way she had been, but she knew better than to bet on that option after this whole situation was going down. “But then, I suppose the fact that she wasn’t beheaded was Steve’s decision, so perhaps I was quick to deny him that blame.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “No, the blame lies on her for that one. Steve can have the blame for all of the mental health crises that occurred when he put the witch on the same team as people that she mind fucked on multiple occasions.”
“You were quiet about that for a while.”
Tony shrugged. “Didn’t seem to be much point when there was a legal trial about it. A legal trial which I’m pretty sure that you’re the only one who paid any attention to. One where I proved that my innocence over the Ultron fiasco was concrete because of the fact that one, my system was not operational at the time it came online, two there was an unknown alien artifact involved and alien magic to boot, and three, I was under mental distress after being shown my whole team dying because an ex-hydra witch put my worst nightmare on replay in my mind while I was suffering from PTSD.”
Natasha reached out hesitantly before she could wrap her hand around his shoulder. “I wish I had known what to do to help you.”
“You could have been there,” Tony pointed out.
“I thought I was. I made sure that any time I was in New York, that I stopped by the tower. I made sure that any time you were at an event, I was there in the shadows, so you knew you wouldn’t be alone when captured this time.” Natasha sighed. Those were excuses at best. “Steve told me that you didn’t want to talk, so I didn’t try to speak. I was just a presence, I thought you’d come to me once you realized that me not telling you personally was because of the issues with SHEILD, not because I didn’t care. I thought that there was a reason for the avoidance,” she added.
“I really want to tell you to go kill him.” Tony buried his head with a pillow for a long moment. “But, we’ll need him when the time comes for the final fight. Will you go to Wakanda? Will you convince them to sign the accords for a presidential pardon that I’ll be for privately and against publicly? Will you help keep that team from getting killed before we need them while I form a better one, one that doesn’t stab each other in the back? I wouldn’t ask unless it was important.”
Natasha closed her eyes. There was nothing she wanted less in her life than to need to go grovel before Captain America about what a mistake she made. She wanted nothing more than to bury her blade so deep into his heart that he had no choice but to understand what was coming. “It would be my penance, when I got home, you’d forgive what happened before?”
“If you wish. I just don’t have anyone else to trust with this.”
Natasha let out a breath of air. “For you, yes. But on the promise that the second that the world no longer has a need for captain America, I get to be the one to bury him in all of his glory.” With a shake of hands between friends since Tony couldn’t let her hug him in his current position. Natasha had a new mission.
Natasha rued her promise. She hated every minute that she had to play the spy that could game with every single one of them. She wanted to break Clint’s jaw every time he made a quip at Tony about his ego, his money, power or anything else. And Steve hadn’t told anyone what actually happened in Siberia.
She hadn’t had a problem convincing them to sign the Accords when pardons were on the table. Apparently, that meant that the world had heard their side of things and had come to the correct conclusions. The largest load of bullshit she had to put up with by far was the way that they assumed once they landed everything would be normal. Nothing was normal.
The avengers had the compound. They were not the avengers. They weren’t even close. Tony’s team, the real one now had three iron man suits. His own, Rhodey’s and Pepper’s. She had donned the suit the day after the airport and told the world that if they wanted to touch her people ever again, they better come prepared to deal with her too. His team also had a new wizard on their side, which was good because Wanda wasn’t getting better. She got worse, and worse each day.
That meant they had no real place to stay. Oh, she had made sure they had a rundown little house to call base, but they were on their own for funding. They had weaponing, but other than hers, they never got updated or fixed. Not that any of the others ever knew when hers malfunctioned, so handing them off at random events to one of Stark’s people was easy. They exchanged information on a regular basis.
No, her real problem was talking Steve out of doing something stupid every single week. Because Natasha there’s a civil war, we should give our support to the right side. And there was no talking him out of believing that there was always a right side. There was no talking him out of that being a colonizer attitude. She didn’t have a way to stop him from blowing his fuse at politics every time the news mentioned something that made him think of the bad guys in the war. She had to bite her tongue, and come up with a fancy explanation of why that would be very bad, but how someday once they had won back more public support, they’d be able to save everybody.
Clint was going on yet another rant over how Tony’s selfishness was what didn’t let them come home. And Natasha was going to strangle him. Her affection for him had died out long ago, she felt like her debt was paid the day that she didn’t kill him in his sleep the first night he had dared to say that Tony was nothing more than an egotistically inclined asshole. By this point, it was a chore not to kill everyone slowly.
Finally, Natasha shot her head up. “Steve, we need money, right?”
“You got an idea.”
Natasha in fact had a semi-coherent one, that would give her a chance to see Tony and rant about the rogues while doing things that would make them happy for enough of a minute to give her a breather. “Probably should be a solo mission though.”
“Because you’re the only one Stark doesn’t hate,” Wanda snapped.
“Yes. Also, because I’m the only one of us not currently under any restrictions because of the pardon agreement. Remember that I got off with a not guilty charge because I took the best course of action to avoid reasonable loss of life of innocents.”
Steve shook his head. “The pardons said that we’re not guilty either, Natasha.”
Natasha breathed in slowly to keep herself from going off the deep end for a rant that wouldn’t fix any of the current predicament. “That’s not what the news thinks, and if we get any more bad press, we won’t even be called to help in the US.”
Steve jerked his eyes around for a moment, before asking in a hushed tone. “Do you think that’s because of Tony’s influence or something else?”
Natasha paused for a moment. “Tony did help get the pardons through, not with the normal channels or the news, but he did tell the president that it was alright for you to be allowed back in, and he wouldn’t do anything extreme in retaliation. It seems unlikely that he’d say that and then work against us, this is probably his first step towards reconciliation.”
She knew better of course, but she wasn’t about to start screaming at Steve right now. That would accomplish nothing, and she was playing a long game for Tony’s sake. Her own sake to probably, but mostly Tony’s. “As for others, Hydra is done for, they don’t have any way to reach out to news organizations like that. Between what we did before the civil war and what Tony did afterwards, there’s nothing left but ashes. It might be international politics because Nigeria and Romania and Germany all still want our heads on a silver platter delivered to them. Perhaps, withstanding me, but even I would be hesitant before stepping on the soil of those countries right now.”
Clint glanced up. “You don’t think your not guilty plea reaches that far?”
“The actual plea, yes. The fact that I’m still working with the ones who weren’t declared not guilty, also yes. And I think they would see that as a point of mixed loyalties and amends, thus would be wary of me to a level that wouldn’t allow me to do much of anything.” If she was working visibly, otherwise this would be nothing for her. She’s walked through areas like this before with nothing but a smile on her face. This wouldn’t be all that different at all.
Clint nodded. “Would be way easier if we had a government agency behind us.”
“We could, if we agreed to operate outside of the United States by allowing the accords council to vet us and send us in, we’d have the support of the world behind us.”
“The accords are way too restrictive, Natasha,” Steve yelled. “We all had to sign to agree not to interfere in countries other than our own already. What happens if we go further and they tell us that we can’t go help when the next disaster happens? Too risky.”
Natasha closed her eyes and did some careful breathing exercises. “I was just pointing out that if the problem was as simple as Clint had suggested, then the solution would also be just as simple.”
Wanda finally looked up and grinned at Natasha. “Yeah, you signed them right away, and they almost immediately asked you to attack your family. Not a smart move when so many of the people they were trying to control were already against them.”
In her head, she put together exactly how she would kill each one of them. She’d need to take Wanda down first because she’s unpredictable, a loose cannon, and the most powerful of all of them, but she’d have the advantage of surprise. A bullet straight through her forehead would end the problem before it could begin, and she had so many reasons to do that.
Then, she’d go for Steve. Because Clint would be reeling in shock because he wouldn’t have seen her put on the mask of winter in quite a while because she had been safe. She had been with people that she could trust, but that had been a long time ago now. Steve, she would remove his head, so she could be sure that he stayed dead. She’d probably keep that head with her for at least the first two years to reassure herself that he wasn’t going to be revived in some crazy experiment again.
After that it would be a tossup between Sam and Clint. She’d probably go Clint, because he was vocally rude to her actual friends still. She’d attack him, but for the things he’s done for her in the past, she’d make it a clean, quick death. That would be polite.
Sam would have a choice, because he did usually try. He didn’t like the accords, but he had real reasons to dislike them. If he couldn’t trust his own government at the moment, then why on Earth would he trust the council of international governments coming together. Those governments hadn’t intervened for him before, and why should this be any different. She could almost see his reason for running behind Steve, she just wished she had a way to pull the wool from over his eyes where he could see the evil within Steve Rogers. She’d let him come in peacefully if he surrendered to her after that. She’d probably even argue with Tony about potentially giving him a second chance.
It shocked her that she did in fact like Sam. That he wasn’t an asshole like the rest of them, he was just caught up in the wrong side because he was only told half the story, and the other side wasn’t currently willing to let the facts out. She wondered what he’d do if she just laid out all of the facts to him one night after slipping into his room.
Instead of voicing any of these thoughts, she stood up and put a few small weapons on her just in case something went wrong when she went out. She knew better than to try anything more obvious than that to let them know that she wasn’t planning on this turning into a real huge fight. “If I leave now, I might have an actual budget for us by Monday, and that would be much better than what we’re currently working with.”
She waited for Steve to nod to her before leaving the house and barely made it to the end of the neighborhood walls to where he wouldn’t be able to hear her, before she let loose a small sob. She knew that this was a type of penance, her failure to see his evil before it rotted at her team in such a way. But she was breaking, maybe in small ways that she’d heal from, but she didn’t have anyone to lean on, she didn’t have anyone that she could hold onto when things got rough, and she wasn’t able to justify having her own room, either.
Tony would be in the parking garage of SI in 45 minutes, and that would be a decent place for a conversation that the media would need to believe was more coerced. The media didn’t know her role right now, and they couldn’t until it was all done and over, and by then hopefully, Pepper would be willing to help make her life a bit easier by planning a staged press release of that information.
She made it to the parking garage long before Tony did. Not that she was surprised to know that occurred, she was the super spy, he was the CEO.
Tony didn’t look shocked to see her sitting on top of the roof of his car, nor did he look shocked at the weary expression on her face. “What’s brought you to my corner of the world, little spider?”
“Are we alone?”
“A question with a question, dangerous business there, Romanoff.”
So, they weren’t alone. She couldn’t even rant in plain terms to her one friend left while trying to do this. She hated so much of life that she debated sliding down to her knees and begging him to fix it anyway. But, then she found her backbone and grinned at him. “We were friends, Tony. Surely, you can call me by first name. But, on to why I’m here, you still have the rights for the original patent for the name avengers and get the money from stocks.”
Tony bit his lip to probably fight back a snarl about the fact that he hadn’t thought to take care of this before sending Natasha into the mouth of hell or a laugh that Natasha actually had to show up here to take care of finances for a group of idiots. Briefly, she had debated robbing a bank instead, but if even a hint of that was put on TV, Steve would have been on her in a moment. He didn’t trust easily. “I won’t sign it over to Rogers, even if that was legally allowed.”
“You could sign it over to me,” Natasha replied. Hoping that he read in between the lines. That she needed a safe guard, such as controlling the funds, or sooner or later Steve Rogers was going to go off the deep end and fuck off to intervene in some foreign war, and they couldn’t afford that. If they were going to play the long game, then that’s exactly what had to happen.
“The paperwork will show up at the address in two days. It will only work with your signature, so don’t let the others get it into their head that this is you trying to control them. Don’t come back here, Natasha. There are always eyes where we don’t want them.”
“But not right now?”
“No, they’ve left momentarily.”
“Then, I need you to know that by the time that we hit the endgame, they’re probably going to go down after the battle’s won. Internal injuries will likely be what the medics rule them.”
Tony blinked. “Do you need me to pull you? Natasha, I don’t think leaving them alone is a good idea, but if the cost is you, let them suffer alone. Let them learn their lesson by rotting in jail the next time that they dare to do something against the laws of the land.”
“I’m not worth more than the world.”
“Neither are they,” Tony retorted.
Natasha flashed him half of a smile. “I can last a little bit longer, but I’ll let you know when that changes.”
Tony reached out to catch her hand before she left the garage. “Don’t you dare push yourself too far. Don’t you dare take a member of my family from me before I even got to introduce you to most of them.”
“Please,” was all she could manage to choke out. She wasn’t sure if she was asking him to let her leave and go back to the rogues just to keep them from trying to destroy every single thing that they’ve been trying to build or whether she was asking him to take her home. Then, she pushed herself to keep walking away. Because that was the last thing she wanted, and the thing that needed to happen, if she still wanted to pretend like she was a decent person, and she wasn’t too sure that she wanted to.
Now that they had some money, she had some leeway. She was able to convince them to still do low level missions until they could afford a base of operations with a room for all of them. She was able to convince them to follow the laws mostly. That was about all she had hoped for. That lasted for six months, because that’s when T’Challa told them that James Barnes was to be released.
This was of course the worst possible place for Barnes to be, or Winter. The name James had been burned out of him, along with Bucky and every other thing that could have led to him reject the training. The trigger words being gone didn’t make him less of a killer. They understood each other.
He knew that she wanted to be anywhere but here, but didn’t know that she had a home. She knew that he wanted to leave and be done with this life, but had sins to atone for that wouldn’t let him sleep at night. They talked in Russian, much to Steve’s growing disappointment. There was only so much that Natasha was still willing to do to make the man happy, and those things only involved what was necessary to keep him from committing any crimes against humanity. Everything else was nothing to her.
But it exploded one day. It was always going to explode one day. “Bucky?”
“Not my name, punk.”
“Sure it is,” he wheedled. “Anyway, I know that you’ve been struggling to get rid of the Russian from your head, other than those awful trigger words.”
Natasha closed her eyes and counted to ten. If he suggested something insane, she was going to have to act, and that would be unpleasant. Her job still stood, and her mental state was much better than before. The glory of having a bedroom to herself where she could threaten to stab anyone who entered.
She slipped a code into her phone to connect her to Tony. She needed to know what she could do. She needed to know whether he’d have her back on Barnes not being the problem here, and that she could trust the man to take care of him. Things were weird there and she wasn’t going to deny that. She’d need someone who knew the way too. Time to trust Sam if things go sideways, because if she leaves, Steve will try to kidnap Winter back.
“Wanda says that she’s willing to try tomorrow to bring your old memories to the surface over the winter solider ones,” Steve continued.
Natasha’s eyes flew open and Winter started cussing in Russian. “Steve,” she shouted causing every other person to turn to face her.
“Natasha, it’s not mind control, but it will bring my Bucky back to me.”
Natasha barely stopped herself from launching towards him with blades out determined to rip him from rib to rib. She slipped to Russian to tell Barnes to wait for her knock that night, she’d get him out. Her back straightened out, and she met Steve’s eyes. “I will not support you. I may not stop you, but I offer you no support, I offer you no comfort, and if you hurt him, I will offer you no amount of forgiveness on his behalf. Do you understand me?”
“Nat,” Clint whispered.
“No, if Steve Rogers is willing to jeopardize someone who is clearly uncomfortable with the idea based on the insane hope that he can somehow save the man he once knew who has suffered, I need him to know that I cannot condone it. I can barely live with myself not reporting him for it.”
“Thank you, spider,” Winter said.
“She’s not a spider, Buck. This is why we have to try Natasha.”
“It’s why you choose to try,” Natasha snarled before leaving the area. She reached for the phone link that she had texted her little rant into. All that was there was a bolded line of text reading “I trust you.” And she almost messaged right back “then get me the hell out of here.” But that would be the cowards option, and the option that would quite possibly destroy Winter and Sam, and she wasn’t about to let them suffer, and being a good person takes a lot of effort.
She tapped herself out until the night fell. She so wasn’t up to dealing with Captain America, and no one was willing to come to her room when she was in a mood. At least they all still held that fear that she could rip them to shreds, and it wasn’t an entirely made up fear anymore, there were several of them that she would kill if she had just a word from Tony.
She slipped out once she was rather positive that most of them were asleep. She stopped at Winter’s room first, and she was silent as she told him to follow her with her eyes. Then, she led them straight to Sam’s room.
She tapped on the wall, and she felt FRIDAY helping boost the sounds of natural sleep cycling, so it would take more for Steve to hear them. “Get up, Sam.”
Sam blinked as he slowly woke up. He nodded once he saw Winter standing in the room. “It’s wrong, but we’re not going to be able to talk Steve out of it, Natasha. Better to be able to handle the fallout than to be on the receiving end of 8,000 lectures about it while we can’t change anything. It’ll be okay, Steve won’t let Wanda destroy him.”
Sam turned his head to Winter slowly. “I mean that as gently as it possibly could be taken. I don’t want you to have to go through that, but I worry that trying to stop Steve will hurt you more in the long term.”
“I know,” Winter said. He glanced towards Natasha and titled his head. “But she has more to tell, and she has more to offer, because she will not allow this to happen again.”
“He’s hurt people I care about before because he believes that his actions are righteous even when they are not. And for some unknown god forsaken reason, Sam Wilson, I’ve decided that you’re going to be saved too. Because a part of me believes that in a better world, you would have stopped all of these things from happening if you had the power, and that’s enough for me. That’s enough.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “The only person who could grant Winter enough sanctuary to be able to survive what Steve sent after him would be Tony Stark, and he won’t.”
“He will,” Natasha said. She waited until their attention was drilled onto her. “Today, you get to learn about Siberia, Sam. And I don’t mean the load of bullcrap that Steve heaps on every single time a news agency mentions the attack, or the way that Winter shields and deflects every time that comes up even in passing.”
“I mean the real story. The story of how a spy and a captain broke into a Hydra base almost two years before the accords were in the picture, and we found out that James Barnes was alive, and that the mind-controlled version of him had killed Howard and Maria Stark. About how the spy knew the son deserved to know, as their friend, as their financial support, and most importantly as the only living victim to that crime.”
Sam nodded. “He needed to know. The closure would have been like a band aid over a wound that had been festering for years. But that doesn’t explain Siberia.”
Natasha twitched her mouth up as Winter clenched his fists. Winter looked murderous. “We’re murderers, spider.”
“We could kill him and leave. Bring Wilson with us. We don’t have to let him live after what he’s done, and perhaps there is a good argument to be made for that we shouldn’t.”
Sam’s eyes flashed to hers.
“Because that is my atonement. I keep Steve Rogers alive for the fight where he will be needed, and I get to be forgiven. I will not go back on my word there just because Rogers refuses to abide by basic human decency.”
“Why do you have to atone?” Winter’s voice was low and dangerous, and she expected that if her answer was something worse in his mind than it should be, that he would be more than happy to show her his blades again.
“Because I made a bad call, and it led to him being hurt, and I will not allow him to just forgive me because I wish to be forgiven, I will work for that right. I knew what you did, but I trusted Steve to tell him. I trusted that Steve did tell him when he told me that he did. Lies, as I now know.”
Sam waved his hands. “Someone want to fill me in on the story?”
“I killed Stark’s parents.”
“I knew,” Natasha added. “So did Steve. That’s what really what happened in Siberia. Tony was shown a video of Winter killing his parents in a violent manner while his father begged for help from Bucky Barnes who was long gone then. And Steve knew, and Tony found out. The first portion of the fight was just Tony going after Steve, but things escalated. Between Winter not knowing what the hell was going on, Steve choosing to fight back rather than do conflict management in a situation that clearly needed conflict management, and Tony being a ball of rage, all that ended up happening was Tony being left bleeding, dying in a cold wasteland.”
Winter inclined his head. “How close did you come, spider, to not letting Tony choose and just come kill us all in our sleep?”
Natasha smiled. The same one that he had worn when he had went with them on the last mission that Steve had sent them on when he took the sniper shot that almost no one else could have made. They were both trained after all by HYDRA to be able to kill. “You assume that he didn’t give me that permission. I just have to wait, but mark my words, Steve Rogers is just a dead man walking.”
Sam rubbed at his eyes for a moment. “I need several drinks to deal with this.”
“That I don’t doubt. But, I need you to get Winter Wonderland to Tony. I need you to get him out, because I cannot. That was my deal, and I haven’t hit my breaking point yet, where I ask Tony to release me from my redemption strike out here.”
Sam gulped. “I haven’t been the best to him. Well, I didn’t really know him, but even still, he’s got to hold some resentment for me sending him to Siberia where he had to face one of the worst days of his life.”
“Why would he hold that against you? You thought you were sending a friend after a friend. You thought that you were helping do the best you could. If Steve hadn’t broken you out, Tony had a plan to come talk to you, because you were always reasonable Sam. Because the reasons you didn’t trust the accords, both of us understood. He would have hired you lawyers to get you off the charges even if you decided to put up the wings again. Tony doesn’t blame you. He might have if you had known, but you didn’t.”
Winter reached over and gripped Sam’s shoulder. “And if you make me go out there alone, there’s a chance that I won’t make it to wherever Natasha wants me where the witch can’t reach me. And they will kill me. They will kill the person that I’ve become and make me a carbon copy of what Stevie remembers which is warped by 70 years in the ice and an entire world war.”
Sam took in a few deep breaths. Then, another set of breaths. “I would very much like it known that if this adventure kills me, Natasha, that I want it on my tombstone that I did it for the right reasons. All of it, even if they weren’t the best choices, that I did them for the noblest reasons.”
“You won’t die,” she stated. “But yes.” She tilted her head to the side. “You’ll need to get him to the Tower. Not the compound, because they haven’t finished all the precautions for magic users there. Use my name to get you through each door, until Tony shows up to talk, and then explain.”
“What about you?” Winter asked.
Natasha glanced out towards the stormy skies, and she debated saying she’d be right behind them, but she knew that would be a lie resting on her tongue. “I’ll be right here, still trying to keep Captain America from becoming so much of a nuisance that we have to throw him into a jail cell, that the terrorist witch remains on the righteous path that gets harder and harder each day, and that when the time comes they’ll be ready and willing to fight the evil that has already proven willing to attack us at any given prompt.”
She helped them out of the window and down the side of the building. FRIDAY’s system covered for her long enough to get back to her own room, where she curled up into a small ball, the smallest that she could tuck her body into. She didn’t cry, that was more weakness than even she was wiling to allow for what was currently happening. But, she did count in her head the number of different paths she could have taken tonight, and she did regret that her actions had led to this being the best one. She didn’t want to have to be responsible for this.
She was right to be concerned. The next few months were repetitions as she kept herself as the almost leader of the remainders of a team. A team that now only had three members not including herself, which she was at least grateful for.
Wanda knew that she didn’t tell them why Sam and Winter had left, but she didn’t ask. At least never in front of Steve and never when they were alone. She just quirked her head to the side evaluating her constantly. That would set her more on edge, if Wanda wasn’t slowly learning to process her powers without attacking anyone.
One morning, they were all in the kitchen area. Natasha was cooking, because Steve didn’t understand all of the cooking changes that had been made since he went into the ice and learning didn’t seem to be one of his strong suits. Wanda was decent at some meals, but she didn’t like mornings. Clint hated to cook, period, and she kept of the pretense of not minding.
“Steve,” Wanda called. “Why does Natasha love Tony Stark?”
Natasha froze where her hand was near the stove to watch as Steve turned his expression to her in a look of puppy dog compassion. She was grateful that there wasn’t anger there. Then, she turned her head, and there was the anger plain to see on Clint’s face.
“You should ask Natasha,” Steve said.
Clint snarled. “Yeah, why would she still care about that treasonous cowardly worm?”
Natasha took a breath, and the dam broke. She wasn’t going to be able to hold it in anymore. She wasn’t even going to try. She knew the cost of lying, and she wasn’t willing to pay it. Not this time, not when her love was called into question. Not when one of the few things that she was truly proud of was being potentially treated as something to be ashamed of. That was her sticking point. “You really want to know?” in a voice quiet enough that Clint should have known to back away slowly. But he had forgotten.
Nods came from all of them, and Natasha flicked off the switch on the stove. She didn’t need fire to be happening at the same time as all of this. She wouldn’t have enough energy to deal with the flames in anger and the flames of a kitchen. “Alright, let’s start with the simplest. I love Tony because he is a good man, better than any of the rest of us, and he doesn’t change that even when he should, even when all logic dictates that he change.”
Clint gaped at her for a long moment.
Steve on the other hand shook his head in shame. “Natasha, he might be a good man. But better than anyone else. That’s how you get ranking systems that hurt others. He’s not better than us.”
“Oh, no. He’s a hell of a lot better than me. He’s the only damn reason that any of you are still breathing, because he asked me to push down my anger. Because he asked me to make sure that you survived. And he’s so much better than Wanda over there. Because he’s willing to forgive wrongs done against him, even ones that are directly obvious when the people are actually remorseful. He’s forgiven me, despite me being the cause of enough pain to destroy a lesser man. He’s forgiven T’Challa for giving his parent’s murderer sanctuary instead of making him stand trial. He’s forgiven Rhodey for not seeing that something was wrong as he was dying. And there’s a part of him that forgave you enough to not bury you alive.”
She paused to take in a long breath. “And you, you Rogers, he has beat in spades. Because he has never lied to someone that he loved like that. He doesn’t lie to any of his team. He didn’t even hide from us after Ultron when all we had was disdain and anger, because we didn’t know that the witch,” she yelled pointing her finger out towards Wanda, “was manipulating his mind too.”
“And Clint, fuck you. He gave you a home when you couldn’t get back to your wife right away after a tough mission, and he didn’t ask for a thank you. Instead, the second that Steve said he’s the bad guy, you were up in arms. Why? Fucking why? He loved you too. Just like he loves me, so why?”
“He didn’t call.”
“So what? You got the ending he’s always wanted. You were happy with your family. He was never going to call, Clint. He would have fought tooth and nail to make sure that the legal team never had to drag you before the councils, so you’d have a happy retirement. Of course, he never called. He would never.”
Clint flinched back under her intensity. “Natasha, why wouldn’t I believe Cap? The last time that Stark went over the top, we all had to deal with the fallout of an evil AI who was hell bent on murdering us all.”
“An evil AI that she joined,” Natasha hissed. “Or are we literally never going to mention that at first Wanda wasn’t just HYDRA, she was also fucking with Ultron?”
“She’s changed, Natasha,” Steve countered with a heavy sigh. “And I can tell that you are far too emotional right now for any type of meaningful conversation, so maybe the rest of us should leave until you calm down.”
“No, you wanted to know. So, you get to know. You don’t get to have it both ways just to appease yourself that you’re the better man or whatever.”
Natasha reached over and grabbed a towel to brush off her hands. Before slamming them down right in front of Steve because if she had gone this far, she was going to go all of the way down the rabbit hole and see what she could do from down there, because hanging onto the edge didn’t seem like a good life to live. “That was an impersonal reason. That’s just a statement of fact. Want to know why I love him?”
“Yes. I love him because he’s never lied to me, even when I have to him once unknowingly and once for a job. I love him because he forgives my missteps even when they hurt him more than I ever meant to hurt anyone, let alone him.”
Steve rolled his eyes. “You don’t need to be forgiven. You’re a good person.”
“Am I? Because I didn’t feel like a good person when I found out that I had unwittingly kept from him the fact that his parents were murdered for two years.” That finally got the flinch from Steve that she had been waiting for this whole time.
“Because that felt like I was digging a knife wound into a friend and didn’t even know my hand was the one holding the blade. I wonder whether that’s how Barnes felt. And who put me into that situation? It wasn’t the enemies of the war, it wasn’t a terrorist organization, or some stranger. No, it was my other close friend, someone I trusted with my whole life. That person made me responsible for digging a hole into someone I loved heart.”
Natasha stalked forward until she was leaning directly into Steve’s face and baring her teeth for him to see her anger. “And guess what, that person has the nerve to believe that I was never mad. That I was the one who made mistakes by joining the other side in the first person. That person somehow got it into their head that they’re the good guy of the story. Any ideas on who that’d be?”
She casted her eyes around the room, to Clint who had gone a deathly pale and was clearly wondering whether he was just as dead as he now knew Steve was going to be. And to Wanda who was nodding her head as if she had finally put some pieces of an infinite puzzle together. “Anyone?”
“Steve,” Clint whispered.
“Steve,” she said. “So, why do I love Tony Stark? Because as of right now, he’s the only family I’ve got left. Maybe one day I’ll be able to add Sam and Winter into the mix. Maybe one day, Vision will forgive me for being the cause of his father’s pain and letting Wanda send him through 20 stories of concrete. Maybe Pepper will one day call me friend again, or Rhodey. Maybe Tony will allow me to have a place in his new team and I will gain a family that actually works off trust. But I don’t have that now. And as long as I’m here I never will.”
She stepped back and hopped onto one the chairs. “And that’s the kicker. Because I won’t leave. I promised Tony that I’d make sure that all of you stayed out of trouble so that when the aliens come again, you’ll be ready for the fight. So that when the time comes, you will be able to at least give humanity have a chance. That’s what he asked from me right after I had wronged him so deeply. So, I will hold by that promise.”
“You think you can after this?” Steve wondered. “Because Natasha what reason do, we have to trust you now? Why would we listen to a woman who has made it clear that she hates us?”
“Yes. Because I have your money. And if you try to ignore me, you won’t have any. You won’t be able to stay in this house. You won’t be able to put food on the table. You won’t be able to repair equipment. Plus, you hardly know how to read the news to find out when something happens. So you wouldn’t even be able to start trying to help people, and according to you, that’s what you’ve been trying to do this whole time. That would be terrible wouldn’t it.”
Wanda nodded and stepped up behind Steve. “I wondered what would break the shield around her mind where I could see the truth. I thought prodding would work, but I didn’t think she’d tear it down herself after that first question.”
“You could tell,” Steve screamed.
“No. At least not all of it, I just knew she was hiding something.” Wanda tilted her head. “We have to play by her rules for now. She managed to get the upper hand, but I wouldn’t worry, she’s the most human of us, she’ll die out eventually, especially now that the team won’t trust her as much.”
“And now when someone expresses anger one of your heroes is willing to let them die!” Natasha laughed. “The righteous hero, my ass.”
“We aren’t going to let her die.” Steve threw his hands into the air. “We just have to work on communication and fixing our issues. Clearly, Natasha is currently feeling some resentment towards us. She blames me for the fact that she hurt Tony, and that’s alright. I think I made the right choice given how once he found out, he immediately tried to kill Bucky, but it’s alright that Natasha sees differently right guys?”
“Right,” Clint echoed. “Except, she’s not just feeling some resentment, Cap.”
“This burns so much deeper. She’s an assassin first, and agent second. She’s a force of nature first, and a hero second. And she just said that she doesn’t trust us anymore, and that the only reason that we aren’t dead is because Tony Stark is holding her hands back. That means she’s already written out our deaths. She’s just waiting for a better moment to call them forth.” Clint closed his eyes. “That means we’re already dead in every way that matters. She’ll bury us before we can get out of her orbit, because she’s already decided that we deserve to die.”
“Five points for Clint,” Natasha taunted. “You were the last to be on the list. I was so sure that you were going to stop at some point and start thinking. I was so sure that the man that I met, the one who named his son after me, the one who saved me, was going to come back. But he didn’t.”
“Game is over, Cap,” Natasha finished. “In chess you’d lay down your king and not play it out, but I need you to play it out. Oops.”
Tensions ran high ever since that announcement. Way higher than Natasha would have liked them to be running at a time like this, because Steve didn’t do well when stressed. Yet, she couldn’t feel any regret when all of them actually knew better than to smile at her like they were still friends.
Sometimes, Clint would make half an effort, then he’d catch the look in her eyes, and he’d back away. He knew his good will had run out quite some time ago, and this was just Natasha not cashing in yet.
Sometimes, Steve would think for a moment that his friend Natasha was back. Because she’d humor one of his thought experiments, but then she’d rip it apart. They were no longer his team, they were hers until they were actually in the field. In the field the others responded to Steve, she responded to FRIDAY feeding her information now that she could openly wear it. That felt nice.
A knock on the door caused all of them to cast an eyebrow towards each other. None of them moved to open the door though. Another knock, and Wanda opened the door with a wave of her hand.
Tony stepped through. “Thanks, witch.”
“Tony!” Steve yelled. “It’s about time that we talked through things. I’m glad that you finally came.”
“So not here for you.” Tony flashed a blinding grin to Natasha. “Now, I’ve heard that you’ve been mostly good, keeping them on a leash for me.”
“Well, we’ve got a time traveling, future seeing, wizard on our side now. And apparently, this is no longer needed. We don’t need Steve and we don’t need Wanda. Not when me and you patched things up. Not when Pepper picked up the suit to fly next to me instead of watching from the ground.”
“Yeah,” she asked.
“Yeah. But here’s the thing, we’ve got to go storm SHIELD for a few things before we head home, and to be nice to the old family, one last favor from me to them. You can’t hunt them until you’ve come helped me. They have until then to hide however they want to. Maybe if they don’t cause any trouble that FRIDAY chooses to report, they can even get away from death.”
Natasha’s eyes light up. “After we get the stones, do I get to have like a day or two to be with the family before I need to go hunting?”
“Anything you want,” Tony promised with a wink. That’s his motto to his family anyway. And she was back in those graces.
With that Natasha got into his car and drove away, leaving the rogues to stare at them still in shocked silence. None of them knew what to do with what they had just been told, except Clint, who immediately grabbed a bag and suggested they all head for the middle of nowhere and never to do anything that would give anyone a reason to think about them more than a brief second unless they really wanted to find out what one of Natasha’s blades felt like as they pierced things.
And Natasha was allowed to go home, which was all she ever wanted. She wanted to be forgiven, and she had been forgiven. She had made her promises hold true, and she had proven that she hadn’t meant to hurt him to that degree. Which was what she had been scared of.