The world is quiet, now. It’s quiet even in the cities, quiet like those summer nights back in America when we were kids. The fireflies are out every night, and all I can think about is that summer before we left Ohio.
Part of me wishes you were here, to see how the world can heal from such evil, to see how we can heal from being part of such evil, but I think I’m grateful you’re not. Because for all the good this new world has to offer, people haven’t changed.
Do you still like the silence? Do you still sneak off when things get overwhelming?
I would come and find you.
The second letter Yelena reads is dated six months after the first; almost a full year after what people have called The Blip. (It’s a terrible name for such a catastrophic event, but humanity has always tried to downplay world ending events in history textbooks.)
It had taken her weeks after reading the first letter to even begin processing what happened, and even now, she still struggles. Even with the help of the Widow’s who weren’t dusted, Yelena finds it difficult to readjust to life. She knows who she is, and she knows where she is, but she has no purpose anymore. Her mission was finished when she died; the Widow’s they were looking for to reverse the mind control had either been dusted along with her, or they had been set free in the five years she was gone.
She has no mission, and she has no family (she does, she supposes, if Melina and Alexei count, but that was complicated) and she has no home.
Two of those things, she’s lived without before, but living without a mission is arguably the hardest. So while she had tried to come to terms with what had happened, she hadn’t touched any of the other letters. She had left them, tied with the ribbon, carefully placed in the box of Natasha’s things that Captain America had given her after the funeral.
(Her vest is there, with mended pockets and a few bills sewn into the hemlines; Natasha’s batons sit neatly at the bottom of the box; Melina’s suit, that Natasha had worn to take down the Red Room; a drawing of their family, with Alexei in his Red Guardian getup and herself in Natasha’s spare suit that was just a little too big for her. And on top of everything in the box, the letters and the last remaining photos from when they were kids.)
After the last year, after moving to a small home in the Ohio suburbs, Yelena had finally pulled out the box. The first thing she had done was take the photos and the drawing Natasha had done to be framed, and they now sat above the fireplace, like the treasures of a real family would.
She has a routine these days. It’s one she tries so hard not to upset while she finds herself in this new world. Each morning starts with training - the need for the Widow’s hasn’t made itself present lately, but she can feel the itch in the back of her skull, the one that she would feel before she lost herself in the hands of the Red Room, and the only way to escape that feeling and all that it reminds her of is working her body to the point of exhaustion.
(When she had first escaped the subjugation, Yelena hadn’t had a moment to think about what anything meant. She went from killing for the Red Room to running from them, and then she had been working to free the rest of the Widow’s, and then she had been dusted. And being dusted felt a lot like being mind controlled, so Yelena works hard to ignore those feelings all together.)
Usually, after she cracks her knuckles against a punching bag, she cleans up and makes her way through the actions she saw her parents do. She makes lunch, reads the news, checks her emails for new missions, watches television to help her catch up on what she’s missed, and then she stares at the box of Natasha’s things for a solid hour or two.
It’s not that she’s afraid to dig into the box and be reminded of her sister. It’s that she’s afraid of disturbing the contents of the box and losing what her sister loved. So she contemplates pulling out the letters and decides against it, taking Fanny for a walk to round out the evening.
She’s continued this way for months now, and it’s begun to feel stifling, which is why she had pulled out the box. Did reading the letter fix anything? She doesn’t know, but what she does know is that Natasha loved her enough to know her ticks, understood her enough to say that she hadn’t been forgotten, that somebody was looking for her.
And really, that had been Yelena’s biggest fear, when she had left the Red Room. Because there she was known. She was known as one of the best assassins the Red Room had made. She was known for what she could do, what she knew. While everything she had been known for was evil and full of red, she had still been known. And isn’t that all anybody wants? To be known?
It’s on the night she decides she’s going to go after Clint Barton that Yelena pulls out a notebook and a pen.
It’s not her best work, most of the words crossed out and her thoughts are scattered, but she writes to her sister, writes about how much she misses her, how much she would give just to have her sister back. She tells Natasha what she wants to do, how angry she is at the world, how angry she is at Clint.
The letter is a far cry from those she had written as a Widow, the words are simple and full of emotion compared to the words she had used to topple regimes or spur on revolutionaries. And when she finishes writing her letter, she crumples it up into a ball because she knows no one will ever read it.
(She can’t bring herself to throw it away, instead stashing it with the rest of the letters from Natasha.)
(It’s when she’s putting her ball of a letter into the box that she catches sight of the necklace Natasha hadn’t taken off while they fought the Red Room. The arrow had hung from her neck and caught the light of the subway when they had been sitting in the air vent in Budapest. And in that moment, Yelena knows she won’t kill Clint Barton. He had saved her sister, and for whatever anger she was feeling towards him, there was a little bit of gratitude.)
She writes a second letter that night.
Natasha told me you helped her kill Dreykov. I’m sorry you didn’t succeed. I wonder what my life might’ve been like if you had. Would I still have been subjected to the horrors of the Red Room? Would I have escaped like Natasha? Could I live a normal life? Maybe I could’ve been a superhero.
She told me that you helped her escape the Red Room. I want to be angry at you for letting her die saving the world, but I’ve seen your family. I know she wouldn’t have given you a choice.
She deserved the world, and instead she gave herself up for a world that didn’t love her like we did.
I hope you know what you let happen.
She doesn’t sign her name, instead leaving the letter blank of herself, only giving the barest of indications of who she is with the red hourglass printed on the envelope. She uses the Budapest address when she seals the letter, but something inside of her keeps her rooted to her house, preventing her from sending the letter.
Instead she hangs onto it, pins it to the calendar she has in her kitchen that is embarrassingly bare, and looks at it every day. It serves as a reminder, but it also helps her feel whole again.
Time passes differently, after she’s written her letter, and after she’s read Natasha’s second letter. She no longer feels confined to her life, and instead she starts working a security job at the Federal Bank in Ohio. It’s not what she would’ve planned, but it’s not like you could go into any job and say you were an ex-assassin who killed political figures and get an interview. She views it as temporary, as something to bide her time with, until what, she still doesn’t know.
The answer comes almost eight months after she came back. Each news station is playing the reports of a New Captain America, and Yelena recognizes the men in the videos. James Barnes, the Winter Soldier, is on her television screen saving the world. If the Winter Soldier can fight for good, then why can’t she? If Natasha could fight for good as a Black Widow, then she can too, right?
She takes her two weeks of vacation and travels to New York. Travels back to the headquarters where she had learned exactly how her sister had died saving the world. Travels back to her sister’s second family, and she decides that she’s going to try.
She’s going to know this second family, because maybe this can be real too.