Five years. Yelena had been gone for five years. Here one second, with a very much alive sister she had just been reunited with. The next second, she disappeared in a cloud of dust. The second after that, five years had past. She dryly laughed at the contradiction and pragmatism in the thought. “Five years went by in a second” was never meant to be a literal statement. But for Yelena, and half the world, it was. Gone one second and back the next, five years later, not even aware of the fact that Natasha had died to make the resurrection possible.
Yelena stood in the house in Budapest, the same one she had reunited with Natasha in all those years ago. She came here whenever she needed some time to think, and whenever Natasha’s grave was just too sad of a place to do that. It was the same house she was standing in when she found out about Natasha’s death exactly a year ago from this date.
Without even being aware of it, her hand traveled to her pocket. Then, to her phone. It was as if her mind was no longer in control of her body as her finger hovered over the voice mail section of her phone, her mind victim to her actions as if merely observing from the passenger seat.
Five years of voicemails lay at the touch of her finger. Five years of Natasha desperately calling her sister to talk, even though she knew Yelena had been blipped. Or at least, was fairly certain of the fact. Yelena knew that Nat never truly knew whether or not she had been dusted along with half the population, which somehow made the pain all the more intense.
After all, she was a master spy whose job description included hiding from people. That must’ve been what Nat had assumed she was doing this years, for some inexplicable reason. That must’ve been the shred of hope that Nat held onto, one she knew wasn’t practical. It was a shred of desperation that led Nat to leaving hundreds of voicemails to her sister who was wasn’t even on the planet.
And now, it was Yelena’s shred of hope. Her last tangible connection to the sister she never even got to say goodbye to. The sister who was stolen from her. Who sacrificed herself. What an idiot, she thought to herself. Perhaps what hurt the most was that Yelena knew without a doubt she was one of the people Nat died to bring back.
Her body was never even brought back, so the voicemails were quite literally all she had left. So Yelena held on to them. She listened to them day and night, studying every curve and dip and peak of her sister’s voice as if it was the first and only time she was able to do so. She noticed the microscopic changes in tone. She established pictures in her mind of what she imagined Nat doing at the time of each voicemail.
She pictured the smirks she just knew that Natasha wore during the pretty awful attempts at humor in the voicemails, and that melancholy twitch of her mouth that Yelena knew would follow.
She only listened to them more and more as time went on. Every sentence, every word, every syllable ingrained into her head as they became very parts of her being. As they filled the cracks and emptiness left by the Natasha’s death.
She idolized the voicemails, listening to them especially nonstop on the days where the loneliness got extra hard to deal with. It had become a quite toxic habit, one that Yelena shifted all of her energy and focus to when other, supposedly more urgent things demanded her attention. It was her escape from the reality in which her sister was dead. It was a form of unhealthy denial.
There was one that was extra hard to get through, though, filling Yelena with dread and numbness on the off chance that she did listen.
It was the last one Nat left Yelena, the last one that Nat left anybody.
With a straight face and a false facade of bravado, Yelena hit play.
The first time Yelena listened to it she didn’t even realize it was an intentional voicemail. After all, it started with exactly 7 seconds of silence (Yelena counted).
Yelena knew most of the voicemails by heart, but this one, she knew by more than just what she heard. She grew to know it by feeling. In how the loudness of the silence pounded against the air and filled it with dread. In the faint, borderline nonexistent gusts of wind that echoed in the background a few seconds in, a detail it took many listens to even notice in the first place. In how the ever-so-slightly present background noise marked an intentional silence that Yelena would soon realize was Nat contemplating how to say goodbye.
Then the shaky sigh that broke the silence after 7 long seconds, yielding both relief for the fact that there was more of Natasha to be heard but also concern of what was to be heard.
“ Hey.” Nat would always spit out abruptly right after the sigh, a defeated voice of dejection and an “I don’t wanna do this” attitude. It was a low, soft, borderline whisper that clearly was meant to not be heard by any eavesdroppers. “ Listen, I’m not very good at this sort of thing, but, uh,” Another pause. “I think this is it for me, Yelena. Like, really it. No big god from space to save the day this time.”
A light scoff came from Nat in a clear attempt to make Yelena laugh. And the first time Yelena listened, that’s exactly what she did. But as the voicemail went on, as she studied it further, as Yelena listened to it more and more, the desperate attempt at humor only turned pain-inducing and tear jerking. It turned into a lousy attempt to make someone, a person who was going to suddenly reappear to find out she had lost the most important person to her, feel better.
“ I don’t know how to put this so I’m just gonna say it. I’m about to jump off of an extremely high cliff so that the Avengers can get a magic stone that’s gonna bring you back. Yeah, trust me, it doesn’t sound any less crazy with more context. I’m sure you’ll find out more about it, but there’s this stone we have to get that requires a sacrifice.”
Cue the slight pause and lower, more hesitant tone assigned to that ‘s’ word.
“And Yelena, I have to be that. It’s just me and Barton here. I’m trying really hard to make this call discreetly. I’m not exactly in the mood to answer any questions, you know? Plus, he would probably try to contact you and I know how annoyed that would make you. I’m also kinda concerned you’ll try to beat his ass after you find out about this.”
A path Yelena contemplated a little too seriously, she’ll admit.
“ He’s pretty deep in thought right now actually, just pacing around probably thinking about how the hell he’s gonna convince me to let him be the sacrifice. But I won’t. He has a family. One that he never abandoned or left behind.”
Guilt crept into Nat’s voice. Yelena wished she could yell at Natasha, tell her that she forgives her, to not feel overly terrible about it. And certainly to not sacrifice herself because of it. Despite the desire, Yelena can’t. Nat died thinking she let Yelena down as a sister, and nothing Yelena does now could change that. A fact that keeps her awake at night.
“One that he deserves way more than I ever deserved a sister or either one of my families. So this is it for me. ”
Her voice cracked as she prepared for what she would say next.
“ I know you won’t even get this voicemail for probably a while, but god, I hope you do eventually. I really hope you do because that would mean it worked. It would mean my sacrifice did something. That it brought you and half the world back. Maybe that could make my ledger is a little less red.”
Her voice dips again, and Yelena can so vividly imagine tearful eyes and a sad, toothless smile that she could’ve sworn she saw Nat making the call in person.
”You might not wanna tell Alexei that though, he would probably be a tiny bit disappointed.”
Another failed attempt at humor as Nat’s voice got shakier, the tears threatening to spill over. The line went silent for a few seconds as Natasha regained her composure.
“ I love you, little sister. ”
Natasha briefly switched to Russian before returning to English.
”And I should have said that so much more than I have. I’m sorry I didn’t. God, there are so many things I’m sorry for. I’m sorry that I couldn’t prevent them from taking you when you were six. I’m sorry I didn’t come back for you. I’m sorry I didn’t contact you. I’m sorry for all of it.”
It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, Yelena wants to yell from the rooftops.
“I’m not sorry for this though. You’re probably gonna be pissed at me for what I’m about to do but I guess I’ll just have to deal with that. Because I’m not sorry. Not if it means I can make up for everything I’ve done. I’m gonna bring you back. It’s gonna literally be the last thing I do. God, I sound so dramatic. But this’ll be the day that I die. And I need you to be okay with that someday. Call it a dying woman’s last wish. I love you. Say hi to your future dog for me.”
And the line went dead.
Something strange came over Yelena. Maybe it was the anniversary of finding out Natasha was gone, or a year of suppressed emotions coming to the surface, but something snapped in her. She felt her blood boiling as anger took over every inch of her body.
Anger at Natasha for sacrificing herself. Anger at Thanos for creating the reason for the sacrifice. Anger at Clint for letting Nat do it. Anger at the Avengers for not giving her sister the proper funeral she deserved. Anger at the world for always seeming to have it out for Yelena. For every damn thing it has taken from the both of them.
She swore she physically felt the fury crawling underneath her skin, threatening to explode.
Without thinking, she used every ounce of her wavering strength to throw her phone at the wall, leaving a sizeable dent in the plaster and a lump of electronic parts on the floor adjacent to it.
Her hands shot up to her mouth as the realization of what she’d done dawned upon her.
“No, no, no, no,” She muttered to herself repeatedly, hurrying over to where the small mass of destruction lay.
She shakily cupped up the remnants of what once held the sacred voicemails, desperately trying to fix it to no avail. She clung to the larger pieces, albeit still extremely small, trying to shove them together as if the phone would magically repair itself. When that didn’t work, she only continued to fiddle with the microscopic pieces, well aware of the fact that it was a lost cause. She didn’t care. Thirty seconds later, the only results of her efforts were bloody hands and further wreckage.
Her phone was gone. The speakers, the volume dials, the screen that allowed her to press play on the messages. All of it, shattered in a broken heap on an old, neglected floor with water damage.
The voicemails were gone.
Her last memory of Natasha was deleted, just like that. Just like she had been after the snap.
All of her fears came to the surface.
Above all, she feared forgetting the sound of her voice. She feared it getting increasingly difficult to wake up each day and recall Natasha’s voice as clearly as the constant access to the voicemails allowed her to.
Fear of it getting harder and harder to remember until she just couldn’t anymore. Fear of having to rely on impersonal media clips of the distant, mumbled, mid-battle voice of Black Widow, who Yelena barely felt right calling her sister. After all, that was more of a presence than a person. A persona with words meant for the public, for strangers, not a sister.
Those were all she would have left, all due to her own short temper and irresponsibility.
A different kind of numbness tingled up her spine as a startling thought ravaged her mind.
The voicemails were gone, and so, she finally started to let sink in, was Nat.