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What Family Does

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Natasha wakes to the sight of a purple sky and tears in her sister’s eyes.

Water laps at her sides, cold seeping through her clothing and under her skin, deep into muscles that don’t seem to move. She’s only upright because of Yelena’s arms around her waist and other hands on her back, too many sets to count. A voice that sounds like Clint’s laughs, delighted, in her ear.

“What the fuck?” she whispers, before passing out.

She wakes huddle in a chair, blanket around her shoulders, surrounded by people in what is unmistakably the inside of a spaceship. Because, yeah, apparently she lives the kind of life where she knows what the inside of a spaceship looks like. Go figure. 

Speaking of living a life…

“I thought I was supposed to be dead.”

Her voice comes out hoarse and quiet, but the room goes silent, everyone whipping around in her direction. Clint, Thor, Carol, Nebula. Across the room at another table is a gorgeous woman with green skin. That must be Gamora. She’s surrounded by the other Guardians of the Galaxy, the ones Natasha never had a chance to meet. The ones she knows from the files of the lost.

They don’t look very lost anymore.

“I thought you were supposed to be dead,” she adds in their direction. She finds Clint’s eyes, afraid to hope until she hears it from him.

He nods, answering the unasked question. “Yeah, Nat. You did it.”

She doesn’t know whether to smile or cry, so she allows herself both at once. She’s earned it.

The explanations come in fits and starts between hugs and celebration. The tumble of words washes over her as she drinks something sweet, nutty, and utterly alien that melts away the chill of Vormir, or maybe death. She’ll need to get a real status report from Clint later without Thor and Quill fighting to interject. 

For now, she has more important things to worry about. According to Clint, Yelena was restless in chasing down a way to undo the Soul Stone’s sacrifices, never taking “no” for an answer no matter how many sorcerers and scientists told her it couldn’t be done. She, more than anyone, is the reason Natasha is sitting in this spaceship. And yet, she’s nowhere to be seen.

“Okay, this has been nice,” Natasha interrupts in the middle of Thor’s second retelling of the final showdown with Thanos. “But coming back from the dead is just a little tiring. Bed?”

She catches Clint’s eye again, giving him a look that stops him from joining Thor’s protests that she must stay up and drink to her own triumph.

“We’ll party tomorrow,” Clint declares. “I think the lady’s earned a good night’s sleep.”

The room fills with disappointed groans, but no one argues when Natasha stands, taking the blanket with her.

“I’m not a lady,” Natasha whispers as Clint leads her out of the room and points her in the direction of the ship’s bunks.

“She’s in the third room on the right,” is his only reply.

She grabs his hand, squeezing it lightly. “Thank you.”

He squeezes back. “You too.”

She nods. He returns it, before dropping her hand and waving her down the hall. They’ll have a longer conversation about what happened another time. Knowing them, they’ll be fighting the same fight about who should’ve gone over that cliff until the day they die. But for now, thank you is everything they need to say.

She finds Yelena curled over on a small bed, sewing a button onto a jacket.

Now there’s a pointless distraction if Natasha’s ever seen one. If it were anyone else, she would creep into the room, startle them for the fun of it. But there’s no way Yelena doesn’t realize she’s here, so instead she leans against the doorframe.

“We’re not supposed to hunch.”

Yelena stays exactly as she is, adding another stitch to her work before replying, “You never listened about that.”

“I was always the rebel.”

Finally, Yelena looks up. Instead of the joy or hope Natasha expects to see in her eyes, she’s met with an expression so guarded it’s unreadable. Except, well—there’s plenty to read in perfected blankness, isn’t there?

“Are you just hiding in here because it’s too annoying to spend more than five minutes around Quill?” Natasha prods. A joke probably won’t be enough to break this unexplained tension, but it’s worth a shot.

Yelena sticks out her chin. For a moment she looks exactly like herself as a child, protesting bedtime or being dragged to piano lessons. “I don’t know what you mean. He’s very nice.”

“Agree to disagree.” Natasha stalks across the room and plops herself on the bed next to her sister, just as defiant. Two can play this game.

Yelena looks back down at her jacket, but doesn’t scoot away. It’s enough of an invitation to be worth a calculated risk; Natasha shifts, allowing their knees to brush.

“I looked for you, you know,” she whispers. “All five years. I assumed you were gone, but I never stopped looking.”

Yelena swallows. Her needle hovers over the button, not moving. “I know. Clint told me. You were right, I was gone.”

Natasha’s breath catches, grief and relief hitting her at once: grief for the time her sister lost, relief at the horrors she did not witness. But if she wasn’t stuck on her own during the nightmare Thanos left behind, why is she holding anger in her body so tensely Natasha’s own muscles ache in sympathy?

“I hear I have you to thank for rescuing me,” she tries once it becomes obvious Yelena isn’t going to say anything else.

“Yes, you do.” Yelena looks up, eyes finally showing something: fury. “I got together with your alien friends and I came all the way to space to save you. Because that’s what family does. I meant it when I said it was real to me.”

The implicit accusation—and you didn’t—is like a punch to the solar plexus, so hard Natasha gasps.

“I looked for you,” she repeats. She’s not used to being this lost, but she can’t make sense of Yelena’s pain. She thought she made it clear how much that time meant to her, before they parted ways. How much Yelena means to her. “I traveled in time. I—you know what I did. You were on my mind, the whole time, I promise.”

“And yet, you sacrificed yourself because Clint had a family and you didn’t.”

Understanding pulls Natasha up short, like gaining footing on slippery ground. It doesn’t make the accusation hurt any less.

“He told you that?”

“Yes. He was very surprised to find out about me, by the way. Real nice. Makes a girl feel appreciated.”

Natasha can feel her hands trembling and knows better than to pretend it’s because of her recent resurrection. She has to choose her next words wisely; Yelena is too smart to be played, and too precious to lose with a misplace phrase. Good thing all those years with Steve and Sam taught her a thing or two about emotional honesty.

“I meant it,” she says, a firmly as possible. “I had a family. Have a family,” she corrects, nudging Yelena with her knee. “But I couldn’t leave his children without their father just to save myself. I couldn’t. Could you?”

She can tell she’s won the point because Yelena looks annoyed. “Fine,” she concedes. “But that doesn’t explain why he didn’t even know I existed. My friends know about you.”

“Aren’t all your friends former widows?”

“So? They still know. I’m just saying.”

Natasha weighs her next words, riffling through her own feelings. Why did she compulsively horde Yelena’s existence close to her chest? It made sense before they met again, when every memory was drenched in guilt. But she’d kept the secret even after. Sure, she almost told Clint a few times, and Steve and Sam more often than that during their years on the run, when the reunion was fresh and sharp and she wore Yelena’s vest more days than not.

And yet, she never did. And if she’s honest with herself, she knows why the words wouldn’t come. Knew then, too, even if she ignored it. But here she is, a million miles from Earth, in another lifetime. Literally. Maybe it’s time she stopped ignoring.

She takes a deep breath. It’s okay; Yelena will probably understand, even if she doesn’t feel the same way. She won’t hold it against her. They get each other like that.

Clinging to that hope, she turns so they’re facing each other. Then carefully, deliberately, she raises her hand and drags her knuckles along Yelena’s chin, up to her ear, and tangles her fingers into her hair.

On anyone else, Yelena’s still watchfulness would seem like wariness or rejection. But Natasha can read it for what it is: curiosity, anticipation.

“I think,” Natasha says, leaning in, “I didn’t tell him because it was too hard to explain what you are to me.”

Yelena leans forward, too. And there it is: understanding. 

They kiss. Gentle but firm, and both of them in it, completely. One, two, three, four seconds, and then they break away in unison. Yelena’s eyes are big as she stares at Nat, lips parted, breathing heavily.

Silence, then, for another one, two three, four, and the another beat, and another after that, until finally Yelena nods. 

“Okay,” she says, as firm as the kiss. 

“Okay? You mean you forgive me?”

Yelena’s eyes flick upwards, as if she’s considering it. “I think so. Just don’t do it again.”

Natasha wants to let out a laugh of relief. She wants to pull her sister into another kiss, or a hug, or anything, because it has been a very long time and she missed her more than she let herself know.

Instead, she quirks her lips into the slightest smile. “Which part? Because I can’t promise I’ll never sacrifice myself for the universe again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely going to try to avoid it, but…”

Yelena rolls her eyes and swats Natasha’s arm.

“Shut up, you know I didn’t mean that.” Then, more seriously, she adds, “Just don’t leave me out. Or behind.”

“Deal,” Natasha agrees, leaning in for another kiss. “From now on, we’re in it together.”

“I should probably warn you about something,” Yelena tells her later, as they lay curled in each others’ arms, enjoying the comfort of steady heartbeats.  


“A top-secret U.S. agency may be trying to kill me.”

“May be?”

“A top-secret U.S. agency is definitely trying to kill me.”

Of course it is.

Natasha kisses Yelena’s neck to assure her she’s not upset by this information, not really. “Why is a top secret U.S. agency trying to kill you, exactly?”

“Um. I defected. In my defense, they’re very bad. Very, very bad. Which I did not know when I joined. Actually, funny story, that’s how I met Clint.”

“How’s that?”

“…They sent me to kill him.”

Natasha nuzzles closer, hiding her laughter in the crook of her sister’s neck. Of course. Why would anyone she cares about meet in a normal way?

“That sounds like too long a story for this late at night,” she says once she tamps down the urge to giggle like the teenager she never got to be. “How about you and Clint tell me together in the morning?”

She knows Yelena will understand the implication: she wants to bring her sister into her life, her friendships.

The delight in Yelena’s tone when she says, “That sounds good,” confirms she gets the message loud and clear.

“We’ll deal with the agency together,” Natasha adds, in case that’s not already obvious. “Maybe it’ll be fun.”

“No, probably not.”

“No. Probably not.” These things rarely are, and they both know it. “But we’ll still do it together. Because that’s what family does.”

She can feel Yelena smile into her hair as she echoes, “Yes, that’s what family does.”