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Of Songs and Spiders

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Her fingers struggle to hold the gun properly. She doesn’t have big hands like the grownups.

*

She’s really, really good at using guns and she’s really, really good at using knives. Actually she’s really, really good at using most weapons. But she really loves guns. Big and exciting and powerful, moving her around when she pulls the trigger. Bang. Bang. Bang.

*

Dr Renfrew tells her guns are bad. It’s such a strange idea. Such a new idea. She wants to know more. The others tell him not to talk about guns with her anymore. Then whenever she asks he tells her there’s nothing wrong with guns. But his voice is odd, the sound is less, not quieter, just less. It makes her want to know. She thinks and thinks and thinks. She wonders whether there are people like the people in the TV. Do some people live like that? Without guns? Are there entire worlds out there where people carry on without solving their problems by shooting each other? It sounds messy.

*

There’s a photo in her room. She holds it at night, runs her fingers over the face. The baby is her and the woman is her mother. She doesn’t know who either of them are.

The woman is a friend of The Doctor.

Here doctor doesn’t mean warrior. It means healer, someone who helps. It’s confusing.

She asks if The Doctor is a bad man. They tell her he’s a destructive one.

*

She is an assassin. She is the girl who will kill The Doctor. This is certain.

She is entirely these things and nothing more. This is supposed to be certain too. She’s not sure it’s true. She’s not sure she wants it to be.

*

Dr Renfrew repeats himself sometimes. But it’s starting to happen more and more. After a while she notices it happens more after they talk to him. Then he starts saying the same things over and over and nothing else. She doesn’t like it. It scares her. It hurts her. She tells him to stop.

She tells the others to stop what they’re doing. They tell her it’s necessary, important, they’re saving the future. They’re saving everyone. They tell her she’s little and still sees the little picture. They tell her she’ll learn.

She doesn’t want to learn. She wants to be a grown up now. She’d tell them they’re still wrong. She scolds him. She pokes him. She yells at him. She tries to make him say something else, something real. Sometimes he does, and he seems terrified. She’s scared. She tells the others she’s scared, even though she probably shouldn’t, they are all she’s known apart from Dr Renfrew, and Dr Renfrew can’t hear her anymore.

She hides and watches them. She needs to know more. She’s not too little. They’re talking about putting words in her head, ideas in her head. She doesn’t understand. She’s not crazy like Dr Renfrew. Maybe she will be when she’s grown up. She’s scared and she doesn’t know what to do. She wants to kick them all and punch them all and shoot them all. But she can’t. She runs.  

*

She runs, until she can't run anymore, and then she walks. The orphanage is the only place she’s been on earth. This place is amazing, so different, so new. She stares at it all. But she's cold and hungry and she finds someone to give her food but the person tells the others and they come and find her.

 

She fights them, kicks and struggles and screams. But they are too many and she is too small.

 

They keep her tied up for a while. And then they bring a monster to eat her; it’s tall and massive and white and has a mirror for its face. She scratches and bites and begs and yells, as the thing envelopes her and its mouth comes down over her face.

 

(It's a space suit and its mouth is the visor. She learns later).

She hates the monster. It's too small, too close, all around her. Not tight, just trapped. It feels like she can't breathe even though she can. The monster holds her still, her body unmoving just like Dr Renfrew's mind. She wants to fight but she can't. She wonders how many thoughts they've put into her head. She wonders whether all her thoughts are theirs. She thinks maybe she's not even real. Her cheeks are wet and soon she is sobbing.

 

The monster has everything she needs, except freedom. She knows her escape must be smarter this time. The night time is a secret quiet thing. She plays off calls for help as night terror whimpers.

 

(It doesn't occur to her that they know what she's doing and just don't care).

 

It's The Doctor who answers her call. She thinks it's funny, wonders if he'll try to kill her. She asks for his help anyway. It’s the only chance she has. The woman with him seems familiar. Suddenly she realises it's the woman from the picture. This is her mother.

 

Her mother shoots at her. She runs.

It's not fair. Not fair. Not fair. There are tears on her cheeks again and anger in her veins. Why did her mother shoot her? What did she do wrong? Her mother is the wrong one, running with The Doctor. This is why the others didn't let her see her. But the others are horrible too. She doesn't understand. All she knows is she has to get away.

 

She bangs her fists against the inside of the monster. Angry and upset and hurt she tears at it, wrenches and pulls. She wants out, needs out. Eventually the monster gives way, rips, breaks open. She climbs out, carefully tip toes through the place – staying out of sight.

She stays in the shadows, doesn't seek anyone out. This time she knows better. When she's hungry she takes food from the market. When she is cold she takes clothes from wherever she can find them. She sleeps in doorways, squats with the other homeless people; they don't have the same concern for returning lost children. They understand.

 

She walks across the country like this, glimpsing the world from hovels, the underside of bridges, and cold rundown streets. She still sees a lot. Learns a lot.

 

Then she gets sick. It's weird and uncomfortable and painful. She hates it. The urge to seek someone out rises. She ignores it. She doesn't get better. She's dying. But it's temporary. She goes to New York, to see her parents, it's stupid but she wants someone to tell her it's going to be okay.

 

Her skin begins to tingle before she gets to them, her body regenerating.

 

They find her again. It's not everyday regeneration energy soars into the sky.

*

They don't have time for her. The Doctor has done something, turned the humans against them. They are afraid. It surprises her, she didn't know they ever had fear. She doesn't know whether to be happy or terrified. They are placing her somewhere where humans can train her while they deal with the situation. It's called the red room.

 

The building is old and large like the orphanage. It even has rows of little cots, though these aren't empty; they're filled with young girls like her. And the fixtures are polished and pristine, not broken and peeling.

The people of the red room name her Natalia Alianovna Romanova.

 

They chain her to the bed. It's a lamer version of the monster but still makes her feel sick. She struggles but only hurts her wrist. She will be released in the morning, if she is good; she's told. In the morning they show her a fighting style called ballet, disguised as a dance. She likes it, she can always use more ways of fighting, and it's an impressive thing requiring strength and patience and agility and speed. She learns quickly, her body knowing the movement and motion of many fighting styles, her muscles knowing the hold to stay poised, her limbs knowing the flexibility to bend as needed. She appreciates this thing and thus does her best. To balance a whole body on an overturned toe. 

She twirls and leaps, stretches and bows, spins and tiptoes. On and on for hours, she excels. They are impressed she can tell. Eventually she begins to tire but she carries on, realises they want to see her break. She won't give them the satisfaction. After all she is no ordinary human. Her muscles strain and her limbs ache, her toes sting. She carries on. Time passes. They are looking at her strangely now. She is exhausted, but she carries on. Let’s her fire and anger carry her, she will use this against them one day.

                                                                                                                                               

When they work on weapons she surpasses them all easily; this is not new to her. The red room thinks they are big and powerful and she knows in a way they are, spanning across countries. But The Silence spans galaxies and they are mere specks in comparison. She knows the weaponry and combat moves of many worlds. She knocks her opponents unconscious with ease and efficiency. But balks when they tell her to finish the other girl off. There is an ache in her chest. She continues to refuse.

 

They don't give her any food. She'll get someone she behaves, she is told.

 

The other girls hate her. They fear her skill. This is a place where only the best survives.

*

She doesn’t know how to lie or how to play a role. The Silence never had need of pretence when they can control minds with words and are forgotten once out of sight. She’s learned to go in fast and loud, guns blazing. She’s not interacted with many people, never really made new friends; except ones of convenience like the homeless. She doesn’t really know how to speak to people when she’s being genuine let alone when she’s being deceitful. And she doesn’t have much interest in learning (except she does; so, so much, but not here, never here).

The other girls seize on this weakness. Mocking her; tricking her; pulling her down. She learns to be alone, she learns to stand strong; she learns to survive. Apparently she does have a talent for deceit after all.

Isolation makes her indifferent, bitter, angry, numb. Hunger makes her ruthless. She does as she’s told and kills the next girl she defeats. The blood under her nails doesn’t feel as she thought it would. She hates it. She vomits into the toilet. But she still does as she’s told. If only to prove she can.

She stands in rows with the other girls, for hours on end each day. Parroting back the same lines, over and over and over again.

I am one of twenty-eight…

I am one of twenty-eight…

I am one of twenty-eight…

I am an agent of the red room. I am nothing more. I will care for nothing, not myself, not others, only the mission. The mission is all that matters. It’s my only purpose.

She doesn’t understand why she’s made to say these things. They’re stupid and she doesn’t believe them.

There’s snow falling past the window; she’s never seen snow before. It’s beautiful. She shivers. The room is cold. There’s heating but it can’t quite touch the vast cavernous spaces.

*

I am one of twenty-eight…

She begins to doubt her stubbornness. There seems to be little proof that she’s right and they’re wrong. All she ever does is train for missions, if there was part of her meant for something else, if part of her was different, better; what is that part? What does it do? She knows nothing but guns and ballet and deceit.

Before seems a distant memory.

Maybe she’s the one being stupid. Maybe they’re right.

The room is bright with sunlight. It’s warm.

*

I am one of twenty-eight…

I am an agent of the red room. I am nothing more. I will care for nothing, not myself, not others, only the mission. The mission is all that matters. It’s my only purpose.

This is truth. She is certain.

It’s snowing again.

(She’s taken apart by a process of attrition. Even the things they leave go away on their own).

*

One good thing is, as they strip away her old beliefs, they strip away the part of her who is one of The Silence; the part of her who believes what they do. She wonders what The Silence would think of that. Did they realise that the people of the red room watched the moon landing too.

Dr Renfrew is an imaginary friend she had as a child; back when she had childish ideas of good guys and bad guys. She grows out of these like ordinary children grow out of Santa Claus.  

She knows the only important thing is the mission. It’s far more important than a little girl like her; far more important than any one person her. And so she trains.

They spend hours every day sitting in front of a screen watching films, repeating the words, learning French and Italian and English and then the accents and dialects; formal and slang. Finally they learn to use words to get what they want; lilt and nuance and cadence and inflection. It’s far more elegant than the ways the others used to use; Natalia likes this way, even if the thought of putting ideas in peoples’ heads makes her feel sickly.

They speak about this place, endlessly. She’s not Russian, doesn’t have the connection to the ‘glorious soviet culture’ these other girls do. She doesn’t understand it. But learns nonetheless.

They teach her about other countries and cultures, about necessary knowledge to blend in. She’s fascinated, it’s useful; these are important tools. But she also really enjoys learning about all the places and the way they all do things. She wonders whether it’s because of the things the others put into her head long ago. The thought makes her want to cry.

(She likes to think, instead, that the fascination is the part of her born to space and time; becoming out amongst the stars, in the vortex of time: the part of her living to explore all times and places; the Human Time-Lord. She longs for it sometimes, to be back amongst other worlds, connected again).

Of course they teach her about religion too. Their ‘God’ is like The Doctor; a being with immense power and control to change things but who chooses not to, chooses to let so many catastrophic events remain. While causing many such catastrophes in turn.

*

Years go by.

All she is is her training; her strength; her mastery; her skillset. She only cares for the mission. She is a creature of wonder: a perfect specimen.  

She sleeps only to keep herself alert.

She eats only to sustain herself, indifferent to the taste. She knows at one point she had opinions but she’s long forgotten them; for long she’s just been eating the same things put in front of her. Grown tired of things she liked and used to things she didn’t. And she’s no longer ever left hungry anymore; she’s the best they have. 

She doesn’t care about people or emotions or anything else at all.

She has many secrets. Some she keeps even from herself.

She cares about herself. She knows she’s not supposed to and that it’s probably stupid, insignificant. But she can’t not; she can’t strive and be the best, be ruthless and have the ambition to be better, brilliant, perfect, without having a stake in herself.

She cares about others, sometimes. Rarely. It sits in the back of her mind, silent. Coming out to play in her dreams, a thought rising through her waking breath quickly put back to slumber.

She thinks about The Doctor constantly. She sometimes thinks he’s a figment but she always knows he’s real.

*

Every historical event she learns of, every war, every assassination, every massacre and genocide, she wonders at The Doctor’s possible presence; she wonders at why he wasn’t there. His position winds through her stratagems, her analyses, her research. She thinks about the time he came to save her. She thinks about the massive power of The Silence and how he managed to hurt them. She thinks about how he’s affected the tapestry of time.

She’s fascinated by him. And she hates this part of herself; unsure whether it’s real or something they put in her. She hates that even if they didn’t her mind orbits so constantly around what The Silence want it to.

(She learned all the weapons of worlds from The Silence. But the bright red- kiss of death- poison lipstick that she’ll actually use to kill The Doctor; she gets from the red room).

*

She doesn’t want to have the graduation ceremony. Doesn’t want them to take away her ability to have children.

She doesn’t know how this idea forms so strong in her mind; waking parts of her long sleeping. She’s doing this for herself and doesn’t know if she has the strength to defy. But in that room, in that fight, she loses on purpose. And there’s a long dead voice in her head that makes it easy.

She tells them she has no place in this world and it’s the truth. She’s a monster; she could roll over the world just like The Doctor does. She doesn’t want to.

They think she means something else. But that’s true too: there’s nowhere she’d fit but for the shadows. She’s a tool, not a person.

She shakes and cries and they hold her down. Helpless again. As their sedation takes hold she thinks of spacesuits.

*

She stares at the ceiling afterwards, blinking vacantly. She’s always known she would never be normal. But she thought at some point she might have a chance at her version of an ordinary life. But they have cut this away and they will cut away any other chance also; if not them then The Silence will. There is no point. There is nothing left of her but what they made.

(It occurs to her much, much later, how much that was the day they had her. So far gone she’d forgotten who she was; forgotten she was a Time Lord who could regenerate and nothing they could do, physically anyway, could touch her with any kind of permanence).   

*

She enjoys her job. She’s been powerless, under the control of others too long, and she enjoys exerting some control over others. Especially letting the marks think her weak before she destroys them.

They think she is only one thing. And she revels in using this underestimation against them.

Imagines how she will one day use this tactic they taught her against the red room, and The Silence too. They also think she is only one thing; their cold spy; their ruthless assassin. Some days she’s afraid they may be right.

*

She lies and she kills, does whatever the mission needs, without remorse.

But sometimes the voice of her old imaginary friend rings in her ears; it sounds like fire and children’s cries. She slashes the throat of an innocent girl and the blood on her hands is sticky, like the first time. This time she isn’t horrified, only resigned.

(She thinks of being that little girl again. Out amongst the stars, where she’s meant to be. The longing only grows with time).

Now, out in the world, she has the opportunity to do proper research on The Doctor. And she knows better than most where to look. She’s surprised by what she finds. At first she thinks the stories must be inaccurate or maybe just straight lies, propaganda. But the more she looks into it, the more she doubts. It seems The Doctor has been good to this world, definite favouritism.

She wonders what she’ll do when she inevitably faces The Doctor. She’s under no illusion that The Silence are still watching her, waiting, allowing her to get closer to where The Doctor will be. She considers killing The Doctor just to be free of them. She may have to, but that would be a loss. Letting them have what they want after all they’ve done to her. She considers faking his death. Then she grins, she’ll kill him, let them all see, let her programming take place, then let them watch, as she saves him.

These are dreams though. She’s a long way from free.

*

She has been doing this a long time. No one questions her un-aging nature. It’s to their advantage. She’s a shadow, a whisper in the dark, a legend; The Black Widow. 

She knows enough know, about the world and the red rooms place in it, to take them down. She doesn’t though. When she escapes the red room it will be her practice run. Next she will have to escape The Silence. She’s not naïve; both are big and powerful and she can’t do it alone.

And so she begins to make connections. She takes jobs from people in dark places. She makes alliances. With ruthlessness and seduction and well placed whispers in the night; she sways nations, shifts the balance of power. But she’s still alone. None of these can help her.

And none that could would care to try. Resignation begins to form in her bones again, she waits because she must. Goes through the motions. Does her job. She’s tired.

*

 

The meet is taking place in a wide open space which is the opposite of what she would prefer. But her contact is jittery and she needs the info he has. She doesn’t care about the danger. She’s too tired to. A part of her wants something to happen.

She twists away as she hears something soaring through the air. It imbeds in her shoulder. Which isn’t a big problem until the moment later when she realises it’s armed with a heavy sedative.   

As she drifts off, she realises the thing in her is an arrow. She’s heard of this person, this marksman who uses arrows instead of guns. Racks her mind sleepy mind for more: he’s a SHIELD agent; Clint Barton.

*

She wakes in a glass-walled room, keeps her eyelids down but for a crack. It’s enough to take everything in. Her mind running through escape options.

The best option is luring in the guards, incapacitating them before they raise the alarm and then running and hiding. Finding someone similar to her in build, incapacitating them and stealing their clothes. Making her way down to the living quarters. Stealing a razor and shaving her head. (People spend the second after looking at a bald woman trying to find the right moment of looking away so they’re not averting their eyes horribly but also not staring. And then spend the following seconds not looking). And then walking out of the place. It’s not ideal but not incredibly difficult. She can pull it off without too much trouble.

(She sits on the floor, hunches around her arm like a wounded bird, she’s anything but. She can move around her injured limb, make it work for her).

Or she can stay here and co-operate. At that thought her head fills with spacesuits and operating tables and little girls’ dead eyes. Her breath is short. She trembles. They could do anything to her. They would never believe her information. They would never believe she wants an alliance. They would be stupid to. And she would be stupid to try.

There’s also a stray thought that she silences-

(She’s long accepted that she’ll be on this barren planet until The Doctor is dead. This place with only one race of sentient beings- ignorant to the galaxy out there- unknowing of the amazing worlds and species and people beyond. She does like it here on Earth, with all its quirks. But she’s a Time Lord, she has the stars in her blood; she needs to fly).

-They have the tesseract: the space-stone.

But what if there’s a chance, the tinyest slither, that she manages something, that she has some effect. After all, everyone knows Clint Barton always hits his mark. So she already knows they want her alive. This organisation; this is the exact sort of place she needs.

The red room’s retaliation will be catastrophic. The Silence’s retaliation doesn’t even bear thinking about.

Even putting all that aside, is she even capable of this? She’s used to being brilliant, the best, most deceptive and ruthless, spy assassin there is. Can she be good? Can she be a real person? She has no idea how, it’s completely new. And all the parts of her have been made into a monster. She knows nothing else. She can’t do this. She can’t start afresh, like a hapless child.

She should leave. Staying is insane and terrifying and pointless. She stays anyway.  

*

She doesn’t understand the people here. Coulson: straight-talking and pleasant. Fury: Steel-like and smart. Barton: sharp-eyed and understanding. None of them cruel, none of them cold (of course they want things from her, that’s not surprising) but none of them pretending either.

She talks to them, answers all their questions and they keep asking more. This is how she spends her days, sitting in a room, answering. They feed her three meals a day. They let her sleep every night. She volunteers information to questions they haven’t asked.

Fury tells her after they’ve gotten pretty much everything out of her. “We can’t promise you anything.”

She sends him a quirk of a smile. “I know.”

*

Her name is now Natasha Romanov; by her choosing. And she now needs to figure out who Natasha is; who she is without the red room. Which parts are her and which parts are not. Almost every interaction she’s had has been an act and she’s unsure how to make the act real; she knows how to interact with a purpose. But she wouldn’t be as good at what she does if she didn’t understand that everyone puts different faces on in different situations; all different aspects of themselves; none necessarily a lie. She’s just turned it into an art-form. If she’s acting in the way she knows to create friendship, with the purpose of nothing but creating friendship; then it’s a genuine act.  She decides these are versions of her truth.

But at the beginning she doesn’t make any attempts or overtures; she knows they would be responded to with suspicion. It may be counter-productive to courting loyalty and faith and friendship by just doing her job with blank-faced efficiency. But these people are far too smart to be anything but suspicious at anything else. Or maybe she’s just too tired to play another game of courting favour. Maybe she just wants this to be real.

*

She goes on missions with large teams. She knows it’s to make sure she can’t do anything too devastating. She still could but doesn’t.

Whenever she’s not on a mission she researches herself. Doing so with the same diligence she used to research The Doctor, the other places and cultures of this world, and the various criminal organisations and networks spanning them. She studiously watches films of every genre, this time without considering the effect on a possible mark or what their liking of it says about said mark. Catches herself from taking it apart and figuring out what she could use the film to do, to manipulate. She manages it after a small frustrating while. And does the same with books and food and music.

(She doesn’t have to with clothes and make up and fighting styles. She knows these already. They are hers and always have been).

She loves cheesy sci-fi films, historical fiction, caramel candies, steak and red wine. She also likes puns, not just for their effect on people or usefulness as ice-breakers, she finds the silliness of them amusing.

She works well with her team-mates but of course they’re still wary of her and she of them. And then the moment comes lined up perfectly for a pun. She doesn’t want to have to forgo it and so she doesn’t.

Most of them stare at her as though she’s grown antlers. But Clint grins brightly.

*

She banters with Clint more after that; she likes him, but tries to quell the part of herself that’s beginning to trust him. Hates the part of her that spikes with panic when she hears he’s been injured. Then again she supposes this is what progress feels like.

She goes to the infirmary. Clint only has a broken ankle.

“You should take my place.”

She balks. “It’s a protection detail. Fury would never allow it.” 

“You’re the best one for it and he knows it. You’ve done undercover missions alone for us before.”

“Nothing significant.”

“As if you couldn’t make anything significant.”

“Fury would be a fool to trust me.”

“Wouldn’t that make you a fool too?” Clint asks.

“Who says I trust him?”

“I do.”

*

Clint announces enthusiastically one day that they should be partners. She questions his sanity.

After much harassment from Clint, Fury apparently agrees this is a good idea. And so she and Clint are partners. They make an incredible team. 

They’ve just finished a mission and have got the day off. Clint drives her across the state to show her something.

When she enters the house, she immediately feels sick, eyes stinging. This is too much. It was impressive for Clint to bring her in to Shield, but that was a workplace, an organisation. This is different, this is his home, where his people are. This is too much trust. He shouldn’t be giving it to her. She keeps the smile on her face and Clint’s wife and kids don’t know anything is wrong. Waits until she and Clint are alone before she lets her face break.

“Why?”

“What do you mean why?”

“The rest of Shield don’t know about this place. You’re showing it to me, a possible double agent.”

“Well, we’re friends aren’t we?”

She quirks a smile, forcing herself not to react as the revelation hits her: for the first time in as long as she remembers, she’s not alone.

*

 

She climbs the ladder at SHIELD, subtle and succinctly. Doing more important missions, garnering higher clearance, gathering momentous intel. She’s a vital asset. They need her.

She’s powerful and for once that doesn’t feel like a weight. The girl created to kill a God, grew into a woman who would save him.

She’s using her skillset and using it for good. It feels wonderful, it feels right. Whoever made her this way no longer matters. She knows in her bones, this is her.

She is more than what they made her.

She has a place here. She has people; Fury and Coulson and Clint and Maria.

She stands back to back with Clint, executes a perfect somersault into firing manoeuvre. And in that moment it occurs to her; she’s happy.

*

Time drifts on in this way, chaotic mission after mission. Downtime relaxed, safe. The world spins on.

She watches world powers shift and watches Clint’s children grow from toddlers into thinking youths. She maintains all her contacts and covers, old and new. One day she’ll need them. But it’s been years since the red room and The Silence were ever present in her mind. She still thinks about them of course, just as she still thinks about The Doctor and about being out in space and time she was born to. It’s just that often she doesn’t.

She drinks while Clint regales her with a story about Norse Gods in New Mexico. She ponders telling Clint about all the worlds she’s seen. But then suddenly Fury is in her living room. Telling them about a new idea; The Avengers Initiative.

*

She makes herself unreadable. Partly because she knows it will intrigue Stark; as always the mark bringing themselves to her instead of her going to them. This is her art after all. But it’s also partly because she doesn’t want to openly lie to someone she’s going to be on a team with.

They are different, so different. And yet they are so much the same. Raised in mansions filled with no love- save for what their talents could produce. Both having that one thing; the one thing they are passionate about, that they’re better than everyone else at; that they love to do with a fire that consumes all else. And still having to wonder; starting so young, by those cruel and calculating; whether this is a truth or these people just made them to be this way.

They’ve both been bent and broken. Forged in fire and blood. Redeemed. They need Stark, she knows this. She also knows there’s only one way to get him.

She gives Fury two folders. One says: Tony Stark- Recommended. The other says: Tony Stark- not recommended. They are both a different truth. She knows he will understand.

*

She goes to Lake Silencio and sits far back, unseen, and watches her future selves; one sitting with her parents and one in a spacesuit readying to shoot The Doctor. And ponders the inevitability of things.

She doesn’t let herself cry.

*

She thinks a lot about potential in the run up to and the fight with the Chitauri: the potential of the team; their potential working together; their potential victories; their potential power. But it’s only later, with all of them sitting silently around a table eating Shwarma, that she thinks about the potential for friendship.

They all go on missions together. They work together well, despite the somewhat explosive nature of the combination of them. They hone their combined skills, figuring out how their specialties can interact with each other’s for even better outcomes.

In the end, mostly as a result of excessive time spent together, tentative, uneasy friendships begin to form. These are quickly helped along with their messes of tragic backstories and ridiculous powers. A mix of dark humour and wild exuberance peppering their nights together mid-mission.

But when the mission is over, they retreat from each other again.

Until one day they don’t. In the space where they usually say their goodbyes, one by one they casually sit down. And everyone stays.

*

She very determinedly doesn’t scream and yell and punch the walls after finding out SHIELD is HYDRA. She tried. She tried so hard. She took the not a scrap of goodness they’d made her and found a way to be good anyway. She had earned her place, earned her rightness. She’d been a fool to think she’d ever be anything but a tool in service to those with dark and dangerous goals. That’s what her skillset was for after all.

It’s all wasted. It’s all nothing. She’s nothing again.

Then she looks at Steve and calms. He’s not Hydra, Fury’s not Hydra. She’s certain Clint’s not either. Everything is not blackness. They will find a way around this. They will persevere. She has her people. And she has herself.

It takes a lot, to release all the information, all her selves, aliases, history (well her Earth history at least) to the world; at this point, where she herself doubts who she is. She does it anyway because doing things anyway is the most herself thing she could do.

She had promised herself that she wouldn’t take down SHIELD. That she would escape before it joined her list with the red room and The Silence. Now she stands in its ashes wondering what to do.

She goes to Russia to take down the red room. It’s as good a time as any, and it helps her figure out who she now is. It’s not as simple as kills in the night; others would only take their places. She must ruin the very organisation itself. She slides through their world, the politics and the money, takes them apart one whisper at a time.

*

She has no family in Russia anymore. And she’s not getting off this planet any time soon.

But she sits and listens to the other Avengers discuss what they will be now. They will go on; a private enterprise, under their own control, under their own power. No sneaky bad guys to usurp their ranks this time. Listens to them joke and banter and inject seriousness all milling together and over each other. And realises, even though SHIELD is gone, with these odd bunch of friends she’s still got family.

*

And as the Avengers, her family, tear themselves apart, and she stands, arm aimed towards Steve Rogers. She thinks she finally understands The Doctor; finally knows how he feels.

There’s nothing to be done.

She shoots T’Challa.

*

Thanos wants the infinity stones. He comes to earth first, as though they are the weakest spoke of this nine-pointed star. He sees their name, but fails to take note of it. They are not heroes. They are people who crawled out of the darkness, fighting for everything they had on the way up; they are fighters; they are Avengers.  

Forests burns and cities fall. The air sits heavy with debris-fog. They breathe in the dust and let it invigorate them. They bleed and fall and stand again.

In the end they are left with a broken world. But also with all six stones.

She picks up the time stone without a word. She knows they won’t ask and they don’t. It’s hers. She was always meant for this. She has Tony set it into a brace she can wear on her arm.    

*

She tells them there’s something she needs to do, a mission, and that she’d rather not do it alone. They all agree quickly. She’s only partly doing it now to keep them from all drifting off and away again. The battle with Thanos was brutally harsh and unceasing and though as always they had worked together like a well-oiled machine, the awkward and angry distance that had festered between them over the past two years had not had any moments to resolve. 

She wields the stone; takes herself and her Avengers far into the future (careful not to cross her own time stream). Into after everything happens, because she knows it can’t be changed. And takes on The Silence. Not the whole of them; not the part that’s merely a harmless religious order. But the part that chose to take her and twist her; she will destroy them entirely.

The sect spans several planets of course and they go from one to another. Steve uses the Tesseract as she uses the time stone and they travel to where they need to. She stops herself from making a pun about the TARDIS that no one will understand.

Steve throws his shield, Thor his hammer, Tony fires repulsors as Clint fires arrows. Wanda moves whatever’s near, Sam soars and Scott sneaks, Vision shoots lasers and Rhodes shoots from a war machine more armoured than ever before. They stand back to back, so they don’t forget. They run through each place in turn. The others trust her and her mission. They don’t question raining violence down on these people. Especially when said people are very capable of fighting back.

They fight and they win. And from one planet to another, between one camp and another, they stop to recuperate. Of course they divide off into their little groups. Backs turned against those they don’t want to talk to.

Thor, as pretty much the only person no one is angry with, turns to her one day.

“Do you think I should do something? Mediate perhaps.”

She sends him a small smile. “No. Give them time.”

His eyes twinkle briefly with knowledge, saying wryly, “You are wise Natasha.”

Of course he knows she’s up to something. But she doesn’t plan on doing much at all, as always she plans to wait and let the others do as she wants by themselves. It merely takes the correct placement and patience.

*

Some of The Silence are running scared now. And yet some are fighting all the more ferociously.

And there’s finally some begrudging talks taking place between her team mates. She doesn’t eavesdrop. But from their awkward shuffling she thinks it’s a start.

They keep fighting, keep moving from place to place. A few words are spoken, but they still retreat to their own little groups. They’re close. But time is also running out. There are only a handful of the sect left to fight.

She goes to Thor and says, “Do something ridiculous.”

Thor grins and starts heralding “friends, come I have a questing game to play!” in that loud boisterous tone, that brooks no argument, as if he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing.   

The night plants everyone together, on the right track. There’s still a lot of hesitancy, careful jokes and weary laughter. But it’s a beginning and she knows they’ll be okay now.

They land on the final planet, still broken but more whole and hale than before. She looks upon them pleased at what she’s wrought. They charge forward. She saved this place for last for a reason. This is a place she once called home. This is a place of armies and violence and death. But her team mates understand these beings now, are equipped to deal with them.

The fight is long and harder than all the previous. But they are united now and unyielding.

She’s more reckless than she should be. This more than anything she has to win. And she has a history of doing what she shouldn’t. She lands a killing blow, saves her friend, receives a lance through the abdomen with the creatures dying breath.  

She gargles up red. She’s won. They’ve won. But winning has a cost. She holds her stomach against the blood pouring out as Tony lays her down and holds her.

She speaks softly, “It’s okay. Somethings going to happen now; it’s good, don’t freak out.”

She smiles at these people, her family, as regeneration energy begins to flow out of her.