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Fear, Natasha thinks, prodding at the shape of the word inside her head, trying to isolate it, trying to pull it out or apart. It sticks to her, plants itself, and she’s not the only one in whom it grows fragrant and choking.

How does the word taste inside Tony’s head? What does it sound like in Bruce’s? Like calls to like, stretching out curling tendrils for support, and fear always finds itself, even as it lies that it can never be hurt.

And it is in that, there, where she finds what she wanted, what kept hiding. Pain is the commonality, the root, the food of it. Fear grows strong on pain. It is this that keeps them from speaking, clots their throats and winds around their hearts.

Reasons for never trying and she bides her time around her skittish boys, examines herself. Tends to the unknown with careful attention, coaxing it into familiarity.

Her fear has a name, and she should have known the nature of it from the start, sprouting small and grasping and selfish, yet even weeds have their other natures, beautiful and wild.

They’ll both abandon her if she’s not careful. ‘Who, after all, is not afraid of love?’ she asks herself. Who, after all, has not called it fear, and then refused to feed it trust and open hands and unguarded words? Here is the danger in handling this fear: too little honesty, the ragged edge of damaged trust, and she’ll be left behind, her hands scratched and bleeding.