Natasha couldn’t sleep.
The battle had been won, Clint had been able to return to his wife and kids, the baby had been born not long after. By all accounts, despite the loss of Pietro, she should have been happy.
Steve and her were trying to re-build a new team, comprised mainly of people Natasha knew, trusted and liked.
Rhodey, she had met even before meeting half of the old team. He was funny, brave, and didn’t put up with Tony’s bullshit so of course she had warmed to him. They enjoyed having a beer, gossiping about all the things their teammates had done.
Sam, so soon after meeting her, had helped her save the world. He was protective and witty and made her laugh so hard her stomach hurt. He had watched over Steve when she wasn’t able to and had given her friend another person to open up to. Natasha very much liked Sam.
The remaining two members were the wild cards. She didn’t trust either of them.
However, Vision could lift Mjolnir and had not only saved Wanda from the falling city, but had been the one to finally destroy Ultron. So no, she didn’t trust him and to be honest, the stone in his head scared the shit out of her. They weren’t friends, but there was something there, when they trained together, that Natasha thought she could warm too.
Wanda was…more than a wild card. The girl, and she really was just a kid, scared her more than Vision ever could. Natasha would never admit that to anyone but her best friends, but she still saw pink swirls in her nightmares. Wanda had been young when she’d been orphaned and still young when drunk on the idea that she could change the world, she volunteered for the experiments. As much as Natasha tried to distance herself from the facts, she also couldn’t ignore that their situations were similar. Wanda hadn’t been her true self when she’d manipulated their minds, just like Natasha hadn’t been her true self when she’d killed so many. Natasha didn’t trust the girl, not yet. But Clint had vouched for her, and there was no one she trusted more than him. So for now, that was enough.
The new team were getting on remarkably well and whilst they didn’t quite blend together, they trained as though they did.
Natasha couldn’t complain about them, she really couldn’t. They were surprisingly diligent and followed instructions well. Teaching them reminded her of the Academy days, before Shield went completely to shit, and she enjoyed the work.
She stayed at the compound, trained, taught and relaxed there. Shared more than a couple drinks with them, watched countless movies on the big screen, kicked back and enjoyed the downtime.
She did like it, she did but…despite everything, there was that emptiness in her chest.
Steve thought she was still pining over Bruce, and whilst she missed him for sure, the team had never been joined at the hip and they often split after missions.
And the ways that she missed him, were not the ways Steve thought.
The more time that passed, the more Natasha found her actions hard to believe. What she’d said and done sounded like an entirely different person and she’d felt sick to her stomach more times than she count over it all.
Natasha didn’t use the word love lightly, but she did love Bruce, just like she loved Steve and Tony and Thor and Maria and Phil and Nick.
The ways in which she loved him had been skewed, though.
She really had thought her feelings towards Bruce had changed, she really believed that her love for him had changed. That she wanted to be partners instead of friends. That she wanted to kiss him instead of hug during hello’s.
Now she knew that had never been the case.
Flirting was just…part of her personality, as Steve liked to point out, but during Tony’s party, the flirting had changed. It hadn’t just been something she did, she’d thought about it, planned it. She really had wanted Bruce to like her back.
After her brain had been fucked with, again, things had gone from zero to a hundred.
Waiting for the shower, knowing Bruce was inside, wanting to join him but holding back.
Natasha had been desperate in a way she’d never been before. She thought she wanted Bruce and so she’d opened up about her past, almost kissed him, told him they should run away.
Madame B’s words still lingered in her head, thanks to Wanda, and as much as she tried to break away from it, she was that scared little kid once more.
She had no place in the word. She would never love anyone and never be loved. She was a soldier, a pawn. She would kill and kill and kill and never flinch. She was a monster. Their monster.
She’d opened her soul, opened her heart, called herself a monster, not sure what she’d been expecting in return.
It hadn’t been Bruce wanting to run away too.
He didn’t say that she wasn’t a monster, and that had smarted to begin with but now she realised why he hadn’t.
Because he’d just hurt and killed countless amounts of people, because she wasn’t the only one trapped in her head. He was convinced he was a monster and he barely heard her words over the screaming in his head. Because her offer to run away was everything he wanted. He wanted to run and hide and never let the monster take over.
To Bruce, they had all been monsters in that moment. Not because she couldn’t have children, never because of that, but because they were all capable of such awful things.
Bruce was her friend, and that was all, she knew that now and deep down, she was sure that he knew it too.
She would never call what she’d tried to build a mistake, but it wasn’t meant to ever happen.
Her actions towards Bruce had been inexcusable. She’d forced him to change, so desperate to win the fight, to get Clint home to Laura and the kids, to protect the members of her team, to save lives, that she’d done something awful.
She would apologise to the end of time for pushing Bruce into that hole, and she knew she didn’t deserve the forgiveness if it ever came.
Desperation, it turned out, was dangerous.
Natasha couldn’t sleep.
It had been almost a month since Sokovia, a month of staying at the compound and building the team.
A month of confused emotions, of coming back to herself, of realizing just how desperate and needing of love she had been.
It had taken the whole month for Natasha to realize why.
The guilt hit her like a ton of bricks and she’d locked herself in her room for the last twenty-four hours. She ignored Steve’s knocking, Sam’s offer of a beer, Clint and Laura’s texts and voicemails on her phone.
She needed to be alone. Needed to think.
She hadn’t loved Bruce, not in that way, now she knew that. She’d only thought she had and maybe that wasn’t her fault. Maybe she’d used him and forced him to flee, she didn’t know.
Maybe it had been because she liked spending time with him, maybe it had been because he was the only one on the team who couldn’t have kids too, maybe it was because he was sweet and kind and a good choice.
She wasn’t sure on that either.
Maybe it was because she’d been trying to ignore blue eyes, long brown hair, and the pitter patter of childrens’ feet.
It wasn’t like it was some magical revelation, she’d known for years that she loved Clint and Laura Barton, loved Lila and Cooper and now Nate. It was the switch, in the revelation of how she loved them that had her out of bed, pulling on shoes and heading to the garage before she even realised.
The drive to the Barton’s farm was long. She could have taken a Stark jet, but she needed the time alone. She’d left early morning and drove all through the day until darkness once more descended.
She had hours of nothing but roads and wasteland to think.
About how she was probably about to be rejected all over again.
How she might be about to change how the family thought about her forever.
That her best friend in the whole world could think she was a homewrecker.
That she would lose the family she loved so much.
How she was about to change everything.
How it could go so horribly wrong, but she was about to do it nonetheless.
Her stomach in knots, she pulled up to the post box outside the fence of one of the only places that ever felt like home.
Knowing there was a good chance she could bottle it if she didn’t move quickly, she opened the car door and stepped down the path.
It was late, but not too late. The kids would be in bed, but Clint and Laura wouldn’t.
Natasha saw the curtain twitch and then before she even reached it, the front door was pulled open.
“Nat!” Laura pulled her over the threshold, arms sliding around Natasha and pulling her close.
She smelled like lavender and baby powder and the redhead found her eyes filling with tears as she clung to Laura, face pressing into shiny brown hair.
They held each other for a good minute before Laura pulled back, taking Natasha’s hand. “Come on, Clint’s just making some tea in the kitchen.”
“Baby, come see who’s here!” She called softly through, not shouting because God knows how hard it was to get Nate to sleep.
Clint appeared in the doorway, towel slung over his shoulder.
“Nat? What the hell!” He beamed as he rushed over, picking the woman up easily, swinging them both around.
Natasha laughed, arms around his neck. “C’mon, it hasn’t been that long.” She muttered, hiding her face against his shoulder.
“It definitely has been that long,” Clint’s eyes crinkled as he set her down on her feet, brushing a strand of fallen red hair from her eyes. He stepped away, gesturing at the sofa. “Sit down, do you want anything, a drink?”
Natasha shook her head, smile slipping from her face as she took her spot on the sofa. “No, thanks.”
Laura was watching her carefully. “What’s wrong, honey?”
Natasha shifted, legs crossed, hands clasped together. “Why does anything have to be wrong for me to come see you?”
Clint frowned, standing at the side of Laura’s seat. “It doesn’t. But don’t forget that we know you, Nat. You look exhausted. What’s wrong?”
Shaking her head, Natasha tried to go through everything she’d been planning to say on the drive there, but it all jumbled in her mind and none of it sounded right. She took a deep breath, gaze lifting from the floor to both of their faces. It was all or nothing. She couldn’t hide it anymore.
“You both know that…I tried to create something with Bruce,” She spoke slow, anxious that she was about to cross a line and that there would be no going back, “but it didn’t work out. He wasn’t who I really wanted. Who I really want.” She forced herself to take another ragged breath. “Because it’s you.” Her eyes flitted between the pair in front of her. “It’s both of you. It’s always been both of you. You, and those kids that I love more than anything in the world. You’re my family. You’re who I wanted all this time, it just took me a while to realize that.”
There was silence in the room, palatable and thick and Natasha was seriously considering getting up, going out to the car and driving off. But she couldn’t do that. She wouldn’t leave. Not unless they told her to.
After she’d finished speaking, she dropped her gaze, too scared to see the expressions on their beautiful faces.
The silence lingered, only ending as footsteps walked over to Natasha.
Clint and Laura flanked her, arms sliding around her, kisses pressed to her hair, to her forehead and her cheeks.
They didn’t have to say anything. But they did.
“Honey, you have no idea how long we’ve waited to hear that.” Laura whispered against her ear.
“We want you, Tash. We love you. Everyone in this house loves you. You are family. You’re our family.” Clint’s voice was thick, husky with emotion.
And just like that, Natasha was home.