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Fair Trade

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The first thing that registers is the pain; the second, the cold. But those are things Natasha is used to, and she barely needs to remind herself not to focus on them.

The third thing that registers is a harsh flash of realization of where she is- Vormir- and when she is- 2014- and what she is- alive- and the bile rises in her throat without warning.

She did not come this far to fail.

She stays still for a moment to assess the situation. It's dark and her shoulder is dislocated and her suit is too broken to get her home- Stark, she thinks wryly, will be pissed at that; she knows these weren't cheap to make- but there's nothing she can't handle. She forces herself to her feet, spits on the ground, wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, and looks up. She knows from the shadows and from her memories that the cliff is far too steep to climb without her gear, but she doesn't intend to let that stop her.

If Clint managed to get himself loose and land before her-

No. She's not going to think about that.

She doesn't make it far. The area is full of shallow pools, hard to navigate in the dark. She hasn't even finished walking around the cliff, trying to find the best place to start her climb, when the cloaked figure approaches. She remembers when a man without a face would have been a ghost story; now, he is exactly who she was looking for.

Somehow, the skull manages to look irritated. "Why are you still here?" he demands.

The question doesn't make sense, but she knows better than to ask what he means. She blinks, and waits. People are uncomfortable with silences; he has been alone for decades but perhaps, she thinks, he will be uncomfortable too.

"A soul for a soul," he says.

And she nods, because yes, that was the deal. She knew what she was getting into. One soul for all the lives Thanos had destroyed? It was the easiest deal she'd ever made.

He holds up the stone, gold and glowing, and Natasha frowns. "I did my part," she says. "Why didn't you give that to him?"

"I did," he replies.

Her fingers are itching for the knife up her sleeve, but she knows enough to wait. "Then why is it here?" she asks, barely keeping the tension from bleeding into her voice.

"I got it back." He twists his mouth, halfway between a smirk and a grimace.

The fear grips hard in her throat, and all she can think of is Clint rescuing her all those years ago, too kind and too stupid to know when to give up on one person for the sake of the world. "He didn't," she says. "Clint wouldn't-"

"Not him." The skull's face is even more disgusted. "Your precious Captain America."

Her voice is too high and too shaky as she speaks, and she can't even bring herself to modulate it. "Steve?"

"A soul for a soul," he says.

"Where is he?" she asks, and suddenly she can't stop how frantic she is. In this stupid broken suit she doesn't have any way to illuminate the ground, and right now that's the only thing that matters.

If a skeleton could look confused, he would.

She takes a deep breath, considers her options. And then she shoves him against the rock, her elbow where his windpipe would be if he still had one. "Where is his body," she asks. She will not abandon Steve here, not if she has to carry him over her shoulder the entire way back to Earth to give him the burial he deserves.

The laugh coming out of the cloak would give her chills, if she were not beyond that. "What body?" he asks. "He gave me a stone," and here he brings it up with a flourish, "and went on his way. As you, for some reason, refuse to do."

The words sink in slowly. Clint is alive. Steve is alive. She is alive. She doesn't know what it means- doesn't know what any of this means- but she knows better than to look a gift skull in the mouth. If she's breathing, it has to be for a reason. "Where am I supposed to go?" she asks. "How am I supposed to get there?"

"That's not my problem," he replies. "I am the keeper of a soul. Get out, before I decide to keep two."

She doesn't have a ship anymore. She doesn't even know what kind of animals are on this planet, never mind if she could ride one.

So she runs.