“Take a hit, shoot me down, shoot me down,
I won’t ever hit the ground, hit the ground,
Playing dead, I’ll never do,
Gotta keep an eye on you…”
A – A – A
26 th April 1948
New York, USA
“You’re late, Captain Rogers…”
Her voice had been just as he remembered; soft yet strong, tender and yet commanding immediate respect. As easy as taking his next breath, he had fallen into her arms, landing hard on the doorstep on his already bruised knees but so far from caring about a few extra war wounds as he pressed his face into her stomach.
Peggy’s fingers wove into his hair, stroking his scalp soothingly as though she already knew of the unspeakable hell he had somehow survived; of the beatings he had taken, and of the family he had laid to rest. Loss had dogged Steve Rogers throughout his entire life, starting with his parents, then Bucky, next Peggy, and an eventual list of names that he might get around to inscribing on the inside of his shield, if he could find something strong enough to penetrate the Vibranium. Loneliness was a sensation that Captain America knew very well. Yet standing on that battlefield, facing down Thanos and his hoard with an army of his own at his back, Steve had finally realised that at least the world was not alone; for they were all Avengers, every last one of them, from the fearsome warriors of Wakanda right down to the scrawny sapling that had penchant for playing video games. He had known right then and there that no matter what fate had instore for him, the world would always be safe, held in the hands of many heroes, each of whom would lay down their life in a second for humanity. It was that realisation that had given him the confidence to do what he had done, although he was certain that his friends would feel a degree of sorrow at his absence. However, Steve knew that it was time to rest; time to go home.
The scent of her perfume was familiar, and he didn’t need to open his eyes to see her face; it was, after all, engraved in his memory. Her ghost had haunted him from the moment he’d awoken from the ice. She had been a spectre of all he had lost and all that could have been. To be there, finally, in the right time and place, to be back in her arms, was everything he had ever yearned for - and simultaneously everything he believed he could never have.
Peggy’s presence had always been comforting. Even in the midst of war and chaos she had somehow managed to bring peace and reassurance. Whilst it was Captain Steve Rogers who had become a superhero, his inner strength and courage had always come from Peggy.
Captain America would never have existed without her, and Steve could not have gone on without the memory of her, or that ever present voice in the recesses of his mind that told him she had believed in him.
He held on to her tighter, wary of his strength but desperate to convince himself that the moment was real; he was home. Peggy slid to her knees in front of him, coaxing his head up so their eyes could meet; equals, as always.
“Peg, it’s been so long,” he choked out, unable to manage anything more substantial.
Peggy nodded, her lower lip trembling as she allowed his thumb to capture the tears that had begun to slide down her cheeks. She could see the weariness in his face, noted how his blue eyes shone that little bit less, now. She saw it in her own face each day in the mirror, how the loss and solitude had dulled the brightness of her eyes and slowly chipped away at her smile until she felt hollow inside.
“I know, my darling. But you’re home. You’re finally home, where you belong.”
A few more moments passed, a car horn honked out on the street before the small but beautiful suburban house, and Steve seemed to gather himself a little. The red, white and blue suit he wore would be easily spotted from the sidewalk, and Peggy wordlessly tugged the shield he had brandished for so many decades into her hands just as he began to climb to his feet.
Captain America stole a second to return his gaze to the past he had returned to, Peggy standing wordlessly back in the doorway as he did so, the shield in front of her. Slowly, the tears subsided and were replaced by a smile. One that was so hopeful, it surely summarised everything Captain America had come to stand for.
The world would not know such a hero again for many, many years, but Steve theorised that was okay. Captain Rogers had earned his retirement, even if Captain America was simply taking a sabbatical.
A – A – A
28 th April 2023
Somewhere in the Ukraine
“It is done. Captain Rogers is gone.”
There was a curt nod in the direction of the doorway, and the man took it as his cue to depart. He scurried away from the room with his head down, relieved to leave behind the horrors contained within those four blasted white washed walls.
The woman approached the bed, where her young charge slept, with her back straight and her eyes narrowed in concentration. The clock on the wall ticked incessantly, alerting her to the seconds that slipped by without fuss or event. That was soon to change. She highly doubted that the asset would take kindly to her new destiny when the memories began to return. A thin smile stretched her lips taut, and she shot a glance at the two way mirror, from behind which she was certain the scientists and bank rollers were watching. Such unbelievable cowards, the lot of them.
Rolling her eyes deliberately so that they might see, she reached for the metal trolley at her side and seized the needle. The solution was already drawn and so she had only to slip the tip of the syringe into the cannula that poked out of the inside of the asset’s elbow. She administered it quickly, eyes returning to the clock as she mentally counted down the seconds.
The brunette folded her arms across her chest and watched the patient strapped to the gurney with growing impatience. The peaks of the heart monitor suddenly grew more insistent as the young woman’s heart rate sped up in time with her breathing. Her eyelids fluttered, as if she was in the throes of the deepest sleep cycle - only this was no natural sleep she had descended in to.
The older woman glanced for a moment towards the mirror, quelling her unease with a slow, drawn out breath. They had done this too many times for it to fail now, and all previous subjects had returned to their former states; unblemished, restored, and alive. But this particular asset was more important than her predecessors, since this woman had been the one true success of an eighty year project. She was the ultimate soldier; ruthless, fast, courageous, and utterly deadly. Her conscience had been her one defect, but it was a flaw that Madame D was certain could be rectified by her impending ‘rebirth’. This time, her conditioning would remain because they would make sure of it.
The patient stirred, a cascade of red curls surging forwards as she struggled to suck in a breath and her head bucked wildly from the pillow.
A moment later, Natasha Romanoff opened her eyes.
A – A – A
5th May 2023
‘Margaret Carter’s Academy of Excellence’, North Salem, New York
“Where is he?” demanded Skye, accepting the cup of coffee that Simmons offered her with murmured thanks. Simmons didn’t appear phased by Skye’s bluntness, and instead inclined her head towards the closed door of the Principal’s office. Only minutes before, the sound of heatedly raised voices had battered against the wood, but now there was complete silence. Simmons could only assume that the two occupants of the room had either reached a stalemate in their discussion, or had actually killed each other. The latter was certainly a possibility, given the circumstances.
“I’ve never seen him so…” Simmons swallowed hard against the bitter taste in her mouth as she whispered, “I suppose the only word is ‘bereft’.”
A flash of sympathy assailed Skye but she tossed it aside in the next second, not allowing herself to forget the events of previous years, which had been in part due to the misjudgement of the man in question. Skye had almost lost everything because of him, including her own life, and she wasn’t in the habit of forgiving easily.
“Thanks, Jem,” she said to Simmons, at last remembering her manners. The science teacher offered the smallest of smiles and reached out to squeeze Skye’s arm before she turned on her heel and disappeared down the corridor. She had left a group of first years unattended in the Chemistry lab and, after the fiasco with the school guinea pigs the prior week, she was certain it would be wise to hurry back to her charges.
Skye stared at the familiar panelling of the door for a moment, during which she chugged down most of her coffee, before she blustered into the office.
The scene was much as she had expected; Ward seated behind his enormous desk, posture rigid, as he stared through narrowed eyes at the man slumped in the opposing chair. Neither of the men looked up at the intrusion, but Skye closed the door behind her and then wandered further into the room regardless. She was as much a part of this conversation as Ward. True, she hadn’t known the Avengers as long as her husband, but they were still her friends; the co-founders of her school, occasional benefactors, even more occasional guest teachers, and the people she had shared more birthdays and holidays with than she could count.
“How bad is it?” she demanded, past the point of concern where she could spare the time for pleasantries.
Director Fury seemed to sink further into his seat and so Skye looked to Ward for confirmation, the only sign of her mounting anxiety being the gash she was chewing into her bottom lip.
“Stark,” Ward returned after a heavy beat, his head bowing as he closed his eyes.
Skye felt the grief like a fist to her chest, hot, angry tears sliding down her cheeks faster than she could wipe them away. She would miss his late night phone calls to demand her opinion on whatever tech he was creating next, his ridiculous anniversary gifts that always arrived a fortnight too late, and the way he sometimes brought Morgan by at weekends to play with the Inhuman kids, because he just couldn’t stand to allow his daughter to grow up to become one of the intolerant. Skye’s thoughts turned to Pepper and her heart seized in her chest. The world had lost more than they could ever truly comprehend, but Pepper Stark had lost the world.
Skye nodded, briskly batting at the tears that threatened to spill onto her shirt with their urgency.
The men were silent for a moment longer, as if each was daring the other to say the words. Eventually, Ward broke, spurred on by his wife’s pleading look. Turning his head towards the window, Ward’s jaw set, a sure tell that instantly set Skye’s last nerve endings alight.
“And… Romanoff.” He spoke softly, closing his eyes as he leant his head against the leather chair back, momentarily cursing her bravery.
Skye’s face crumpled. “What? No!”
This time she gave in to her tears, openly sobbing as her fingers gripped the coffee cup so tightly her knuckles whitened. The floor beneath them trembled with each sob - a reminder of who and what Skye was that set Fury’s nerves on edge. He wore his unease discreetly though, clenching a gloved fist as he locked down his own emotions.
Natasha had been a frequent visitor to the Inhuman school, keen to impart her own special brands of wisdom and knowledge to the young residents. She seemed to take a genuine delight in being with the students and, although her reputation more often than not pr e ceded her, the children had grown to adore her. She had been dubbed ‘Auntie Nat’ by the littlest students to wander the halls, and she had fast become one of Skye’s closest confidantes. More than that, she was one of Ward’s oldest and most trusted colleagues - somebody Skye had recently delighted in being able to consider a friend.
Wasting no further time, Fury sat forward in his seat.
“That’s why I’m here. There’s a possibility that Romanoff’s alive and I need somebody to infiltrate the soviet compound to… investigate.”
Skye furrowed her brow, a glimmer of hope flashing across her features.
“Okay. But I don’t get why you’re here. What about… what about the Avengers? Even without Tony…” the words physically pained her, but she swallowed and pressed on, “there’s no way they’d leave Nat. They’re family.”
Fury sighed, regarding Skye with an expression that was as infuriatingly blank as Melinda May’s had ever been.
“Captain Rogers has… retired, you might say. Besides, I…”
Ward’s lips drew into a tight frown, and he leant his hands on the arms of the chair as he regarded the S.H.I.E.L.D. director intently.
“He doesn’t need a superhero. He needs a spy.”
Fury nodded at Ward’s appraisal. Laying his proverbial cards on the table, the director looked at Skye pleadingly, hoping she’d hold sway over the husband who so openly adored her.
“Your husband is the best of the best. In other circumstances, it’s Natasha I’d be sending on this mission. But… as things stand right now, and in her absence… the next best thing to Romanoff is you, Ward.”
Skye had heard many times before that next to the feared and infamous Black Widow it was only Grant Ward who had scored as highly in the S.H.I.E.L.D. combat and espionage assessments. She often wondered if that was why they had remained such firm friends through the years, since they were, after all, alike in so many ways.
“The best since Romanoff,” Skye found herself whispering under her breath, drawing a slight smile from her husband and a hefty sigh from Fury.
Skye hadn’t had many dealings over the years with the director, not since he had reclaimed his role in the agency following Coulson’s death, but she knew that Nat had always been his favourite; more like a daughter than a mere agent. The way things had once been for Skye and Coulson, before hatred and bigotry had poisoned his mind.
“Will you do it, Ward?” Fury pressed, on the edge of his seat as he spoke, the slightest quaver to his voice, “please? A last favour to S.H.I.E.L.D.?”
Ward turned his gaze to the window, where he had a perfect view of a group of elementary students who were playing some version of catch with a basketball. His eyes lingered for a while, watching the kids shriek and laugh as they gave chase to each other. None of them had been through the mist and activated their powers yet, but half of the group had only returned to the school a week ago, having been wiped from existence five years previously by one cruel snap of the mad Titan’s fingers. Ward still remembered that day with perfect, terrifying clarity; watching his final year phys. ed. class helplessly as they dissolved to dust in the gym, then tearing through the corridors to find Skye, unknowing as to whether she had suffered the same fate. He had found her in the Kindergarten, embracing a gaggle of four year olds who were screaming and sobbing after having watched their teacher crumble before their eyes.
Ward had been lucky enough to evade the cut, as had Skye, but Simmons had been lost to them along with Melinda May, several of the Avengers, and nearly half of the student body of the school. Out of those Inhuman children that had survived, most had lost either one or both parents, meaning that so many of their charges had become their wards. It had been the most difficult five years of Ward’s life, playing not only mentor but also father to a group of powered children. Steve and Nat had helped whenever and however they could, never giving up hope that they could right the unspeakable wrong that had been done to Earth. Evidently, they had made good on their vow, and Nat had paid the ultimate price in the process.
Finally, Grant ripped his eyes away from the window, and affixed Fury with a long, hard stare.
Fury reeled back in shock and Skye blanched, confused by Ward’s refusal to act – to help the woman who had saved him enough times that it should matter.
“Ward…” Fury began, falling silent as Grant rose to his feet, his expression never shifting once from cold determination.
“I’ll do it for her.”
A – A – A
Five years out of the field had done nothing to dull Grant Ward’s skills. That is, it had been five years since his last official mission. It had in fact been little more than four months since Ward had last been utilising his very particular - and spectacularly honed - skill set, accompanying the Black Widow herself on a mission to ‘liberate’ some rather important intelligence from a Hydra lab.
However, that entire mission had flown under S.H.I.E.L.D.’s radar, with only Rogers, Romanoff, and Stark aware that the daring raid had even taken place. He assumed this mission would be shrouded in a similar veil of secrecy.
Raising his booted foot up onto the seat of the quin jet, Ward strapped a sheathed dagger to his leg then continued to efficiently deposit a host of other weaponry about his person.
He had insisted on going on Fury’s mission alone despite his wife’s very loud and insistent protests. However, Ward remained unmoved in his opinion. He was loathe to take Skye into the clutches of the Soviets and, in particular, the inner echelons of the infamous Red Room. He had no idea if Romanoff would be found alive, with Fury’s intelligence being sketchy at best. He did know, however, that if any shred of the Red Room did indeed remain, they would be practically salivating at the opportunity of recruiting themselves a powered individual like Skye. Shuddering at the thought, Ward straightened up and prepared to make his pre-flight checks, a sense of urgency almost overwhelming him. He sped through the routine quicker than usual, and possibly overlooking several minor details, but he had been a pilot long enough to feel at ease with his own lack of thoroughness.
Despite his experience, Ward was wholly unprepared for the ramp at the back of the quin jet to lower suddenly with a whir of machinery and cogs. Ward wheeled around, knife drawn, with his surprise masked impressively. He was not altogether shocked to see Skye standing on the runway with a tablet in her hand and a grin on her face. He heaved a sigh and replaced his knife.
“I hope you’ve come to drop off the lunch I forgot, because you’re not going on this mission,” drawled Ward, pretending to fiddle with a switch over his head so as to avoid the glare Skye levelled at him.
Skye’s expression was withering to say the least, and she deflected his comment with an often utilised roll of her eyes.
“That would be hilarious if we both didn’t know that you’re the chef in this family, Grant. And we also both know that you’re not the boss of me.”
Ward sighed, pausing in defeat as he turned to regard his infinitely infuriating - yet utterly beloved - wife.
“Skye, please. This is too dangerous, I have no idea what I’m walking in to over there, or if Nat’s even… if she’s even alive. I won’t let you risk your life over Fury’s half-baked intel.”
He felt her hand land on his shoulder to turn him in her direction, and a second later she’d slotted herself into his willing embrace.
“All good reasons for you to have back-up. Someone you can trust to watch your six,” she smiled indulgently, arms winding around his neck, “and I’m pretty fond of your six. It’s a good six. Firm… muscular…”
She grinned as she brushed her lips teasingly against his, her voice a whisper, “Good for digging my nails in to.”
Eyebrows raised, Ward shook his head, his rumble of laughter indicating that her attempt to seduce him into forgetting his objections had failed. “Nice try, baby.”
“Fine!” Skye huffed. Her features clouded over with sadness and she pressed her forehead to his as he bent his head lower. “I just… I can’t stop thinking about Pepper, what she must be going through right now. I can’t… I don’t want to think about losing you like that, Grant. I need to be with you out there.”
“Tony and Pepper are exactly why you need to stay here,” he countered, although the sinking feeling washing over him as he looked down into her eyes indicated that his resolve was wavering; against his better judgement. In all of his thirty-six years on the planet, he’d never loved anybody like he loved her, and he’d be damned if he’d let a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission be the thing that took her from him.
Skye let her eyes fall to his vest, and she stepped closer until her cheek rested against the kevlar covered plane of his chest.
“At least she was with him, you know?! She was there… when it mattered.”
“Skye,” Ward all but groaned, his eyelids fluttering closed. When he reopened his eyes, he found her watching him, the set of her jaw betraying the fear that coursed through her.
“Do you know what the Red Room would do to you?” he demanded, his grip tightening on her shoulders involuntarily as the possibilities ran through his own mind. He barely managed to repress a shiver, but Skye only squared her chin and shot him a defiant look.
“That’s if the Red Room is even still in operation,” she began. Ward was quick to cut her off, his tone firm.
“And if it isn’t, then Nat isn’t out there,” he stated, sadness briefly flooding his brown eyed gaze. “This mission will be a giant waste of time.”
“So we can find that out together,” Skye protested, a faint whine to her voice, “I owe it to her to at least try, Ward.”
A voice from the tarmac pulled their attentions simultaneously to the ramp, and Ward just about resisted the urge to slam his own palm into his forehead in a show of despair at what he saw.
“We all do.”
“Sam!” Skye enthused, running for the door and throwing herself into the arms of the faintly smiling Avenger, who caught her easily and pulled her close. By his side stood none other than Bucky Barnes, looking on with a gentle smirk but staying well clear of Skye’s overt displays of affection.
“Are you… a re you ganging up on me ?” Ward asked, astounded at the possibility that Skye would have brought more Avengers on board with the plan only to force Ward to back down in his stance.
“Little bit,” Bucky deadpanned, taking a further step into the jet, his eyes roving the cockpit as though he intended to be the one piloting the flight.
“You can’t possibly think this is a good idea,” snapped Ward. His patience was finally beginning to fray, and he crossed his arms tight over his chest as he watched Sam lower his wife to the floor then turn to regard him.
“Nat’s family,” Sam stated, as though there was no question of whether they should be allowed on the mission, “if there’s even a tiny chance that she could be… that we can bring her back, then you better believe we aren’t gonna sit on our asses and twiddle our thumbs whilst a Principal goes to bat for her.”
Ward floundered for a moment, mouth agape as he attempted to digest Sam’s almost brutal retort.
“Do you know what would happen if the Soviet got their hands on an Inhuman?” Ward all but snarled, jabbing a finger in Skye’s direction as he demanded of Sam, “on her?”
Sam shook his head, glaring at the spy with an incredulous expression. “And there’s not a single person in this room… on this plane … who would let that happen.”
“Least of all me,” Skye agreed. “Sometimes I think you forget, Ward, I’m not the ditz who says ‘bang’ when she pulls the trigger anymore. I haven’t been that girl for a long time.”
Ward rubbed his forehead wearily. There really was no getting out of this one, now.
“I know exactly who you are, Skye,” he ground out, “and I’d give my life for you in a second… you…”
Skye shook her head, closing the space between them in a single stride as she pressed her palm to his cheek and ushered his face urgently towards hers.
“ Nobody else is dying. Not you. Not me. Okay? ”
He nodded, albeit under protest, before leaning towards her and snatching a kiss that made Sam snigger behind his hand, and which left Bucky examining the finer points of the aircraft’s ceiling.
Sam pressed the button to close the quin jet hatch, and it was only then that Skye noticed the familiar shield hanging from his back. It was unmistakable - a beacon of goodness and hope that had been proudly carried on the arm of a certain soldier for over seventy years.
Smiling softly, Skye gestured towards it, her hand absently searching out that of her husband.
“He went home, didn’t he? To Peggy.”
“Yeah,” it was Bucky who spoke, causing Skye to jump slightly when the voice came from over her shoulder instead of in front of her, “he earned his rest.”
Squeezing Ward’s hand, Skye slid into a passenger seat, content to allow Bucky and Ward to fight it out between themselves as to who was reduced to co-pilot. Her money was on the Winter Soldier, not that she would ever admit as much to Ward.
Sam settled into the seat beside Skye and set about fastening his safety belt to the background symphony of Ward and Bucky’s bickering. He flashed the Inhuman a grin before leaning back into the seat, the prized shield balanced on the floor at his feet. Skye couldn’t help but sneak the odd look at it, transfixed by the way the sunlight streaming in through the window glinted off the edge of the Vibranium.
“How’s everyone else doing?” Skye inquired, tipping her head as she glanced back up at Sam, who hefted a sigh that was nothing short of world weary.
“Coping as best they can,” he admonished with a shrug, adding quietly, “funeral’s on Tuesday. I can send you the details. Wanda’s staying with Pepper at the moment, helping out with Morgan, and the rest of us schmucks are just getting in the way.”
“I’m sure you’re not,” Skye said kindly, resting her hand atop Sam’s and offering him a weak smile, which he just about mustered the energy to return.
“You ever seen Thor try to load a dishwasher?” he pressed, shaking his head and whistling for effect.
Staring down at the floor, Skye voiced the conclusion all of the S.H.I.E.L.D. and Avengers family had come to, when news of the eccentric billionaire’s death had reached them.
“It’s never gonna be the same again, is it? Tony… Steve…”
Sam swallowed hard as he felt his emotions threaten to choke him, as if they had lodged in a lump suddenly in his throat.
“No. It’s not. Which is why if there’s even the slightest chance Natasha’s alive, we gotta bring her home.”
Surprised to feel the quin jet already beginning to take off from the runway, Skye glanced over and found her husband at the controls. He skimmed his fingertips over a series of buttons and switches with little more than muscle memory, lifting them up into the vast darkness of the night sky.
Feeling eyes upon him, Ward turned his head and intercepted her gaze. His expression was tentative but reassuring, and Skye knew immediately that if anybody could bring Natasha Romanoff back, it was the team assembled around her.
Family, after all, was everything.
A – A – A
The second time Natasha opened her eyes, she found the same woman seated at her bedside. She was beautiful in many ways, with her thick, black hair pulled into a bun, her flawless, pale skin, and blue eyes that sparkled near constantly. But she was unfamiliar, and Natasha couldn’t help the inexplicable feeling of dread that surfaced within her when the woman turned a cool smile upon her. It felt somewhat like being doused in a bucket of ice cold water, for some bemusing reason.
“Ah, back in the land of the living, I see,” the woman said, her proper British accent making each word sound clipped and as though they were spoken in great irritation. Natasha frowned, attempting to rub at her bleary eyes but finding instead that her wrists were cuffed to the metal headboard of the hospital bed. Her heart picked up, thrumming with the speed of a freight train, and the woman’s smile faded.
“How much do you remember?” she asked, folding her hands in her lap and staring expectantly at Natasha, who licked at her lips, surprised to find that they were not blistered or chapped as she expected. She remembered being somewhere warm, far away from home, she recalled strange aromas drifting on a breeze around her, fear and resignation and sadness, and then falling…
“I fell…” she choked out, her voice cracking with disuse. She rattled at the handcuffs, shooting the strange woman a glare of irritation.
“Yes, you fell from the stage, during rehearsals,” the woman stated, adding somewhat unnecessarily, “we are dancing La Bayad é re. Remember?”
Natasha shook her head, surprised when long, curled tendrils of red hair obscured her vision. She remembered blonde woven through her tresses, fading into her natural auburn due to lack of care. She blinked hard, trying to find a way through the fog obscuring her memories. Was she a dancer? It certainly sounded familiar.
“Who are you?” she said, tone injected with more confidence and authority than it really ought to given the fact she was handcuffed to a bed. Her limbs felt heavy and clumsy, as though they weren’t her own, and the commands her brain issued to her body seemed to be suffering a several second delay.
“You don’t remember who I am?”
Natasha blinked furiously, a persistent buzzing in her ears and head making it hard to focus.
“I… I don’t remember much, it’s all… it’s all so confusing.”
Except, she recognised the fear and dread that was building within her, like they were old friends. They seemed to be spurred on each time she inhaled the clinical scent of the room around her, or felt the bite of metal against her wrist. She did know this place, but it had been long buried in her memory.
“You had quite the bump to your head, I’m sure things will begin to make sense. In time.” The brunette smirked, almond shaped eyes narrowed as she added, “My name is Madame D. I think it best if you sleep, now. We have much to discuss when you wake.”
The redhead watched as Madame D rose almost imperiously from the chair beside the bed, the sharp lines of her black dress curved around a statuesque frame that only amplified the foreboding figure she cut.
“You remember your name, of course?”
Licking her lips again, the younger woman nodded, schooling her face into nothing more than an impassive acknowledgement of the question.
“My name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova.”
Satisfied for the time being, Madame D strode towards the door of the hospital room - or perhaps cell - Natasha couldn’t be sure.
“We will speak again later. Rest.”
A brisk nod brought the conversation to a conclusion, and the door to the room closed with a mechanical clink that Natasha recognised as a lock deploying.
Her mind was racing with fragments of displaced memories, as if the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle were slowly being put into place inside her head. Nick Fury, Barton, endless gunfights and combat missions. A hero emerged from an icy grave. A star. Red, white, and blue. Stark - bold and arrogant in every image that flashed before her. A God with lightning bolts at his fingertips. New York.
Natasha felt as if she were suffocating, her lips parting as she gasped for air and stared with wide, horrified eyes at the heart monitor beside her bed. The peaks flashed more frequently, and she stared at the red lines as she balled her hands into fists. Her nails pressed into the flesh of her palms, forming crescent marks, as she willed her breathing to slow.
Her lungs filled with air, the frantic bleeping of the heart monitor receded a little, as she gained control of the panic coursing through her veins.
Natasha Romanoff knew exactly who she was; and where.