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She Faded Like a Red Sunset

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When he snapped his fingers, Bruce didn’t know what to expect. Pain tore through his left arm, heavy with the burden of the six stones, their power searing through muscle and flesh the longer he wielded the gauntlet. It was all he could do to focus on that single thought the goal they’d been working towards since that day Thanos had won: bring everyone back.

When his vision finally cleared, the blinding white fading away, Bruce blinked at his new surroundings.

He was in what seemed to be a hut, built from straw and wood, the scent of spices tingling at his nose. It all seemed so familiar, like a memory from ages ago. But where was he? He stepped closer to the large window nearby, peeling back the thin curtains, only to find a huge expanse of nothing but a mix of orange, yellow, and red colors. Absolutely nothing else.

“Hey there, big guy.” A soft, husky voice stole his attention.

Whipping his head around, Bruce stumbled at the sight of her.

Soft red curls cascaded down firm shoulders, fading into that harsh blonde she’d still been growing out. Full red lips and bright green eyes that seemed to pierce his soul… she was so familiar, so very real. Bruce reached a hand out towards her, but stopped midway. No, the last time he’d seen her, she had been in a suit, not dressed so casually with that dainty shawl hugging her shoulders as if she had just been reading a book earlier.

“Nat…” He breathed, not daring to speak any louder in fear of his voice breaking. “Is that you?”

Please. He needed to hear it. Just let him dream.

Full lips tilted into that teasing smirk Natasha often wore. Yet it didn’t match the somberness of her gaze. “You already know the answer, Bruce. You always do.”

There was that sinking feeling in his stomach that he tried to ignore. Just like when he tried to deny the truth when he saw that Clint returned from Vormir alone .

“Well, how-how do I bring you back?” Bruce began pacing across the room. He remembered this place now. This was where he’d first met her all those years ago when she came to recruit him. “Thanks to you, we have all the stones now. I have the gauntlet I can do anything. Do I have to snap my fingers again? Then I’ll do it just... Just tell me how to bring you back, Nat.”

It was strange to say her name aloud. How do you speak the name of someone who’s supposed to be dead? How do you say it to that dead person’s face? Just a minute earlier, the truth of his reality was that Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, their fellow Avenger… was dead. And now he was speaking to her as if it’d all been a lie. A lie he would be all too happy to accept.

“Come back, Nat.” Bruce insisted.

Instead of giving an answer, Natasha simply sighed, stepping towards the large window he’d peered through earlier. Bruce watched her study the view. He wanted to touch her take her hand, feel the warmth of her skin and know that she was here with him, wherever they may be.

“Do you remember way back then… when I told you how I couldn’t have a family?” She asked quietly, lips pressed in contemplation.

He nodded.

“It was right in front of me all along.” She broke out into a gentle smile, still gazing out into the sunset background outside. “My family… Nick, Tony, Thor, Clint, Steve, and you, Bruce.” When Natasha looked at him, her vibrant green eyes were bright with tears, “And during those five years, when everyone left…”

“I’m sorry.” Bruce murmured and, because he didn’t have an excuse for leaving her alone all those years, he said again, “Nat, I’m so sorry.”

She shook her head, red curls bouncing with life. “We weren’t bonded by blood but we were always together. We watched each other’s backs and… and even when we went our separate ways, I always knew… I knew we could do this. Together… Because we’re family.”

That’s why she had done it, Bruce realized. That’s why she had tried to hold everyone together no matter the distance and time all these years. Why she’d stayed at the compound the only Avenger who filled the large building and walked its lonesome hallways. Why she had maintained a network of everyone, always keeping tabs on every individual, always pushing herself to keep going an extra day, an extra week, an extra month, an extra year. Because nobody not even the boys had continued to believe in the Avengers. Nobody but Natasha… because somebody had to.

“I did have a family,” She nodded, “and they were right beside me all along. And that’s all I could ever ask for...”

“Then come home to us.” Bruce reached for Natasha, his human hand grasping hers. It’d been years since he last touched her like this and she was still just as warm as he remembered. “Let’s go home, Nat. It’s over we’ve won… Come home to us…” It was always hard to change Natasha’s mind. Whenever she was set on something, no matter how much she disliked it, she always tackled it dutifully like any mission. Which was why he added in a pleading whisper, “ Please.

But there was that familiar glint in her eyes again those gorgeous green eyes so reflective of her sharp wit and keen intellect. Bruce had glimpsed that look shortly before they’d kissed in Sokovia and then he knew, without a doubt, the Black Widow’s answer.

He began to shake his head but Natasha was already turning his hand over, stroking from the inside of his arm the arm that had been burning with the gauntlet’s power all the way down to his palm, eventually resting her calloused fingertips against his. The touch was so light that it almost felt surreal. As if it was a ghost touching him rather than her.

“I’m sorry, Bruce, I wish I could...” Natasha whispered to him, a ghost of a smile on her face as the warm light from outside began to brighten and intensify, illuminating the red curls framing her beautiful face, “but the sun’s already getting real low.”

The light enveloped them both and Bruce turned towards the window, squinting and raising a hand to block out the harsh brightness. Suddenly, he felt himself falling backward, sinking through nothing but pure light. The hand he’d been holding was gone, yet the warmth of her touch remained. The only evidence of her presence.

When Bruce blinked again, he found himself surrounded by the other guys, their concerned voices muffled as if he was still dreaming. Had it been a dream? Bruce wondered as he slowly regained his bearings, still on his back and staring up at the glass ceiling… at the beam of light racing down from Thanos’s ship.