"Trauma-induced asexuality is valid."
Phil was the one who first told her that. She spoke fourteen languages, but she didn't understand that.
He handed her a pamphlet. SHIELD seemed to like pamphlets. She took it wordlessly.
It was ... nice to know that there was a word for it.
Not just a word either. A flag and a whole community. The flag was pretty, it made her think of Clint.
SHIELD had a group for asexual people. SHIELD had a group for everything. They liked groups almost as much as they liked pamphlets.
Natasha never went.
She did make an account on Aven.
Clint brought her in. And, she let him be close to her for the same reason she would have let him shoot her.
She didn't care. She had nothing to lose.
It turned out she did have things to gain.
Clint. And, eventually, Bobbi. Phil. Jen, from the CS division. People she found herself caring about.
Asexual. Aromatic. Queer. Words she could be proud of. Labels that had nothing to do with how well she killed people.
It was frightening to realize how much she'd gained.
It meant that she had that much more to lose.
Still, she didn't regret it.
Jen taught her how to knit. She was a mild-mannered woman. Sweet and kind. She wore her steely grey hair in a no-nonsense bun. Doted on her sister's kids and their children in turn.
She made Natasha tea. Sat beside her. Loaned her books. Taught her to knit.
Natasha knit a blanket in the ace flag colors.
Then, when that wasn't enough, knit another in the aro flag colors.
She folded them carefully along the back of the couch on the small apartment she had off of SHIELD property. She rarely used them. But, they were there. That was enough.
Natasha had slowly over the years built up her presence on Aven. People knew her. They messaged her sometimes, when someone new was struggling. They knew she could offer advice.
One person called her a mentor. Natasha added that to the list of words she liked for herself.
She'd been at SHIELD three years. Made friends. Found identities. Taken up new hobbies.
She'd always be broken. But, broken didn't always feel like a tragedy.
She still saw a lot of therapists.
It took her almost three years to realize she had a squish. Soft and present in the back of her mind. Whenever she thought of Jen.
Squish was a lovely word. So soft. Almost silly. It made her think of Clint too.
Clint was a silly boy. He made her laugh. She liked people who made her laugh.
But, she had a squish on Jen. That realization was new, but she didn't want to let it linger.
She still feared things slipping away. There was no sense in waiting.
They were sitting together. Natasha knitting and Jen reading.
Natasha asked her out. Jen said no.
They kept sitting together.
And, that was that.
The squish didn't go away. But, Natasha didn't mind. It was simply there. Quiet and unobtrusive as always.
When Jen died in the Battle of New York, she mourned.
She hugged Clint for the first time the night that Jen and Bobbi died. It felt nice to be close to someone.
She hated what he'd been through. Hated that he'd been brainwashed. Hated that he'd lost someone. Hated that they'd both been told that Phil died.
And, yet, a small selfish part of her was thankful that they had such much in common.
Thankful that Clint could maybe slightly better understand what it was like for her growing up being brainwashed and manipulated and controlled.
Thankful that they could mourn together, because anything was better than mourning alone.
They both saw a lot of therapists.
Therapists were a constant presence in Natasha's life. She was used to them by now.
She watched Clint recover.
She was thankful that he did.
Natasha did not recover.
Trauma was woven throughout her life.
She was okay with it. It was what it was.
Trauma-induced asexuality is valid.
Natasha didn't know whether her asexuality was trauma-induced. Maybe she was always ace. Maybe not. She felt comfortable saying it didn't matter.
She was asexual. She was aromantic.
She mentored others like her on Aven.
And, she was content.