It started with a giant crash in Clint’s front yard.
He was in the barn, cleaning and maintaining one of Lila’s bows when he heard the explosion. He took it with him as he ran out into the yard, string drawn and arrow knocked before he could even think that he had one of Lila’s tiny bows that he’d overshoot in a second.
It was a ship, it looked almost like one of Stark’s, one of the old ones. A dark figure tumbled out of the door, fire extinguisher in hand, spraying the foam up and onto the flames that had formed. The dark figure threw the extinguisher onto the ground as soon as the flames were gone and ripped a helmet off their head. A long red braid fell down her back.
Clint knew that red hair anywhere.
“Natasha!” he found himself yelling, Lila’s bow falling forgotten on the ground. She turned towards him and froze, her mouth forming his name soundlessly as he threw himself at her.
She was in his arms before he had even processed the thought, before he could think that this might be a trick, a dream, a hallucination. Dimly he heard behind him the sound of the front door slamming open, Laura’s sudden scream, the kids shrieking out “Auntie Nat!” It was at the last sound that Natasha tore herself out of his embrace and stared white faced at his family, her voice trembling.
“Oh my God, oh my God,” she said.
Clint couldn’t help himself, he reached for her again. “You were dead, I thought you were dead,” he babbled.
“No,” Natasha said, tears streaking down her face, “You are.”
It became apparent very quickly that this was not their Natasha.
For one, her hair didn’t have the white blonde tips that his Natasha had in the end. It was all one uniform color, a rich vibrant red. For another, what he could see of her hands and arms were covered with tattoos of thorny vines and close budded roses.
They’d sat themselves down on the front porch steps, Nate immediately climbing into Natasha’s lap and wrapping his little arms around her. Laura kept touching Natasha with frantic jerky movements, her face, her hair, her hands. Lila had pressed herself into Natasha’s other side and Cooper and Clint had found themselves sitting on the grass below them all, no room left on the steps.
Natasha buried her head in Nate’s curls and breathed him in for a long moment. Then she pressed kisses to each of his cheeks and looked up into Laura’s eyes. “What year is it?” she asked faintly.
“2023,” Laura answered.
Nat’s hands spasmed on Nate’s back. “2023?” she echoed.
“2023,” Clint said firmly, “What year did you think it was?”
“2018,” Natasha said, “I was afraid it was 2018.” Impulsively she pressed a kiss to Lila’s head.
“It’s not,” Laura said, “It’s 2023. Thanos was defeated and the Avengers reversed the snap.”
“How?” Natasha asked, “How did they? Without-“
“Without what?” Laura asked. Clint felt a horrible sinking feeling. Natasha stared at him like a deer in the headlights, then turned over to Lila and urged her up. “Go take your brother and go inside,” she said.
“No,” Lila said, firm, “I don’t want you to disappear.”
Natasha’s mouth opened and then closed. “I’m not going to disappear.”
“You don’t know that,” Cooper said, accusingly, “You could just wink out and we might never see you again.”
Nate whined in agreement and buried himself further into her chest.
“Natasha,” Clint said carefully, “You said I didn’t make it.”
“I-“ Natasha licked her lips. “I. We went to Vormir together.”
Clint’s sinking feeling got worse. “We fought, didn’t we?” he said.
“Yes,” Natasha said. Laura reached out for her again and ran her hand over Natasha’s head. “Did she-Did I?”
“You beat me,” Clint said, “You made me let you go.”
“Oh,” Natasha said, “Oh.” She licked her lips again. “I, when I went to Vormir, you and I, we,” she began crying again in earnest. “You, um.”
The kids stared at her, dawning horror on Cooper and Lila’s faces. Laura pulled Natasha into her arms as best as she could, with Nate taking up all of Natasha’s. “We’re here,” she said, “We’re all here now. We made it.”
Nothing more was said and the only sound was Natasha’s sobs.
An hour later, when Natasha was still curled up on their sofa with the kids all piled on top of her and the wreckage of her Starkjet still littered the front yard, Clint called Wanda.
“Nat’s back,” he said as soon as she picked up the phone.
“Nat’s back, she landed on the front yard this morning, she’s sitting on my couch right now.”
There was a long pause. “Clint, put Laura on the phone.”
Clint handed the phone over to Laura without even questioning.
“Hello, Wanda.” A pause. “No, she’s here.” Laura gave a laugh that cracked in the middle. “She’s here, she has Nate in her lap and I touched her and she’s solid, she’s here.” Another pause. “No, she’s not the same. She looks different.” Wanda’s voice raised in pitch over the phone, but not to the point that Clint could make out any of her words. “No,” Laura said, “Like, she has tattoos now and I know she didn’t get any during the snap. Not like someone I know.” She gave Clint a raised eyebrow. He gave her a cheeky grin back. The pitch in Wanda’s voice settled and Clint wasn’t able to hear her any longer. Laura gave a sigh. “Just-why don’t you come over? We’d be happy to see you. All of us.”
Natasha had noticed the phone call now and was peering at them over the back of the couch. Laura was nodding to whatever Wanda was saying. “Yes, ok. Bring who you need to. Text me when you’re on the way with an ETA. We love you sweetheart, see you soon.” She hung up and passed the phone back to Clint. “Wanda will be here as soon as she can get everything together and fly over. She might bring some others.”
“Good,” he said, “It’ll be good for them to see Nat.” He chuckled a little. “I’ll feel less crazy if other people are able to see Nat.”
His phone dinged with an incoming text. “She’s bringing Sam and Bruce,” he said, “They’ll be here in a few hours.”
“Ok,” Laura said, “I’ll….finish lunch, I guess?”
“I’ll come help.” He glanced over at the mostly silent children piled on top of Natasha. It was a little weird to see Cooper being this clingy, he couldn’t remember the last time he’s seen the teenager like this. “It’ll give the kids some alone time with Nat.”
It took a couple of hours, but soon the roar of the quinjet engines could be heard from the outside the house. From the kitchen window Clint looked out and see the ship land and people disembark. He set down the dishes he was cleaning and strode out the front door. He didn’t even bother with the porch steps and leapt down to the ground.
Sam, Wanda, and Bruce all clustered together as they approached the house. They looked like they were trying to seem friendly, but there was a glow of red power around Wanda’s fingers and Sam had his shield. The three of them hesitated at the crashed wreckage of Natasha’s ship before they saw Clint.
“Hey,” he called, “Good to see you all.”
“Clint,” Wanda said and the power dissipated from her fingers, “It’s good to see you.” Without thinking Clint opened his arms to her and she stepped into them, giving him a tight hug. “Is she still here?”
“I would have called if she wasn’t,” he said, “Come inside.”
The four of them entered the house and stopped short at the sight of Laura and Natasha sitting on the living room couch. They were posed to look as casual as possible, but Laura had one protective arm wrapped around Natasha. Nate, sprawled on the floor with legos, looked up and his little face lit up at the sight of Wanda.
“Auntie Wanda,” he said joyfully, scrambling to his feet and launching himself at her legs, “Auntie Nat is back!”
Natasha gave a small smile at that. “Hello all,” she said. Her eyes flicked over the new arrivals. “It’s good to see you.”
“Hey Nat,” Bruce said. “You’re, uh, alive.”
Nat raised her hand and wiggled her fingers. “Seems that way, doesn’t it?”
Wanda gave Nate a proper hug, then gently shook him off. “Go find your brother and sister. I’ll come play with you later.”
He nodded eagerly and ran out. Laura stood up, her eyes darting over the group. “I’ll go…keep him occupied,” she said. She left the room like she was going to ascend the staircase to the second floor, but Clint knew she had probably just tucked herself into the corner to eavesdrop.
Bruce started unpacking the bag he’d brought, pulling out a whole manner of gadgets. Natasha cleared her throat. “I can assure you,” she said, “I am Natasha. Just-“
“That’s what any sort of shape shifter would say,” Bruce said mildly.
Natasha paused. “What?” she said, startled.
“We called Carol on the way in,” Sam said, “She theorized that you could be a skrull.”
“She said they could copy anyone, dead or alive, down to the dna,” Wanda said.
“Ah,” Natasha said again.
“Would a skrull invent the tattoos though?” Clint demanded, “Or change her hair.”
Sam and Bruce glanced at one another. “Well, they’re shapeshifters right?” Sam said, “They could do anything they wanted to probably? I don’t, uh, actually know anything about these Skrull creatures.”
“And Carol said that the skrull relations have been good for the past twenty or so years, one would have to go rogue-“
Wanda, red power glowing again at her fingertips, shouldered past Bruce and placed her hands on either side of Natasha’s head. Everyone in the room froze. Wanda’s eyes glowed red for what felt like forever, before she took her hands off the sides of Natasha’s head. “She’s Nat,” she declared, “She’s different, but she’s Nat.”
Clint sighed in relief.
“Different how?” Bruce asked.
“Different events, different people, different deaths,” Wanda glanced at Clint at that, biting her lip. “The timeline diverged somewhere.”
“Probably when we were on the time heist somewhere,” Clint said.
“All of the stones were returned,” Bruce said, “Or at least they were supposed to be.”
“Maybe something else happened during the heist that caused the timelines to change,” Clint said, “No way for us to know now.”
“We could compare notes,” Natasha said. Her mouth twitched like she was trying not to smile. “I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours.” She flicked her fingers at Bruce. “Science away if you have to.”
Sam snorted. Bruce unpacked a couple of the gadgets and began to fiddle with them, muttering to himself. Clint ran a hand over his face. “I’ll be back,” he said to no one in particular and he headed to the kitchen.
As suspected, Laura was tucked into the corner that couldn’t be seen from the living room and was clearly listening. “Well?” she said, not a hint of guilt on her face.
“Wanda cleared her, that’s Nat in there. At least, a Nat, if not our Nat.” He opened the refrigerator door and stared in aimlessly.
“That’s good,” Laura said, brightly, “She’s Nat, she knows us, she knows the kids.”
“What if she wants to return to her own timeline or…wherever she’s from?” Clint asked.
“Then we’ll do whatever we can to convince her to stay. You’re here, that’s got to count for something. Close the door, you’re letting all the cold air out.”
“Yes ma’am,” Clint said. He stared at the door, decorated with magnets and pictures. One with Natasha holding Cooper and Lila’s hands in front of the Disney castle had been moved front and center once they’d all returned home. “What if she’s different, though? What if she’s a different Nat?”
“Then we’ll learn the new Nat until we love her just as much as the old one,” Laura said, “Now come on Hawkeye, are you just going to stand there all day or are you going to help me get our guests something to drink?”